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Friday, 27 July 2018

After Ashtanga (?)

I still get mail, there is clearly a lot of disillusionment in the Ashtanga community of late, from students and teachers alike. For some the spell has been broken somewhat and there is the temptation to let the practice lapse, to give it up altogether, but then what, what comes after Ashtanga. When a practice has dominated your life for months, years, decades even, what happens if and when you stop, there is some fear there, grief even for something lost, a practice, a lifestyle, a community.

"I still love the practice but....". 

I've been hearing that a lot.

'I love the practice but I don't want anything to do with Pattabhi Jois, or lately with Sharath, or with those friends and teachers I'd looked up to who criticised and vilified the victims of those who came forward to talk about Jois' abuse, as well as any who spoke up in support'.

Or indeed,

"...all those who stayed silent".

I'm sure I'm not the right person to comment, I've been moving further and further away from straight, by-the-book Ashtanga for years. And yet I always tended to feel that what I was practicing was somehow still Ashtanga, a couple of months ago however it did feel like a final clean break ( see previous post, 'No longer identifying as an Ashtagni').

I practiced Qigong for three months, I learned Tai chi, I practiced Simon Borg-Olivier's Spinal movements, asana virtually disappeared from my practice..... but then it came back. At first I would just include Krishnamacharya/Ramaswami's key asana but then I would move from Simon's spinal movements into some Standing postures and soon realised that I was basically practicing half Primary.

I've always felt that half Primary made a lovely practice ( half second perhaps every couple of days), being short it allows plenty of time for pranayama and a Sit just as Krishnamacharya intended. It's modifiable, you can practice it slowly, long slow breathing perhaps with kumbhaka following Krishnamacharya's instruction in his early Mysore text, 'Yoga Makaranda'. Or you could practice it with natural breathing as Simon Borg-Olivier might suggest along with his anatomical and physiological guidelines. You could add in a couple of preparatory postures or more advanced developments of a posture or both as we see in Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, also clearly present in Krishnamacharya's early teaching. Practiced this way we are perhaps recovering Krishnamachary's original Mysore teaching, we are in the Realm of Pre-Jois, pre-Ashtanga.

What is most important it seems is that we do still practice...  something, that we maintain a daily discipline to assist in giving focus to our lives in seeking to reduce our attachments, especially in this period of unease. Yoga Philosophy is very simple, it's the commentators who distort or make it complicated. I remember Ramaswami saying that he always found  Patanjali's Yoga Sutras approachable, immediate (my words), it's the commentaries that confuse matters.

We might practice other forms of exercise of course but as the Italians might say, Asana 'marries' with pranayama and Asana, they come from the same soil.

Pattabhi Jois lifted his Primary and Second series from Krishnamacharya's table of asana (which we find in Krishnamacharya second Mysore book, 'Yogasanagalu'). Jois' Primary series is barely changed from the table, minor tweaks. Jois' second series contains a little more of a shuffle, a rearrangement of some of Krishnamacharya's asana groups, the Advanced series, while containing the same asana as Krishnamacharya's table, is completely different following the requirements of the course Jois was asked to teach, as both Krishnamacharya said, Advanced asana is for demonstration.

Note: This is in no way an attempt to 'airbrush' Pattabhi Jois out the Ashtanga Vinyasa story, to do so would also airbrush out the victims of his abuse, rather, while recognising that Pattabhi Jois promoted aspects of his teacher Krishnamacharya's approach to Yoga we can perhaps move out of Jois' shadow and look directly to his source.

If the asana are the same, the way they have become practiced is not.

Fixed series perhaps helped make Ashtanga popular (and those early practitioners were attracted to the physicality of the practice as much as any spiritual suggestion), but popular is not necessarily better. Fixed series also caused problems, it introduced pitfalls. A fixed series led to faster breathing, a hot, faster sweaty practice as we seek to cram a whole series, or a series and a half, into our morning before running off to the office. A long fixed series meant that pranayama was basically discarded along the way. Meditation, the whole point of the practice for Krishnamacharya and indeed for Patanjali barely made it into the picture.

We became asana obsessed, fixated, our attachments grew perhaps rather than lessened.

Meanwhile, the money rolled in.... to Mysore, piles of it.

Practice asana as we wish and for whatever reason and watch how our practice and our reasons for practice change. Practice to escape, to break a patten, a habit. Practice for health and or fitness, practice for a beautiful body, practice as a hobby as a devotion, for a community all are of course perfectly justifiable but if we practice asana for Yoga, as Yoga, then we surely need to try and keep the asana in perspective and not lose ourselves in the asana at the expense of Yoga or mislead ourselves or others by the suggestion that asana is sufficient.

Sharath of course, however well intentioned he may have been, sought to preserve his grandfather's legacy. Despite being well aware of the sexual abuse committed by his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, even being present in the same practice spaces on occasions when it occurred, Sharath still virtually deifies his grandfather every Guru Purnima, Sharath's legitimacy is tied to his grandfather. Sharath took care of the family business, now no doubt he looks out for his own families future. Becoming ever more authoritarian and dogmatic  to this outside observer, the practice seems to have become, as it were, preserved in amber.


Most of the the shalas, studios and gyms have, I would argue, abandoned the essence of the practice, discarded the pranayama and the meditative activity, some though have rediscovered it, teach it quietly, somewhat under the radar, often unauthorised or de-authorised teachers the former perhaps never choosing to visit Mysore, the latter choosing not to return, both practice with the same devotion as those who make yearly visits to Mysore.

For Krishnamacharya the asana and pranayama clean the room, we don't then leave, we sit. Krishnamacharya suggested that the meditative activity be twice as long as the pranayama, the pranayama twice as long as the asana, asana is the lesser of the three and yet in Jois' Ashtanga it has eclipsed the other two

Note: Manju Jois, Pattabhi Jois' son still includes pranayama and a meditative activity (chanting) after every practice.

The growing disillusionment with Ashtanga is perhaps an opportunity to recover the Pre-Jois practice of Krishnamacharya. It is a simple practice, perhaps half a Jois Ashtanga series or a handful of basic postures practiced mindfully, with or without transitions followed by a simple breathing practice and a meditative activity. It's as fixed as we want it to be, as modifiable as we wish it to be. It perhaps recovers much that was lost along the way as Ashtanga was made more popular, more marketable.

We should perhaps ask ourselves more seriously, I should have asked myself more seriously....

"How fit is fit enough, how strong is strong enough, how flexible is flexible enough". 

Because one glance at Instagram is enough to show us that the ballerinas, the gymnasts the acrobats and contortionists, the martial artists all exceed our most 'liked' practitioners in terms of grace and flexibility, fitness, strength and application. We shouldn't kid ourselves with a "Yes but our practice is more authentic, traditional (it really isn't), more....meditative...., it's YOGA ", We discarded meditative and likely yoga along with it when we fixated on asana, on a sold system. We listening to those who trumpeted the system, defended it and justified it's popularised form. We should perhaps have listened to the voice inside that knew better all along that there was perhaps another way to approach the same practice.

Many practice their Ashtanga this way already, as Richard Freeman has said, those who are less flexible are somewhat blessed. Home practitioners are equally blessed. A different approach to our practice suits us at different times, I myself may have needed at the time, the full-on dynamic, sweaty asana/series chase for a time but perhaps I became somewhat lost in that. Most who stay in Ashtanga will no doubt end up adapting their practice eventually anyway, as they let go of the asana chase, the series chase, perhaps the fame chase.

How do we respond to the Ashtanga crisis? Reduce our attachments, we might start with the view of practice we have become attached to.

We are so often seeking legitimacy for our practice, authority. The authority for our practice, the legitimacy of however we practice comes from our Sitting, from how well our practice prepares us to Sit or to go through our lives mindfully and treading lightly.

Make shapes mindfully, breathe, sit and follow our yama/niyamas as best we can, enjoy our practice.





Note: The idea of practicing less asana (perhaps half rather than a full series) is to allow time for Pranayama and a Meditative activity, not to allow you to leave your mat early for cake...., as M. seems to think.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Standing Asanas - Srivatsa Ramaswami July 2018 Newsletter

Standing Asanas

Even as the definition asana is to be seated, in Hatayoga several standing postures are common and popular. In the vinyasakra yoga practice out of the 10 major sequences three are standing sequences. The most well known is the Tadasana sequence wherein one stands with the feet together and performs several asanas and many vinyasas centered around individaul asanas subroutines. Of the other two sequences, one requies standing on one leg and keeping the other leg in different positions in different asanas and then doing exquisite movements standing on one leg.This sequence requires a great sense of balance and regular practice instils a certain sense of balance both physical and mental. The third sequence in standing  with the feet apart say equl to the length of one's leg, in the form of a triangle,known as trikonasana. This sequence is very popular with contemporary yogis. Because of the broader base Trikonasana affords,it becomes much easier to work powerfully with the body muscles and also work with the joints as hips spine etc. 

The Tadasana sequence is the first asana sequence my Guru taught us. Standing on both the feet with the feet together, ankles touching each other, the thighs close, pelvis slightly forward and shoulders slightly thrown back this ensures standing straight in samasthiti or state of balance. Keeping the head down one mey watch how one balances when the eyes are also closed. Staying for a minute or two daily as soon as one gets up from bed would help to start the day with an even temperament. Since all movements are done with synchronized breathing in  this system, a minute or two of close observance of the breath would be helpful. Then many arm movements known as hasta or bhuja vinyasas help to stretch the muscles of the arms, neck and the chest and thus the accessory muscles of breathing. This would facilitate good breathing habits. Parva Bhangi and the vinyasas of side bending and also sideward turning  both of which will help the flexibility of the spine and forms the next subroutine in this Tadasana major sequence. Forward bending or uttanasana is the next subroutine and can be done with ardha uttanasana or half forward bending. This early prparation helps to stetch the muscles in the posterior part of the body as the calf muscces, the thigh muscles, the hamstrings, the glutial muscles etc. This subroutine lends itself to several vinyasas of the arms like padangushtasana, niralamba uttanasana. parsva- bhaga uttanasana and others. The next major joints that are dealt with are he knees,and all these are done still with the feet kept together and doing all contraction movements on exhalation synchronized with the movements and expansion movements like back bending during inhalation. Half squat and then full squat with varying arm positions mark the variety of vinyasas in this sequence. Utkatasana also can be used for some more involved asanas like malasana, kanchyasana, pasasana and others. Finally we have the tadasana where one tends to stand on the toes. It could be seen that vinyasa krama provides opportunities to do several asanas subroutines and vinyasas to be performed within  one basic asana in this case the Tadasana. There are a few very interesting off shoots from this sequence viz., Khagasana or bird pose, ding namaskara or salutation to the directions and with some additions from other asanas the well known surya namaskara the 12 vinyasa subsequence to salute the sun.

One legged postures are a class. When these postures are approached with vinyasas they bring out the best of balance. These were aso known as tapasvin poses or penance poses. Asanas like Bhagiratasana, Durvasasana and trivikramasana named after an avatara of the Lord, Vishnu come to mind. Though these poses appear simple if one can learn to stay in these poses for a time, say five minutes or more then one develops a good sense of balance a certin calmness and which will be helpful in developing one pointedness. Many of those who participate in the vinyasa krama yoga program initially do not consider them as very exciting but over a period of time start appreciating the unique sense of balance and calm they appear tpo generate and include them in their daily cup of asanas.popular with modern day yogis.

The Trikonasana or Triangle pose is very popular with modern yogis The uttita trikonasana where the feet are kept wide apart, usually involves side bending without bending the knees and looking straight. These are very good hip exercises and because of the broad base one is able to stretch the muscles more powerfully. The next asana and vinyasas will be uttita parva konasana wherein one still standing straight with the feet kept apart but bends the knees alternately to bend on either side. This lateral movement of the hips on a firm base of the feet helps to slowly and strongly stretch the hips, the groin and perineum laterally. Then we have the parsvottanasana wherein one turns to sides alternately with the feet kept aprt as in trikonasana. Without bending the knees one would bed forward giving a powerful turn to the hips. And finally we have the famous virabahadrasana or better known as warrior pose wherein one not only turns the body to the side but also bends one of the knees giving a new set of movements strong and powerful. There are quite a few vinyasa movements possible in each one of the four asana positions with the Trikonasana base.

The next set of asanas while  standing can be considered an extension of trikonasana wherein one spreads the feet further apart and do a few movements like forward bends side bends and also some back bends. It is known as prasarita pada uttanasana.If one can spread the legs further one can sit on the floor which would be samakonasana.a
The three major standing sequences with a number of subroutines and scores of breath synchronized winyasas are very powerful and may be an artistic way of doing asana practice afforded by Vinyasa krama. For more instructions and movemnts please refer to my book "Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga"



***

I am sending this letter a couple of days earlier than usual as I will be travelling next couple of days and may not have adequate facility to send it later


--------
Steven Ross attended my 6 week full time  200 hour  Vinyasakrama Yoga Teacher Training program at Loyola Marymount University several years back. Since then he started a yoga studio in Austin TX, East Side Yoga and has run it successfully for sevaral years now. I taught a week long program there a few years back and was in his Studio again earlier this month for a week. For the weekend I spoke on Mantra yoga, taught Vinyasakrama and also spoke and taught Viloma Ujjayi pranayama. During the week, I taught in the forenoon several sequences from Vinyasakrama yoga based on my studies with my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. It included Tadasana (tree or mountain pose and vinyasas), Asymmetric seated poses like marychyasana, Janusirshsana and vinyasas, Trikonasana sequence including Virabhadtasana and vinyasas, Suptasana including sarvangasana and vinyasas, Vajrasana and other seated poses and vinyasas and pranayama and introduction to dharana meditation practice. The afternoon sessions each 2 1/2 hrs included discussion of several topics of interest to practising yogis like 1) what is Yoga 2) Hatayoga for Internal Organs, 3) Fundamentals of Samkhya 4) The first 4 sutras of Yoga sutra 5) Upanishad Vidyas. Nice group and very good participation. Thank you Steven and all those who participated.



I will be teaching a 15 day 100 hr Vinyasakrama Yoga TT program at One Yoga in Victoria Canada from June 30th 2018

 I would like to mention about another program that yoga practitioners and teachers may find especially useful. It will be for 8 days teaching, morning 2hrs 30 mts  Samkhya Karika and afternoon 2hrs 30 mts the close sibling philosophy (darsana) Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, totalling 20 hrs each. Studying these two darsanas that complement each other could be very useful in understanding the Sutras better. The twin program starts July 28, 2018 Here is the link to register

https://cal.lmu.edu/event/lmux180728#.WzEVWKczaM-

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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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