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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Dear Nancy... the breath in '73

The Context.
In Krishnamacharya' Yoga Makaranda of 1934 (free download here) Krishnamcaharya employs Ujayii breath, long exhalations are mentioned, there is breath retention after the exhalation, the forehead is down in most postures and there is no mention of drishti.

In Jois' Yoga Mala (1954) , Pattabhi Jois' forehead is down in his pictures also (though not in Sharath's introduced in the later English translation) but there's no mention of Drishti, Ujayii isn't mentioned either nor breath retention.

Why the questions? Well, I'm curious of course, about where and how the Ashtanga method as we know it  now came about. Was it a response to teaching Western students, to the increase in numbers as it became a worldwide phenomenon and the impossibility of direct supervision. How much has changed since 1973, was anything lost?

But more importantly, for me personally, is how to bring together the two practices I love, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama (these days, while the jury is still out, I just get on and practice them separately, Vinyasa Krama in the morning, Ashtanga in the evening). Vinyasa Krama represents Krishnamacharya's late teaching as passed on to his student, of 30 years, Ramaswami. It's very close to what we find in Krishnamacharya's 1934 Yoga Makaranada, Ujayii, some jalandhara bandha (or at least a slight tilt inwards of the chin, the forehead down), longer exhalations, breath retention, no drishti to speak of as the head is almost always down.

Krishnamacharya's teaching then, doesn't seem to have changed that much, so how do we account for Ashtanga. Did Pattabhi Jois modify the teaching, bring the head up and introduce or at least develop, codify the drishti, eliminate Ujayii for breath with sound. These are quite major changes.

Was it a response to trying to pass on the method to western students, a simplification. How was it taught in those first encounters in the early 70's? Or do we go back further to the 50's and 60's when Manju was first taught by his father (aged 7) and also when Yoga Mala was written.

How innovative was Sri K. Patabbhi Jois?

I wrote to Nancy Gilgoff recently asking permission to publish her article Ashtanga As it Was (see this post), I couldn't help but ask about the breath in '73

'Dear Nancy.... can I ask how you were taught the breath in 73, Was it referred to as Ujayii? I'm guessing it was 8 breaths but was it also a longer exhalation or were inhalation and exhalation the same in every posture. I'm also curious about drishti, no mention in Krishnamcharya's Yoga Makaranda, Yoga Mala or Ramaswami's writing but then the chin seems to have been down more so perhaps no call for it'.


'aloha anthony     i never NEVER heard guruji say the word ujayii.   he said to breath, "free breathing" is how he would say it.   "breath with sound" was another of his pet phrases....perhaps this is why some interpreted it as ujaii....which is incorrect as ujayii is a pranayama where the exhale is twice as long as the inhale....we are to bring the inhale/exhale to the same length so ujayii is the wrong word to use when describing the breath in the ashtanga practice.  recently sharath made mention of this...kino mcgregor has put up a summary of a talk he gave...i will forward it to you. i am soooo happy he said this as i have been telling folks ujayii is incorrect.
i think folks are making a mistake to look at yoga makaranda and compare it to the ashtanga method of pattabhi jois.   true k.. was guruji's teacher but the series is a different practice than what is being talked about in the makaranda.  never, never retention in the practice.  i was taught 5-8 breaths is correct...equal on both sides.....he told us to breath faster if something was difficult.....movement follows the breath so if one is not able to "float" back and thru the breath has to speed up....also in yoga mak. he says to do jalandhara bandha in the poses which is VERY INCORRECT to quote guruji.....there is no jalandhara in the ashtanga asana practice.
guruji ALWAYS told us where to gaze as he taught us each pose......the drishti's are important to focus and calm the mind.
think that covers it.....looking forward to meeting you and having more discussions....n
be well safe and happy'


That's pretty clear, thank you so much Nancy.

Perhaps the clue is in the 'breath follows movement', with such a flowing practice maybe it would be a mistake to include breath retention plus there's the need to keep the energy up so equal inhalation/exhalation and again the head up to maximise the inhalation, all help to carry you through the practice
Oh well, back to the drawing board...

Dear Manju.....can I ask you how you were taught the breath by your Father in the 1950's and.......

13 comments:

  1. Interesting. Thank you, Nancy AND Grimmly, for sharing this discussion!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So we come full circle - 'free breathing with sound'!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Grimmly

    Thanks for your continued excellent research in to Ashtanga Vinyasa and helping us bring more clarity in to this system .

    ReplyDelete
  4. Grimmly

    Here is an info from an interview with Manju Jois that I saw and that will give u an insight as to how his teaching is different from his father :

    How does your style of teaching
    differ from the way that your father taught you originally, and also the way that he teaches Ashtanga today?
    Manju: I think there’s a very slight difference, because my father used to do the full vinyasas, start everything
    from sun salutation. That’s all we
    used to do, and slowly it changed,
    because of lack of time. Alot of people do not have time, they cannot do it all.
    So, I just try to stick with the old style, which is a lot of namaskars.
    The more namaskars you do, the
    more benefit you get. That’s what I
    try to do in my workshops some

    ReplyDelete
  5. Brilliant article. Thanks so much for your efforts. You mention "Perhaps the clue is in the 'breath follows movement'," but I think it is the reverse, that movement follows breath. Breath and then begin the movement. Movement couched within the breath.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is really interesting! I always found that in his video of Primary Series, Sharath held the poses for such a short time; I assumed that he was just doing a demonstration, and that in his "real" practice he held the poses longer. Could it be that he is breathing faster and harder? I've never actually looked at his chest to count his breaths. I think that I would hyperventilate if I breathed that fast in the postures!
    Krishnamacharya had many students besides Jois and Ramaswami. Iyengar comes to mind, of course. Has anyone compared the approaches of his other students?

    ReplyDelete
  7. YouChick, David Garrigues just posted a good video about this topic here: http://davidgarrigues.com/blog/?p=1753&preview=true

    funny how all these discussions seem to come up at the same time...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nancy has been really generous with her response, sure she and David, tim et al chewed over the same questions forty years ago, very tolerant of her to put up with mine.

    So it appears Susan

    Thank you Krishna, interesting bit bit of the Manju interview, do you have a link to that one, i have a few interviews by him, always interesting. he represents that period around the writing of Yoga Mala, just after Krishnamacharya left town so particularly interesting.

    Thanks Anon, you way of putting it sounds closer to Vinyasa Krama, See David Garrigues' video this week on the breath and movement, ties in with what Nancy was saying nicely.

    I always thought Sharath was quick on that DVD YouChick though I loved it and it allowed me to practice the full series before work in the morning back in the beginning. if you watch the old Jois led videos they are pretty much just as quick.

    thanks Anon, caught it last night, nice practical advice as ever from David.

    Ramaswami just posted on the breath on the FB vinyasa Krama page, think he must have caught some of this talk of the breath.

    VINYASAKRAMA ASANA BREATHING: In Vinyasakrama asana practice, breath synchronization with slow movements is an essential element. One would start the movement with the beginning of inhalation or exhalation and complete the movement with the completion of that breathing phase. The time taken in actual practice may be between 5 to 10 or 12 seconds depending on one's capacity and control. If it goes below 5 seconds one would stop the practice and rest to regain the vinyasa krama acceptable breath. My Guru, Sri T Krishnamacharya would say 'breathe with hissing sound '(a la cobra, refer to ananta samapatti in YS) or 'with a mild rubbing sensation in the throat'--. Some hints about breathing in asanas as per vinyasa krama which will be discussed in my Teacher Training program in July/Aug 2012 at LMU.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ok, so is there no constriction of the throat during Ashtanga? Just free breathing with sound?

    ReplyDelete
  10. There's still a slight constriction of the glottis Brianna to make the sound. I think the debate is about whether to refer to that as ujjayi or not. Some feel that there is only one kind of ujjayi and that it is a pranayma which includes breath retention others feel there are different gradients of ujjayi pranayama one it type changes nostrils on the exhalation another on the inhalation yet another has breath retention. There's also the one Nancy refers to where the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation and then another simpler kind that merely makes the breath longer and thinner. It doesn't really matter, personally I like to think of it as a pranayma, a simple one because that way you have all the connotations of pranayama within your practice as opposed to just a phrase, breathing with sound, which doesn't mean much.

    But that's just my current working view..might change my mind on it in a few months

    ReplyDelete
  11. What is the point of the slight constriction? I am not sure I ever came across anything that stated why it was done and I want to understand why it is important for the practice.

    ReplyDelete
  12. It's what produces the sound the slight 'hissing', that allows us to hear the breath more clearly throughout the practice which improves the rhythm of the practice. Hearing the breath but also feeling it more allows us to controll it more, to equalise the inhalation and exhalation, to pay attention to the quality of the breath, keeping it smoothe and steady and to make sure were inhaling and exhaling fully. I think 'paying attention to the quality of the breath' sums it up best.

    ReplyDelete
  13. So grateful to find this conversation! wonderful to see Nancy's comments. (Miss you dear beautiful teacher)

    I had the fantastic good fortune and immense privilege of studying under both Nancy and David on Maui and Guriji when he came to Maui and San Francisco.

    I only wanted to add that in relationship to doing the series with all the salutations and vinyasas included when time allows the difference after yoga session I feel is quite remarkable.

    Im not always able to do that because of time constraints and old age lol! but it does seem the shift is considerable when all the vinyasas are included in the practice especially between the floor postures I really notice it there.


    I still struggle with the breathing and feel very much like a novice even after doing yoga for years now. But I always take great consolation remembering what David and Nancy reminded us of Guriji words "Yoga is 99% practice 1% theory."

    Thanks again for this wonderful informative and much appreciated dialogue.

    ReplyDelete

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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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