"For people over fifty, it is enough to practice some of the easier and more useful asanas, as well as some of the pranayamas.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois - Yoga mala
I just watched this video from David Garrigue on Flexibility within the Ashtanga Lineage and it reminded me of a post I thought I had put up a few months back. Turns out it was still sitting there in draft unposted. Thought I would just add David's video as well as another post I wrote on this topic a few years ago.
The video below was originally a Live Periscope...... thing (what do you call those, video, Live stream?).
"Many of us make our way through our daily practice, doing the best we can within our given set of circumstances. We each have to contend with our too long list of outer and inner obstacles, as well as physical and psychological limitations. And as if simply facing the challenges of daily practice were not enough, many of us faithfully do our daily version of practice and yet still we feel somehow unworthy, like fakes or a phony's, like somehow our efforts aren't good enough, our practices not deep, committed, strong, fluid enough.......
These were some of thoughts that came up around the periscope talk on flexibility within the ashtanga system that I gave a few days ago. I answered the question of a 61 year old woman with some serious physical limitations who was feeling the way many of us feel as described above. Believing these feelings almost succeeded in causing her to quit practicing. She wrote me after tuning into the broadcast, and told me that she took 'copious notes'! Here's her summary of my message to us all who are part of the ashtanga lineage:
1. I can do Ashtanga with all my limitations. Everyone has something (the too long list! "we are all pregnant") I am not alone.
2. Do the best I can with what I have.
3. It doesn’t have to be exacting if it is sincere and serious.
4. I can be part of the Ashtanga family".
David Garrigues. http://www.davidgarrigues.com/
Here's the post that's been sitting in draft.
I was asked if practicing a reduced practice and departing somewhat from the Ashtanga sequence(s) constituted a departure from the Ashtanga tradition/lineage.
"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.
Older people who want to start yoga, however, will find practicing the following ten asanas sufficient first, the Surya Namaskara (types 1 and 2); then Paschimattanasana; Sarvangasana;
Halasana; Karnapidasana; Urdhva Padmasana; Pindasana;Matsyasana; Uttana Padasana; and Shirshasana. It is preferable to do these in concert with the vinyasas [breathing and movement systems], but if this is not possible, then practicing while focusing on rechaka and puraka will suffice. Shirshasana should be practiced for at least ten minutes, and the rest, for at least ten rechaka and puraka while in the state of the asana. By practicing in this way, the body and sense organs will become firm, the mind purified, longevity will be increased, and the body will be filled with fresh energy.
For the middle-aged, it is best to do all the asanas. The more they are practiced, the stronger the body becomes, and obstacles such as disease cease to be a problem. Pranayama is easier, the mind becomes more harmonious as the quality of sattva [purity] comes to predominate, and intellectual power and longevity are augmented.
For the very old, however, who find the practice of Sarvangasana, Halasana, Uttana Padasana, Shirshasana, and Padmasana too difficult, it is enough to practice mahabandha daily, as well as rechaka kumbhaka pranayama, puraka kumbhaka pranayama, samavritti vishamavritti pranayama, and sithali pranayama. These will help them live happier and longer lives, and will insulate them from disease.
The weak and the sick, too, should gradually practice suitable asanas and pranayamas, and over time, as their strength increases, their practices should also increase. In this way, the diseases of the sick and the strength-lessness of the weak will be eliminated, leaving them healthy and vigorous".
Dropping some asana to practice fewer, 'more useful' asana, more slowly, including longer stays and thus leaving enough time for an extended pranayama practice as well as a sit is, it would appear, very much in keeping with Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala practice guidelines.
Which are the more useful asana?
Krishnamacharya recommended we practice paschmattanasana, maha mudra, sarvangasana, and sirsasana everyday (padmasana is a given). At other times he also recommended daily practice of mayurasana and baddha konasana.
Paschimottanasana would also imply it's counter
Ten minutes each in sarvangasana and sirsasana allow us to include several variations, many inverted versions of asana in the later half of Primary series.
If sun salutation is difficult or a problem ( I have a wrist issue at the moment then) this video from Simon Borg-Olivier might be appropriate.
See too this post on alternatives to headstand
Krishnamacharya's alternatives to Headstand in his third son Sri Sribhashyam's book Emergence of yoga
Krishnamacharya's alternatives to Headstand in his third son Sri Sribhashyam's book Emergence of yoga
Patanjali often gets quoted in Ashtanga circles to argue that one should never cease or interrupt our devotion to the Ashtanga vinyasa method.
Pattabhi Jois employs the sutra himself to argue that one shouldn't interrupt ones asana and pranayama practice....
"For many years you must practice asana and pranayama. The scriptures say: "Practicing a long time with respect and without interruption brings perfection." One year, two years, ten years... your entire life long, you practice". Interview with Pattabhi Jois
Pattabhi Jois is quoting Yoga sutra 1.14
1.14 When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation.
(sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih). Swamiji.com
This sutra of course refers to yoga practice in general, a meditative practice in which asana, pranayama, pratyahara as well as the yamas and niyamas play a significant role......
And an earlier post on this from Jan 8 2012
|Krishnamacharya aged 50|
I did ask if it was OK to share the email on the blog but and the writer was more than happy but I forgot to ask if they wanted to remain anonymous, so lets just say the email is from T.
"First of all thanks for sharing so much about your practice in your blog. It really inspires me for my practise!
I have topic, where I could not find answer or advice in any other place.
It is about ashtanga and age. I'm 47 yeas old now, I started regular practice 6 months ago. My progress is steady and I'm happy about it. However I'm aware that at some point I will have to adjust my practise to my physical abilities and limitations coming with the age. Maybe I worry to early? Maybe, but I can't see in shala in Warsaw (Poland) any older, I mean 50+ practitioners :-)
I think 50+ is age when ageing effect starts and your body stops liking such an intensive practice like regular ashtanga. I was hoping that 2-3 years of ashtanga will give me solid foundation before I can make conscious choice regarding my future practice. More pranayama? More meditation? Selected routines from Vinyasa Krama?
So the questions coming to my mind are like:
- until which age ashtanga provides best benefits for your body?
- when and how ashtanga yoga practise needs to be modified?
- is Vinyasa Krama more suitable for 50+ yogis?
I was hoping You can share your experiences about it".
My own view on this is that I started Ashtanga at 43, unfit and overweight as many of you know. I worked hard at it, perhaps a little too hard given the condition I was in when I started but was lucky enough to avoid injury. I ended up practicing Primary, Intermediate, Advanced and Advanced B, although the latter not really regularly enough to lay claim to it. Still most of the postures became possible.
So yes, Ashtanga is doable in your late 40s. I'm 50 now, the same age as Krishnamacharya in the old Black and White movie.
That said while you can practice a hard, fast paced Ashtanga into our 50's and beyond we don't have to practice it that way.
I've tried to show on this blog that there are many ways to approach your Ashtanga, it doesn't have to be as fixed as it often seems or how it gets mischaracterised in the media or misrepresented in some of the 'look at me' or promotional videos.
- We can add more preparatory postures, something in line with both Pattabhi Jois' and Krishnamacharya's teaching
- We don't have to practice it at such a hard, faced pace as we often see it presented. We can slow down the breath, lengthen it, this too is very much in keeping with the 'original' teaching.
- We don't have to practice the full sequence, just the sury's and the finishing sequence or the last three postures is fine, or up to navasana say, and then on to finishing. Yep, in line with original teaching.
Many of the senior teachers who have been practicing for 40 years or so and are now in their 50s/even 60s do something similar I think,
- We can cut out some of the transitions in between the postures, we did that anyway with the switch from full to half vinyasa, we can cut out the transitions between sides, or even between groups of postures.
- We can make more time for a little pranayama and meditation again all in keeping with what appears to be the original presentation of the practice
- And no, we don't have to fully bind Marichiyasana D say or have the full expression of every posture before we move on, we may never bind Mari D - as Manju Jois said, keep working on the posture, on deepening it, opening up in it so as to breathe more... we don't drop it necessarily but don't have to fully bind it with our hands either before moving on to the next posture.
Personally I don't think you need to wait until your 40's to modify your Ashtanga practice, actually I don't really like the word 'modify' here, I prefer 'focus on or bring out other aspects of the practice'.
It would be just as appropriate to take a slower approach ( a long, slow, full breath 'like the pouring of oil' ) to Ashtanga in your 20s as in your 40s or 50s
Like you I was very aware of my age thought I needed to get through the different series while still just about young enough, figured if I could reach Advanced by the time I was 50 I could then slow down a bit....there really was no rush. Primary is just as important as advanced series or Intermediate for that matter, it probably is all we ever need ( with the clarification that we may want to bring in other preparatory postures or do variations of some of those in the series).
My own practice as you have seen is a slower approach to Ashtanga, I really donut tend to see a distinction between my Vinyasa Krama and Ashtanga practice now. After a long time focussing on a Krishnamacharya approach to primary I'm currently working on the same with regard to intermediate series. Once I have my 2nd series back I'll probably practice along similar lines as Manju above, in the morning part primary, part 2nd series and a little of 3rd thrown in for luck followed by pranayama and chanting. In the evening a couple of changing vinyasa krama subroutines but with more focus on pranayama and meditation.
Hope that helps, I hope others have something to add on this.
Adding this comment to the body of the text because of the links.
Nice fb post from Ramaswami this weekend
About 25 years back this young man learnt a few asanas. He has been practising them regularly especially sarvangasana. I meet him almost every time I come to Madras/Chennai. I talked to him a few days back during my present visit. “I am still doing many of the asanas-- especially sarvangasana alone for 10 minutes everyday. I feel good about this sarvangasana. Can I continue to do that” he asked, “I have just turned 90” he said.