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Monday, 31 March 2014

Getting it. John Scott's Brighton Workshop

Wasn't really ready to write about this but several have asked so here goes.

John was greeting everyone at the door.

Several of asked him which was the front and which the back, this led into a theme for the first half hour or so of the workshop where he talked about locating oneself in space and in time. He identified east then the moon in relation to the sun and the earth. In Sitting he had us think of the sit bones as sinking into the earth, the heart is the moon and the head the sun, aligning them, head over the heart. This then fed into talk of sun and moon channels, ha and tha, (hatha, get it) ida, pingala, sushumna and finally chakras, he said that Guruji in his Saturday philosophy sessions/class would describe chakra as knots rather than pretty coloured flowers and the different asana worked on those knots untangling them to allow our energy to flow.

This last idea reminded me of some of my speculation regarding Krishnamacharya and kumbhaka in asana, was the idea to of employing kumbhaka in particular asana intended to work on specific chakra he does suggest as much regarding kumbhaka and chakra in Yoga Makaranda.

All this talk of locating ourselves led into the the idea of the count, the vinyasa count, how by learning the count we know where we are at any given time, what comes before and what comes after. John likes to talk of it as Pattabhi Jois did as mantra, mala beads, each asana a different mala with a different number of beads on it. Also, the count, for John, seems to represent liberation (he was wearing Kia's Mysore paris, Freedom T-shirt, very cool) or at least independence, the teachers role in providing us with the count is to free us of our dependence on the teacher, to make us independent but then also dependable in turn in that we can now pass on the count to others. He said this weekend was effectively a teacher training, he teaches us the count we go off and teach it to somebody else.

One thing sure to make a philosophy graduate cringe is reference to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, no doubt because so many of us perhaps read it in our youth, a guilty secret. Before I had a full cringe on though I found myself nodding and smiling, not for the first time that day.

At the end of the book Jonathan's 'disciple' Fletcher is lecturing young seagulls about life the universe and everything and notices them all a little lost, he pauses and then says, "Lets begin with level flight...".

John said, that was Guruji, let's begin with level flight, exam, inhale....

What else......

He talked about the different series, how Primary was chikitsa, structure, but that it could also be nadi shodana, nerve cleansing ( the name of the intermediate series) and that it could also be Sthira, grace
( Advanced series). This was very appealing to me as I've suggested here that we fixate so much on Advanced series ( I know, I did too), 3rd being the new 2nd, when it's actually our approach to the series we have that can determine whether it is primary, intermediate or advanced. He also said that no asana holds any more weight than another, all are of equal value, another idea I've expressed here.... this practice, it's intuitive, it all follows if you allow it to do so and don't get in the way.

There was much in John's presentation that I felt confirmed my own intuitions regarding the practice over the years, just as I had felt with Richard Freeman and Manju Jois, or perhaps these intuitions are little bits and pieces that I had picked up from hearing about different senior teachers and woven together over the years, or perhaps it's just an intuitive practice. Still, there was also so much more besides that John communicated that had an effect I can't quite put my finger on.

I don't tend to write 'Guruji' here on this blog, I never studied with him, it just never felt right to do so, it felt disrespectful for some reason, an over familiarity towards somebody I'd never had a relationship with. I tend to use Jois just as I do Krishnamacharya, occasionally Pattabhi Jois. Something about this workshop though and the way John would talk about him.... it was as if he was very present in John's teaching, curiously Guruji feels much more appropriate to me now, something unexpected but quite pleasant, more than once I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat when John would relate Guruji stories.

My favourite Guruji story was at the end of the workshop when we got to headstand. John said that Guruji had only given it to him in the last week or so of his first three months in Mysore and that he taught it with the head off the floor, kind of on the forearms/wrists rather than between them. He said that Guruji demonstrated it for him..... he was 78 at the time.

The workshop was full, about fifty of us. Actually it was kind of divided into two workshops. John talked for half an hour at the beginning of the first one and then we did a breathing exercise, counting up to twelve in Sanskrit, he would have us raise our hand slowly on the inhale, lower on the exhale, reminded me of the video of Guruji with Richard Freeman. This was followed by the standing series focusing on the count, calling it out together.

The second workshop we went through most of the Primary series, skipping a few postures at the end to jump to finishing on account of time. Again we focused on the count, he would have us call it out at times along with him, encourage us to whisper it the rest of the time. He stressed that we could pause the count to take as many breaths as needed to get into the asana. In the posture he would have us count the number at the end of the exhalation in the space between the exhalation and next inhalation, he said it was a little like pranayama. I liked that bit of course as I've written about those mini, automatic kumbhakas. He also talked about the length of the breath being six seconds, mentioned certain six syllable mantras one could use to measure it, Om Na-ma- shi-va-ya or om ma-ni pad-me hum for example.

Throughout John would rush around the room like a madman, adjusting, assisting... no, it was more like focusing our attention, in urdhva mukha shvanasana for example he stood over me, I was expecting him to take my shoulders back further but he whispered to press up against his hands which brings about the taking the armpits to the navel idea that I've read him focus on ( he probably spends time on that on the sunday workshop).

At the end of the practice in the second or third urdhva dhanurasa he came over to me again, I was fairly deep I guess, I thought he was going to take me in deeper as Norman Sjoman had done but he just put his hands under my back lifted me slightly moved my knees in a little with his and that was that. On reflection I think he was just checking I would do because afterwards he mentioned a demonstration and came over to drop me back.

Remember I'm a home Ashtangi, I've only been dropped back a couple of times on Manju's workshop, still a very strange idea  to me but there was John in front of me and it was like, "Oh OK, drop backs".

John does something strange that I didn't really understand, he has you do a kind of mini, shorter ardha mukha shvanasana before and after the drop back, I was a bit confused what he was after here, for a moment I thought he was going to flip me over but of course thinking about it now that would have been the wrong direction. Anyway, drop backs were fine. I do them on my own of course and am quite happy with them at the moment, the arms outstretched version but there is still a little trepidation. With somebody supporting, you can just let go and go with it, there's that surrender that so many of you go on about I guess, an intimacy. I was in John's hands and just went with it. Quite interesting this trust thing, it's almost like those business bonding tricks where you drop back and your colleague catches you, almost but more so.

Outstretched arm version
Wish I'd had a friend the to take a picture, be curious to see how deep it was with john supporting me.

Oh and then there was utpluthi, I haven't done it for a year or two ( am with Manju on this, why do utpluthi when you've relaxed yourself and are about to settle into some pranayama and/or chanting) ) and even then, since vinyasa krama I would only do about five breaths there, John had us do twenty-five and somehow I managed to stay up there the whole time, no idea how because I was already exhausted ( you wouldn't believe what he had us doing in kurmasana).

And then right at the end he had us lay down for savasana, told us to get a blanket if we had one, I didn't so just laid down all hot and sweaty. A few minutes in John came over and covered me with a soft, warm, blanket. He'd put us through  the most gruelling of practices but then here was this moment of tenderness and I couldn't help but feel that Guruji was present in his teaching and no doubt in his practice (he said he can still hear him counting), felt comfortable thinking that and writing it here now.

Laying there in savasana I had the most intense feeling of... happiness and this is another word I very rarely use. I have no idea what to say when somebody asks me if I'm happy, if something makes me happy (it's a running joke at work, they put songs with the word happy in just to bug me). I put it down to my social autism but really I've had little use for the word. I've always argued against philosophers who suggested it's what we all seek, for me it's neither here nor there. I'm more comfortable with content, satisfied, no doub I am happy, I certainly don't want to be unhappy but happy? It always seemed a pleasant byproduct, I can take it or leave it. I don't think I've ever consciously sought it, expected it and certainly not considered it my 'right'. Laying there though I was aware that I felt blissfully happy, so much so that I had to hold back from giggling to myself, felt a bit embarrassed about it actually.

At the end of the workshop I went up to John to thank him and to tell him I couldn't make the second day but that I hoped to catch the second day of his Oxford workshop instead. He told me I had a nice practice and asked who my teacher was, I just said Ramaswami but that confused him I think especially in the context of Ashtanga so I also said I'd spent some time with Manju. I could have said, "You John, I learnt from your book and DVD".

And that was that, I left with the feeling that I'd finally 'got it', Ashtanga. After almost exactly seven years and a morning and afternoon with John Scott. So much of what John presented fitted in with my own intuitions about practice but there was much more beside. Perhaps it was just that the connection felt strong, from John to Guruji to Krishnamacharya, in a way that it does with Ramaswami and Krishnamacharya (John said that Krishnamacharya's test of Guruji was his knowledge of where he was in the count, although I'd heard his test was to cure somebody).

Manju is Manju, he talks about his father a lot, he's very present but it's different somehow, I just see Manju. Perhaps because he was taught by his father at such a young age, I think of them more as father and son... but with John, in his teaching, I could somehow feel echoes of that relationship, as if I was John and he was guruji experiencing something of how John perhaps felt to be taught by Guruji, he seems to channel it somehow.... does that make any kind of sense, you see why I didn't want to write about this yet.

So I headed down to the sea, long walk from Preston Park, I wanted to take a last look at Brighton Pier, memory lane, and of course I ended up going past the glorious, beautiful monstrosity that is Brighton pavilion. Sitting there on a patch of grass in front of that wonderful folly I had the feeling that it was time to go to Mysore, pay ones respects and to hell with how I feel about the crowds. It might not be this year, but hopefully before to long.

There was so much more of course

See the John Scott Yoga App (there's a new update I hear) and in particular the in app purchase 'Windows on practice', its a full fifteen page transcription of one of John's Workshops at Stillpoint Yoga London last year,


I was asked if this will affect how I approach my own practice.

I'm already strongly focussed on the Vinyasa count so this has confirmed that even more, it's something I've been exploring in Ashtanga recently in relation to the count Krishnamachrya gives in Yoga Makaranda. For me, at the moment, it's all about the count.

I mentioned my inhalations and exhalations tend to be around six seconds in Ashtanga, nice to hear John mention that number, in certain postures I'll still slow it down even further in line with my Vinyasa krama practice but that too is also in line with Guruji's interviews and Krishnamacharya's yoga Makaranda.

Kumbhaka is perhaps a sticking point, I'm quite committed to continue exploring it further. John seems to identify the mini automatic pause between the inhalation and exhalation but I'm not sure he would extend it to two, four six seconds or more as Krishnamacharya does.

Vinyasa Krama. It's well know that both Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois had a vast tool box of asana that they could call on when necessary, both would use them to help in healing and in helping their students achieve posture i.e. preparatory postures. Vinyasa Krama is a great way of maintaining that tool chest. It's also for me the perfect evening practice, a short subroutine or two before settling down into pranayama and meditation practice.


My Upcoming workshop in Germany - This Friday in fact

Exploring Krishnamacharya with Anthony 'Grimmly' Hall in Ulm

Workshop curriculum


1st session - approx. 3 hours A workshop exploring the ‘original’ Ashtanga of T. Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois’ teacher. This workshop will use the asana table of Krishnamacharya second book, Yogasanagalu (1941) to rearrange the asana outlined in his first book, Yoga Makaranda, and provide us with an ‘original’ Ashtanga Primary Series. Using this familiar sequence we will explore the approach to asana that Krishnamacharya outlined in Yoga Makaranda (1934), the long slow breath, ‘like the pouring of oil’, the appropriate kumbhaka’s (breath retention’s) indicated for each of the asana, the longer stays in certain postures, the employment of bandhas as well as the vinyasa method (counted movements linked to stages of the breath). The intention is to make this workshop accessible to any level or style of asana practice.
2nd session - 1 hour A talk on Krishnamacharya and ‘original’ Ashtanga vinyasa, exploring the question of consistency in his teaching from his early to later years.
3rd Session - 2 hours Pranayama workshop.
Exploring Krishnamacharya’s approach to pranayama(s) Followed by Q. and A.- Krishnamacharya/developing a home practice


1st session - 3 hours Vinyasa Krama workshop.
Exploring the approach to asana taught to Srivatsa Ramaswami by Krishnamacharya over a period of thirty years form the 1950’s to 80s. Where Ashtanga tends to be (mostly) fixed sequences Vinyasa Krama has a more flexible approach to asana. However, the asana are still grouped into subroutines and sequences for learning the relationships between individual and groups of asana. This allows us to take a key asana and see postures that lead both up to that asana and might be employed as preparation, as well as postures that lead on from the chosen asana allowing as to develop it further or make it applicable to other areas of the body. It also allows us to modify our practice, giving us a ‘tool chest’, once the subroutines of asana are learned it is then possible to construct a practice based on any appropriate rearrangement of the subroutines. It can be seen that the Ashtanga series, for example, are just such arrangements of subroutines.Throughout the workshop we will be noting how elements from Saturday’s workshop, Krishnamacharya’s approach of the 1930’s is consistent with his later teaching, the long slow breath, longer stay, kumbhaka’s and employment of bandhas are all found in vinyasa Krama.
2nd session - 2 hours Developing a home practice. Krishnamacharya taught an integrated Yoga practice. This session will be a led class that will employ an arrangement of subroutines and certain key (‘essential’, ‘to be practiced daily’) asana followed by pranayama ( introduced in the 3rd saturday session), pratyahara ( sense withdrawal) and a short meditation. Followed by Q. and A.- Krishnamacharya/developing a home practice


early bird 120€ (paid by March 1st)
regular 140€

Sunday, 30 March 2014

OK, I get it... finally, see you in Mysore - John Scott Workshop Brighton.

I think I get it... finally,  see you in Mysore

But don't ask me what 'it' is. 

Now which way is Damascus, I seem to have something in my eye.

Brighton Royal Pavilion


"finally" - It's been pretty much , give or take a day or two, seven years since I first picked up an Ashtanga book from the local library.

See the John Scott Yoga App (there's a new update I hear) and in particular the in app purchase 'Windows on practice', its a full fifteen page transcription of one of John's Workshops at Stillpoint Yoga London last year,  M. nicked my iTouch when she went back to Japan so I couldn't record this one but to be honest, I don't really want to write about today's workshop right now (but maybe some time), sorry.

OK, here's a fuller post

Getting it. John Scott's Brighton Workshop

Friday, 28 March 2014

Sharath's revised Ashtanga Primary Series Book 5 second inhalation/ 5 second exhalation

Hannah Moss over at Ashtanga and Angels blog has put up an excellent post comparing the two editions of Sharath's Aṣṭāṅga Yoga Anuṣṭhāna book in a handy pdf. I'm not going to post it here, she's put so much work in to this that it deserves a trip over to her own blog to take a look.

“Aṣṭāṅga Yoga Anuṣṭhāna”: 1st vs. 2nd Edition

The one thing that jumped out for me of course was this

23 Tristhāna: 
1st edition: Breathing if you inhale for two seconds,
the exhale should be for two

2nd edition: if you inhale for five seconds,
the exhale should be for five

Five seconds inhale, five seconds exhale, that's much more like it, can live with that, Mysore here I come.... or at least I would if it wasn't for the crowds.

NB: The 'should' above is of course stressing that the inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration, the 5 seconds is an example only, although it's interesting he changed it from the 2 second example in the first book.

Five second inhalation plus five second exhalation makes for a ten second breath, five of those gives us fifty seconds in the state of an asana. Actually there's that slight pause between the inhalation and exhaltion and the exhalation and inhalation. The slower the breath the longer the natural pause or mini kumbhaka as I like to think of it. At five seconds each I make it a one second pause between each so that's an extra two seconds a breath making it a full minute in the state of an asana.

I compared the breathing on teachers DVD's in a previous post. Their DVD presentations should be their ideal practice right.

Here are some comparisons to put it in perspective, all for when in Janu Sirsasana at astau/eight, the state of the asana ( this is hardly fair though as the time varies slightly in the different postures, especially in the led classes of Manju and his father ( it's guess work in Led), for example Manju left them in the preceding posture for 30 seconds), the demo's are a different case. gives an idea though of the general pace of the practice.

Update: I've added hyperlinks to reviews, click on the names

David Robson - 40 seconds!
David Garrigues - 30 seconds
Richard Freeman - 29 seconds
Manju Jois - 25 seconds
Lino - 24 seconds
Derek Ireland - 20 seconds
John Scott - 20 seconds
Mark Darby - 20 seconds
Kino - 20 seconds
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois - 20 seconds
David Swenson - 19 seconds
Sharath - 13 seconds 

( I've heard a recent recording of Sharaths' Led where it comes in at 25 seconds)

David Robson comes closest to a minute but that's perhaps because he has the 1 second beat of the drum to guide him on his Primary with Drums Video/CD/MP3 - Highly recommended. However, if I remember correctly the drumbeat is set at 4 second inhalation, 4 second exhalation. If you want to explore a slower pace download his mp3 or follow the link (click on his name above) and practice along to my Sury A video on that post with the drum beat in the background. There should be a link to a post where I explore the drum beat with second series.

Bit of a game changer?

Notice how many of the above are around 20 seconds, that actually works out at 2 second inhalation, 2 second exhalation, which is of course what Sharath included in the first edition of his book. That perhaps reflects the pace the practice is generally taken, how it's come down to us, how we tend to practice. What I find most interesting is that Sharath consciously, pointedly, changed it to 5 seconds. We might practice at 2 seconds but perhaps we should be aiming to take it a little slower, even perhaps twice as slowly. We can explore it at least.

I have a great deal of respect for Sharath, for all of the above and in fact for anyone who has maintained this practice for the number of years they have but for me the final authority is the practice, my practice, not Sharath', not his Grandfather or even Krishnamacharya. I'll happily explore how they present it, really spend time with their approach, their instruction but ultimately I'll go with what feels right for me. At one point I tried to slow my Ashtanga right down, ten seconds for inhalation, ten for exhalation, I really worked at that. I thought at the time it reflected 'original practice' or the original intention perhaps, didn't work, eight seconds may work fine in Vinyasa Krama but in Ashtanga six seconds is about as slow as I can comfortably take it and maintain the integrity of the practice as a whole, although I currently I  tend to add in kumbhakas. Once you do find an approach, a pace that works for you however, it seems good practice to stick with it for a significant period before exploring any slightly different approach. Ashtanga seems to be all about routine, it seems to work best when you know exactly where you are and what you are doing. Personal opinion of course. A shorter pre pranayama evening practice is good for exploring.

Sharath is using the conditional of course, IF we inhale for five seconds THEN we exhale for five seconds, he's stressing that the breath should be equal but using a five second example rather than one of  two second sends a message perhaps, slower, fuller breathing encouraged.

Of course breathing rates are always merely a guide, we can breathe at whatever pace we are most comfortable with and that will of course change as our practice develops and as we focus on and explore different aspects of the practice  but we should surely be aiming for a full, steady, stable breath at least at whatever pace we take it and Krishnamacharya does recommend, "slow like the pouring of oil". In interviews Pattabhi Jois talked of 10, 15 even 20 seconds each for inhalation and exhalations. My own preference is around eight in Vinyasa Krama, probably averaging six in my Ashtanga practice (1.5 in navasana). My workaround when practicing with DVDs or in Led is to take three longer breaths or sometimes just two if I'm including kumbhaka.

Take a look at my page at the top of the blog, 'Mysore rooms around the world' to get an idea of the pace others actually practice in their Mysore rooms.
Here'a link to my review of the original.
Book(let) Review : Ashtanga yoga Anusthana - R. Sharath Jois

News: Off to John Scott's workshop in Brighton tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Guest Post from M. How Laughter Yoga Helped During Earthquake In Japan

M., currently in Japan, came across a survivors book last week on the 2010 Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting tsunami, she told me about one story where a woman had managed to get on to the the roof of a building were she and a group of others had to stay the night waiting to be rescued..... I asked M. to translate it for me so I could share it here.

"A number of us warmed ourselves by yogic breathing and eased our fear by laughter yoga"

From a book called The Gigantic Tunami I witnessed. The book comprises of 75 eyewitness accounts of the tsunami. All of them lived in Miyagi Prefecture. 

This eyewitness is a 54 year old woman called Eiko Saito. At the time of the tsunami, she lived in Natori City,

" The earthquake hit when I was working on the grounds floor of Fuji Bakery Sendai Factory, which was located at the south of Iwanuma City Airport.
I went out to a car park, and saw many people from other buildings nearby gathering. As we heard on radio that the tsunami was coming, we moved up to the first floor of the company.

Later a man came to pick up his family from the company and he shouted that the tsunami was 10 meter high and we were not safe where we were.

We moved to climb up the roof top but I was unable to climb up the spiral ladder because of my bad legs. Someone said to me, 'Hurry up!'.I said, 'I just cant!' Some young men encouraged me to hang in there and pulled me up to the top.

After 15 minutes, I saw the  gray waves like those painted in Ukiyo-e.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

In a minute, muddy brown water rushed at us. In rain, I saw a pile of cars and lorries, and uprooted pine trees being washed away. I was shivering. The factory was about 15km away from the sea. I couldnt believe that it became part of the sea.

We spent the night in a storage on the first floor of the factory. The employees there brought out cardboard boxes but it was too cold to sleep.
A number of us warmed ourselves by yogic breathing and eased our fear by laughter yoga.

The following afternoon, we all left the factory."

Thank you M. For the translation.

 I have to admit I'd kind of dismissed Laughter Yoga  but I can't get the image out of my mind of this frightened group of strangers laughing together amidst the terrors of the tsunami. I'm the least sentimental person I know but I find myself quite choked writing this post....until I watched the video above anyway, are these tears of laughter, sadness a little of both.....

Googling I found more about Eiko Saito here

How Laughter Yoga Helped During Earthquake In Japan

Eiko Saito Japan : Five of us kept Laughing when our building was shaking all night with after shocks during Tsunami which hit Japan this March. I live in the city of Natori, Sendai-prefecture, in northern Japan, which was virtually wiped out by the recent tsunami. Last April 2010, I had become a Laughter Yoga leader together with my husband and we started our own local Laughter Club. Ever since I learned about Laughter Yoga and started practicing it on a regular basis, it has become a great tool to relieve all the stresses of my life.

My life is not so easy just like everybody else's lives. I lost my son last year in September quite suddenly which left me devastated. I also suffer from a chronic leg condition which hampers my mobility. But in spite of this entire crisis, I work as a part timer to support my big family of lots of kids and grand children. What makes me go is Laughter Yoga. It has helped me and my grandchildren to get over the loss of my son and cope with the difficult times.

Even as we were recovering from personal troubles, Japan was hit by a massive earthquake on the fateful day of 11th of March 2011. I was at work in the bread factory, and it was fortunate that our building did not collapse. Already in a state of panic and wondering what to do, we heard that a huge tsunami was headed our way. It was enough to put all of us in a state of extreme fear and alarm. Everyone rushed to the roof top of the building and an hour later, a massive tsunami hit us and virtually wiped out everything - trees, cars, houses and so on. However, our building was still intact and about 346 people survived the onslaught of nature.

It was a terrible night. We could not go home and were constantly battling the aftershocks and rising water levels. The infrastructure had completely broken down and there was no way to find out anything about our family members and friends. All we could do was to wait for rescue and help. As nobody could sleep that night, I decided to start laughing and convince the others to do the same. I explained that it would help them feel better, especially in time of such grave crisis.

Initially diffident and unwilling, some people agreed to laugh. I explained how to do Laughter Yoga and we laughed and talked all night long. Laughter really relieved our feelings, and although many didn't join us, they too felt a little better just by seeing us laugh. The next morning, as the water level went down, I was able to go home and providentially my house escaped the tsunami and my family members were all well.

Soon after the disaster, I visited India to attend Dr.Kataria's teacher training course together with 47 other people from all over Japan. It was a profound experience to see how people most affected by disaster were ready to laugh and start new life. I've also opened a "Laughter Cafe" in my house to help spread the magic of laughter ha ha ha.


The 'philosophy, behind Laughter Yoga can be found on the link below, I have to say that I don't think I've ever come across many yoga websites as heavily marketed as this, made me more than a little uncomfortable. I was recently asked to review a book on a Laughter Yoga, when it arrived it turned out to be about Laughter Yoga and Business.... how speedily the cynicism returns.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

UPDATED: Kumbhaka (retain the breath in or out) in Zen practice, it's effects on stilling the mind, re Krishnamacharya

I looked at the possible health benefits of Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or aout after the inhalation or exhalation) in this post

Sekida's book 'Zen training' seems to have something akin to kumbhaka in his presentation of zazen practice aimed at stilling the mind, was this also what Krishnmacharya was after or experiencing in the kumbhaka he presents in his asana instruction in Yoga Makaranda (1934). Look too at the relationship between the belly and the breath, in Zen the focus on the tanden, in ashtanga uddiyana. The approach seem to be almost opposite and yet perhaps the attention to that area has similar effects.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that this is all the same thing, that the methodology is the same but that perhaps both traditions are noticing something interesting and of value to explore in the same areas of breath and belly, body and mind, it's a compare and contrast exercise . For me it comes out of the question, what was Krishnamacharya up to in his employment of kumbhaka in asana and in giving it up are we missing out on something of value, some training of the breath and mind.

the same butt different or rather different action, same result.

I'm reminded of Richard Freeman's focus on the tandem in his presentation of pranayama.

Sekida goes into a lot of detail on practice, whereas Krihnamacharya tends to merely indicate the appropriate kumbhak, it's going to be interesting exploring this more subtle approach to kumbhaka practice in my Ashtanga practice and seeing what happens.

There are sections on technique for example where Sekida talks about exhaling more fully and holding the breath and then making the next couple of breaths shorter, more regular before another longer exhalation. Think perhaps of the rhythmical aspect of our Ashtanga practice. In Krishnamacharya we have the indication of kumbhaka as well as the long slow breath. But we also have the vinyasa in and out of postures, to and from the states in which we explore kumbhaka. What if we shorten the breath a little during the vinyasa to contemporary Ashtanga rates and then breath longer and more fully with the appropriate kumbhaka in those indicated states....curious.

Watch this space, it has legs, I will be adding more quotes from Sekida. I'm off to explore it in my practice right now in fact.

I've included a couple of the key pages but paragraphs concerning this pop up throughout the text, kind of along the lines of ' remember in one minute Zen I suggested holding the breath, well it has this effect too and this and this'.

For Sekida, the kumbhaka technique in tandem  with tanden seem almost key for attaining samadhi(s).

this really is an excellent book on the nuts and bolts of meditation practice in the zen tradition but useful perhaps for any tradition. I highly recommend it

This next section goes into a little more detail but there are references to the effects of holding the breath in Zen and breath control in general that for me shine a light on something krishnamacharya might have been experiencing with his use of kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) in Yoga Makaranda.

Zen practice focus on breath(holding) and tandem  possible insights for Kumbhaka and uddiyana practice.

NOTES: All quotes taken from Katsuki Sekida' Zen training (highlights my own)

How can we learn to focus our attention on one thing? The answer is that we cannot do it with our brain alone; the brain cannot control its thoughts by itself. The power to control the activity of our mind comes from the body, and it depends criti­cally (as we shall show in later chapters, in detail) on posture and breathing. p31

In the previous chapter we described the experiment of "one­ minute zazen"  and found we could control thoughts occurring in the brain by dint of holding our breath. That control and inhibition of thought came from this opposed tension in the abdominal muscles and diaphragm. From the experience of zazen we are bound to conclude that by maintaining a state of tension in the abdominal respiratory muscles we can control what is happening in the brain. Even those who know nothing about Zen will throw strength into the abdomen, by stopping their breath, when they try to put up with biting cold, bear pain, or suppress sorrow or anger. They use this method to generate what may be called spiritual power. Furthermore, the ab­dominal muscles can be regarded as a kind of general manager of the muscular movements of the entire body. When doing heavy manual work, such as weight lifting or wielding a sledgehammer, you cannot bring the muscles of the rest of the body into play without contract­ ing these muscles. Even in raising a hand or moving a leg you are straining the abdominal muscles. Scribble with your pen or thread a needle and you will find tension developing in the diaphragm. Without cooperation of the respiratory muscles you cannot move any part of the body, pay close attention to anything, or, indeed, call forth any sort of mental action. We cannot repeat this fact too often: it is of the greatest importance but has been rather ignored up to now. 56-57

In normal respiration, when the lung volume reaches 2800 milliliters, inspiration automatically turns into expira­ tion; the inspiratory muscles relax, the volume comes down to 2300 milliliters, and all the tension returns to zero. Normally, inspiration then automatically starts to take place again. In zazen, however, you do not stop expiration at 2300 milliliters but continue to expire, and this calls for effort. In general, then, we may say that above the hori­ zon of breathing it is inspiration that requires effort, while below this it is expiration. Normal respiration is performed above the horizon, using the tidal volume alone, and expiration comes about by the re­laxation of the inspiratory muscles. In zazen, expiration goes down below the horizon, and it is in this phase that most effort is exerted. It is this expiration below the horizon that is principally effective in bringing about samadhi, because it is here that the diaphragm and ab­dominal muscles are brought most strongly into opposition. 57

With regard to the method of inspiration to be used in zazen, we suggest that this can be divided into two phases. In the first, during inspiration below the horizon, breath is taken in naturally and easily by relaxing the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, at the same time allowing the lower abdomen to inflate (that is, performing abdominal inspiration). In the second phase, above the horizon, inspiration is performed by contracting the diaphragm. In this second phase it is desirable to begin once more tensing the abdominal muscles so as to inflate the abdomen (that is, perform active abdominal inspiration). This will prevent the occurrence of chest breathing. Otherwise, there may be a tendency to gasp and the abdomen may cave in. The method may sound somewhat complicated, but in practice it is done very naturally and easily if you only take care not to gasp (that is, not to do chest breathing).
With regard to expiration above the horizon, this is done naturally, avoiding negative strain. At around the horizon and below it you may start to contract the diaphragm, to make it work in opposition to the contraction of the abdominal muscles, which pushes the viscera up­ ward.
The material in this chapter constitutes what we regard as the es­sential general principles of breathing in zazen. In the following chap­ters we shall describe in more detail how these principles are applied in the various methods of zazen practice. What is described in this chapter is not found elsewhere in Zen literature. It is a new proposal. Of course, if you are experienced in zazen and do not like the method proposed here, you may ignore it. However, as your practice develops you may come to see the value of it. 58-59

After you have gone through this procedure two or three times, you will find your lower abdomen in­ flated and equipped with a strength such as you have never experienced in your ordinary respiration. In other words, a strong pressure is generated in the tanden. It gives you the feeling, we might say, that you are sitting on the throne of existence. When you are mature, two .or three repetitions of this practice will be sufficient, but if you choose you can repeat it a number of times. 67

When we say "wavelike" this refers to a continuous but repeatedly stressed way of exhaling. "Intermittent," on the other hand, implies rather long intervals between exhalations. When one's samadhi be­ comes deeper, exhalation may seem almost stopped for a long while,  with only an occasional faint escape of breath and almost imperceptible inhalation. Such variations of breathing appear spontaneously, accord­ ing to the degree of development of one's samadhi. With any of these patterns of breathing, however, we generally go down deep into the reserve volume. 71-72

Why do we practice this kind of breathing ? Once more, the answer is: (1) in order to make the tanden replete with power; and (2) to send repeated stimulation from the tanden to the wakefulness center of the brain, by which means, as we have already discussed (pages 50- 51), we inhibit the occurrence of thoughts and so bring about abso­lute samadhi. Consciousness is by nature constituted so as to be always thinking something, and if left to itself it starts daydreaming. These wandering thoughts are quite a natural thing, but one cannot get into samadhi if one's mind is occupied with them. The bamboo method of exhaling is nothing more than a device for controlling wandering thoughts. Anyone who has practiced zazen will know how difficult it is to control wandering thoughts. We suggest that if you use the method just described you will find it somewhat easier to bring them under control. 72

Yet another analogy may be taken from painting. When a Japanese artist draws a bamboo trunk, he places his brush at the bottom of the paper and pushes it upward for a few inches. Then he stops, lifts the brush slightly from the paper, and begins again a bit higher, pushing the brush upward again for a few inches. The tiny space between the strokes represents the bamboo joint. This process of pushing, stopping, and again pushing the brush upward is repeated until the full length of the bamboo is drawn. The artist carries out this operation in one exhalation. With each pause his breath also stops; with each new stroke his breath is allowed to escape slightly. Thus the painting illustrates not only the bamboo trunk but every phase of his exhalation. Such a picture allows no retouching; it represents the spiritual power of the artist at the moment of his painting. This pattern of exhaling while painting bamboo is an excel­ lent analogy to the intermittent or wavelike exhalation that we have advocated for zazen. 72-73

There really comes a stage as your samadhi develops when you may even call out to the stray thoughts to come-and they do not. After repeatedly going through such an experience I tried to discover what I was doing to reach such a stage. And at last I realized that, directly before the appearance of that stage, I was attuning myself to my intermittent exhalation, to push ahead, as it were, inch by inch, just as a wounded soldier crawls along, scratching at the earth, and I cried out, "Oh, this scratching along inch by inch I" From that time I made a point of using this way of breathing, and found to my wonderment that the effect was immediate and profound. It saved me from the old struggle with wandering thoughts, and I found I could rather easily approach absolute samadhi. Of course, there were many ups and downs, but the way was secured. Now I can see clearly the route I took on the climb, just as if I were looking at an aerial photograph of the Alps. How can I help telling you of it? 73-4

Finally, we may end this chapter with a few further remarks on in­ halation. Most of the important points in connection with inhalation have been described already in connection with the first and second stages of working on Mu. We will merely note one or two points not touched upon. First, the shorter breaths that follow a deep and long exhalation are also very useful in promoting samadhi. They should be inhaled in two phases and exhaled in two or more phases. You may feel impelled to recover the breath quickly and start to gasp (chest breath­ ing). Have patience for a moment if this happens and inhale in two phases, using the lowest part of the abdomen first. Keep the tension as low as possible and gasping will be avoided. Secondly, in addition to this short breathing, you will occasionally find that, almost involun­tarily, you perform a very natural and deep inhalation, which is done with the chest. This has come from physical necessity and does not interfere with your samadhi. There is no need to worry about it. 81-2

In practice, we stop wandering thoughts through breath control, and by this method we succeed in entering samadhi.The brain first orders the body to take up a certain posture and to breathe in a certain way .However, the role played by the head ends there, and thereafterthe action of the respiratory muscles controls the amount of thought going on in the brain. The head knows, or comes to learn, that it cannot govern by itself, so it circumvents the problem and resorts to contracting the respiratory muscles, and thus contrives to control itself. I do not know what the psychology and physiology of our day have to say about this topic, but my own experience in zazen tells me that it is absolutely impossible for an ordinary person to control his thoughts without taking up a good posture and giving an appropriate tension to the respiratory muscles of the abdomen. The art of breath­ ing in zazen is to maintain this tension. Further, when the respiratory muscles are contracted, the muscles of the entire body are put under tension, so that the tanden is the leader of the muscles of the whole body. In crucial moments, breathing involuntarily comes to a stop. The circus performer knows this, the athlete knows it, the potter throwing a bowl on the wheel knows it, and so does the cartographer, who un­ consciously holds his breath when he wants to draw a fine and accurate line. In the tea ceremony, in Noh acting, in judo, and in kendo, the tanden takes the lead in the movements of the body. We have already described how the artist or the calligrapher almost stops breathing when he draws a series of lines and gives new tension to the respiratory muscles every time he comes to an important point. He actually prac­tices what we have called intermittent, or bamboo, exhalation. An ele­vated type of spiritual activity is manifested in his breathing.
Our contention, then, is that controlled respiration generates spiritual power, and that attention, which is actually spiritual power, can never be exercised without tension in the tanden. Some detailed examples may serve to explain this idea further. 84-5

Now seat younelf in zazen posture and imagine that you are a foot­ball player making vigorous dashing movements. You will find younelf tensing your entire body, and especially the abdominal muscles. But the tension is of only momentary duration, and if you want to continue the practice you will have to give the abdomen repeated contractions. In imagination, then, you are repeating the dashing movement on the cushion. After four or five repetitions of this you will find you have to stop to inhale. If you inhale in one movement, the tension developed will be largely relaxed, but if you first make a short inhalation by in­ flating the lower part of the abdomen and then continue to inhale by expanding the upper region of the abdomen (inhaling in two phases, as we have previously described), you will be able to maintain much of the tension. It is quite an ascetic practice to continue such a strenuous effort for twenty or thirty minutes. But when you have gone through such self-imposed torture to the end, you will emerge to find in your abdomen a kind of strength, both physical and spiritual, such as you may never have experienced before. You will find yourself sitting on the cushion with the spirit of a sovereign. It is simply because your tanden has been filled with vitality. 88

The following long quote is almost a summery

Much later I came to understand that the delightful feeling and the purity of the body were, in fact, the product of the intuitive action of the first nen. How pure it was 1 You should simply experience it! However, while I was pushed about in the waves, its purity and fresh­ ness were dissipated. I returned to the temple full of repentance. There, after the roshi's lecture and supper, the evening meditation began. Waiting impatiently for it to begin, I tried to recall the mem­ ory of the morning's delightful feeling and to restore myself to the same condition.
It was eventually nothing more than a matter of dealing with breath, skin, and guts. Once experienced, you can find the route to return to it rather easily. An initial slight inhalation, and then gentle, soft ex­halation, full of pure emotion: this sort of breathing appears naturally when you express something inspiring. I have already dealt with these procedures at length, but perhaps I may be forgiven for repeating cer­ tain points here. If, sitting in zazen posture, you hold your breath around the horizon of breathing and almost stop all movements of the respiratory muscles, your body will be reduced to motionlessness. And when you thrust your belly forward and your buttocks back­ ward, the shoulders will be lowered and their tension relieved. If the shoulders are relaxed, all the muscles of the upper body will follow suit. They will be in a state of moderate or quiet tension. Just as there is an optimum cruising speed for a car or airplane, so muscles can also take up a preferred condition of equilibrated strain, and it is this that we call a quiet tension.
The feeling of our bodily existence is maintained by various stimuli arising from the skin and muscles. If this stimulation is lacking, the body will no longer be felt to exist. To put it another way: if you try to fix your body, immobile, in zazen, your breath will spontaneously become bated. Then a certain peaceful and pacifying sensation will appear, first around the most sensitive parts of the body-the fore­ head, cheeks, ears, hands, and arms-and then spread to the chest or back. With a little practice you will soon notice a delicate, musical, thrill-like vibration, accompanied by a pacifying sensation. This lull­abies the skin, and off-sensation will follow naturally. The pacifying sensation and off-sensation are closely interrelated; they are separated by only a hairsbreadth. The skin has its own emotion. It acts as the lips of the soul (if the guts are the site of the spirit), and it reflects emo­tionally the internal condition of the muscles and viscera. At the time I write of, of course, I knew none of this at all clearly. I could only vaguely guess at it. I concentrated on my experience of that morning and tried to revive the condition once again. And at length I was able to recover that delightful feeling.
Zen literature tells us that the delightful feeling that accompanies kensho lasts as long as three days. To tell the truth, I wished to con­form to the traditional pattern. When I felt that the delightful feeling was diminishing a little, I used my breathing trick to reactivate it. For about three days things went well, as I had hoped, but gradually during this time the strong internal pressure began to exhaust itself, and I sensed that I was cooking up the feeling artificially. I felt an extra burden imposed on my heart, as happens when we try to arouse a forced emotion. So much for petty tricks, I thought, and I decided to take a new step and make a frontal attack on absolute samadhi. So my hard training in zazen began anew. Sometimes I found I seemed to be approaching absolute samadhi; sometimes I found myself blocked by wandering thoughts. It was not an easy matter. The world I had inhabited in my childhood proved difficult to recapture now that I was a youth with an intensely active consciousness.
If only in those days I had known how to conduct my body and mind, I should have been spared the hardships I underwent. It took thirty years before I began to feel as if I had attained a tiny understanding of Zen. Why was this? Simply because of the lack of organized method and theory. 217-8

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Most sensational Kukkutasana B ever? Plus 25 Laws of Self practice for Ashtangi mums AND Ashtanga Yoga, Pregnancy, Birth & Motherhood

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Walter White Whitman

The trouble with going all preachy and holier than thou (see previous post)is that all too soon you have to eat your words somewhat.

I just saw this kukkutasana B video from Jessica Walden and was suitably astonished.

...great Youtube info notes too

"This is a 30 second demonstration of this asana from Advanced A. I bring the awareness to my middle back to find the lift (as opposed to focusing on getting my bottom off the floor), and relax my stomach muscles. I also push into the hands and lift as much as I can out of the shoulders while continuing to lift and round my back to access uddiyana bandha (tucking and lifting the lower belly in towards the spine as if my navel is pushing up to the ceiling). To come out of the asana, I keep pushing up, my bottom lifts and I come into handstand. The handstand is not traditional but is helpful if you are trying to maintain the lift throughout the entire asana. That is why I only practice this version during home practice, not at the Shala. I know, I am a very "Bad Lady".

I've tended to get myself into kukkutasana B variation with a bit of a wiggle, hooking first one knee and then levering up the other, it works but always seems a bit of a dodgy approach, this though is sensational.

And Jessica has living room tutorials, she talks about "shifting the attention to the middle part of the back to see if that helps the lift, your bottom sort of comes along for the ride".  I found that interesting because Norman Sjoman was telling me to shift my focus further down my back in headstand, handstands etc., I'd tended to tighten my shoulders, and it does makes a difference, I've been exploring that in karandavasana too.

Here are two of Jessica's tutorials

great work from Jessica's cameraman

And seeing as I mentioned it, I can't resist her karandavasana video if only for the first 20 seconds.

Take a look at Jessica's Youtube channel, some wonderful understated videos, a nice one on bandhas and this one, her 25 laws of Self-practice, because two minutes in I decided I was a little in awe of Jessica Walden.

from the Youtube notes

Published on Aug 30, 2012
Because of a back injury, I started filming my practice in order to work out what my bad habits were....but the kids and dog made my self-practice more than I could have ever hoped. This movie is 15 minutes (!!!) so make some popcorn and relax.

Bit of a google search and it turns out that Jessica is a student of Tim Miller's and is authorised level 2 Ashtanga. She has an article that seems to go with the above video

Here's some bio (my highlight)

Jessica started a daily Ashtanga Yoga practice with David and Simi Roche in 1994 while
 studying as an Exchange Student at the University of Adelaide in Australia. She moved
 to Encinitas in 2004 to study with Tim Miller. Over the last 12 years she has made 
several trips to Mysore, India, to study with Guruji, Sharath and Saraswati and has been
 granted a Teaching Authorization Certificate from the KPJAYI in Mysore. Because of my other career commitments, she teaches in selectively and has taught at Simi Roche’s studio, Tim jessicaMiller’s Ashtanga Yoga Center, Jois Encinitas, Creativity and Personal Mastery Course in San Francisco, Quality Assurance International, Next Generation Gym (Adelaide, Australia), and has assisted Sharath at KPJAY Mysore. More than anything, Jessica prefers to remain a student of this amazing and essential yoga, and I continues 
to practice it daily in Encinitas, California. (photo by: Michelle Haymoz Photography)

and the  link to the article

Ashtanga Yoga, Pregnancy, Birth & Motherhood

"The benefits of yoga are endless and for women who want to have children. Yoga can be such an incredible practice for all stages of a woman’s life; before conceiving, during pregnancy, during labor and as a mother with children. There are as many yoga and baby stories as there are babies. I am honored to share my experience as a yoga practitioner during pregnancy, during labor, after giving birth and raising children. Yoga means “union” of body and mind but also the union of every aspect of your life during all stages of life. The practice is a true gift as is motherhood...." Continue reading...

UPDATE: New website offered by Lu Duong with interviews containing interviews with Authorised and Certified Ashtanga teachers, it's along the lines of the Guruji book. First interview is with Jessica.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

UPDATED: The 'Jumping' aspect of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

This has become a long post so here is an outline.

A rambling post that looks at Iyengar’s characterisation of Krishnamacharya’s early Mysore teaching, and by implication contemporary Ashtanga, as an irrational ‘jumping’ practice. I suggest that this is a mischaracterization of this approach to practice that has been taken up by the likes of Norman Sjoman and Mark Singleton. I try to show that the Krishnamacharya’s teaching was always characterised by it’s attention to the breath, it is and always has been a breathing practice rather than a 'jumping' practice. I attempt to see how this misunderstanding could come about through the presentation of Ashtanga both in the past and present, the demonstrations, selfies and self promotion that has always been there but is seemingly more prevalent and perhaps damaging somewhat. I present an argument that perhaps the critics are correct, perhaps we have or are losing some of the subtlety of the practice in focusing on style over content or obsessing over one aspect of content ( the next posture). Looking at Krishnamacharya’s early work I draw our some of the approaches to our tradition that have become less stressed and perhaps in danger of being lost altogether. I look at the possibilities of exploring those areas and how we might go about doing  so in our practice, within our tradition and lineage. In closing I take a quote from Krishnamacharya and rework it somewhat.

"We have already mentioned that all asanas are not necessary for each individual. But a few of us at least should learn all the asanas so that the art of Yoga may not be forgotten and lost". p76 Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda part II

Now 'all of the asana' are 'safe' a reworking of Krishnamacharya's quote could perhaps go something like this..

I have already mention that all these techniques outlined in the approach to asana in Krishnamacharya's early works are not perhaps necessary or even appropriate all of the time, in all asana, for all of us. But a few of us at least should learn and explore them all so that the art of Yoga may not be lost from our tradition.

A 'jumping' practice really?

Thank you Brad for sharing this clip of Iyengar talking about his guru Krishnamacharya in an interview from the movie Enlighten up.

Iyengar is focusing on the 'jumping' aspect of Krishnamacharya's teaching and explaining it as a result of Krishnamacharya teaching the warrior class boys of the Mysore palace. Practice as exercise, as fitness, somewhat akin to a 'martial art'.

And of course this is something Mark Singleton, picks up on in his book Yoga Body and likens to the exercise/fitness regimes in vogue at the time.

Mark too is focusing a little too much perhaps on the 'Jumping' aspect of Krishnamacharya's vinyasa approach (following Sjoman he likens it to the practice of wrestlers) which he encounters in Contemporary Ashtanga, perhaps extrapolating backwards rather than focussing directly on Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934) and Yogasanagalu (1941). In those texts we get a fuller presentation of the teaching on yoga, and asana practice in particular, that Krishnamacharya wished to communicate more widely at the first opportunity he was given to do so.

The reports of Krishnamacharya's demonstrations and the Iyengar section of the 1938 film footage do seem to support Mark's argument but we must remember that they were short demonstrations, a closer look at Krishnamacharya's texts questions that view as do the Krishnamacharya sections of the 1938 film footage. Krishnamacharya's practice was always all about the breath, it was and even in contemporary Ashtanga still is, a breathing practice.

 The focus of attention, as it appears from the outside at least, is of the dynamic aspect of Ashtanga practice, the jump back and through, the moving from one posture to the next, the fitness aspect, the beautiful 'hard body'.

Poor Ashtanga, so misunderstood.

And yet it's not surprising, it has itself to blame somewhat. From David Swenson to Kino MacGregor  we have images and videos of "ta da" moments, beautiful jump throughs, handstand, lots of handstands, all the fancy Advanced postures..... it's acrobatic, gymnastic, contortionist, it's astonishing. And look at all the fit, beautiful, scantily clad bodies, ashtanga can make you beautiful......

A quick aside, Norman Sjoman argues that Krishnamacharya was influenced by the texts he found in the Mysore palace Library, that may be so and yet just looking at the screenshot above surely we see an Ashtangi's body, this is a man who practiced and for a long time.

My apologies to David (whose book was a HUGE influence on my practice) and Kino ( who I have referred to on this blog previously as the patron saint of home ashangi's, on account of all her Youtube tutorials) for picking them out of the crowd but David's video with it's perfect floaty jump through and handstands was perhaps the first on the market and the Internet is bombarded with Kino videos,  no wonder then we now have the seemingly endless Ashtanga selfie videos and the current perception of ashtanga is becoming one of vanity, vanity, vanity.

Demonstrations of the beauty and dynamism of Ashtanga are nothing new of course, it was Manju Jois' demonstration that drew David Williams to Mysore and Pattabhi Jois.

It was the demonstration  of"jumping from posture to posture" that drew the young Pattabhi Jois to his guru Krishnamacharya.


And Krishnamacharya was of course drawn to his own guru in Tibet, Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari, by his reputation for...... hang on a moment, for philosophy.... not asana?

Krishnamacharya supposedly went to study with Ramamohana Brahmachari to study philosophy, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras in particular. Ramamohana Brahmachari was said to be an authority on the text by one of the leading scholars of the university city of Varanasi. This may be why Krishnamacharya laid such great emphasis on the Study of the Yoga Sutras.... if writing or practice was in-line with Patanjali then it was correct, if not, incorrect practice.

And what characterises Krishnamacharya's understanding of the Yoga Sutras in relation to physical practice? The breath.

Yoga Sutra II-47 


"prayatna - effort (of life which is breathing)

saithilya - smooth (make it smooth)


          ananta -breath

          samapattibhyam - focusing on it

By making the breath smooth (and long), and by concentration or focusing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.

Note: Krishnamacharya interprets this sutra differently than other teachers. he gives the correct technical meaning (in this context) fromn prayatna or Jivana prayatna, or effort of life which is breath. he says that it is the breath that should be made smooth and effortless, not the posture. it is not physical; it is the breathing" Ramaswami

And yet we know this of course in our contemporary Ashtanga vinyasa practice, we may post a selfie video occasionally, particularly of our jump back ( this blog began with the jump back six years ago) but our practice is still characterised by our attention to the breath. For 60, 90 or 120 minutes each morning our attention is on the breath or at least on the attempt to bring our attention back to the breath, of attempting to matain the integrity of the breath.

The jump back and jump through are only two vinyasas out of around 22 for most of the seated postures, it just looks more visually dramatic than the five breaths taken in an actual asana especially since the count of five in a posture is becoming short and shorter.

To be fair to the detractors, in contemporary practice 'Half vinyasa' is practiced, the first 7 vinyasa are skipped as are the final two (rather than coming all the way back to standing, we just jump straight in to the next posture), that brings the vinyasa count unofficially to 13. We jump into the posture take five quick breaths then prepare to jump out and jump back in again for the other side, then we jump out again and back in for the next posture. Hmmmm fair enough, there does seem to be a lot of jumping and preparing for jumping in contemporary practice.

Perhaps in full vinyasa, where the posture begins and ends in standing it all appears more balanced. Krishnamacharya would also stress the long slow breathing 'like the pouring of oil' (Pattabhi Jois also in old interviews, 10, 15, 20 seconds for inhalation and the same for exhalation), this has.... speeded up somewhat, is your breath like the pouring of oil, is mine? Krishnamacharya also focussed on kumbhaka  (retaining the breath in and out and the end of the inhalation and exhalation respectfully) outlined in his books Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu. Not only are there kumbhaka while in most of the the actual asana but often in the vinyasa before and after the asana, in fact kumbhaka could be introduced at almost any stage of a vinyasa, the jumping aspect begins to recede into the background. A breathing practice indeed.

It's understandable perhaps that anyone looking from the outside might characterise contemporary ashtanga as a jumping practice, overlooking the subtleties that are still our own experience of our 90 minute breathing practice each morning, and  more apparent to us of course as we gain more experience in our practice ( by more experience I mean the months, years of practice rather than the asana that make up our own individual practice). However I find it harder to understand how that mistake could be made regarding Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda which is all about these subtleties.

An interesting post from Paul Harvey this morning relating to a online exchange we had earlier in the week around the previous kumbhaka posts.

"My understanding from my discussions over the years with TKV Desikachar regarding the context and content of Yoga Makaranda, is that when teaching youngsters the length of the breath was minimised to a relatively short fixed length and use of Kumbhaka was limited to a few seconds Antar Kumbhaka and Bahya Kumbhaka.

However there were no limitations on the range or intensity of Āsana and lots of use of variations to be engaged with within each Āsana.

In the adult there were no such limitations for the breath and the work with variations of the Āsana was re-prioritised to working with a fewer Āsana and fewer variations within each Āsana, but with the challenge of a greater range of breathing patterns both in length and combinations.

Certainly Antar Kumbhaka or Bahya Kumbhaka of 10″ was commonplace in the adult practice and here the ‘perfection’ of the Āsana was measured by mastery of all aspects of the breath rather than for the youngster, where ‘perfection’ of the Āsana was measured by mastery of all aspects of the form.

This was consistent with Krishnamacharya’s teaching in his Yoga Rahasya on Yoga Sādhana and Stages of Life

Furthermore my understanding is that if we use a particular Āsana with all its permutations of form and thus less focus on the variations of the breath it operates more as an Āsana.

If we use an Āsana with all its permutations of breath and thus less focus on the variation of the form it operates more as a Mudrā.

Sarvaṅgāsana is such an example with its 32 variations devised by Krishnamacharya emphasising its role as an Āsana and its static solo form with its focus on extensive breath ratio, perhaps augmented by the Tribandha, emphasising its role as a Mudrā". Paul Harvey Centre for yoga studies

I wonder if it's a mistake  to link Yoga Makaranda too closely to the teaching Krishnamacharya was doing in Mysore at that time, especially to the warrior class boys. We can clearly see this teaching in Makaranda but the book itself goes further, is actually quite extreme with it's long stays in certain postures, also in Part One at least, there are no limits outlined for the ever present kumbhaka. Iyengar characterises Krishnamacharya's teaching at this time as concerned with 'jumping' but for me the dominant characterising factor of Yoga Makaranda itself is the breath. No doubt constantly developed into the form outlined by Paul and his teacher Desikacher above.

One last thought, In the Krishnamacharya documentary 'Breath of Gods' there is the scene of the young boys chanting while holding a posture, one way perhaps Krishnamacharya stopped the boys getting bored during the occasional long stays suggesting perhaps Krishnamacharya did manage to squeeze them in occasionally.

Chanting too of course can be considered akin to pranayama with it's breath and diaphragm (uddiyana bandha/) control. I must count the number of sarvangasana and sirsasana variations Krishnamacharya presents in that old 1938 B and W footage above.

I often come back to this line from yoga Makaranda part II

We have already mentioned that all asanas are not necessary for each individual. But a few of us at least should learn all the asanas so that the art of Yoga may not be forgotten and lost. p76 Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda part II

The asana seem to be safe for now at least, plenty of us learning and passing on Advanced postures (see Kino again recently with 4th and now 5th series posture videos on Youtube) but perhaps there is the danger that other aspects of the 'art of yoga' are in danger of being lost.

Paul Harvey just shared with us an Introduction to Yoga Makaranda, I hadn't seen it before, thank you Paul as ever. Download the pdf here

Centre for yoga studies

Centre for yoga studies

Centre for yoga studies

There is a line in the above that reminds me of Mick Lawton's recent guest post describing the astounding health and healing benefits of Kumbhaka in his Ashtanga practice.

CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton

"The then Maharaja of Mysore Nalvadi Krishnaraja Oda-yar, who was seriously ill, requested T. Krishnamacharyato treat him. Through yoga, proper diet and herbs the king recovered and became very  healthy"

And of course Krishnmamacharya seems to have been employing kumbhaka at that time. Was it the kumbhaka aspect of practice that perhaps helped heal the Maharaja?

We'll never know of course.

If Krishnamacharya hadn't healed the Maharaja he wouldn't have been given the Yoga Shala, Pattabhi Jois wouldn't have been his student there, we wouldn't have the Ashtanga we have now.

If we focus on the jumping, the dynamic aspect of practice, if we promote ourselves and the practice through the presentation of advanced postures  then perhaps we will come to overlook the subtleties of the practice.

Unfortunately, the breathing is getting quicker, the stays in postures shorter, variations from the 'sequence' are frowned upon, Kumbhaka does not seem to have been picked up by Pattabhi Jois at all,  I do wonder how many aspects of the Art of yoga are already in danger of being 'lost' and that saddens me.

The question becomes of course, how to include these aspects of practice, of our tradition and lineage that become neglected, how do we avoid them from becoming lost altogether.  How do we reintroduce the exploration of kumbhaka and it's effects or slow the breath, introduce variations where appropriate and if required, maintain familiarity with the count in all series and yet still complete a series or maintain at least the integrity of the sequence.

My own solution, what works for me personally ( but it's your practice you have to find the approach that works for you), is actually also Pattabhi Jois'.... give up on the idea that a full series must be completed in one practice (it's right there at the back of yoga Mala as well as in interviews, do what you can, what you have time for just maintain the order and the last three postures).

If we only have an hour an fifteen minutes to practice we can switch from full to half vinyasa, speed up our breathing, count to five quickly while in the state of the asana, stay on the count rush/force ourselves into the challenging postures as well as the easier ones, give up on any thoughts exploring the effects of kumbhaka or at this rate of practice effective use of bandhas.


We can do half a series, first half of Primary one day, the second half the next, allowing us to slow the breathing, stay for five or more long full breaths in the state(s) of an asana, take long full extra breaths to actually get into any asana that are more challenging for us personally, explore kumbhaka and bandhas more fully.... and, after "cleaning the room" as Krishnamacharya put it, we can now see about "living in it", settling in for some pranayama and perhaps chanting or other meditative activity.

Or we can practice for two - three hours and do both, have our cake AND eat it.

"We have already mentioned that all asanas are not necessary for each individual. But a few of us at least should learn all the asanas so that the art of Yoga may not be forgotten and lost". p76 Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda part II

Now 'all of the asana' are 'safe' a reworking of Krishnamacharya's quote could perhaps go something like this..

I have already mention that all these techniques outlined in the approach to asana in Krishnamacharya's early works are not perhaps necessary or even appropriate all of the time, in all asana, for all of us. But a few of us at least should learn and explore them all so that the art of Yoga may not be lost from our tradition.


Afterthought: And yet we have this, Mysore rooms around the world, the selfies and demo's put to one side, Ashtanga as it's actually practiced each morning, rooms like our own, where we just turn up to breathe.

Winnipeg Yoga Shala Canada March 2010

Mysore rooms around the world,

I should perhaps add that last week I practiced along to a recording of a recent Sharath Led Primary series from Mysore. It was a little slower than I expected at 1 hour 25 minutes (opening to closing mantra), a beautiful practice. I saw it as a framework, a structure, rather than the final word on the practice, somewhere to start from in exploring our own practice. Proficiency doesn't necessarily imply advanced postures but rather the approach we take to the ones we have.

Very nice comment just come in from Clifford Sweattie.
He's stressing that there was no Kumbhaka in the teaching he received from Guruji but he does talk about practicing what sounds very much like "the Rishi series' Long stays in fewer postures after learning the Advanced series and pranayama.

Your blog is an enjoyable read filled with thought provoking statements. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is not here to discuss the benefits of vinyasa, I’m sure his response to the “jumping” analogy would be profound! I was fortunate enough to study with Guruji when he had time to discuss the subject of breath and vinyasa in a near private setting and can share some of his teachings on these subjects. His technique of teaching asana included focus on the breath and bandhas always. Correct, even breathing in asana practice served to strengthen and purify but also prepared one for bringing the breath further under control in Pranayama.
My Ashtanga Yoga asana experience with Guruji excluded kumbhaka (“don’t hold it your breath” he would often say) he confirms this on page 47 of Yoga Mala: “kumbhaka or breath retention, does not occur either in Surya Namaskara or the asanas.”
Where Guruji did teach kumbhaka was in Pranayama, the method he taught is filled with the technique. Seated firmly in padmasana during pranayama, the practice of kumbhaka after asanas had a profound calming effect on my whole body and mind.
And what about all that jumping? Perhaps another perspective is in order, I mention on my Prana Airways website Guruji’s instruction to me after learning the entire Ashtanga asana series, Pranayama and Dhyana. I asked him: “What’s next Guruji, are there more postures?” His one word response was appropriate, as always: “Why?” What followed was an instruction on holding the breath for longer counts in the postures. The end result was fewer vinyasas and in my experience, the movement between postures offered relief and a chance to wake up and bring balance to other parts of the body after holding a posture for a greater length of time.
Yours in Yoga,

I'm thinking of this post as almost a companion piece to my recent post on Saturdays' John Scott post, as if they are somehow Bookends.

Getting it. John Scott's Brighton Workshop

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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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