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Monday, 1 July 2013

In defence of Ashtanga, a comment response.

Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far on this a 'spur of the moment' post that was just supposed to be somewhere to put a long comment that I'd had to split into three on the previous post. I thought I'd buried it away behind Ramaswami's newsletter that I posted right afterwards. 
These are some of the most beautiful, honest comments on personal practice that I have read anywhere and do so much more than anything I could have written in the actual post to respond to Todd's original comment and questioning of the practice. Thank you again and if your reading this and tempted to comment yourself, please do.

Response to a comment ( a quick response to a comment, knocked off with little reflection. I might have put it somewhat differently if I took the time to think about my response more but sometimes these are a good snapshot of how I currently view the practice and my current relationship to it).

Todd 30 June 2013 23:03
As you get older your going to have to come to terms with Ashtanga yoga and that it will eventually destroy your body.. it was created for teenagers..Nobody, Including Jois or Krishanamcharya did this series all their life..The ego wants to continue but the body says no.. You are well trained, consider " Viniyoga" and be content with not always having to progress. Doing the same sequences over and over leads to imbalance. These "series" lead to wanting to push and pushing takes us from the now..You will achieve nothing spiritually from these practices only a swollen head and inflamed joints. I have only seen body obsessed narcissists arise from this practice. Look at these posts and see the asana possessed people, pushing , pulling and harming..It will be crushing the day you have to let go of your practice, might as well let go now and be done with it before your spine, hips etc let go for you... It seems this might be happening already and is a clear sign. .


Turned this into a post Todd, hope you don't mind, I think your criticisms are fair enough from one perspective, I've had most of the same criticisms myself at different times but I think it's easy to see only those criticisms of the practice, the worst case examples. Ashtanga can be as you describe and that can be fine if your young and fit, treat it as an extreme sport, why not, but it doesn't have to be like that, not only like that ( if it ever really is) I believe it is a lot more besides.

Sharath in padmasana from Yoga Mala

padmasana from Yoga Mala

Grimmly July 2013 07:31
Todd I have so many problems with what you're saying here, let me go through them one by one.

1. 'it ( I'm assuming you mean Ashtanga) was created for teenagers.

It's true that Krishnamacharya taught young boys but if you look at Yoga Makaranda or Yogasanagalu we don't find a fixed sequence, we do find long stays in certain postures recommended as well as breath retentions. It seems K would occasionally put the boys in a posture and have them chant mantras and slokas while in the asana. In Yogasanagalu we find the asana divided up into beginner, middle and advanced postures and K. was clearly interested in exploring a vast range of asana. We also know that in the same period he was practicing a lot of Yoga Therapy, Indra Devi the most famous perhaps. There is the starting and finishing of an asana from standing so that every movement is linked to an inhalation and exhalation but we find that in viniyoga and Vinyasa Krama also although we might start and finish a groups of postures that way rather than every single asana.

So, the fixed Ashtanga sequences you're referring too, as we know them now, don't seem to be exactly what Krishnamacharya was teaching to the young boys at the Mysore palace. Pattabhi Jois seems to have taught something similar but perhaps a little more fixed and included the suryanamascaras when he began teaching at the sanskrit college. There were not young boys but young men. We also know he was teaching all ages and adapting the practice to the needs of his other students and patients.

I think the idea of Ashtanga we have now seems to have come with the encounter of the West, with Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams in the beginning and the approach to the Syllabus Jois gave them when they brought it back to the US. Young people seems to have become drawn to it and the more athletic aspect perhaps become focused upon, at least in the beginning.

I think it's true that people of all ages, drawn to the practice as it's grown in popularity have, in the past, tried to approach Ashtanga in the same way as those in their twenties but I think that's changing somewhat now. Perhaps we're coming full circle and the practice itself is opening up a little more and there's a recognition of it's adaptability.

2. Doing the same sequences over and over leads to imbalance

If you look again at Primary series you see a collection of subroutines that include a wide range and variety of movements. I've found it, taken slowly, to be an excellent Vinyasa Krama practice. I might add an extra posture here or there or just focus my attention more on a particular posture or group of postures if I feel it's what my body requires that day. Each asana is followed by a kriya in the transition out of the posture and into the next. Annoys me when people say there are no backbends in Ashtanga, what else is the upward dog that we do what thirty, forty times....interestingly David Williams I believe stays in upward dog for five breaths. And of course Jois himself stresses in Yoga Mala that we (as householders) do what we can, we don't have to practice the full sequence, we can just practice the Sury's and padmasana (although many seem to have forgotten that).

Ashtanga breakdown into Vinyasa Krama(ish) subroutines

3.These "series" lead to wanting to push and pushing takes us from the now.

That's not exactly true is it, it's not the series themselves but how they are taught and I think there may have been a focus for a long time on progressing through the series, that says more perhaps about our mentality in the West. I think it's beginning to change, a shift in focus and I know several Ashtangi's who are quite content to work at where they are rather than grasp at new postures. I'm happy to do a Vinyasa Krama modified Primary and 2nd series these days although I will occasionally add an extra posture or two from third as an extension of an asana group just as I did in Vinyasa Krama.

There are some drawbacks to a fixed sequence but great benefits too. I've come around to thinking that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and so have gone back to a mostly fixed sequence while seeking to balance any drawbacks with a more flexible approach.

4. You will achieve nothing spiritually from these practices only a swollen head and inflamed joints.

Again , this depends on how you approach the practice rather than the practice itself. You can be very full of yourself practicing other styles and get swollen joints there too. One of the benefits of a fixed system is an excellent awareness of the body in relation to those asana you practice everyday. So many if not most of the Ashtangi's I know of who practice everyday end up building their lives around their practice, that ninety minutes of concentration and attention that seems to seep into the rest of their day. We practice six days a week, go to bed early, take more care in our eating, drink less, eat less. Finding such value in nothing more than jumping about on a mat puts other aspects of our lives into perspectives. When something so simple and with so few requirements gives us such rewards other desires seem less attractive. It's an excellent beginning along any spiritual path I would argue. Ashtangi's read some spiritual texts and often begin to explore others, that too is becoming more encouraged as is chanting ( a requirement in Mysore now) and pranayama is becoming more widely considered in Ashtanga again. So many Ashtangi's I know of also explore or at least have some curiosity for some form of meditation practice.

5. I have only seen body obsessed narcissists arise from this practice.
There are those of course but I see something very different and perhaps your obsessed narcissists will turn into something other even if a little later than sooner.

Guilty as charged?
Or just excited by the practice?
6. It will be crushing the day you have to let go of your practice, might as well let go now and be done with it before your spine, hips etc let go for you... It seems this might be happening already and is a clear sign. 

I did let go of the practice and was happily practicing Vinyasa Krama, I came back to Ashtanga (via Yoga Makaranda) because I began to see that it wasn't the practice itself that was a problem but rather how I was approaching the practice. Now I take more of a VInyasa krama approach to my Ashtanga and there seem to be a better balance while regaining some of the strengths and uniqueness of Ashtanga.

I think it's a practice in transition, still in growth and development as are we.

I've been quite the critic of the practice or of aspects of it at least in the past. It's easy to focus on the more obvious temptations of the practice and be critical and miss much else of what else is going on. I still believe that Krishnamacharya's teaching was consistent throughout his life and that it's still possible to focus on what is essential in his teaching in whichever style we practice. I'm sure Viniyoga, Iyengar and even Vinyasa krama practitioners get wrapped up in their idea of their style and can get just as blinkered as any Ashtangi.

One more thing I want to add here.

For some, many perhaps, Ashtanga may always be a mostly physical activity, something they can fit into their day with nothing more than a mat in a corner and that will improve their, health fitness and flexibility. They may have no interest in other aspects of Yoga, just happy to focus on the shapes and the breath.

I still think that's something rather wonderful right there.


  1. Excellent post. I can resonate to what Grim is saying - I have practiced ashtanga for 6 years, daily practice. Then I got very critical of it, maybe not as consciously as you, but it didn't feel good, no major injuries, luckily. But it was not working and then I started to blame ashtanga, not the way I approached it. Then I went away to practice something else for 2 years, really enjoying it still. Recently again I take Primary 2-3 times a week and I found it is a really great practice, with all extra little things now I have focus on, and the breath and calmness, I find primary very relaxing, no exhaustion, no pain, same series but a different approach, an excellent practice.
    Hope your back is getting better!

  2. Superb points Grimmly.

    Blaming the practice for a swollen head & sore joints? That's a bad workman blaming his tools by definition.

    As for letting the practice go as a result of aging, well, David Williams, Nancy, Richard Freeman, David Swenson all appear incredibly well compared to a random sample of Joe Public's from within the same age group. So what if it takes a few extra breaths to get into Supta Kurmasana as you head for 60, that's no reason to abandon it.

    A daily practice removes blockages and detoxifies you physically, and in parallel the resonating mind begins to find a calmer state so, surely that's even going to chill out a noisy little group of obsessive narcissists in the fullness of time.

    It's all good, unless you want to get out the book of excuses & surrender to laziness.

  3. Ah, now that I am seventy I must not only renew my practice but share it. Certainly the definition of an intense practice changed over the past few years as dead people began to appear on my mat- really nice ones, my close relatives- and I began to be forced to pay attention to the inner Teacher that has been there all along. Don't be afraid of awareness, allow yourself to know what you know by grace of the inner Teacher, study the Sutras, practice the Yamas and Niyamas, and learn to practice ahimsa the hard way by starting with yourself...

    1. Wow. I guess this is what another Ashtanga practitioner meant by life sort of seeming like science fiction on some level with very intuitive and synchronistic things happening all the time after a while. I know when I am more disciplined about my practice, I notice such things happening. I even have dreams of small events that will then happen the next day or so. Your experiences are very interesting to me. It does seem as if one's mat takes on a life of it's own in expanded awareness that is ours really.

  4. Seems your blogs are part of my morning ritual right now Grimmly. So...what is spirituality? That's a good question, I think. The end result may be humility in one stage, and egotism at another. Egotism can be aggressive but it is a necessary defensive posture protecting the "yes, this is my life, and this is what I am choosing to do" posture. Both are effects in my mind, not spirituality. Living a life that is charitable, or humble, or non-aggressive is a practice belonging to a spiritual path, Christian perhaps, but to my mind not necessarily Zen. Searching within and observing without with an intention to what? Achieve Samedhi, truth, verity, assurance, peace? We treat spirituality as if it were a verb, but it is a noun isn't it? So it's a state of being. I just wrote a song about it called The Fourth State of Consciousness, the title gleaned from my studies and my direct experience in Ashtanga during the standing sequence. It's a spiritual experience which is quite different from feeling good at the end of a practice or grateful for life and the opportunity of being involved with the yogic community. These latter I receive when I practice Anusara, as well, as CoreStrength Vinyasa, but find what I call the spiritual effects of the practice present mostly in Ashtanga. I'm 59 years old and still working on Primary. The sequence is a vehicle taking me beyond my former spiritual practices.

  5. Catherine Wylie1 July 2013 at 21:38

    BKS Iyengar says something to the effect that if you are pushing too hard, your breath gets uneven or strained in the asana and that's just pure ego. That idea alone helps me catch myself when I occasionally overextend into where I am not yet ready to be.

    I think if people are into the ego idea of needing to get somewhere or go further with the practice, then all sorts of problems can arise in the mind and the body. I started Ashtanga in my 40's with special conditions and I feel lucky I am forced to take it slow. I've never been very flexible but I mostly enjoy just being with my body and breath and am pleasantly surprised when after months of a few times weekly or more practice, I see just a bit of my range of motion has extended.

    The greatest challenge of it all for me is just staying present to the practice and allow it to be a moving meditation with whatever arises. Unlike most exercises, Ashtanga helps me feel revived and renewed. I feel like it is a very balanced practice for all parts of my body.

    I remember being in a Mysore class when I was first learning and I asked my teacher what the objective was for one of the asanas. She said it was to just notice how my body feels in the pose and to keep breathing. That was such a help to me.

    Ultimately, I may never even get through the primary series in my lifetime, but that doesn't matter to me one bit. I enjoy what my practice is and all the unexpected and profound benefits it brings me. I have no expectations other than I know it is helping my life and my spirit.

  6. The commentary of Todd reminds myself when I was questioning the practice. I had all the same questions and doubts.

    I practice ashtanga yoga mostly at home (I do not have any teacher near by) for one year now and I have to say that only recently I started feeling some benefits. The only thing that kept me going was the love for the practice and the faith that this practice could work as therapy for helping me facing my anxiety that I have been experiencing for most part of my life.

    From many years of therapy I know that anxiety comes from fear and one of the most useful tools that therapists use for treating anxiety is to put people facing their fears in a controlled and progressive way.

    The practice of ashtanga yoga was really challenging (both emotional and physical) in the first 10 months. This challenge produced intense fears and I started noticing the way I reacted to the practice was similar to the way I reacted to other things in life.

    With this awareness and the knowledge from the therapy I knew, with more faith than reasoning I must admit, that if I kept with the practice things would start getting better at some point. But even with this awareness I wanted to quit the practice. I didn't remember a day I didn't questioned the practice.

    Finally when I was 10 months into the practice something must have changed. I started to look at the practice in a different way, more than simply a sequence of asanas to be done in a row. Externally I experienced a considerable anxiety decrease.

    The well know ashtanga yoga mantra "Practice and all is coming" from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois could perhaps give a clue to the ashtanga experience.

    Nuno from Portugal

  7. Great post, Grimmly. I have noticed over the years that people who are very critical of Ashtanga are more often than not projecting their particular worldviews onto the practice. It is true that the sequence is fixed, but within the fixidity (is this a word :-)) there is a lot of room to work with the practice to accommodate your physical and emotional state on any particular day. Nobody said that you have to do the practice at one particular pace all the time or that you are never allowed to modify any postures.

    That said, I suppose there will be times when we have to "let go" of postures due to age, illness, injury, etc. Well, I suppose when those times come, we will do what our body and mind needs us to do. Why let go earlier and more than you have to? Obsessing over letting go is probably just as spiritually stunting as always pushing, pulling and harming.

  8. itodd is most likely projecting himself onto the astanga system. this happens all the time. the practice, if not done with trust & consistency over a period of time, will not do much except frustrate.

    it's good there are tons of other systems. i'm sure todd will find the one that suits his ego.

    i personally do not know any serious astangis like todd describes. most of us just get up & practice every morning in private & shut up.

    1. Most of us here agrees that ashtanga is a good system... but the way it is practiced and taught is a whole different issue. Even if Todd's concerns are not generally true for most ashtangis, I would not bitterly label his concerns as egoistic projections.

      What interests me is how to make it work for different people. I consider "shut up and practice, otherwise you can leave, egoistic" a really poor answer.

      "Trust" and "consistency" is far, FAR from enough to make it work physiologically and emotionally over an extended period of time. Unless someone is very lucky.

  9. You've gotta nominate this for 'Quote of the week': "most of us just get up & practice every morning in private & shut up". Love it!

  10. This is Todd,, Thank you for writing such a thorough article on what I said, I do appreciate it. . To the haters that have replied with such venom.. I was making an observation not at the writer whom I find very educated on this topic, but it is a observational and unfortunately true in many cases. I have no problem with the method, for the right person, but it can hurt people, especially since in many cases it is not taught with all the variations.. Lots of teachers don't know what the writer here knows and that is why we see people getting injured. I think maybe the westernization and the aggressive mindset we have is the problem, more is better.. Ashtanga is not for every body or every age.. i don't even know why they call this Ashtanga yoga.. It is a very good Asana system but is missing all 7 other levels of ashtanga. It is just asana, although you could call the linking of breath with movement a pranayama.. I have not seen one person attain any realization especially Bindifry the angry one.. I have looked and studied many forms of Yoga in great detail, but not for my ego, but to destroy it.. Yoga is a process of destruction not a process of building oneself up.. I do practice but am not attached to practice.. I could drop yoga at anytime, It is a tool, not a crutch. These practices can border on obsession, especially with the body, which is counter to what yoga is " We are not the body, We are not the mind, We are SAT CHIT ANANDA" When I trained at KYM They always said that less is more and that "in the west it is no pain, no gain,, In India it is No pain , No pain. Or patanjali Yoga sutras " Sthiram Sukham Asanam" This is a posture that is steady and comfortable.. Go to a Ashtanga Class and you will see people gritting their teeth and rarely able to breath comfortably.. Who do we blame for this? The teach or the student? Asana is supposed to slow the heart rate and calm the nervous system so we sit comfortably and meditate. That's it that's all..Showing me pictures of circus tricks is cool, I think it looks awesome but kinda proves a point..All these yoga "rock stars" in their contortions is simply NOT yoga...It may be able to be called Asana but thats it..For anyone that has read some sort of emotion into what I said, thats your emotion, not mine.. I was simply giving a point of view.. Thanks Grim, I really enjoyed your response and I hope you heal soon. As far as the people in their 50's that do the practice and are very good at it, you must remember when they started or what background they had.. Most average people in their 50's would hurt themselves..Thanks again

    1. Lots of teachers don't know what the writer here knows and that is why we see people getting injured.

      Any teacher certified/authorized by the KPJAYI should know way more than enough to adapt the practice to the student and keem him safe.

      That said, there is now a proliferation of teacher training courses, and some people is teaching "vinyasa yoga" just as the could be teaching Pilates or Zumba.

      I think maybe the westernization and the aggressive mindset we have is the problem, more is better.

      The practice of Yoga includes the Yamas and Niyamas.

      Ashtanga is not for every body or every age..

      In KP Jois words: anyone —men and women of all ages, sick or weak— can practice yoga, except those who are lazy.

      i don't even know why they call this Ashtanga yoga.. It is a very good Asana system but is missing all 7 other levels of ashtanga. It is just asana

      This misconception is perhaps the root of all your misunderstanding. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga includes the 8 limbs. A good chunk of Yoga Mala is devoted to the yamaniyamas.

      KP Jois did teach Pranayama (to advanced students). In fact he got known in the West thanks to one of the first books on Pranayama, written by André Van Lysebeth, who studied this subject with him. Gregor Maehle has recently published books on Pranayama and meditation.

      Go to a Ashtanga Class and you will see people gritting their teeth and rarely able to breath comfortably.. Who do we blame for this? The teach or the student?

      The student for not listening the teaching: Don't sacrifice the breath for a posture. Breath is Yoga. You'll find that on any book or DVD on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

    2. Hi Todd,in one way you are right,but don't forget that we are westerners ,and we have violence and competition inside us.We want to progress fast ,to arrive in our target quickly,before we get old. And that's maybe the wrong attitude in yoga. The asians have a diferent sense of time.Please don't criticize the practise its self. But better our attitude,our ambitions,our competition,our desire for the development of the outer surface only,forgeting the inner being ,this beuty we have inside us. Hare om.

    3. Enrique, I don't know you, so please do not take this personal.
      I doubt that dismissing Todd's concerns by referring to status (KPYAJI or any other institute) is a valid point.
      Suppose the best teacher training... but who finds the shala and who stays with the practice for long? Let me give an analogy: suppose you are a self-defence instructor, and you are proud to have many skilled students... but you find out that mostly young, fit men join and stay at your club... then you actually disappoint those who need your skills the most: the women, older, the ill.
      In my experience, mostly young, fit individuals are drawn to ashtanga so there's a huge danger to be biased as a teacher... for a high profile teacher, even more so... and this danger is increased by labelling those who choose not to practice as "lazy".

    4. Enrique, I don't know you, so please do not take this personal.

      Not at all. We're just exchanging information/opinions, ie learning from each other.

      I doubt that dismissing Todd's concerns by referring to status (KPYAJI or any other institute) is a valid point.

      It wasn't my intention to hastily dismiss Todd's concerns. Rather the opposite, I think his basic points are valid.

      As I explained in other comment, practice HAS to change with age. The youngs will practice asanas with a myriad vinyasas and proper breathing, to help growth.
      In midlife you practice asanas with a few vinyasas, good breathing exercises and bandhas, to maintain physical and mental health.
      In your later years you'll still do some asanas and pranayamas to maintain mobility, but your practice will mainly consist of meditation and study.

      You should obviously learn under the supervision of a competent teacher. Otherwise you could get injured. This is no particular to Ashtanga Vinyasa, it applies just as well to Iyengar Yoga, Viniyoga, and anything involving physical activity.

      It comes to mind the first time Desikachar (who coined the term Viniyoga) tried to teach someone. At the time he had no experience whatsoever, and his student ended up fainting. He called his father for help, and Krishnamacharya said he could have killed the student.

      A teacher certified by the KYM, RIMYI or KPYAJI should know what he is doing, and provide the student the variations he needs. No doubt private classes are ideal, but a Mysore room should also be a good environment.

      [I]In my experience, mostly young, fit individuals are drawn to ashtanga[/i]

      It might be so nowadays, but it's not how it used to be. Let me quote Manju Jois talking about the early days of the shala (I recommend reading the whole interview):

      We used to get people with sickness in the body like asthma and diabetes and all sorts of problems. And those are the ones who used to come to yoga because they tried everything and finally the doctors used to send all these people to my father to do yoga. That’s the kind of group we had, people with problems.
      Usually, the Indian students who used to come there, most of them were sick. All kinds of problems they had. That’s why they started studying yoga. We want to get a good yogic exercise. There, it’s not like that. There, for the therapy they used to come for that. So that’s how it started.

      this danger is increased by labelling those who choose not to practice as "lazy"

      Pushtam sumadhuram snighdham Gavyam dhātupraposhanam
      Manobhilashitam yoghyam yogī bhojanamācharet
      — Hatha Yoga Pradipika i:64

      Whether young, old or very old, sick or weak, one who discards laziness attains success in all the yogas, by means of practice.

  11. In my humble opinion the very things that Todd describes as "negatives" are the things that have become my greatest tools in my journey on the yogic pathway.
    Yes, Ashtanga could "eventually destroy your body" and this teaches me Ahimsa, to myself first and hopefully then to others.
    "The ego wants to continue but the body says no." I didn't have to wait for old age to feel this, I feel it many mornings...I used to push through injuries, trying to keep up with the "class" (when on my own, the imaginary class) I try to accept, to not judge. It's just me on the mat. Not even the yesterday me or the tomorrow me...just the today me whose hips are really sore and can't get her chin to the mat in baddhakonasana!!!
    "These "series" lead to wanting to push and pushing takes us from the now." I pushed and pushed. It got me nowhere. I learned to relax and accept and it got me somewhere...well a tiny bit forward and sometimes backwards. But I learnt to accept.
    "nothing spiritually from these practices" It can be so. There is the temptation to let it be just physical. But after some time the physical stops fascinating and your are forced to make it more..make it about the breath, about understanding yourself, about seeing your self on that mat, about connecting to something beyond this physical body. If you don't you will just get stuck. Well I got stuck.
    "body obsessed narcissists"...the opposite happened to me. I entered a world of shining, glowing, powerful people and I realized that there will always be someone better, stronger, lighter, floatier...I had to let it go. I am not too sure if this is the correct way to learn the lesson...but I did learn it. I also learnt that you can be physical fit and not achieve an asana, that the strongest people can't do certain asanas, that the weakest people can do others and the most flexible people will find challenges at some point. This is the greatest lesson my mat has given me, to try and accept myself, and to let go of comparisons.
    "Letting go" ...To be honest I hate to think of not being able to practice Ashtanga....but I believe that the practice of Ashtanga does teach you to let go. Hopefully when the time comes, I will know enough about letting go to actually let it go.....
    Again humble opinions.....completely biased because I LOVE ashtanga and it has changed my world. Thank you so much for this post Grimmly and for your thoughts thinking about this post, I seem to have defined my love and learning.

  12. Sorry to throw fuel on the fire, but what are the feelings on this: I read an article yesterday on elephantjournal by Kino about how she hired a circus performer to help with her one arm handstands. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Kino, but is this an example of asana taking over? It's only asana. Not sure how I feel on this.

  13. Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far on this a 'spur of the moment' post that was just supposed to be somewhere to put a long comment that I'd had to split into three on the previous post. I thought I'd buried it away behind Ramaswami's newsletter that I posted right afterwards.

    These are some of the most beautiful, honest comments on personal practice that I have read anywhere and do so much more than anything I could have written in the actual post to respond to Todd's original comment and questioning of the practice. Thank you again and if your reading this and tempted to comment yourself, please do.

  14. As you get older your going to have to come to terms with Ashtanga yoga and that it will eventually destroy your body..

    There is some truth in your words, but also a lot of misunderstanding. I'll let Krisnamacharya himself explain:

    Yoga sadhana can be divided into three krama-s.

    Srsti krama - This is up to the twenty-fifth year coinciding with the Brahmacarya asramam. At this stage there is no need for cikitsa, as the sadhana is done to develop the strenght of the body, the senses and the mind. The body should never become weak. However, if the person is sick at that age, one has to follow a combination of srsti and sthiti krama. In the ancient times up to the age of twenty-five a person would be in gurukulam. Under the guru's care there is not much need for sthiti krama. Patañjali has shown many way for each sadhana according to the requirement of the individual. It is the responsability of the instructor to guide the individual.

    Sthiti krama is from the age of twenty-five to seventy-five, when most of the people are grhasthas. For the married person, prevention of illness is desirable. However, in reality there is great scope for sickness. The power of the body, the senses and the mind get reduced, the life span is curtailed, and unexpected death is likely. We should make sure that the yoga sadhana will avoid or correct this for, under no circumstances should one be deprived of good health.

    Practice from the age of seventy-five to one hundred is called the samhara krama [Ramaswami calls it Laya krama]. Only that yoga sadhana that will promote para, apara vairagyam, jnanam, and bhakti must be practiced. Moreover, if one practices yogasana-s, without respecting proper inhalation and exhalation, failure both in terms of immediate and long term benefits will result. The person may also suffer from some ailments.

    it was created for teenagers.. Nobody, Including Jois or Krishanamcharya did this series all their life..

    I don't think Krishnamacharya created nor practiced these series. He just classified the different asanas in three groups (primary, intermediate and proficient) according to its difficulty. KP Jois would then prescribe the order we know as they purify all the organs of the body in a methodical manner.

    KP Jois wrote in Yoga Mala that it is not necessary to practice every asana, though those that are done should be practiced in a systematic manner.

  15. Hello Grim,

    There's a lot of nice, honest comments here. I used to practice ashtanga vinyasa yoga but then I switched to other styles. I do believe the system is OK, however most of the teachers that I met don't understand what they teach. I guess that's the the core of the problem.

    Anyway I wanted to add something on backbend topic and here it is: there's no backbends in First Series. Upward facing dog can indeed work well for your back by lengthening and strengthening the psoas muscle. All forward bends lengthen harmstrings, that’s great, that’s what you need to make your pelvis more mobile. Unfortunately what restricts most people’s backbending is nor psoas nor harmstrings but short quadriceps muscles. And, apart from triang mukha ekaipada paschimottanasana, first series does nothing to make them longer. That’s why regular practice of Krounchasana and Bhekasana can do miracles to “open” lower back.

    Next Up-Dog is really difficult and complex posture - many people get in and out of position without thinking around 40 times every single day. Up-dog is actually the cause of most lower back injuries in ashtangis - precisely because it's repeated all the time, often using momentum and not muscles.

    There's great article of Roger Cole site about up-dog. I guess it's worth reading and understanding.

    Be well


  16. I would like to expand on my facebook comment whereby I agreed that it is not the practice but the way we approach it, yet some practices are more prone to make us approach them with the wrong attitude.

    As I said, in my case one of the reasons I moved towards the viniyoga of Yoga (TKV Desikachar) is that as I have come to know myself better, I realised that I am one of those people who put too much strength in everything they do.
    It did not happen with ashtanga vinyasa, I believe for two main reasons: 1. the breath keeps me in check, and I started my home practice following Richard Freeman's DVDs; 2. I met a couple of great teachers along the way (and a couple of terrible ones). But with practices like Iyengar (and even Anusara!) I find myself putting too much strength to comply with the militaristic approach many teachers in that tradition have.
    Of course you can blame the Iyengar teachers I encountered and me personally for this happening, but I currently do not see why I should not enjoy a progressive (call it viniyoga or krama) approach where you are really discouraged from forgetting the lower limbs and where the higher limbs truly are integral part of the teaching (not reserved for 'advanced' students).

    The other thing I like about vinyasa krama (which really is conceptually the same as the viniyoga of yoga) is that it seems to allow for more creativity.
    When I mentioned this to one of the participants (an Asthanga Vinyasa teacher...) in Gregor's workshop she looked at me with almost disgusted eyes and said "why, do you think that yoga is about creativity?" well... YES YES YES.

    So it is not the system, it is the people and the way they approach it.
    Some will read between the lines, like Anthony and a few others do, and see that Krishnamacharya taught the same principles all along his life.
    Others will love the fixed series because they help to give a safe framework to their lives (nothing wrong with that!)

    Lastly, I just wished that the term Ashtanga had not been used in relation to Patthabi Jois practice the way we have come to know it.
    I think this is a large confounding factor and carries the risk of polarising discussion towards 'my yoga is better than yours'. Of course if your practice is called 'Ashtanga' it has to be complete, even though we know very well that many people skip formal pranayama and/or meditation and can forget everything about ahimsa, satya svadhyaya and santosha when touched in their personal beliefs (many examples in the comments above)...

  17. I like that I stirred the pot a little, thanks Grimmly...As you know I said the practice was good and then showed the problems with it.. mainly the problems lie in the student or the teacher , not the practice itself.. It is the mindset of undertaking ashtanga practice that I see being the problem. I love all the responses and am learning a lot.. I showed my background just so people know I am not taking smack and actually have a background in Vinyasa Krama.... I Highly recommend everyone read "Yoga Body: The Origins Of Modern Yoga Practice" By Mark Singelton... I can send a copy to anyone who wants one by E-mail.. Here is also a yoga article interviewing Desikashar, Iyengar, and Jois that I found interesting and will answer many questions on how Krishnamcharya's teaching changed and how long these other men ACTUALLY worked with him.

    And finally some quotes from some Yogi's:

    My introduction to Yoga consisted of practicing two hours of meditation daily, study of Yoga Sutra 1.33, 2.33 and 2.34. Twenty-two years later I was introduced to the yoga postures. I asked my mentor, “Why the long delay.” He said, “I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea of what Yoga is.”

    The value of ancient practices is not their age per se. It lies in the vast periods of disciplined research into what works and safety. We in the West tend to have reflexive adoration of innovation. Asian approaches tend to be somewhat more thoughtful and careful. The term āsana when defined as 'posture' is a colloquialism. The 15 hatha-yoga postural āsanas listed in the Hatha-Yoga Pradipīkā are solely to assist in reorganizing the breath capsule for prānāyāma and reorganizing the physical structure to sit comfortably for 20+ minutes. There is nothing 'wrong' with fitness, contortion, gymnastics, etc., it just isn't yoga. The correct term for these physically focused activities is vyāyāma.

    I have also heard a rumour that the practice name is slowly being changed to "JOIS" yoga and that there will be a franchise in a strip mall near you very soon. I look forward to all the replies..HAri Om


      Idea of the week: Viparyaya

      Viparyaya is wrong thinking or perception, and manifests most often with the idea that we are absolutely right. This can be caused by OUR arrogance and ignorance.

      Examples of Viparyaya in a yoga class:

      1) Now I can show everyone how flexible or strong I am.
      2) The yoga postures are the true meaning of yoga.
      3) The teacher is creating my feelings now.
      4) I did not accomplish anything today because I didn't do the postures deeply enough.

      When we are in a state of viparyaya, we are wrong. We are making assumptions which block us from appreciating what is truly happening. Our minds are actually closed and we remain stuck.

      Within the discipline of a yoga practice a yogi observes the yogasanas or her own mind to eliminate the activities of viparyaya.

  18. WOW! I guess I helped with your readership!! Awesome... Mom Always told me I would be a little Shit disturber.. TAke Care!

  19. I was reading Ramaswami's September 2009 Newsletter, and thought it may add to the discussion.

    Adapting vinyasakrama to individual requirements can be termed as viniyoga krama. For instance when my Guru gets a middle aged person or a nine year old with specific condition like scoliosis, he would design a specific program to the individual requirement. Almost everyone who comes to him will have a routine developed which will not be the one that is given to someone else.

    I have written about the family class we had with my Guru when we started learning from him. During the same time period he would teach different vinyasas, poses and procedures to each one of us, my older father, my somewhat heavy-set mother, my supple, talented younger sister, my more challenged brother and me.

    One reason why people nowadays look for a definite routine is because a few of the more popular vinyasa systems have a very small number of regimented sequences which are taught over and over again almost to all students. So there is a mindset that there should be a rigid sequence that is applicable for everyone, but that is not the way we learnt yoga from my Guru.

    Firstly the teacher should learn the whole system and then apply it to individuals as per the requirements -- pick and choose those vinyasa sequences, pranayama and meditation practices, dietary requirements, etc.. The question that is to be answered is what does the practitioner want/need and how should the yoga routine be designed to get the required benefit. Vinyasakrama is like a yoga supermarket, and each one should put into the cart what one needs.

    And the term Vinyasakrama includes not just asanas but also other aspects of yoga like pranayama, meditation, etc. It is a progression of different aspects of Yoga. The Vinyasakrama has a huge collection of asana vinyasas, a well stocked section on Pranayama, then the meditation department and a spiritual study/contemplation section as well.

    So a lot of initiative should be taken by the individual consumer, like our practitioner who should take the responsibility of working out with the teacher how to design an intelligent purposeful yoga practice pertaining to oneself. To reduce Vinyasakrama to a standard routine as is done with several other contemporary Vinyasa systems and put it in a straight jacket is not desirable.

  20. I think that yoga is yoga. We are One. Ashtanga, Iyengar,vini yoga,critical alignement...what's the diference? The material differences, but the reason to stay 90 minutes on the mat is the same in every style. The judgement must be out of our mats. Om shantih.

  21. I think there is a lot of fixation about what Ashtanga Yoga is... It can be circus like for sure... However, if one is thinking a little bit, not pushing and pulling and not taking everything for granted, enquiring to learn, then the practice becomes a great vehicle to go in... If one thinks other yoga styles are better or no one pushes/pulls/gets injuries in any other yoga styles, that would not be very objective view, would it? or maybe one have not been around to realize it happens all-around... I have seen a lot huffing, puffing and grinding teeth in Iyengar classes and yelling teachers... or taking someone to handstand in their first yoga class in Anusara classes... etc... And yes, I also had my own doubts regarding the Ashtanga practice after practicing it so many years; however, during one meditation retreat I was participating, I realized what a blessing it is have my practice, how that movement and breath synchronicity is helping me to go within... the rest is the attitude and becoming a bit skilled. like most people said here, how you approach the practice, how you approach yourself, how you take care of yourself and how you utilize the practice for your own benefit.. one can reck their body with ashtanga practice or one can find a good spiritual outlet through it... it is all up to you... and yes hopefully we are all practicing yoga no matter what the style is... no one is above or below... narcissists are no different then saints, no worries :)


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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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