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Saturday, 26 December 2009

Revisiting Advanced A

I Saw in my diary that, sometime earlier in the year, I'd written 'Begin 3rd Series' for 1st of January. At the time I suspect I was being optimistic.

As it was, I started to explore 3rd a few months earlier on the back of Vinyasa Krama. I'd been practicing several of the asana anyway in VK and didn't want to give them up. Recently I decided it wasn't something I wanted to get into. There are some nice asana in the series but I didn't see the point of all the arm balances, not that problematic for my build but they just seemed too '...showy'.

I know, I enjoy the cool poses, but a third of the series is taken up by arm balances, seemed a bit daft frankly. Recently though I've been playing with Mayurasana, the regular version as well as the Full lotus and one armed versions. They could be considered flashy party tricks and yet there's something else about them I like. It's easy to focus on the strength aspect and if your
reasonably strong it's tempting to muscle the strength poses and miss their subtleties.

I remember back in my Aikido days. Two friends joined the club, one was a really big guy the other half the size. The big guy had no trouble throwing the little guy around but the little guy, he had to have his Aikido technique down perfectly to throw his friend. He ended up progressing much more quickly and last I heard had taken over the running of the club as Sensei.

Of course you need strength for Mayurasana, but it's a balancing pose, it's physics, get the fulcrum right and the opposing forces and you float up like a ..... floaty thing.

So maybe I should take another look.

Less interested in 3rd as a goal though, a smooth Primary and Intermediate with the occasional VK extras seems plenty to be going on with. Advanced A does seems like overkill but once a week might be fun. If you have a slighter build then you probably need to be practicing the series more regularly . I tend to bulk up if I spend too long on handstands and arm balances so don't want to over do it.

There are some nice asanas mixed up in there and the strength poses do focus the mind. I don't see any Karanda's or Kapo's in there to obsess over so once a week should be OK. I imagine Purna M will come over the next couple of months, it's getting closer every time but I wonder if I'll be doing a comfortable Eka pada Raja Kapo and Hanumanasana this time next year. I suspect Hanuman will be my 3rd series Krounchasana.


Practiced 3rd this morning and had a few surprises. Hanumanasana , the one I thought I'd never be able to do ( why of why do we bother to keep saying that) is getting close. Still a way to go but certainly doable and Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana is looking possible as well.

Update 2
Did I say there was no Kapo or Karnada to obsess about? Well I take it back, VRSCHIKASANA A, worthy of some serious obsessing. That's not 3rd series I hear you say. No, but it is Advanced A which is what I'll be exploring this year. Check the pose out at Boodiba's place she has Sayanasana on the same video, another worthy of a little obsessing.

Why do I like Vrschikasana so much? I find it exceptionally challenging personally (just been playing with some prep for it). Practicing at home, I've always had a wall to fall back on (see what I did there: ). I've never learned to fall/drop backwards out of a handstand or headstand. To be fair I've never really had the space, which was another reason for putting tic tocks on hold. With this I'm going to have to learn to drop over. I like the control aspect of it, the intensity of getting a backbend so deep you rest you feet on your head, and when you next drop to the ground and try to grab your ankles it must be quite a stable posture .... eventually. I like the idea of breathing in that asana. And then there's coming back up out of it to think about.....

Purna Matysendrasana, without falling

Finally managed to stay in Purna M. without falling out of it.

Been struggling with this for a couple of weeks. Knew there must be a trick to it that I was missing. In the end it was obvious. I've been focusing on my foot placement and forgetting about my thigh and knee. This time I brought the right thigh and knee close to the other leg so that they were almost parallel, that allowed me take my foot over my knee and twist into it more comfortably.

I was able to work at grounding the right knee a little more which made the whole posture more stable. Still a way to go with it, need to work on getting my left sit bone more grounded as well as stretching up through the pose, bit hunched there. But it's stable enough for five breaths and all that will come just as it did with Mari D.

Krounchasana : The one I said I'd never post

OK, I seemed to have posted everything else and can't hide it away anymore. The asana I hate beyond all others... actually that's not true I kind of like it, until I look at it objectively. Will my leg EVER be straight?

Some improvement though. Remembering that it's a forward bend has helped. I'm bringing my chin towards my leg and then taking everything back a bit, then repeating a couple of times seems to help, think it's fooling the hamstring somehow. I'll publish a video once I've got over these festive Manhattan's

This one doesn't make me feel so bad and is my Christmas present to myself. Fun to do but probably not good for the wrist so won't be making a habit of it.

Saw in my diary that ages ago I'd written 'Begin 3rd Series' for next week. Jumped the gun a bit already and then decided it wasn't something I wanted to get into. Once a week might be fun though, some beautiful asana's amongst the party tricks so figure I'll explore it again on my day off.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Winter practice.

Motivation tested despite all the tricks of the trade. Heating on a timer, candles at the ready to fool one into believing the room is warm and cosy. Everything prepared, mat, yoga towel, spray bottle filled, practice clothes washed and hung over the radiator. Everything primed and prepared, no excuses...? Oh, but there are always excuses....

'Aches in the joints from old injuries, perhaps I should stay in bed this morning rather than risk the knees.'

'Twinge in the hamstring, perhaps another rest day?' Conveniently forgetting that I've been working through this particular twinge for the last six months.

'It's too cold to be a really good practice, so why bother, might as well just give it a miss this morning, it'll be warmer tomorrow.'

The heating is turned all the way up, space heater directed at the center of the mat, yet still the cold creeps up through the floorboards and around the mat though nothing gets through the raft like Manduka.

'Don't think past the Sury's', and when they're done, a full five of each, resist the urge to jump straight to finishing.' So many mornings the thought comes up, I never seem to go with it, yet it keeps trying, keeps tempting.

'Standing, just stretch out some of the night aches and call it a day, a rest day, why not, your owed a few moon days.'

'Primary or Intermediate? I'd planned on 2nd but can I face Kapo when it's this cold, when I feel so stiff? Primary then....but then, hang on a moment, if I do 2nd I can quit standing at Parshvottanasana...'

Second then, because I can't face the last half of standing and I like the thought of bunching up into a warm ball for Pasasana. But then there's Krounchasana and the frustration of still not being able to get my leg straight, not in to mood for directing loving kindness at that pose. 'The cold isn't helping any, I'm stiff, hamstrings it too late to switch to Primary, I mean I'm already seated right...'

And I'm so not in the mood for stupid Salabhasana, here it is, decision time, if I'm going to bail it''ll be here. And yet Salabhasana is such good prep for Mayurasana. 'It's cold, I'm not going to be so sweaty, should nail a good peacock, perhaps even swan necked..... so breathe, count the breathe, focus on the count, make the Ujayii louder.'

In the end it's the breath, always the breath. Those tiresome poses I tolerate, Salabhasana A to Parsva Dhanurasana, it's always the breath I rely on to carry me through. By the time I come out of the other side the mind is quiet, the breath focused.

Kapo goes well, not so deep but the hang feels comfortable, don't feel like coming up but perhaps one more. On the second my hands are on my feet and I come up smoothly. So a third then, I find my feet right away...'my heels, did I just graze my heels', hang a little longer, hands are drier, so are my feet, spider hands up my heels, two fingers over the top...'hooked, I'm hooked', pull in, get the elbows down and breathe.

After coming smoothly up and while jumping back '.... I could have gone deeper, grabbed my ankles even, damn why didn't I remember to push my hips further forward, my ankles, my ankles damn it.'

And then it's work, set up for Supta Vajrasana focus on the count, work through Bakasana, the floaty, smoothly landed one comes and goes but I'm relaxed about it.

The twists, my favourites and you thought it would be the, oh so cool arm balances. Love the feeling of being so grounded, breath focus strongest here, good bandha focus too. Perfect lead into the LBH which feels comfortable enough now that I'm able to keep with the breathe and bandhas. I lose count of the breath at fifteen or so in Yoganidrasa. Ego raises it's head then 'damn that was a fine Chakrasana'.

By then of course the cold is forgotten, I'm in the practice, only mildly peeved at my failure to get as high as I want in Titthi. Karanda is OK, down and up, still not pretty and I wonder for a moment if it's going to improve or if I'll have to start all over from scratch. Some delight in Mayurasana, no swan neck but I'm more pleased with myself than a yogi probably should be, it's coming along.

As amused in Nakrasana now as I was in Titthibhasana B.

Mind fades away again through Vatyanasana, Parighasana and Gomukhasana, back with the breath and the bandha no need to focus on the count, body knows what to do, on automatic.

Supta Urdhava Pada Vajrasana still work in progress, try to picture Kino's approach. it's better, almost there.

Headstands, never been a problem for me, the exit was for awhile but never floating up and staying there. If I have time I'll thrown in some leg as well as the hand variations.

If the Kapo was good then I'll come up from Urdhava Danurhasana if not I'll do five UD's one drop back and move on to finishing. Not so interested in backbends at the moment.

Finishing is a joy, strong bandha focus throughout especially Uddiyana in the inversions.

Before Utpluthi I do kapalibhati, 36 strong exhales, lift up another 36, lower, arms up and on my shoulders for a final 36. (Liz would hate this).

Time is short so I run through the Pranayama mantra three times then ten minutes of Viloma Ujayii with deeply sucked in Uddiyana and a Nauli kriya at the end. I check the time again, ten minutes for meditation at most, promise myself I'll make up for it when I get back from work.

Sitting I focus on the breath entering and leaving the nostrils for five breathes and then try to follow the breath and let drop any location focus. I become aware of the buzz and play on the edges of it, not enough time to let it come on too strong but I notice myself smiling anyway.

The deep Tibetan chant comes out of my itouch and I lay back for my two minute Savasana and notice the chill coming up through the floorboards around me.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Jumping back from Eka Pada and Dwi Pada Sirasana

I was asked for any tips on jumping back from Eka pada Sirasana. Funny, despite spending hours, days, weeks thinking about little else than the jump back I never really thought that much about this one.

It kind of happened by accident. I wasn't able to keep my leg behind my head at first without holding my foot. As soon as I let go it would slip out from behind my head and on to my shoulder. It seemed to sit there comfortably enough as I lifted up brought my other leg in and through. As I started to tip forward the leg would then slip off my shoulder and go back with the other into Chaturanger. That's what's happening in the first clip on the first video below.

The second clip is a development of that. As I became more able to keep my leg behind my head I was able to keep it there as I lifted up and started to jump back. It was just a case then of tilting my head forward at the last minute, just as the other leg was going through, whereupon it would slip out from behind my head, slide over my shoulder and back to join the other leg.

The third clip is pretty much Chakorasana which according to the Swenson book used to come after Eka pada S. Now it's in 3rd series. I learned Ashtanga with Swenson's book so just started doing the pose. As your leg becomes more comfortable behind your head/shoulder your able to lift up. In the second clip I tilted my head to let the foot slide off my shoulder, but in this one I keep my head up as I lift and let the extra weight from the LBH tilt me back helping to bring up the straight leg. You can either hold it up there for five breathes, if your strong enough or take it all the way up in an ark and then as you swing back down again fold the leg in and take it back through as you tilt your head to drop the LBH off you shoulder as before.

In the 3rd clip I also let the leg sit on my arm as I stretch back with the other leg into an arm balance and then take it all the way back to Chaturanga. Not sure why I did that, perhaps because I was trying to perform it slowly and it ended up there and seemed a good idea to explore the arm balance.

All the clips in the video below are in slow motion

This next video includes some LBH prep postures, ideal perhaps for these cold winter months., followed by the Jump back options full speed and then then in slowmo.

And for the sake of for completion.... the last video is the jump back from Dwi Pada Sirasana, exiting through Tittibhasana and Bakasana.

Same as before tilting the head to allow the legs to come out from behind the neck/off the shoulder. Trick here is not to let them come too far off the shoulder so you can keep a high Tittbhasana and allow you to miss the floor as you transition into Bakasana.

Usually I practice in Shorts and the material of these longer trousers got in the way of getting my second leg deeper into Dwi pada and thus not so high up my arm in Titti. I think I need to be getting my hips up higher as I move into Bakasana too, could be a lot neater.

Traditionally you only pass through tittibhasana, I understand, but I like this high version of it so like to hold it for five breathes, I'll often do the same for bakasana too if I end up in a nice high one.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Leg behind head progress Eka and Dwi Pada Sirasana

I've noticed some progress in my LBH recently. Seem to be getting the leg further over the shoulder. I want to try the Maehle, medial femur rotation, tip over the next couple of weeks, so I'm posting this as a before in the hope there's going to be an after.

I tried straightening my legs before lifting up but almost lost balance, might be an idea to practice that with my back against a wall for a little while.

Never been happy with my jump into Tittibhasana, trying to jump while keeping the hips in a plane straight through,think that might come from the new Maehle book too, tricky. Exit through Bakasana is untidy here and I even touch a toe down, usually smoother than that but still inconsistent.

Always something to work on......

Going to be a cold practice tomorrow

View from my bedroom window last night

.... and this morning, out back.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

STOP PRESS: 6th Series revealed at last

At long last 6th series has been revealed in it's entirety.

As you will see lot's of backbends as we suspected.

You might want to skip past the first minute of the standing sequence to Vrschikasana C and some tocks. Ganda Bherundasana Parivrttasana was a surprise, as was Chakra Bandhasana Hanumanasana. I've forgotten the name of the asana at 2:11 but you wont want to miss it. Pommeasana at 3:00 is another highlight

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Neglected Nakrasana

OK, I confess, I neglect Nakrasana. I even go so far as dropping it most of the time.

Look, I practice early in a house with noisy floorboards, plus there's not a lot of room. I even misjudged it once and jumped headfirst into the corner of the room hitting my head both sides at once ..... that was quite impressive by the way, painful but impressive.

And lets face it... it's kinda stupid, it's saving grace being that it proves those old yogi's had a sense of humor after all.

However, this morning I was in the bathroom reading Maehle and found that he compares the arm movement with that from Boxing or martial arts ('you need to push your hands with high velocity into the floor' )and the leg movement with kicking a ball. That sounded interesting , decided to give it a go and film it. I think I had four goes and am now struggling to pick up my coffee cup.

This video is from the 2nd attempt. Some nice lift on the second jump, seem to get it almost right, coordination goes out the window after that, maybe I'm too aware of the wall in front of me.

You can probably tell going backwards in particular still requires a lot of work. And yes I know, my elbows! So hard to keep them in.

Would love to see how 'swan neck girl' does hers.

Oh, and I've included some ultra slow motion at the end to study carefully where I'm going wrong..... hell who am I kidding, slowmo for slowmo's sake.
One other thing, Maehle says that Nakrasana is the only asana in 2nd that employs power, as in Power= Strength + velocity. I should find his exact wording.

Here it is.
' Strickly speaking, nakrasana is the only posture in this series in which power is excercised if we accept the definition that power equals strength multiplied with velocity.' Maehle II p 164

Thought that was curious. Is it the only one in all series, not just 2nd? Will have to think about that and check the Sweeney book.

If so why is it there in the first place?

Why not more of them?

Some additional notes:

To avoid overusing the anterior muscles, Maehle recommends drawing the shoulders down the back and into the spine.

Breathing: I have a bad habit of holding my breath on the return jumps. Maehle has this to say.

'Utilize the lifting quality of a deep inhalation to lift up off the floor in Nakrasana and expel the air forcefully upon descent. Let the movement follow rhythm of the breath and not vica versa.' p165

Monday, 14 December 2009

Mayurasana ..... in search of a swan neck.

KMB said it best in a comment on my blog this afternoon,

' just when you think you've figured something out, you learn that there's another way and more work ahead of you!'

So it is with Mayurasana. I was getting a little pleased with myself, achieving some nice lift and feeling pretty comfortable in the post and then this picture turns up on the net (I've since found out that this is Sarah Plumer in in the old shala in Laxmipuram, circa 2002. photo by Govinda Kai). Is that not the most beautiful Mayurasana ever (btw, if that's your picture and you would like me to take it down or have a photo credit please let me know and I'll do so immediately).

It's her head shoulders and neck that are particularly striking, the lift she's getting there as well as in her legs....

How do you do that?

The first video , below is how I have been doing it up till now, the leg lift is pretty good I think, happy with that, but the shoulders and head point straight down.

The second video is my attempt to get my shoulders and head up. I'm thinking Salabasana, which worked for my legs, now I'm trying to get the same lift in the front of my body, dropping my shoulders down my back to try to stretch my neck through. Needless to say it's making me unstable again and I collapse at the end of the video, though not before finally remembering to point my toes.

My picture next to hers above is my best attempt so far, heads not pointing down as much but such a long way to go. As I write this my eye keeps coming back to the difference in our shoulders....

'' just when you think you've figured something out, you learn that there's another way and more work ahead of you!'


Podcast: Kino on Ashtanga

Just listened to the first of these 'Chicago Sunday Yoga Talks' by Kino Macgregor on the Miami Life Center Podcast page .

Good fun, laughed out loud a couple of times as she related how she first came across Ashtanga, almost by accident, and how she ended up becoming certified by Guruji.

Was surprised a few times by some of the things she came out with and especially loved her comments on Moola bandha towards the end of the first talk.

More of a fan than ever.

Only listened to the first one so far so putting the other two here for my benefit as well as for anyone else.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Yoganidrasana , my old way and now the new way

So I've changed my approach to Yoganidrasana.

I've started to do it the more 'elegant' way one leg at a time with the other outstretched.

However, for the last year or so I did the Swenson way, the kind of happy baby approach which is perhaps an easier way to get into it.

So before I say farewell to it completely, here's a video of the approach that has served me so well and might be of use to someone else.

I'll see about making a video of the new way and post it here later. And here it is.

The first video was another from the pre practice Epsom Salt day. Felt I got into it a little deeper, though perhaps that makes it a tighter bind rather than the longer back I'm now after. Similar thing with Dwi Pada Sirasana in deeper but perhaps resulting in a more curved back than a straighter one. Question now, how to get into these deeper and yet still be able to stretch through them.......

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sweaty Pasasana

Good days bad days when it comes to Pasasana. the bad days I've always written off as being two sweaty. Not my fault that my arm slides off my knee.
Tuesday however, the Epsom salt practice day, I reached Pasasana after most of Primary and was in seriously sweaty Ashtangi territory. Sweaty as I was, I managed to stay in the noose, must have been deeper, lower into the twist somehow. Didn't manage to bind as far up the wrist as usual but was happy with it, though not with losing the excuse.

Before you say, I know, should be left side first. I'm doing it the old Swenson way. I changed for a while but seem to have slipped back into old habits.

Key for me is getting my shoulder as low down past the knee as possible and then wrapping my forearm around my leg and really pressing into the side of the leg while pushing my leg out against my arm, this seems to give me the stability to work into the bind.

Friday, 11 December 2009

UPDATED : 'Wow, I'm superman!' Pre-practice Epsom Salt bath

So I picked up on the Epsom salt bath tip from Boodiba's site. Not just the post practice salt baths but also a pre-practice salt bath.
Pre-practice? Interesting.

The only Epsom salts I could find short notice were a couple of small pots from the Chemist. I had one la
st night after work and then one this morning (Tuesday) before practice. I have my bath pretty hot so had to wait half an hour or so before I unrolled my Manduka.

And then the strangest thing... first Sury felt good, no stiffness, straight down into a deep bend.

Second Sury I pressed to handstand and it was like I was floating up like a balloon. There I was in handstand..
..and still in handstand.....and STILL in handstand. Effortless, I must have been up there for a minute. 'Wow, I'm Superman, I can fly!' In the end I was getting so freaked out about it that I started to laugh, lost my balance and floated back down. What the hell was that all about?

And so it went on, Nice deep stretches throughout Standing, deep deep Paschimotasana from the off, nice floaty jump backs. No problem grabbing my wrist in Mari D, in fact I had to catch myself and mentally check I was in D and not C (lately I've been having to work myself in). The Dwi Pada Sirasana entry to Supta Kurmasana was a breeze and Icouldn't wait for 2nd series LBH's plus the 3rd's I tend to slip in there lately.

On into Intermediate and I was sweating by now but still managed to bind Pasasana at the wrist. Sweat has always been a killer here and I tend to make sure my arms are good and dry before I attempt it otherwise my arm will slip off my knee. Here I was dripping with sweat but still managed to comfortably bind it. Come to think of it I was sweating more t
han usual, was that something to do with the Epsom salt too.

Nice deep Karanada's, slipped in my best Purna M yet after Ardha M and a really wonderful Leg behind head series. Down and up in Karanda and a Mayurasana while sweaty, another posture I tend to have to towel down for.

All in all, probably the best practice I've ever had.

I had a post practice bath with my last post of Epsom salts and feel wonderful. The deepest practice ye,t but not a single ache or twinge anywhere.

I immediately ordered a couple of kilo's off Amazon.

So it works then? Well, going by the above you would think so. I googled Epsom Salt baths trying to find out why it works, does it somehow allow more oxygen to get to your muscles perhaps?

I found this article though which put a bit of a damper on my excitement. It's summed up below.

'The whole article in one paragraph
Epsom salt in your bath is cheap and harmless and it makes bath water feel “silkier,” so there’s no reason to ban it from your life. However, it probably doesn’t do what you hope it’s doing. Although Epsom salt probably does have some physiological effects, it is unknown if there is a therapeutic effect on aches and pains … and somewhat unlikely. Most of the theories you hear are oversimplified and meaningless, and the known effects of Epsom salt don’t have much to do with muscle pain. The belief that it helps could easily be due just to the heat of the bath. The case for the healing powers of Epsom salt are made by people selling the stuff.'

So perhaps it was just the heat of the bath, I've never had a pre-practice bath before, it's possible. I'll need to have a pre-practice without the salts to see, but somehow it all felt a little too magical to just be down to a hot bath.

But try it out yourselves. If it works, stock up on those little white Epsom beauties for when Sharath next comes to town.

UPDATE 1. : The morning after.

I'd wondered how practice would feel this morning without the salt bath. As I kind of expected I was as stiff as usual and it took all of standing to get the kinks out. Perhaps I was a little more stiff than usual. I'd
felt comfortable going deeply into the postures yesterday, maybe I over did it a little, something to remember for next time.

So yesterday, was that what it feels like to do this practice in your twenties? But then maybe the stiffness I experience in the morning isn't due to age but to home practice. At least if your going to a Shala your up and running around for an hour or so before practice, getting to the Shala. Here at hom
e I tend to get up and be my the mat within twenty minutes. Perhaps a quick hot bath before practice through these winter months isn't such a bad idea.

Pre practice hot shower ....... still Clark Kent


Last night i had a hot bath left it half an hour and then ran through some Sury A's and B's, just to see. I did feel looser, better 'warmed up' than usual, but no Superman.


Got up at 6am ran a hot bath with 200g of Epsom Salts. This is about twice as much as last time (only had little 100g pots of the stuff, now I have a kilo). So 15 minute bath, half hour rest to cool down before practice which included some pranayama.

And how was it? Certainly something seems to be going on. Last night after the hot bath I felt loosened up but not particularly stronger. This morning I felt loose but seemed to have that something extra. Wasn't as marvelous as Tuesday, more Spiderman than Superman.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Krama a pose in here and Krama a pose in there'

Loved this comment on the last post, it makes a valid point. You start adding an extra asana here, an extra one there and you could end up with a series bursting at the seams.

It's had me thinking the last couple of days of why I want the flexibility to add poses in the first place.

3rd series was part of it. It's a nice series but I'm not sure I want to practice it. Now you know I love arm balances, but for all the wrong reasons. However, for a guy they're perhaps the least challenging kind of asanas; we're designed for them. Besides, after only a month of 3rd I could feel myself starting to bulk up. I tend to put muscle on quite easily and feel it just gets in the way of other postures, the twists for example. Twice a week was bad enough, four days a week and my Mari D would be right out the window and wouldn't have a hope of Purna M.

There are a lot of asanas in Third series I like, some I practiced in Vinyasa Krama earlier in the year and some I just find beautiful as well as challenging. In Vinyasa Krama these poses would just show up towards the end of a Sub routine and it seemed to make sense to have the option of slotting them in at the appropriate place in the Primary or Intermediate.

This morning, being my day off, I had an extended practice, Primary to Baddha Konasana then all of Intermediate. After the 2nd series LBH I just slotted in the LBH asanas from 3rd then carried on to Titthibhasana. This seemed to work OK, only added an extra ten minutes on to the practice and just took the LBH a little further. Perhaps next week i'll do a similar thing with back bends after kapo.

One of the things I missed about Vinyasa Krama was the wide range of asanas and variations. As it happens most asanas are represented in Primary to Advanced A, but obviously with less variation. Sometimes I feel like I want more twisting postures say, and this flexible approach allows me to add some. In Vinyasa Krama there are some twisted versions of Paschimottasana, for example, and occasionally it might be nice to slot them in.

Ramaswami writes about having a clear plan for your practice and this seems to be the key to making this approach work. I know too many extra asana will over burden the Series and it will no longer be what I love about Ashtanga.

The idea then is to have days where I add a small group of asanas I want to work on, Standing poses from 3rd say (perhaps my days off), and days where I add the odd variations because I feel like working on a particular area of my body or indeed of the practice.

And of course there's nothing new about Ashtanga VInyasa Krama, I'm sure people have been practicing this way at home ever since the Ashtanga came west. It's useful to give this approach to practice a name though and look at it as a separate style, kinda fun too. Over the next few months I want to locate each of the Primary and Intermediate asanas in their Vinyasa Krama Sub-routines to improve my familiarity with the variations available.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama

So I know I get peoples backs up sometimes by suggesting that what I practice is Ashtanga, so how about I call it something else, that way nobody gets offended.

But what to call it?

Well that was easy, there it is at the at the top of my blog already. I'd intended the title to Suggest Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama practiced at home, now I take it to mean Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama TM... at home

So what IS Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama TM?

Well I'm glad you asked.

1. Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama TM is a 'new' style of yoga (about a week old)

2. It has it's roots in Krishanamcharya's Mysore palace yoga as presented by his student Sri K Patarbhi Jois in his book Yoga Mala. As well as in the Later yoga of Krishnamacharya as presented by his student of 30+ years, Srivatsa Ramaswami in his book, The complete book of Vinyasa Krama.

3. The practice is based on the framework of the familiar Primary and Intermediate series of 'Ashtanga'. However, it's Vinyasa Krama element is found in the way poses and/or subroutines are occasionally added before or after the traditional asana of the Ashtanga series.

Thus Hanumanasana may be approached after the parasarita series of Standing either on it's own or as part of a Vinyasa Krama Sub-routine. Natarajasana may be added after Utthita Parsvasahita. Akarna Dharnurasana A and B from the Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric routine as well as Ashtanga 4th series may appear before the Leg behind head poses of Intermediate. Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana after Kapotasana, Parsva Bakasana after Bakasana, Viranchyasana B after the Janu's and Urdhva kukkutasna after kukkutasana ETC. All these additions or preparation poses and others beside are deemed acceptable in Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama.

4. However it is suggested that too many variations and additional poses may have a detrimental affect on the integrity of the framework series and thus only a small number of variations should be considered in any one practice.

5. It is suggested that the traditional Primary and Intermediate series be practiced once a week each, without any additional asanas to 'ground' the framework.

6. It is also acceptable to drop subroutines from the framework Ashtanga series to make room for the desired Sub routine from Vinyasa Krama.

7. It is suggested that Asana practice last between 60 and 90 minutes and is followed by 30 minutes of Pranayama, Meditation and even Chanting if you like that kind of thing.

7a. However, Shorter practices are of course acceptable and no doubt just as beneficial, if not more so, than the longer practice. Swenson has 15, 30 and 45 minute variations that can be used as alternative frameworks for a flexible Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama short practice TM

8. The main focus of the practice is the breath, long steady inhaling and exhaling, between 5 and 25 breathes per asana depending on the stability of the asana, and the engagement of the bandhas.

That should be enough to be going on with while I rush out, print T-shirts and try to engage Bikram's business manager the Spaghetti Monster.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series: Anatomy and Mythology by Gregor Maehle

So Gregor Maehle's new book is finally out today (It was original due out early November ). I managed to blag ( obtain by wheedling or cadging) an advanced copy from the publishers and have been practicing with it for the last few weeks.

Here's what the publishers have to say ;

Description: Gregor Maehle, an expert teacher and practitioner, offers a detailed and multifaceted exploration of Ashtanga yoga's Intermediate Series. A student of Sanskrit as well as anatomy and physiology, Maehle guides readers to the next level with unprecedentedly detailed anatomical explanations and unparalleled attention to the practice's philosophical and mythological heritage. More than 25 postures are meticulously articulated through photos, anatomical line drawings, and practical, informative sidebars. Maehle also goes deep into the mythology behind each posture's name, discusses the philosophical and spiritual background of yoga, and contextualizes Ashtanga yoga within the millennia of Indian cultural history. With passionate erudition, Maehle prepares readers to reap physical, spiritual, and mental fulfillment in their evolving practice.
Gregor Maehle's first book, Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, provided a comprehensive introduction to all eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga and a detailed discussion of each posture in Ashtanga's Primary Series of postures. In Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series, Maehle addresses the postures of the Intermediate Series, with the same unprecedented quality of detailed anatomical explanation and the unparalleled deep roots in ancient Indian philosophy and mythology. The Intermediate Series is the next level of practice in Ashtanga yoga. While the Primary Series is intended as "yoga therapy" - seeking to bring balance to the body and mind and to develop strength, endurance, and flexibility - the Intermediate Series is the first step on the path to purification of the "subtle body." With a Sanskrit name meaning "purification of the nadi system" (the system of subtle channels circulating energy throughout the body), the Intermediate Series shifts focus from the hamstrings, hip joints, and bandhas to the spine, chest, and shoulder joints. As he demonstrated in Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, Gregor Maehle writes with a level of expertise that few Western teachers possess. Readers will come away from Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series well-prepared to take the next step with their practice.
And here is a link to the book on where you can look inside.

Maehle's first book had a translation and analysis of the Yoga Sutra's, this one too, delves into the Roots of Ashtanga Yoga. Chapter 2, for instance, investigates Indian myth and cosmology and Chapter 3 takes a closer look at Sanskrit.
I liked the Sanskrit chapter a lot, having recently come around to some chanting. Maehle stresses the importance of Sanskrit when he says;
'Correct pronunciation requires at least some knowledge of the Sanskrit language, particularly the fundamental relationship between sound and spirituality that is at it's core. p21
And why is correct pronunciation important? Because,
'Sanskrit is a mantric language, and it is nothing but the science of sound itself.' p21
Chapter 4 gives us 24 pages on the Mythology of the Intermediate postures. After the heavy'ish Sanskrit chapter this is a lot of fun, stories that show why the frog or the thunderbolt say, were considered important enough to have an asana named after them. It's a Chapter to dip in and out of. Like me you might jump straight to the story behind Tittibhasana. I wont spoil it for you but it's about a pair of Tittibha (insect) living by the sea concerned about their eggs... or at least the female is. Reading it I had an image of the the insects walking around like Yogi's in Titthi B rather than the other way around.
Chapter 6 is the first chapter of Part II Practice, and looks at anatomy. This is a different approach from Maehle's earlier book on the primary series where the anatomy was spread throughout the treatment of the series and related directly to each posture.
Here he considers the Intermediate series, at an anatomical level, to,
'...expand the focus to the spine, the sacroiliac joints, and the shoulder joints, while giving intensified attention to the hip joints.' p63.
He explores each focus in turn and includes a number of anatomical pictures showing what's going on in say, the Sacroiliac joint and it's surround while in an asana like Kapotasana. There's also his usual use of sidebars, I'm looking at one now titled, 'English versus Sanskrit relationship of Uddiyana Bandha to Sacrum nutation'. If you haven't come across Sacrum nutation before then your in for a ride, it took me from my toes to my heels in Kapotasana and made a hell of a difference to my dropback. Karandavasa too gets five pages of step by step instruction.
Another thing I appreciated about this book was how Maehle employs some preparatory poses which he refers to as warm ups, this is similar to an approach from Vinyasa krama that I was employing in the summer with regards to Leg behind head poses. He has this to say.
'Although some yogi's sneer at the idea of warm ups, the execution of warm-ups is preferable to desperately cranking your leg behind your head without the necessary opening and hurting yourself, particularly your intervertebral discs, in the process. there is nothing traditional about injuries, only nonsensical. if somebody suggests tradition is more important than the integrity of the spine, you would do well to question that person.' p135
Jumping to Part 3 and the Postures of the Intermediate series, the main reason we'll buy the book (though I have a publishers copy I'd like the real one to go with his Primary ), your likely to be as overwhelmed as I was. But that's OK because as we know by now, we're constantly revisiting postures, becoming more aware of different aspects of how they're working on our bodies. This is a book and a treatment of the asanas to keep coming back to. This is surely something Maehle had in mind as in Kapotasana, he has the pose broken down vinyasa count by vinyasa count for both an intermediate version and an advanced version. It's in the advanced version that you'll come across sacrilliac nutation.
Maehle breaks down the Structure of the Intermediate series;
'When analyzing the structure of the series of asanas we discern two different elements: One element, the active one, consists of the three essential sequences that produce the effect of the series( back bending, leg-behind-head postures and arm balances); the second element, the passive one, consists of the four connective sections of the fascia and connective tissue surrounding the essential sequences.' p93
I couldn't help wondering throughout Maehle's approach though, how much of this did the old Yogi's have in mind when they came up with the Primary and Intermediate series, whether it be the Yoga Korunta, Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya or Jois. Had any been to an autopsy or taken an anatomy class. At what level was the series developed. Krishnamacharya seems to have the asanas divided up into Supine and Standing, lotus and inversions, etc. Some asana were considered Key and these were the ones that seemed to be arranged into the series with the variations dropped. There seems to be an intuitive even logical sequence, Standing, Forward bends, back bends, shoulder stands, inversions. Occasionally as with the Marichiyasanas and Kapo we find some preparation postures clearly they had an excellent understanding of the body but I suspect their understanding was very different from Maehle's treatment. But it's a minor criticism if that. I thoroughly enjoyed his approach to the Series, learned a lot, my practice has improved and I know I'll be coming back to this book again and again.
NB. I should point out that my edition was an advanced publishers copy and the Published edition may be somewhat amended. and obviously the printing of better quality. I imagine that the pictures will be coloured in a similar way to Maehle's Primary series.

What do I really want from my practice?

Tried to write about this the other night but ended up deleting five attempts so just posted the title/question. A little clearer this morning and just wrote this reply kind of in response to comments. thought I might as well paste it here.

I like to have a clear plan for my practice so I don't waste time at 6 am deciding what to practice. it was my main problem with Vinyasa Krama and it's something about Ashtanga that suits me.

I'm not questioning the whole thing. However there is a kind of chemical reaction between certain potentialities in Ashtanga and aspects of my character that cause me to go down the route of .... over exuberant practice. I like the floaty kind of jump backs, the press to handstands, the lifting and flipping of 3rd. I'm drawn to the extremes of practice, Chakra Badhasana, tick tocks, the arm balances, strange, beautiful asanas. I find it challenging and love the problem solving aspect of a difficult pose.

But that said, that's not really how I want to practice my yoga. Gannon reports Jois as saying that 3rd is for Demonstration purposes and I can see what he means. The Arm balances are cool but taking up a third of the series seems absurd. It's fun, I can do that kind of stuff but it makes me pause and ask if that's how I really want to practice.
The Vinyasa Krama experience was quite powerful, less asana and practiced more slowly, strong breath and bandha focus, everything else stripped away. I tried to practice Primary and Intermediate in that manner but before I knew it I found myself working on tick tocks and arm balances again. It's not a criticism of Ashtanga but of how I end approaching it. It got me through the first couple of years learning the practice though.

It might be fun to practice like that occasionally, in the evening say outside of my regular practice but it's not the practice I want to get up for every morning.

The idea now is to practice Primary and Intermediate a couple of times a week in a simple, unflashy manner with Vinyasa Krama practices in between. Perhaps I'll work out my own Vinyasa Krama version of 3rd without the arm balance sequence.

Said farewell to the flashy practice in style with the Michael Gannon routine from his DVD. It's Sury's, Standing, most of Primary (up to bandha konnasana), almost all of 2nd and most of 3rd. Took him 66 minutes on the DVD without finishing, took me a little longer about 90 minutes (still not sure how I managed to do all 3 series in the time I usually take to do one). Strangely I didn't feel any more tired than after doing one of them, something about the vinyasa that carries you through. Found that interesting.

Tthose two approaches, focusing on the asana or focusing on the Vinyasa, both have their merits.

In the end surely it's about developing a personal practice, this has just been part of that process.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Purna Matsyrendrasana

Still trying to work out what's going on in this.
I watched Boodiba, Swenson, The Encinitas DVD, Gannon, and Helena Berg from the Swenson Addvanced A disc, all approach it slightly differently. here I'm trying Boodiba's step by step approach, with apologies for being such a poor student.
Then I got to thinking about MariD again. For a year or so I used one of the Swenson variations until one day there it was., fingertips and then a couple of months later the wrist. Need to find a variation that's close enough and yet comfortable and stable for the five breaths.

That said it's still king of the fishes week.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Exploring 3rd Series; Purna Matsyendrasana

So the picture is just to give an idea of what I'm aiming at. If I managed to hold Sayasana for an inhale at most (previous post) then this was held for barely a gasp, a gaspette even, as you will see in the video.

But it gives me hope, everything seems to go where it needs to go, just a case now of making more space so it feels more stable and comfortable. I have these great big feet, size 11 and they seem to want to push my thigh away and get in the way of my twist.
Just watched the video of this for the first time (tried to upload it quickly before rushing off to work, was supposed to be in B &W too). Funny it seemed like I was getting close to it when I was doing it, watching it back now it's awful and miles off. What do we get to get into this, one or two breaths? Not sixteen then. Bugger.

I can't keep blaming my feet, need to break it down element by element. Reminds me of Marichiyasana D, always seemed undoable and then it wasn't, this is somewhere between undoable and wasn't.

No I shouldn't be up, Boodiba suggested looking up to keep your balance while you bind around the back....i didn't stay in it long enough to get my drishti right.

Oh, did manage the Purna M jump back though, just about.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Original Advanced A series (from Swenson's DVD )

As I mentioned in the previous post, I've decided to go with the old, I hesitate to say original, Advanced A series.

I just feel it balances up the series better and makes it feel less arm balance heavy. It's also a little sad to think that hardly anyone practices it this way anymore, and seeing as I'm unlikely to ever practice it in a Shala, why not.

I like the extra poses, Sayanasana is in it, one of my favourites. Looks great in pictures, less so on video I think I managed to hold this one for about an inhale, no more.

There's also the one legged Kapo, Eka pada Kapotasana which is harder than it looks (got myself a mat burn on my foot trying to untangle) the absurd twirling around Parivritthasana I used to do in Vinyasa krama and a very cool lowering down Uttana Shalabhasana. Mulabhandhasana is in it from 4th series as is Kandapidasana from 5th (?), luckily right at the end. best of all as I mentioned earlier my least favourite asana, Hanumanasana is the last pose.

Down below is the list of asanas. This comes from David Swenson's Advanced A and B series DVD and is filmed in Hawaii. This is how it's described on

Originally, Ashtanga yoga was taught in four levels: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced "A" and "B." Today it

is taught as six series with Advanced "A" and "B" being series 3-6. This DVD is an historic presentation and artistic documentation of the original Advanced Series offered with love and respect for this beautiful system of yoga and to its teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois. The video features David Swenson, Helena Berg, Robert Boustany, Lucy Martorella and David Williams.

Advanced B is interesting too. Tic Tocks turn up there along with the headstands from Intermediate series(without vinyasas in between)

Anyone know when it changed and what the thinking was. If I remember correctly in the Encinitas DVD and the youtube video from the same period (1987?) It was pretty much 3rd as it's practiced now but with some 4th series asana added on the end.

Old (original?) Advanced A Ashtanga series list

Vishvamitrasana (Names of the first three asanas are switched, this is how Swenson has them)

Vashistrasana A

Vashistrasana B






urdhava Kukutasana A (Swenson enters this from handstand, now the 5th series version)

urdhava Kukutasana B

urdhava Kukutasana C


Eka Pada Bakrasana A

Eka Pada Bakrasana B

Koundinyasana A

Koundinyasana B

Astavakrasana A (Swenson enters from handstand again)

Astavakrasana B

Viranchyasana A ( This is were it begins to differ from the current 3rd series)

Viranchyasana B

Purna Matsyendrasana

Eka pada RajaKapotasana


Viparita dandasana

Eka pada Viparita Dandasana

bakasana hatha Yoga (Like the Bakasana in the link except that both legs are balanced on one arm)

Ekapada Dhanurasana (half way down page on link)

Akarna Dhanurasana A

Akarna Dhanurasana B

Padangusththa Dhanurasana

Viparita Shalabhasana

Uttana Shalabhasana

Vrishchikasana (like the asana above this is lowered into from handstand as above, then the legs brought over)





Ekapada kapotasana

Supta trivikrasana

Sayanasana (my picture above)

Parivritthasana ( In the link it's called madalasana A)

Utthita Swastikasana


Advanced B list to come.

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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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