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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Videos : Proficient Primary Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama - Asana as Mudra.

This is mostly for my own reference, putting all these older asana videos in one place to see if I can somehow edit them together into one full practice..., possibly with a limited voice over.

Truth is, that 'baddha eka pada kapotasana' above was a lot of fun to play with at the time, my point is though that we don't need to go any further than, say, dandasana to explore a deep, proficient, indeed 'advanced' (whatever that means) practice.

Proficient Primary Ashtanga Vinyasa based on Krishnamacharya's early work.

See the Proficient Primary page at the top of the blog for the full explanation of the project, basically treating these asana that Krishnamacharya considered key somewhat as mudra.

Basically the idea is to explore longer stays in these asana with slower breathing, kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out),basically, treating them somewhat as asana.

In a more standard Ashtanga vinyasa practice, perhaps a half Primary, we might merely spend a little longer in one or more of these asana than perhaps usual.

In Vinyasa Krama we might use this as a framework and introduce other asana as preparation or extension/development as we see fit.

Practice framework

Kapalabhati - 36
Pranayama 6-12rounds



Short tadasana sequence of arm movements


Surya namaskara 3 A + 2 B 
( the first with 6 breaths at each stage, 12 breaths in Ardho Mukha Svanasana )

1. Trikonasana 
6 or 12 breaths each side

Optional extra standing posture(s) alternating each day

2. Dandasana/Pascimattanasana/ Asvini Mudra 
12 breaths
(followed by it's pratkriya purvottanasana)

One or more Optional Asymmetric asana approached as mudra 
(alternating daily) - 6 breaths each side

3. Maha Mudra 
12 - 24 breaths

4. Bharadvajrasana
12 breaths
(as an alternative to Marichiyasana)

5. Padma Mayurasana (optional )

Or Vajrasana with stomach lock.
6 -12 breaths
(Krishnamacharya recommended that we practice Mayurasana daily in Yoga Makaranda but it may depend on the strength of your wrists, I tend to avoid it these days due to a recurring unrelated wrist injury)

Tatka Mudra 
12 breaths


Dwi pada pitam
(sarvangasana preparation)

Urdhva Dhanurasana (optional)
6-12 breaths

6. Sarvangasana 
5 minutes
(Without variation, practiced as mudra)

7. Bhujamgi mudra 
6 -12 breaths
(as pratkriya to sarvangasana)

8. Sirsasana 
5 minutes as mudra - Viparita karani
5 minutes with variations

6 -12 breaths

approx. 5 minutes with variations


9. Baddha Konasana - 6, 12, 24 breaths

10. Yoga Mudra
6 -12 breaths

12 - 24 breaths

Bhastrika - 60 breaths
Nadi sodhana (6), 12, 24, 48 breaths

Formal Sit.
20, 40 minutes

Ideally practice A, B and C together early each morning.
If time is an issue ,A followed C might be practiced in the morning with B ( and perhaps C ) practiced later in the day.


Asana/Mudra Videos

Uddiyana bandha

Most if not all of the pictures I will be posting in the Proficient Primary Project will show a deep uddiyana bandha, this is to draw attention to the focus on the breath (long and slow) and in particular the kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out). Such a dramatic Uddiyana bandha as in the photos tends to be practiced on the hold at the end of the exhalation, however a more subtle, less dramatic, uddiyana may be employed and is perhaps advisable in the beginning stages of this approach to practice especially.

Exhale fully and before inhaling draw the belly, below and above the navel, in and up. Mula bandha will follow. Hold for 2-5 seconds.

Personally I tend to find the deep uddiyana a distraction from the stillness of the kumbhaka, bandhas should no doubt gain in subtlety, a background practice.

Krishnamacharya said that in the kumbhaka we see god.

I would go further and suggest that in the kumbhaka we see god... or the absence of god

Personally, when approaching my practice this way (and it's been around four years), I just find stillness, a quite profound stillness that on a good day joins up kumbhaka with kumbhaka throughout my practice, and stays with me for much of my day.

NOTE:  some of these videos include offer several variations/options, these might be practiced or we might merely stay in the key asana/mudra and breathe.

Optional Introduction mudra and tadasana sequence

Some tadasana options below for slowing the breath, we might do less or more of these variations.(the full forty minute tadasana sequence  is on my YouTube channel).

Sun Salutation/Standing

A slow approach to sun salutation but we could of course begin our practice here with regular salutations. We might include more postures in the standing section



These asana might begin and end at standing (my preference) or be practiced with half vinyasa, either between sides or between asana, more counter postures might be included if required.



Ramaswami tends to teach shoulderstand/sirsasana by beginning with a few preparatory asana, followed by a five minute shoulderstand with no variations, a counter posture, then our sirsasana ,the first five minutes without any variations perhaps, then another shoulderstand, this time perhaps with variations. 
This approach could of course be simplified.


Pranayama and Sit. 

This is the approach to pranayama with mantra that I was taught by Ramaswami, Krishnamacharya's student of thirty plus years. Ramaswami would tend to begin with the kriya kapalabhati before moving into pranayama. One could of course replace the mantra with a worthy alternative of ones own choosing, the pater noster perhaps which would also come out at around twenty seconds.

Of late, I've tended to drop the mantra altogether after a few rounds and enjoy the stillness during the kumbhaka(s).

Ramaswami taught Japa meditation, sitting with (or mentally reciting) a short mantra. 
Any preferred approach to our Sit might be considered however but ideally perhaps working towards one pointedness.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dandasana as Samastithi : Proficient Primary.

I hear that one of my Ashtanga heroes Chuck Miller, devotes much of his workshops to Samasitithi, 

"On the first day of practice, we stood in samstithi for what felt like hours, while Chuck told us about the importance of this word, sama, and how it had risen to the top of his yogic chart, giving a directionality to all the postures, a place to move towards. He explained, as our legs began to burn and our shoulders involuntarily hunched up only to be pulled back down by his firm reminders of maintaining samastithi, that sama, same-ness, non-separateness is the goal; that yoga is the process of waking up to the realization of non-separation. That there is no separation between the feet and the earth that they press against; the earth gives back as much as we give her. We pressed our feet and grew taller; we swayed a bit, but returned to our core using the breath. Our fingertips grew heavy towards the earth. Our sacrum broadened. He placed a deity inside our bodies, her feet on our pelvic floor, her palms pressing against the inside of our breastbones. Our collective hearts expanded, and we grew roots that connected us to our core." from HERE

I was reminded of this while in dandasana this morning, I felt as if I could stay there all day, all practice at least. Ramaswami refers to Dandasana as Samasithi for seated postures. Just as his teacher Krishnamacharya had taught him, Ramaswami suggested that we might employ many of the hand/arm movements that we had learned from him in tadasana. 

Following Krishnamacharya's early instruction we might also employ a long stay in dandasana, we might explore kumbhaka, holding the breath in after inhalation or out after exhalation. We may explore dandasana just as we might tatkamudra with a deep uddiyana bandha.

Here's Krishnamacharya from Yoga Makaranda and the dandasana before folding forward into paschimattanasana

"In the 6th vinyasa, doing puraka kumbhaka, jump and arrive at the 7th vinyasa (Dandasana). That is, from adhomukhasvanasana sthiti, jump forward and move both legs between the arms without allowing the legs to touch the floor. Extend the legs out forward and sit down. Practise sitting like this with the rear part of the body either between the two hands or 4 angulas in front of the hands. It is better to learn the abhyasa krama from a guru. In this sthiti, push the chest forward, do puraka kumbhaka and gaze steadily at the tip of the nose".


"Pascimattanasana or Pascimottanasana 
This asana has many kramas. Of these the first form has 16 vinyasas. Just doing the asana sthiti by sitting in the same spot without doing these vinyasas will not yield the complete benefits mentioned in the yoga sastras. This rule applies to all asanas.
The first three vinyasas are exactly as for uttanasana. The 4th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana, the 5th vinyasa is urdhvamukhasvanasana, the 6th vinyasa is adhomukhasvanasana. Practise these following the earlier instructions. In the 6th vinyasa, doing puraka kumbhaka, jump and arrive at the 7th vinyasa. That is, from adhomukhasvanasana sthiti, jump forward and move both legs between the arms without allowing the legs to touch the floor. Extend the legs out forward and sit down. Practise sitting like this with the rear part of the body either between the two hands or 4 angulas in front of the hands. It is better to learn the abhyasa krama from a guru. In this sthiti, push the chest forward, do puraka kumbhaka and gaze steadily at the tip of the nose. After this extend both arms out towards the feet (the legs are already extended in front). Clasp the big toes of the feet tightly with the first three fingers (thumb, index, middle) of the hands such that the left hand holds the left big toe and the right hand holds the right big toe. Do not raise the knees even slightly. Then, pull in the stomach while doing recaka, lower the head and press the face down onto the knee. The knees should not rise from the ground in this sthiti either. This is the 9th vinyasa. This is called pascimottanasana." Krishnamacharya - Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934).


In the Proficient Primary approach to practice that I devote a page to at the top of the blog, treating asana as mudra, I would often include a deep uddiyana bandha. Recently I've been questioning bandhas more and more and include them less often, mostly in tatkamudra, dandasana and perhaps maha mudra, more out of affection and familiarity perhaps rather than anything else.

from my fb post this week on bandhas.
A year on from the series of Proficient Primary posts and I'm questioning the purpose of bandhas' more and blackberries, certainly engaged as fully as this. In a recent video demo Sharath said the 'cheat' jump back from padmasan served no purpose, then the approach Demonstrated That supposedly Engages bandhas .... though I used to practice and enjoy That same transition I can not help but ask now, what is the purpose of bandhas? Are they Merely Tantra inspired Hatha practice of no value whatsoever for 'Patanjali's' Ashtanga. Are they only of benefit Within Hatha practice, the internal muscle control That may or may not involve offering support for certain challenging asanas or extreme Pranayama techniques That Merely give yoga teachers something to teach and are, if we are honest perhaps, surplus to requirements. If we are practicing Ashtanga, then why do we allow ourselves to become distracted know. A criticism of Those Who leave Ashtanga That is Often they could not face the boredom of the same series asanas day in, day out, Are not we who stay Within Ashtanga Often guilty of the same, blackberries asanas, the next series, in new transition, ever fancier, floatier transitions, blackberries anatomy awareness than Necessary, blackberries alignment, blackberries Pranayama techniques, longer retentions, blackberries Sanskrit, blackberries .... texts, learn more chants, learn to chant the whole Yoga sutras rather than Merely do as it says and basically cultivate, or rather embrace, boredom, work on the yama / niyama of our cultures, basic asanas , nadi shodhana and Sit.


In the first video below, from a few years back, I offer the more gently vinyasa krama entry to dandasana. In the second video, an Ashtanga Vinyasa jump through followed by some hand arm movements in dandasana.

In the appendix I include the dandasana section from my Proficent Primary page. 

NOTE: My friend Francesca has kindly translated my Proficient Primary post into Italian here

Vinyasa Krama lead in to Dandasana

Vinyasa Krama Dandasana subroutine
I jump into Dandasana four minutes in, before that there is a slow Sun salutation.



Proficient Primary.

If advanced asana can be endlessly promoted through Instagram then perhaps we can also promote Primary asana and the proficiency we can explore there, in postures that most can approach. 

2. Dandasana/Pascimattanasana/ Asvini Mudra

Asvini mudra locates between Dandasana and Paschimattanasana, before lowering into asana we may practice the posture as mudra. Krishnamacharya's third son T.K.Sribhashyam indicates that his father suggested practicing Kapalabhati here, 32 or 64 times. We may also practice 12 Ujjayi breaths, sama vrtti (equal) the same long slow inhalation, perhaps 8-10 seconds followed by kumbhaka (breath retention) as with the long slow exhalation and it's kumbhaka. After the exhalation we might engage uddiyana bandha more fully along with mula bandha. Jalandara bandha is engaged throughout.

As mentioned in the earlier post we might employ the default points of focus, Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows) where the head is up or Nasagra (tip of nose) when the head is down as here with the jalandara bandha.

Mudras unite the body with the mind, internal points of focus and concentration may be employed, indeed they are recommended.

In Asvini Mudra we might shift the concentration on the inhalation from mula (perinium), to Sroni (centre of pelvis), to nabhi (navel), to hrdaya (middle of heart), to Kantha (back of throat). Focus on Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows) on the kumbhaka after inhalation. Exhalation is always only one concentration point, here nabhi (navel).

Asvini Mudra is a recognised mudra however we might also take a 'mudra like' approach to Paschimattanasana itself. Given the deep fold, a longer exhalation is suited, kumbhaka and a deeper uddiyana bandha might be employed. On the shorter inhalation the jalandara bandha may be slightly relaxed we may even lift slightly out of the fold on the inhalation before folding back in on the next exhalation engaging jalandara fully again in time for the next kumbhaka.

Krishnamacharya suggests staying in Paschimattanasana for around ten minutes and indicates it is a key posture to be practiced daily along with its counterposture Purvotanasana.

For more on the practice of mudra and internal concentration points see T.K Sribhashyam's Emergence of Yoga.
see also this earlier post

Monday, 13 March 2017

Ashtanga and Ageing: The games we played.... Should Advanced (demonstration?) asana be practiced daily?

If we accept, and this comes from Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois themselves, that the Advanced asana were intended for demonstration purposes....., should we be practicing such advanced asana daily..., or at least four days a week.... and practicing in this way over decades. This isn't intended as a criticism of Ashtanga vinyasa (there are many advanced postures in Vinyasa Krama that we are encouraged to try), I find great value in practicing the same asana daily,, it's a wonderful way to build discipline, but given the rise in the number of practitioners and the number who have moved on to advanced asana and the number of 'superstars' shilling their Advanced practice to put seats on mats in workshops and sell product, is this wise. The occasional demonstration of the more extreme asana of the Advanced series, practiced by an experienced practitioner may do no lasting harm but practicing those 'demonstration intended' asana, day in day out, over decades may be a different matter.

To reframe the question.
Should we, should anyone, be practicing Advanced asana (almost ) daily and over decades, at what point should we accept the physical changes in our bodies, in our bone mass, chemical make up and adapt our practice accordingly?


This post relates to a video I put up on fb. I was teasing a friend about Vatyanasana and posted an old video of mine of jumping straight into the asana. 

Note: My friend Francesca has translated this post into Italian HERE 

Also, a new permanent page on Ashtanga/Yoga and Ageing at the top of the blog with intros and links to earlier posts.

The video itself came about from seeing a new edit of the Krishnamacharya, his family and BKS Iyengar demonstrating asana in the 1938 Mysore documentary footage (see the appendix for that old post and video). Here's my fb comment...

"The things Krishnamacharya used to teach those boys of the Mysore palace, no doubt for all the demonstrations they used to do. As with many postures and transitions (in the Advanced series for example, supposedly intended for demonstration only), practicing them daily would probably be too hard on the knees, the joints, other than for the occasional demonstration which might be acceptable with enough training and preparation. Unfortunately these days, third (Ashtanga series) is the new second and fourth is the new third, many students are now practicing advanced postures daily, I wonder if this is wise."

This has been playing on my mind. 

Often (mostly) on this blog, I'll throw a post up to see if I still agree with it by the end of the day, week...., year. I have a strong temptation to delete the first seven years or so of the blog and no doubt, five years from now, I'll have the temptation to delete the rest of it as well but it is what it is, a document perhaps of shifting view of MY daily practice. 

A blog it's just a blog.

So this is an idea that I'm throwing up here to mull over. 

A daily, Primary series practice is one thing perhaps ( and even that includes some postures that Krishnamacharya originally tagged as Intermediate (EG. Marichiyasana D), as did Jois (re uttihita parsvakonasana B), as well as perhaps some of the gentle 'back stretches from 2nd series but what of many of the more challenging postures particularly those in Advanced A and B ( 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th).?

So this is how I understand it plays out in Ashtanga these days.

You begin to learn Primary. Perhaps for the first class or two (or eight ) you only do the Suryanamaskars, maybe some of the standing postures before you begin to add on more Primary postures.

Perhaps you will be held at Marichiyasa D for some time..., some might be held there for all eternity. Personally, these days (contra to many of my earlier posts), I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing and will myself, more often than not, only practice half the Primary series, but this is because I like to practice slowly and a full series would take me all morning. I want time for my pranayama practice, for a Sit.... as well as to do the ironing.

Eventually we might complete Primary and begin to add on 2nd series, the Intermediate asana series. Again we may get held up at kapo for a few lifetimes and a few more at karandavasana.

It's after Karandavasana I think that you then tend to switch to working on second series daily with Primary only practiced on Friday, so five days of Intermediate asana,. one of Primary

Likewise, on completing the Intermediate series, we begin to add on Third series (Advanced series asana) until finally switching to just 3rd for four days a week, Primary and Intermediate asana practiced one day each..... and so it goes on.

If you've gone so far as to switch to fourth series you will now be practicing fourth series three days a week, 3rd, once, 2nd, once and Primary series once.

So four days of Advanced asana, one day each of Intermediate Primary asana

There are some slight differences between how the different senior teachers go about the above and personally I don't accept any one authority for 'the method'. Sharath's approach is interesting but so too is Manju's, Saraswati's and other earlier approaches maintained by the first teachers to practice with Pattabhi Jois, each with their different idiosyncrasies, depending on which years they first learned the practice and adapted it to their own teaching environment. I don't even accept Pattabhi Jois himself as an authority, which Pattabhi Jois would you choose, the author of Yoga Mala or the ageing teacher faced with hundreds of students. Nor do I accept Krishnamacharya as an authority for that matter. My problem of course is with the word 'authority', it's enough to reflect on the different approaches to practice and over time, with experience, find which approach best suits you personally.

If we accept, and this comes from Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois themselves, that the Advanced asana were intended for demonstration purposes....., should we be practicing such advanced asana daily..., or at least four days a week.... and practicing in this way over decades. This isn't intended as a criticism of Ashtanga vinyasa (there are many advanced postures in Vinyasa Krama that we are encouraged to try), I find great value in practicing the same asana daily, it's a wonderful way to build discipline, but given the rise in the number of practitioners and the number who have moved on to advanced asana and the number of 'superstars' shilling their Advanced practice to put seats on mats in workshops and sell product, is this wise? The occasional demonstration of the more extreme asana of the Advanced series, practiced by an experienced practitioner may do no lasting harm perhaps but practicing those 'demonstration' intended asana, day in day out, over decades may be a different matter.

If you are young, and relatively flexible and with a particular body/sinew/bone structure type, starting practice at Uni, you could end up working on 3rd series at say twenty-five and then continue practicing advanced series asana daily for the next twenty to thirty years. 

That's an extreme but perhaps you started Ashtanga in your late twenties ended up at third series in your mid thirties, you could be practicing advanced series asana for ten, fifteen years before you decide enough is enough and start dropping asana and series.

I happened to be forty-three when I started. After completing Primary I moved pretty quickly through Advanced A and all but a couple of postures of B, the photos on the Krishnamacharya proficient asana list below were taken I think three years after I started. Thankfully around this time I began to practice Vinyasa krama with Ramaswami ( mainly because his book contained so many asana) and encountered a slower approach to practice. On studying and practicing with Pattabhi Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya's texts, I slowed my practice right down, these day's I mostly just practice the first half of Primary and occasionally the first half of Intermediate series.

Krishnamacharya7s Yogasangalu now available for free download for personal study from here

Krishnamacharya7s Yogasangalu now available for free download for personal study from here

Personally, I think now, I shouldn't have been practicing half of the above asana at that point but I was getting older and thought at the time it was a case of now or never plus I was amazed and a little intoxicated with what I found my body able to do. I wince when I see early video of Pattabhi Jois himself muscling his students into Advanced postures, who perhaps shouldn't even have been practicing 2nd. 

To reframe the question.
Should we, should anyone, be practicing Advanced asana (almost ) daily and over decades, at what point should we accept the physical changes in our bodies, in our bone mass, chemical make up and adapt our practice accordingly?


A couple of old videos of exploring advanced asana from 2011

I  should point out that I'm a home practitioner (notice the ' home' in the blog title) and apart from three months with Kristina in Rethymno, Crete ( highly recommended) back in 2014, which included a couple of short TT's with Manju and a a month with Ramaswami in LA (Vinyasa Krama TT) I7ve always explored my practice alone at home. I started with books and DVD in 2007, the videos below exploring Advanced B are from 2011. I've never had any Ashtanga interviews other than a bruised toe but then shortly after these videos I become interested in exploring a slower practice with longer stays and pretty much lost interest with more advanced asana, primary asana seemed quite sufficient. had I gone to a teacher more, depending on the shala, I might have been held back more or encouraged beyond my own (perhaps limited) sense of caution and common sense.

A thought on these videos: 

I'm reminded of the old cybershala, how we would bounce ideas and posts around the blogs, exploring different postures together, sharing hints tips, picking up on topics and running with them. Our videos tended to be mostly 'work in progress'. Apart from going a little deeper in kapotasana, once we got the basics of a posture I think we pretty much tended to lose interest in videoing it, there are few ( if any ) fancy locations and beautiful examples of asana from those years (except perhaps Laruga back before she was teaching, her home practice an inspiration), we were sharing amongst friends rather than promoting ourselves, trying to catch the moment a posture or transition just clicked into place (actually that's probably not completely true, I'm sure there were periods where our ego got the better of us, but on the whole, on the whole). I started this particular blog as a response to the perfect Ashtanga series I saw on you tube, Lino Miele, John Scot. David Swenson, Richard freeman, mark Darby..., their jump throughs were too perfect, so far from my own attempts, I wanted to catch the moment my efforts first bore fruit, so we could see what it was that made the difference, likewise with kapotasana, karandavasana, dropping back, as well as these later forays into advanced series asana.

Appendix 1.

The full 45 minute Krishnamacharya (and Iyengar) 1938 silent Newsreel plus , jumping in and out of Vatyanasana.

Nice to sees new version of this in full (Thank you Tom and Youtube for allowing longer videos, up untill now it's been in five sections). Are there some bits that I don't remember from the chopped up version? Iyenger jumping straight into Vatyanasana for example at 29:09, at first I thought he was going for lotus but no.

Got to try that, the things Krishnamacharya used to teach those boys, no doubt for all the demonstrations they used to do. As with many postures and transitions (in the Advanced series for example, supposedly intended for demonstration only), practicing them daily would probably be too hard on the knees, joints but for the occasional demonstration, acceptable perhaps with enough training and preparation. Unfortunately these days, third is the new second and fourth the new third, many students are now practicing advanced postures daily, I wonder if this is wise.


Had to give it go, first side is just about OK but the second side a struggle, don't manage to get the foot high enough into the groin, cute party trick though, nice play a bit after such a heavy practice this morning.

This is a 'freestyle' approach to Vatayanasana As opposed to this one which is closer to the Ashtanga approach 'Working on getting my vatyanasana back'.

Should also add that it's perhaps something to think twice about before trying at home as your messing with your knees. I've spent quite some time playing with the hands free getting into lotus and hop to lotus jump through,

And on a similar theme, the jump in and out of padmasana

Appendix 2

Krishnamacharya practicing at 84

What does practice look like after 70 years?

Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu ( Link to translation) was originally published in 1942, these photos are from the 3rd edition 1972



Or perhaps practice after 70 years just looks like this...

from Breath of Gods

*These pictures were taken for and added to the 1972 edition of Yogasanagalu putting Krishnamacharya at 84. Krishnamacharya was first taught asanas by his father from when he was six.

See the follow up post here

Krishnamacharya seems to have practiced along with his students.

Yesterday I posted 120 odd pictures of Krishnamacharya demonstrating asana from the 3rd edition of his second book Yogasanagalu, he was 84 at the time. The pictures were remarkable, how did he manage to stay that strong, that flexible, his eldest son Desikachar gives us a clue,

".....Of course, he was also doing Āsana for three to four hours daily in addition to his Prāṇāyāma. His practice was extremely rigorous and that may account for his being able to handle these large quantities of spicy and sweet foods.

and the third post in this series


You may have no problems at all up to the age of fifty or sixty. After that, the real problem arises when the tissues of the body do not bear the load. What I practise now is more difficult than what I did when I was young or struggled to learn. Though today, I don’t consider those practices as very hard although I practised ten hours a day then. Today, it is a big fight between the body and the mind. The body says, “I can’t do it.” The mind says, “Do not force me.” BKS Iyengar


"Most people want to take joy without suffering, I'll take both. 
See how far suffering takes me" BKS Iyengar Light on Life.

We may not attain samadhi but perhaps the work we do in exploring the limbs of Ashtanga practice may prepare us somewhat for the suffering and hardship that awaits us. Few if any manage to avoid suffering completely. We do not seek pain or suffering but when it can not be avoided, reduced , deflected, we must be prepared perhaps to face it unflinchingly with dignity and forbearance and learn too from this pervasive aspect of life what it can teach us. 

Below is perhaps the most affecting article I've read on yoga, I'm tempted to print it out, frame it, and put it on the wall of the home shala. I've also included some notes on Iyengar's passing and a couple more articles, titled 'Seeing is believing' on BKS Iyengar practicing in his 80s.

At 92 years of age BKS Iyengar continued to practise yoga for several hours each day. Here he describes how his practice changed with age and offers advice to students on yoga in later life.

You may have no problems at all up to the age of fifty or sixty. After that, the real problem arises when the tissues of the body do not bear the load. What I practise now is more difficult than what I did when I was young or struggled to learn. Though today, I don’t consider those practices as very hard although I practised ten hours a day then. Today, it is a big fight between the body and the mind. The body says, “I can’t do it.” The mind says, “Do not force me.”

Will over matter

Believe me, after a certain age, to practise āsana and prānāyāma is going to be very hard. I am doing it because of this reason only. The body ages. It descends towards deterioration. The rate of catabolism increases more than anabolism. The bones become brittle. The blood vessels get hardened. All these are known facts. I do not want to fall prey to these. If I surrender to the will of the body, then I am no more a yogic practitioner. When I practise, I watch how to stop this deteriorating process. That is the will over matter.
Then you say, “Iyengar doesn’t need anything because he has practised earlier”. But that is not the right way of thinking. In fact, I see how at this age I need to practise. I have to avoid the constriction of the sternum. I have to see how the diaphragm remains free. If I look at the possible deteriorations and maintain my practice of āsana, then people say that I am a physical yogi.

Increased timings

Often people think that at the old age they should do dhyāna (meditation) or japa (repetition of mantras) instead of āsana and prānāyāma practice. I am not that type of a sādhaka (practioner) to take shelter under the garb of old age. I will not run away from my practice because of the fear complex of old age. I do meditation in each āsana as in each āsana I see God who is infinite and beyond measure. Because of age I have increased timings in my practices. Mind and body want to give way. I daily charge my body and mind to stand with will power so that I do not surrender to the weakness of my body and mind.
Having a good background of philosophy, practising yoga, I now continue life without depending on anyone. I have to stick to the philosophy of the body as I am already ingrained in the spiritual knowledge.

The steadiness of intelligence

The only difference between now and the early days is that in the early days I was like all other youngsters. I was tempted to do the āsana one after the other. Today, I stay in Dwi Pāda Viparīta Dandāsana or in Kapotāsana for quite a length of time. At this age I clearly understand the sūtra (Yoga Sutras, II.46), sthira (stable, firm) sukham (sweet, easy) āsanam (posture) in its total sense. Now, I see in each āsana, the perfect freshness and firmness of body, the alert, steadiness of intelligence and the sweet, benevolence of the self. I see whether I can enjoy sthira and sukha in a long stay in Kapotāsana. Can I be sthira and sukha in Dwi Pāda Viparīta Dandāsana?
Sometimes I do ten minutes Pārsva Śīrșāsana, on each side. These are difficult āsanas. Nobody does the advanced or complicated āsana at this age. Nobody takes the risk of doing and staying in these āsana as it requires courage. To do and maintain an āsana when the muscles and nerves tremor and the loose joints shake, heart beats faster, it is not an easy thing. I am not that type of a person to sit in Padmāsana and say, “I am comfortable.” If you are doing yoga, you realise the difficulties as one ages. So, my advice to all of you is that as yoga frees one from the afflictions of actions, afflictions come in chains in old age. Therefore maintain and sustain what you have learnt and do to keep it up then.

Courage and faith

This needs not only will power but also courage and faith. By the proper chemistry of will power and courage along with discrimination, the yogic practices generate the energy in the nerve cells as you stay in those difficult āsanas for a long time with comfort. At this age I learn lots of things. It is the wisdom that comes at this age. I have not lost this freshness of intelligence.
When you do Pārsva Śīrșāsana, sometimes you may not know where the legs are, where the shoulders are, where the load is. For an aging person like me, it is more difficult to have the sensitivity; yet, I have not lost it. Every now and then I come back to the right position in case I deviate from my limbs or mind. I educate the cells that they have to remain where I want them. I try for sthira sukham āsanam in these difficult āsanas. It is easy to be sthira and have sukham in the simple āsana.
I regularly practise prānāyāma and dhyāna in Padmāsana. You do not see me early in the mornings to know what I do. You only see me practising āsana in the hall, but my approach is the same in prānāyāma, dhārāna and dhyāna. To be honest, this is ethics.
Tatah klesha karma nivrttih (YogaSutras, IV.30). With the end of afflicted oriented actions, see that the afflictions do not enter the system or you in old age.

Dipika, 2011

Do follow the link (click the article title) and check out the website, the excellent BLOG ( the Resource page ( has amongst much else all the Iyengar Yoga News Magazine mentioned above to view and download

Two years ago I woke up to hear that BKS Iyengar had passed away. I was in Rethymno, Crete at the time, practicing Ashtanga at Kristina Karitinou's shala for three months. I mentioned to Kristina that the great man had passed and she informed the rest of the class and dedicated the mornings practice to his memory. At the end of my practice I quietly went out into the courtyard behind the shala and dropped back a 108 times just as I had once seen Iyengar do on perhaps his 80th birthday. It was only the second time I had attempted so many dropbacks (see this post) and I had to split it into four groups with a brief pause between each. At the time I wasn't exactly sure why I was doing it, wished after the first batch I hadn't started, and wondered why I was so moved by his passing,  I was an 'Ashtangi 'after all, I'd never been to an Iyengar class, still haven't..... reading this article now I wish now I had done that 108 twice.

Iyengar dropping back again and again and again 42 seconds into the movie below

On a workshop I was presenting at Stillpoint Yoga in London a few months later an Iyengar teacher who reads my blog occasionally sent me, via his student who was attending my workshop, some pages on Iyengar's late practice (from Iyengar Yoga News. Some sample pages below, the magazines are now available to view and download at the links)

The practice was stunning, bemusing even, long long stays one after another, five minutes here, ten, fifteen minutes there, asana after asana, what possessed the man...... the article above goes someway perhaps to explaining but only someway. I held off posting those pages at the time but now I see they are readily available online.

See Part one of Inyengar's practice on p36 of  issue 3 

Part two on p 33 of issue 4

UPDATE: Encountering these articles again on BKS Iyengar's practicing in his 80s and 90s, I wanted to read more of his later writing. I've just started reading his Light on Life, a quite wonderful book, did Iyengar suspect it might be his last? It feels like a summation of all that he had learned in his lifetime of Ashtanga enquiry. The book treats each of Ashtanga's (eight) limbs chapter by chapter, we have Iyengar on asana, pranayama practice, on approaching/exploring each of the other limbs with the same uncompromising will with which he investigated asana throughout his life. 

Asana practice often gets a bad wrap these days, "That's not yoga", they say. 'They' see the play perhaps, the promotional asana that can, at times, distract us too from our work, we can allow ourselves some distraction perhaps if we then rejoin the struggle with ever more commitment. 

It is work, that daily discipline that characterises practice as we understand it.Lineage is of no importance other than to cling to an illusion of authority, another distraction, a support perhaps in the beginning, at some point it may become a hinderance to enquiry and what else is yoga. Sincere, committed practice, ideally daily, in whatever form it takes, moving or static, a mix of the two. Practiced with resolve it forges the will, the discipline required of the other limbs it leads us towards. 

There is a line from Iyengar's Light on Life that came back to me looking at these pictures...,  

"Most people want to take joy without suffering, I'll take both. 
See how far suffering takes me"

Was Svātmārāma thus, Matsyendrasana, in their uncompromising enquiry? 

(When) will we see his like again?


Note. The approach to Ashtanga I personally take now, at 53, is outlined in my Proficient Primary page


Do follow the link (click the article title) and check out the website, the excellent BLOG ( the Resource page ( has amongst much else all the Iyengar Yoga News Magazine mentioned above to view and download.

Iyengar yoga Institute UK

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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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