Thursday, 3 March 2016

There is no 'official' Ashtanga (sequence).

I have never been to Mysore and the KPJAYI (Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute) and only occasionally, and briefly at that, considered going to Mysore in the past. Having begun ( March 2007) and developed my Ashtanga vinyasa practice alone at home, with the books and videos of senior teachers of the practice, I've never been that attracted or inclined to practise in a room shared by 80 other pairs of lungs. This is perhaps also why KPJAYI carries no more import to me than Boulder, Encintas, Hawaii or my wherever I happen to place my mat for my mornings practice. 

That said I do in fact respect the institution and the dedication to teaching and practice it represents and consider it a bulwark and perhaps antidote to much of how yoga is being practiced and taught in the west.

One may still question the institution however...




The current head of KPJAYI, Sharath, has an oft repeated 'sutra',


"Nobody owns Yoga"

Actually he seems to have an endless supply of them...

"No pain, no gain"

"No fear, no fun"

but it's the Nobody owns Yoga 'sutra' I'm interested in for this post.


Not only does nobody own yoga but I'm assuming he also means...

Nobody owns Ashtanga 

and

Nobody owns the Vinyasa Krama... 

commonly called Ashtanga Vinyasa or just Ashtanga as taught by Sharath's grandfather Pattabhi Jois.

Early Posters

If nobody owns Ashtanga Vinyasa then nobody has any proprietary rights over it, there can be no official version that can be authorised (lawyers feel free to help me out here).

What we do have is association, an approach to practice associated with the personage Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who taught a particular Vinyasa Krama methodology referred to here as Ashtanga Vinyasa.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa of Pattabhi Jois as taught at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga (research*) Institute KPJAY(R)I

* 'Research' was later dropped

The institute approves teachers through Authorisation certificates, baring the name of the institute, to teach one or more sequences in a manner approved by the Institute.

R. Sharath Jois is the current head of the institute and decides who is and isn't approved for authorisation by the institute and who's name remains on (or is removed from) the official list of the institutes approved teachers.



David Williams Comple Ashtanga poster



So, an 'Authorised' or 'Certified' Ashtanga teacher is somebody approved by the institute to teach in association with their name.


But nobody owns Yoga or Ashtanga Vinyasa as Sharath reminds us.


Nobody can prevent you then from teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa as approved by any other institute or body.

Nor can anyone prevent you from claiming to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa as taught to you by Pattabhi Jois directly if you were indeed taught by Pattabhi Jois and teach a practice he taught you

Nor can anyone prevent you from claiming to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa as taught to you by a student of Pattabhi Jois if you teach in the manner in which they taught you.

Indeed, Sharath was a student of his Grandfather and teaches as he was taught by his Grandfather

Saraswati teaches as she was taught by her father

Manju Jois also teaches as he was taught by his father.

Pattabhi Jois taught the sequence and approach to the sequence slightly differently throughout his life (and it is questionable to what extent Pattabhi Jois practiced any or all of these sequences himself as he presented them in his teaching - see THIS post).

There are slight differences between how he first taught in the 40s 

...how he taught his son Manju and Saraswati in the 50s

....how he taught the early Western students who came to Mysore in the 70s and 80s, Norman Allan, David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, David Swenson.... and so on and so on in that wonderful list of early students who, in turn,  became (and continue to be) teachers of the practice in the manner in which they were taught and explored the practice.

And also of course how he taught his grandson Sharath in the 90s as well as the later direct students.

Original Syllabus


We can see evidence perhaps of the slight differences in Pattabhi Jois' teaching, the original list of asana perhaps from the 50s, the slight differences in how Manju communicates the practice, the full Vinyasa of the early students now teachers themselves, the number of breaths taken in asana, the changes in the number of drishti points, we can see much of this in the early practice sheets and outlined in the interviews collected for the Guruji book.

Link

Likewise we can see minor differences in how Sharath has taught over the last few years.

The differences are slight*, mostly minor perhaps, it's the same practice, key elements remain, a difference in detail only.

*I would argue that only significant difference was in Pattabhi Jois' failure to carry over the kumbhaka indicated by his teacher Krishnamacharya.

The sequence and how it is taught, if it does indeed differ slightly reflecting the period in which it was taught, is no less or for that matter more official, more authorised, if taught by Sharath in Mysore, by Tim Miller in Encinitas or Richard Freeman in Boulder, by Nancy Gilgoff or David Williams or Noman Allan in Hawaii or by Manju wherever he happens to be teaching around the world.

Remember, Ashtanga Authorisation as we currently understand it is only through association with the institute and the esteem in which it is held. Before Pattabhi Jois was encouraged to introduce authorisation it was more a case of him giving a personal blessing to teach an approach to practice in association with his name.

*

The practice is not rocket science, it's painting by numbers, the asana methodology Pattabhi Jois presented can fit on a poster, on a double sided laminated A4 card along with perhaps a handful of guidelines, it is I would argue the dedicated practise of that practice over a long period of time that is significant.

Early Posters

The methodology consists of a basic practice consisting of Sun salutations, some Standing asana, a Primary sequence of mostly seated postures and a finishing sequence consisting of inversions and lotus postures. An Intermediate or advanced sequences can be substituted for the Primary sequence (Pattabhi Jois supposedly stressed that the Primary series was for everybody, the Intermediate sequence for teachers and the Advanced series, merely for demonstration).

"To begin the practice of yoga, an aspirant should first do the Surya Namaskara [Sun Salutations], and then proceed to the asanas. The Surya Namaskara and asanas must be practiced in the correct sequence and follow the method of vinyasa". Pattabhi Jois - Yoga Mala

These sequences of asana, postures were linked together by a vinyasa, a linking of the movements to and from a posture to inhalations and exhalations. Basically, in most instances,  you inhale as you move up and exhale as you move down.

The inhalation and exhalation are directed to be of the same duration.

Focal points called drishti are indicated, Pattabhi Jois' original instructions following his teacher was to look between the eyebrows when inhaling and look to the tip of the nose when exhaling, latter a few other focal points were introduced especially for beginners. Pattabhi Jois' son Manju mentioned that you might also close your eyes while practicing.

"This is the method for the first Surya Namaskara, which is often practiced while chanting mantras. For this, meditation is very important, as are the drishti, or gazing places, which include: nasagra drishti [the gaze on the tip of the nose] for samasthiti; broomadhya drishti [the gaze between the eyebrows] for the 1st vinyasa; nasagra dristri for the 2nd vinyasa; the gaze between the eyebrows for the 3rd vinyasa—in other words, for the odd-numbered vinyasas, the gaze should be focused between the eyebrows and, for the even-numbered ones, the gaze should be on the tip of the nose. In addition, for the even- numbered vinyasas, rechaka should be performed and, for the odd, one should do puraka. On the whole, the method for doing rechaka and puraka is the same for all the vinyasas and asanas ahead. A sadhaka [spiritual aspirant] should learn it with patience". Pattabhi Jois - Yoga mala

There are also bandhas to be engaged, rarely described the same by two teachers twice  

"Mula bandha [mula root : bandha lock] means lifting the anus up toward the navel; uddiyana bandha [uddiyana flying up : bandha lock], also known as the stomach lock, means lifting the core muscles four inches below the navel; jalandhara bandha means the throat lock". Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala

Because of the internal nature of this activation of bandhas it can't perhaps be taught but rather, discovered through practice.

And that is basically it.

The practice is learned one posture at a time, each posture added on to the next as the body becomes stronger and more flexible. Occasionally a teacher my help you work towards a posture, demonstrate it perhaps but mostly you're left to your own devices and a laminated card or poser on the wall.

We aren't so much taught the practice as we discover it for ourselves whether in the shala, studio or at home alone.

A teacher is advised, encouraged even especially in the beginning but ultimately unnecessary, once exposed to the sequence in whatever manner, a teacher, a video, book, laminated cards or a list of postures, we appropriate the practice, internalise it through practising it.

The practice (and perhaps Yoga) arises within us through dedicated practise.

Early Posters


The authorisation process of the KPJAYI is useful, it lays out a current standardised version of the sequence(s) Pattabhi Jois first codified from his teacher Krishnamacharya's list of groups of asana; Primary, Middle and Proficient as well as the teaching methodology or guidelines. It gives you something that you can walk into most Led classes around the world and no become too confused or lost.

The current presentation of the sequence is however not any more or less right than the one taught to you by a student of a teacher who studied with Pattabhi Jois decades before.

For that matter there there were many old and ancient descriptions and pictorial/sculptural depictions of a posture as well as names for the same asana - there are no CORRECT asana - although perhaps incorrect (unsafe) approaches to them.

The KPJAYI authorisation indicates that your authorised teacher has been practising, internalising, this practice for a number of years. It doesn't insure that they are necessarily a good or competent teacher or communicator of the practice (although they may well be) or that they have ever opened an anatomy book for more than the odd glance, it doesn't insure that they are competent at adjusting or assisting or indeed that they carry insurance should something go amiss.

Word of mouth reputation still carries more value perhaps than a certificate on a wall. An unauthorised teacher of Ashtanga vinyasa who has never been to Mysore or come into contact with Pattabhi Jois, Manju or Sharath or indeed any of their students may well be more competent to pass on the practice through their own internalisation and exploration of the practice, they may be a better communicator, more aware anatomically, more skilful in their adjustments or assists (should you feel you require or would like them.... rather than waiting for your body to become naturally more flexible) they also may be more inspiring to you to explore other aspects (limbs) of yoga, to go more deeply into your practice.

The institute only gets to say who can teach in their name, who can offer training (currently only Sharath) in their name and that anyone else offering training in Ashtanga is not approved by the institute. The Institute, because it doesn't own the practice and have any proprietary rights can't stop anyone from offering Ashtanga vinyasa training and there are many teachers and schools who can offer excellent training to those who wish to teach the practice. 

All the institute can do is control it's own list of approved teachers and remove anyone going against the wishes of the institute from their approval list.

Any authority the institute has comes from it's reputation, association, convention and control of the list of teacher sit approves.

There is no official Ashtanga, just hermeneutics.

Ultimately all there is, is practice.

My favourite photo of Pattabhi Jois in the old shala,
I would have come Mysore to practice here in this samll room.


"Practice alone is the path to atma labhah [gaining the Self]".
Pattabhi Jois - Yoga Mala



*


Appendix

Should you wish to begin a home practice of Ashtanga I personally recommend.
Most strongly recommended in bold.

*

Ashtanga Practice Manual - David Swenson
Contains preparatory variations for all postures

*

Ashtanga short forms DVD - David Swenson
Contains shorter versions of the practice

*
Ashtanga Primary Series - Mark Darby
A nice focus on safe practice plus some beginner options.

*

Ashtanga Primary Series - Sharath
Full practice without fuss or flourish

*

Yoga Mala - Pattabhi Jois


*

Primary and Intermediate series book and DVD (primary series only) - Manju Jois
Names of asana and count call and response throughout also chanting peace chants

*

Ashtanga Primary series with Drums - David Robson

The only dvd that practices slowly, five seconds each for every inhalation and exhalation on the beat of a drum.

*

Yoga Makaranda pdf -Krishnamacharya
Pattabhi Jois' teacher.





3 comments:

  1. So I'm not a lawyer, but what happened with Bikram yoga was that he tried to copyright his sequence of 26 postures, but this was not given, however he copyrighted the name "Bikram yoga". I don't know if Sharath could copyright the name "Ashtanga" or whether it would have to be more specific (e.g. Jois yoga), but the sequence seemingly couldn't be copyrighted.

    It's telling that the word "research" was dropped from the institute name, and a shame. P. Jois (and his teacher) were both innovative in their approach to yoga, as you highlighted by how the teaching style and sequence was adapted over time. Once something becomes dogmatic (the "official" sequence, now set in stone) it is in danger of becoming outmoded and going extinct. Thanks, Rob

    ReplyDelete
  2. i am not authorized or certified and I am BRINGING RESEARCH BACK!. In fact, it never left.

    i love ashtanga. i have loved ashtanga and i will love ashtanga in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Such a great discussion/overview of this subject, Anthony. Thanks for this.

    It's my belief that a good teacher of this practice does something that goes beyond accurately sharing the series as it has been codified, or providing good physical assists, or great technical pointers.

    There are teachers, and then there are TEACHERS.

    There's that lovely saying in the Ashtanga world - I first read it on Angela Jamison's blog - "Holding the space." I feel strongly that the key to good teaching lies in this concept. Holding the space means the teacher is fully present, grounded in their own practice, and yet, egoless in the way they share the practice with students. They share the practice - the one they have done for a long time - as it has been taught to them by their teacher, with an intent to meet each student where they are that day, and serve that student, kindly and wisely.

    With this intention, I teach. And I am not authorized. But, I think of myself as a facilitator, or even, servant of the student. My first Ashtanga teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, and in fact, all of the teachers I have studied with who have really resonated with me as TEACHERS (Nancy, Tim) share this quality. They serve, without ego, but with wisdom and kindness.

    Teaching as an act of service to those who chose to study the practice with my help brings my own ego into check. I become a clearer conduit for the knowledge that has been shared with me, and facilitate the student's exploration and self-discovery of pramana - right knowledge.

    And, speaking of right knowledge, there's that great sutra - 1.7 - which applies here, methinks -

    प्रत्यक्षानुमानाअगमाः प्रमाणानि ॥७॥

    pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni ॥7॥

    "Of these five, there are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): 1) perception, 2) inference, and 3) testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.
    (pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani)

    pratyaksha = direct perception or cognition
    anumana = inference, reasoning, deduction
    agamah = authority, testimony, validation, competent evidence
    pramanani = valid means of knowing, proofs, sources of correct knowing

    I think of this Sutra when I read or hear "words of authority", coming on down from on high (although, ofttimes, these words have been filtered - I think that's why Sharath has said lately, "No more conference notes." It's like the telephone game!)

    Note, that the best form of pramana/right knowledge has all three elements: our own experience or perception, logic, and the direct words of a figure of authority.

    Still, the best of these three is the first: our OWN experience, OUR perceptions! (Patanjali tended to put the most important or crucial element first in his tendency to list things in the Sutras.) Logic may erroneously be based on false assumptions. And figures of authority may not turn out to be figures of authority, but the misinformed - or worse, charlatans (for more on this, we can all google, "guru, sex scandal"

    I've always been a bit of a rebel or outlier, so I believe respectfully questioning authority, when your own experience tells you otherwise, is a sign of a healthy and active mind and spirit. The Ashtanga practice fosters this trait, as it produces a healthy and active mind and spirit, too, when done for a long time.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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