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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.

Exploring 3rd series; Viranchyasana A, (first part of A)

Struggled with this today. Sunday I was able to lift it up but couldn't get it off the ground this morning. Sure I'm supposed to have my half lotus knee on the mat to make the pose more stable but this is the best I can manage for now.

I tried reaching over and under to bind but not a hope.

I think I need to set up my half lotus differently but I can't work out how else to lay it. I was having a hell of a time in Purna Matsyendrasana, my foot just seeming to be in the way whichever way I try to place it.

That said it's beginning to become more comfortable, I'm a little steadier and can start thinking about working on the breath and slowing it down.

So the question that was bugging me last week that I didn't have time to explore.
Basically I was wondering if this was the way I wanted to practice my Yoga.

All those arm balances on top of the whole tick tock thing and Mysore backbend sequence, had me questioning my motivations and attitude towards practice. A third of 3rd series is Arm balancing, a third! bit much? I like them, they make great party tricks and because I'm quite strong they are less of a challenge for me than the Purna M's and Raja Kapo's, let alone Hanumanasana but is that how I want to practice my yoga?

And yet if you forget about Galavasana to Astavakrasana and look at the rest of the series it definitely is how I want to practice yoga. I looked at Swenson's Advanced A and B DVD yesterday and put it on my ipod to practice with this morning. Seems a much more balanced series and I think that's the one I'm going to be working towards, best of all Hanumanasana is right at the end.

I don't think It's something I want to practice more than once a week, twice at most but then I always like the idea of practicing Primary, Intermediate and 3rd twice a week each. I can practice Advanced A on my day off taking it slowly to keep my breath focused, in fact 3rd seems even more suited to a Vinyasa Krama approach than Primary and Intermediate which tend to be driven forward by the vinyasa.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Exploring 3rd series ; Viranchyasana B

Really like this asana, the first part reminds me of Maha Mudra. It's the Janu's taken up a notch. Looking forward to spending some quality time in this with the breath and bandhas.

Before that happens though I need to get clear on a few things, how to bring the extended leg back into half lotus as well as the exit out of the rolled foot. Oh and how the hell to get my hand under my knee. Think it was OK when I was doing it with Swenson, but when I filmed this after my practice I'd forgot where I was and what I was doing.

The three asana I've posted today are ones I haven't filmed before and thus hadn't had a chance to look at from the outside, as it were.

Still amazed that the foot rolls back as well as it does. I still cringe to watch it happen, seems so wrong, but feels fine.

It's poses like this that negate the unarticulated suspicion that has been gnawing away at me since Wednesday

Exploring 3rd Series ; Astavakrasana

More arm balances, think I posted Atavakrasana A once before. For some reason I find A easier than B, it's that change over from one arm to the next, tricky.

So many things to remember, change on the inhale here, keep your shoulders square there, hips up, don't forget your bandhas....

DVD's are great for the entry and exit, the broad brush strokes of a pose but can appreciate how invaluable a good teacher must be, especially with the arm balances where so much is going on.

And yet still that voice, enquiring, niggling away in the background......

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Exploring 3rd series ; Urdhva Kukkutasana

I first learnt about 3rd series from Swenson's DVD, he starts off with the handstand version of Urdhva Kukkutasana , which I think has been shifted to 5th series now. It's still my favourite so I've kept it in. I forgot to try and go back up while in handstand and dropped to a headstand instead, which was annoying because I was thinking about it last night. Now that I'm able to go back up in Karnandavasana I was wondering if it would now be possible to do the same here, oh well next time.

Still need to get my lotus up tighter, was better when I was doing it in shorts earlier, the longer trousers seem to trap my knees somewhat.

This is fun but there's a nagging question that's starting to bug me.

Solo Supta Vajrasana blooper

I think I hate the word 'blooper' but can't, for the life of me, think of an alternative, at least not one for a family show.
My knee is officially back to normal, a clean full lotus jump back is the test for me and it past with colors aflutterin' this morning. Come to think of it Wednesday's Viranchyasana was probably more of a test and it was fine there too.

Just noticed, I look like Fugu in this video

Irritable as hell yesterday, woke up late (I don't use an alarm, never needed one, 'till now perhaps) and missed the chance to practice, was restless all day. Came home and did an hour Vinyasa Krama followed by some Pranayama and Chanting and felt right as rain. Bit worrying that not practicing can have such an effect on my mood, bad yogi.

Just watched the video back and for some reason it seems to speed up during the splat, nothing arty on my part, either the Camera, imovie or Youtube

Thursday, 19 November 2009

3rd series and Kino's Intermediate DVD

Had a lousy practice this morning. I wanted to practice along with Kino's DVD. Perhaps it was because I was facing the other way so I could see the laptop on the goban but I couldn't settle. Kino was fine, I haven't got anything new out of the second, 'how it works' disc but her running commentary through the practice is always good value and makes you focus on things you hadn't thought about or had forgotten.

Two things stand out in particular already that are dynamite and were worth the price of the DVD alone. First how she talks about moving your pelvis forward in Hasta and Pinda Paddangusthaasana, shifting the weight of your pelvis forward from your heels to the balls of your feet to your toes. Simple little thing but it's made all the difference to my press to handstand and thus every lift in Sury. I've been working on this of course, all the other elements were there, but just this little way of characterising the movement has transformed my practice. The other is her Supta Urdhva pada Vajrasana, I'd been trying to do it the Swenson way, turning the straight leg back while rolling and making a hash of it. Kino does it (and no doubt this is how it's done in Mysore now) by turning the leg back before you roll which makes all the difference.

Apart from these two aspects of the practice this morning everything else, in the colloquial, sucked. Individually the asanas were OK, and the transitions neat with Kino's new lift but I never felt in the practice. Came away from it restless and almost irritable.

After a long bath and still feeling unsatisfied with the morning practice and not in the right frame of mind for Pranayama and Meditation (which begs the question, I know) I thought what the hell, I'll do 3rd. I've worked through it a couple of times before, it's exhausting and demands all your attention I thought it might be just what I needed. Most of the 3rd series poses came up in Vinyasa Krama and or the Rocket so I'm relatively familiar with them. This time I had the Encinitas DVD, Jois doing a led 3rd, and wanted to get to grips with the transitions in and out of the asana.

It actually went pretty well, relatively speaking. I got through the series with the DVD and guruji's count. It's all raggedy of course, not pretty I find the exit from some of the arm balances really tricky, Astavakrasana A and B for instance, how do you get back onto your head. The LBH poses went pretty well thanks to Vinyasa krama and I've been comfortable with the Kukkatasana'a for awhile. Purna Matsyendrasana is one I attempted a few times in VK and just about got it this time. Managed to lift up in Viranchyasana A which was a first and I'm still amazed my foot rolls back without any complaints from my knees for both A and B.
Viparita Dandasana and Shalambhasana are more old friends from VK. Which brings me toHanumanasana and the Trivikrasana's, will I ever be able to do those in public I wonder, horrible horrible. need to keep working on Hanumanasana every morning. Used a towel for Natarajasana and Eka pada raja kapotasana which was OK, can see them coming along nicely over time but raja kapotasana brought on cramps in the back of my thighs, whats that all about.

By the time I got to finishing I was in an excellent mood, spent fifteen minutes on Pranayama and then substituted knocking up a Pumpkin Tagine in place of some meditation. Now a long bath is called for while my Tagine pot works it's magic.

I'd planned on waiting until the new year to start exploring 3rd series again but have decided to hell with it and will work through it once a week on my day off. Still leaves me four Intermediates and a Full Vinyasa Primary on Sunday plus my restful Vinyasa Krama routine in place of a rest day.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Knee injury and Vinyasa Krama

I wrote this draft two weeks ago but forgot to post it. (Where it says a month ago read six weeks).

About a month ago I injured my knee and posted about it here. Nothing too serious, just an old injury from twenty odd years ago that plays up in the cold sometimes. I'd ignored the signs and walked around London all day. The following morning I could hardly stand.

My Practice, what about my Practice.
I couldn't really bend my knee so that was most of Primary out of the window and half of Intermediate. If this had happened last winter I would have been devastated, I hadn't come to Ashtanga from another style of yoga, Ashtanga was all I knew, as it was I was still thinking, 'What if this is it and I can't practice Ashtanga anymore'.

Luckily this year I'd come across Ramaswami's Vinyasa flexible Krama. Flexibility is it's middle name. OK, I made that bit up, but it should be it's middle name. Hell of a lot of asana variations in Vinyasa Krama, the system is designed to be adapted to the needs of the yoga practitioner.

So I took it easy for a couple of weeks adapting my practice, then added a few modified Intermediates, dropping asana that affected the knee and adding a couple of others from VK.

With more thought I could probably have added asana that work similar areas of the body as the ones I was cutting. As it was I kept it simple and took the opportunity to add asana from Vinyasa Krama routines that are less well represented in the Ashtnaga series. Parsva Bhangi (side poses) for example. Also Purva Tanasana (anterior stretch poses) In Primary we just get Pursvottanassana. From Vinyasa Krama's Supine sequence I added Apanasana (Pelvic floor poses) and some light Dwipadapitam (desk poses) which were easy on my knee, as were a lot of the shoulder stand series from Supine. I added these to finishing, to take up the slack from dropping Urdhava Padmasana, Pindasana and Matsyasana as well as Baddha Padmasana, Yoga Mudra and Utpluthi. When practicing Intermediate I added most of VK's Bow routine and went backbend crazy followed by long Paschimottanasanas with the different VK hand/arm variations. To Sirsasana I added a lot of the VK Inverted subroutines, there are some asanas that work on the knee but being upside down you can approach them much more lightly.

Best of all I felt I had Vinyasa Krama to fall back on. If I couldn't do Ashtanga anymore I could always practice Vinyasa Krama and that would be just fine, more than fine. What wicked wit and gifts had had the power to seduced me back to Ashtanga anyhow?

Vinyasa Krama doesn't have Jump backs and Jump through, other than at the very beginning and end of a sequence. Not being able to transition became less of a drama than it might have done a year ago. I used the extra time to really slow the breathing down and stay longer in an asana as well as repeating. Can't do Marichiyasana B and D that's OK repeat A and C, Can't do Karandavasana (misery) then do Pincha twice and stay up there longer, breathing more slowly.

Last week I was pretty much back to Full Intermediate bar a couple of obvious knee centric asana. With the extra time that gave me in the morning I worked a little more on Kapo and Dropping back. This morning my knee felt fine enough for a loose, full lotus and even Utpluthi, the only Asana I missed out was the left side of Vatayanasana.

UPDATE : My knee is just about back to normal, copes fine with Full Vinyasa Primary and Intermediate. I'm back doing Vatayanasana on both sides, Garbha Pindasa and with a lotus tight enough again to jump back from Supta Vajrasana. The only thing I find is that for longer periods of Meditation and Pranayama I find it best to sit in half rather than full lotus, at least until the weather warms up.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Walking in Urdhva Dhanurasana 2, grazing the heel

Managed to touch/graze/brush my heel with a fingertip walking in, was so surprised or excited about it that I almost lost my balance. Still can't believe that was possible for me. Now I know it is, I need to calm down, back off a little and work at staying at each stage a little longer.

I like the lifting up on to the toes, walking the hands in then lowering back to the heels. It probably has a similar effect as an assist and having your teacher help you bring an arm further in.

What I want to do now is lift up, walk in lower and then settle there for ten to twenty five breaths. Work at getting the hips up higher, straightening the legs a little more and just become more comfortable at each step.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Backbend month Dropback and up x3

I've been lazy as far as backbends are concerned. I would do my five Urdhva Danhurasanas and then more often than not give coming up a miss. I probably got around to dropping back three times a week and even then I'd do one and call it a day. Had always felt the whole back bending aspect of Ashtanga to be a little over rated and out of proportion to the rest of the practice. Still feel a bit that way

But due to the knee problem I had recently, I decided to work on backbends for a while, and it's kind of turned into backbending month. I've had some good Kapo's, grabbing my heel, managed to walk in and brush my heel with my fingertip in UD and now my dropback and come back up seem to be coming together.

Wish I'd focusing on this more months ago.

Yesterday was the first time I dropped back and came straight back up again three times in a row. Each time I came up was a little smoother/easier. It's still untidy, there's still a lot of rockin' and rollin' and my feet are a disgrace but it felt good. there's a video on YouTube where the guy drops back, rocks gently back and forth and on the third rock forward comes smoothly up, that I would like to be able to do. If I can make today's practice consistent it looks possible.

Sometime or other though I'm going to have to address my feet. One of the drawbacks of practicing at home is that you can allow yourself to get into some very bad habits.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Curved back / Straight back ? Drishte?

(Quick Poll on the right).

This is something that's been ... giving me pause, off and on, since I started practising Ashtanga again after exploring Vinyasa Krama. For my own benefit, i've tried bringing the two 'systems' together in my practice, seeking to convince myself, that the two approaches were consistent with one another, picking up on the similarities and putting the differences to one side, for the time being at least. However just recently this question came up again on another blog.

Straight back or curved?

In the books and DVD's through which I learnt Ashtanga the back was straight, eyes to toes. However, in Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, reflecting krishnamacharya's later teaching, the back is mostly curved with Jalahandra bandha engaged.

I hadn't noticed this before this week but on page 74 of yoga Mala we have both. SKPJ with curved back, forehead on knee and below, Sharath with a straight back, chin on knee, looking up at his toes.

Whats going on here, which should it be? Straight back or curved?

What does the text say?

For Tirangmukhaikapada paschimattanasana, the second picture above of Sharath looking up at his toes, Yoga Mala has this to say,

'...Then, doing rechaka slowly, place the forehead on the outstretched leg, and do puraka and rechaka as much as possible.' p75

Jois says the same for the other le

But for Ardha badha Padma Paschimattanasana it's,
'... slowly place the chin on the outstretched leg,' p 72

and interestingly he says,

'There are three types of Paschimattanasanasana : 1) holding the big toes and touching the nose to the knees; 20 holding on to either side of the feet and touching the nose to the knees; and 3) locking the hands and wrists beyond the feet, and touching the chin to the knee. All three types should be practiced as each is useful.' p68

For Janu Shirshasana A, b and C we have a choice,

' the forehead or chin on the knee of the outstretched leg,' p77

So Yoga Mala tends to give you or your teacher the option of Chin or forehead. In Lino Miele's Ashtanga Yoga it seems to have become more standardised, in the pictures for each of the above asanas Sharath has his chin on his knee and is looking at his toes, Straight back.

But what about Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya.

In the Yoga Makaranda, Krishnamacharya says, with regard to Pascimottanasana,

' After first practicing the asana with the face pressed onto the knee, practice it with the chin placed on the knee and then eventually with it placed 3 angulas below the knee and calf.' p75

for Ardha badha Padma Paschimattanasana he just says,

'Lower the head and place it on top of the outstretched kneecap'. p75

Tirangmukhaikapada paschimattanasana is the same as above and Janusirasana is,

' the face onto the knee of the outstretched leg.' p80

However in each of the pictures for the above asana Krishnamacharya has his forehead on his knee, Curved back

It appears as if both Krishnamacharya and Jois tended towards placing their face or forehead on the knee, thus performing the asana with a curved back. However both mention the other method of placing the chin on the knee but without mentioning how it changes the curve of the back. Both refer to the chin method in the sense of a useful variation.

Krishnamacharya seems to retain the face
on knee approach throughout his career, if we go by his later students Srivatsa Ramaswami and T.K.V. Deskachar. In Deskachar's heart of yoga we find pictures of Krishnamacharya still practicing asana with his face on his knees in, what, his seventies or eighties?

Ramaswami was a student of Krishnamacharya for over thirty years from 1955 to 1988, he claims his book 'The complete book of Vinyasa Yoga' reflects that teaching. In his book the asanas mentioned above appear to be practiced just as Krishnamacharya practiced them back in the 1920's and 30's, in fact Ramaswami stresses the engagement of Jalahandra bandha (throat lock throughout his book.

Krishnamacharya then, appears to have remained consistent throughout his career with regard to placing the face/forehead on the knee, thus putting him firmly in the curved back camp.

Jois himself no doubt learnt the curved back, face on knee method form his teacher but by the English edition of Yoga Mala he is offering the option of chin or forehead, straight back or curved. Sharath has his chin on his knee in the Yoga Mala pictures, as he continues to do in his later primary series DVD.

In all the texts and videos I have on Ashtanga the chin is on the knee. and the gaze towards the toes, it appears to have become orthodoxy. i wonder how it is taught in the shalas. Talking of the gaze, of Drishti, this is something har
dly mentioned in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda. Occasionally there's mention of 'look between the eyes but thats about it. Of course there's not much need to focus on drishti if your locked in Jalahandra or have your face on your knee. Is there a connection perhaps?

I have two theories.

1. Due to the bad habits of sitting posture in the west, we tend to slouch, Jois saw the need to work on straightening the back of his students and thus encouraged them to place the chin on the knee rather than the forehead thus straightening out the back.

2. The focus on Drishti is something Jois developed in his own teaching, and this went hand in hand with the gradual shift from face on knee to the chin on the knee and the gaze at the toes.

I suspect the two may have coincided.

Obviously this is all conjecture, but I wonder how Jois taught these asana back when Norman Allan first encountered him and whether Drishti was a significant element of the practice.

What does my own inner guru say?

Straight back. To counter the curvature in my spine developed from a lifetime of sitting badly. If you look at the early videos on this blo
g I had a very pronounced curve to my lower back and the chin on knee approach seems to have gone a long way to improving that condition.

POSTSCRIPT: I just started to wonder about Maju Jois and how he practices and teaches the above asana, given that I consider him a window into how Jois was teaching before the coming of the western students. I searched on and came up with this picture, that I have never come across before, and will end this post with it and without comment.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Part 2 of Sharath and Uddiyana Bandha in Karandavasana

Part 1 here

My rest day today so just a light Vinyasa Krama practice, mainly some of the Tadasana sequence leading into some back bends. Moved on to the key asanas, Utanasana, Paschimotasana, Maha mudra, Sarvangasana and Sirasana.

In Sirasana I wanted to work on the inverted Uddiyana bandha* I mentioned in Part 1. It took a couple of breathes to start getting the hang of it but it felt pretty good and I think I'll be doing this everyday for the next couple of weeks.

The belly doesn't seem to cave as much when you engage Uddiyana* upside down, but perhaps that's just me not having got the hang of it yet. I'm happy with this for now and more important is to be in better control of it.

So there's a video of this, if your a fan of watching paint dry of grass grow. I think you can see it get more pronounced as things go on. At the end of the video I bind a lotus and bring it down while trying to keep Uddiyana engaged, tricky, very tricky

After that I couldn't resist giving Karandavasana one go at least.

Again, hard to engage a strong Uddiyana while coming down but I think I had something going on and it did seem to give more control of the descent. I tried to engage it fully as I went back up again too. Better than yesterday and I seem to have my Chatuaranga exit back although my left hand slipped as I didn't have a towel on my mat.

Difficult to gauge how effective this is having been away from Karandavasana for three weeks, think this was my third since my knee improved. A good scientist would have got his Karanda back to it's best first before starting to explore all this.

Perhaps there's nothing to it anyway, just a hunch and some bits and pieces from Sharath that I'm putting together to see if it adds up to anything.

Bandha work is always good though whatever the reason.

*This is how I approach/experience the bandhas (taken from an earlier post). 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 (uddiyana) is an added extra. At the end of the exhale I draw my abdomen all the way up creating a cave beneath my ribs .

Uddiyana bandha
here refers to the gentle drawing in of the abdomen up to the spine following the engaging of moola bandha.

Uddiyana refers to the more dramatic extension of Uddiyana bandha drawing the abdomen right in and up creating a cave as in 'Pond gesture' pose and as if in preparation for nauli kriya.

Picture: Krishnamacharya's uddiyana

Monday, 9 November 2009

Walking in Urdhva Dhanurasana

Fresh from recent Kapo success, I've decided to focus more on my back bends. This is where going to a Shala is a particularly good idea, am I the only home Ashtangi who's lazy with back bends, I suspect not. At the end of my practice I tend to do five UD's, coming up once if I'm feeling good about it and perhaps a drop back. To be fair I spend more time on them on my day off but certainly not the full works six days a week.

With the recent knee problem I had the chance to spend some more time on back bends and seem to have become more comfortable walking in. This is from this morning, probably the closest to my feet I've come but I have the feeling I could get in closer. I need one of Boodiba's egg timers and work on staying there longer, work on the breath and becoming more comfortable while in that deep.

There's this voice in my head that wont shut up 'Chakra Bandhasana, surely it's not possible, is it?' I hardly dare think it.

Part 1 Sharath and Uddiyana Bandha in Karandavasana

Due to the recent yoga unrelated knee injury, I've been giving Karandavasana a miss for about three weeks. I gave it a try a couple of times with a loose lotus but just ended up landing on my backside. With the Knee pretty much back to normal I tried it for real yesterday and made it only halfway up. This morning I tried again and managed to get back up but had lost my Chakrasana exit. Not too worried about it, it'll come back. I still end up too squished though, bringing my head too far forward. I might not be mashing my chin into the mat anymore but it's still brushing the towel. I can't blame that on the knee.
Skippety's blog got me thinking this week. In her Conference report from Sharath's world tour she relates his response to a question on bandhas. The whole post is here but I just want to pick up on these couple of lines. (These are quotes of Skippety reporting what Sharath had to say rather than direct quotes from Sharath).

'This is why many can't do Karandavasana - coz you only have arm strength, no bandha strength'.


'His Uddiyana Bandha lock is ridiculous. It actually folds his abdomen in half! At first I thought it was coz he was tucking his chin in, holding his shirt up with his chin, causing the fold in his belly... but he's a skinny guy with no fat/ folds in his skin, so why was there this massive fold in his belly?! Yeah folks, it's called Uddiyana Bandha Power to the MAX!'

In the second quote he's referring to jumping back from Padmasana, but what if you engage Uddiyana 'to the max' on karandavasana. I tried it this morning in the video above but it's HARD. I was pretty confident going into this, quite proud of my cavernous uddiyana when I'm sitting, but inverted is a different matter. I practice it of course in Sirasana but mostly I'm focused on Moola bandha with just a light Uddiyana. That changes from today, from now on developing inverted uddiyana is the order of the day and we'll see if it gives more control in Karandavasana.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Yoga towel : New Silicone Dot mat/towel

I have two Yoga towels (actually now three but wait for it ) A green Manduka equa and a brown Yogitoes. I tend to use the eQua for primary and Vinyasa Krama and the Yogitoes for 2nd and 3rd.

Due to the dodgy knee the last few weeks I've just been using the Yogitoes and so it's getting a lot of use. An extra towel is called for.

I came across a this one on ebay last week listed as a Silicone dot mat/towel. Looks familiar, thinks I. Now it's a bit of a drama getting a Yogitoes from the states and I've always felt they are a little over priced. To be fair though, it was their idea, the quality is great and they have nice designs.

Anyway decided to give one the one on ebay a try. I ordered it on Tuesday it arrived Wednesday and I practiced Intermediate on it this morning (Thursday). Very quick delivery you have to agree.

And it's great. The quality appears to be very good, perhaps not as perfect as the Yogitoes but as near as damn it. The silicone dots seem slightly more pointy than the Yogitoes and I found it gripped both the manduka and my feet a little better. I've been giving the Yogitoes a quick spray in the morning but I didn't feel the need to spray this at all. It is perhaps not as soft but that might be because it's new and hasn't been washed a hundred times (they recommend washing twice before use). Possibly it's not as absorbent but again not enough to worry about, although might change my mind mid summer.

All in all a great deal 18 GBP and a couple of quid for postage.

I really like the blue and would love the
green one too. There's also pink and purple.

The name to look out for on ebay is Kneal30, but do the search for Silicone Dot towel . Her feedback is 100% and She's hopes to have her own website up and running in a month or so.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Teaching or Sharing

Recently the question of whether I'm attempting to teach yoga/ashtanga has come up and I promised a post where I would explore the issue.

Coming from a Philosophy background, having taught it for a few years at University, been a Schoolteacher at a prep school in England and an English teacher in Japan as well as a teacher trainer, it's a juicy topic you'd think I'd jump at. Over the last couple of days I've had all kinds of arguments develop in my head, but to be honest, I really can't be bothered with it.

I personally feel I'm just sharing my own experience of practice. Having gained a lot from the online community whether through comments, other blogs or articles I naturally feel the urge to share a little in return

I present my practice here, as it unfolds, the successes as well as the failures, wrong turns. I make suggestions and when people write to me, as they often do, or send me videos asking for advice, I give it based on my own experience on what is working for me. If I come across a blog where someone is working on something that I've already achieved or am having some success with, and they are asking for help with it, then I'll perhaps offer some suggestions.

In my profile I state my background, I don't claim to be a Yoga teacher and anyone who receives a post from me is most likely going to click on my name, be redirected here and see who it is that's making the suggestion. Give the readers some respect, they know the difference between me and Swenson say, or an Authorized/Certified teacher and someone who just practices.

In the end it doesn't matter whether you or I want to call it teaching or sharing, are my suggestions useful to you at this time, does it help you at all, if so great, if not, well never mind, sorry I couldn't be more helpful good luck finding some other ideas elsewhere.

I state this on my profile and have since day one,

' I've never been to an Ashtanga, or any other yoga class as there were none nearby. I've learnt from books and videos.'

Actually that's no longer true I went twice to a Mysore Self practice Shala and received a handful of assists. Apart from that my experience is of three years of self reflecting practice, most of which is documented here.

Apart from those two visits, I've learned Primary and Intermediate (and can work through an untidy awkward 3rd) without any assists and adjustments. I bind at the wrist in Mari D and Pasasana and grab my heels in Kapotasana. I come down and back up again in Karandavasana and solo in Supta vajrasanaand, I dropback and come up, I jump back and through straight legged and crossed, half lotus and full. I've learned to do all this without recourse to the traditional means and without receiving any injuries. No pulling, pushing or twisting me into poses by anyone else. And if someone else doesn't have recourse to traditional means either then perhaps they might find that experience useful, or not.

And of course there are a lot of things I don't do that well and I occasionally mix up the order of this and that, starting on the wrong side with Pasmasana comes to mind. But again if you want to check how things are practiced at the moment in Mysore and you don't have recourse to a teacher then you can check out a Kino DVD, I did for my Primary and am for my Intermediate.

Of course they can see the difference between their body and my own, and make their own decision whether they want to ask me for advice or follow any suggestion I make. There's a lot of advice out there on the Internet, you can be pretty sure of mine that anything I suggest I've at least tried it.

Call it teaching if you want and maybe the tone does gets a bit unintentionally teachy/preachy (amused by that thanks YC :) especially when I'm talking about the less well known Vinyasa Krama, but I still consider it just sharing, ideas and experience.

In the end I'm just some guy with a blog, rambling on about his practice

Why I don't go to a Shala

The question of my not going to a Shala has come up a couple of times in the comments. It's been put quite strongly a couple of times and also quite reasonably. Given I've titled this Blog Ashtanga at home I think it's a fair question. I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who practice at home, many have emailed me or commented saying they appreciate the focus of practicing at home.

First logistics.

I live outside London. It would be impossible for me to travel in every morning to practice at a Shala. It's possible for me to go on a Sunday, but given my Partner gets home late most evenings the only time we have together is Sunday. I could of course go once or twice a month though. If the trains run well I can just about make it in time for a full practice. Anyone who reads Globie's blog knows the problems of travelling into London for an Ashtanga class on a Sunday morning. I'm in a similar situation but I admit it's possible. I could perhaps go into London and catch an evening class on my day off and there are always workshops, although I work Saturday which makes even that difficult.

So even if I did go to a Shala it wouldn't be possible for it to be a regular thing. I've thought in the past though that it might be useful to go occasionally, we have some excellent teachers in London, it would be good to have my practice tidied up a little, I know I would learn a lot. As Susan says it would be nice too to have a coffee and a chat with some other Ashtangis.

So why dont I.

This is were it seems to get difficult for people who do go to a Shala regularly to understand and where perhaps I might strike a chord with other home practitioners.

I went to a shala twice. I found it interesting, the room really is quite a remarkable and inspiring place. The heat, the sound of the breath, the concentration and focus of everyone as well as the generosity of the teachers, believe me I get it.

That said I found it too hot, really too hot. No doubt it's fine if you go every day but once every couple of weeks, your probably not going to get used to it. I found it hard to regulate my breath in that heat. I really didn't enjoy my practice and Sunday being a day off is a very big yoga day for me. I have more time to practice and like to make the most of it on Sundays. The other thing was space, I felt cramped and self conscious of those around me, paranoid I would kick somebody in the head. When I got home after the first visit I cut my extra long Manduka down to regular size so I would get used to it.

But that wasn't the main reason and this is where my 'protective of my practice' comment comes in.

We get into our practice routines, we create strategies that help motivate us and get us on the mat every morning. I hate breaking that routine in any way. I want my mat in the same place, exactly the same place. You've all seen me smoothing my towel just so. I want to practice at a set time and like to have a set amount of time free to practice. All the extra stuff I do, working through new asanas etc is done separately, in the evening or on my day off. After I finish I have a half a grapefruit and a cappuccino, every morning, I'm sure we're all like this to lesser or greater degrees. Bit OCD perhaps.

But I'm also protective of my state/frame of mind, my approach to my practice and I see that as part of the motivation that gets me on the mat. Anything that impacts on that makes me uncomfortable, unsettled and I have to force myself through the first half of my practice. When I went to the Shala those two Sundays, although it was a positive experience, throughout the rest of the week I felt unsettled. I wasn't enjoying my practice. Somebody said this week that I fear going to a Shala and in a sense that's true I fear losing it, losing the frame of mind that allows me to practice as I do.

Does that sound nonsense? I taught myself to play saxophone and practiced everyday, obsessively for six years. It was the first thing I did when I got home. In Japan I would go down to the river every morning to practice. Then about three years ago I was burgled, had seven saxophones stolen and my frame of mind changed just like that. I've only picked the saxophone up a handful of times since then to play for pleasure. I think I fear the same thing happening with my Ashtanga. That's what I mean about being protective of my practice, it's not so much protective of how I practice, quite happy to toe the shala line out of respect when I'm there and then come home and do 3rd if I feel like it, but it's protective of my attitude to practice, to being able to practice at all. Overly defensive?Perhaps, but it's worked well for three years and I don't feel inclined to mess with what's working for the odd day a month.

I'd already got into a routine and approach to my practice before I went to the Shala. For six months I'd been working things out myself following my own inclination. I'd notice something about my Navasana and work on that or my Mari B say, and work on that. Working it out like a puzzle was part of the attraction (remember I repair Musical Instruments for a living, work out what's wrong and fix them, that's what I do). When I went to the Shala I was quite properly picked up on a couple of things and throughout the following week I felt like those were the things that I should be working on for next time. That's what I meant ages ago when I said I started to feel like I wasn't owning my practice anymore.

That said if I was to move to London I probably would start going to a Shala and knowing me I would probably go every morning and that would become the new routine. I've thought about going to Mysore for a month, it's long enough and then when I came back I would no doubt shift back into my routine once again.

And besides, I figure I've done OK without going to a Shala. I have the DVD's which I fish out occasionally to keep me on track. Kind of like going to a led class. I ordered the Kino Intermediate so I would be up to date on how 2nd is practiced now in Mysore rather than a bunch of years ago with the Freeman and Swenson. Yes I do want to know how it's practiced now just as I want to know how it was practiced then in the Mysore palace ( SKPJ's Yoga Mala is sitting her on top of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda beside me as I write this) I have all the usual books on practice and anatomy, I'm well resourced. And Of course I have my camera and my blog which allows me to reflect on my practice on what's going well and most importantly what isn't. I've learned the practice from Primary to Third on my own and practiced six days a week for three years. I've come to focus on the breath more fully as well as the bandhas. I've developed a healthy Pranayama and meditation practice and even started chanting the sutras. All these elements of the practice I've developed here at home.

Reading this through I find my reasons for not going are, except for the logistics aspect, quite personal. But then no doubt that's how it is for everyone who practices at home, everyone has their own reasons and situation. It amazes me sometimes when I hear how some manage to fit their practice around their family, finding little corners to practice in. I heard of one home Ashtangi whose practice lasted five hours because she was constantly being interrupted by her kids.

But she still practiced.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Kapotasana heels! + Kapo prep Part 2

Following on from this mornings post I decided to add some more poses from the Vinyasa Krama Hanumanasana sub routine, see it here as Kapo prep. I added all but Hanumanasana itself, splitting them up between Parsva dhanurasana, Utrasana, Lahuvajrasana. First Kapo was OK, second one was good and I thought I felt my hips further forward so decided to go for a third.

The third Kapo blew me away, sure it's still untidy in the video but it felt great. Right at the end I felt somehow light and if I'd arrived there sooner, felt I could probably have gone in deeper. I can actually imagine grabbing my calves let alone my heels. It's as if you've fought your way through some trees and you come out into a clearing with all this space. Being so much more upright, coming back up again is almost effortless.

Bloody wonderful practice this morning.

Kapotasana preparation; lunges. Part 1

I came across a comment on a blog post here extolling the virtues of lunges in relation to Kapotasana. Seemed an interesting idea especially as I'm looking at ways to keep my legs straighter and hips more froward at the moment.

Nutating the sacrum has helped (nodding it forward), so too has relaxing the glutes and spreading the hip bones but while that seems to create more space for bending backwards it seems to make it harder to keep my hips forward. So if you can't use your glutes to get your hips/pelvis forward (because your relaxing them to open the sit bones) you have to look elsewhere.

I'd figured working on my Quads might help, sometimes I poke them very roughly before kapo to remind me to employ them more, and the lunge of course works them, but it also works the groin. Ahhhh the groin, never heard anyone talk about Kapo and the groin before this week. In the same comment linked to above, the writer mentions that Tim Miller employs groin stretches in his intro to Intermediate class, interesting no?

So in the video below I try adding a lunge each side between Laghu Vajrasana and Kapo. It seems to have some effect, I'm thinking of adding some more asanas this morning from the Vinyasa Krama Hanumanasana sub routine (which I usually slot in after the parasitas ) and see what effect that has.

You can see from the hesitation in the video that I'm still working out how I want to employ the lunge. I'm also coming back to standing because I'm still on the full vinyasa trip. The kapo felt comfortable so I did another one. There's a quick cut between them there as I have a bit of a cough and didn't want to subject you to it.

Backbends and a bit of a cough to not make ideal bedfellows.

My day off today so I can do an extended practice, seem to have got back into backbends at the moment and want to have another look at tick tocks. Plus, I haven't had a chance 'till now to get stuck into Tim Miller's Pranayama routine (kind of fond of my own though) so want to work through that, Same goes for chanting, been doing five minutes or so all week but want to get back to chanting the Yoga Sutras, surprising myself how much I'm enjoying that. Throw a forty minute sit or two into the mix and a fish finger sandwich and that's pretty much the day gone.

To be continued.......

(Arturo video note : Video is of a drop back. While I'm in UD I start thinking about tic tocking. I think for a moment and then do a UD with my feet on the sofa, as in the picture, and see about kicking back over one leg at a time. Doesn't feel quite right yet so give up on it for now. The Youtube video below is of someone doing the same thing, kicking back and forth off a half gymball).

Thanks to Anon. in the comments section or sending me the link to this. Yes this is what I was trying to do, thought it made sense. Not sure I'd trust the half gym ball though, think i might miss it.

Monday, 2 November 2009

First press to handstand (Arturo update)

So after two years of trying to work out how to do it, and the occasional week obsessing over it and doing little else, I finally nailed the Press to handstand. I'd felt it coming in the last couple of weeks and the last piece slotted into place this week. Thank you Susananda for the tip. Still a bit of faffing about setting up and it's not nice straight legs all the way up but I'll take this for no

Arturo is in China and can't seem to watch the videos so I'll try and describe what's going on just so he can visualise it you understand.

So Arturo,
The video is taken in my shala/frount room as usual. This time I don't have the mat running diagonally but coming out from the wall (a gap of about a foot between the wall and the mat). So there's a good side on shot. Black manduka, brown yogitoes and I'm in the blue Adidas pants with the white stripe and the white headband/tenugui.

I begin Sury Namaskara as per usual. Inhale arms up, Exhale bend forward hands down beside my feet. Quite a deep forward bend and you can see from the little shakes of my backside that I'm already trying to get my hips up high.
Inhale look up, I bring my hands forward slightly in the video, there's some hesitation, still haven't decided where best to have my hands, beside my feet or a little in frount? I decide on a little in frount, dragging my finger lightly along the towel.
Now I begin to place them and get myself in position. There's some shifting about as I ground the hands and try to get my hips up as high as possible and as far forward.
Then I come up onto tiptoe. This is I think what made all the difference and It's something I picked up from Susan last week. So bloody obvious and I think I used to do it, but stopped. It's why I needed that little hop and/or hoppette to get me started. On tiptoes you can get your hips just that little higher and further forward.
A Little bit more faffing about as I get myself set up
Then I start to lean a little further forward and press down through the hands (very imnportant to press down through the hands, woops). My eyes are looking down, just in frount of my hands, my shoulders over my fingertips. I move forward even more as I being to lift, shoulders are now in frount of the fingertips as is my gaze. This is new too, and has been coming over the last few weeks, trusting myself a little more not to overbalance and fall forwards, perhaps I've become a little stronger from Full vinyasa and the extra twenty odd Sury's per practice.
My feet lift gracefully off the mat, not the lightest hint of a hop.
But that's the only bit of grace. I can't bring the legs up straight yet, my knees bend as I bring them towards my backside and then take them up into handstand.
And that's pretty much it of the important bit. I'm a little off balance and have to touch off the wall a couple of times.
I come down bending my arms dipping my head towards the mat and drop to my toes then carry on through Sury namaskara as usual. The float up is quite nice and also key. I've been trying to float up hold the legs parallel to the mat and then very very slowly lower them to the mat, lots of bandha control and abs strength going on there I guess, which has probably helped the coming up.
Then I do the whole thing again pretty much the same. The lift isn't as good as I forget to go all the way up on to tiptoes but it's a better handstand, no tapping off the wall.
And there you are, hope you can visualise it.

So tiptoes have helped, bringing my shoulders further over my fingertips, even in frount of them has helped.
Lots of float ups and holding them and no doubt all the extra sury's of Full vinyasa have helped too. Oh and no doubt all the extra bandha and pranayama work as well.

Update with Video notes for Arturo

So after two years of trying to work out how to do it, and the occasional week obsessing over it and doing little else, I finally nailed the Press to handstand. I'd felt it coming in the last couple of weeks and the last piece slotted into place this week. Thank you Susananda for the tip. Still a bit of faffing about setting up and it's not nice straight legs all the way up but I'll take this for now.

Now I'd love to share with you how I did it but it's been brought to my attention, that doing so might constitute teaching and that's something that I'm not qualified/certified to do.

Phew, that's a relief because I'm not sure I'd know where to start anyway. However, my friend Arturo is in China and can't seem to watch the videos so I'll try and describe what's going on just so he can visualise it you understand.

So Arturo,
The video is taken in my shala/frount room as usual. This time I don't have the mat running diagonally but coming out from the wall (a gap of about a foot between the wall and the mat). So there's a good side on shot. Black manduka, brown yogitoes and I'm in the blue Adidas pants with the white stripe and the white headband/tenugui.

I begin Sury Namaskara as per usual. Inhale arms up, Exhale bend forward hands down beside my feet. Quite a deep forward bend and you can see from the little shakes of my backside that I'm already trying to get my hips up high.
Inhale look up, I bring my hands forward slightly in the video, there's some hesitation, still haven't decided where best to have my hands, beside my feet or a little in frount? I decide on a little in frount, dragging my finger lightly along the towel.
Now I begin to place them and get myself in position. There's some shifting about as I ground the hands and try to get my hips up as high as possible and as far forward.
Then I come up onto tiptoe. This is I think what made all the difference and It's something I picked up from Susan last week. So bloody obvious and I think I used to do it, but stopped. It's why I needed that little hop and/or hoppette to get me started. On tiptoes you can get your hips just that little higher and further forward.
A Little bit more faffing about as iIget myself set up
Then I start to lean a little further forward and press down through the hands (very imnportant to press down through the hands, woops). My eyes are looking down, just in frount of my hands, my shoulders over my fingertips. I move forward even more as I being to lift, shoulders are now in frount of the fingertips as is my gaze. This is new too, and has been coming over the last few weeks, trusting myself a little more not to overbalance and fall forwards, perhaps I've become a little stronger from Full vinyasa and the extra twenty odd Sury's per practice.
My feet lift gracefully off the mat, not the lightest hint of a hop.
But that's the only bit of grace. I can't bring the legs up straight yet, my knees bend as I bring them towards my backside and then take them up into handstand.
And that's pretty much it of the important bit. I'm a little off balance and have to touch off the wall a couple of times.
I come down bending my arms dipping my head towards the mat and drop to my toes then carry on through Sury namaskara as usual. The float up is quite nice and also key. I've been trying to float up hold the legs parallel to the mat and then very very slowly lower them to the mat, lots of bandha control and abs strength going on there I guess, which has probably helped the coming up.
Then I do the whole thing again pretty much the same. The lift isn't as good as I forget to go all the way up on to tiptoes but it's a better handstand, no tapping off the wall.
And there you are, hope you can visualise it.

So tiptoes have helped, bringing my shoulders further over my fingertips, even in frount of them has helped.
Lots of float ups and holding them and no doubt all the extra sury's of Full vinyasa have helped too. Oh and no doubt all the extra bandha and pranayama work as well.

Sharath in conference

R. Sharath Toronto Workshop 2009.
Click on video to go to the original Youtube posting.

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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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