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Monday, 31 August 2015

What does Pattabhi Jois' Advanced A/Third series Visvamitrasana photo tell us about the development of his Ashtanga Vinyasa syllabus.

This post is a follow on or continuation of my previous post

Did Pattabhi Jois practice some or all of the Series he created and if so for how long?

Sometime after writing the above post I decided to add an appendix relating to Pattabhi Jois' early photoshoot that resulted in the photo's that were included in Yoga Mala. Pattabhi Jois also seems to have had some advanced/proficient asana photo's taken at or around the same time.

His Visvamitrasana caught my eye

Pattabhi Jois' Visvamitrasana (1940s?)

We have two dates for Pattabhi Jois' development of the Ashtanga syllabus, apparently based on Krishnamacharya's asana group table ( primary, Middle and Proficient asana) and in response to the request for a four year yoga syllabus. 1939 has been given as one date but this may well have been when Pattabhi Jois entered the Sanskrit college as an advanced student. 1947 is the other date given for when Pattabhi Jois started to teach the four year course, this from his life long friend T. S. Krishnamurthyas quoted in Guruji.

Pattabhi Jois' Visvamitrasana does not look very comfortable here, it's certainly not as proficient as many of the other asana photos he had taken, it's not suggestive of daily or regular practice of this asana.

Here is my own photo of visvamitrasana from around the time I first attempted it, pretty similar and suggesting to me that Pattabhi Jois had not been practicing the asana that often or that regularly either, when his photo was taken in the 1940s

Iyengar's is a little more accomplished in this photo taken for his book Light on Yoga,

But Iyengar's Visvamitrasana was looking much more.... disciplined a few years earlier in the 1938 movie, around the time he had been giving asana demonstrations for Krishnamacharya. Visvamitrasana was an asana in Krishnamacharya's proficient asana table, he gives the states of the asana as vinyasa's 7, 8 and 9

Visvamitrasana vinyasa 7

Visvamitrasana vinyasa 8

Visvamitrasana vinyasa 9
If Pattabhi Jois had developed the Ashtanga syllabus in 1939 we might expect one of the first asana of his Advanced A ( later 3rd series) to be more.... polished, supporting the suggestion that Pattabhi Jois developed his syllabus as late as 1947.

The other conclusion perhaps is that the syllabus was just that, a teaching tool and Pattabhi jois himself continued to practice asana in a more flexible approach in accordance with the methodology of his teacher Krishnamacharya. These proficient asana were always considered demonstration postures and perhaps did not form a regular part of Pattabhi Jois' own practice.

Vasisthasana, first asana of Advanced A (later 3rd series)

A more recent presentations of Visvamitrasana from from the cover of David Swenson's Ashtanaga Yoga Practice Manual, what almost daily practice of the posture can look like.
The iconic David Swenson shot

Sharath from the 1999 demonstration of Advanced A

This post is about Advanced series but these days I tend to feel that some slow Primary or Middle group asana in half a series or not seems plenty. I looked at Advanced A again for  this and the previous post and wondered how many of the postures in the Advanced series or proficient group I could conceive of staying in for a significant number of slow breaths (See the Ashtanga Rishi series of posts), very few. As both Krishnamacharya Pattabhi Jois indicated, the so called Advanced postures are more for demonstration and perhaps a distraction.


No vinyasa count given on the 1973 Ashtanga Syllabus.

On double checking that Visvamitrasana was indeed on the 1973 syllabus given to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams when they first practiced with Pattabhi Jois ( it is) I noticed, for the first time I think, that there was no Vinyasa count on the syllabus for Advanced A and B although it is there for Primary and Intermediate, how curious.

It may be that Pattabhi Jois typed the list out for Nancy and David and the count as far as Intermediate, reflected the stage they were at in the practice at the time but then why not just type out those two series. It seems more likely that this was a copy of the original syllabus, thus the division into years and the reading list but if so why was the vinyasa count not included on the original syllabus?

LINK to post with full syllabus

Here is the beginning of proficient table of asana from Krishnamacharya's original table of asana divided into three groups (primary, middle, proficient) published in Yogasanagalu in 1941 (Mysore). Note the vinyasa count and that Krishnamacharya gives the stats of the asana as vinyasas 7,8,9 and 13,14,15 (see the movie screenshots of BKS Iyengar above).

LINK to full table

Original table in Kannada language

Here is BKS Iyengar in the 1938 movie with Krishnamacharya and his family. Iyengar demonstrates Visvamitrasana 7:00 minutes into the movie

Friday, 28 August 2015

Did Pattabhi Jois practice some or all of the Series he created and if so for how long?

 This post develops a question that came up on one of my blog post links on fb.
Pattabhi Jois teaching Pranayama in 1964 published by Andre van Lysebeth in his book Pranayama.
NB. The the person practicing pranayama is thought to be one of Pattabhi Jois Indian students, not Andre himself (Thank you to Juan for the note on this)

We give a lot of weight to the  fixed Ashtanga series (Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A and B - organised later as Primary, 2nd 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series) that Pattabhi Jois developed from the three flexible groups of asana (primary, middle, proficient) of his teacher Krishnamacharya.

But did Pattabhi Jois practice those series himself and if not, does it matter.

We know Pattabhi Jois didn't practice the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series that we have now, they were certainly reorganised long after Pattabhi Jois had ceased to practice but what of the original four series, Primary to Advanced B that Pattabhi Jois taught to Norman Allan, David Williams Nancy Gilgoff and other early visitors to Mysore and their students.

The original four series are certainly based on Krishnamacharya's table of asana that appeared in his Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941) and on which pattabhi Jois's own studies with his teacher were no doubt based. Pattabhi Jois' first two series follow quite closely the order of asana in Krishnamacharya's table, Advanced A and B series seems to be a departure.

Supposedly Pattabhi Jois was required to develop a four year Syllabus when asked to teach at the Sanskrit college, Krishnamacharya's table had three groups so Pattabhi Jois turned the final proficient group into two series ,Advanced A and B, no doubt including other asana and their vinyasa count Krishnamacharya had taught to him and the other boys of the Mysore palace (NB: Pattabhi Jois didn't only teach the young boys, he also taught other members of the palace and it's environ, perhaps Vinyasa Krama on a one to one basis).

Pattabhi Jois is said to have taken his list of asana ordered into fours series to Krishnamacharya and received his teachers approval, the approval is not surprising as Pattabhi Jois' list was based on his teachers own table of asana, with the same vinyasa count. Pattabhi jois continued to take students and members of his family to Krishnamacharya for examination in the vinyasa count of individual asana up until the 1970s

There is little doubt that Pattabhi Jois studied and practiced most, if not all, of the asana with the same Vinyasa with his teacher krishnamacharya and  for many years, Pattabhi Jois was one of Krishnamachaeya's senior and longest serving student and would accompany his teacher around the country giving advanced asana demonstrations.

There is some confusion regarding when Pattabhi Jois developed his series of asana for the Sanskrit college yoga course, 1939 is the most common date but this date may have been when Pattabhi Jois entered the Sanskrit college as a senior student. Pattabhi Jois' life long friend T. S. Krishnamurthy responds in an interview in the book Guruji that Pattabhi Jois began teaching his yoga course in 1947. Krihshnamaurthy was one of his students and studied Yoga with hm for four years, the four year syllabus perhaps.  In 1948, he established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute at their new home in Lakshmipuram  "...with a view to experimenting with the curative aspects of Yoga".

The above from 

If this indeed the case then we have a date for the formation of the Ashtanga series, 1947. 


Update June 2018

Reflection on Guruji - A portrait of Pattabhi Jois through the eyes of his students.

I just came across Guy and Eddie’s ‘Guruji’ still buried away on my Kindle, I deleted it. With every new first hand account of Jois’ sexual abuse, or report of the general awareness of his behaviour in the community at the time from a senior practitioner, I find myself ever more... disgusted with the book, that it was ever written, that many who contributed were happy to do so without referencing his behaviour, ignoring his abuse, promoting, ultimately enabling. Many it seems, if not all of the contributors, were at least vaguely aware, if not having first hand experience, of Jois’ behaviour. They didn’t just look the other way, but promoted the man, continued to call him Guruji, put up his photo in pride of place in their shalas and sent those in their care to him, surely aware that he might abuse them too. Those who did so knew too that some, not all, but some of those who came to them to learn yoga, came for healing and yet sent them anyway, half way across the world into the hands of a sexual abuser. Like many abusers, and mine as a child was a GP, Jois no doubt instinctively targeted those confused enough at the time, vulnerable at the time, not weak but for a time, in that particular time, vulnerable to abuse. He no doubt groomed and presented himself in such a way that it barely seem conceivable or was at least deniable, no doubt he touched a few of the men too in the same way, a smoke screen. This was learned behaviour, a developed skill, in targeting, in smoke-screening. Some, a few, spoke out, left, more clearly should have.

UPDATE to the above post (AUG 2018)  From a blog post by Guy Donahaye - co editor (along with Eddie Stern) of GurujiReflection on Guruji - A portrait of Pattabhi Jois through the eyes of his students.

"Since his death, Guruji has been elevated to a position of sainthood. Part of this promotion has been due to the book of interviews I collected and published with Eddie Stern as "Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois" which paints a positive picture of his life and avoids exploring the issues of injury and sexual assault. In emphasizing only positive stories it has done more to cement the idea that he was a perfect yogi, which he clearly was not. 

By burnishing his image, we make it unassailable - it makes us doubt the testimony of those he abused. This causes further harm to those whose testimony we deny and to ourselves.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies to all victims who were harmed by Guruji or by his teachings as passed through his students for my part in cultivating this image of perfection that denies the suffering and healing of many. I would also like to apologize for taking so long to write this - it was not easy to do". 

Full blog post here -

and see too this post


Would Pattabhi Jois have practiced the series in the manner in which he taught them,? Not necessarily, he already had an established practice, a more flexible approach to the asana taught to him by Krishnamacharya, would he have forced himself into the confines of a fixed series created for a particular pedagogic situation, he may have stuck with the practice he already had, perhaps some exploratory practices to experience the series for himself.

Pattabhi Jois teaching 
Pattabhi Jois demonstrating sarvangasana

`Pattabhi Jois teaching garbhapindasana

But lets, for arguments sake,  say Pattabhi Jois did change his practice and work through the different series each morning, how long did he practice them for? Ashtanga is characterised by years practicing the different series, David Willams and Nancy Gilgoff have been practicing them six days a week for over forty years. Pattabhi Jois may only have practiced them for ten.

Manju Jois 1950s

Manju Jois mentions that he was there in the room while his father was working on Yoga Mala in 1954. Manju's father would call him in from playing street cricket again and again to perform asana while his father wrote out the description. Manju must have been around seven, he clearly remembers this but the memories of his father practicing are not of full series but rather long stays in different asana. Krishnamacharya stressed long stays with slow breathing in Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu , was Pattabhi Jois still practicing just as his teacher had taught him?

We should also note that the pictures Pattabhi Jois included in Yoga Mala were taken in the late 1930s or early 1940s, they are not a full set of the primary series asana, no more were taken the missing asana being performed by Sharath for the books publication in the 1990s. There are no videos of Pattabhi Jois performing any of the series,

Tim Miller is quoted as saying that Pattabhi Jois stopped practicing asana aged 42 (1957) for personal family reasons, it seems likely that the quote was a typo and that it should read "...aged 62" (1978). However, note the change in Pattabhi Jois' physique between the 1964 photo with  André Van Lysebeth  and the one below with the western Ashtangi's from 1975), there is no suggestion from any of the early visitors to Pattabhi Jois (1973/74) who lived in his house while studying with him that their teacher was practicing the different Ashtanga series. I seem to remember David Williams writing that one of his great regrets was never having seen Pattabhi Jois practice himself. Manju mentioned however that his father continued to practice some asana 'tll quite late in life.

from David Willams interview in Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students 
It may well be then that Pattabhi Jois explored and practiced asana in different series in line with the four year syllabus he developed from 1947 based on Krishnamacharya's asana table but ceased to practice this way from the mid 1950s preferring to explore longer stays in selected asana just as his son Manju remembers.

It may also be that Pattabhi Jois continued to practice Ashtanga series from 1947 until 1978 but that nobody has reported seeing him practice that way, not his family or the ever curious students who shared his house while studying with him in the mid 1970s.

See also the following post

What does Pattabhi Jois' Advanced A/Third series Visvamitrasana photo tell us about the development of his Ashtanga Vinyasa syllabus.

Clockwise, starting from P.Jois: Pattabhi Jois, Nancy Gilgoff, Brad Ramsay, Paul Danaway, Sally Woker, David Swenson, David Williams. Encinitas, California, 1975
Roseanna Campbell learns Ashtanga Yoga from the founder himself at Shri K. Pattabhi Jois’ school in Mysore, India, She mentions that Pattabhi Jois' son Ramesh presided over her wedding in Mysore in 1976
David Williams also mentions that on asking Pattabhi Jois what one should practice after learning the advanced series his teacher mentioned the 'Rishi series', choosing 10 asana and staying for 50 breaths or so in each. Pattabhi Jois was no doubt joking about the name but not perhaps of the practice as it seemed to refelect his own practice as mentioned by Manju ( see my Rishi series of posts- LINK).

I posted the picture at the top of this post of Pattabhi Jois teaching André Van Lysebeth in 1964 when he taught him Primary and Second series as well as Pranayama. Pattabhi Jois' face looks very lean suggestive to me perhaps perhaps of an intense practice, whether that is of a Rishi approach or Ashtanga series is unclear.

Pattabhi Jois (left) teaching André Van Lysebeth Pranayama in 1964

Does it matter whether Pattabhi Jois himself practiced the Ashtanga series he developed or for how long? Manju Jois has practiced the series since the 1950s ( he mentioned that these days he practices some Primary, some 2nd series and some advanced asana, " keep his hand in"). Sharath has been practicing the series seriously,according to his mother Saraswati, since 1989 including the latter reorganised Advanced  series into 5th and 6th series, many of the early visitors to Mysore have been practicing as well as teaching the series daily since the mid 1970s.

Saraswati in Gandhaberundasana, circa1950s

Saraswati demonstration
The Ashtanga series are clearly one effective approach to developing discipline, encountering the practice of asana and hopefully yoga, one that many find beneficial but perhaps reflecting on Pattabhi Jois' own practice, how it was formed and how he himself chose to practice puts the series into perspective. The Ashtanga series appears to have been an accident of circumstance, developed in response to a particular pedagogic need ( the four year sanskrit syllabus) a more flexible approach exploring and giving emphasis to other elements of the practice that Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois explored may also be beneficial.


My own practice tends to be based on a flexible approach to the Ashtanga vinyasa framework, half Primary or half 2nd series with slow breathing, kumbhaka, some long stays and just the original two drishti followed by pranayama, pratyahara and a sit.

Bottom centre, a copy of the 1973 Ashtanga syllabus given to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams.
The four year Sanskrit college syllabus?


The 'Yoga Mala' picture shoot 

The photo of Pattabhi Jois in Samasthiti along with the photos that ended up in Yoga Mala (as well as other advanced asana) were, according to Eddie Stern, taken in Tiruchinapalli and Kanchipuram. On one of several visits Pattabhi Jois and his wife Amma made to the temple and Mutt there, "... on ther last visit they came with the whole family". This was probably between 1940 and 1946. See this link

It should perhaps be noted that although photos from this photo shoot ended up in Pattabhi Jois' book Yoga Mala, outlining his Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary series, they were in fact most likely taken before he had outlined the four series for the Sanskrit college syllabus. These pictures then reflect Pattabhi Jois' ongoing practice with Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi jois would have been practicing these asana with Krishnamacharya with full vinyasa but most likely not in a fixed series.

 These more advanced asana photos were perhaps taken on or around the same time


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Pattabhi Jois : Long breathing "... ten second inhalation, ten second exhalation

"Breathing system very important, without breathing no yoga, no curing your body, no curing your body very important breathing system.... You take inhale exhale, inhale exhale, every time 10 second inhale, 10 second exhale, same position you do"
Pattabhi  Jois (@ 6:30 in video below).

Recently I've been playing with the idea of changing the blog title to Ashtanga for the over 50s. In the previous post I quoted Pattabhi Jois as suggesting that after 50 we might wish to do less asana, only the most useful.

"For people over fifty, it is enough to practice some of the easier and more useful asanas, as well as some of the pranayamas. Those who have been practicing for many years, however, can do any asana or pranayama without a problem".   Pattabhi Jois -Yoga Mala

Less Asana means more time, more time perhaps for long breathing....

I posted the video below of a Pattabhi Jois lecture/demonstration in Switzerland a while back, great video, my favourite of Pattabhi Jois I think. I pointed out his referring to the 10 second inhalation and 10 second exhalation six minutes in previously but some pointed out that this could be merely referring to equal inhalation and exhalation.

What brought the video to mind again was a friend reminding me of Lino's interview in the Guruji book, Pattabhi Jois again stressing long breathing and Lino exploring it, I bought the book again on kindle to check.

Amazon Link

Here's the video.

Some highlights...

10 second Inhalation/10 second exhalation. (6:00)

48 Suryanamaskaras every day (7.00)

finishing sequence (11:30)

150 breaths in Shoulderstand (12.35)

also the three hour headstand and where to place the head.... or not


The long breathing pops up again in interviews.....

Pattabhi Jois in interviews/conference

 "Question: Doing vinyasa is it correct to stop for example in urdhva mukha svanasana for more than one breath? 

Answer: Only one breath, inhale one breath, exhale. Inhale, exhale only one breath. Inhale 10 seconds or 15 seconds then exhalation also 10 seconds or 15 seconds. This is 10 times I am telling, you don’t understand!" 

 "Long breathing - inhalation long breathing, your chest expanding and you will be very strong after. If long breathing, inhalation is not correct or if only the exhalation is coming long, that is heart trouble is starting. That is very bad. Inhalation more you take, exhalation little down you take. There is no problem. Inhalation you want, long inhalation'.


Pattabhi Jois is very aware that this would lead to an impossibly long practice, he mentions five hours (full vinyasa was being practiced back then also) in some of the quotes on the post linked to below. He mentions that these days we aren't Yogi's sitting in caves, we have jobs, he suggests perhaps that the long slow breathing is an ideal, advanced practice.

"...You can understand. Full time you take, full vinyasa you doing. Only for (completing) primary asanas takes 5 hours. 5 hours primary postures (with) full vinyasa. 50 asanas is there completely primary postures. That 50 asanas you doing taken 5 hours, with full vinyasa. You working. Another place is working. Yes you take money, you eating food, all you want. That only for your spending (free) time only for yoga, very rare (little time), very difficult also yourself. That is why you short cut you take. That is one or two hours. Two hours spent your yoga practice. That is good. That is also is good. Yes OK. That I tell you".

More quotes from the interviews on aysnyc on this post

Over 50 we (officially) get the option to practice less asana, we can go back to Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga and reclaim the long breathing, Pattabhi Jois' ideal practice.

Truth be told there has always been the option of less asana, Pattabhi Jois mentions as much in Yoga Mala, short of time we could just do the Sury namaskara and jump to finishing. We could do that anyway, practice just the surys and finishing but with long breathing and perhaps longer stays, in Sirsasana for example as Sharath recommends.

And for those under 50, trying to stick to a full series...., rather than explore long breathing or long stays throughout the series, just pick one or two posture, baddha konasana perhaps where we might explore a long stay of fifty breaths or stick with five or ten and make them longer instead...., perish the thought we might even throw in a kumbhaka just as Pattabhi Jois' teacher instructed.

..... there's a lot of elbow room buried away within the 'method'.



This video gives a bit of an idea perhaps of what a 10 second inhalation and 10 second exhalation looks like ( it's actually probably closer to eight for each here plus kumbhakas) but more important is what it feels like to experience the breath this way in asana and we only get that from trying it for ourselves and deciding if this approach is for us.... or not.

We need a filmmaker to make one long, smooth, steady, comfortable breath look.... interesting?

Here's Iyengar in Kino shorts, with a 45 second inhalation/45 second exhalation.

"Breath is the king of the mind..." 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Asana at work and Inversion variations and finishing at home.

"For people over fifty, it is enough to practice some of the easier and more useful asanas, as well as some of the pranayamas. Those who have been practicing for many years, however, can do any asana or pranayama without a problem".   Pattabhi Jois -Yoga Mala

The post below strikes me as somewhat of a metaphor for a Vinyasa Krama practice, cutting and pasting asana, vinyasa and subroutines from different groups (pedagogic sequences) to form a (hopefully) coherent practice appropriate for that day. Many vinyasa and variations will likely change day to day, such that over a week or two a broad range of asana and mudra will have been covered giving a beneficial effect to as much of the body as possible. 

Due to familiarity, my own practice maintains a rough Ashtanga Vinyasa framework; Surynamaskara, some standing, followed by either asana (and/or Vinyasa Krama variations) from the first half of Ashtanga Primary or Second series. Finishing tends to be long shoulder stands and headstands with vinyasas, maha mudra, baddha konasana and padmasana.

Early shift yesterday, 7am start. First student didn't show up* so practiced some pranayamas, second student didn't show either, thought why not.....

*I have to stay in my booth with my earphones on in case the student suddenly arrives

A nice practice actually, half hour asana ( Let me see, Paschimottanasana, Triangmukha, bharadvajrasana, Maha Mudra and janusirsasana, marichiyasana.... navasana didn't work out. Utpluthi and a bit of a seated back stretch between each asana, kind of worked..... more like 20 minutes, took me ten to realise the student wasn't coming), finished with another ten minutes of nadi shodhana.


Getting home later I continued my practice, five sun salutations taking the Simon Borg-Olivier's approach I've been exploring on the Yogasynergy Fundamentals course, the video below gives you a taste of the first part of the salutation, every movement explained and justified....

Shoulderstand prep, this speeded of video from a few years back.

some of the Shoulder stand and headstand variations I've been working on recently...

followed by three minutes each side of maha mudra

and a few baddha konasana variations.

ending the practice with

Nadi shodhana pranayamas

and a short sit


Krishnamacharya was practicing Shoulder stand and headstand variations, not unlike those he taught to Ramaswami ( see Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa yoga) back in Mysore in 1938 during the period Pattabhi Jois was his student,  few if any of these variations made it into Jois' Ashtanga Vinyasa (some of the more challenging ones don't appear in Ramaswami's book either).

Below are the complete Vinyasa Krama Shoulder stand and headstand sequences Ramaswami offers us, the sequences are made up of subroutine. The guidance is to choose whichever variations or subroutines we wished to practice that day depending on time and appropriateness.

Overview below from my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book (LINK)

'Vinyasa Krama prayer', Ganesha prayer, Patanjali prayers I and II INC. Ramaswami's tutorial and practice sheet

Loved this surprise for Ramaswami, the class of this years teacher training at LMU secretly learning the full vinyasa Krama prayer that Ramaswami would start many of his classes with and singing it to him near the end of the course.

Not that big on chanting myself ( although there are a few I like to chant from Manju and Ramaswami, including the pranayama chant) but I always loved how Ramaswami chanted this at the beginning of class. I chant them at the beginning of my own workshops, I guess I think Ramaswami would appreciate it but mostly because I can always hear him when I do and it makes me smile.

In case you'd like to learn it yourself, here's Ramaswami's tutorial and a chant sheet.

Ramaswami's tutorial below

See also perhaps this old post, I've added the class video.

Ashtanga Pranayama and Meditation, Chanting from Manju (also Sharath) and my favourite chant from Ramaswami.

Also this on Ramaswami's tutorial on chanting the Yoga Sutras

Chanting Yoga Sutras

Friday, 21 August 2015

Vinyasa Krama Bow and Meditative practice inc feet together Ustrasana and kapotasana

A companion piece to yesterdays post, 'Thinking in Vinyasa rather than asana'.

A great pleasure this morning to practice Vinyasa Krama Bow and Meditative vinyasas. Practice this morning was kapalabhati, six rounds of nadi shodana, Vinyasa krama tadasana vinyasas, Ashtanga standing  up to and including the hasta padangusthasana subroutine then on to the bow and meditative vinyasas, pretty much as you see them in the videos below from a couple of years back. Then a long slow paschimottanasana, long shoulderstand and headstand vinyasas, maha mudra, baddha konasana and padmasana for pranayama, pratyahara and a japa meditation sit. Nice practice

"The participants of the 200 hr program did the routine again Half hour Vinyasas, 45 mts daily (nitya) routine of static postures (asanas) like Sirsasana,the Pranayama, dharana meditation. and ended the session with a beautiful chant of the Atma suddhi (Self purification) mantra from the Yajur Veda. All thanks to the divine grace of my beloved teacher Sri Krishnamacharya".
Srivatsa Ramaswami

First video below is a shortened version of the Bow and Meditative vinyasas ( meditative because the vinyasas are based on vajrasana, a classic meditation posture). the second video is of just the knees and feet together ustrasana and kapotasana. The final video is of ramaswami leading one of his students through Bow vinyasas on a 1980s TV slot.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Thinking in Vinyasa rather than Asana. "This is a Vinyasa not asana practice". Also visesha vinyasa explained.

I used to be annoyed at how the back cover of Ramaswami's The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga and how it states...

"Ramaswami presents sequences of more than 900 poses and variations...."

That always seemed misleading to me, it was the publisher of course, it seemed to suggest that the book included 900 asana whereas it's more like the usual 200-250 asana, I spent a lot of time counting and could never get close to 500 let alone 900.

That's this asana bias we have talking but in the Krishnamacharya tradition ( for want of a better word) we have a vinyasa system, Paschimattanasana is 15 vinyasa, Marichiyasana 22 (for A) each vinyasa is just as important as the asana proper or mudra, though we may stay for three, five, 15 breaths in the state of the asana, five ten minutes or more in an mudra. As Monty Python and the children sang

" Every inhalation and exhalation is sacred"

Krishnamacharya stresses this perhaps in Yoga Makaranda  by presenting each stage of the sun salutation and suggesting long stays of five, ten minutes might be possible and yet how often have we passed through those stages with barely a thought, likewise with each stage of a jump back and through.

Ramaswami did it again yesterday in his fb post, he mentioned that the students practiced

'100 visesha vinyasas', 

My first reaction, 'NO, they practiced a dozen or so asana' my second reaction was to kick myself as the penny finally dropped.

We should stress the number of vinyasa rather than the actual asana because that is what this method is all about, it's a vinyasa practice!

Breath and movement or rather each stage of the breath and movement .....even when in the state of the asana when we stay for several breaths we have the bandhas being engaged and loosened, information passing through our bodies (prana?), blood moving from high to low pressure in accordance with the asana. Those hand and arm movements in vinyasa krama as we come back to dandasana for example are just as important, as valuable, as a jump back and through.

We don't just practice a handful of asana (even a big handful as in Ashtanga) we practice hundreds of vinyasa, hundreds of inhalations and exhalations, ( perhaps a hundred kumbhakas or more). 


Congratulations to everyone who completed Ramaswami's Teacher training at LMU this month, it's a full on course. This was supposedly Ramaswami's last TT at LMU although he will no doubt teach shorter courses and workshops there. I also noticed this week that Ramaswami will be teaching a two week Advanced course in Chennai, very tempting.


I've mentioned how I no longer see much of a distinction between my straight 'Ashtanga', 'Krishnamacharya Primary Group ' and 'Vinyasa Krama' practices...., that's not exactly true there are times when the practice clearly leans more towards one or the other. The longer stays, kumbhaka and full vinyasa are more  characteristic of Krishnamacharya's Primary group. A very straight forward, by the numbers, Ashtanga 'though taken somewhat more slower, would still be familiar to most Ashtangi's and, as I now find myself back practicing, Vinyasa krama with the jump back and through taken out from between sides and variations and only included at the beginning of a new group or subroutine.

Pracrticing Vinyasa Krama again with a loose Ashtanga framework feels like coming home after the focus of the last couple of years recreating Krsiahnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda practice and the brief Straight Ashtanga interludes in Rethymno and at Spirityoga Osaka. 

My current practice then follows the general framework of a half Ashtanga Primary/2nd or Krishnamacharya Primary Group as laid out in his Yogasanagalu table but I drop some asana to make time for the longer stays. It's hot here in Osaka, 33 C in the practice room with 50% + humidity, so out go most of the jump backs. I add in a couple of vinyasas around some of the key the Ashtanga asana so Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana leads into krouchasana then Bharadvajasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana creating a Vinyasa krama subroutines before moving on to janu Sirsasana. I also include some of the hand and arm movements characteristic of Vinyasa Krama and Krishnamacharya's later teaching. This is all followed by long shoulderstands and  headstand with variations as we see in Ramaswami's presentation but also in the old 1938 Mysore video of Krihnamacharya. I end up with pranayama, pratyhara and more formal meditation, a not untypical Vinyasa Krama practice.

It was nice then to see this post from Ramaswami yesterday....

"10 minutes sirasasana
10 minutes sarvangasana
10 minutes paschimatanasana
5 minutes mahamudra
10 minutes ekapadasana (standing on one leg
asana for 5 mts on each leg)
15 minutes pranayama
10 minutes dharana meditation
all on top of more than 100 visesha vinyasas
Many in the 200 hr vinyasakrama yoga program at LMU did
today during the last week of the program"

I don't think this is necessarily the order they practiced these at LMU this week. I imagine it's much as we practiced it in 2010, the sun salutation with mantra followed the On one leg tapas then the visesha vinyasa sequences. Next up was perhaps the long paschimottanasana, prep for shoulderstand, a five minute  shoulderstand without variations, ten minute headstand with variations followed by another five minute shoulderstand with variations. That would lead into finishing with the maha mudra then pranayama and meditation. I'd be interested to hear in comments from anyone on the course how they might have approached it slightly differently this year.

But what are these visesha vinyasa I imagine many asking?

First thing to stress, Vinyasa Krama is not about sequences. Ramaswami organised the asana/vinyasa, at Krishnamacharyainto request into sequences to help us see the relationship between asana, how they lead towards each other, grow out of each other, how they are related. The sequences are made up of shorter subroutines. We learn these relationships then choose from amongst the asana/vinyasas and subroutines to make up our practice each day ( the Ashtanga series we can see are made up of such subroutines, the Marichi's for example). There are some key asana we are recommended to include, Pachimottanasana, head and shoulderstands, maha mudra and perhaps baddha konasana also ( Krishnamacharya used to include mayurasana in the list of asana one should practice daily).

The visesha vinyasas are distinctive subroutines that Ramaswami included at the end of his book and on the last week of his course at LMU. Ashtangi's might find these nice to practice on a moon day or Saturday before settling down to some pranayama and a sit ,or perhaps as an extra evening practice.


On my Sister Vinyasa Krama blog which developed into my Vinyasa Yoga Practice book I listed the Visesha sequences from Ramaswami's book, although I only prepared practice sheets for one and videos for two. Since that time, other attendees of Ramaswami's TT course at LMU have brought out some other excellent videos, I've included some of these below.

Ch. XI. Visesha Vinyasa Kramas p213
Sun salutation with mantra p213
119. vasishtasana p219
120. anjaneyasana p223121. halasana-pascimatana-uttanamayura sequence p228
122. utplutis p230

Arm balances p233
Ding namaskara ( salutations to directions ) p237
Khagasana flying bird pose sequence. p240


Sun salutation with mantra p213 ( my early version)

Sun salutations with mantra - Kelsey Garden

119. vasishtasana p219

120. anjaneyasana p223

121. halasana-pascimatana-uttanamayura sequence p228
with Debbie Mills

122. utplutis p230 ( and arm balances)

We can see that uncrossed leg jump through at 11:03 (note the quick glance up and smile at Ramaswami ). This was an early TV yoga slot Ramaswami did back in the 80s

Ramaswami includes a number of arm balances, I explored practicing them as a sequence, bit of a struggle

There are some extra visesha vinyasa sequences mentioned in Ramaswami's book that we practiced on his course

Ding Namaskara - salute to directions 
with Arby Robles

Khagasana flying bird pose sequence.

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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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