Thursday, 17 November 2016

Question: Was the Ashtanga Vinyasa count developed merely to test the boys of the Mysore palace?


Above Krishnamacharya's Yoga school for the boys of the Mysore palace, set up in 1933 by Krishnamacharya's patron the Maharaja of Mysore (photo from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda pub. Mysore 1934).


Schools tend to have a syllabus, exams (diploma's)...., don't they?


"In 1935 having cleared the Primary, Elementary and Advanced diploma course in yoga he (BKS Iyengar)  stood first in 98% marks".  (Leap of Faith 12:33).  See my previous post


How do you test yoga for a diploma?

Pattabhi Jois' daughter Saraswati mentions that the examination Krishnamacharya gave her in 1975 was based on the names of the asana as well as the vinyasa's to and from them. Krishnamacharya supposedly asked her to do Navasana say, and then asked her the number of vinyasas and which vinyasa she was in at the time etc. Here's the video in which Sarawaswati mentions this, there are two mentions in the first fifteen minutes. (see THIS post).



Was this perhaps Krishnamacharya's approach to testing the boys of the Mysore Palace including BKS Iyengar in 1935.  For the Primary, Intermediate and Advanced  diploma might students not be asked to present asana from the Primary, Intermediate and Advanced groups and tested on the corresponding vinyasa count.

If this was  indeed the case then Krishnamacharya would have needed a syllabus, especially as )according to Iyengar) it appears Krishnamacharya spent very little time actually teaching the boys of the palace himself.

Krishnamacharya was it seems often in a side room teaching other patients and dignitaries on a one to one basis. Krishnamachary's assistants, like the young Pattabhi Jois, would have led the boys through their paces in preparation for their exams and demonstrations. These assistants would surely have required some kind of syllabus on which to base the hour long classes and prepare the boys for their exams.

QUESTION: Did Krishnamacharya develop the 'Table of asana' included in the 1941 edition of his book Yogasanagalu, as a syllabus on which to prepare and test the boys of the palace? 

The table is grouped into primary, middle and proficient asana corresponding to the  levels of the diploma(s) Iyengar referred to.

The table included the vinyasa count for each asana as well as indicating the state of each asana,, also the appropriate kumbhaka as well as a related benefit of the asana.

See the appendix below for the full table of asana as well as Pattabhi Jois' four year diploma syllabus.

Krishnamacharya also makes a point in his earlier book, Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934), published the year following the opening of the school, of indicating the vinyasa count and stressing the state of the asana.

Upon leaving Mysore and the school environment, Krishnamacharya seemed to give less, if any, stress to the vinyasa count although he suggested to Ramaswami that the Vinyasa Krama was implied.

If we formally begin and end an asana at samastithi and every key movement is linked to a stage of the breath then the vinyasa count is indeed implied as is the state of the asana. It's only perhaps in a pedagogic/examined environment that the vinyasa count and state of asana needs to be explicitly stated.

Now teaching on a one to one basis, Krishnamacharya had no more use perhaps for the regimented count on which he was earlier to base group classes.

Krishnamacharya's assistant Pattabhi Jois seems to have been in a similar situation as his teacher Krishnamacharya had been earlier, upon being asked to present a four year course at the Sanskrit college for the older boys. He needed a syllabus and a manner of testing, this too seems to have been based on the vinyasa count.

When Pattabhi Jois started to teach western students he gave a four year syllabus to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams that seems likely to have been the syllabus on which his earlier four year Sanskrit college course was based. The syllabus included the vinyasa count but not the count for the actual state of the asana.

The Vinyasa count seems to have been in the background of Pattabhi Jois' teaching of the western students (he would supposedly chant the count to himself while assisting students into the postures), the count was there on the syllabus but perhaps not stressed or made explicit until he was required to introduce led classes on his tours to the US. Lino Miele and John Scott focussed on the count in the early 1990s and in their respective books

Pattabhi  Jois' own book Yoga Mala, clearly based on Krishnamacharya own Yoga Makaranda, focusses on the vinyasa count  but was originally written in 1959 and not translated until the 1990s

By focussing on the count and making it explicit, the count became perhaps (seen at least as) the central feature of the practice ( the breath is implied by the count ) and following it correctly able to be used as criteria for the growth in authorisation to teach.

Although Krishnamacharya no longer stressed the count in his own teaching, he did employ as criteria when asked to test Pattabhi Jois' daughter Saraswati in 1975.

This is not to say that time focussed on the count isn't beneficial, it' can be beneficial because focus on the count is of course focus on the breath, the count is a tool that can assist us in this, just as the breath too is a tool.

CONCLUSION

For a time, I wondered if the seemingly incomplete Table of Asana presented in Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu might suggest a connection to a past text (Yoga Korunta?) or teaching by Krishnamacharya's teacher Ramamohan Brahmacharya. And yet, if this was the case, wouldn't Krishnamacharya have continued to stress the vinyasa count throughout his life. His lack of focus on the vinyasa count after leaving the particular pedagogic situation he found himself in Mysore may indicate that the Vinyasa count was purely introduced to teach large groups of restless boys and further, to test them.

In his later teaching, freed from focussing on a counted framework (series/sequence, however fixed) of asana that all the students could follow, Krishnamacharya could focus on selecting appropriate asana, subroutines and bespoke sequences as well as on the the breath itself (including perhaps kumbhaka). This is a characteristic of his teaching of Ramaswami, AG Mohan and indeed Krishnamacharya's  own son's TKV Desikachar and Sri Sribhashyam. It may well have characterised the private teaching Krishnamacharya conducted in a side room of the palace while Patabbhi Jois led the boys of the place through their places...., it may well have characterised Krishnamacharya's own studies with his teacher Ramamohan Brahmacharya.

It may well be that we have over emphasised the count and sequence(s) in modern Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois defaulting to the tried and tested option when faced with growing numbers of students, as does Sharath in the large room in Mysore and when faced with the large numbers on his 'world tours'. In the Mysore rooms themselves doesn't the count and even the series perhaps naturally move somewhat in to the background, the focus returning to where it belongs, the student rather than a dogmatic methodology.

Pattabhi Jois' son Manju, generally teaching in smaller, more intimate, environments speaks of returning to traditional yoga. While Manju does still include led classes, his workshops and training tend to be more characterised perhaps by adapting the practice to the needs of the student, Manju stresses an integrated practice just as his father did when teaching him and as Krishnamacharya tended to do in his later teaching as well as perhaps the side rooms of the palace, the asana followed by pranayama and chanting the emphasis being on health, well-being and indeed joy rather than attainment and achievement.


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NOTE: I still consider my practice to be the Ashtanga I first began practicing ten years ago. I've been through a love affair with the vinyasa count, with full vinyasa, advanced series, with approaching my practice fast as well as more slowly, with short stays as well as long. 

The Ashtanga sequence is made up of a number of Subroutines and as such I see no significant difference between it and the Vinyasa Krama I also studied under Ramaswami, other than perhaps with how fixed the approach. 

These days I prefer to practice less asana more slowly, just as Patabbhi Jois suggested as an option in Yoga Mala.



See also

Consistency in Krishnamacharya's teaching



Appendix 1. 

Krishnamacharya's asana table ( yogasanagalu 1941)

See this post for more details


'Therefore, how many vinysas for asanas? Asana position comes at which vinyasa count?  When do you perform rechanka and puraka?  When to do antah kumbhaka and bahya kumbhaka?  What are its benefits?  For yoga practitioners information, it is listed in the table below'. Yogasanagalu


Yogasanagalu Asana table

UPDATE
NOTE: With the translation of Krishnamacharya's second book Yogasanagalu ( Mysore 1941 - 3rd edition with additional chapter 1972) now complete, I'm just putting the finishing touches on a free to download edition of the full text that will be available for personal study on the Free Download page at the top of the blog.










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Appendix 2


The 'Original' Ashtanga yoga Syllabus given to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams by Sri K Pattabhi Jois in 1974 Mysore

"In fact, David and I had no idea that there were two separate series until the end of that first four-month trip, when we were leaving, at which point Guruji gave us a sheet of paper with a list of the postures, which were listed as Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, and Advanced B. At this point he told us to practice one series a day, and only once a day".
 from Ashtanga Yoga as it was (The long and the short of it )  Nancy Gilgoff






many thanks to Anon for passing it along and especially to Nancy for giving permission to post it this morning and share with the community at large.

Available as pfd download from googledocs
https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B7JXC_g3qGlWRzZWOUltVnh3RFU

See my earlier blog post on Nancy's article
http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/dear-nancy-yoga-as-it-was-nancy-gilgoff.html

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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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