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Friday, 29 March 2013

Guest post - Ashtanga Yoga: practice with discipline but practice smart, a response to Matthew Sweeney's recent article

Another guest or rather shared post from Marie HALLAGER Andersen's blog who shared her Richard Freeman workshop post with us last year. 

as well as this one on Woman and Yoga

The new one below is a response to Matthew Sweeney's article The evolution of Ashtanga

Guest post by 

Marie HALLAGER Andersen

Ashtanga Yoga: practice with discipline but practice smart

There are two points I want to make in this blog post. One is that, if you practice with discipline and commitment Ashtanga Yoga will give you evident results. The other point is that the strict practice can become a trap when a rigid approach to the tradition takes over. This blog post is about learning to practice in a disciplined way, but also learning to practice smart.

I had already begun to write the post when I came across an article by yoga master Matthew Sweeney, ‘The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga’. In it, Matthew explores the ideas of change within a traditional method.  I was curious to add some comments and so I thought I'd use Matthew’s article as a starting point to talk about the subject and then expand with my own thoughts and experiences. But I urge you to read Matthew's full post here.

Matthew Sweeney
Matthew outlines the pros and cons of sticking closely to the traditional Ashtanga Yoga series. He argues that the practice and the teaching of the practice has evolved and that the idea of 'tradition' depends on who you ask. Is it to deny the 'tradition' and to refuse a sequence that 'works' if you start to modify, to adapt or even to play with postures out of sequence? He points out the uniqueness and deficiencies of the Ashtanga Yoga system. I find his closing words and concluding question intriguing:

    "...every system needs to evolve else it will become stagnant, every system needs stability from which this change can flourish. It is not a question of right and wrong, it is a question of whether you can admit that wherever you sit on the spectrum, can you embrace both ends of it"?
Matthew Sweeney from blog post: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga

He addresses the reader directly and asks us to take a stand on this. Can we as hardcore traditionalists embrace change and can we as lovers of variety and change accept the value and depth of tradition?
The pros of sticking to the traditional practice
A very good argument for sticking strictly to the sequence is that of facing postures found to be unfamiliar and difficult. The Ashtanga Yoga sequence doesn't allow you a lazy playlist of 'greatest hits'.
I experienced this with my own body. After committing to the full Ashtanga practice in Mysore classes (no skipping postures!), I found my confidence increase both on and off the mat. The truth is that some of the more extreme primary series postures meant that I had been avoiding the full practice for a long time because of injury and fear. I needed the sequence to confront me with what I found difficult; it taught me not to cop out every time I hit an obstacle.
Read on for Matthew's precise and sharp analysis on this subject. I couldn't have said it better so I will let it stand for itself:

    "The simple fact is that by adhering to the set sequences of Ashtanga, although more discipline is required, the results are definite. Without set sequencing, without some commitment to self practice, both the results of the body and the focus of the mind are generally limited. A key benefit of a set sequence is that it keeps you honest. You are forced to doing postures that are difficult or problematic rather than avoid them, or only doing the ones you may like or which feel good. (...) Avoiding difficult or problematic postures is a major flaw, particularly with styles of Yoga that don’t work with set sequencing. Both beginner and advanced practitioners can fall into this trap, which leads to building up your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses, and then leads to further imbalance, rather than less".
Matthew Sweeney from blog post: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga

The cons of sticking to the traditional practice
Matthew's main argument in his article against sticking dogmatically to the set order of the sequence is that the majority of the postures in the primary series are about upper body strength and forward-bending postures. Many of us get stuck here due to inflexible hips or hamstrings and hence we build strength in some areas and less in others by vigorously repeating vinyasas and forward bends. As Matthew explains, this focus enhances the upward and energetic aspect of the yoga practice (referred to as masculine energy) and less on the downwards and soothing aspect (female energy).  (For more on such a theme see my 'Women & Yoga' post here) .

It is not that Matthew argues that we should not teach the traditional method but rather that you have to learn to take responsibility as a teacher for tweaking the practice to accommodate each individual student who takes an interest in doing yoga and not only those who have certain aptitudes.

    "After the initial learning phase it is important to consider the needs of the student rather than blindly following the tradition. It is important to consider whether the standard Ashtanga is appropriate (and often it may not be) and then notice if you do not teach an alternative out of fear, rigidity or inability".
Matthew Sweeney from blog post: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga -A sacred cow?
It is my experience that there is an unwritten rule particularly for more senior Ashtanga teachers to be very faithful to the traditional teaching: 'If this is what Guruji (or Sharath) has said, then it must be the truth'. Therefore I was thrilled to hear Matthew Sweeney talk about the problems of how dogmatically the Ashtanga practice is often approached. Finally: a senior teacher to speak out about what I had been thinking. And no doubt he’s not the first to express this. Matthew says:

 "Why are the Ashtanga sequences treated as a sacred cow? It is a wonderful practice, but just Asana sequences at the end of the day. There is nothing innately spiritual, holy or sacred about them".
Matthew Sweeney from blog post: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga

In Leeds
Haven't most Ashtanga practitioners been wondering about this at some point since starting their yoga journey? The approach taken by our teacher (and very advanced Ashtangi) Joey Miles, is probably unusual compared to that in some more traditional Ashtanga Yoga Shalas. Joey teaches a disciplined Ashtanga practice according to the inherited sequences, but he allows for the use of props and modifications (to postures and sequence) where appropriate. He’s influenced by Iyengar Yoga and will spend time with the individual student to help them understand basic alignment for a safe practice. If a student is working with an injury or is otherwise challenged he might suggest modifications or additional postures to work sensibly with this. In short, Joey seems to take the ‘tradition’ less dogmatically, and although he honours it, he has given it his own stamp.
Self-practice for Ashtanga Yoga only?

Joey Miles
Inevitably a led or ‘counted’ Ashtanga class cannot accommodate modifications for every single student in the space of 90 minutes. Led classes, of course, have their place for establishing rhythm, pace and focus to the Ashtanga sequence, and for reminding us of the correct breathing. But what are Mysore self-practice classes for? Matthew Sweeney mentions self-practice aspect several times in his blog post and also argues that it is one of the unique features of the Ashtanga practice, where the student receives feedback and hands-on adjustments during practice. So many other Yogas don't do self-practice. So should a self-practice class only be for people who naturally find jump backs and forward bends easy? Surely no teacher or true yogi is interested in this kind of exclusion.

Why should a student not feel welcome to come and practice a modified sequence for a period of time due to aptitude, age, injury or illness? Or perhaps a more permanent adapted practice if circumstances or body type doesn't fit the Ashtanga Yoga archetype of lean and petite? It is my impression that self practice classes risk becoming exclusive to the type of students who a) already know the full primary series (other students seem to think that this is a prerequisite for doing this class) and, b) have right body type to cope with vinyasas and forward bends and who thrive on the upwards, 'male' energy Matthew refers to in his blog post.

Back to Leeds
As mentioned earlier on in the post one of Joey's strengths as a teacher is precisely to implement what Matthew Sweeney is talking about in his post: to notice the needs of the individual student and have the courage to let go of the established sequence if this benefits the student. The implications of this is that some students will be practicing modifications or adapted versions of the sequence next to someone doing a ‘strict’ Ashtanga practice. Now what are the practical implications of this? How do you make sure that the practice in the self practice environment stays safe for both students and teachers? And all this while acknowledging the usefulness of being disciplined with the practice but still making space for all types of people.

Mysore practice in leeds
To practice smart is to practice with discipline but not with rigidity. So the emphasis of our practice is not to follow slavishly the form of the postures as they are set out in the text books but to practice with ease so doing yoga remains fun and inspiring. Modified with benefits but not discarded to avoid confronting difficulties.

Yoga is for everyone regardless of ability. I will finish with a quote by Matthew Sweeney again:

"For example, how do you teach someone missing one arm(...)"?
Matthew Sweeney from blog post: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga

Next I’ll be returning to my series of posts about developing a yoga practice for Toke who only has one arm...
Toke Broni Strandby in Downward Dog
See the original post at Marie's Blog here

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Angela Jamison on mula bandha and questions to live by

Need a post to bury a post and I've been wanting to share these videos from Angela Jamison since they came out recently.

I particularly like the first one Moola bandha.

These are from the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani 
And pop over to YogaRose's blog to get an into on the videos and some background.

Of course, before we tend to be interested in what somebody has to say in Ashtanga we want to know how nicely they jump through or backbend, which is a shame. Angela's backbends are as it happens quite sublime (I remember a video of her kapo where she jumped through landed and went straight back into a heel grab kapo, in the same way as I used to wop out my katana, dispatch a few imaginary Ronin and return my sword to its Saya all in one hopefully seamless action, way back in my Iaido days in Japan) and her jump through, well... SWEET (and I don't mean hearts and flowers sweet),  so you can listen to what she has to say with interest, her jump through is sound.

By the way the 'Look up, all the way to NYC', tip for jumping through, works a treat. Thank you Angela.

Here is said 'SWEET' jump through on my earlier post on Jumping through with short arms

Angela is founder and owner of AYA2 in Ann Arbor

Mysore Practice: Monday - Friday 6:30 - 8:30am.
Rest on Saturday, the new moon and the full moon.
Advanced Practice for Beginners: Sunday 9:30 - 10:45am.
We open our space for community self-practice three days per week.
All classes convene at the Phoenix Center.
New students are welcome. You must contact the instructor for details on attending.
To subscribe to our monthly newsletter, send an email.

Her Bio
My name is Angela Jamison. I was introduced to ashtanga yoga
in 2001 in Los Angeles, and have practiced six days a week
continuously since 2003.
In 2006, I completed intermediate series with Rolf Naujokat
before learning from him the ashtanga pranayama sequence.
I maintain a relatively modest pranayama practice.
Later in 2006, I met Dominic Corigliano, who taught me the
subtler layers of ashtanga practice, and eventually, slowly,
taught me to teach yoga. During 2009, I assisted Jörgen
After retreats in the Zen, Vajrayana and Vipassana traditions,
I began working with the meditation teacher Shinzen Young
in 2009. I meditate daily, confer with Shinzen about my practice
every few months, and take annual silent retreats.
I have made four long trips to Mysore to practice ashtanga with
R. Sharath Jois, and to study the history and philosophy
of yoga with M.A. Narasimhan and M.A. Jayashree. I will return
to Mysore regularly.
In 2011, Sharath authorized me at Level 2, asking me to teach the
full intermediate series.

Check out Angela's blog posts from AYA2 here


AY:A2 Apprenticeship

How to practice when hell’s freezing over

How to get up for yoga, again.

and it's earlier companion piece...

How to wake up for yoga.

House Recommendations (if you only have time to read one)

How Jedi Knights Should Eat

and this one because it may be my favourite...

Discipline, Affirmation, Emotion

Saying Goodbye

Just a quick post on this for anyone who's thinking about this option when the time comes. More of a public service post than anything else.

So if you caught my earlier post you'll know that Nietzsche, the Chinchilla we've roomed with for the last 19 years went quietly to the the dust bath in the sky two weeks ago.

I thought about burying him in the garden but we don't really have plans to stay in the country for much longer so decided on cremation.

Really don't trust the vets cremation service, just as with your lasagna in this country you're likely to find a little horse in there with the boy's ashes.

So we went for Dignity a pet cremation in Hook that has a same day service.

For the last two weeks Nietzsche has been in the freezer, guess I should go into this as I was googling about it like crazy the other week to try and figure out what to do.

After he died we wrapped him in a small piece of his favourite blanket, the one he used to go under every evening and sit between my ankles.

We put him back in his freshly cleaned cage, with fresh water and fresh food and the door open and left him for the night.

In the morning we put him, still in the blanket, in a Black 'body bag' a nice Nespresso bag since you asked, classy. Then we put him in a plastic container in the freezer as we couldn't get him cremated for a couple of weeks.

We put flowers next to the freezer and it's been a little weird, apologetic every time we had to open the freezer for any thing, "sorry boy".

Saturday finally came around and we put him in a converted clarinet case I'd bought home with an ice pack, hated the thought of him being cold, stupid huh.

M. pretty much carried him, holding the case horizontal, the whole way.

Cold Cold day, still snow here, freezing actually getting splashed by cars all the way to the Crematorium, less than ideal.

The people at Dignity were nice, done this a thousand time of course. We were a bit confused, we'd thought we'd be there the whole time but the idea is that even for the same day service you go away and come back later to pick up the ashes.

We asked to be there and they do a allow it a small extra charge which seemed fair enough.

They left us to say our goodbyes, I'd put a slide show on the ipad on all the pictures we had of him over the last 19 years and we watched that, kind of nice, glad I did it.

When we were ready we went through to the back of the building where the ovens were, nice guy running those, called Jay I think, thought he might have been Italian.

The ovens looked a little like pizza ovens in fact. Think twice before you order a pizza in the Hook/Harltley Witney area

Jay explained the process, that being small they would put him in a small metal tray and then into the oven so they could be sure to get all his ashes. Asked if we wanted to stay for the whole thing and we said yes, M's Buddhist background coming out perhaps.

Was a bit worried at the thought of seeing him, had no idea what condition he would be in when he came out of the bag and his blanket but it was OK, fur damp from the freezer I guess but head slightly turned up, it was sad to see him like that but OK, again, closure.

They warned us that when they put him into the oven we would see a little smoke go up from his fur before they closed the door but that seemed appropriate somehow.

They closed the door, allowed us to stay for a little while with our thoughts, prayers and then were kind enough to drop as at the local pub (this place really was in the middle of nowhere) and said they would come back with the ashes in time for the train back.

And that was that. Didn't like all the fancy boxes and silver heart containers they had on offer, just went for a simple cardboard scatter tube that looked not unlike a Japanese tea caddy. Nietzsche loved cardboard and especially giant tubes (see pic above), seemed appropriate.

Besides we have this idea of taking his ashes to Chile one day, scattering him over his ancestral lands...good excuse to visit Chile if nothing else.

When we got home we put him in his old house in his old room on the place I made for him (see last post)  and brought some flowers.

Too much?

Nineteen years is nineteen years, kind of a nice way to say goodbye, felt respectful and appropriate and I guess some closure. Hopefully the general malaise I've been feeling for the past two weeks will pass now but then that's grief, bit of a bugger however cool and tough we think we are.

On a last note I put his cage on Ebay this afternoon, a token amount for Buy it now, and it sold within the hour. Mostly I just wanted somebody to take it away and couldn't bare to scrap it. They come and pick it up tomorrow.
ebay listing

This evening I'm listening to Flamenco and sipping more wine than I have in a long a while, again, closure.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Manuel Molina, Heidegger, Mastery, practice

Not really yoga related....or is it?

Saw there was a new documentary on Manuel Molina by Tao Ruspoli on YouTube and wanted to post it on fb but it reminded me of the first time I came across him on the documentary about Heidegger, Being in the World, so wanted to post that too. Couldn't figure out how to link them on fb so thought I'd post them here instead. HIGHLY recommend the Heidegger/Being in the World movie movie, which as well as being about Heidegger is about Mastery ( of music, of life.....of flamenco which is perhaps the same thing and there's your yoga/practice link),

Here are both links.

The Manuel Molina documentary

and re my questionable link to yoga and practice, a clip/section that isn't in Being in the World but perhaps could have been

And Being in the World.

This from my post last year that can be found here

What Does It Mean To Become A Master?
'In the 1960's and 70's, the advent of computers not only reinforced this notion of man as a rational animal, it also led many people to predict that we would soon have machines that could think and act just like human beings. In 1972, however, Hubert Dreyfus's seminal and controversial book What Computers Can't Do anticipated the failure of what came to be known as "artificial intelligence".
In the book, Dreyfus explains that human beings are not at all like computers. We do not apply abstract, context-free rules to compute how to act when we engage in skilled behavior. Instead, Dreyfus argued, the fundamental thing about humans is that we are embodied beings living in a shared world of social practices and equipment. In the end, it is our skillful mastery and our shared practices that not only distinguish us from machines but allow us to assume meaningful identities.'

"Once upon a time there was a world full of meaning, focused by exemplary figures in the form of gods and heroes, saints and sinners. How did we lose them, or, might they still be around, in the form of modern day masters, in fields like sports, music, craft and cooking. Are these masters able to inspire us and bring back a sense of wonder, possibly even of the sacred"?

About the movie

there's a digital download here

"What is Being in the World? (from the website)

Once upon a time there was a world full of meaning, focused by exemplary figures in the form of gods and heroes, saints and sinners. How did we lose them, or, might they still be around, in the form of modern day masters, in fields like sports, music, craft and cooking. Are these masters able to inspire us and bring back a sense of wonder, possibly even of the sacred?

Join world renowned philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, along with a generation of philosophers he inspired, as they take us on a riveting journey of ideas, tackling some of the deepest philosophical issues of our time. In this enlightening trip, we learn what is unique about human beings that allows us to take the risks necessary to learn skills, and how an appreciation of mastery can help us recover a meaningful world. Travel to New Orleans to meet the Queen of Creole Cuisine, travel to Spain to meet the legendary poet and flamenco master Manuel Molina, and enter the world of Hiroshi Sakaguchi a Japanese master craftsman.

Humans acting at their best respond faster than they can think. They converse, experience "flow", "play out of their heads", and in general are responsive and receptive to the demands of their unique situation. Masters don't deliberate and reflect, but "straight away do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time in the appropriate way." Given that spontaneous actions can reveal people at their best, why is that today people feel that, in order to act well, they must always reflect and then, like a machine, choose the most rational response?

Being in the World is a celebration of human beings, and our ability, through the mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills, to find meaning in the world around us. This film takes us on a gripping and surprising journey around the world meeting extraordinary people, showing how we go from following rules to proficiency, to becoming masters in the form artists, craftsmen, athletes, and, ultimately, unique human beings attuned to the sacred.

An Idea Takes Hold

Tao Ruspoli graduated with a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley in 1998. The first philosophy course he took was called "Existentialism in Literature and Filme" taught by professor Hubert Dreyfus. This course inspired Tao to become a filmmaker and he went on to take all of Dreyfus' courses, all of which had tremendous influence on him and his outlook on the world.

Ten years after graduating, Tao returned to Berkeley to revisit Dreyfus and was inspired to make Being in the World, as an attempt to bring these profound philisophical ideas to a non-academic audience. Dreyfus introduced Tao to all of his students who had now become well-known professors in their own right—from Sean Kelly at Harvard to Mark Wrathall at UC Riverside, as well as Taylor Carman, Iain Thomson, John Haugeland, and several others.

Tao and his team traveled to meet and interview each of these professors and then researched and found masters in different fields who best illustrated their ideas. This brought the team around the world where they had a chance to immerse themselves in the worlds of Japanese carpentry, Creole cooking, gypsy flamenco, and more"

Here's another clip from the movie, one of The Philosophers John Haugeland, who died recently,  his book on Heidegger come out last month.

Dasein Disclosed: John Haugeland's Heidegger

The author of discipline-defining studies of human cognition and artificial intelligence, John Haugeland was a charismatic, highly original voice in the contemporary forum of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. At his death in 2010, he left behind an unfinished manuscript, more than a decade in the making, intended as a summation of his life-long engagement with one of the twentieth century’s most influential philosophical tracts, Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927). Dasein Disclosed brings together in a single volume the writings of a man widely acknowledged as one of Heidegger’s preeminent and most provocative interpreters.

A labyrinth of notoriously difficult ideas and terminology, Being and Time has inspired copious commentary. Not content merely to explain, Haugeland aspired to a sweeping reevaluation of Heidegger’s magnum opus and its conception of human life as Dasein—a reevaluation focused on Heidegger’s effort to reawaken philosophically dormant questions of what it means “to be.” Interpreting Dasein unconventionally as “the living of a living way of life,” Haugeland put involvement in a shared world, rather than individual persons or their experience, at the heart of Heidegger’s phenomenology of understanding and truth. Individuality, Haugeland insists, emerges in the call to take responsibility for a collective way of being in the world. He traces this thought to Heidegger’s radical conclusion that one does not truly understand philosophical concepts unless that understanding changes how one lives.

As illuminating as it is iconoclastic, Dasein Disclosed is not just Haugeland’s Heidegger—it is a major contribution to philosophy in its own right.

Sharath on tour video, his Karandavasana and the Mysore backbender

Not sure about these two video's but thought I'd share them anyway.

The first is a Sharath on tour promotion video, the bold titles make me cringe a little but still.

Not sure where this comes from, whether it was re edited from the Mysore magic Video at the request of Sharath himself or by one of the Shala's he's visiting, Copenhagen perhaps.

Don't worry though I'm sure each and everyone in the video, including the girl at the end with the coconut, was asked specifically (and signed waivers) if it was OK to use their image in a promotional video.

To save you getting TOO excited, NO you don't get to see Sharath demo his Karandavasana here, sorry, the screenshot is a bit of a tease.

HOWEVER, you do on this lovely post on the last conference of the season from Isabella Nitschke's excellent blog

Here are the European tour dates...

R Sharath Jois
Europe Tour 2013:

Moscow 28 Jul - 2 Aug »
Copenhagen 4 - 9 Aug »
Stockholm 11 - 16 Aug »
Helsinki 18 - 23 Aug »
London 25 - 30 Aug »

I had a great (Ok, Not so great) idea for a series of blog posts, was going to call it

If I were Sharath for the day...
So, here's the first

If I were Sharath for the day... I would drop the advanced series, 2, 4, 5, 6 whatever, from the Ashtanga syllabus altogether. SKPJ said that all you needed was Primary, 2nd was just for teachers and Advanced posturesfor demonstrations, so be done with it and get rid of Advanced altogether. If you want to work on Advanced postures then by the time you've worked through 2nd series you know enough to work them out yourself fact get rid of the second half of 2nd too, stop at kapo.

This would of course change the whole dynamic of the practice, we'd be less hung up on the asana if there were less of them and focus more on the asana we do have than yearning for those we don't. The focus could shift to pranayama instead, exploring breath and drishti possibilities within the asana.

Just a thought.
And you? What would you do if you were Sharath for the day?

Mysore Backbended

While trying to see where the Sharath on Tour video came from I caught this video, posted on the same youtube channel.  Again, not sure about the video, the product itself, but the music in particular. Still, I know a couple of readers who will get quite excited by this, The Mysore Backbender, no longer will you have to hang back off the side of your bead.

A screenshot featuring the prop itself from the side would perhaps have been a nice choice for the Video, Youtube do allow you to choose any frame these days.

Chiara mentions another 'back bender' in comments 'they come flat packed like ikea stuff and you have to assemble t yourself'. interesting thing about the one in the video though is the hand holds for helping with kapo.
Two posts today my earlier post is here

Asana, the most necessary yet....

Monday, 25 March 2013

Asana, the most necessary yet....

This morning the thought struck me...

'Asana is the most necessary yet least significant element of my practice...'

Asana, the most necessary yet least significant element of practice?

Is that a contradiction?

Will no doubt be coming back to this throughout the day and wondering to what extent, if indeed any, I  actually believe that to be true.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Yougika Pratyaksha, seeing directly through yogic means

What this yoga malarky is really all about (?)
"This state of direct perception is variously described as aparoksha or seeing without other's eyes (or directly) or yougika pratyaksha or seeing directly through yogic means".

Loved this fb update from Ramaswami so much that I wanted to share it right away with anyone who isn't in one of Ramaswami's fb Vinyasa Krama groups or a friend of his on fb.

When I study subjects like Yoga sutras, Upanishads or other adhyatmika darshanas preferably under a teacher, word by word and thoroughly, the knowledge I get is Agama pragnya or textual or may also be termed as paroksha or indirect knowledge.. para means other aksha would be eye, or seeing through some one else's eyes. Then I sit down, contemplate deeply, try to find satisfactory answers to the doubts that arise in my mind and also doubts raised by other thought processes . After deep contemplation I am convinced that what the particular viewpoint is indeed the Truth. That state of my mind is known as anumana or inference. When once I am convinced that I have understood the subject correctly and the philosophy itself is absolutely convincing, I proceed to the next stage of direct experience. By following the procedures of deep meditation I develop an unwavering concentration ( samadhi) and with that acquired capability I contemplate on the Truth about myself and am able to see it in my mind's eye, exactly as I read in the text and contemplated . I have nothing else to do. This state of direct perception is variously described as aparoksha or seeing without other's eyes (or directly) or yougika pratyaksha or seeing directly through yogic means. We experience external objects directly with the senses and that is called pratyaksha or direct perception. Seeing directly in the mind's eye the true nature of one's own self is called Yougika-pratyaksha or yogic direct perception.

Guess I'm at Agama pragnya on this, need to sit down and do the work towards anumana...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ramaswami in Robert Moses and Eddie Stern's NAMARUPA Magazine

Everyone knows about Robert Moses and Eddie Stern's NAMARUPA magazine right?

Some Past issues

"NAMARUPA is published by NAMARUPA Inc. a non-profit organization, independent and not affiliated with any other entity. NAMARUPA is funded by subscription & donations. Contributors have kindly offered their work free of remuneration. Editorial and production assistance is voluntary. Publishers: Robert Moses and Eddie Stern. Advisor: Dr. Robert E. Svoboda"

Ramaswami mentioned recently that he hoped to be working with Namarupa magazine more regularly in the future.

Lo and behold Ramaswami's February newsletter on “AKASA” turns up in this months Namarupa with the subtitle


Would be great if this turned out to be a regular feature as it's nice to see Ramaswami Newsletters laid out so beautifully.

Here's Ramaswami introducing it on fb this week...

"Namarupa magazine current issue contains my recent Newsletter article “AKASA” as a free download, nicely formatted and presented. This article I very much liked writing and got quite involved—one of my personal favorites! It is an attempt to present the yoga/ advaita thought processes hopefully appealing to those not comfortable with traditional examples". Here is the link

And the first page below

Some other articles by Ramaswami for Namarupa magazine 

Here's the excerpt Namarupa provide

Srivatsa Ramaswami
Sandhyavandana is a structured meditation ritual centered on the profound gayatri mantra. The gayatri is considered the mother of all vedic mantras even as the pranava (Om) is considered the origin of the Vedas.
The Vedas themselves exhort the initiated to worship the Sun every dawn while facing the East with gayatri mantra. This mantra is at the heart of the sandhyavandana ritual. Sandhya means the meeting, or meeting of night and day, and vandana means worship. Sandhyavandana is Sun worship with meditation on the gayatri mantra...
To continue reading this article please purchase it or subscribe to Namarupa. Thank you.

Doesn't really do justice to how wonderful this article is, Ramaswami goes through every stage of the ritual including pictures all along the way

There's also a free audio download link to all the mantras

Here's the link to this issue which also includes an article on Yoga Manga by Barry Silver


Also, my favourite...

"WHENEVER KRISHNAMACHARYA taught me, prayer came first. Classes started with a meditative prayer (dhyána ùloka) to Lord Viüóu for the success of the session, followed by prayers to Lord Hayagràva, the repository of all Vedic knowledge, and to Lord Käüóa. Next would be a prayer appropriate to the topic at hand—to Patañjali if it was a yoga program, to Bádaráyaóa for a program on Brahma Sâtras, to Kapila for a Sáêkhya class, or the appropriate peace chant (ùánti páôha) for upaniüadic vidyás and Vedic chanting programs. There would always be a Pârva-ùánti (beginning peace invocation), and following tradition, class would always end with a peace chant called Uttara-ùánti, normally the surrender ùloka to Lord Náráyaóa found in Viüóu-sahasranáma, and the forgiveness or küamápana-stotra, if it was Vedic chanting class. The way my guru maintained añjali-mudrá while saying the prayer was a point of study. He said that in this mudrá the palms should be slightly cupped while keeping the hands together. There should be a hollow between the palms sufficient to hold an imaginary lotus or your heart in a gesture of loving offering to the dhyeya, the object of your meditation..."


And while we're at it, here are some of my favourite fb status updates from Ramaswami this month

On Krishnamacharya

"As I have mentioned earlier Sri Krishnamacharya taught several disciplines including the Vedanta. He taught the Brahmasutras following generally the line of reasoning of the visishtadwaita school. One day he stopped in the middle of the class looked at me and said,”If you want, I can teach the Brahma Sutras following the Sankara's Advaita school” Then he went on to describe in a nutshell Sankara's teaching. You see at that time Caruvakass or Lokayatas (sweet talkers or materialists) would say that matter was real and knowledge arises out of senses. So live a life getting as much pleasure as possible using your sense stimulation. The Body is the self, there is no separate Self. So lead a pleasurable life. Drink and be merry (piba rama). Sankara was completely opposed to this non vedic view which approach to life made people behave more and more like non humans. My Guru said ,
“Sankara told them that what they said 'existed' (the world known through senses) was not real and what they say 'does not exist' (the pure consciousness “Self”) alone exists. What is apparent (the world) is not real and what is real, the Self/Atman, is not apparent.

Sri Krishnamacharya lived for 100 years. But for the accident that partially incapacitated him in his last leg of life's journey, he maintained excellent physical and mental health. He could chant the entire Vedic Suryanamaskara running for about 60 minutes completely from memory when he was close to 100.
He practiced and taught variety of asanas and innumerable vinyasas variously to different people-- no one system developed out of his teachings can be said to represent his asana teachings completely. He had a working knowledge of Ayurveda and had occasionally given treatments to several of his students. Again he had a working knowledge of Jyotisha. One day at the end of my class, he said, “I feel it is time that you get married. You are Simha Rasi and now the planetary positions are very favorable for that.” His pranayama was phenomenal. I always used to be inspired watching him do pranayama, He used to remind of the vision of the epic hero 'Hanuman'. He could manipulate the physiological parameters with his pranayamas and mudras. He could chant 'OM' for almost a minute when he was close to 100 years. His voice was sonorous and beautiful. He was a great chanting teacher, a stickler to chanting rules with perfect pronunciation of the sanskrit syllables. He was a scholar of the vedas and vedic philosophies. He taught several vedic philosphies like vedanta, samkhya, yoga, nyaya, tarka and various important texts as Bhagavat Gita, Yoga Sutra, Brahma Sutras, major upanishads as Chandogya, Brahadaranyaka, Taittiriya, Mandukya and others and minor upanishads like Svetasvatara, Kausitaki and yoga upanishads. He also taught religious texts of Ramunuja, Desika and puranas and itihasas as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas. It is almost 25 years since he passed away, but he is still fresh in my memory. Using an Indglish expression I may say that he was 'awe-inspiring'. Remembering him everyday fondly and with reverence, I feel inspired".

On the Breath

"In the vinyasakrama method of asana practice, Sri Krishnamacharya invariably included long smooth synchronous throat breathing. So when one starts the next anga, Pranayama, not only the skeletal muscles are exercised but the breathing apparatus also would have been well prepared for the next practice Pranayama.. Then in Pranayama he would include, in many cases, pranayama mantra while in antah kumbhaka. With this the Yogi would be well prepared to go to the next anga of either mantra meditation or mantra prarayana (chanting). So,yoga practice Sri Krishnamacharya taught was a seamless flow, not only in asana practice but beyond into the other angas. He taught a wholesome yoga practice".


On Teaching

In learning and putting to use bodies of knowledge like Yoga and similar adhyatma vidyas, the role of a teacher may be kept minimal but is very essential.


A cursory look at philosophies like yoga...

"A cursory look at philosophies like yoga, vedanta, samkhya may give the impression that they are somewhat weird and speculative. But a closer look would reveal how logical and gripping they are. My Guru would engage in a debate on these philosophies in Sanskrit with scholars with great facility while he would also teach ordinary students like us with consummate ease using readily understandable terms and reasoning".


Ant creates an anthill. Bird builds a nest...

"Ant creates an anthill. Bird builds a nest. A child makes a doll's house. An adult builds a house. A magician builds a castle in thin air. A King builds a Kingdom. A Yogi (viswamitra) creates a heaven. Brahma is said to have created this limited but unbounded Universe-- each according to one's capability"

There is another interesting interpretation of the term 'Yoga...

"There is another interesting interpretation of the term 'Yoga'', “ अप्राप्य प्रापणं प्राप्यं योगम्
aprāpya prāpaṇaṁ prāpyaṁ yogam”. Yoga is attaining (obtaining) what is generally considered impossible and is also the means of obtaining the impossible. Yoga is the means of attaining that which cannot be obtained by other ordinary means. In other words yoga helps one to achieve physically, physiologically, mentally and spiritually those that cannot be achieved/obtained by other means. For instance the unique physical achievements one gets from Yoga may not be possible to get from other forms of physical exercises. Likewise the positive transformations (parinama) as one-pointedness, samadhi, siddhi, nirodha etc., yoga brings to the mind (citta) may not be got by other known means".


See also my earlier post

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Freezing Ashtanga in a Norfolk Yurt, Deepdale Camping

Last weekend M. and I went away to the Norfolk coast, plan was to just get away from the house for a few days, get some fresh air (be careful what you wish for), stay (and practice) in a Yurt...oh and perhaps do some birdwatching.

Both of us a bit embarrassed about the birdwatching, kind of said under our breath, Birdwatching? really?, Don't tell anyone says M. (Of course not honey, who would I tell). Neither of us have expressed an interest before but hey, we like looking at the little buggers in the garden so why not. As it happens we are dreadful Birders, Birders it seems wear a LOT of camouflage, M. and I were in bright red and yellow. Birders say things like,

"Ahh an Avocet, small for this time of year",

we say

M: "Whats that one"?
Me: "I don't know, some kind of duck".

As it happens we loved the first day of it, our yurt was just down the road from the RSPB Titchwell bird reserve where you can rent serious binoculars (a revelation), had a great day.

RSPB Titchwell map
Norfolk Nature reserve at Cley
Second day at the Cley Norfolk nature reserve, meh, not so much. Seems at Cley the hides are to hide the birds from you rather than you from the birds...unless you cough up a fee on top of the fancy bins ( oh yeah, I'm down with the lingo all right...hang on, seems Birdwatchers refer to them as Bins, Birders call them optics).

So what of the Yurt.

Our Yurt, Looks cosy doesn't it. however...
This is the picture in their advertisement, look at that huge stove, I know worst looking Yurt ever but was the only one near where we wanted to be.

"Bit chilly for a tent this time of year"? I was asked before I went. Au contrair, a yurt is NOT a tent, it's a highly sophisticated and damned cosy sleeping abode, they use them on the Mongolian steppes for heaven sake, Norfolk will be fine. Ok, it's a KIND of Tent...OK OK it's a tent, we stayed in a tent in Norfolk in march, but Yurt's are Cosy dammnit, my friend Maya lives and blogs in one all year round, brings up kids, raises novels.

Well they are cosy if the campsite coughs up and pays to include the"essential" insulation ( a felt inner layer that keeps said Yurt cool in summer and ...well cosy in winter. Also a decent size wood stove as well as a nice winter duvet and plenty of extra blankets (just in case).

The site of our Yurt, DeepDale Camping (basically a campsite on a farm) didn't bother with the "essential" felt layer of insulation, the stove was half the size of the one in the picture, the duvet was a summer one and nope, no extra blankets.

Perhaps they shouldn't have been renting their Yurts out in least not without the "essential felt layer of insulation, the decent size stove, winter duvet and extra blankets.,,,because we froze...and then we froze some more.

I spent five years travelling and sleeping rough in my twenties but I have to say, our two nights at DeepDale Camping were probably the two most miserable of my life and I've been caught sleeping rough hitching across the French Alps ( having to fill my little tent with pine branches to stay alive), I've also dug myself out of a snow drift in the morning while sleeping in nothing but a Swiss army sleeping bag....did I mention it was more miserable than both those times at DeepDale Camping.

I wonder what it's like in Summer, the "essential felt insulation" being wool it keeps the Yurt cool in summer, as well as warm in winter, lot of surface area to a Yurt, I imagine it's baking mid summer without it.

To be fair to DeepDale Camping the Yurt was spotlessly clean as were the facilities and they even asked us how we enjoyed our stay. When I mentioned that it had been much too cold and that I thought the stove was too small they mentioned that they had had a lot of trouble about that ( clearly others had complained about the cold) and that they had checked and the stove fitted the specification of the yurt. They're no doubt correct...assuming they'd included the "essential felt insulation". I mentioned too the duvet being a summer one but they just said it was brand new...they didn't say anything about the lack of extra blankets, think she was getting fed up by then, perhaps it was a rhetorical "How was your stay".

Our snowed
M caught A cold, I went down with gastric flu.

I did manage to practice however, once.

Sunday morning I woke up, stoked the little stove, crammed if full of wood, put my Santorini Maduka lite as close to the stove as I dared and did Primary, heavy on the Ujjayi wearing layers upon layers, stripping them off as I went through the practice and then putting them back on again one by one through finishing.

M. woke up and snapped a couple of shots, even a little pranayama video before jumping back under the summer duvet and chair throws.

Practicing in thermals, looks like an old 70's yoga leotard

Practice was good, straight primary, hard and fast to keep the heat up and get a little sweat on but how do you do Garbha Pindasana in tights? What is Kino talking about, my shorts are much easier, in the Supta Kurmasana exit too.


Ashtanga is seems is back on the menu, nothing busts rajas like Primary, great for immediate post bereavement, the freezing cold and, I don't know, primary, it's home from home.


Why Primary series?

Here's something I wrote on Small Blue Pearls blog last week that sums it up nicely for me how I feel about Primary currently, seems it comes out of my head better in a comment somewhere else than when I try to encapsulate it here on my own blog

"I guess I'm spoiled practicing at home in that I can do what I want or what feels right, but I look at Primary now and I kind of see it in bold with these shadowy images behind and around it. If I focus on the shadows I see the vinyasa kramas around each posture, preparation postures, extensions, options lots of options. Focus in another way and I'm seeing breath focus options in each posture, longer slower, fuller breaths, longer stays, breath retentions and in yet another shift of focus drishti options, chakras, marma points, internal gazing, one drishti point throughout,'s like all these ghostly images, echoes, surrounding the series, quite beautiful actually. And it's all Krishnamacharya, all ashtanga, all there at the time he was teaching Pattabhi Jois. For 2nd series I tend to practice Ramaswami's Bow followed by parts of his Meditative sequence which is pretty much the first half of standard 2nd series anyway but with a few extra prep postures.

Wish I'd read Matthew's article (Matthew Sweeney Evolution of Ashtanga) three four years ago when I was first having these questions, being slammed somewhat for it (no doubt I was clumsy in my presentation) and barely having the confidence to trust my intuition, it was nice watching/listening to some of the panel discussions I posted recently on what's REALLY important in the practice. Mostly I think it's that you just turn up everyday and practice, with honesty and commitment... and remember to breathe. Time for practice"

Mar 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergrimmly

So I'm back to Primary in the evenings and my Vinyasa Krama practice in the morning, mostly focussing on Bow and Meditative series backbends in the morning practice along with long stays in the key daily postures, paschimottanasana, head and shoulder stands, Maha Mudra, baddha konasana and more time for pranayama and meditation. In the evening my Ashtanga is slow with the long full inhalations and exhalations, I tend not to include the shoulderstand and headstands in the evening as I practice them in the morning, so a shorter finishing sequence, seems to be working nicely.


Friday, 15 March 2013

Slow Suryanamaskara (sun Salutation plus leg behind head sequence

Slow Ashtanga?

More from Wyatt Denney, my friend and colleague in Vinyasa Krama from Ramaswami's 2010 Vinyasa Krama teacher training course and a strong inspiration for me in the honesty of his practice.

Here he shares a Slow Suryanamaskara (sun Salutation) plus Vinyasa Krama leg behind head subroutine

The only sun salutation Ramaswami presents in his book The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga is the Sun salutation with mantras. Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami's teacher for over thirty years, wasn't a big fan of practicing  too many sury's it seems. This approach however follows Vinyasa Krama principles however with the long slow breathing ( eight second inhalations and eight second exhalations).

Here's one of my own recent videos of a Slow Suryanamaskara (inc. David Robson's drums) with a stay at each stage for three breaths including retention, seems I didn't get to post on this. In Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda, although he didn't present a sun salutation as such he did present each stage as a stand alone asana one after the other.

More from Wyatt, the leg behind head Subroutine that appears in the Asymmetric sequence in Ramaswami's book. The Asymmetric sequence weaves it's way through several subroutines that stand alone or can be seen as preparation for these more advanced asana.

Matthew Sweeney mentions in his recent article, The Evolution of Ashtanga Yogathat Ashtanga can perhaps be seen to suffer from upper body centrism, neglecting the legs somewhat, not something we have to worry about in Vinyasa Krama where there are long slow practices of utkatasana and single leg squats that are challenging to say the least. Building leg strength gives an excellent foundation for those drop backs.

Here's Wyatt's Hendrix'ish VK flying bird sequence

Yoga on Yamhill
124 SW Yamhill St. Portland, OR 97204

Wyatt now teaches in Portland OR. at YOGA on YAMHILL he's one of the nicest and most genuine guys you'll ever meet....also one of the tallest

Some other posts on Wyatt's practice below

Supine sequence

Asymmetric sequence

Lotus sequence


And something for the Ashtangi's (as if this whole post isn't) a really nice blog I've only just come across, FIVE BREATHS, it's a joint blog and they've just left Mysore for Kathmandu. Scroll back through the preceding posts for a really nice Mysore diary with some excellent photos.

Do let me know if you've come across a blog that you think I should include in my related blog list, that I might like, that others might like.

While I'm at it here are two more that I only discovered recently and am really enjoying


Both excellent, why did nobody tell me about these ages ago?

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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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