tapas (Sanskrit: "Warmth, heat,") — hence psychic energy, spiritual fervour or ardor.
( Warning: the first part of this post engages in a gross mischaracterisation of an Ashtanga practice... for literary effect, don't worry I paint a prettier picture later. )
But what if I practice my Ashtanga FAST and then.....
There is a good argument for this, practice my Ashtanga at Sharath pace ( his DVD is 60 mins. although I've heard other led classes of his that take 90 minutes)..... just knock out a brisk Primary or 2nd then settle down to the other limbs.
It's the same no, if time is an issue I can either practice quickly or if slowly then drop asana leaving me time in the morning for the other limbs, which I consider at least as important as my asana practice if not more so.
Practicing less asana however does seem to result in less flexibility, strength and fitness, at least in my own practice.
That doesn't have to be the case of course, if you feature more arm balances, strength postures in your reduced asana practice then that will keep the strength up. More salutations and jump backs and through will keep the strength up as well as fitness.... unless you have the nice floaty, energy efficient transitions ( note to self: consider going back to the clunky, clumsy transitions where I relied on arm strength and throwing myself back and forth rather than moving my body, my centre of gravity, more effectively). Flexibility can be addressed by just picking those postures that work on the areas I want to keep more flexible, those hip openers for fancy leg behind head postures, the backbends to keep my kapo and drop backs.
Sounds awful doesn't it, asana for strength, fitness and ego.... might as well just go to a gym. Aren't those factors less the ego supposed to be by products rather than raison d'etre. But then I don't know many who continue to practice Ashtanga vinyasa for those reasons for that long, seems they tend to switch to crossfit.
One of the strengths of Ashtanga of course is that we manage to cover a good range of postures in a sequence, strength, fitness, all round flexibility (assuming you make the most of your upward facing dog), Ashtanga Vinyasa has it all covered.
So to hell with breathing slowly, screw kumbhaka, jump on the mat and knock that bad boy Primary or 2nd series out, BOOM.
Then wipe off the sweat, pick the least drenched part of my yoga towel, sit and practice pranayama, pratyahara, sit.
Can't do it
Just can't seem to go back to knocking practices out like that anymore and I'm being unfair of course, as the warning indicated at the beginning of the post, the above is a mischaracterisation of skillful Ashtanga practice. Perhaps we all practice a bit like that in the beginning but after a time, practice gets softer, we move our bodies more efficiently, we end up sweating a little less, breathe nice and regular throughout and OH MY watch Jessica Walden's arm balance transition to see a practice all about control and focus rather than ego and a sales pitch.
You CAN practice your Ashtanga in an hour, without it seeming the least bit hurried (sharath's 60min Primary DVD a case in point), so why not return to a practice like that.....
But the breath, oh the breath!
How can I go back to a five second breath let alone one that takes three, I've tried, recently in fact, tried to breathe more quickly but where's the fun in that. It feels now like Rochester's imperfect enjoyment and I keep hearing that tiresome Youtube cartoon that critique's Ashtanga " no benefit.
It feels like that, to me personally, no benefit.
And oh the kumbhaka, once tasted how can one be satisfied with anything else. Try it yourself now, inhale slowly and at the end of the inhalation pause, a couple of seconds is enough and then exhale. Did you notice that stillness, that..... expansion, whole universes rise and fall in that moment. No that's not it, nothing rises or falls, nothing... moves, times ceases, a glimpse perhaps into the realm beyond the gods for they too are subject to time.
Am I getting carried away with my theme, I'll pretend that I am so not to alienate you dear reader (...don't you hate it when Austin does that in her novels and yet love it when Frank Underwood does the same in House of Cards).
And yet the kumbhaka experience can feel so profound, just one kumbhaka feels a reminder of something lost (wink to camera) but then you link them up, another kumbhala after the exhalation and then another after the next inhalation and on through each extended stay in an asana and the next and the next, kumbhaka's lining up one after the other in your practice, joining up until it feels like one long ninety minute kumbhaka and yet you've only practiced ten asana.
Once tasted, familiarity gained how does one go back to practicing any other way....
Krishnamacharya understood this, surely he practiced this way before he wrote down his asana instruction in 1934 for his Yoga Makaranda with kumbhaka throughout. He had his table of asana which pretty much matches Jois' later college syllabus of four sequences but this is surely the reason he resisted laying down fixed sequences. Perhaps he raced through the asana with the kids, the boys of the palace but in the side room while the young Jois led his class in his absence he taught Kumbhaka perhaps and talked of it as experiencing the divine.
"While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart. During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana. Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness. Eliminates agitation and restlessness". Krishnamacharya: Yogasanagalu (1941)
Krishnamacharya was once asked
What does the bhakti mean to a person who has no belief in Isvara?
Krishnamacharya : Love is bhakti for them
If Isvara, the lord, creator....god isn't your thing then perhaps there's love to be found in your kumbhaka, your tapas as ardor, rapture..... ekstasis, absence (abesse).
So as I prepare to step on the mat, no I wont be speeding it up, if I want to keep my weight down I'll watch what I eat and perhaps cycle to work rather than catch the train.
The small print
Of course, talk to enough practitioner's and you'll soon realise that there seems to be something wonderful to be found in this practice however we approach it, fast, slow,for fitness, health, or as meditation, tapasya.... perhaps some or all of the above as well as with or without kumbhaka. And yet, slow and with Kumbhaka is how Krishnamacharya seemed to have first presented Ashtanga vinyasa ( in writing anyway) and thus it feels worthy of continued exploration....what was that remarkable man up to, what did he find in kumbhaka after kumbhaka.
Thank you to my dear friend Lucia for the heads up about Roberto Calasso's new book Ardor. Just read the kindle sample and can't wait to settle in to the full text.
|Link to Amazon for Sample|
"Maybe I’m inclined to what Nietzsche called “impure thought,” that is to say, a kind of thought where abstractions are so mixed with the facts of life that you can’t disentangle them. I feel thought in general, and in particular what is unfortunately called “philosophy,” should lead a sort of clandestine life for a while, just to renew itself. By clandestine I mean concealed in stories, in anecdotes, in numerous forms that are not the form of the treatise. Then thought can biologically renew itself, as it were."
Roberto Calasso The art of fiction in Paris Review no. 217
|NYTimes Review of Ardor By PANKAJ MISHRA|