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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Teaching one thing, practicing another

Q: Just curious.....Since your approach to practice is so different now, why are you teaching M. the more straightforward ashtanga and not the way you practice?

A: Good question. I still think straight Ashtanga is ideal for building discipline but then, once you have it, rather than looking outwards to the next asana and the next you can choose to turn inwards and explore the asana you have in other ways. First though, build the discipline, practicing the same asana everyday can be useful.

This was a short exchange with a friend recently, her next comment was to suggest this would make a good post perhaps. So, while the hard drive permits here goes, my HD is temperamental at the moment, sprightly in the morning but will slow to a crawl later in the day.

Two things to pick up on in this post...

1. Do I practice something different?

I haven't really wanted to admit that I might be practicing something different, that would suggest that Ashtanga is a clearly defined X.

So I practice more slowly, that's there in Yoga Mala and if I practice less of a series these days as a result well that too is in Yoga Mala, you get a pass when over fifty. But what about mixing it around a little as I see fit, bringing in extra preparatory postures or extensions, staying a long long time in one posture and/or passing through another in one long breath or three. It doesn't look anything like what is tended to be thought of as Ashtanga, I know because there's M. on the mat next to me pretty much going through her practice by the book, my own practice is more and more Vinyasa Krama like of late, my head and shoulderstands more like we see in the old 1938 Krishnamacharya movie.

It may well be true that Pattabhi Jois never practiced what most tend to think of Ashtanga vinyasa now himself, for any significant period of time at least. His own practice may have been close to how his teacher Krishnamacharya taught him, I'm not talking about in Pattabhi Jois' later years but back in the 50s when he was teaching his kids, Saraswati and Manju. Manju talks of his father's long stays, his slow breathing, how he would pick an asana to stay in for a long time. Perhaps Pattabhi Jois too then was teaching other than how he practiced.

2. Am I teaching?

I pretty much let M. get on with it, she's teaching herself or rather the practice is teaching itself.

I guess I taught her the sun salutations, I think...  but I suspect that some time or other she just started practicing along with me. I made her up a Swenson like short practice at some point that she would practice occasional. If she asked I would explain something or if I saw something I thought could be harmful I would mention it, give her the odd tip but mostly she just practiced along to her John Scott print-out of the series that I gave her.

When M. came back to Japan ahead of me for a few months she started to practice more regularly, more seriously, that's when her practice probably started to blossom, on her own, on her own mat practicing every morning.

Recently I gave her a little adjust in Supta Kurmasana, that may have been the first ever and we've talked about how she might float up to headstand in the same way she floats down but that's pretty much it.

She's read everything here of course, has the first print copy of my books but I can't lay claim to her practice.

3. Would I encourage her to visit Mysore or a Mysore room?

Sure why not, we've talked about visiting Saraswati's quieter shala before... or Kristina perhaps in Crete and Manju of course. Chuck and Nancy come here to Japan, we've talked about going to one of their workshops but I'm not sure I could bring myself to switch back to a straight, by-the-book practice again, come to think of it I'm not sure I could actually get through a full Primary anymore, I've allowed my Supta kurmasana, and marichi D to lapse and rarely jump back and through. I guess I would switch back to practice with friends in Crete or for a week to garner some of Chuck and Nancy's wisdom... but a month?

I've wanted to write a post about styles of teaching.

I love what my friend Angela is doing at her space in Ann Arbour AYA2, by all accounts a small, quiet, mostly under the radar, shala exploring interesting aspects of practice depending on the practitioners interest and motivation. Angela doesn't seem to go galavanting around the country workshop to workshop but, apart from Mysore or the odd workshop at the request of a friend she stays at her shala sharing the practice. It's pretty much the same approach my dear friend and teacher Kristina takes in Crete

But I also love what David Garrigues is doing. Rather than having a home shala (does David have a home Shala?) he teaches around the world, generally going back to revisit the same shalas, the same students. He will work intensely with a group of students for a weekend, a week, perhaps longer in his retreats in India, picking apart asana, stripping them down, exploring them but then he will leave his students - and they are his students) to get on exploring their practice themselves at home or in their local practice space. This is different from a teacher just teaching workshops, David builds relationships with his students, I know because some are my friends, they refer to him as their teacher, I've seen them working on their practice, on what he has given them and how energised and motivated they are to continue the exploration when they get back from one of his workshops.

And then there is Sharath in Mysore of course, a place to just go and practice with others as passionate about the practice as you are ( see Ty Landrum's excellent and very sweet post on his first visit to Mysore . The shala, the town, is too busy for my taste perhaps and I prefer a more flexible approach to my own practice, Guru, Parampara, Source are a turn off for me personally, authority always but hey, whatever keeps one on the mat, on the path of their practice. I'm glad the Mysore Shala is there and that Sharath and Saraswati are doing what they are doing, just as I'm glad that Encinites is there and boulder and Crete and AYL in London and the local Ashtanga class in the gym down the road taught by somebody who has never been to Mysore but is just as committed and dedicated and sincere in their practice. Visiting Mysore may seem no more relevant to them than it does to me, relevance come from the practice itself, whatever we happen to call it and however we practice as long as it is perhaps with sincerity.

* Ty Landrum has another post here where he argues that practicing for others rather than only for ourselves may be something we should be considering. I'm sympathetic to the idea of going to a shala, not just to learn something yourself but to support the community, the other students, its an option though to be considered certainly not an implied obligation. Personally I still lean to home practice, I hope that any benefit I receive from the practice is still somehow passed along to others one way or another.

M. will of course kill me for writing about her practice but she has been saying I owe it readers of the blog to post.

UPDATE: New Year Practice

It's supposedly traditional in Japan to watch the first sunrise, spoiled as we are with Lake Biwa a minute away we did just that before our first practice of the year. Given the above I thought I'd practice straight Ashtanga Primary alongside M. The only difference being my two slow breaths to her five. I think she was delighted at first until she realized how exposed her short cuts were. Yes, all of standing and no you can't skip the bind in Ardhabadhapadma. And "Oh, I never taught you Janu C and said you can skip Mari D... Not any more. Never known anyone say they were looking forward to navasana until I realised that M. had been settling on three repeats rather than the full fivtoo

And I enjoyed my Primary too, might have lost my bind in Supta K but still a fingertip bind in Mari D.... Off work for a week so can practiceblater and thus together, do a full six days Primary with no shortcuts.

Happy New Year to all

"May I be free from enmity, may I be free from ill-will, may I be free from affliction, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering, may I not be parted from the good fortune I have attained, as owner of my kamma.

May the community in this monastery... May the guardian deities of this monastery be free from enmity, may they be free from ill-will, may they be free from affliction, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering, may they not be parted from the good fortune they have attained, as owners of their kamma.

May our supporters who provide the four requisites... May our parents, teacher, relatives and friends be free from enmity, may they be free from ill-will, may they be free from affliction, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering, may they not be parted from the good fortune they have attained, as owners of their kamma.

May all living things, all breathing thing, all beings, all persons, all individuals, all women, all men, all noble ones, all worldlings, all deities, all human beings, and all those destined for hell be free from enmity, may they be free from ill-will, may they be free from affliction, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering, may they not be parted from the good fortune they have attained, as owners of their kamma.

In the east, in the south, in the west, in the north, in the northeast, in the southeast, in the southwest, in the north west, below and above; may all living things, all breathing thing, all beings, all persons, all individuals, all women, all men, all noble ones, all worldlings, all"

Thank you to my friend Abi for this (a Christmas present she received this year)

And this from Ramaswami this morning

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Backbending: Supta Vajrasana, Advanced backbending and the effects of our breathing in asana (at a cellular level) Simon Borg-Olivier

In Krishnamacharya's Mysore books, written in the period he was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois Krishnamacharya gives instructions for introducing short kumbhakas (breath retentions) during the practice of asana. This was an option that for some reason was never carried over into Pattabhi Jois's teaching of Modern Ashtanga vinyasa, perhaps Pattabhi Jois considered it an advanced option.

The possible health benefits of Kumbhaka is something I discussed with Simon Borg-Olivier at the Yoga Rainbow festival we were both teaching at in 2014 ( see this interview).

Holding the breath in and out in a relaxed way (which is quite safe for most people in its simplest form) for significant periods (once minute ventilation is less than about 5 litres per minute) can be therapeutically very helpful as this builds up internal levels of carbon dioxide (and carbonic acid), which the been shown to:
* increase blood flow to the brain and heart
* increase broncho-dilation and thus increase oxygen transfer between the lungs and the blood
* calm the nervous system
* reduce appetite
* increase the entry of oxygen into the cells via the Bohr effect and thus potentially increases your energy levels by up to 18 times
* increase stem cell production 
Simon Borg-Olivier

Simon's original academic background was in Molecular Biology, he is well placed to consider the cellular effect of the breath but Simon also holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Anatomy and Physiology and has been practicing and teaching yoga for decades.

Here is an excellent new video then from Simon that explains succinctly the effects of Kumbhaka in asana. Below that is the YouTube information Simon provides including a links to Simon and his business partner Bianca Machless' excellent blog and website. I recently attended one of Simon's online courses and can highly recommend it as well as his book ( links sit permanently in this blog's right sidebar).

The video (below) includes
(1) inhalation, which is initiated diaphragmatically (from the abdomen)
(2) holding the breath in while remaining relaxed
(3) holding the breath in while activating the muscles of forced exhalation from the abdomen and from the chest (which increases internal pressures and creates a type of Valsalva manoeuvre)
(4) exhalation from either chest then abdomen or form abdomen then chest (that massages the internal organs and enhances circulation)
(5) holding the breath out while remaining relaxed
(6) holding the breath out while activating the muscles of chest inhalation (which decreases internal pressures and creates a type of Mueller manoeuvre)
Simon Borg-Olivier

If you find Supt Vajrasana a little too advanced for you to explore these breathing options you might like to try tatkamudra (below), being a mudra you can explore it as part of your asana practice (slipped in before Shoulderstand perhaps) or practice separately from your regular asana practice. I have a video below on tatkamudra from my workshop in Moscow.

There is more from Simon on holding the breath (kumbhaka) later in the post as well as some advanced backbends built on supta vajrasana that serve as a companion piece to the first video below.

I will also add links to a few of my posts that give Krishnamacharya's Instructions for introducing the kumbhaka option into your practice whether Ashtanga vinyasa or otherwise.

The health benefits of Yoga have always been stressed, however many of the claims for Yoga may well be related to the kumbhaka option, an option that seems to be airbrushed out of modern yoga.

Proficiency in Yoga asana isn't about whether we can get ourselves into ever more impossible and photogenic promotional asana, the most seemingly basic of asana/postures can be explored with several levels of proficiency. Krishnamacharya wrote that we didn't need to practice all the asana (how could we, there are as many as the birds and beasts of the earth he said) but a few of us should but for the right reasons, to preserve them but also perhaps to explore the physiology of them as Simon does in his second video on advanced backbending further down the post.

But there's more, the kumbhaka is perhaps the soul of asana practice, what transforms a posture into yoga. In the Kumbhaka everything stops for just a few moments. For a few seconds our attention to our inhalation or exhalation ceases, the world drops away, there is perhaps just awareness of awareness, moments only but these moment join up throughout our practice, the end of every inhalation, every exhalation, asana after asana.

Krishnamacharya believed that in the kumbhaka we see god but it might also be the absence of god.

The goal of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is not union but developing a one pointed attention that we employ to reveal what we are not. As each misconception of who and what we are drops away all that is thought to be left is awareness and all that awareness has left to be aware of is itself, perhaps kumbhaka can gives us a hint, an encouraging glimpse of the ultimate goal of yoga and along with the health benefits reason enough to spend so much of our time practicing asana.

NB: I say a glimpse, a hint, because for Krishnamacharya and indeed Patanjali yoga, is an integrative practice. Krishnamacharya stressed that asana belongs within a practice that includes pranayama and the meditative limbs. The yama and niyama, the moral teaching too can give our lives the balance and discipline to work on the other limbs, Just as our asana practice can be a life long project so too are pranayama and meditation, they take years of practice, perhaps lifetimes and we should perhaps begin working on each limb now, today, however humbly, developing proficiency in all.

Here's Simon.

From the Youtube information
"In this two minute video Simon Borg-Olivier, physiotherapist and director of Yoga Synergy, demonstrates and describes the process and effects of, holding the breath in and holding the breath out, in the a supine posture (known in yoga as Supta virasana), where hips are extended and the knees flexed. This posture gives a really good lengthening and release of the psoas muscle and other hip flexors at the front of the hips that can really prevent and relieve lower back pain.

This posture also tensions (lengthens) the femoral nerve, which can enhance the strength and control of the lower limbs, and the stomach acupuncture meridian, which can help to relieve many digestive and reproductive system disorders as well relieving any feeling of fullness after a big meal. This posture is not suitable for everyone and is not recommended unless you can easily do it without feeling any sense of stretching in the front of the hips, and any sense of compression in the lower back, ankles or knees.

In this practice Simon describes how he is doing a advanced breath-control exercise (while patting his dog Max!) that can really help to improve the physiology of the body. In this complex breathing practice he uses 6 main stages of breathing:

(1) inhalation, which is initiated diaphragmatically (from the abdomen)
(2) holding the breath in while remaining relaxed
(3) holding the breath in while activating the muscles of forced exhalation from the abdomen and from the chest (which increases internal pressures and creates a type of Valsalva manoeuvre)
(4) exhalation from either chest then abdomen or form abdomen then chest (that massages the internal organs and enhances circulation)
(5) holding the breath out while remaining relaxed
(6) holding the breath out while activating the muscles of chest inhalation (which decreases internal pressures and creates a type of Mueller manoeuvre)

Holding the breath in and out in a relaxed way (which is quite safe for most people in its simplest form) for significant periods (once minute ventilation is less than about 5 litres per minute) can be therapeutically very helpful as this builds up internal levels of carbon dioxide (and carbonic acid), which the been shown to:
* increase blood flow to the brain and heart
* increase broncho-dilation and thus increase oxygen transfer between the lungs and the blood
* calm the nervous system
* reduce appetite
* increase the entry of oxygen into the cells via the Bohr effect and thus potentially increases your energy levels by up to 18 times
* increase stem cell productio

However, when the more advanced practice of applying muscle co-activations around the trunk (known in yoga as mula bandha and uddiyana bandha) is performed as demonstrated in the video, this can significantly alter the physiology of the body. If done correctly then the inhalation retention with exhalation muscles active can give a type of autogenous hyperbaric oxygen therapy that has shown to have many important benefits including improving wound healing and increasing local partial pressure of oxygen thus bringing more oxygen to the cells. Similarly, if done correctly then the exhalation retention with the chest inhalation muscles active can give a more powerful type of autogenous intermittent hypoxic therapy than passive exhalation retention alone, that has shown to have many important benefits including increased stem cell production and increased oxygenation of healthy cells. Additionally the changes in pressure invoked by muscle activations during both breath retentions can massage and move the internal organs, and can assist in their function by enhancing blood flow and relieving organ prolapse. To do these practices safely, and prevent potentially dangerous pressure changes in the head you need do a apply positive pressure to the region of neck using co-activation of the neck muscles by bringing the chin in towards the throat at the same time as pressing the neck gently backwards in towards the floor (jalandhara bandha). These are advanced breath-control exercises and should be attempted by the untrained practitioner".
Simon Borg-Olivier

If you want to find out more about the anatomy and physiology of posture, movement and breathing then please join one of our live or online courses at

You can read more the information presented in this video at the related blog at


Tatkamudra as perhaps a more approachable posture to explore these breathing options.

Being a Mudra tatkamudra can be practiced anytime, as part of our asana practice or outside our practice.

Tatkamudra and downward facing dog are excellent postures from exploring bandhas and kumbhakas. A short Tadasana routine may be another good place to explore bandha and kumbhaka options, I include this short sequence before my first Suryanamaskara each morning.

Also this pranayama preparation posture from David Garrigues in his Pranyama book/dvd Vayu Siddhi  an excellent set up to begin exploring bandhas


More from Simon Borg-Olivier on holding your breath for increased strength, flexibility and health

Although there are many benefits to learning how to use all the muscles of breathing, and to learn to breathe in many ways, in the more advanced stages of yoga it is the art of breathing less than normal (hypoventilation) that gives the most physiological benefits. The less you breathe in and out the more you will build up carbon dioxide inside your body. Contrary to popular belief carbon dioxide and the carbonic acid it becomes in your blood has many benefits inside the body.

Carbon dioxide and carbonic acid build up inside you from breathing less than normal (mild hypoventilation):

*** brings more blood to your brain and heart (vasodilation)
*** allows more air to enter your lungs (bronchdilitation)
*** calms your nervous system
*** reduces your need and craving for heavy, processed and acid food

For a beginner the best way to do get the benefits of a build up of carbon dioxide is to try to maintain relaxed abdominal breathing as much as possible and in as many activities as you can. A great activity is to go for a brisk walk and try to keep your breath as natural and relaxed as possible. You will find this easier to do if allow your abdomen to relax more than you may normally do and allow you hips and spine to move more freely like and olympic walker. However, for more advanced practitioners there are several other things you can do with your breath that can increase carbon dioxide once your body is adequately prepared.

In this 5 minute video clip, which is an extract from the Yoga Synergy Yogic Nutrition DVD ( the benefits of holding your breath both in and out as an advanced yoga practitioner are elaborated and demonstrated.
In the first part of this video physiotherapist and research scientist Simon Borg-Olivier demonstrates how to use the Valsalva manoeuvre to lift into a handstand do a backward flip (without warming up). Simon explains that the Valsalva manoeuvre is essentially the act of breathing in almost fully then holding your breath in and performing a moderately forceful attempt at exhalation (without actually exhaling) against your closed airway. Although this is a relatively commonly used technique for increasing strength via increasing intraabdominal and intrathoracic pressure in sports such a weightlifting, it is not recommended for most people as it can dangerously increase blood pressure and if done incorrectly can cause stroke in some people. Simon uses the Valsalva manoeuvre to slowly lift his body into the air into a handstand and then using what is essentially a chest lock (a compressive uddiyana bandha) and an abdominal lock (expansive mula bandha) (see protects his lower back enough to drop into a full backward arch posture and then complete a backward flip to standing (viparita chakrasana). Here the Valsalva manoeuvre helps improve both strength and flexibility while protecting the lower back as well as other joints in the body.
WARNING: The Valsalva manoeuvre is potentially dangerous done in normal positions, but it is especially potentially dangerous when done in the exercise and movements shown in this video unless your body is highly trained in physical yoga and pranayama or at least similar Western exercise techniques. DO NOT do this exercise if you are prone to irregular blood pressure (high or low), headaches, nausea and/or circulatory system problem. You must not let any pressure come to your head during the lifting movements of handstand and the backward flip. Pressing and keeping the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth can help to prevent excessive pressure going to the brain and helps to replace the standard chin-lock (ha-jalandhara bandha in pranayama), which is hard to do while lifting into handstands.

In the second part of the video Simon talks about the benefits of holding your breath out. Here he demonstrates holding his breath completely out and practicing nauli (rectus abdominis isolation) and lauliki (abdominal churning using rectus abdominis as well as the oblique muscles) while expanding the chest as if inhaling to the chest but not actually inhaling. This practice, which is sometimes likened to the Mueller manoeuvre in Western medical science builds up carbon dioxide even more rapidly than the Valsalva manoeuvre and is less dangerous to attempt. It is really great for improving digestion by massaging the internal organs. You can read more about this technique in one of our earlier blogs at


Advanced backbending based on vajrasana

'THE ADVANCED CAMEL TRAIN': In this 3 minute video I demonstrate and describe what you need to be aware of to safely come into postures such as the 'Camel posture' (Ustrasana) and related postures such as Laghu vajrasasana, Bhekasana and Kapotasana. I call this advanced sequence 'The Camel Train'. It is from the Yoga Synergy Advanced Water Sequence and it is lots of fun!

*** Ustrasana
*** Kulpha Laghu Vajrasana
*** Janu Laghu Vajrasana
*** Supta Virasana
*** Supta Bhekasana
*** Kapotasana
*** With Hamsasana between each posture.

In each of the 'Camel' postures the emphasis (for reasons I describe below) is to activate the spinal flexors (mainly the abdominal muscle rectus abdominis) to become active in order to reciprocally relax the back muscles. To balance this activity I practice The 'arm-balancing swan posture' (Hamsasana), which activates the the spinal extensor (back muscles) and thus reciprocally relaxes the abdominal muscles and frees the internal organs. Hamsasana is similar to Mayurasana but uses the more challenging forward pointing hand position.

See this Simon's companion blog post

(Caution: Please note that is an advanced practice is not a practice for most people, but the principles I give here can all be used in simple backward-bending component of the spinal movements sequence Bianca Machliss and I have already described in our Yoga Synergy blog ( )
You can learn more about how to work like this by joining our live or online training.

It would be great if you can join Bianca Machliss and I in our 200 hour live course in Goa India from 19 March to 17 April 2016 ( ) (Both our online courses below are included with this training).

In our award winning online course 'Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals’ ( ) you will learn how to teach yourself or other how to do safe and effective practice for strength, flexibility, vitality and longevity in a comprehensive ashtanga vinyasa-based practice developed with the understanding of the body that that Bianca Machliss and I have acquired as physiotherapists and yoga teachers.


See this post on why and how Krishnamacharya introduced kumbhaka ( short breath holding options) into his practice

and this post perhaps to put it all into context.

How to practice Krishnamacharya's early Mysore Ashtanga

Along with the interview perhaps my favourite post on Simon

How Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with the breath all over again

Link to Simon's website


Krishnamacharya exploring kumbhaka in Virasana,
Screenshot  from the 1938 film footage

Simon's breathing exercises in the first video are based on vjrasana and virasana, there are some excellent  Vinyasa krama vajrasana and virasana sequence


post which includes a video.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Q. Was the boy in Chakrasana (or Triyangamukha Uttanasana) in Krishnamacharya's 1934 Yoga Makaranda, BKS Iyengar?

Last week I was asked about the girl in Kurmasana in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda, this time I've been asked if the boy demonstrating chakrasana ( or Triyangamukha Uttanasana) might be the young BKS Iyengar.

Yoga Makaranda was first published in Mysore in 1934 and in the text Krishnamacharya directs the reader to study the photos carefully. Either the photos were taken for the book, which seems most likely or some had been taken previously, a possibility as some of the photos seem to have been taken separately.

It seems unlikely that BKS Iyengar is the boy in any of the photos, Krishnamacharya did supposedly bring his brother-in-law BKS Iyenger to Mysore in 1934 but he was said to be a sickly, unhealthy boy at that time.

Krishnamacharya's Mysore School has been described by BKS himself, I believe, as a school for yoga asana demonstrators, think modern Shaolin Kung Fu and the international Kung Fu demonstrations the kids and young men present around the world. Krishnamacharya was charged by the Maharaja of Mysore with the promotion of yoga throughout India and he used the boys of the palace to grab the attention while he gave his lectures on Yoga. This perhaps explains why Krishnamacharya was said to be so strict in the Mysore period, he was not so much teaching yoga as perhaps running a factory, churning out asana demonstrators for the presentations put on in Mysore by the Maharaja or the demonstrations he would give around the country. Pattabhi Jois was one of those young demonstrators and also, later, one of Krishnamacharya's assistants running the young boys of the palace through their asana drills.

The demonstration tradition has continued to this day of course, Pattbhi Jois seeing benefit perhaps in the discipline they engendered, preparation for yoga, taught those same drills in his slight reordering of Krishnamacharya's early asana lists, teaching them as fixed sequences rather than flexible groups of asana, this is what has come to be known as Ashtanga Vinyasa.

It was the jumping from asana to asana that first caught the young Pattabhi Jois' eye on seeing Krishnamacharya give a presentation in Hassan in the 1920s and it was Pattabhi Jois' own demonstrations of asana that led to him being given the yoga class at the Sanskrit college. Years later it was Pattabhi Jois son Manju giving an advanced asana demonstration in Rishikesh, jumping from asana to asana that caught the eye of David Williams and Norman Allan and brought them to Mysore and no doubt what brought their own students to study with them when they returned to the US. It is the asana demonstrations on YouTube and instagramme that continue to bring students into the Shalas  and later perhaps to make the trip to Mysore to study with Pattabhi Jois grandson Sharat, who it is said on his website is the only person to be able to do all six series of asana sequences.

This focus on the public demonstration of asana at the Mysore palace yoga school may well explain why Pattabhi Jois failed to carry over elements of practice Krishnamacharya stressed in his early Mysore works Yoga Makaranda (1934) and Yogasanagalu (1941) such as kumbhka, longer stays in asana and long slow breathing. Pattabhi Jois' son Manju has said however that in his own practice his father would practice long stays in asana with long slow breathing.

Krishnamacharya was passionate about yoga, he would give lectures in his home and the young Pattabhi Jois and no doubt other students would come to hear him talk, he would stress the study of the yoga sutras and entreat his students and young family to practice the other limbs of yoga, not just asana. While Pattabhi Jois would perhaps run the young boys through their asana drills Krishnamacharya would often teach privately in a side room, treating patients, giving individual lessons in yoga as well as presenting palace lectures on different aspects of the subject.

Pattabhi Jois would also offer lectures in Yoga philosophy although few would turn up, Sharath, today in Mysore, encourages the study of chanting, the yoga sutras and awareness of yama and niyama as does his uncle Manju who also teaches Pranayama.

Who then was the young boy demonstrating chakrasana in the Yoga
Makaranda photo? It may have been Iyengar's friend at the school and Krishnamacharya's "star" or "pet" student, Keshava Murthy.

BKS Iyengar tells a story in which he mentions that Krishnamacharya's pet student Keshava Murthy had disappeared one morning forcing Krishnamacharya to use the young Iyengar for a demonstration of Hanumanasana, an asana Iyengar had never attempted before. Iyengar tried to get out of the asana by saying his shorts were too tight, Krishnamacharya just called for a pair of scissors forcing Iyengar to successfully perform the asana but tearing his hamstring in the process.

Pattabhi Jois also mentions Keshava Murthy, when the Mysore Palace school finally closed due to lack of funding and support from the new government after the British left, he says that only two of Krishnamacharya's students remained, himself and Krishna Murthy.

We will probably never know who the boy in the photo actually was but it is unlikely to have been BNS Iyengar.

Other possibilities are perhaps TRS Shama (although surely he would have been too young in 1934), Srinivasa Rangacar and Mahadev Bhat who along with Krishnamav Murthy, BNS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois were all known to be students of Krishnamacharya in Mysore.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Book review OM The world of Ashtanga Yogis - Plus my own answers to the nine questions.

Angelique Boudet let me know she had self published a book of Ashtanga Interviews  I bought the Ebook and have posted some quotes below.

The first friend I mentioned it too asked why would we want to buy a book of Ashtanga Interviews when we have Lu Duong going to all the trouble of interviewing Ashtanga teachers and posting the interviews for free on his site Ashtanga Parampara, there is an excellent interview with Tim Feldmann just uploaded today in fact. 

And of course we also have Guruji, the book that probably started the Ashtanga teacher interviewee format, essential reading as it overcome once and for all the idea that there was only one 'correct' way of teaching or approaching this practice.

And of course podcast interviews

I myself was interviewed by Claudia for her Yoga Podcast

Peg has excellent interviews on  Ashtanga Dispatch with the Podcast interviews

and Ryan Spieman has some Ashtanga interviews on his Lonely Guru podcast

... anyone else?

In his interviews Lu focusses on parampara of course ( although not exclusively and I tend to skip over those bits, it's not a concept I'm interested in personally, respect and gratitude towards my teachers feels sufficient), this new book focusses on nine questions, the same nine questions to each of the interviewees. It's a nice conceit in principle but I'm not sure it works in practice, it can become a little tedious, at times. I found myself almost shouting at the author to ask follow up questions, to pin down or push the interviewee a little but the only interviewers I know who are doing that effectively are our friends at Wildyogi.

There are still some good quotes to be found in the book, I read it on the long commute from my home beside Lake Biwa to Osaka. Interviews with Mark Darby, David Roche and Louise Ellis stood out for me and Chuck Miller of course, some of the other interviewees unfortunately seemed to see it as an opportunity to promote their shala.

Angelique is a photographer so much of the book is taken up with her photos.

Here are some quotes for each of the nine questions that stood out for me and below that my own attempt at the questions.
Available from here

The nine questions

1 — How did you start practicing yoga ?

“Krishnamacharya was my very first guru then Patthabi Jois. Together we discussed every day, experiencing and practicing. 
In this way, we studied for seventy years. 
I actually started at the age of thirteen.” B.N.S. Iyengar

2 — Could you please tell us how the yoga 
has changed your life ? 

Yoga has changed my life in every way conceivable and became a constant but evolving presence in my daily life” Louise Ellis

3 — What does it bring to you presently ? 
Could you tell us what your actual practice is ?

“   Yoga continues to help me see myself as I am now. Still trying to re-
turn to my found mantra : Be Here Now ! Thank you Ram Das !” Chuck Miller

4 — Would you ever stop practicing ?

“Would you ever stop practicing ?” is a strange question to me and 
I am not sure now what it means ! Some great person said when you 
first find yoga you have to practice yoga. After you become a yogi everything you do is yoga. That resonates with me. Practice takes so many different forms for me now ! I still maintain a regular meditation practice, an asana practice and a pranayama practice because they help me feel more comfortable and help to keep my mind sharp. And, just realizing I am drifting out of the present moment and then returning with my breath back to the here and now is also my practice, as far as I am concerned !” Chuck Miller

5 — What do you think about the fact that Westerners are getting more and more interested in, and involved, with yoga ?

Yoga is very young in the West and we approach it from a western psychology. We, in the West, are very extroverted, we are competitive. We need to be seen. It is about achievement, ambition. In the East, people are more introspective. They are more community minded. We are more individualistic, in that way needing to be seen, but also mainly people have the same basic needs, desires and challenges. I think it is maturing because yoga is so young in the West, people are ready and I’m seeing it. People want the psychology, they want The Yoga Sutras, they want to understand it. They feel how it works, they want to know how it works and to understand the psychology. In the East, Hatha Yoga is just a very little piece of it but it makes sense that in the West we are attracted to it because we are physical, we are in the body, we are in the world in a different way. ” Bhavani Maki

6 — What is your opinion about Westerners’ practice and of the practice of yoga in your country ?

I do not have an opinion about ‘Westerners’ or ‘Not Westerners’. I am glad for anyone who has found a practice, whatever that 
practice may be and however it supports them in their lives.” Lucy Scott

7 — According to you, how does yoga transform people and why does it help to change the world ?

“ I think yoga has the power to give you much more clarity, to become more and more aware, awake. And the main problem we have is that 
the individual is deeply asleep, we are an irresponsible, unconscious and childish society, and most of our problems have to do with that.” Jose Carballal

8 — In which way is yoga important to you ? 
How does it affect you ?

“One takes the Great Vow of yoga to observe the Yamas and Niyamas, then one has a pattern of how to conduct oneself as an individual and as a member of society. Practicing asana and pranayama brings not only physical and mental quiet ; they strengthen the bodymind complex to permit moving more fully disciplined into the areas of pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses, dharana - concentration, dhyana - meditation and samadhi. Being so involved in these pursuits makes one more conscious of his or her actions and their effects on their family, their community, and their world. ”
David Roche

9 — What is your dearest wish ?”

I am pretty content as I am, I think that if you have a wish it becomes a desire and I don’t think desires are very good for spiritual practice.” Mark Darby

My dearest wish is to hurt less the people I love,”Tim Feldman

view of the mountains from outside my house

And my own answers to the nine questions - you can tell perhaps that I started to find the questions quite tedious. But then, really, what questions would I ask that are any better other than why think about it when I could be practicing more.

1 — How did you start practicing yoga ?

See my series of posts Developing a home practice. Basically I was burgled, had seven vintage saxophones stolen ( I'm also a repairer), was angry about it but more angry that I was angry. Decided to start meditating again, picked up the most manly book on yoga in the library (just happened to be Ashtanga) and started practicing on a towel in my pants in the hope it would help me sit more comfortably while meditating.

2 — Could you please tell us how the yoga has changed your life ?

It hasn't, I'm still attached to the world, perhaps a little more focussed... and there are moments in those short kumbhaka in asana when the world drops away and there is just perhaps *awareness of awareness. Occasionally that happens for little longer while sitting.

*Just enough of a hint, suggestion to make me think that Patanjali's project really is worth pursuing and that Krishnamacharya may have been on to something with hi kumbhaka in asana.

3 — What does it bring to you presently ?
Could you tell us what your actual practice is ?

When the above happens.... peace. In general my asana practice brings me more discipline, hopefully it helps keeps me healthier. My current approach to practice is outlined in this post Slow Ashtanga

 4 — Would you ever stop practicing ?

I practice less asana, no longer stick the the series, see this post Slow Ashtanga, it's debatable whether I still practice Ashtanga, Krishnamacharya's early Ashtanga or Vinyasa Krama But I can't imagine not practicing some asana as preparation for and a support for my yoga practice

5 — What do you think about the fact that Westerners are getting more and more interested in, and involved, with yoga ?

Purusha doesn't have brown skin, nor a dialect, language, culture or history, so....

6 — What is your opinion about Westerners’ practice and of the practice of yoga in your country ?

As # 5

7 — According to you, how does yoga transform people and why does it help to change the world ?

It doesn't.....few if any of us are actually practicing yoga, mostly we're just playing at it.

8 — In which way is yoga important to you ?
How does it affect you ?


9 — What is your dearest wish ?”

To do less no harm

Update: I'm thinking I might revisit my, off the top of my head, response to these questions in a few days and flesh them out a bit.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Yoga, Ashtanga -The Source, Parampara, lineage

One of those posts that just popped out, perhaps I'd write it in a different way tomorrow, in a less provocative way or edit the life out of it but this is the way it emerged and hey, it's a blog.

Ideas of Lineage, Parampara, Source can be useful, serve a purpose, support our practice but they can of course also be questioned.

Four million year old Lake Biwa, two minutes from our place, this ancient Tori (gate) cycling distance

I struggle with terminology

The Source



It's Mysore season, and friends and digitally nodding acquaintances' fb posts are filled with " to visit the source".

The 'source' referred to here being the KPJAYI Ashtanga shala in Mysore India, where Sharath, Pattabhi Jois' grandson is oft referred to as the 'Lineage holder'.

Feel free to skip this digression- Does it matter that we like to use terms like Source, Lineage, parampara, probably not but of course all these terms relate to authority and I clearly have issues with authority, I struggle with 'hereditary' too, the Queen.... I didn't vote for her, nor will I have the opportunity to vote for her son Charles when he takes over the throne. He gets secret cabinet papers you know ( a lot of discussion about this currently) as does his son....forgot his name, who will be King in turn. None of these have been elected or will they be and yet they get to see cabinet papers. Charles of course seems a nice enough man, he's no Donald Trump... luckily and I really do mean luckily because we would have been stuck with him come what may. The monarchy doesn't have any powers, not really, or at least they do but effectively can't employ them and seeing that the current Prime Minister is about to remove the veto powers of the House of Lords we essentially have an emasculated separation of powers. Of course friends in the US might like the idea of a congress without any powers, or a Senate perhaps if your batting for the blue team..... or is it red

But I digress.

What is 'The source'.

I guess it's intended to represent where Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga began.

Except it's not, not really. It's not the original shala/studio/school, that was a smaller room elsewhere in Mysore. Big deal, so Pattabhi Jois needed a bigger room, we can still visit the old school...., perhaps it has a blue plaque like all those places in London, Isaak Newton, drank a pint here, or here in Japan in some temples where we find something along the lines of  Lady Murasaki wrote a few pages of the Tale of Genji HERE

Pattabhi Jois is no longer with us, the Ashtanga hereditary system we have, the idea of lineage, where the sceptre is passed down the line... has ended up in Sharath's perhaps reluctant hand. It skipped Manju, Pattabhi Jois' son, who was there in the room demonstrating asana as his father wrote Yoga Mala, outlining the current  Ashtanga vinyasa system (give or take the odd tweak). Manju decided to stay in the west after his father's first visit but has, he says, continued to teach just as his father taught him back in the 1950s, I suspect less roughly. However, he teaches outside India so instead, the perceived official lineage has passed to Sharath. Not to Sharath's mother Saraswati, who practiced as a child alongside Manju with their father and who continues to be a much loved and respected teacher with her own shala in Mysore, but to her son who travelled with his grandfather in later years and was trained in asana by him.

The source then is a place, Mysore where the current 'official' holder of the lineage resides. Did Sharath himself take on that title I wonder, is it mentioned anywhere, on KPJAYI website, I should check, perhaps it's just a way people have of referring to him, authorised teachers perhaps to give more legitimacy to the certification, more authority, credibility.

It's not necessary for credibility of course, anyone who has practiced this approach to asana six mornings a week for  ten years or so already has credibility as an asana teacher or should have and authority or rather respect springs from that. This is assuming that this approach to asana we practice allows us to understand our asana, not just it's construction but what it is, how it may be employed, the possibility of asana... perhaps thats why we look to senior teachers, those who have practiced for decades and have moved past the outward manifestation of posture. Dropping series.... asana, may be a relief a revelation, perhaps one asana IS all we require.

We need a lineage holder/wielder it seems to maintain the official practice of Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga vinyasa. Sharath does remind us that nobody owns yoga but there seems to be the perception that how he defines or outlines the practice is somehow official, how he tweaks it, what aspects he may stress is how it should be practiced and passed along through authorised and certified teacher's Mysore rooms. No Authorised or certified teacher is allowed to present teacher trainings, punishable by excommunication or at least being taken off the official list of recognised teachers. Personally it's those on the edges of 'official' Ashtanga, who have often ( but not always) practiced for decades, authorised/certified or not, that I find most exciting, who bring the practice and it's possibilities alive for me.

Authority, authority, authority.


Sharath travelled, assisted  and trained with Pattabhi Jois in his grandfather's later years, the relationship with his granfather was clearly one of love and reverence and no doubt why he stresses paramppara, it is a concept important to him. Sharath, along with so many others has practiced and taught for years, his tweaks to the system/method have been few, minor perhaps. Pattabhi Jois himself changed the presentation of the system in a few minor ways, his shala used to have word research in the title after all, but mostly it appears to be how he was taught by his own teacher T. Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya seems to have taught a dynamic style of practice to the young boys of the Mysore palace, it was perhaps a little like the Modern Shaolin school of Kung Fu, turning out demonstrators to promote yoga throughout India.

Krishnamacharya, Mysore palace school (Krishnamacharya standing on the boy in Kapotasana over on the right - Pattabhi Jois has said that he is the boy his teacher is standing on although he may be mistaken).

We also have Krishnamacharya's books on yoga written at the same time, outlining as they do a slower practice that included long stays and kumbhaka ( breath retention), a flexible approach to asana based on groups of asana, primary, middle and proficient ability asana. The follow up book was intended to include pranayama.This slower approach was less suitable for demonstrations of course although Krishnamacharya would supposedly keep one of his young demonstrators like Pattabhi Jois in kapotasana while he would stand on him and deliver a lecture/presentation and manju says his father would practice long stays in his personal practice.

Pattabhi Jois seems to have taken the approach to asana his teacher Krishnamacharya presented in his boys school for asana demonstrators, taken his teachers list (with permission I should add, even perhaps encouragement) and presented it as fixed series with minimal rearrangement to the first two of Krishnamacharya's groups of asana, the Advanced list took more rearrangement.

The source then perhaps refers to Krishnamacharya himself... what about his old shala/school in Mysore? I believe BNS Iyengar teachers there now or used to. BNS Iyengar according to an interview with him came to Mysore just after Krishnamacharya's school closed. Krishnamacharya had moved to Chennai but his family remained in Mysore and he would come back to visit, and no doubt give the occasional lecture in Mysore as well as the odd class. BNS Iyenger seems to have attended some of these lectures and classes but mostly he seems to have been a student of Pattabhi Jois.

The Source then is perhaps Krishnamacharya's own texts, Yoga Makaranda and Yogasananagalu, rather than how he was allowed to teach in the palace school  other than to private students, they are good source texts but The Source?

There is talk of Yoga Korunta, the mythical text allegedly eaten by ants that Krishnamacharya's work is said to be based upon, Krishnamacharya is the only person we know who may have seen it. Would we consider the yoga Korunta as 'The Source', a text rather than a person or place? Few bother to actually read Krishnamacharya's own texts that may have been based upon it, I suspect the Korunta and other of Krishnamacharya's source texts would only be referred to as The Source if they fitted exactly how Ashtanga is being taught now in the official shala...

too often we want our discoveries to justify our practice rather than question it.

What then of Krishnamacharya's own teacher, this shifts the Source from Mysore to either Tibet or the university library and /or the forests around Benares, old Varanasi  .... perhaps a little of each, or a little of all the teachers and texts that Krishnamacharya consulted in his years of wandering from library to library, Pandit to pandit, living authority to living authority.

M. and I once sought the source of the Thames, this great river that Conrad saw as stretching to Rome and the Tiber, to the Congo, joining all rivers, oceans.... at some point it becomes a stream and then a an insignificant trickle, like the source of the Ganges perhaps. Here, in Shiga, next to Lake Biwa we are constantly coming across small streams, water coming down from the mountains filling this four million year old lake. Which of these rivulets is the source of this great lake?

one of the many little streams near us, look, first snow

But India right, the source of Ashtanga, of yoga is Indian......surely.

Purusha doesn't have brown skin or any other colour skin for that matter, nor dialect, language, a culture, a sex, a history.....

Whatever your Philosophy the source of Ashtanga, of yoga, seems to come with the relization that I am, followed on some dark lonely night by the questions what then is this am, thisand am I it.

If not and perhaps my conception of what I am is ignorance how may I overcome it.

....and perhaps later what is this language, this grammar, that allows me to form the question in such a way.

These questions are our birthright, we find them in most any culture we encounter in one form or another and the response in all seems to be some form of moral code or behaviour, embodied practice, reflection, meditation.

There is often a physical embodied element, at it's simplest a prostration perhaps but some form of physical discipline,  breath control whether a form of what we refer to as pranayama or as chanting, prayer and always a turning inwards, introspection or outwards to conception of God, all questioning our sense of self of am'ness, being.

There are always those who go off alone to sit with these questions and/or their response to them, seek to understand them better, question them, question their teacher, question what they most believe to be so,

to know or to know that they don't know.... radical enquiry.

We find yogi's everywhere

The source of Yoga, of Ashtanga is right here, we carry it everywhere.

NB: I began my practice of yoga with Pattabhi Jois' presentation of Ashtanga Vinyasa eight years ago and still believe it provides an excellent foundation for discipline and focus that we can return to if and when our discipline wanes. For the last few years I've tended to maintain much of the structure of Ashtanga vinyasa but am more strongly influenced by Krishnamacharya's early Mysore writing as well as the strongly integrated practice of his long term student Srivatsa Ramaswami.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Re the young girl in Kurmasana in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and in my Krishnamacharya's 'Original' Ashtanga poster

This post started as a fb comment

"There seems to be a young girl in the poster"

from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)

In response to a comment/question. Re the girl in Kurmasana in my Krishnamacharya's Original Ashtanga poster

In Krishnamacharya's first book,Yoga Makaranda, along with his own demonstrations of Primary postures, he includes some pictures of mostly more advanced postures demonstrated by his students or family (the girl in Kurmasana is I believe one of his daughters, I'm assuming the eldest, Srimathi Pundarikavalli).

Krishnamacharya seems to have taught groups of postures (Primary, Middle, Advanced) rather than fixed series but I wanted to bring together those Primary postures he gave instructions for to give an idea of how Krishnamacharya might have taught the postures that make up the first Ashtanga series. In truth my aim was to use this poster as a hook to encourage other practitioners to take a closer look at Pattabhi Jois' teacher's instruction/guidelines/options, the longer breathing, longer stays, the kumbhaka he indicates in most postures and how he takes a more flexible approach to asana practice In general.

Yoga Makaranda was written in 1934 when Pattabhi Jois was still Krishnamacharya's student. Here's the link to my original post telling the story of the poster.

"The first thing to say about it is that this is NOT the order the asana are found in Krishnamacharya's 1934 book Yoga Makaranda.... but not far off".


"Sri T. Krishnamacharya had six children, three sons and three daughters. His wife, Srimathi Namagiriammal as well as his children were taught by him" Sri Shribashyam

"He (Krishnamacharya)  was married (in 1925 to BKS Iyengar’s sister Namagririammal) and had six children, sons TK Srinivasan, TKV Desikachar, TK Sribhashyam and daughters Srimathi Pundarikavalli, Srimathi T Alamelu Sheshadri and Srimathi Shubha Mohan Kumar.
from Paul Harvey's excellent Center for Yoga Studies

Krishnamacharya invited his wife and daughters to join him in demonstrating asana for the 1938 Mysore film footage.

NB: It 's been suggested that Krishnamacharya refused to teach woman until Indra Devi used her influence with the Maharaja of Mysore in 1938 to persuade him to teach her. Given that Krishnamacharya was quite happy to teach his wife and daughters asana to a proficient level, it seems more likely that Krsihnamacharya was unsure of Indra Devi's seriousness regarding Yoga.

"The woman, who became known as Indra Devi (she was born Zhenia Labunskaia, in pre-Soviet Latvia), was a friend of the Mysore royal family. After seeing one of Krishnamacharya’s demonstrations, she asked for instruction. At first, Krishnamacharya refused to teach her. He told her that his school accepted neither foreigners nor women. But Devi persisted, persuading the Maharaja to prevail on his Brahmin. Reluctantly, Krishnamacharya started her lessons, subjecting her to strict dietary guidelines and a difficult schedule aimed at breaking her resolve. She met every challenge Krishnamacharya imposed, eventually becoming his good friend as well as an exemplary pupil.

After a year-long apprenticeship, Krishnamacharya instructed Devi to become a yoga teacher. He asked her to bring a notebook, then spent several days dictating lessons on yoga instruction, diet, and pranayama. Drawing from this teaching, Devi eventually wrote the first best-selling book on hatha yoga, Forever Young, Forever Healthy". FERNANDO PAGÉS RUIZ  Yoga Journal


(Krishnamacharya's instruction for Kurmasana from Yoga Makaranda)

This has 16 vinyasas. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th vinyasas demonstrate the sampurna sthiti of the asana. Only the 7th vinyasa is shown in the picture.
Benefit: The apana vayu is cleaned; nocturnal discharges are stopped. This is also a very good method for curing piles.

If women with irregular menstruation practise this asana with all the vinyasas for a few months, this affliction of the uterus and of menstrual disturbance will dissolve and they will have regular menstruation.

Important Rule: The practitioners of kurmasana must not practise it within 3 hours of eating. It must not be done on a full stomach.
poster from my book Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga yoga

Available from Amazon and Lulu but Lulu allows me to discount it 50%

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Slow Ashtanga? Update New practice space

I was asked about my practice now I'm here in rural Japan between the mountains and Lake Biwa. 

While my Mac is out of action and in need of a new Hard drive I thought I'd repost this outline from last year of the Slow Ashtanga I'm pretty much practicing here. 

Difference from below? I tend to start with a simple pranayama, something from Sri Sribashyam's (Krishanmacharya's third son) Emergence of yoga say, then a little tadasana ( Vinyasa Krama) and a rough sketch of Ashtanga Primary or the first half of Ashtanga 2nd. There tends to be a strong Vinyasa Krama influence, the odd variation included perhaps in preparation or as an extension.  My breathing tends to be long and slow following Krishnamacharya's early writing, Kumbhaka too of course and I7ve been including internal drishti from some time along the the lines of Sri Sribasham's teaching.  Practising slow like this I choose to practice less asana to leave more time for pranayama ( mostly nadi sodhana with mantra - see my pranayama page above), pratyahara and an appropriate Sit.

I should add perhaps that asana attainment has lost all interest for me, gone the leg behind head postures, karandavasana, even supta Kurmasana and Marichi D (perhaps in summer), kapo tends to be toes at best when I remember to include it. I'm currently more interested in the longer, slower, steady breathing, the kumbhaka said and the internal drishti, mostly though I'm leaning more towards my simple, straight forward pranayama and peace in my sit.

It is so beautiful here.

The new practice space, the view and what's left of the yoga book shelf after the move to Japan.

Original post below from 8th November 2014

QUESTION: "Hey, love your posts about K , keeps me motivated. One question... in your understanding of K's yoga, how would one do a practice? If all the asanas have the vinyasas from samastiti to asana stiti and then back, like Ashtanga. So the practice would be like that, some sort of Ashtanga or maybe  a Vinyasa Krama like practice? If one is to dedicate 20 min to a pose that means the practice could be maybe 2, 3 poses and that's it then. How would you adapt that to a class for example?"

This post is an attempt to answer the question above with this morning's practice as an example but bringing in some of my older videos relating to slower practice I. E. slower breathing, longer stays (rishi approach) kumbhaka, adapting the 'sequence' to the demands of a slower practice etc. It's along the lines of the kind of practice I've been teaching in crete this summer and will be looking to present, at some point, in my upcoming workshops (see right panel of blog).

I thought I'd put this up at the top of the blog as a permanent page and develop it over time..

I think of the indications below more as options for practice that Krishnamacharya emphasised in his early Mysore writings (1930s-40s), back when he was still teaching the young Pattabhi Jois.

Slow Ashtanga
  • Longer, slower breathing
  • Longer stays in some asana, shorter stays in others
  • Kumbhaka ( retaining the breath in for between 2 and 10  seconds after the inhalation and/or retaining the breath out for between 2 and 10 seconds after the exhalation) dependent on the particular asana or mudra.
  • It may well follow the general framework of the current Ashtanga sequence but the sequence split perhaps over two or more days.
  • Due to splitting up the sequence other asana or variations of asana may be included to prepare or extend a key asana in the days practice
In my own practice time is an issue. I follow the indications and instructions for practice outlined  in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) and prefer to breathe slowly in the asana and vinyasas, lengthening my inhalation and exhalation, "slow like the pouring of oil". I like to explore kumbhaka and the occasional extended stay, in Mudras especially. I also prefer to practice, much of the time, with my eyes closed, employing internal drishti at different vital focal points and I like to introduce vinyasas, extra preparatory asana on days when they feel appropriate as well as perhaps extending an asana into more challenging, 'proficient' forms on the more flexible days, this is in keeping perhaps with the idea of groups of asana rather than fixed sequences. I like to practice Pranayama before and after my asana practice as well as finishing my practice with a 'meditative activity'. I was first introduced to Yoga through the Ashtanga sequences and I still maintain that general structure in my main practice but I would rather sacrifice half or more than half a sequence than these other factors and perhaps practice the asana ‘missed’ in the following day(s). I still consider this to be Ashtanga, SLOW Ashtanga.

"When once a fair proficiency has been attained in asana and pranayama, the aspirant to dhyana has to regulate the time to be spent on each and choose the particular asanas and pranayama which will have the most effect in strengthening the higher organs and centres of perception and thus aid him in attaining dhyana". Krishnamacharya - Dhyana or meditation Yoga Makaranda part II

Sample practice from this morning Approx. 2 hours

The videos may take some time to load, don't worry, your unlikely to watch them anyway, it's like watching  dry or grass grow. 

Numbers beside the postures indicate no. of breaths unless 'times' or 'cycles' indicated

AK = antar kumbhaka (retaining the breath in at the end of the inhalation )
BK = bhaya Kumbhaka (holding the breath out at the end of the exhalation)

Krishnamacharya doesn't say how long the kumbhaka's should be Yoga Makaranda in Part I but in Part II they tend to be working up from 2-5 seconds in later krishnamacharya with experience they may be 10 seconds.  those indicated below are my own kumbhakas.

Kapalabhati in paschimottanasana (holding toes but without folding all the way forward - a kind of two leg version of mahamudra).
Ujjayi in tatkamudra - 6  breaths ( scanning vital points on inhalation, nabhi on exhalation)
Anuloma ujjai - in Vajrasana - 6 cycles

Krishnamacharya Surya Namaskara options

Krishnamacharya writes of staying for extended periods in each stage of what we now think of as a sun salutation or suryanamaskara. He writes of ten minutes or more below I take five long slow breaths in each.

Krishnamacharya shifts his kumbhaka around, generally, if the head is up it's antar kumbhaka, after the inhalation, if the head is down then it's bhya kumbhaka, after exhalation. generally there is no kumbhaka in twists.

Uttanasana B - AK5s
Chaturanga Dandasana - BK 3s
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana - AK 5s
Adho Mukha Shvanasana BK-10s

Utthita Trikonasana - 10 breaths each side,(Krishnamacharya recommends ten minutes in this asana)
Parivritta Trikonasana - 3
Utthita Parshvakonasana - 3
Parivritta Parshvakonasana - 3
Prasarita Padottanasana A. - 5
Parshvottanasana - 5 AK 5s
Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana plus standing marichi variation - 1 full breath in each stage

(I spent longer in standing postures this morning, usually I would split these up over two days)

Dandasana - 10  - AK 5s (scanning through vital points on inhalation hrdaya on exhalation)
Paschimattanasana - 15 - BK 5-10s (scanning through vital points on inhalation nasagra on exhalation)
Purvatanasana - 3

mahamudra -10 each side - BK 5-10s

Slower breathing, 10 second inhalations, 10 second exhalations

Janu Shirshasana A. - 1 each side
Marichyasana A  C - one full breath in each variation and on each side
Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana - 3
Bharadvajasana - 6 each side - AK 5s

Maha bandha - 6 each side-  BK-5s
Ardha Matsyendrasana - 3 each side
Baddha Konasana - 10 each vinyasa - AK 5s for B (sitting up)

Padmasana with variations - 10 in total
Uth Pluthi - 5

shoulderstand prep ( 3 vinyasas) 3x each variation

Sarvangasana - 12 (legs relaxed )
viparita karani (sirsasana as mudra no variations) - 12
Sarvangasana with assorted variations - 5 mins ( see THIS post )
Shirshasana with assorted variations - 5 mins (see THIS post) - No intentional kumbhaka but I tend to try and lengthen the inhalation and exhalation as long as possible, between 30-45 second breath, gets slower as it goes on.

Baddha Padmasana - 10

Paranayama - basti - 30 and nadi sodhana -pratiloma ujjayi- with japa ( mentally reciting pranayama mantra 20s) - 6 cycles
Pratyahara 3 mins
trataka - 10 mins

savasana 5 mins


The videos above and below are pretty much unwatchable,  its like trying to watch grass grow, paint dry.... an exercise in trataka perhaps.

but  it perhaps give an impression of how slower breathing, longer stays, less asana might be approached.

Examples of slow practice, Oscar practicing Vinyasa Krama on the left while I take a Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda  Ashtanga approach on the right

Middle group practice

The practice from this morning that I outlined above was based on the Primary group asana, tomorrow I will most likely base my practice on the middle group, a similar approach to standing as above with perhaps some time spent on some tadasana backbending preparation variations from vinyasa Krama.

More time in Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana perhaps, in preparation for pasasana.

Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana and krounchasana

I usually switch to the Vinyasa krama Bow sequence leading up to ustrasana, laugh vajrasana and kapotasana. The Bow sequence follows quite closely the layout of Ashtanga 2nd but with some extra vinyasas.

below kapotasana.

and in the leg behind head postures

I've started to leave out dwi pada sirsasana altogether and just practice a longer stay in yoga nidra


On the third day I would tend to switch back to primary group asana and explore some of the asana I missed from the regular Ashtanga sequence this morning and on the fourth day, asana missed from tomorrows Middle group.


We can practice less postures, below supposedly an example of Krishnamacharya's own personal practice from Krishnamacharya's 3rd son, TV Sribhashyam's book Emergence of Yoga.

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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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