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Friday, 30 October 2009

Getting more curl in your backbends

This relates to a discussion that came up earlier today regarding dropping back and getting more curl to your backbend.

Now remember I'm in no way a teacher or an authority on backbending, I don't actually think my backbend is that great. However, perhaps I'm close enough to having just achieved the dropback to be able to remember what actually made the difference for me.

So this was a problem I had myself a little while ago. I suspect it may have had something to do with using the wall as a training aid for my dropping back.

The good thing about the wall is that it gives you a sense of security as you gain confidence in hanging back. My problem had been that I would hold my breath as a I bent backwards. With the wall there I could hang back, my hands a couple of inches away and feel confident enough to take a breath or two, which gave me the time to start working on a deeper backbend and a longer hang back.

But I think there might be a drawback to using the wall in this way. What happens is that you tend to look at the wall all the time and can end up with a horizontal line of sight. your backbend gets deeper but your torso tends to run horizontal to the floor, you may be developing a deep backbend in the mid to lower region but if you can't see the mat your going to lack confidence for that first leap of faith.

What made the difference for me, was dropping back in stages. First I dropped back to the sofa then to cushions then to a single cushion, and finally to the floor(some suggest that dropping back to cushions may be a bad idea if you don't have strong wrists). The sofa was high enough to just be in my line of sight, it automatically drew my head back a little and as progressed through the cushions I began to arch my back just that little bit more each time until I was arched back enough to see the mat and have the confidence to drop.

I think the Vinyasa Krama hand positions may have a similar effect. The reverse hand position, hands behind your back in prayer , the same as if you were about to perform Utthita Pararsvottanasana (see video). You don't have to be that good at this as nobody is watching, the idea is that it draws the shoulders back pushing out the chest. Now try to stretch your shoulders up over the hands which brings the chest up and creates the beginning of some serious curl. Another VK hand position can help here too, arms behind the back, hands clasping the elbows (see video). Again the idea here is to bring the shoulders back and stretch up over the arms to create curl.

Keeping that curl in mind, backbend as usual, starting with bringing the shoulders back, chest up stretching up and over then continue bending back down through the length of your back, bringing your hips forward. I tend to move my hands below my buttocks allowing me to stretch up and over more, It's here I bring my hands in prayer in frount of my chest and assuming I can now see the end of the mat take my arms over and slowly drop back.

Sometimes it seems like we focus too much on the bend aspect of backbend and forget that it's actually a back stretch.

Look at the video, my back bend isn't so great nor is my hangback but I have enough curl to compensate.

I was thinking about this as I was coming home and got my mat straight out. I've left this on the video to show that we can get too wrapped up with preparation. As long as your distributing the backbend throughout the length of the the body you can do it cold, I'd just that second come in the door. The problems come when we try to bend too much in just the one area of the back and put strain on that area.

That said I should probably point out that I've been practicing Ashtanga for two and a half years and have been dropping back into backbends for around six months now. I'm not suggesting that just anyone, with no recent exercise background can just drop back cold into a backbend without any preparation. However, if you have been working towards dropping back for some time but have perhaps developed a mental block towards that last leap of faith, then it might be useful to see the dropback as less of a big performance, stripped of it's preparatory rituals.

I'm not stupid though, I didn't try coming back up cold.

The blowing of the nose at the end is kind of an in joke.

Thanks to maya for this

Richard Freeman talking about Jois:
"One day he convinced me, chronically afflicted with much conceit about my knowledge, that I could drop back to hold my knees cold, without any warm-up, preceding poses, or vinyasa. I knew it had to be impossible by any calculation, but he briefly convinced me that none of these, the body, the pose, the sequence, or the formula, were what I thought them to be. He put me in the pose without a second thought."

Richard freeman writing in Yoga journal.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Exploring Pranayama

This is just a post about my own evolving Pranayama practice, for a more detailed treatment try here.

Last time I posted on Pranayama (excellent just worked out how to do the link thing on blogger) it was Viloma Ujaii, the alternating nostril/throat technique and Kapala bhati, the panting fire breath thing.

This time it's Kumbhaka (retention) Pranayama. I think this is my favourite, the alternating nostrils techniques become confusing (although I still do it for five rounds or so), I find it hard to keep the count and for an extended period my arm gets tired (ahh bless). This is a much simpler but arguably more intense version.

You breathe in and retain the breath, you breathe out and hold the exhale then repeat. That's pretty much it.

It becomes interesting when you start slowing the whole thing down, long, slow steady inhaling and exhaling. I started off with a count of 5:5:7:5 inhale,retain,exhale,retain and now it seems to have settled on 10:7:10:10. I can't seem to even up the inhale, after breathing out so slowly and then retaining the breath, the first part of the inhale is a little fast. Supposedly the retention after the exhale should be a little less than after the exhale, tried it and it evened up my inhale. now its 10:10:8:10

It gets very interesting when you bring in the bandhas and this is why it's my favourite. I've been focusing on Intermediate lately and it just doesn't feel as grounded as Primary, less seated poses I suppose, which I find are the most comfortable for engaging the bandhas. It used to bug me but now I know I'll be doing this at the end of the practice, so I'm much happier.

This is how I approach/experience the bandhas. Towards the end of the exhale (2/3) I let myself become aware of the slight lifting sensation of moola bandha I begin to focus on it and intensify it, drawing it up. As it gets as 'raised as it's going to get uddiyana bandha has begun to become slightly activated, my lower abdomen drawing back towards my spine and up.

This next bit is an added extra . At the end of the exhale I draw my abdomen all the way up creating a cave beneath my ribs and then draw in at the sides as if I were about to perform Nauli Kriya (which I do last few breaths on the video). I tend to hold it for a count of five and then slowly relax it in readiness for the inhale.

It's much harder doing the whole nauli thing when your seated, as opposed to standing and bent over with your hands on your knees. After a few breathes it starts to become a little easier though.

At the moment I'm spending about 15 minutes on pranayama, a couple of minutes on kapala bhati, about five rounds of Viloma Ujaii and the rest of the time on this.

Anyway that's how I'm approaching it at the moment, obviously you wouldn't do this after eating or drinking anything.

Why do it? I love the focus and concentration involved in this. You get much more in touch with the whole bandha thing enabling you to employ them more effectively in the asanas, seems to have been a great help for karandavasana and of course the jump back and jump through, Bakasana B is another that comes to mind. I also find it very calming and use it throughout the day, though without the full uddiyana and with a lighter ratio.

When I do it at work I just sit up straighter with my legs wider as if I'm trying to ground my perineum more and then off I go, though with a much quieter Ujaii to avoid attention.

It's still very much work in progress but as I've said before I'd rather drop a couple of asanas from the series if I'm rushed (though not from finishing) than cut back on the Pranayama. Meditation I might cut back to five minutes followed by the Pranayama chant, then do a proper seated meditation and chanting when I get home but I'm finding I want to do more Pranayama rather than less.

Tried to catch the sound of my breathing but mostly caught the sound of the plumbing (no that's not my stomach rumbling ).

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Long headstands

Before anyone jumps straight to the video I should point out that it's the yogic equivalent of watching paint dry, nothing happens, no really, NOTHING happens. The only source of mild amusement and possible interest is scrolling the play bar back and forth to watch the clock in the corner move and perhaps the uddiyana bandha. What with my dodgy knee it's a slow news day here.

I did a ten to fifteen minute Sirsasana on Sunday and it felt pretty comfortable. I liked how I was approaching the count, 25 breaths up 25 back down, so thought I might see about staying up longer today, 30 minuets, perhaps even an hour.

Annoyingly the video stopped recording before anything interesting happened, seems my camera only records for fifteen minutes before cutting out. Going by the count I figure I was up about twenty to twenty-five minutes when I noticed my toes and feet were going numb. I tried flexing them, rotating my ankles, some side and backward/foreword splits to get some circulation going. I'd done the inverted VK routine a few times in the past and been up in headstand for about forty minutes or so, but while your up there you doing all kinds of asanas so perhaps that's why I didn't experience any numbness then.

I decided to call it quits and see if anyone here can shed any light on this. Now I've heard that you can build up to two hours headstands and I'm sure somebody commented here once that they'd done an hour with the Darby's. So what's the story, is this something that passes? Any suggestions? I was doing some intensive breathing while I was up there, deep breathing, engaging the bandhas, is that a good thing or a bad thing, should I keep the breathing soft and light? What do you think?

Now I don't necessarily want to stay in headstand for two hours or so, but I like the idea of a comfortable 40 minute inverted meditation.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Playing with Vinyasa Krama arm positions as prep for Dropback and Kapotasana

Played with back bends this morning. A kind of back bend focused Vinyasa Krama practice. Taking a break from primary and intermediate for a couple of days until my knee clears up (see last couple of posts).

So practice this morning consisted of a couple of long Sury's, three breaths in each stage then a 25 breath Uttanasana. Part of the Vinyasa Krama Tadasana routine followed, including the back stretching and different behind the back arm positions. I've mentioned these before. I like how they seem to open up/stretch different areas of the back and especially how reverse prayer brings back the shoulders. They give nice support as you bend back into them too, allowing you to stay back longer and work on the quality of your breathing. From them I went into a couple of dropbacks and then filmed part of the routine.

Then it was a 25 breaths Paschimottanasana, part of the VK Bow routine including Salabhasana which led up into Kapo through its 2nd series prep, again employing the VK reverse arm positions to see what effect it had. It was OK didn't reach my heels though. Wish I'd remembered to try the taking turns with an arm outstretched routine I used in the dropback on the first half of the video, next time.

After than I did a quick shoulder stand prep and a 25 breath Savangasana followed by a ten minute Sirasana. I used my meditation timer, turns out that counting up to 25 long slow breaths (nice bandha engagement when upside down) and then back down again is about fifteen minutes. Count up and down again and that's a half hour headstand.

I finished with a 25 breath Maha Mudra right side only (so as not to bend my left knee) ten minutes Pranayama, twenty minutes meditation and about another ten minutes chanting.

Really enjoyed it, nice practice, came out at about an hour and a half.

Forgot how much I enjoy the freedom to explore that Vinyasa Krama invites. Think I'll keep one day a week for exploring the sequences and subroutines some more.

The video below explores/plays with the Vinyasa Krama reverse arm positions as prep for dropping back and for Kapo.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Knee's still playing up.

As I mentioned before in the last post it's just a throw over from an old knee injury. It tends to play up a little in colder weather. Plus I was walking a lot on it the other day. I felt it playing up but didn't take any notice of it and carried on walking all over London., my own fault for not listening to what it was telling me.

This morning I did a very light Vinyasa Krama type practice, focusing around a couple of Key asanas (Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Sarvangasana and Sirasana plus the odd prep pose). I then did Maha mudra on the right side and then Pranayama, Meditation and a little Chanting (PCM). I did the PCM with my right leg in half lotus and the other outstretched, seemed to work OK

Thinking a Vinyasa Krama practice again tomorrow, perhaps the bow Subroutine and lead on into Shalabhasana, and Kapo including it's prep. Then some serious Urdhva Dhanurasana dropback work, haven't done enough of that lately. Want to turn the knee issue into a positive and make the most of the time I can't practice Ashtanga proper. Of course I could do Primary or Intermediate avoiding knee affecting asanas but I tried that earlier in the week and it just fell unsatisfactory, and irritating.

Feel quite upbeat about it actually. If this had happened last year I think I would have felt pretty down about it, couldn't bear to miss a mornings practice, even begrudged the rest day and never took moon days. Since the Vinyasa Krama stint I'm much more relaxed about it all. I kind of feel I have a better understanding of what's important in my practice, the breath, those long exhales, my focus on the bandhas and the PCM. As long as I'm able to cover a few key asanas for 30 to 40 minutes it doesn't really matter.

I practice Ashtanga again because I enjoy the form, find it challenging still and because I can. I practice it with pretty much the same Vinyasa Krama focus which is in the spirit of Yoga Mala. I'm still fit and strong enough to do an intensive practice and while I still can and I enjoy it then I might as well. But it's what's inside that form that really seems to matter to me now.

I'm reminded of how Krishnamacharya told Ramasawami that if he was practicing for an hour then he should practice forty minutes of Asana and twenty minutes of PCM. Doesn't seem to matter which asana you practice so much (other than the key asanas mentioned above), but rather how you practice them. And besides, being away from Ashtnga proper for a couple of months doing VK didn't seem to impact detrimentally on my Ashtanga practice, it's all good.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A real pain in the....... knee

So way back in the mists of time I put my knee out in an Aikido accident and ended up with water on the knee. That would come and go, eventually leading to an operation to remove some non-cancerous tumors on the synovial membrane about twenty five years ago.

As the years have gone by the knee would often 'go out' and I'd end up with fluid on the knee again. One memorable time it happened shortly after arriving in Florida to visit a girlfriend. Not wanting to go straight back home, I spent the whole two weeks hobbling around on crutches with a bag of frozen pees strapped to my knee consuming copious amounts of Vodka to dull the pain, ahhh the folly of youth. I had to quit several jobs because of it and in Japan when practicing Iaido I had to skip the Seiza (kneeling Kata ) altogether and just practice standing butchery.

So one of the great joys for me of Ashtanga has been that despite all the pretzel poses I've never had any problems with my knee. There was a little stiffness, I seem to remember, last winter but nothing that hindered me in any way.

This week however, no doubt because of the cold weather it's really playing up again. It's not swollen and there's no fluid. I don't seem to have jarred it or twisted it in anyway, it's just started to hurt like hell. It's the left leg on the right side of the knee. It seems to have come on since Tuesday when I went to London and was walking around all day (ahh, just remembered that bit, so that's why).

It was hurting when I woke up Wednesday morning and yesterday also. I managed to get through Intermediate the last couple of days avoiding anything involving the knee too much, Supta V, left side of Bharadvajrasana etc. But today was Primary.

Primary is not the series to practice if you have a dodgy knee, just nowhere to hide. Thankfully I learnt Ashtanga with the Swenson book and had all those variations to full back on, but it was a depressing and unsatisfactory practice. (my Primary, my beloved Primary!).

I'd forgotten about the walking around on Tuesday until just now. I'd begun to think that I was doomed to agonising winters and limited practice every winter.

Anyway yesterday I bought something called cura-heat. It's a knee support bandage that has a little pocket you can put a heat pad in. The heat pads I know from Japan, wonderful idea, you just open the packet and the air activates the pad causing it to warm up. You put them in your pocked to warm your hands and some of them have a peel off sticky strip that you can stick to your clothes where you have muscle ache.

I put it on this morning before practice but it didn't seem to help and just became irritating. The bandage itself isn't bad, much lighter than the usual sports bandages. Come to think of it it seems to be good for apres practice. I'm wearing it now and my knee feels fine.

Anyone have any other ideas, rubbing with caster oil? Please don't tell me I need to go and have needles stuck in it.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

20 things to focus on during practice

OK, this is the last list, promise.

Sometimes the practice seems this big thing, all these poses that your tweaking, breath, bandhas, vinyasas, drishti, your alignment in the asanas, getting further into this, extending further out of that, dropping shoulder blades here, rounding shoulders there et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and so forth. It can seem a lot to face on those mornings when your lacking motivation.

Mornings like that, I try not to think any further ahead than the first Sury Namskara. Other mornings I give myself just the one thing to think about and let the rest of the practice take care of itself. I use four or five of these regularly but following the 50 ways to practice ashtanga list this week a few more more jumped into my head during this mornings practice. To stop thinking about it during practice I promised myself I'd post on it tonight.

When I tend to do this I try to make myself focus on just one or two at most. What seems to happen is that the one you focus on for a couple of days then goes into automatic in the background as you focus on something else. So focusing on nice long exhales for a couple of days then moving on to Uddiyana bandha say, you'll notice that the long exhales have become a bit of a habit. A week or two later you might need to do a long exhale focus again just to reset them. Once again the first few are ones that I use regularly the rest are ones that jumped into my head during practice. Obviously you might come up with a different list as might I on another day.

When mentioning vinyasa, below, I'm referring to the transitions from one pose to the next.

This morning I will try to focus on.....

1. Long slow exhaling throughout.

2. Long slow inhaling throughout except for tight binds.

3. Making the inhale and the exhale the same except for tight binds.

4. Making Ujaii as soft as possible, only just audible.

5. Engaging Moola bandha throughout the practice.

6. Engaging Moola bandha towards the end of every exhale in a soft lifting manner.

7. Engaging Uddiyana bandha on every inhale.

8. Linking Moola and Uddiyana bandha together throughout the practice.

9. Breathing steadily while in the asanas (not worrying so much about alignment or how you get in the asanas).

10. Stability in the asana (being less concerned with the edge)

11. Lengthening in all appropriate asanas (really like this, kind of sitting/standing up tall in the pose).

12. Floating the vinyasa

13. Keeping the vinyasa clean, no shuffling back and forth, moving hands here and there or rocking back and forth.

14. Correct drishti throughout

15. Forget drishi and use Jalahandra bandha (throat lock) throughout most of the practice Vinyasa krama style.

16. An extra breath or two in Upward dog

17. My feet

18. A steady count (rhythm) throughout

19. My head.

20. No mind ( When you notice yourself counting breaths try to let it go, when you hear yourself talking about an asana or where the next drishti is, or setting up for the next jump through, just let it go. the old Zen technique of not allowing your inner voice to settle on anything).

As I said there are a couple here that I haven't tried, 19 for example but might be interesting, 20 I haven't tried for a year or so. 11 I haven't made the focus of a whole practice. 14 is one I really should do, though might have to swot up first.

As I said I use this as a motivational tool for days when the practice seems a lot to face and I want to simplify it and not turn it into a drama.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Two things that have made all the difference for me in Pasasana.

1. Getting my left shoulder virtually touching my right knee.
2. Pulling my left forearm against the side of my right calf (just below the knee) and pushing the side of my right calf against my left forearm. It's those two opposing forces that seem to keep me stable enough to get into the wrist bind.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Number 48 (Reluctantly), Oh and a big ass yellow Spider

Dreadful practice this morning. Woke up a little late from heavy dreams, dopey, drowsy, stumbling around all over the place. Encountered a big ass yellow spider in the middle of the kitchen floor that needed to be evicted, last thing I needed. I don't feel the love as far as Spiders are concerned, but may it be happy, well, peaceful, safe ......SOMEWHERE ELSE!

It's getting colder, can feel it in my knee (old Aikido injury, plays up in the cold). Running a bit late I didn't linger so long in the Sury's and Standing, always a mistake, and down hill the practice preceded to go from there on in. Fell over in Pasasana, two very lame Kapo's Skipped Supta V to give my knee a day off. Bakasana was tolerable. LBH was stiff despite chucking in a couple of extra prep poses, decided to skip Dwi pada and go straight into Yoga Nidrasana. Karanda... lol. Mayurasana, fell on my chin. Skipped Vatayanasana and ended up uncomfortably in Gomukhasana (the guys know what I mean, don't ask me to spell it out).

But I've been here before, so just plodded on through the practice trying to focus on the breath and bandhas to get as much help as possible, was mildly amused. Made the most of Bharadvajrasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Parighasana as well as finishing. Pranayama and chanting was pleasant enough.

Oh well, every morning we unroll the mat anew,
but might be time to fish out the space heater.

Talking of yellow Spiders has everyone heard this from Devendra Banhart? Except it was big Devendra, big as a dinner plate ( ..ish)..... there's no Spiders in India right?

This mornings practice 7, 13, 15, 17, 29 and 46 (see previous post)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How many way can you think of to practice Ashtanga?

1. The current official Mysore approach.

2. The current official Mysore approach as interpreted by your Shala/teacher.

3. As presented in Yoga Mala (Long slow steady breaths, plenty of them /Full Vinyasa).

4. As presented in Lino Miele's 1st edition of Ashtanga Yoga. (Eight breaths in a pose ?).

5. As presented in Lino Miele's current edition of Ashtanga Yoga, (five breaths/ Full Vinyasa).

6. Following David Swenson's book (some poses have changed in the current official model).

7. Full Vinyasa. (John Scott, Lino Miele's DVD's Some demos on YouTube from Guruji's 1987 tour).

8. Sharath's Led primary DVD ( Sury's to finishing in just over an hour, half not full vinyasa).

9. With the main focus on creating heat, fast pace, powerful Ujaii, Dynamic.

10. With the main focus on long, slow steady breathing.

11. With focus on loud almost deafening Ujaii

12. As foreplay for Savasana.

13. With Soft Ujaii.

14. With the main focus on engaging bandhas

15. Attempting to focus equally on the breath and bandhas

16. With the main focus on the Vinyasa, on movement, following a rhythm (using a metronome perhaps - want to try this).

17. Focusing strongly on the asana

18. Focusing strongly on alignment (Iyengarish/ashtanga blend)

19. A flexible approach that allows for extra asanas within the practice as you choose (Vinyasa Krama influenced)

20. To a time limit, 40 minutes of Ashtanga practice followed by Pranayama meditation and chanting. (the 40 minutes can include part of Standing, finishing and different sections of a series).

21. Primary all the way up to Karandavasana in 2nd

22. 2nd and 3rd series

23. Intermediate half standing

25. Intermediate full standing

26. Practicing in silence

27. Practicing blindfold (re John Scott)

28. Practicing with music

29. In candlelight

30. Alone

31. In a Shala

32. Outdoors

33. On a beach

34. In a Yurt

35. With the main focus on fun

36. With the main focus on getting fit

37. With the main focus on staying fit and healthy

38. With the main focus on spiritual growth

39. In a workshop environment

40. In Mysore

41. In a led Class

42. In self practice mysore class

42. In A gym with an unauthorised teacher because that's the only option around

43. Meeting with a group of friends once a week

44. Home practice all week but at a Shala on Sunday

45. With a book, DVD etc

46. Reflectively employing a camera to view your progress

47. Obsessively

48. Reluctantly

49. Enthusiastically

50. Employing any or several of the above depending on how you assess your physical and mental requirements at the time.

Did I miss anything?

How do you maintain your motivation for home practice?

I was asked this question in a comment this week and thought perhaps it deserved a post of it's own, then anyone else can throw in the 2 cents worth on what works for them.

To answer how I stay motivated I should probably address first what motivates me to practice and then consider how I manage to keep that up.

Motivation changes of course with the practice and over time.

I decided to number these for reference but they are in no particular order.

1. In the beginning I wanted to practice some yoga and deal with some anger issues and perhaps some stress after being burgled, that was the first motivation to practice

2. I became attracted to Ashtanga and was motivated by the challenge of the poses. I saw some videos and thought, cool, I want be able to do that.

3. As I started to practice I began to lose a little weight, Ashtanga seemed to be a way that I could get fitter and healthier. This became a major motivational factor that lasted for a couple of years. Now I seem to have leveled out and it's more a case of staying fit and healthy for the practice itself.

4. After a few months the Jump back became a bit of an obsession, you might have noticed. That was a strong source of motivation for a long time, and still is, lots of different kinds of jump backs and jump through's.

5. Poses that I thought I'd never achieve began to become achievable which made others seem possible until everything seemed to be possible (up to Advanced B at least). The practice is inherently motivating in this way.

6. I started to blog and that became a motivating factor. It was a place I could reflect on my practice, somewhere I could see progress happening. I started it to share information on the jump back, it motivated me even more to achieve that.

7. For a long time though I never really expected this blog to be read by anyone so it was really just for me. I remember when I would get maybe 20-30 visits a day, now it's between 150-228 (Wednesday was a record) depending on whether I'd posted that day. I've had a lot of comments and emails telling me the blog has been helpful, encouraging, even inspiring and that is highly motivating because the blog and the practice became so linked.

8. As I've progressed, I've been told again and again that sustaining a home practice is particularly hard, that having managed to sustain it thus far, feeds back into motivating me to continue practicing.

9. Being told I shouldn't do something....highly motivating, thank you everyone who's told me that, don't stop : )

10. I've always considered myself quite a solitary type and have always been comfortable with it but I've come to value the online community that I've come into contact with. All the wonderful, helpful and encouraging comments I've received in the past and the knowledge that there are a lot of people out there who care a little about me and my practice. It's probably more motivating than I realise.

11. The Cybershala, other blogs, other practitioners, some who I now consider friends whose own practice have an impact on my own. How our practices sometimes interact.

12. The feeling that whenever you get on the mat there is someone else somewhere in the world doing exactly the same thing. If they managed to motivate themselves to get on the mat then so can I.

13. Books, DVD's, YouTube videos. Educational, but also motivating, always a good idea if you feel your practice dragging a little. Pulling out one of the old DVD's to practice with has often helped.

God this is getting long, I'm on a roll.

14. The above is perhaps what motivates me to practice Ashtanga but what about what motivates me to get on the mat early in the morning for a couple of hours six days a week.

15. Routine is probably key. The practice is habit forming, you develop a craving and know that if you don't practice that day you'll regret it later. Feeding that routine is a good idea. Practicing in the same place at the same time. Same clothes, same mat, towel, same headband even. The mat in the same place, facing in the same direction. All these things help, I know because if I change anything it all falls apart and I become irritable, the practice doesn't work.

16. My half Waitrose pink grapefruit with honey on top. I only eat it if I practice.

17. Focusing on different elements of the practice. It used to be the Jump back, then it was the asanas themselves. later it was a meditative flowing experience and later still a kind of insight meditation going on throughout the practice. At the moment it's the breath and the bandhas. My whole practice is built on them, I adapt it to them, exploring this I find to be motivating.

18. A couple of months ago I became more interested in the tradition, and looking into that and trying to understand it a little more has also been motivating. By this I mean the changing nature of the practice over the last 80 years or so. But this also led to looking into the ancient tradition, the Yoga Sutras, the Gita, Upanishads etc. I think they all feed back into the practice and add to the general motivation. Chanting the Sutras has become a regular part of my practice now.

19. As we go into colder, darker mornings over here, making a feature of it by lighting a couple of candles has helped. I find I like practicing in candlelight. Bit embarrassed about it but I like it and it help get me on the mat so motivating.

20. Last, for now, but by no means least, the support and encouragement of my significant other has been and continues to be very motivating, thank you : )

But sometimes motivation is not enough and then it just comes down to discipline. Whether you feel like it at the time you just have to step on the mat and begin your practice. Conveniently your self-discipline improves along with the practice.

I find that not thinking too far ahead helps. On mornings when I lack motivation I try not to think past the first couple of breaths and then the first Sury Namaskara. The Sury's are usually enough, if not I just carry on through standing focusing even more strongly on the breath., still without thinking too far ahead.

I'll probably come up with others and add them when I think of them. Please feel free to add your own or which of these you too find helpful and motivating. I've probably forgotten the most obvious and important ones.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Wasn't going to post this because there are too many things wrong with it. But then I figured that never stopped me with my jump back videos, it's all work in progress. Kino's DVD should turn up soon and I'll have a more current model to work from. Mine is more of a Swensonish version, though I forget to bring my head between my arms when I first bend forward. Struggling with getting my head all the through my arms actually.

I don't hold the lift for long or take it as high as usual, probably because I was conscious of the camera. Half the time when I try to take it high I slip off my arms and land on my arm if I'm lucky or my chin if I'm not. Sweaty gaijin.

I like this angle looking down along the length of my back. From the side it tends to be more flattering, this angle gives me a clearer idea of the work I need to do to get more lift and yet remain stable..

The extra breath or two at the beginning and at the end is my own a kind of Full Vinyasa/ Vinyasa Krama blend. I usually take between one and three. It's an extra chance to get really focussed on the breathe and bandhas, it's working for me at the moment.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Kapotasana in perspective

Following my beautiful (thank you Arturo) heel bound Kapo on Tuesday, have I since ascended the mountain on a cloud to sit amongst the Buddhas and Rishi's, chew the yogic cud with Patanjali him/herself? Sadly no, this morning's Kapo was back to normal, in fact worse than usual, I managed to reach my toes but failed to come back up.

Perhaps I was thinking about it too much, trying too hard to get the set up the same as Tuesday, or perhaps it was yesterdays Primary, who knows. I'm almost amused by it, almost.

But It's there now, somewhere. I know I can get in that deep now and I kind of know how I did it. Before, in the back of my mind there was always the nagging voice of Grilley whispering, '...perhaps you don't have the bones for it', or another voice snidely suggesting that I'm too old for such nonsense. It was similar with the Drop back, I did it and then I didn't, it came and it went like the wind but the fear was gone. Now I do them when I feel like it, not everyday, it's the same with coming back up from UD. It depends how much time I have, If it's a choice between drop back work and PCM then I'll drop the drops.

Tomorrow of course is another practice.


Think this is the first time I've filmed Vatayanasana. I wasn't sure what to make of it before, felt too fiddly. After Karandavasana, Vrschikasana, Mayurasana and Nakrasana, your pretty wiped out and this intricate bugger pops up. After it you have those nice relaxing asanas, it felt kind of in the way.
Since I started the full vinyasa trip, everything feels more balanced and now I really like it. I'm getting my foot much higher in my groin and the jump back has become really nice and floaty, it's fun. Need to get my hands up higher of course, looking forward to when I can balance well in this and breathe long and slow.

Wouldn't want to do this on anything other than my Manduka (re the knee)

Don't think I'm supposed to raise the arm at the beginning, mixing it up with Ardha baddha padmottanasana.

Oh and it's a bit spoiled at the end , didn't manage to float my foot all the way back between my hands.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Kapotasana , first time grabbing my heels

'Binding the heels' is how Sweeney puts it, I kind of like that.

Those bad boys be bound!

This was my 2ND Kapo, the first one had gone well, felt comfortable and on a whim I decided to do another and film it. I've been working on trying to keep my legs steeper and get more length in my back. I think you can see that in the video I'm using the trick I used with my drop back, pushing the thighs forward just below the buttocks.

The focus on breathing probably helped too, really trying to breath into the chest here. The Vinyasa Krama Tadasana back bend work has also helped, made me much more comfortable bending back and keeping control of the breath as opposed to pretty much just holding it.

It's hard to get too carried away, seen too many amazing Kapo's but this feels a bit of a breakthrough, and according to Sweeney I can now go on to the next asana, oops I kinda did already.

One more point to make for all the home Ashtangi's out there. This was managed without any assists. No pushing the arms in or holding the legs up, no taking of the hand and guiding it to the heels. I had begun to think that I might have gone about as far as I could without assistance, but no, you CAN do it on your own, without ropes, props or assists. Of course visiting a Shala and getting the assists might make it happen a little sooner but if there's not one around or it's not your thing then just practice and all is coming ..... didn't someone else say that?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Best Karandavasana blooper and something a little better

Tried to pay attention to keeping my head up and not use my chin......


This next one was better although I don't come down with as much control or get all the way back up. My chin brushes the mat but at least I'm not using it for support. Not sure what I was doing that began to make the difference. Might play with it this week, different back and shoulder combinations, dropping the blades, rounding the shoulders that kind of thing. Haven't done an intensive for ages.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Karandavasana latest

It's been interesting making the latest Kapo, Karanda and LBH videos. After a couple of months off delving into Vinyasa Krama it's curious to see what's happened to them. Do you lose them altogether or are they improved.

I don't seem to be reaching my heels any more easily in Kapo, still only grazing them with my fingers but I do seem to be keeping my thighs up a little steeper, I get the feeling I'm going to be able to latch on to my heels in a few weeks now I'm back doing 2ND four days a week.

The Leg behind head poses have definitely improved, much more comfortable there. In fact funny enough, most of the Intermediate asanas seem to have improve. I'm getting my foot much deeper into my groin now in Vatayanasana which has helped my control no end.

And Karandavasana, the mighty duck? Not much change there really, though I do seem to have a little more control coming down and be able to pull my lotus in a little tighter It's no longer a question of whether I'll be able to take it back up again, I seem to be able to do that at will, but I still have to use my chin to do so.

The more I watch the video the more I think it goes wrong in the last curl of the lotus. I think I go forward to counter balance it and then once I'm squished down on my arms I'm stuck there. and have to resort to bringing myself further forward by going on to the chin to get under. I think if my arms were less squished flat I could get some rotation in my shoulders to begin taking it back up.

Going to have to think about this and have a look on youtube, might add a paragraph to this and repost it later.

Very untidy exit, first one I've done in ages, hands toes and belly iI think. The return to Standing is because I practice Full Vinyasa.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

PCM : Pranayama, Meditation and Chanting

So chanting..... didn't think I'd be going there. I've always been quite resistant to it and have never bothered with the Ashtanga chant. That said one of the only two times I visited a Shala a guy came in unrolled his mat, stood at one end, and began the chant, softly almost under his breath. It kind of made sense, a nice way to get yourself in the frame of mind for practice after travelling the london tubes.

Still, it wasn't something I was interested in. That said, though not a Catholic, I do have a soft spot for latin prayer ( I was originally a Classicist before I transferred to philosophy) I like the age of it, the sounds, the rhythm and find it quite powerful. When I started getting into Vinyasa Krama I visited Mr Ramaswamis home page and found a load of mp3 Chant files. I listened to a few, kind of liked them and downloaded them on to my Itouch. I started listening to them as I cycled into work and before I knew it I was catching myself humming them or chanting little snatches of a chant, or more likely a bit from one and a bit from another all mixed up. I started to chant along with them in the bath, trying to hit the right pitch to make the bathroom vibrate, very cool.

Ramaswami stresses the importance of Pranayama, Meditation and Chanting and mentions how Chanting is excellent for regulating the breath. In that sense it doesn't really matter what you chant, a couple of favourite lines from a prayer or a poem or hell, even a line from a Britney song. But the old Sanskrit mantra's have done the job well for a few thousand years so you might want to consider them.

I have a soft spot for the Ganesha prayer (no idea what the hell it's saying but like the sound of it, the 12 Sury Namaskara chants, The pranayama chant below and of course the Yoga Sutras (good way to get into them).

I'm still playing with this in relation to my practice and mixing them around. I used to do Pranayama, Chanting and then Meditation thus my acronym PCM but just recently I've started ending my practice with a little chanting to bring the breath back down from all that Ujaii.

In the video below taken at the end of this mornings Full Vinyasa Intermediate, I do some chanting of the Pranyama mantra then go into 3 x 36 Kapala Bhati (snorty fire breath) then five to ten rounds of Viloma Ujaii ( in Ujaii throat, out left nostril, in Left Nostril, out ujaii throat, In Ujaii throat, out right Nostril, in right nostril, out Ujaii throat, then begin again...) Obviously I've trimmed the video, from the last chant to the first couple of Viloma's. During all the Pranayama I would engage the bandhas and even chuck in a little Nauli kriya. I tend to finish with ten to twenty minutes meditation on the breath. I start by focusing on the breath coming in through the tip of my nose and then after a couple of breaths try to focus on the breath as a whole, having fun with that at the moment.

Learning the pranayama chant

Here is a direct Link to Mr Ramaswami's' learn the Pranayama Mantra' mp3

And here's a link to a page that translates (below) and explains the mantra

AUM bhUH, AUM bhuvaH, AUM svaH, AUM mahaH
AUM janaH, AUM tapaH, AUM satyam

AUM, the primordial sound, resides in all elements of the universe. It permeates the earth (-bhUH), water (-bhuvaH), fire (-svaH), air (-mahaH), ether (-janaH), intelligence (-tapaH) and consciousness (-satyam).

AUM tatsaviturvarenyM bhargo devasya dhImahi
dhIyo yo nH prachodayAt.h.

We pay homage to Gayatri, the one who shines like the sun (tat savitur), the one who destroys all our sins through her everlasting and effulgent light. Dear Goddess Gayatri, please illuminate our path towards our higher consciousness and lead us to our true purpose in life

AUM Apo jyotiH rasomRRitaM
brahma bhUR bhuvaH svar AUM..

Please shine your light (-jyotiH) in our path so we may partake of the everlasting nectar (rasomRRitaM) of brahman while chanting the primordial sound, AUM'!

Intermediate.... beginning to look beautiful

Now you're probably not going to get this one unless you've been visiting here for the last six months or so, my apologies in advance.

So tomorrow, Sunday, no work, BIG yoga day. I practice six days a week but as with my day off, not having to worry about getting off to work on Sundays allows me to explore the practice. It was a Sunday the first time I struggled through all of Intermediate and another Sunday that I worked through all of third. Another Sunday I practiced Primary then carried on through all of 2ND to see if it could be done (I'd read they used to do that back in the day)nearly killed me. It was on Sundays that I started exploring Vinyasa Krama and on a Sunday last month that I first practiced Full Vinyasa. I build my practice week around Tuesdays and Sundays. I save the best for those two days.

It takes me two and a quarter hours to practice Full Vinyasa Primary and I've been saving that for Sundays and Tuesdays (my day off) so I could savour it, and that was the plan for tomorrow. Thing is I find I kind of want to practice Intermediate tomorrow. Not SO strange perhaps, except that I practiced Intermediate this morning ...... and on Friday, and also Thursday.

I WANT to practice Intermediate.

Today, at work, thinking about it I started to think that Intermediate was beautiful.

Now it was fun exploring 2ND in the beginning, some great asanas to get to grips with. But I've never enjoyed the series as a whole. It's Primary I've loved, Intermediate, I've just tolerated it for the cool poses and because that's what we Ashtangi's do, move on to a new series just when we become comfortable with the previous one. Even began to hate it, found it disjointed, untidy, not aesthetically pleasing. Looking at Ashtanga, series one to five, I would have marked 2ND down as the runt of the litter.

How can we account for such a sudden change, soft strings and moonlight?

Full Vinyasa!

Now I will admit that Full Vinyasa Primary may be a little much, I'm having fun with it but it takes a hell of a long time and forty odd namaskara, well I can begrudgingly see why Guruji accepted the need to drop it. But Full Vinyasa Intermediate? Perfect. That's how it was designed, that's how it was practiced and for my money that's how it should still be practiced. It just seems to make sense, it feels balanced and balance in Aesthetics (one Aesthetic anyway ) is a synonym for perfect and the beautiful.

Primary you can hurtle through if you want, it works, it swings. You can practice it slowly too, meditatively, it works that way as well, but Intermediate won't be rushed.

Intermediate, it's smart, it's funny (think Titibhasana, Nakrasana) and yes, I think so, beautiful. Once you finally notice all this how can you help but fall head over heels.

I tripped, I'm falling ......don't anyone catch me.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Just heard that Kino's Intermediate DVD is now out and can be purchased here

Hopefully it will be available via paypal from Miami Life Center any day now

Here are the details,

Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate Series with Kino MacGregor DVD
Produced by: Kino MacGregor
Format: NTSC
Region: All regions
Language: English
Number of Discs: 2
DVD Release Date: October 2009
Run Time: 147 minutes

Ashtanga yoga is a magical, dynamic system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Rangaswamy in Mysore, India that is comprised of six series of postures. In this DVD set, Kino MacGregor presents the Intermediate or Second Series of Ashtanga yoga. Called Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit, this group of postures cleanses the nervous system through a rigorous combination of backbending, twisting, hip-opening and strength postures or asanas.

The first disc in this DVD set begins with Kino's insights on this powerful practice and then moves directly into the first segment demonstrating the Intermediate Series as Kino learned it from her teachers in India. While the Second Series is best learned under the guidance of a qualified teacher, you can use this documentation to inspire, deepen and develop your practice. The second disc in this DVD set, called "How to Work," gives you more explanation, pointers and tips on how best to safely approach some of the most challenging asanas in the series. Taken together, this DVD set serves as a comprehensive guide to Ashtanga yoga's Intermediate Series.

Disc 1: The Practice, 108 minutes
Disc 2: How to Work, 39 minutes

And the trailer

Here's a link to my review of her Primary and obviously I'll review her Intermediate here once I get my hands on a copy, hopefully in a week or two.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Press to handstand and float back up to Uttanasana progress Breath Update

You get to do a lot of Sury's in Full Vinyasa Ashtanga, forty something of the ruddy things in Primary a few less in Intermediate.
I've noticed improvement in my float back up to standing, starting to get some nice soft landings. I tried to catch it on video but for some reason the best ones seem to come half way through the practice when I'm not recording. This is the best one I managed to catch.

And below in slow motion

At first I thought it was all to do with jumping up to a kind of pike position and then leaning forward to a point of balance and lowering down. However watching the John Scott video I noticed he doesn't jump that high, more like picture three below.

If you look at the first three pictures my hips stay pretty much in the same position and I think that's the key, it's not so much that you want to get your legs high but rather your hips as high as you can and try to keep them high throughout. The shoulders are forward almost over your fingertips to work as a counter weight then it's a case of engaging the bandhas, especially Uddiyana, and trying to bring your thighs in towards your chest which will also bring your legs in between your hands. As you get stronger you can keep the hips higher and allow you feet to hover above the floor for a moment before you lower them down. That's the best way I can explain what's going on.

The Breath
I forgot to mention breathing and yet this probably makes all the difference. I was practicing a little while ago and noticed that the best float ups came when I got the breath right.

Anyway this is how I do it and it seems to be working.

So your in down dog and preparing to come back up. I inhale and move my body forward bringing my shoulders over my hands and then exhale pushing back and bending my knees ready to jump/float. I push out the last drop of breath and engage Mulabandha (actually I would have been engaging MB for the last third of the exhale, kind of bouncing the breath off MB as part of the exhale but this is a bit weird and tricky to explain here, the usual tightening/contracting will do for now). Following on from engaging moola bandha engage Uddiyana and start to inhale into the chest, give the inhale a bit of a head start and then start pushing through the bent legs I start to allow my legs to lift as my shoulders start to come over my hands. Your still inhaling and it's as if the Breath is carrying you up. I get to the end of the inhale as I get to the top of my lift/jump up and then it's a long slow exhale as I lower.

It's as if the slowing of the exhale is slowing the descent. It's actually here, a little in to the exhale that I start to draw up mulabandha, pressing the breath against the it and kind of squeezing the breath out. The lifting effect of mulabandha helps to slow the descent and keep some control especially when it comes to holding your feet off the ground for a fraction of a second as you come to rest......Going to have to do a mulabandha post huh.

As well as the float up there's lots of chances to work on you float to Handstand. The one in the video is still more of a jump up but what's new is that I'm able to keep my hands closer to my feet, before, I was moving my hands a few inches in frount. Again the bringing of the thighs to the chest seems to be key, as well as getting the hips/pelvis high. A couple of times in the middle of the practice it's felt like I've got it just right and it's more of a float up than a lift. It's coming, it's definitely coming.

Why do these? apart from the fun factor and the nice floating in space Calder mobile feeling, it builds strength. And starts preparing you for all those arm balances in 3rd as well as tick tocks. I've started lifting up to handstand a couple of times and just staying there for as long as I can, working on balance and control, really nice when you start focusing on the breath and elongating the inhale and exhale. Will add a video of that to this post sometime soon.

Another thing that struck me about full vinyasa and throwing in the occasional handstand is that it helps keep the strength up when you move on from Primary. All those jump backs in Primary, you get pretty strong and then move on to five days a week of Intermediate and while you still have your Bakasana and Karandavasana it's just not the same. So you lose some strength in Intermediate but then have Advanced series to come up against which has lots of strength poses. You might not want to do Full Vinyasa in primary, does take a long time but you might want to consider Full vinyasa Intermediate once or twice a week.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Kapotasana update

It's been a long time since I posted a Kapotasana update.

Below are pictures from yesterday morning (colour) and from the last Kapo picture I took in July (b&w). It felt a lot deeper as if I was going back steeper. It felt as if I was managing to keep my hips a little further forward and I was definitely able to spend longer walking back in.

In the video you can see I was trying to walk my hands up my feet but that didn't seem to get me anywhere. Next I tried coming form the inside of my feet for a change. Are my shoulders further over my feet this time, it's difficult to tell with the two different camera angles.

One thing I'm sure of though is that I'm finding it easier to come back up, I'm kind of engaging mula and uddiyana bandha and attempting to rock my pelvis, coccyx up pubic bone down which seems to generate some motion forward and up.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What happened to Vinyasa Krama?

I actually do think I'm still practicing Vinyasa Krama. It's just that the asanas and sub-routines that I've chosen to practice every day are the same as in Ashtanga's Primary and Intermediate series. The daily VK practice routine I was honing was becoming more and more like Ashtanga anyway so why not go the whole nut roast.

The approach to the breath is the same in VK as in Yoga Mala, as is the longer time spent in the same key asanas. Although I do tend to replace Janu C with a ten breath a side Maha Mudra.

According to Manju Jois, his father employed some variation and flexibility in his teaching of asanas which is in keeping with the flexibility inherent in Vinyasa Krama, accordingly I might throw in the occasional extra asana if I feel the need, some extra poses before LBH say or a little Tadasana routine before the Surys or Drop backs.

The only major difference perhaps is the vinyasa, the transitions between asanas. In Vinyasa Krama this comes at the beginning of a sequence, while in Ashtanga you'll find one between each and every asana. However in Vinyasa Krama you do tend to come back to samasthiti between most asanas, in the Asymmetric seated sequence this would just be a case of sitting back up in a variation of Dandasana. I've gone back to Yoga Mala and indeed Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and employ the full vinyasa transition back to standing samasthiti. I do it mindfully on the breath with long steady inhaling and exhaling, calmly setting myself up for the next asana, this seems to be in keeping with the spirit of Ramaswami and the latter Krishnamacharya's Vinyasa Krama.

But why not just go your own way with Vinyasa Krama rather than trying to practice Ashtanga in a VK way. Well, I kinda was and then just happened to practice Primary one evening and remembered why I loved it so much. It is a wonderful sequence. I was also irked by Ramaswami's characterization of Ashtanga in his book. He writes

'Ashtanga followed a system of rapid movements strung together in a sequence, although it lacked the slow deliberate, smooth and coordinated breathing central to Krishnamacharya's Method.' P xiv Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga

Really? that seemed a little strong. Some power vinyasa dancy flow yoga perhaps but Ashtanga? I went back to Yoga Mala which surely Mr Ramaswami must have read and that really is a misrepresentation of SKPJ presentation. In fact I was surprised how strongly the breath is stressed in Yoga Mala as well as much else found in Ramaswamis Vinyasa Yoga. Perhaps Ashtanga has changed a little in how it's practiced now but it seemed like it might be possible to bring together the Early and late Krishnamacharya and I guess that's what I've been playing with for the last couple of weeks.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Ashtanga, Why the change from Full to half vinyasa?

For the last two weeks I've been practicing full vinyasa, alternating Primary and Intermediate. Primary has been taking the longest so I've tended to practice that on my days off, it's taking a little over two hours. Full vinyasa Intermediate is taking me about 100 minutes.

Full vinyasa is the original form of Ashtanga taught by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, after each asana you transition back to Standing as if doing a sun salutation. In postures where you switch legs, the Janu's and Marichi's for example, you practice half vinyasa between legs employing the more usual jump back and jump through, then after completing both sides you transition back to standing.

Jois said repeatedly that he only taught that which his own teacher Krishnamacharya had taught him, we can perhaps assume then that this was how Ashtanga was practiced/developed at the Mysore palace in the 1920's and 30's. Manju Jois says in an Interview that his father practiced Full Vinyasa and Krishnamacharya himself, presents full vinyasa practice in his Yoga Makaranda written in 1934. We can probably surmise that Krishnamacharya had been practicing and teaching Full vinyasa for some time before writing his book and can speculate whether this was the method taught to Krishnamacharya by his own teacher Brahmachari. Is it perhaps also the method of the Yoga Kuruntha, the Yoga text said to be written on palm leaves and later said to be destroyed by ants, that both Krishnamacharya and Jois refer to and that which Bramachari is said to have taught Krishnamacharya to memorise.

Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda allows us to trace full vinyasa back seventy years at the vary least, which kind of begs the question,why abandon it now?

Yoga Makaranda (1934) Krishnamacharya Full vinyasa
Yoga Mala (1958) Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois Full vinyasa
Ashtanga yoga under the guidence of SKPJ (1994) Lino Miele Full Vinyasa
Ashtanga yoga with a forward by SKPJ (2000 ) Full Vinyasa

I seem to remember reading somewhere that full vinyasa was considered too strenuous and even that there was the fear it could cause heart attacks. The latter is surely nonsense and the former doesn't seem to fit with my own practice. But of course I've only been practicing full vinyasa for two weeks, Gregor Maehle has this to say about full vinyasa '... as a long-term practice it may be difficult to sustain'. p21 Ashtanga yoga Practice and philosophy

I recently went back to Yoga Mala and rediscovered for myself the stress placed on long slow, steady inhalation and exhalation. Overnight my practice went from taking an hour to an hour and a half. I had learned Ashtanga from DVD's that rush through the practice and assumed that was the pace one should aim at, Sharaths own Primary series on DVD takes an hour. I figured it must be due to the time constraints of the DVD format, trying to cram as much on the disc as possible. Yesterday though, I watched a Led Advanced demonstration from 1987 led by SKPJ, again the count seemed rushed and the whole practice was over in 90-100 minutes and this seems to fit with many of the led classes/demonstrations I've seen. Perhaps it's not the constraints of the format but something to do with Led classes. Supposedly the led class was something new that Guruji introduced so he could make sure everyone was on the same page, practicing in the same way. I understand there's a led class twice a week in Mysore, I saw some videos of one of these posted by Govindakai, again quite a fast pace. Did this somehow become the norm? I don't visit Shala's but I know that many who read my blog do, how is it in your Shala, is the focus still on long slow, steady inhaling and exhaling or is it rush through the practice so you can get off to work?

When I was practicing at a breakneck speed, shifting to full vinyasa might have been a bit too much, but with my current slower pace I haven't found it any more strenuous, in fact quite the opposite. I find that it has helped my focus, this has especially been the case with Intermediate where coming back to standing after some heavy asanas has provided the opportunity to completely refocus the breath and the bandhas where and when necessary, in case your wondering, my Ujjaii manages to keep the heat turned up well enough.

Of course us who practice at home are free to explore full vinyasa, is it acceptable, I wonder, to practice full vinyasa in a Mysore 'self-practice' class, or would you have to wait for Lino to come to town with his Full Vinyasa workshop.

But there is of course another issue and this irks me. Are we or are we not preserving a practice. If it becomes acceptable to change from full to half vinyasa because the former is too strenuous or time consuming, or change from eight breaths in an asana to five, or turn Advanced Series into a 3RD and 4TH series, or switch and change asanas in a series or how poses are aligned, or no longer be given a variation that might help you achieve a pose but rather being stopped for months or years at a time instead, then what is it exactly that is being preserved. And shouldn't we blush when we criticise other forms of Yoga for not being pure enough or other Ashtangi's for not practicing ' correctly '. Are the changes that have been made an attempt to adapt the style to a western sensibility or out of practical concern for how such large numbers of practitioners can be taught.

This week on Youtube I watched Guruji lead four practitioners through the no longer current Ashtanga Advanced series in 1987. Manju Jois, in an interview, said that his Father learned Primary, Intermediate and Advanced Series from Krishnamacharya.
You can find the videos here

On the same channel there are also some videos called 'Theory class with Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois'. In one of them Guruji criticises the translations of the Yoga Sutras, suggesting that we don't have a hope of understanding them because so much has been lost in the translation.

Levitating at work

David Blaine, eat your heart out.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Alternate or additional Leg behind head preparation postures

One of the joys of Srivatsa Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga is exploring the relationship between asanas.

'This book, representing the system of of vinyasa krama contains a progression of vinyasas. In each sequence and subroutine, the flow progresses from the simple movements to those that may appear impossible at first glance.' pXX

Each asana within a sequence can be seen as preparing you for the one that follows. Problems come when you take a portion of a subroutine from here and part of another from there and so on, building up a daily practice routine or in the case of Ashtanga a series. Unless you want a four hour practice you're going to end up losing some of the preparation poses for some of your chosen asana, can't be helped.

I've always felt this to be the case in Intermediate series. Kapotasana is immediately proceeded by six progressively deeper or at least less supported backbends. How different that is from the first Leg behind head posture Eka pada Sirasana. It's been put to me that if you follow the modern Ashtanga approach of adding Intermediate poses to Primary, one at a time, by the time you arrive at practicing LBH you will never have another problem getting straight into the posture. Perhaps that's true for some, sitting here in frount of the Mac I've just put my leg behind my head, cold and it's true I'm flexible enough to do it. However, I personally find that if I have had some LBH preparation poses I can get my leg further over my shoulder, I can get deeper into the posture and feel more comfortable while I'm there.

So, while I seem to be back following a traditional Ashtanga practice again, I do occasionally, add a posture or two, here and there, where and when I feel it's appropriate. That's not traditional you might argue shaking your head in despair and/or wagging your finger in displeasure. Whereupon I might choose to direct you to this quote form Manju Jois

6. Which was the type of practice your father asked you to do when very young? Did you practice the normal Ashtanga Series or something adapted to your own capacity and age?
At the beginning I could make the postures that I wanted to do. He was not too strict when I was 7 years old, he let me do only the asana that I wanted, but when I started growing up he slowly got serious and he wanted to be sure I learned in the right way. Then I had to practice yoga in his presence in order to be sure that my bandhas were right, my Ujjayi breathing was right, my postures were right. Then he started to give me postures and if I couldn't’t make one he gave me another one to try. That helped me to master the postures. He never told me you have to stop here because you have to master the posture before passing to the other one. He always encouraged me to go other way round in order to master the posture. And this gave me a lot of flexibility that helped me a lot and yoga should be taught like my father did with me.
Interview with Sri Manju Jois
By Giuliano Vecchiè

Flexibility, that pretty much sums up Krishnamacharya's later teaching, as presented by Desikarchar and Ramaswami, could it be that he was teaching flexibility back in the 30's and 40s in Mysore when SKPJ was his student.

Here then, as promised, are some LBH preparation poses that you can slip into your practice as you see fit.

Leg behind head postures appear in several Vinyasa Krama sequences

In the Asymmetrical sequence Eka Pada Sirasan is preceded by

Arkana Dandasana (Archer)

and Kraunchasana (heron )

In the Supine sequence Dakshina Bhairava or Kasyapasana is preceeded by several leg stretches but this one in particular.

Supta Ardha-parivarata-dakshina-padasanam

In the On one leg sequence there are several leg stretches also including Trivikamasana (conqueror), sorry forgot to take a picture of this one, mine's pretty lame anyway so your not missing much. These are before Durvasana (standing leg behind head).

In Ashtanga's Primary before Supta Kurmasana, we have of course

Bhuja Pidasana


And while practicing some Yin Yoga the other evening I came across these two which make great LBH preparation poses.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana Variation

Utthan Pristhasana Variation

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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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