The Look inside feature on Richard website gives you the contents page and the first chapter.
Recently I came across a newly authorised teacher insisting that there were no props in Ashtanga vinyasa, that they go against the intention of the method. Richard and Mary however do include intelligent, responsible prop options throughout the text, for those with injuries, aches and pains or merely working towards a posture.
Richard doesn't have much time for dogma, this is why I've referred to his wry humour, it's the dogma he's gently, even affectionately, mocking occasionally in the text, I find it refreshing.
"It (the Palate-Perineum Reflex) is extremely pleasant and often relieves strain in a pose when we become too dogmatic and attempt to force the body into some contrived ideal form".
It is possible to work safely at a physical level on the postures that make up ashtanga vinyasa, to develop the discipline, focus and attention, this can all be found in part two of Richard and Mary's book and there is a helpful anatomy section included that one might refer to when necessary.
However, to go deeper into the practice then one might return, again and again over the years, however long we may have been practicing, to the first part of the book and there we find a garden of delights.
NOTE: All quotes below in italics are from the text, I've resisted putting page numbers as the text Shambhala sent me was a pre correction proof copy.
|My photo choice|
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with One Thousand Hands and One Thousand Eyes, Metropolitan Museum of Art
M. asked me why I thought Richard had written a book now when there are so many Ashtanga vinyasa books on the market. I think this is the reason, what Richard and Mary wished to communicate, share....suggest.
Deity visualization is akin to abstract thought, such as exploration of the idea of infnity, but visualizations can be em-bodied to give direct, visceral experience of what otherwise might be a complex construct.
Yoga alignment can and usually is approached from the point of view of classical anatomy, physical form, and biomechanics. And this is good. We look at similarities and diferences in the structure of bones, muscles, and interconnected patterns of breath and movement. Visualization bridges a gap in understanding movement between what happens in the mind and what happens in the body. As we breathe and move in and out of postures, we simply allow a visualized form to rest in the background as a subconscious context from which to experience whatever actually arises as feeling, sensation, or thought. e visualization provides a reference point for our experience so we can be there with full attention.
Between the externally oriented perspective of studying form and movement from a classical anatomical perspective and the more abstract perspective of visualization lies another method for insight into alignment and form. That is an understanding of the internal forms of the practice. Each of these perspectives is important and may be an effective means of establishing a context for understanding our practice. Merging visualization, abstract thought, and classical anatomy through an embodiment of the internal forms gives a full understanding of form and alignment. This really is what the Ashtanga Vinysa system of yoga is all about: taking a multidimensional view of what happens when we practice yoga. Cultivating the simplest of circumstances in a context of open-minded awareness and a full range of movement, we invite the yoga practice to unfold like a flower in bloom.
Richard goes on here to introduce BREATH, DṚṢṬI, BANDHAS and MUDRA
Also THE NĀḌĪS
By bringing awareness to the nuances of alignment that are revealed through the internal forms of practice, we discover a gateway to understanding the nāḍī system, part of the innermost structure and scaffolding of the practice. Nāḍī means“channel” or “little river” in Sanskrit, and from a yogic perspective, the nāḍīs are an intricate system of rivulets of Prāṇa and energy that flow through and penetrate every area of the body. From a Western perspective, the nāḍī system could be considered somewhat parallel to the combination of the nervous and circulatory systems. The nāḍīs bring a vibratory quality of breath and awareness to every point of sensation within the body".
"Another brilliant aspect of traditional imagery that invites an internalized, contemplative mind, is the cakra system; through this, we meditate on various stations along the central channel that correspond to distinct sensation patterns and perceptual modes. Cakras (wheels) are usually represented and felt as lotus flowers or padmas. They are strung together like a garland along the susumṇa nāḍī. they are imagined to be sacred spaces ranging in detail from simple geometrical yantras to elaborate maṇḍalas, temples, islands, and whole worlds populated with gods, goddesses, and (potentially) all beings. Cakras or padmas function to capture and absorb our attention fully and then to balance and deepen our insight into the actual nature of what we are experiencing. Each petal or segment of every cakra needs to be interlinked with its complementary opposites and then with its deeper background.
Smooth ujjāyī breathing introduces the natural vinyāsa of the attention to balance and illuminate the cakras. Evenly illuminated, brought to life and vibrancy, they open into the middle path of the susumṇ nāḍī at the center of each padma where the nectar from the root of the palate can be felt. In normal distracted breathing, it is likely to feel as though half the petals are wilted while others are overinflated. But with mindful ujjāyī breathing practice, there is a sense of calm alertness within the body and mind, and the garland along the central channel feels alive, awakened, and evenly innervated".
My quotes are long but I felt it was important to give a clear idea of how Richard approaches subtle body, it's an approach I too have found appealing, not to abandon traditional imagery altogether in favour of a modern western supposed correspondence but rather seeking to understand the intention behind the traditional visualizations, not to get lost in them, but to employ them with discernment. It's a neat trick if you can pull it off, for the most part I feel that Richard does and it's perhaps why I/we are drawn back to him. We know intuitively that there is something to this practice we engage in each day, something deep and profound, more than the sum of it's parts, an untapped potentiality perhaps. With Richard we perhaps feel somewhat closer to catching a glimpse of what that might be.
At some point I started searching through the book for the pranayama section there isn't one, I was surprised at my reaction. In the past I might have felt frustrated, disappointed but if we can attain some small measure of what Richard is indicating is available to us in our asana practice then Pranyama holds less of it's allure. Besides, Richard has a pranayama courses where he is able to go into more detail than here, I've taken the course it's excellent.
I relish my pranayama practice, Richard reminds me to relish my asana practice also, I had begun to forget.
"TRUSTING THE PROCESS
We may harbor a lot of resistance toward dropping in and practicing from an internal perspective. The fear of feeling—deep inside the body— certain things like infnity, impermanence, emptiness or the fact that there is no ultimate frame of reference, can be terrifying. Yet it is for this very reason that the practices emphasizing the internal forms are so important and why we must take them slowly and work at them with great patience and kindness toward ourselves. This is why a teacher encourages beginning students simply to have a direct experience within their own bodies of what it actually feels like to take a full, deep inhale and a smooth, long exhale, and why approaching these internal forms directly through asana practice is vital".
"During the Italian Renaissance, an understanding of human form came to life as great artists of the time became anatomists, peeling back the skin of dead bodies and dissecting corpses to study the intricacies of form and structure in fine detail. Some, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were inspired to explore and broaden their understanding of the body in action, and their art became infused with a level of realism never before imagined. Their direct study of anatomy, merged with their innovative imaginations and artistic skill, transformed the face of art forever. As a yoga practitioner, fusing together a knowledge of anatomy with the art form of your imagination—deeply feeling movement and sensation, along with patterns of connection and breath—may not make you the Michelangelo of yoga, but it will add a uniquely clear means of inhabiting your own skin.
To begin experiencing our own subtle anatomy, it is helpful to have studied classical anatomy and artistic renderings of the body so we have a general idea of the landscape of human form. Imagining our own structure as an overlay to clear images of anatomy, while focusing on feelings and sensations as they arise, provides an embodied, broad-spectrum experience of the subtle body. In this context, it is helpful to establish a vocabulary specifc to these elusive layers of understanding. Doing so is referred to as sādhanā bhāṣā, or practice language. Every group or school (and ultimately every practitioner) has a unique and ofen abstruse sādhanā bhāṣā ; words images, and myths that give us markers of understanding and serve as memory cues so we may easily return to and build on the insight that inspired the vocabulary".
Cave of Sacrum
Holding the Tail of a Serpent
Feet Reflecting Pelvic Floor
Here's an example of one of the above, the shortest.
"Cave of Sacrum
Awareness of the cave of the sacrum is another way of beginning to feel the pelvic floor, Mūlabandha, and the lower under-belly version of Uḍḍīyāna Bandha. The sacrum, to which the coccyx is attached, is set in the sacroiliac (SI) joints in the back of the pelvic basin. Together, the sacrum and coccyx form a contour that resembles a deep cave—almost a separate chamber—below the overall abdominal cavity. The bladder, rectum, and uterus or prostate are housed in this area of the pelvis.
To feel and articulate the pelvic floor, we need to develop a sense of emptiness or spaciousness, a suction sensation in this cave, as if we had spooned its contents back and up toward the lower lumbar vertebrae. is feeling depends on having some feeling of tone in the pelvic floor muscles attached to the coccyx—as if we were holding the coccyx in place to provide stability so we could scoop the spoon of the mind back and up along the front surface of the coccyx and sacrum to “clean out the cave.” Cultivating this cavelike feeling under the belly helps to fully integrate the internal form of nearly all poses and the movements between them.
Energetically the cave of the sacrum is the origin, the womb, and meditating there allows you to relax into the great irreducible mystery beyond thought. Be aware that clean and healthy bowels, as well as some of the less popular and strange kriya (practices) in hatha yoga, facilitate this ability to sense the cave of the sacrum. Most of these esoteric practices, like the ability to suck water up the anus, are actually rooted in train- ing the same muscles of the pelvic oor that establish a sense of the cave of the sacrum. Overzealous practitioners are sometimes tempted to take the kriyas—like anything extreme or strange—too far, practicing the exercises to excess or believing they are the answer to everything when in fact they are simply another type of perspective or tool among many for connecting to the subtle layers of awareness in the body."
My advice is to read through these then find one or two that make the most sense at this time and tentatively introduce the concept into practice, play with it, explore it, before introducing another and so on. Trying to introduce them all at once may be bemusing and result in a shallow appropriation, we're in this for the long term aren't we, this is a lifetime practice, "Why you hurry?" was I believe the saying.
"Classical anatomy complements and greatly informs visualization and the idea of vinyasa in yoga practice. This chapter includes a limited selection of anatomy topics that are of particular relevance to yoga poses and internal forms. Hopefully this basic information will serve as a springboard to deepen your ongo- ing study of anatomy."
Here are a couple of pages to give an idea of the approach.
If I were to recommend three modern Ashtanga/Yoga books to buy it would probably be these
Art of Vinyasa - Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor
Ashtanga Manual - David Swenson (especially for the home practitioner)
Yoga Mala - Pattabhi Jois
Also these from Krishnamacharya at some point for context, they are available on my Free Downloads page
Yoga Makaranda - Krishnamacharya
Yogasanagalu - Krishnamacharya
I also highly recommend Srivatsa Ramaswami - Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, not Ashtanga but so closely related.
See also my yoga Reading list http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/p/yoga-reading-list.html
It's already available direct from Shambhala direct and from Amazon around the end of the month (29th December?). Postage could be expensive from Shambhala but they also have an ebook option. I imagine it will be available on Kindle from Amazon also.
My copy is an ebook/pdf, the print is a little small so if Kindle allows you to increase the font size that might be a benefit although you can of course zoom in on the ipad. Both kindle and Amazon are searchable of course which is useful especially for this review, Richard is using sanskrit diacritic marks however which makes searching tricky.
Although I've been sent this free ebook copy I'll still be buying it in print, so I can attack it with a highlighter and pencil.
NOTE: Supposedly there is a live interview with Richard and Mary about the book being streamed on Shambhala's facebook page. Monday Monday Dec 5th at 7 MST?