Wednesday, 24 April 2013

UPDATED. BOOK REVIEW: Petri Räisänen's 'Definitive Primary Series Practice Manual'

I should point out right from the outset that this was a review copy, I didn't buy this book.


Does not buying it make a difference, probably. These days, buying online, we're a little in the dark as to what we're going to get. Amazon helps with it's preview but it's not like going into a bookshop picking a book up and flicking through before we buy. I've had books arrive that have been a real disappointment and others that have been a delight.

With a free copy in your area of interest your hardly going to be disappointed, however it turns out.

That said I would happily have paid full price for this book, it's a beautifully produced, glossy, hardback and a great deal of thought has gone into the design. The publishers are Yogawords and these are the people behind Donna Holleman's excellent Dancing the flame of Life and the John Scott DVD. So thank you to Zoe for sending me a copy.


Two other things we should perhaps consider at the outset (both of which I was asked when I first mentioned the book on fb)...

1. Do we NEED another Ashtanga manual?

2. Definitive primary series manual?

So we have David's and Lino's and John Scott's, Gregor's Primary AND Intermediate. Kino is bring a manual out in July, Sharath has just released his and we're still waiting for Lino to have his Primary to Advanced B book translated into English. 

Who have I left out? Thank you for the reminder, I'd forgotten Manju's training manual of course and Matthew Sweeney's unique Ashtanga as it is, both of which I have.

To be fair, Petri's book was first published in Swedish in 2005, Gregor Maehle's Primary book came out the following year and there had been quite a gap between these and David Swenson's and John Scott's books. As we know, the practice had changed slightly over the years, an up to date version was perhaps due.

This brings us to Question two and to why Petri (or the publishers) refer to it as definitive. It's also perhaps the main reason you might want to buy it and also, interestingly, why you might not.

NOTE:  Just been pointed out that definitive is not on the cover of the Swedish or Finnish versions.

"To verify that the information in the book is correct, follows the Indian tradition in it's entirety, and is in accordance with Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois (formally known as Sharath Rangaswamy), I was fortunate enough to meet with them both every afternoon for two months in 2003 and 2004 at the office of the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. I asked an endless number of questions and wrote fervently as they gave their time generously. I would present the more detailed questions to Sharath, who would then translate them into kannada to for pattabhi Jois, whom I sat beside. pattabhi Jois would think for a moment, and then reply citing whole passages in Sanskrit and Kannada to Sharath, who then translated them back into English. We went through the vinyasa technique and alignment for each posture extremely carefully; so carefully indeed, that pattabhi jois and Sharath laughed at my pedantic "Western" nature".

That's the first reason why it might be considered definitive, the second is this, which explains perhaps why 'research' is no longer in the title of the Ashtanga institute in Mysore ( the Institute used to be called AYRI - Ashtanga yoga research institute,it's now KPJAYI - the K. Patabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute)

"In 2006, Guruji announced that his research had been completed and that the practice was ready to be taught in it's essential form".

I didn't know that.

NB: Typing out those quotes made me think that although I do like the design, the print is a little small for a manual.

So Petri's book has been verified in detail and done so just before the system became fixed in stone, definitive? OK, fair enough.

So perhaps another reason for why we might need another Ashtanga manual, it's supposedly authoritative and up to date.


However, I also suggested that might be a reason for NOT buying the book. Sometimes you can follow the current party line too closely ( I think Petri does follow/present current practice but he also mentions a lot of qualifications which is interesting, this is quite a subtle book in many ways). 

UPDATE: I would argue though that there are several lines of 'lineage' and I'm not sure that Sharath or even Pattabhi Jois' 2006 Ashtanga necessarily best represents the Ashtanga of Krishnamacharya as found in Yoga Makaranda. However, Sharath does of course continue to provide a form of the practice that everyone can learn and give them something to walk into any Shala around the world with, as well as Mysore itself and that strikes me as important. It's a very, clean stripped down, form of the practice. I have a great deal of respect for Sharath, for anyone who has practiced for twenty years plus, despite my challenging/questioning titles like Head of the lineage (which I doubt Sharath has ever used personally). My question of the 'party line' in this post is to suggest that there are many Ashtanga's, Krishnamacharya's 'original' Ashtanga (which I'm exploring here), the home Ashtanga tradition, Manju's, which is quite different. Hawaii Ashtanga, West coast, Boulder, European ( Southern, Central, Eastern and Northern), Australian,  the British tradition....the Russian, all seem to have their own characteristics. Perhaps there's a slightly (or greatly) different Ashtanga for everyone who practices and maybe that's as it should be, surely Yoga Is the most personal, individual, of practices, not in the sense of Self expression but rather in mind to discover mind, self to discover, and ultimately overcome, the self. See follow up post.

Is it possible to produce a book though that reflects that?

OK pictures we need pictures. 

What's in it, what are we getting?

Contents






The problem with an Ashtanga Primary manual is that there is a lot of series to cover, not leaving much space for anything else. Petri does well and manages to cover a wide area, each section, whether on Ashtanga History or Prana and chakras, Mantra and Drishti, is short enough not to overwhelm the beginner and yet there's some depth there too for anyone who has been practicing for a while. 

This is an overview of the book but there are a lot of little details I'm going to want to pick up on over the next couple of weeks. As it happens this book has come out at just the right time as I've just returned to a relatively straight Ashtanga practice in the mornings (although with some Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda and Ramaswami Vinyasa Krama baggage - both Krishnamacharya and Ramaswami are of course mentioned in the books bibliography).

 LAYOUT

There is a lot going on in this book!

Lets take a page, here's the section on Kukkutasana.

M's first thought was that the book was more about Petri than about Ashtanga. There are full page pictures of Petri in the asana on every spread, a smaller picture would have allowed for a larger print. And yetKkrishnamacharya did the same thing, Pattabhi Jois too in Yoga Mala. Krishnamacharya says in Yoga makaranda to look carefully at the pictures.



An interesting aside to Kukutasana above ( and a bit of a taster of the descriptions), the sort of thing I hope to pick up on some future posts on the book, is this....

"Note : According to yoga mala, one does naulie here, one technique of the purification actions known as kriyas, which is done by creating a wave-like motion in the stomach. This should be learned directly from a guru or an experienced teacher. Performing nauli with full force is not recommended for women, as it can damage the womb."p134

That's a little worrying.

I asked Ramaswami earlier today about this as in his book Yoga beneath the surface he mentions Krishnamacharya teaching nauli but preferring kapalabhati as a kriya, he was kind enough to get back to me on this right away.

"In Yoga the belief is that just as the skeletal muscles need exercise, the internal muscles and organs also need exercise. In Kapalabhati and mulabandha, the moderate thrust comes from below to exercise the uterus. In Uddiyana bandha especially in Tatakamudra the thrust is anterior pressing the uterus from the front on to the spine working on the anterior and posterior muscles. In Nauli, the rectus abdominis muscles on either side of the navel are made to relax alternately so that the uterus is pushed side to side enabling massaging the sides or the lateral muscles of the uterus. Thus all these exercises may be practiced to massage the uterus. As you mention excessive force used in nauli (and to some extent the other procedures) could harm the organ and sometimes lead to excessive bleeding during periods (menorrhagia)or twisting the supporting muscles leading to hernia or prolapse of the uterus". Srivatsa Ramaswami.

Looking at the full page spread above ( and we tend to get a full page spread for every asana ) on the left there is a vinyasa table. this is supposed to be for quick reference although it is small. I thought at first it was ridiculously small but then i realised it's supposed to fit on the outside column of the page for reference purposes.

The column has a key illustrating which bandha and which drishti.

Bandha key

Drishti key
To be honest I'm not sure how well it works, too small perhaps and there's generally really only mula and uddiyana bandha in the series, Petri states the current party line here that there is no Jalandhara bandha in the series.

This is an area where I question the book slightly. Petri does point out early on that the system has changed slightly over the years but for me this is crucial. (Warning: my hangup alert).

In Krishnamacharya 1934 Yoga Makaranda ( back when K. was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois) and even later in Ramaswami (reflecting Krishnamacharya's teaching in the 50'-80's), the head tends to be down in most of the forward bends. There is a light Jalandhara bandha that can be engaged more fully to allow for the kumbhaka Krishnamacharya indicates in these postures. In the hidden asana before the bend the head is up with kumbhaka after the inhalation and so we have a balance through the vinyasa. The kumbhaka after the inhalation as the head goes up before folding into the asana then the head goes down, head to knee, kumbhaka after  exhalation while in the asana. Head comes up again as we come out, kumbhaka after inhalation...wonderful wonderful breath work, quite subtle and yet profound, but all this is lost in the current representation of the system. Obviously that's fine for the beginner but I think Petri here is wanting to present the Primary system for the experienced practitioner as well as the beginner, a definitive guide, I would have liked more on this. What we get in the current presentation and Petri is of course only reflecting that is head up, head up, head up, look towards the feet (in most forward bends). 

Another area where Petri follows the part line is Pranayama. He mentions it but says he can't go into details because it must be learned from a teacher. The problem is that just as Pattabhi Jois presented a fixed sequence of asana ( it seems to have been more flexible when he learned it from Krishnamacharya) he also presented an apparently fixed Pranayama routine. It's a little intense but even Sharath has begun to introduce a little nadi shodanha (alternate nostril breathing) admittedly without kumbhakas but if your inhalations and exhalations are long and slow enough there will be natural kumbhakas anyway as one changes from inhalation to exhalation, these can quite comfortably be extended by a couple of seconds just as Krishnamacharya indicated. Pranayama can be practiced sensibly, just as we approach Primary, gently does it. No doubt we are finally moving in that direction but that wasn't the case in 2003-5 when this book was originally being developed and published.

More pictures.

Here's a nice example of the layout for Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana.




As I said I will be coming back to this book over the coming weeks with some posts looking at several of the details found within. Overall I think it's an excellent book, beautifully produced ( although larger print would have been nicer for my old eyes). Lots going on, detailed instructions, vinyasa tables,  current vinyasa, drishti and bandhas for every vinyasa, tips for beginners and short but interesting treatments of many of the areas surrounding the practice.

That's something to be going on with, more to come no doubt.

Oh and there's a book (Finnish edition below) on the Intermediate series hopefully to come.

bild
Thank you to Linda for this image from her blog http://meandmyyoga.wordpress.com/
Follow up post

Petri's website

See also my previous GUEST POST: Sahaj Marg Meditation : Evolution of an Ashtangi from Physical to Spiritual Realm by Satya whose been translating Krishnamacharya's yogasanagalu for us. Sahaj Marg Meditation is said to be a 'Raja yoga based system of practice' with echoes of Patanjali.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for the lovely and informative review. As to whom you missed: manju's book("training manual" illustrated with pictures of greg tebb. See description on ashtanga.com

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  2. And matthew sweeney's wonderfuk book as well

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    Replies
    1. Thanks anon have added them both to the post.

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  3. I would love to take a look at this book and compare it with Sharath's. As the head of the lineage now, wouldn't you expect his (Sharath's) book to be the 'definitive' manual? This is all rhetorical of course...the practice as it is taught has changed through the years and I'm pretty sure it will continue to evolve. This is why I think the "definitive" label is just marketing more than anything else.

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    1. Hi D. Must admit I cringe a little at the expression 'head of the lineage', I would argue that there are several lines of 'lineage' and I'm not sure that Sharath best represents The Ashtanga of Krishnamacharya found in Yoga Makaranda. However he does of course provide a form of the practice that everyone can learn to give them something to walk into any Shala around the world with as well as Mysore and that strikes me as something important. i have a great deal of respect for swarth despite challenging/questioning titles. My focus on following the party line is to suggest that there are many Ashtanga's, Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga (which I'm exploring here), the home Ashtanga tradition, Manju's, which is quite different. Hawaii Ashtanga, West coast, European, the British tradition....

      I'm sure Petri's book is pretty close to Sharaths book, but I'd love to do the same and look at them side by side, has it changed i wonder since the 2006 'end of research' declaration?

      re definitive, see Rene's comment below. makes me prickle a little too and I probably wouldn't have bought it for a while either in protest....but would no doubt have bought it eventually and it is very good, lots in there.

      Delete
    2. I know what you're getting at, and I like your interpretation of many Ashtangas, reminds me of something my teacher said a few months ago: "Every teacher that visits Yoga is Youth brings to me a memory and piece of Sri K Pattabhi Jois."

      Different strands of the same thread.

      Re: the head of lineage reference, I was using it rhetorically...for someone new to Ashtanga looking for a "rulebook" to follow, logic dictates that they'd look to Mysore as the authority. Sharath is certainly not representative of the Ashtanga in Yoga Makaranda, but he is representative of Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga so it all depends on which Ashtanga one wants to follow.

      I'm as skeptical of the "end of research" declaration as the "definitive" label. As long as different individuals and bodies come to this practice, the research never ends.

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    3. Hope it didn't feel like I was biting your head of re the 'head of lineage ' remark, was a bit abrupt perhaps (in a rush to get on the mat before it was too late). It was just something I wanted to pick up on, not so much the 'head of lineage' aspect but rather Mysore as the authority of what Ashtanga is or isn't as brought out by the idea of a definitive Ashtanga and this I quote in the post.

      "In 2006, Guruji announced that his research had been completed and that the practice was ready to be taught in it's essential form".

      I think I'd like to see more recognition of the research other teachers have brought to bare on the practice over long careers practicing and teaching in the Western context and in smaller groups than the large Mysore room and tours. I do like the stripped down, bare bones practice that Sharath, by all accounts, presents, the simple elegance of his vinyasa, nothing showy in his own practice and that perhaps is reflected in his room. That said there seems to be an over strong backbend focus in Mysore that I find a little disturbing, the whole walking to the heels thing I personally find a little misguided, where the heck did that come from. But so be it, his room

      Other approaches to Ashtanga from different senior teachers have perhaps a stronger focus on alignment or dynamism or enegetics, strength or flexibility, slowness and length of breath. Some have a strong pranayama focus which feeds into the practice, others focus more on the meditative aspect perhaps in response to their own meditation practice. All these strike me as areas of the practice that could be more recognised than the suggestion that there is one correct, approach.

      I like that " the research never ends"

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    4. I didn't think you'd be the sort to bite commenters' heads off ;)

      "I think I'd like to see more recognition of the research other teachers have brought to bare on the practice over long careers practicing and teaching in the Western context..."

      By 'recognition' here are you talking about videos? Books? Talks? I think it already exists to a certain extent. Good teachers have their loyal following of students, whether or not their approach to Ashtanga translates into material for public consumption. I think after practicing for a while one tends to be drawn to certain approaches to teaching over others, and the discerning practitioner knows that there isn't just *one* way to approach to anything. Of course having a book's subtitle label it as a "definitive" manual doesn't help things...

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    5. I actually meant more recognition from Mysore, from Sharath himself.

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    6. Oh. Well in that case I don't think that's ever going to happen...(talk about being definitive!)

      Delete
  4. The label "definitive" is enough to make me not want to read it.

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    Replies
    1. I know Rene,I presented an argument for it but I still wish they'd left that out, wonder if it was on the cover of the Swedish edition.

      Delete
    2. Hi,

      The word "definite" is not on the cover of the Swedish edition. There's actually no text on the lower part of the front cover of the original Swedish edition, and, if I rememer correctly, also not on the Finnish edition. The whole sentence "The definitive primary series practice manual" is new for the English edition. I can see why they probably wanted to add that it's a primary series practice manual on the cover but I agree, the word definitive might be a bit too much for some. Although, for me it really is the definitive practice manual. I love the book (I have the Swedish edition) and it is really my go to book for checking any asana, vinyasa or drishti. But then I'm also a student of Petri's :)

      /Linda

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    3. Thank you Linda for clarifying that. So it did come out in Finnish, I thought it did but I checked the inside cover and it only mentioned that it was first published in Swedish translation in 2005. I imagine you have the Finnish edition, can you check the date it was first published for me?
      Oh and can I use that nice picture from your blog of the Finnish edition of intermediate series. I've tried to put your blog on my list but for some reason it wont let me.

      I'm loving the book, I wonder if it is a beginner's book or more for those of us who have been practicing for a few years, so much hidden away in there do be mined. thank for commenting.

      Delete
    4. Yes, the book came out in Swedish first but I think it came out in Finnish soon after. I actually don't have the Finnish translation so I can't check when it was first out and I'm unable to find any info on that on the internet. However, the current edition of the Finnish book is the 4th one and that came out in 2012. If I remember I will ask someone who has the Finnish book to check when it was first out.
      I think that Petri has intended the book to be both for beginners and for long-time students wishing to deepend their knowledge about the practice.

      And yes, feel free to use the picture.

      Delete
    5. Thank you Linda, have added the picture. No need to worry about checking the date, was only an issue if it had come out before the Swedish edition. thanks again.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for the review Grimmly. How do you hook up for the free lit? I will gladly pay the full price too and look forward to it being delivered.

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    Replies
    1. hi Joan, usually I get sent stuff or asked to review things, some strange things, 9 times out of 10 it's not something I'm interested in or think anyone visiting here will be bothered about so decline. This time though I got in touch with the publishers directly and asked them if they'ed like me to review it. Have heard about the book in Finnish for a few years and have been looking forward to it coming out in translation. Soon as I heard it was being translated I got in touch, not so much because I didn't want to pay for it but that I thought I might get to see it a month or two early. As it happened I was sent mine after it was already in the shops and I had to wait a couple of weeks.

      Delete
  6. I got it, based on your review. Agree that photos of Petri are a bit in your face, but then I guess if you've got it flaunt it, however much that might seem to go against the ego-denying spirit of yoga.

    Overall, it seems worth the cash. There are a few questionable things in it - e.g. Don't do headstand out of sequence - page 169 (why not?), shoulder stand is not jalandhara banda - page 155 (why not?).

    To respond to your question above - has anything changed since 2006 - I think garba pindasana has. When I started in 2009, the practice was to roll nine times round, with the breath. Now it's still nine times round but the breath count is five times - makes no sense to me, but this is apparently the new method. Petri has the breath with the rolling, but 5-9 rolls round, which seems to make more sense.

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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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