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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Clearly I love asana.... Updated

I was looking at my David Williams poster this afternoon ( This is supposedly the 'Complete syllabus' as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught it to him back in the 70's The long Advanced A and B later got split up into 3rd, 4th, 5th and I assume part of 6th (?) series get one here, but be warned, it's huge), I'd just broken the back of a particularly  troublesome posture, Padangustha Dhanurasana, still a long way to go with it but finally managed the awkward grip, the same as in natajarasana and Eka pada raja Kapotasana but both slippery feet at the same time.

This moves it in to the doable, needs improvement  category, got me wondering about what's left in the (surely) impossible asana box.

Nine postures, only nine. What am I going to do then, What happens to the asana madness when they finally fall.

Here they are on the left.

Now of course this isn't really Ashtanga. I do practice Primary and 2nd series once a week but Advanced A, as a series, probably only once a month. I worked through Advanced B a couple of times a while back but had to leave out almost a third, perhaps it's time to give it another go. I like the postures in Advanced B though, many of them don't appear in the Vinyasa Krama bible.

I tend to include the tricky postures as part of my Vinyasa Krama practice, adding a couple on at the end of a VK subroutine, using the other postures as prep, adds spice.

Here's the current state of play,

Rajakapotasana : well it's getting closer, some minor breakthroughs but I'll keep it on the list for a while, at least 'till I'm my feet are an inch away from my head, long slow uphill battle this one.

Mulhabandasana :  I can kind of do it, the feet roll back but it's not pretty, it can stay in the box.

Kandapindasana A and B ( or Kandasana ) :  was getting close, was expecting it to pop in any time but the 108 with turned out feet seems to have closed my hips up a bit, few steps backwards I'm afraid.

Yoga Dandasana : coming along nicely,

Bhuja Dandasana A and B : had a go the other week, it's close, should come now I'm back doing leg behind head postures.

Chakra Bandhasana / Trianga Mukkha Uttanasana : feels like it should be doable now the backbends are back, touched my heels the other day, a maybe but difficult on your own.

Kroukachasana : I know it's doable, didn't work on Hanumanasana for a while but it's coming back and my Eka pada raja kapotasana is kinda nice.

Supta Kandasana and Kandasana : Hmmm, after getting Yoga Dandasana I thought this was a sure thing, tried it but it felt a million miles away, think I need to get deeper into and more comfortable with Yoga dandasana to stand a chance, next year perhaps.

Yogapitha : Looking at it I can't figure out why it's so hard, of all the others in the picture above it looks perhaps the easiest. think I it must be my approach.

There's one more, I had to drop one to have them all fit on one sheet, Samakonasana, the side splits. Still years away from that and besides I can't say I work towards it.

So is this Asana Madness? Curiously I don't think it is. I remember being pretty much obsessed with the jump back and through, with Mari D and Kapo and Karandavasana, that was Asana Madness but recently I just take pleasure in working at the tricky ones, exploring them a little, seeing what happens. It feels healthy and I tend to be more amused than triumphant when I get into them. They're fun to work on. Being a home ashtangi I'm not held back at a pose so don't get the angst and frustrations of being stuck on a pose. I'll work on one, towards one, for a couple of weeks and then just let it simmer for a bit while I work on something else before coming back to it later.

I made the mistake of using the expression 'just asana' in a previous post. A commenter I'm particularly fond of thought I was being dismissive, belittling, seeing asana as 'just bending'. I guess this post is an attempt to make up for that a little. Of course seeing these asana taken out of the context of the Ashtanga series' you may be saying it's 'just asana' in your own heads. This was and is my feeling if we separate asana out from the other seven limbs as laid out in Patanjali's yoga Sutra's. Integrated yoga practice, that's all I'm saying.

Clearly I love asana, for all my talk of pranayama and meditation, the other limbs, for me it begins with asana. I love the challenge of them, working them out, the seemingly straight forward ones as well as the monsters (Advanced B should have a subtitle ' This way be dragons'). Ramaswami said that Krishanamacharya would always teach him something new, whether, an asana, a chant, a new way of looking at a scripture, lessons were always interesting. Asana works like that for me, keeps the practice interesting, alive as David Swenson says, messy but alive.

I like the working towards a posture even though it might seem years away, seeing how the postures your doing prepare you for those to come, hard to see that in Ashtanga sometimes but very clear in Vinyasa Krama, where they are grouped together more. Easier too just tacking a monster on the end of the appropriate Vinyasa Krama sub routine. In Ashtanga they come at you like the monstrous warriors from Infinity blade ( cool game on the ipad) one after another, relentless. That can be fun too, a different kind of challenge, but I don't find it as enjoyable as having the time to build up to and savour a particular asana

Is it an ego thing, conceit? Wondered about this but I don't think the dominant reaction is pride, more amazement, a little bit or awe, that this aging, battered body will do this stuff and amusement too and delight. Besides I might be able to do some of this crazy stuff but it's rarely pretty or elegant, more clumsy and awkward, though they brush up a little over time.

... and besides, for all the fancy stuff, my utthita hasta padangusthasana still sucks.


But of course the nine asana left in the picture above are just those from the David Williams poster. The long Advanced A and B series found there were later divided up into Advanced A to C and later still the into 3rd, 4th, 5th  and supposedly 6th series in the revised Ashtanga system we have now. We can find most of the postures in 3rd to 5th but that doesn't leave that many over for a full 6th series ( some speculation can be found here).

And that's just Ashtanga. The shastras tell us of 84 lakhs asanas. A lakh being equal to 100000, this brings the number of yoga postures to 8,400,000, plenty to be going on with, Supposedly Krishnamacharya would have his students scouring temples for any old depictions of asana.

This morning I was practicing Vinyasa Krama, a backbend focus of Bow and Meditative sequences. While in Eka pada raja kapotasana I was reminded of a video I'd seen recently of somebody, Russian I think, practicing beside a lake. There was a posture I found fascinating and beautiful, a classic. I managed to get pretty much into it but which way to look forward or twisting to look behind, the latter seemed more intuitive.

But how to find the name of the pose, how would you even begin to google that. As it happens it's in Iyengar's Light on Yoga ( of course), he refers to it as Vamadevasana II, one foot in padmasana the other in Bhekasana.

I might not be running off to India to scour temple walls for postures like Krishnamacharya's students, but if I come across something classic and that seems to fit the end of a sequence........

Who doesn't love asana.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


My response to a comment in the previous post

I just have issues with 'surrender' and find Ishvara pranidhana problematic for me personally, how we interpret it, translate it, how it travels from one world view to another, it's use in Indian philosophy and religion but then being transposed to the west with it's Judeo-Christian tradition.
Find it irritating because it gets used so freely, often carelessly ( seems to have got mixed up with the whole woo woo new age thing, swished around a bit and thrown out the other side), yet perhaps no other concept in yoga should be approached with more reflection.

I would rather use other words where possible, unless surrender is definitely the word we want and are using it mindfully.

I just cringe internally whenever I hear it.

So I wouldn't use 'surrender into a pose', relax  ...release perhaps, anything anything but : )

I take your point though. That's just the practice though, no? As we become more comfortable in a posture we're able to release into it more, some postures take longer than others. Took a couple of years before leg behind head postures became as comfortable as they are now allowing me to stretch out through them.

As I said in an earlier, I see asana, as an adventure, a confrontation, an exchange, an encounter.... but not a surrender

Surrender of what exactly?

I should add something here perhaps.

I'm not intending to be flippant, difficult, provocative, I genuinely struggle with this.

Coming from a Philosophy background I find concepts  like ego, mind, consciousness, self , highly problematic and hesitate to use them, I find it awkward when I come up against them in general usage, in comments say.

For twenty years I've been struggling with the subject/object distinction. I cheer with my boy Heidegger when he demolishes Descartes dualism and yet live in an experientially dualistic world. Accepting something intellectually is one thing escaping from what feels so intuitive and unavoidable in everyday life, quite another matter.

Yoga is, for me, is an attempt to overcome the subject(ive) in an existential sense. To break out of, dissolve, escape, the experience of self or at least work at the chitta vritti nirodhah such that I can bring a less fluctuating mind more clearly to bare on the problem

... or come to the conclusion that I've been completely wrong.

The path is the same, it's a win win situation.

Of course I like bouncing around on rubber mats too.

It seems, going by the comments, I haven't explained my point well. Iyengar sums it up in the commentary to 1.32

from Iyengar's commentary on 1:32 p80 Light on yoga

'1.32 yaypratisedhartham ekatattva abhyasah

Adherence to single minded effort prevents these impediments

To remove the thirteen impediments and prevent their recurrence, several specific methods have been described.
Though most people have concluded that ekatattva is devotion and surrender to God, it is beyond the average person's comprehension that surrender to god is the cure for all maladies. If surrender to god were possible for everyone, and could itself eradicate all impediments, patanjali need not have elaborated on all the other means of reaching the divine state. Only a few outstanding personalities like Ramana Maharsi, Sri Rama-krishna paramahamsa, mahatma Gandhi, jada Bharata and the great acaryas of the past could surrender wholeheartedly to God, as they were angels in human form, highly evolved should whose subliminal impressions from previous lives enabled them to assume their final human form in order to clear up the residues.
Total surrender to God is beyond the capabilities of most ordinary men and women, who are caught up in pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, success and failure. Meditation undoubtably helps to minimise the mental agitations of such persons to conquer all the obstacles to Self-Realization, all the eight stages of Yoga must be followed.
only when the body, mind and intelligence are fully purified is it possible to surrender totally to God, without expecting any return. This is the surrender of the highest order, beyond the capacity of the average individual.'

Me, I'm just an average guy, not an angel, so for now, I'll just worry about the practice and see where that takes me.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

What is practice and how does it become well established?

Been reading some of my few cryptic notes form last years Yoga Sutra class

Let me see if I understand all this correctly ( and I'm just thinking out loud here) ......

What is practice and how does it become well established?

This is one of those arguments from the Sutra's some Ashtangis' love to wield.

The idea seems to go something like this.

"You have to stick with your Ashtanga practice, as it is, no switching and changing and for a very long time."

I saw a banner on a website for a shala once that suggested you should try the practice, Ashtanga , for ten years before deciding whether it worked or not. TEN YEARS! Not a couple of weeks or even  "give it six months", TEN YEARS!

If it doesn't 'work' do you get a refund of your shala fees, how do you go about getting those ten years back exactly?

But that's what the sutra says, here it is

1-14 sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkaradara-sevito drdha-bhumih


1-14 practice done for a long time without interruption ( and with the right disposition)  becomes firmly established in the mind

Just a question, this practice, patanjali is referring to, so that's your Ashtanga practice right, your Ashtanga Primary series,or Intermediate or whichever series your on, yes?

Err, well, no not exactly.

1-13 tatra sthitau yatno 'bhyasah
1.13 Practice is the repeated or constant attempt to stay with the object

ahhhhh, the 'object', well that's quite a different matter isn't it.

My understanding of the object here is one of the 24 tattava's (principles) as set out in the Samkhya karika Actually I believe there are twenty-five tatras the twenty-fifth being the self. The idea is to focus on the other 24, until you develop dispassion towards them. There's a cheat, you can make Ishvara ( the lord ) your object, realise the self t and automatically end up with a dispassionate attitude to the tatva's that way.

From the Ashtangi perspective one of course might argue that in the practice you focus on the breath IE. air and thus a tatva, or drishti, sight, another tatva.... bandhas, can you read them as a tatva, probably....

But wait, the sutra above is from the first chapter for the superyogi, the uberyogi, the born yogi who doesn't have to work at it that hard.

Ashtanga yoga is an asana practice, one of many asana practices. Asana pops up briefly in chapter 2, it's for the rest of us who have to work at being yogi's.

The idea is that we practice asana to chill us out (to get rid of rajas)
Then we practice some breathing exercises, pranayama, to wake us up a bit ( to get rid of tamas)
Now we're in the ideal (satvic) frame of mind to work on our concentration practice

....which is 'the practice', sutra 1-13 again, '...the repeated and constant attempt to stay with the object'.

So really it doesn't matter what asana we do, what kind of asana system we do, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa Krama or, let's not be elitist about it, gym yoga as long as sometime or other we decide we want tosit down afterwards do our breathing exercises and then sit and focus, concentrate on the object of our practice.

In fact it perhaps doesn't have to be yoga asana, any activity will probably bust those rajas just as well

...except that perhaps asana 'marries' well with the breathing exercises and sitting and staying with the object.

We probably don't want to be in a competitive frame of mind for our sit, that just brings a whole new bag of worms, so lets eliminates sport, no, it makes sense to stick with a nice asana practice.

And I'm a householder, I don't have all day, I want to start working on stilling my mind asap, personally, I don't want to have to listen to somebody telling me what to do while I'm on the mat, I want an asana routine I can just get on with myself.

Pranayama is hard too, I want to work on gaining some control of my breath

.. and I want to work on my self discipline, want to practice regularly

..... so what would be ideal is an asana routine I can just get on with and that works on gaining some degree of control of the breath and begins to focus the mind as well as developing some self-discipline.

Find asana practices that do all that and we're well on the way

... so that when I begin my pranayama I can get right into it

...allowing me to move onto the practice Patanjali appears to be actually talking about,

tatra sthitau yatno 'bhyasah 1-13

'Staying with the object',

...the breath, a mantra, an icon, a positive image, the flame of a candle...

Once you can do that, once you can focus on that object and stay with it, ridding yourself of all the fluctuations of the mind and then achieve that on other objects, any object...

...well then you have freedom, kaivalya and you've caught up a little with those born yogi's from chapter one of Patanjali's yoga sutras.

So 1-14, sticking with a practice for a long time without interruption isn't about sticking with one particular style of yoga at all, it's about sticking with the object of your meditation.

Although it might be, along with some other activities, excellent for helping you do so.

But of course I might have it all completely wrong.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Lotus jump through

Loving this hands free lotus, no end of possibilities. Yesterday we had the Jump/float to Urdva Kukkutasana,  I posted the long version, see what I did there, build up a bit of suspense, a smidgin of tension, will he wont he etc. here's the good bit.

Did a couple of more of those this morning to consolidate it but that got me thinking. If you can float onto your arms, shouldn't it be possible to jump/float all the way through, a padmasana jump through if you will.


I like this one, best of all, as a lead in to baddha padmasana you can do it every practice ( yes I know, you don't normally jump out of badha konasana but I wanted to link the lotus jump through with the lotus jump back, indulge me).

I was wondering yesterday, those Anasura yogi's, they seem to be having a lot of fun with their asana. Do you think it's because they already have all the chanting, pranayama, meditation and scriptural study as part of their everyday practice, allowing them to feel comfortable playing with their asana. Vinyasa Krama too, the asana is for health and prep, along with the pranayama, for meditation, feel less guilty about having fun with it.

In ashtanga, do we tend to take our asana too seriously? Does it have to be tapas ALL the time?

Just a thought.

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The jump to Urdhava Kukkutasana ?

I saw a video of Noah Maze doing this yesterday and just had to try

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Summer Solstice : 108 dropbacks. UPDATE: Morning after

See this post from last Friday for context When a Blog post comes back to bite you Iyengar 108 dropbacks challenge

from today's comments

Q: Were you generally satisfied with them?

A: I think I feel glad to get the 108 out of the way, to know it could be done now it's more a question of can it be done well ( by me). All these thing, tricky poses, long holds, 108 sury's or drop backs , every time you nail them you see a little more clearly that it's not what it's all about. We know this of course but need a reminder every now and again. 

That said, there's nothing wrong with having some fun and giving yourself a little extra motivation and besides, the Will, like the body, needs exercising too. 

Like you I want to work on the breath more, I think I was happy with a couple of sets of ten got a nice rhythm then lost it, fifteen to twenty is a nice number to play with, perhaps thirty-six. I do want to keep exploring this for a while and yes let's still do it for our birthdays as an incentive. After then I think I'd rather save it for a holy day or somebody elses birthday, certainly not Thursdays. I did 108 sury's when SKPJ died, kind of feel that things like this should be saved for such occasions, perhaps when you need to ask a boon, tapas, no?

Still can't get over Iyengar's feet how close together, straight and solid they were, 108 like that would be something to celebrate. 

Q: Do your knees or ankles ever hurt from having them turned out for so many dropbacks?

A: No feet don't hurt, back feels fine too though a slight crick in the neck. When I started this experiment, what Friday, I was keeping my feet straight, lifting my heels, been using that approach for the last few months, I like it a lot better. Trouble was after twenty or thirty your thighs are like jelly, switched back to having my feet turned out and much easier for large sets, right at the end of this though my legs were quaking a bit. Want those straight, flat, rooted feet of Iyengar

UPDATE : Morning after
Was expecting the worst, a lot of stiffness perhaps but as it happens I'm feeling pretty good. No stiffness in the back, the little crick in the neck has gone and legs don't feel like jelly. Stomach muscles are... not sore exactly but feel as if I've done some serious crunches, a Pilates work-out from those crazy twins perhaps.

Practice this morning was supposed to be built around the Asymmetric series but I ended up doing the seated sequence again for all the forward bends; long paschimottanasana and it's variations interspersed with Tatakamudra ( see this post ). I did the paschi/tatkamudra combo yesterday as a counterpose, perhaps it helped to iron out the dropbacks.

What else, a couple of goes at taking the lotus back up higher in Karandavasana and a look at jumping to Urdhava kukkutasana (post to come on that) then long stays in the inversions and on to pranayama etc.

A nice morning after practice.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dropback progress : First attempt, Aug 08 to Present (108 Challenge)

---First attempts at Dropback 17 aug 08----

-----Dropping back to head 20 aug 08------

---Building up to Dropback 26 jan 09-----

------------Dropping back 27 Jan 09----------

--Dropback+attempt to come up 24 Feb 09----

----First time coming up 1st Mar 09---------

-Hanging excercise + drop back 2nd Mar 09-

---Dropping back and coming up 3rd mar 09--

---Jun 09 after a six week break from backbends-

-- 1st up from UD (no dropback first)-----

--------Oct 09 (rarely practiced since July)---

------------------Late Oct 09---------------------

---Early Nov 09. dropback and back up-----------

Feb2010 ( first Iyengar dropback challenge).

Haven't updated this progress post for a long time, above from May 2011

108 dropbacks June 2011 - Speeded up

Feet together vinyasa krama style from 2011

Without lifting heels, again 2011

and finally most recent ( although I practice them less often than i should these days), 2014, here in Japan, downstairs. Went back to lifting heels after Norman Sjoman's workshop.

Noah Maze : Karandavasana penny dropped

Hongkongstuey mentioned this guy in a comment so I did a search of Youtube.

It was a good find, He seems to have the same stocky frame that I have and like me, no matter how bendy he gets is never going to be that elegant.

OK, I need to pause for a moment here and insert a line to say that after watching a few more videos he's not that stocky after all and actually, come to think of it, IS quite elegant at times, thus undermining this whole argument and post. In fact I'm not as stocky as I was when I started either. I could delete the post and start again but it's a good excuse for Noah videos.

Wish I'd come across these videos a couple of years ago, think I would have believed earlier that all postures were possible. For me it was a slow realization as the heel grab Kapo,  leg(s) behind head postures, intense twists like the marichi's A-H, purna matsyendrasana, weird party tricks like Viranchyasana, yoga dandasana, parsva dandasana,what else... omkarasana, even hanumanasana became doable that everything probably was manageable after all, even for someone who wasn't lithe, small boned and long limbed. Not pretty perhaps but manageable.

Not that it matters of course, the fancy poses,  but it still fascinates me what this rapidly aging body will actually do, think now it's more a feeling of amusement rather than triumph, tend to laugh out loud sometimes from the sheer absurdity of something like urdhava Dandasana B, to quote Life of Brian once again, "What's the point Stan".

Still, the tricky ones are fun to work on, the same focus we brought to bare on marichi D you bring to  kandapindasana or whatever. I like how the mind shifts, for a while your focusing on the breath, then in poses you know well you become focused on alignment perhaps, the little differences of approach and then there's the pose (whichever tricky one your working on), like a tricky line in a mantra that you keep breaking down, struggling to get your tongue around.

Whatever gets you on the mat in the morning, it's just asana, just wonderful cryptic asana.

But back to Noah. I must have watched 90% of all the Karandavasana videos on YouTube at sometime or other, often slowing them down and taking screen shots, trying to work out what's going on here or there. Missed this one though, the spelling perhaps, -Karanda vasana. Perhaps it's the angle or just where I am now that I'm ready to notice it but he undoes his lotus later than I do. So I checked other karandavasana videos, most are the same. I undo my lotus too soon. I need to stay bound and take it all the way to the the top and stretch and THAT should bring my arms back up getting rid of the squishness.

Thanks Noah

So he's an Anasura guy right... I have to keep reminding myself that however much the nonsense that surrounds the different styles irritates me at times, the personalities, dogma's, self promotion, Sycophancy, whatever... ultimately, people just do their practice, whether it's Anasura, Bikram ( and someone sent me some hilarious early videos of Bikram doing yoga tricks last week), Ashtanga, Iyengar or the once or twice a week flashy, sparkly, studio yoga, we all just get on a our mat and love our practice.

Apologies for a rambling, meandering post, I have no idea what I'm going on about but just wanted an excuse to post this next video and say that my life will be complete when I can do it too.

We all have a tricky posture or two we're working on and get a little obsessive about, sometimes the whole practice seems to revolve around that one pose, leading up to it, apprehension building and then afterwards we just want to rush through the rest of the practice  as if practice ended with that one posture.

On a good day though it's just one of thirty-two or so other postures, interesting in a different way but just another pose. Thankfully I seem to be getting more and more good days.

So M's off to work (it's my day off) Vinyasa Krama today, backbend focus (see yesterday's post), Bow and Meditative series and see about getting this 108 dropbacks out of the way. AC did hers ( way to go AC) I should do mine for some closure and then settle down to fifteen- twenty a day for a couple of weeks and see what that's all about. Got to try that Karandavasana too and perhaps a nod at Noah's jump to Urdhava Kukkutasana.... just to see, it's my day off, play a little why not.

Things like this 108 dropback project make me think of those old yogi's what great experimenter's they were, the postures they tried out, the kriya's, pranayama's, the tapas, long long stays in a bed of nettles, those wonderful crazy hatha yogi's.

Hatha, just prep for the Raja, probably doesn't matter how you approach it as long as you sit afterwards ('though of course in Ashtanga, for example,  it might be argued that the sit is going on during all the jumping about), What was that Krishnamacharya was supposed to have said about this...

'What's the point of cleaning the room and then not using it'

Now please Ishvara, give me that 108 so I can post a video and bury these ramblings quickly.

Gave the karandavasana a go, tried to keep the lotus bound all the way to the top ( I used to unfurl it near the top ready for the flip out)  and then try to pull it up a little to try and unsquish my arms. Can you see a little movement there, I think I can, felt like I was lifting up a little. Got to get my balance right, take the lotus back a little further past my head, here I started to lift but my lotus was too far forward and I had to drop out of it. Interesting thing to work on, quite excited about it.

Oh, update coming on the 108 dropback project ...... : )

One more Noah Video, thanks for letting me know about this one Arturo. This is Noah teaching a way of getting into Eka pada kapotasana. Feels a bit of a cheat as opposed to lowering back into it in typical kapo style but less chance of falling off to the side.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Two 'personal' Vinyasa Krama style practices

'Even though the book (The complete book of Vinyasa Krama) contains 10 main sequences, the reader will be able to discern more than a hundred asana sequences, each one having a unique structure. In fact each chapter is a major sequence (wave) of many specific sequences (ripples), which itself is made up of a few vinyaas (dops of water). Then the whole book is a mega sequence (tide) of major sequences in the ocean of Yoga'. 
from Ramaswami's September 2009 Newsletter

The first part of this post below was originally included on yesterday's dropback post, I've seperated it off so as not to appear  to suggest that 108 dropbacks have anything to do with Ramaswami's presentation of Vinyasa Krama, the multiple dropbacks are just something else I'm exploring at the moment.

Anyway, it seemed a good idea to put two practices together to see how they differ slightly and besides, I tend to see my weeks practice as a whole rather than seperate and self contained. I like to alternate backbend focused practices with forward bending and hip opening days.  It tends to end up something like this.

Sunday : Bow/meditative sequences ( backbend focus)
Monday ; Seated sequence ( forward bending , counter to yesterday's backbending).
Tuesday : Bow/meditative
Wednesday : Asymmetric ( again, lots of forward bends here aas counter to the previous days back bends)
Thursday : Supine
Friday : Ashtanga primary
Saturday : Ashtanga Intermediate

The sequences mentioned above are pretty much full sequences, other Vinyasa Krama sequences come into my daily practice as alternating subroutines as you'll see below.


For those interested in what a Vinyasa Krama practice might look when you combine subroutines from different sequences rather than sticking to one full sequence, here's how I approached my own this morning.

Important to remember that I came to VK from Ashtanga so there's always going to be an echo of that in how I approach my practice, the overall structure, Standing, main body of practice, finishing.

I'm not sure Ramaswami would approve of the large number of dropbacks I'm exploring at the moment, although one does turn up in the 'On your feet' standing sequence. He quotes the Hatha Yoga pradipka...

'A Hatayogi should avoid (varjayet) practices that involve undue physical strain/pain(kayaklesa vidhi)--like carrying heavy weights and doing multiple(bahu) suryanamaskaras'
 –-- From Jyotsna, the commentary by Brahmananda on Svatmarama's Hatayogapradeepika

I think 108 or even 56 dropback's may well count as a varjayet practice although the aim is to do them on the breath and thus 'effortlessly', so perhaps not. Obviously 108 is an experiment, Iyengar supposedly recommends 15- 20 although I'd still like to find a quote for that.

I should note that it's Sunday and I had a little longer to practice, this took a little over two hours. During the week if I'm doing a backbend focus it'll look pretty much like this although I might trim out some of the postures here and there, a few less repetitions and I'll tend to switch around some of the standing postures.

Tadasana ( couple of nice warm up back bends here, especially the twisting one, love that)
parsvakonasana ( really like the twist here and think twisting is good backbend prep, am I wrong?)
Uttita paddangusthasana ( like to keep up with these no matter what )

Urdhava Danhurasana

Padmasana ( a few of these from the video but not all )

Meditation ( repeated mantra about ten minutes).
Still around two hours including the Pranayama etc but again you can trim that down by cutting out some vinyasas (variations) and doing less repeats, not staying as long in every posture, it's flexible.

I like seated or Asymmetric as a counter to the previous days backbend focus, yesterday Bow and meditative sequences ( plus all those extra dropbacks).

Tadasana vinyasas (10 minutes of assorted vinyasas from this video, this time a little different from yesterday, I employed some more of the forward bending vinyasas as prep for all the seated forward bends I planned on doing).
3 Sury's

parsvakonasana ( really like the twist here and think twisting is good backbend prep, am I wrong?)
Uttita paddangusthasana ( like to keep up with these no matter what )
Seated sequence ( full sequence here, kind of a counter to yesterday's backbend focus)

Shoulderstand ( five minutes )/ Urdva Danhurasana / Headstand ( ten minutes with some variations in the video )

Meditation ( repeated mantra about ten minutes).

Sunday, 19 June 2011

... and 56 more dropback's makes 108 right.

What, I have to do them in one go? Bugger.

More dropback's, normal speed this time so going to be like watching grass grow. If you jump about a bit you'll see I'm trying slightly different styles and rhythms.

This set was done after a full morning practice of Vinyasa Krama Bow and Meditative sequences sandwiched between some Standing and Inversion etc, rather than Friday evening's ten minutes prep. To be honest it didn't seem to make much difference, I didn't feel particularly stiff Saturday morning although my legs ached a bit, probably from the heel lift approach and my stomach muscles felt like they'd had quite a work out.

SUGGESTION; If you want to work on drop backs and coming up perhaps some work on strengthening the legs, a deeper Utkatasana andVirabhadrasana  perhaps and your stomach muscles, no cheating on Navasana. Not the postures we usually associate with dropback prep.

Still trying to find the best approach.

I start off trying to get the arm movement Iyengar used in yesterday's video below

(see post for the full video) then switch back to raising the heels and my namaste approach before switching to feet turned out again.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

When a blog post comes back to bite you : 108 Dropback challenge

And of all the post to come back and bite you.....

So this goes back to  a string on comments on this post about Iyengar. I'd come across the wonderful video below on youtube, forty-two seconds in Iyengar starts popping out these dropbacks one after another and in comments to the post we found out that he did 108 and that this wasn't so unusual in Iyengar circles, a birthday treat as it were.

Struck by the rhythm and working on my dropbacks at the time I decided to launch the '1 week Iyengar 108 dropback challenge'. Here's the first post. Funny enough I can't for the life of me remember what happened to that, lets have a look. Here it is, Day 7 OK so I got up to twenty, think I carried on doing multiple dropbacks for a little while but then changed my approach. Now I tend to do five to seven.

So anyway, why am I bringing this back up? A comment turned up out of the blue this morning...

To go back to Iyengar challenge.
I did finally learn to standup from dropbacks this time last year.
Anyway, last few days at shala I've been doing 15-20 on the breath. Today I did 30 which just felt awesome.
108 for our birthdays right? I'm in!!

I checked when her birthday was, mine being quite soon on the 24th of next month...

Mine's some 6 wks today.
This morning I just trotted out some 50 dropbacks, so although 108 is for b'day if it comes quicker then I'm going for it!
When it's done on the breath it's such a joy and there's 'ease' to it.

And so I said why not...

Great, I have a partner in 'crime'!
I started doing more than x3 dropbacks in order to rid myself of my hand waving habit on standing up and its seems to be working.
Mon it was 13 dropbacks, Tue. 15, Wed. 21, Thu. 30 and today 50. Sat. I rest from dropbacks but on Sun. I'll probably start the fun again.
Let the fun begin.


Got home this evening at 6pm, quick Vinyasa Krama Bow sequence as a warm up and then off I went. The video below is speeded up, I count 52 ( I thought I'd managed 54) in three lots. I took a breather after twenty of so to see how I was doing it as I wasn't sure about the rhythm and then another for a couple of minutes after another twenty to remind myself how Iyengar was doing them.

It's hard work, legs ache and the breath is tricky to keep steady but then if you look at Iyengar he's not really moving his feet at all and ....well... he's Iyengar isn't he.

I started off with my current way of dropping back, raising the heels then went back to trying my old feet turned out, still hard work.

As it happens my back feels perfectly fine, no stiffness, I did a couple of counter postures, long paschi, see how it feels in the morning.  A bit of work on this to get my leg strength back and it should be possible..... shouldn't it?

Now is it silly, pointless or is there something to be gained from this. The rhythm Iyengar achieves is interesting, the steadiness of breath and perhaps that action is stimulating for the spine, we'll see.

My birthday is in five and a half weeks, A's in six.

Morning after Update

Back's a little stiff but nothing to write home about, thighs really ache though, need to reintroduce some of those squats from the Vinyasa Krama  'On one leg sequence', have been saying for a while that strong legs help your dropbacks.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Ashtanga's Siren song.

Been practicing with the Yogaworks, Jois led Ashtanga 2nd series DVD for the last couple of days. It trundles along at quite a pace, sweat buckets, comatose in Savasana but half way through the day feeling a million dollars, like Superman actually....

This morning I though I'd practice 2nd but without the DVD and allow my self to have a couple of extra shots at kapo and karandavasana, a little extra time to work into and savour the leg behind head postures.

I ended up doing some extra backbend prep, the Vinyasa Krama Bow series and then after Kapo felt like eka pada raja kapo and natarajasana before some dropbacks.

By now time was moving on and I could either pick up 2nd where I left off or do some counter poses (the paschi tatalamudra/paschimottanasana combo) and move into a vinyasa krama finish with nice long inversions and plenty of time for some serious Pranayama and meditation, perhaps a chant or two.

I do love my Ashtanga and it does have somewhat of a Siren call for me but every time I do jump ship and stretch out manfully for that beguiling shore I begin to see a little more clearly and a little sooner than the time before, that the song doesn't hold quite the same allure as once it did.

Perhaps if I hadn't have come across Vinyasa Krama, hadn't explored it and made it part of my practice Ashtanga would still be more than enough, I think I appreciate it more and push against it less but the Vinyasa Krama system makes too much sense to me now.

Primary Friday, Intermediate Saturday, think that's plenty,

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Note to self

Ashtanga makes me feel a little like....

Vinyasa Krama makes me feel a little more like...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Get on the mat already!!!!! UPDATED

Taking forever to get on the mat today..... notice I said 'today' and not this morning. 'This morning' is long gone.

So it's my day off, I can get up with M. at 8am instead of at 5:30. I could practice then of course or an hour later when she goes out the door but the thought of a cup of tea in bed with the last of the Sunday paper is too tempting.

Then of course there's the new ipad to say good morning to, some blogs to read...

So then it's 10am and I really wanted to break the back of all the washing that's been building up, so I sort out the pile and get a load in the machine.

Then I remembered I'd downloaded the Brushes app that Hockney had been going on about and wondered if there was a guide to actually using the thing. There is and now of course I have to try it out.

A landscape and still life later it sounds like the washing has finished but I have to put the previous wash away to make some space on the racks. Washing hung, might as well chuck another load in... and so to practice.

....perhaps I'll have a shower first, usually too early in the morning on a week day...... and why not a shave, in fact It's time I cut my hair.

So it's 1pm and I'm laying out my mat and setting up my iPad as I wanted to practice along with the Yogaworks, Jois led Intermediate.

Off we go.... but not quite, seems I only have the version I hacked around, not the full series. That's OK I have it on the imac, connect them up and .......

...big mistake, hadn't finished setting the thing up so it's going through the last of the set up steps and then the synching. I started this post on step 3 of 6.

Just as I write that last line, sitting here in my practice shorts and bandana, getting cold and of course feeling hungry beacause I haven't eaten anything for seventeen hours 'iPad synch is complete. Ok to disconnect'. shows up.

So do I practice now or eat something and wait three hours for a late afternoon practice instead?

Every day off I tell myself the same thing, don't change the routine, get on the mat by 6am as usual, 9 at the latest.

And so to practice, no really.


And so I did, took another twenty minutes and even then I was restless, turned down the heat, moved the iPad here and then there before I finally pulled myself together and just got on with it.

I practiced, as planned, along with the old Yogaworks, Jois led 2nd series. It's been a while since I practiced with this, was struck by how slow grandaddy Jois' count was here after the recent month of Primary with Sharath. This of course was a blessing and a curse, a blessing in that you could really sink into a posture, a curse when it came to the bakasana's. I tend to skip the first one, I can float into B readily enough so tend to skip 'A' seeing it as just prep for 'B'. Bit of a shock then to have to do it twice with that slow count.

Despite the slow count while in posture, the series trundles along at quite a pace, such that you have no time to get apprehensive about Kapo or Karandavasana, it's like, "Oh, Kapo already" and your exhaling back into it (half way down the feet here, karanda still squished, oh well).

Practicing late and not having eaten since the previous evening, I was feeling it towards the end, it's hot too, the country finally remembering it's June so sweating buckets. The headstands were nice though, light and airy, shoulder stand too, in fact the rest of the series felt quiet otherworldly .

Needless to say I fell asleep listening to Ramaswami chanting while in savasana.

So a month of led 2nd then?

....and now to half a grapefruit and a fish finger sandwich, breakfast of yogi's

Tatakamudra ( pond gesture ) here for bandha focus and deepening forward bend.

I came upon this idea by accident. Tatakamudra, charmingly translated as pond gesture, comes up in the Supine sequence in Ramaswami / Krishnamacharya's Vinyasa Krama.

The other week, while practicing Primary series I was trying to settle into paschimottanasana but was feeling a little stiff. I laid back on the mat for a moment and figured while I was there I'd get my bandhas warmed up, better to engage them in the forward bend ( I tend to spend five to ten minutes in paschimottanasana, Vinyasa Krama style). So I raised my arms over my head for tatakamudra stretched and at the end of my exhale stopped the breath and drew up and back mula bandha, connected it to uddiyana, drawing my abdominal muscles inward and backward and bringing the small of my back onto the mat. A few long slow breaths and I went back to paschimottanasana, low and behold, the stiffness was gone and paschi felt comfortable enough for a long deep stay.

It's that cavity below the ribcage that's formed which supposedly resembles a pond, or lake according to M. on account of my weird ribcage. Ramaswami counts tatakamudra as one of the best postures for introducing the bandhas, along with ardho mukkha Svanasana, downward facing dog.

In Yoga beneath the surface, David Hurwitz asks Ramaswami,

'David: What is the purpose of bandhas in asana? Is it just to practice and perfect them for pranayama? or do they have a function in asana practice?
Ramaswami : Among other things, bandhas (locks), especially mula bandha (rectal lock), help to pull up the pelvic floor and also to pukk the pelvis off the hip joint. Uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) helps stretch the lumbar spine and Jalandhara bandha ( chin lock) helps to stretch the whole spine, especially the thoracic spine.
     Of course there are several other advantages, but purely looking from the point of view of asanas, the bandhas help to perfect the posture'.
p71 Yoga beneath the surface ( Bandhas in Asana section )

Tatakamudra engages all three bandhas, but it is perhaps the engagement of uddiyana,  you can really go to town on it in this posture, and the stretching the lumbar spine that explains why I found it so good for releaving the stiffness I felt in my back and allowing a deeper and more comfortable paschimottanasana, (forward bend).

I now tend to slip into tatakamudra for a few breaths after backbending and before paschimottanasana as standard.

Here are Ramaswami's instructions for Tatakmudra 

'Stay in the lying-down position for one or two breaths. Exhale completely. Anchor your heels, tailbone, arms and back; press down through your palms and draw in the rectum; pull the lower abdomen in and toward your back. Hold the locks for five to ten seconds. Your chin should be kept locked as well. When you draw the rectal and abdominal muscles inward and backward, the marks of the ribs and the pelvis bordering the abdominal cavity will be apparent. because this resembles a pond, it is called pond gesture, or tatakamudra
   These are actually the three locks in the lying-down posture. They are a very good way to start the practice of the bandhas. Inhale, and relax the locks. Repeat this exercise three to six times.'
The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga p105. Srivatsa Ramaswami

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Karandavasana lightbulb moment

That duck gives me pause.

I practiced 2nd series last Saturday for the first time in , what, two months and then again this morning. Both practices went well, enjoyed them. I  really must do that month of led 2nd to tighten it up like last months Primary. Anyway, went well, mid foot in Kapo but that'll come back. That duck though, Karnadavasana, still it's squished, shoulders virtually on top of my hands.

I shouldn't complain, great that I can still get it up and it's not as though I'm in bad company...

Still, if there's one thing I would like to do before I hang up my Manduka is raise that duck with my arms at 45 degrees, kind of end up the same as I was before I started to lower my lotus.

Why dose it matter, if Krishnamacharya himself ended up squished? Well mainly for the exit, hard to flick back from there but aesthetics too damn it, besides, squishing can't be good, surely.

So it was still at the back of my mind when I came to the final sirsasana, thought perhaps I'd do the Vinyasa Krama lotus to headstand, just as I was going up I had one of those light bulb moments.

Lotus to headstand is hard, possibly even harder than karandavasana as the weight your lotus is so far back. The trick is to press down on your forearms just in frount of your elbows, draw the lotus up your arms and then take it up to headstand.

'Forearms just in frount of the elbows!'

When I do karandavasana I'm always thinking of my hand placement , pushing down my hands and forearms. Now when the hands are such a part of the focus you end pushing down that end of your arm.

So I grabbed the camera, and took the video below. Karandavasana but with an elbow focus and it made a difference, chin is off the mat, still squished, but less so. Remember, this is just my second Karandavasana in quite a while, I'm hoping that armed with this and a little practice I can ..... well, we'll see.

I called the next video Karandavasana prep, I don't know whether it is but try it and whether you manage to raise your lotus or not you'll still notice that your pushing down near your elbows which is the main thing to carry over to your Karandavasana practice to see if it makes any difference.

Actually rather than shifting the focus from one end of the arm to the other it probably makes sense to spread the force from the elbows to the fingertips, ahhhhhhh...


Friday, 10 June 2011

101 ways to use an ipad for yoga ( and how to use a smart cover on 1st generation ) plus Lotus no hands in shoulderstand, headstand.....

So the ipad arrived and what a thing of beauty it is (there it is on my workbench with a sax I was working on behind it). Needless to say, blogging has gone out the window as has visiting and commenting on anyone's blog (sorry, but hey it's an ipad) and the evening's pranayama and meditation as well for that matter, what can I say, planes to land, melons and pineapples to slice, large monsters in armour to dispatch and screwed up pieces of paper to toss.

I'm working on a post though, 101 ways to use an ipad in yoga, so far I'm at around number 3, a lot more research to do, might be AWOL for a while.

James commented 'Your life has just changed. Its like the yoga of technology'. Not what he meant but think about this, it twists and turns, bends this way and that, even stands on it's head, the ipad is the yogi par excellence...if only it would start up like it's big brother imac here with a deep resonant AUM.

Anyway, on a much more serious note, while in shoulderstand my lotus just popped into place all on it's own and I thought I'd try the headstand one too, just, JUST made it, so thought I'd post the video to show I'm not completely wasting my time at the moment but focusing on deeply spiritual practices.

OK, I'm kidding what serious yogi would waste his time with such frivolities...(see 2:23 in )

...although it's perhaps worth noting that I had operations on my knees years ago and never thought I'd manage a lotus at all let alone 'look mum, no hands'.

But back to ipad. This is a first generation ipad. managed to get it cheap, refurbished, planning ahead for the ipad6, but hang on, how can that be, it has the 2nd generation smart cover.

Found a site that shows you a cheat. Stick a couple of rare earth magnets on the back of your little beauty and voila.

Can't find the link ( found it )on how to do this but my approach is slightly different anyway. The important thing is to line up your magnets on the back of the ipod with those on the smart cover. Draw around them in pencil and stick them on, I used evo-stic a kind of rubber glue, didn't want to use superglue for obvious reasons, this seems strong enough. Make sure that when you glue the magnets on you haven't turned them around and got the polarization wrong, good to mark the magnets with an arrow pointing to the smart cover before you start with the glue.

I put my magnets on the back because they were a bit too big, too square, if you can get smaller ones you can put them on the side as in the video HERE

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Kino in the Zone

Almost called this 'Kino practices Vinyasa Krama'. OK, not quite but there are times when the postures, building up one upon the other remind me of a kind of Advanced Vinyasa Krama. Out of the demo setting with time to elongate the breath some more and perhaps repeat postures it wouldn't be so far off, makes quite a difference when you drop the jump backs.

This has actually been a bit of an issue for me, how to incorporate the more advanced postures from Advanced A and B I've worked on into my VK practice. I like working on them, like the focus, the concentration.

I've been doing it with backbends for quite some time, adding the Bow and Meditative sequences together and then bringing in some of the Advanced A and B backbends and now tictacs etc.

So these videos inspired me this afternoon to build an advanced Asymmetric and Seated sequence, adding more leg behind head postures to Asymmetric and the nasty advanced hip openers to seated like Kandasana, Mula bhandasana and hopefully, eventually Kandasana. Can't wait to try this one out tomorrow.

Anyway to Kino, quite sublime here and definitely in the zone, quite stunning too in the last couple of frames of the final video.

See 2:35 into the one below, in the zone I tell ya

PS. Anyone have any suggestions for W. in my previous post...
I have a small rib bone growth on my back....... (?)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

I have a small rib bone growth on my back....... (?)

Received a question from a friend on facebook last night, we were on the VK TTcourse together. I'm not much help on something like this but am hoping somebody visiting here might have some ideas. Here's the FB conversation.

    • Hey Tony, have you ever had any rib tendon/bone/or muscle issues from practicing? It appears I have a small rib bone growth on my back, and sometimes when I am doing very deep poses i think it is bruising or irritating some muscle tissue? I remember you having a large anterior rib cage like mine, and you are so on top of anything Yoga. How is the VK practice going? Cheers

  • Anthony Grim Hall
    10 hours ago
    Anthony Grim Hall
    • Do I have a large anterior rib cage? I thought there was something strange about it. No Wyatt, not really had any problems to speak of, some back issues off and on since I came off my bike a while ago but that all seems normal. 

      Nice back thing I found by accident this week though. I had a rest day sunday, paschimottanasana was aching a bit so after three minutes I laid back and did pond gesture (from the beginning of the Supine sequence), the one where you lay on your back arms stretched above your head engaging bandhas. Did that a couple of minutes then my back felt great , went on and did ten minutes in paschi quite comfortably.

  • Anthony Grim Hall
    10 hours ago
    Anthony Grim Hall
    • Hey if you want, send me a picture of where the problem is, more of a description and I can do a post on my blog and see if anyone else has any ideas.

    • I have something like a rib spur (extosis) on a rib right behind where my right elbow falls in samastiti. It is not really really big, and usually doesn't bother me, but I have been working on kapotasana, and other reach behind foot grabs. because the pain is a few in inches higher, i am surmising that it is my muscle or connective tissue that is getting brought in contact with it in these asanas. This is somehow damaging the tissue. and causing significant pain. They aren't necessary asana, but you know how great they feel right? maybe it is appreciation for the art part. Oh well, I think I will just have to let it heal, then make sure I put a few days in between practicing these poses. surely someone has experienced some kind of bone growth that has affected there muscle tissue during asana, especially very tough poses thanks Grimmlyji om nama narayana namaha

  • So what do you think?

    And what's this about a my having a large anterior ribcage, hadn't noticed considered or looked that closely at anyone else's (picture is while doing uddiyana bandha but it's the clearest ribcage shot I could find)

    Had planned on practicing one of the long Vinyasa krama sequences today ( my day off) Asymmetric or Supine but have a real craving for Ashtanga 2nd, really enjoyed Saturday's. Bad Kramite.

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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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