Why do we always seem to look to the most extreme version of an asana, an ever more complicated, more intricate version?
I've asked this question before here
Convince me Krishnamacharya are there any serious benefits to Leg behind head postures (Advanced asana)
I like Simon Borg-Olivier's preparation/'beginners' version of Bharadvajrasana from his new 84 key asana course (See THIS post concerning the course).
This 'preparatory' version ( bottom left) has a wider, more stable base than the regular half lotus version (bottom centre), or the tighter, knees almost together, Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda version (bottom left). The 'beginner' version is more comfortable, more stable, should one wish to explore lengthening and retaining the breath in or out as Pattabhi Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya instructed.
"Take deep inhalations and exhalations with holding in of breath and holding out of
breath. Both types of kumbhakam are necessary. The total rounds of deep breaths may be slowly increased as practice advances, from 12 to 48". see Appendix below
Are we compromising the possibilities of the breath merely for aesthetics?
as kapilasana and/or buddhasana....
But then why bother with the leg behind head postures at all, why not stick with Janu Sirsasana
and rather than seek ever more challenging versions of the same asana, perhaps explore a variation of the asana that works on the body in a completely different way, basically a different asana altogether as Krishnamacharya taught to Ramaswami.
|parsva janu sirsasana|
....or better still perhaps just stick with Maha Mudra and explore the full possibilities of the breath.
The main elements of janu sirsasana and the more advanced leg behind head variations are perhaps all there there, isn't it sufficient?
See my proficient primary post perhaps, practicing asana as mudra
Are we chasing ever more advanced asana and series when we could perhaps instead, simplify our asana and explore the breath.
But then why not explore pranayama in siddhasana and be done with it, forget about exploring the possibilities of the breath in asana altogether.
or on a chair..... or even just standing up
|Krishnamacharya - Nadi Shodhana|
Perhaps that was Pattabhi Jois' argument if he had one, keep asana and pranayama separate, for beginners at least. We know Pattabhi Jois he talked of a so called rishi series, with long stays and that, according to Manju, his father practiced long stays with slow breathing himself.
Is there really any more benefit in the most extreme version of a posture than in its simplest, less sexy, expression?
Admittedly the tighter Bharadvajrasana is a joy to practice, it's quite intense,
but to explore the breath give me this, simpler, more stable version
....especially as Krishnamacharya talks about staying in the posture for up to 48 long slow breaths.
"The total rounds of deep breaths may be slowly increased as practice advances, from 12 to 48".
see Appendix below
Krishnamacharya wrote that we don't need to learn all of the asana, although a few teachers should, so as to preserve them. He did talk however about exploring a wide range of asana and their variations to enable us to access all areas of our body as he continued to do into his eighties ( see this post, Krishnamacharya practicing at 84).
Do we practice so called 'advanced' asana merely for the sake of it, for the challenge, for Instagram, for promotion, is it all ego and aesthetics.
There are many reasons why we practice as we do at different times of course, for fun, for the challenge, just as we might try and swim butterfly or dive from a higher board or climb ever more challenging climbing walls but also perhaps because it seems to have become the norm. Just as models get skinnier on the cover of magazines, asana get more intricate on our Instagram and fb feeds. Those who should perhaps know better, promoting themselves and their workshops through ever more fancy asana, shot in beautiful locations ( and employing circus trainers for heaven's sake to outdo each other).
|Eka pada sirsasana in Santorini|
The more flexible of us try those asana ourselves and share our experiments with our friends or at least those we can do, those fancy arm balances from third while our kapotasana from intermediate might be uninstagramable, a bit of fun and why not but what is the knock on effect.
Others of course practice these asana, these series because it is thought to be the tradition forgetting conveniently that Pattabhi Jois himself stressed that advanced series asana were for demonstration only (demonstrations to promote yoga rather than our own businesses).
Such an industry has built up around how to practice those asana we perhaps have no need to practice as well as around the most basic asana. All we should perhaps be concerned with is whether we are practicing a posture safely and not concern ourselves too much about imperfect alignment or how deeply we can enter a posture or that if only we could practice this asana to the industry standard we could get the next. Alternatively we could close our eyes and ears, turn inward and just practice the asana, inhabit the asana, and let it take care of itself.
I'm just as guilty myself of course, sharing those fancy leg behind head variations here on the blog, arguing that we could practice advanced asana at home without buying into trips to Mysore or a shala membership, that such asana could be practiced in middle age, not just in our twenties.
I have this idea of somebody out there (who won't of course be reading this), or another me perhaps (parallel universe theory) who picked up an Ashtanga Primary series book from the library ten years ago and never googled Ashtanga yoga or got on board social media but just learned the series or enough of it and merely practiced alone for these last ten years. Wouldn't the discipline have come just the same, wouldn't the breath have slowed, the pause between the stages of inhalation and exhalation been noted and lengthened, such breathing explored away from the series as well as just sitting. Yoga is our birth right, we find it everywhere in one form of another, not the asana perhaps (although often) but the quietening, the simplifying of our lives, the turn inwards and contemplation of self or what is beyond or behind the self.
The joy of home practice of course is that there is no one else around (except perhaps that with social media there is always someone around), nobody to tell you what you can or can't or should or shouldn't practice, nobody to lead you to feel you ought, by now, to be practicing more advanced asana or going ever deeper into a posture or that we need to practice a whole series rather than half.. or even less. At home we can practice a handful of asana and stay in them for as long as we wish, explore the breath as we wish, or practice as many as we like, as quickly as we like. Once we have built discipline we can trust to our own discernment as to what we experience as most beneficial to us that morning.
Manju Jois stresses that yoga is freedom and that nobody should be telling us what we should and shouldn't be practicing, certainly on account of questionable ideas of tradition and lineage. The guru, they say, is within.
That said, practice safely, those are the workshops and intensives we should make an effort to attend.
Bharadvajrasana variations from my photo essay post http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2017/05/photo-essay-ashtanga-vinyasa-krama.html
See this post on Krishnamacharya's instruction for a long stay of up to 48 breaths
from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda Part II
1. Sit on a piece of soft folded cloth, with one leg stretched straight in front, and the other leg folded back at the knee, so that the foot is close and by the side of the buttocks, the sole of the foot upturned, toes stretched and the back of the foot touching the cloth. The knees should be as close as possible. The foot of the leg, stretched in front, should be upright, to the ground and not inclined sideways. The body should be erect and the spinal column stretched-chin lock.
2. Bend the stretched leg (say the right) at the knees and bring the right heel very near the umbilicus. The right knee should touch the ground. Both the knees should be as near to each other as possible.
3. The right hand is taken round the back to catch hold of the toes of the right leg. The palm to touch the back of the foot.
4. The palm of the left hand is placed on the cloth below the right thigh. The hand should be stretched and not bent at the elbow. The left wrist should touch the outside of the thigh.
5. Twist trunk to face front. Turn the head, so that the chin is over the left shoulder.
6. Take deep inhalations and exhalations with holding in of breath and holding out of
breath. Both types of kumbhakam are necessary. The total rounds of deep breaths may be slowly increased as practice advances, from 12 to 48.
7. Repeat with the other leg.
Note: This is contra indicated to those who have had abdominal operation.