''...these days I seem to be less and less interested in exploring the Advanced postures preferring to explore Krishnamacharya's approach to the breath, particularly his use of kumbhaka, in postures mostly from his Primary group".
In an earlier post this month I posed the question 'Did Pattabhi Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya have an Advanced series and if so where was it'. I had shown that the Primary and Middle groups from the asana table in his 1941 book Yogasanagalu corresponded closely with the Ashtanga Primary and Intermediate series we have now, but what about the table of advanced postures, it appeared to be more of a 'lumping together' of asana rather than suggesting any sequence.
Krishnamacharya doesn't seem to have followed fixed sequences. Although there appears to have been intuitive progressions of primary and middle asana subroutines that most likely corresponded to our current practice it was unlikely they were fixed in stone. It was Pattabhi Jois who seems to have formalised the different levels of asana in to, originally, four sequences, Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A and Advanced B and this seems to have been necessitated by his being invited to teach a four year yoga course at the Sanskrit college. Had the course been three or two years the practice we have today would most likely have been significantly different.
So if Krishnamacharya had no Advanced A and B series how would he have approached these more challenging asana?
Manju Jois mentioned on a recent workshop I attended in Rethymno, Crete that he practices some of Primary, some of 2nd series and a couple of postures from Advanced series.
It seems likely to me that this would have been how Krishnamacharya would have approached the practice of his more proficient students.
There is an often intuitive development of asana in Krishnamacharya's approach, we can see this in the layout of asana in the Primary and Intermediate groups. We find Marchiasana A B and C following each other in the Primary group, but the more challenging Marchiasana D appears in the Intermediate group, Marichiasana E, F, G and H, more challenging still, turn up the proficient group. It seems likely that as the student progressed they were given more advanced variants of the Marchi posture. This is similar to Pattabhi Jois' early approach to parivritta trikonasana, the reverse triangle posture we all practice in the standing sequence. On visiting the USA in the early 80's Pattabhi Jois was supposedly shocked to find beginner students practicing the posture, he had listed it under the fourth year (Advanced B in the 1974 asana list he gave to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams). A compromise was found and for a time one would wait until they had learnt all of primary series before being taught the twisting posture when it would then be reintroduced in it's 'rightful' place in the standing sequence.
Below is the list of proficient asana from the Advanced A and B sequences, the 3rd and 4th years in the 1974 original Ashtanga list. The pictures are mostly my own often take around the time I first gained some semblance of the posture, they are in no way to be taken as indications of how the posture should be performed, some of these I practice with more facility now, others I have lost completely as I have focused on other aspects of Krishnamacharya's practice, his use of kumbhaka for example..
I've tried to indicate how we might introduce more advanced postures into our Primary and Intermediate series practice as we become more proficient. We do this already of course, we introduce the full finishing sequence once we've learnt Primary series up to Marichasana B, we introduce drop backs after completing full Primary, bakasana as an exit in Primary once we have gained more strength, the dwi pada sirsaasana entry to supta kurmasana once we have learnt that posture in 2nd series.
What becomes interesting as we introduce postures this way is that we start to see the Vinyasa Krama sequences that Ramaswami presents corresponding to how he was taught by Krishnamacharya in the 1950s-80s.
In Vinyasa Krama, in the Asymmetric sequence for example, we find a similar progression through subroutines that we have in our Ashtanga Primary series. We find the Triang Mukha eka pada paschimottansana and janu sirsasana's, ardha badha parma paschimottanasana followed by the marichiasana subroutine, we then move into the leg behind head posture, eka pada sirsasana found in Ashtanga 2nd series but then move on to the more advanced series leg behind head options, Durvasana for example.
In Vinyasa Krama we would add the more advanced extensions as we gained proficiency with a previous variation of a posture, each posture can be seen as a preparation for the one that follows or an extension of one that proceeds it.
It is suggested then that occasionally introducing progressively more advanced variations of postures into a core practice most likely characterised the approach taken to asana practice by Krishnamacharya in the Mysore years 1920s-1950 when he was teaching small and large groups of students but that it was also the method he employed in his later small group and one to one teaching. The construction of fixed series, particularly Advanced A and B by Pattabhi Jois, in response to the demands of a four year course structure, was a departure from Krishnamacharya's approach. Both approaches to advanced asana have their benefits as well as their drawbacks
Obviously caution is advised as is common sense, we do not just practice an advanced posture because it's there, we have to consider where we are with a proceeding posture before introducing a more advanced variation. There are benefits though. In Ashtanga Intermediate series there is a nice build up of backbends leading to kapotasana but no preparation for the first leg behind head posture. In the Krishnamacharya Krama there would be plenty of preparation through the less challenging asymmetric postures before taking our leg behind our head into the more advanced hip opener. This follows through each of the Vinyasa Krama sequences
Below I've suggested where the advanced posture might follow on from postures in the primary and Intermediate series but often in Vinyasa Krama there would be even more preparatory postures in between. This is how I've included these postures in my own practice although these days I seem to be less and less interested in exploring the Advanced postures preferring to explore Krishnamacharya's approach to the breath, particularly his use of kumbhaka, in postures mostly from his Primary group.
Many Ashtanga practitioners have no interest in progressing to 3rd second series, it was supposedly only for demonstration after all, some have no ambition perhaps for second series either however they may well have gained proficiency in certain areas within the Primary sequence. This approach allows as to add more challenging asana where we feel confident and comfortable and appears to be in line with Krishnamacharya's original teaching way back when he was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, it is an approach in line with 'the tradition'.
NB: The intention of this post is not to encourage anyone to run off and practice advanced postures before they are ready to do so. The argument is that there are certain areas in our practice in which we are stronger than others, more proficient than others, and these can be explored further, should we see benefit in doing so, by introducing asana from Krishnamacharya's proficient group. This seems to have been Krishnamacharya's original practice back when he was teaching pattabhi Jois in Mysore as well as that he taught throughout his life and the approach taught to me by Krishnamacharya's student of over thirty years, Srivatsa Ramaswami.
The numbering system below is the same as that found on the 'original' Ashtanga syllabus given to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams in 1974 and supposedly the same as that formalised by Pattabhi Jois when he began teaching a four year course of Yoga at the sanskrit college in the early 1940s.
Introducing Advanced A asana into Primary and Intermediate Ashtanga Series
Postures 1 and 2 come up early in the Vinyasa Krama asymmetric series corresponding to the first few postures of primary series, Vishwamitra is a nice preparation for the leg behind head postures
The following leg behind head postures 3-7 can be considered extensions of the Asymmetric postures early in the Primary series, i tend to rotate them rather than include all in one practice.
I will occasionally include urdhava kukutasana as an alternative to utpluthi at the end of the practice, most of the arm balanced 8-12 can be slipped into your practice at any point, this is nice in winter when you want to keep the heat up.
I still tend to include Viranchyasana B after Janu Sirsasana C whenever I practice Primary
The two backbends 16-17 found in 3rd series are natural extensions of the 2nd series kapottasana, it's particularly appropriate to include them here given the preparatory postures that begin 2nd series.
Because of the long slow breathing approach I take to practice I will often tend to practice only half a series, if it happens to be the first half of 2nd series then I will often extend the backbend work bringing in the next two backbends as well as the preceding two after kapotasana.
Alternatively I will introduce more back bending to counter all the forward bends in Primary including 19 as a variation and extension of urdhva dhanurasana and 18 as a headstand variation.
Yet another arm balance that can be included anywhere and in any series
A variation we can include before or after the regular dhanurasana in 2nd series
More dhanurasana variations that can be included as extensions to regular dhanurasana early in 2nd series especially if you feel you require more preparation leading up to your kapotasana.
Viparita salabhasana appears in the vinyasa krama bow series as an extension of the shalabhasanas we find early in 2nd series, this can be extend even further in 25, utthana shalabhasana and perhaps with 26 although I tend to include 26 after pincha mayurasana either in place of or proceeding karandavasana.
The advanced hip openers 27 and 28 strike me as the culmination of all the hip opening work we find in primary series and I continue to work on developing them there.
Two more extensions of kapotasana, more challenging because of the reduced stability, explore them after your regular kapotasana.
An extension of pinch mayurasana
CAUTION: This mandala is a highly challenging posture, an extension of all the twisting postures you have practiced, exception proficiency in twisting postures is advised to reduce risk to straining the neck.
In Derek Ireland's Primary series CD he includes work on hanumanasana as well as samakonasana after the prasarita subroutine in the standing sequence, this practice does not seem uncommon, it's where I've begun exploring my own hanumanasana again.
Introducing Advanced B asana into Primary and Intermediate Ashtanga Series
Simhasana was supposedly a favourite posture of Krishnamacharya I often include it after pindasana as an alternative to matsyasana
Extensions to the Marichiyasana from primary series, G and H presuppose facility with the leg behind head postures I'll occasionally slip one in after Marchi D or as a substitution.
I tend to include yogasana in place of garbha pindasan on less sweaty days, the arms fold around the knees rather than going through the legs
The picture below is of a long stay in badhakonasana, Bhadrasana is similar but without the feet turned out and could be included in place of baddha konasana C
Siddhasana is my pranayama and meditation posture of choice
Include bhujangasana after your shalabhasana in 2nd series or as Ramaswami recommends between shoulder stand and headstand. David Williams has said he takes five breaths in upward facing dog to balance out all the forward bending, bhujangasana might be an alternative.
An advanced 'hip opener', explore it after baddha konasana or perhaps janu sirsasana C
Derek Ireland includes Trivikramasana in the on one leg sequence in standing on his primary CD, he includes samakonasana along with hanumanasana after the prasarita subroutine, again on his primary CD, I've started to do the same.
16-18 are wonderful postures and we shouldn't have to wait until the advanced series to practice them, use them as alternative pranayama or meditation postures or bring them in and around your kapotasana. parivrttasana A and B can be employed just before kapotasana as extra preparation, 16 can be brought in after kapotasana as a resting pose while we bring the breath back to steadiness after such a challenging posture.
18-19 can be brought into our standing sequence as extensions. In Vinyasa Krama there is a one leg squat version of Dighasana which is excellent preparation for kapotasana.
An extension of your drop back into urdhva dhanurasana, this posture is found in Advanced B but is practiced in Mysore once you have begun 2nd series.
Krishnamacharya would recommend we spend 15 mites each day in tadasana at the beginning of our practice
An extension of the mayurasana found in 2nd series and can of course be included there.
Another extension of our 2nd series backbend postures that can be included as an extension or substitution.
This reflects Pattabhi Jois' early approach to parivritta trikonasana, the reverse triangle posture we all practice in the standing sequence. On visiting the USA in the early 80's Pattabhi Jois was supposedly shocked to find beginner students practicing the posture, he had listed it under the fourth year (Advanced B in the 1974 asana list he gave to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams). A compromise was found and for a time one would wait until they had learnt all of primary series before being taught the twisting posture when it would then be reintroduced in it's 'rightful' place in the standing sequence.
Advanced hip opener, makes sense to practice it in primary series following all the hip opening work but perhaps after we have also included some of the more proficient leg behind head postures. I've never actually tried this posture, only the single leg seated version hog dandasana.
http://ayny.org/perfect-shavasana.html Ramaswami recommends taking mini shavasana's whenever our heart or breath rate increase too much.
See this page for the original 1974 Syllabus given to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williamas
See this page for Asana lists including the 1941 table found in krishnamacharya's 1941 book Yogasanagalu
or the post for just the yogasangalu asana table
This is one of a series of posts on Krishnamachrya's approach, see also
Exploring Kumbhaka ( breath retention) in Krishnamacharya's Intermediate 'series' inc. Practice Sheets primary- 2nd series