Friday, 29 July 2011

Holiday practice update

New post on the new blog

Reviewing all of Ramaswami's sequences while away on holiday this week so only giving myself the one day for ashtanga. Primary as usual today being Friday but ended up carrying on into 2nd series and doing all that as well. Strange after Vinyasa Krama all week, felt like yoga on crack this morning, or one of my speeded up videos. Sweated buckets too, the Jade yoga mat is NOT an Ashtanga mat. It absorbs sweat, not being closed cell like the Manduka, so you have to worry about drying it by the following morning and after a week your really going to want to wash it which might not be an option while your away.

Nice to do the Ashtanga though, best of all I got to jump in the hotel pool afterwards which I have to myself every morning.

So the main post is on the New 'Practicing Vinyasa Krama' blog as it it's been a VK week. Was wondering this morning if there are different blogging styles that match the different yoga styles. Most ashtanga blogs, but not all I hasten to add, are very asana practice focussed. Most posts tend to be about the mornings practice, the asana one's struggling with, tips and hits or plea's for help etc. Mine too of course which isn't a such a bad thing I guess, good to carry some of that asana focus over to Vinyasa Krama, there are some tricky postures in the different sequences, a lot of help with these in the ashtanga community,so some cross over is useful here. Are the posts on the Iyengar's blogs perfectly constructed? Is there a blogger gadget, an add on high powered spelling, grammar and style check? And what of the Jivamukti, Anusara and Bikrum blogs, what would they be like?

For some reason blogger is only allowing me to post using the HTML edit function and not the Compose edit,anyone found a way around that?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Launching my NEW blog : Practicing Vinyasa Krama Yoga at Home

I know, I said I was away on holiday for a week and wouldn't be blogging ( see yesterday's post ) but I don't actually go away until tomorrow. So one more post, and then I'm gone, no really.

This one is to launch a new blog which I'm calling, 'Practicing Vinyasa Krama Yoga at Home'

In his Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga Ramaswami presents several hundred postures, grouped into subroutines and Sequences. So, for example, we have a Marichiyasana subroutine in the Asymmetric sequence, a Kurmasana subroutine in the Seated sequence and a Baddha konasana subroutine in the Lotus sequence.

Supposedly Krishnamacharya recommended grouping the sequences this way and it does make sense, you see the relation between postures, how one leads into another building on what has gone before, for me it was a revelation.

The problem comes when you try to turn this resource into an actual daily practice, there is so much in the book that it can be a little overwhelming. Ramaswami recognises this and gives suggestions on how to approach your practice both in the book itself and in his newsletters. Below is a link to perhaps his clearest presentation. I've tried to make clearer still by breaking it up into bullet points.

How to practice Vinyasa krama ( in bullet points )

My new blog is an attempt to take that further still. I've fished out fifty or so Vinyasa Krama posts from this blog and copied them over to the new one. There are still more to move but the process is slow going and I'm getting a headache, it's a start.

The posts reflect my own attempts at getting to grips with Ramaswami's Vinyasa Yoga, coming from an Ashtanga practice. Some are practice outlines, some exploring favourite postures and subroutines. I've put the last year or so of Ramaswami's Newsletters there as well as posts that show how I've used Vinyasa Krama to modify my Ashtanga practice, sometimes that's because of injury other times to see if it helps me get deeper into postures and still others for the hell of it.

The blog is subtitled 'An integrated practice' so there are posts too on Chanting, meditation, pranayama as well as the stand alone pages from the bar at the top of this blog, these are areas I hope to explore further in future posts.

In future posts I'll continue to explore approaches to practice but also look at individual postures in a similar way to how I've done here but from the Vinyasa Krama perspective rather than Ashtanga.

It struck me that this blog is getting too big and confusing. If your only interested in Vinyasa Krama you have to really pick through the Ashtanga posts to find what your looking for. And for the Ashtangi's it must often seems that the Vinyasa Krama posts are written in conflict with Ashtanga (sometimes they are but not always).

I could just turn this one into a Vinyasa Krama blog of course but I'm a little proud of the first year or so where I was trying to find my feet in the practice. Kind of feel the posts and video's reflect the struggles everyone goes through on starting Ashtanga and might be useful for others starting out especially those whose only option is to practice at home.

Anything I post on the new blog will get a link here, so if your interested in the Vinyasa Krama stuff you wont miss out. I still plan on practicing Ashtanga, Primary on Friday's, 2nd series on Sunday so will post here that's ashtanga related.

This will probably remain my main blog.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Holiday practice

So today is my Birthday and I have a weeks holiday. M is sending me off to Wales to a little hotel with a pool by the sea. Practice on the beach perhaps.

The plan is to take the week to review all the Vinyasa Krama sequences, haven't practiced them as they are in Ramaswami's book for a quite a while, looking forward to it. I get to have a long three hour practice on my day off but be nice to indulge in that daily for a bit. Long long stays in postures, excited.

On Ramaswami's course we built up to forty minute pranayama sessions, I do that on my day off but the rest of the week I split it between my morning and evening practice. Looking forward to doing the full eighty rounds both in the morning and evening while I'm away.

And meditation of course lots of meditation.

Yoga sutra's are coming with me, be nice to chant through them again (there's a lot of beach so can chant them as loud as I like), thinking about doing that everyday, don't chant as much as I'd like to, tends to be the first thing I cut back on, though I tend to be chanting away at my bench while doing repairs.

My Yogajavlkya for a start, the ipads coming so perhaps it's time to download The Waste Land app for the long train journey. I have the Yoga Upanishads on the Kindle app, looking forward to reading them again and some Heidegger obviously. His Discourse on Thinking is coming with me, a tiny book but you probably need to be on a deserted mudflat to really get stuck into it. I have an idea that his use of Gelassenheit (releasement) might bring an interesting perspective on surrender. Will need to take some Eckhart I guess as it's kind of his usage that Heidegger is borrowing. Oh dear, book bag getting full already.

Hotel has a small pool and it's walking distance form the beach so looking forward to swimming, Greece a couple of months ago reminded me how much I love to swim and I crave it now.

So will be away for a bit, no blogging though I might tweet or update FB occasionally (will put twitter back at the top of the blog).

Let you know how it went.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Would I be welcome at your Shala?

This relates to my two previous posts  A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1999  and  THE BOX : BEING INSIDE LOOKING OUTSIDE: AN ASHTANGA STORY by Norman Blair 

It often gets suggested to me that I should go to a shala, that I should practice with 'real live yogis '( not my expression I promise) rather than 'merely' practicing at home. Sometimes I think that would be a good idea too, I mean, I keep getting drawn back to Ashtanga, did primary today, loved it, either I completely kick the ashtanga habit, go cold turkey or just give myself up to it and embrace the whole thing, go to a shala, sign up for Sharath's Workshop, visit Mysore. Cant help wondering if I'd be welcome though ( and I actually have a week off next week and have been considering shalatime). So here's a thought experiment...

Let me ask you, would I be welcome at your shala?

So, I visit your shala, lay down my mat....

In standing I add a couple of one legged squats (good for building up the legs and strong legs helps with backbends). After Janu sirsasana A, I add maha mudra ( my teacher Ramaswami advised me to practice it everyday). I slip in a couple of extra seated wide angle variations because my hips happen to feel a little stiff that morning. In 2nd series I add a few extra bow poses as prep for backbends and before the leg behind head postures I add janusirsasana A, mahamudra as well as archer and heron, again extra prep that allows me to go deeper into the LBH postures, I'm not injured I just like the extra prep postures occasionally.

...would I be welcome in your shala?

Instead of five breaths in the three, sorry two, variations in paschimottanasana I stay for a full ten minutes. I spend five minutes each side in maha mudra, a pose I've added after janu sirsasana A. I spend ten minutes in Shoulderstand, twenty minutes in headstand, perhaps I include some leg variations while in those inversions.

.... would I be welcome in your shala?

After practice the finishing sequence I take a savasana and then do 108 rounds of kapalabhati then settle down to between twenty and forty minutes of Pranyama. After five minutes pratyahara I sit for twenty minutes silent mantra meditation.

.... would I be welcome in your shala?

After my meditation or perhaps instead of it, there on my mat, I pull out a copy of the sutras and quietly chant a chapter or two or perhaps I study the verses and/or a commentary.

...would I be welcome in your shala or would I be asked to leave?

You see, the way I was taught, the asana gets rid of the rajas, the agitation say, the pranayama gets rid of the tamas, the lethargy, putting me in a more satvic state. Supposedly this isTHE best state of mind for meditative practices, whether that be japa mantra meditation, sutra study, chanting. And it makes sense to me having meditated off and on over the years, it seems to work for me.

So it's NOW, right after my asana practice that I want to be doing my pranyama, not waiting till I get home an hour or two later or after work. And I want to be doing my meditation practice right after my pranayama and pratyahara not an hour or so after I've traveled by tube and train back home. As Krishnamacharya said, what's the point of cleaning the room (asana) if you don't use it.

I heard talk that Sharath might be freeing up the upstairs to the mysore shala in the future and that you'd be able to go upstairs and do pranayama or chanting or sutra study. Can't remember where I heard this, anyone else heard the same? If he does would that mean that all shala's would start offering that too.

Apologies for not getting around to responding to comments on the previous post, been running around lots and they are good long comments that i want to sit with for a few moments before  I respond. (this post is knocked off in the library).

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1995

My response to a comment on yesterdays post  THE BOX :BEING INSIDE LOOKING OUTSIDE:
AN ASHTANGA STORY by Norman Blair only really makes sense if you read the article first.

Hi Y.
I've just read it for probably the fourth time, lots in it.

Personally I don't think it matters why anyone practices. Ramaswami talks about this in an interview when being asked about gym yoga and I tend to agree, it's all good. Whatever kind of practice someone does and for whatever reason, chances are, somewhere along the line, they might look for something more within it and if not, well that's fine too.

However, Ashtanga and Ashtangi's do often tend to take themselves and their practice quite seriously (occasionally judging and being judgemental of other and others practice), guess the question is whether it delivers on it's own terms or if it's lost it's way somewhat. Is Norman suggesting that he thinks it might have or be in danger of that ?

I read the article again after reading this letter from Jois in YogaJournal that's doing the rounds. I know he's talking about Power yoga (Beryl Bender Birch in particular, though didn't they make up?) but he could almost be talking about modern Ashtanga, sounds very much like something Norman is saying in the second half of his article don't you think? Here it is.

A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1995


"I was disappointed to find that so many novice students have taken Ashtanga yoga and have turned it inot a circus for their own fame and profit (Power Yoga, Jan/Feb 1995). The title "Power Yoga" itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one's ego. Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the "six enemies" (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one's heart. The Yoga Sutra II.28 confirms this "Yogaanganusthanat asuddiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh", which means "practicing all the aspects of yoga destroys the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discrimination shines". It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out the essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations. 


The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with "power yoga" or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of libiration in the mud of ignorant body building. 


K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, South India


He's talking about the full Ashtanga system, all eight limbs and suggesting that that is absent from power yoga but one assumes is present or was present in the system he was teaching and received from his teacher krishnamacharya but where are those other limbs? Sharath has made a point of saying the the breath in Ashtanga is just breath with sound, that it's not ujaii, not pranayama*, nor is drishti pratyahara and the focus/concentration of Ashtanga is not, can't be the same as seated meditation.

Where's the yoga in Aashtanga?

I get the feeling recently that there are a number of senior Ashtanga teachers who are trying to reincorporate those other limbs, perhaps in workshops or stress their importance.

Just thinking out loud here as always, not critical for the sake of it and perhaps these are just personal questions though I suspect everyone asks them or something similar at some stage of their practice.

 I love Ashtanga but is it taking me where I want to go? Can it? How and in what ways do I need to broaden it's focus? Can I retain something of what I love in Ashtanga through, say, a kind of Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama approach or do I, personally, need to abandon Ashtanga altogether and just focus on Vinyasa Krama, on later Krishnamacharya, on incorporating the other limbs, a more integrated yoga practice?

* yes I'm aware that pranayama apparently gets taught to some long term students, supposedly when you get to third series but how many never get past the first half of second series or even Primary

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Box : An Ashtanga Story by Norman Blair

THE BOX
BEING INSIDE LOOKING OUTSIDE:
AN ASHTANGA STORY
by Norman Blair
I would like to present this piece in the spirit of compassion, co-operation and communication. My thanks to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Sharat Jois and all teachers who have developed this practice and helped me along this path. The purpose of writing is to encourage debate and dialogue amongst practitioners. Some of what is written might be controversial but this is not a rocking of the boat simply for the sake of provocation. If I see an elephant in the room it needs to be said – even if that elephant is Ganesh. This is a heartfelt attempt towards understanding this tradition and the possibilities for transformation.

ONE DAY MANY YEARS AGO
There are endless beginnings: one beginning is a morning in March 1963 when I took my first breath (it was an inhale). Another beginning was a day in 1973 when a young American called David Williams turned up at a house in Mysore to ask its inhabitant – a Brahmin in his late 50s called Sri K. Pattabhi Jois – to teach him yoga. I was 10 years old: I imagine myself happily playing in short trousers without too many worries. David Williams was 23 years old and on a mission not only to find himself but also to discover a source of living long life. He had been inspired by stories of Indian yoga practitioners who did miraculous feats and lived forever and while travelling in India he came across a demonstration of physical prowess by a yogi called Manju Jois. Manju’s father was his teacher – hence the journey to Mysore.

This has been a journey subsequently followed by tens of thousands in search of…well something: something that might be variously described as a place of peace, a well of insights, a way of health. After months of intense study with Pattabhi Jois – which included 2 ½ hours of asana practice in the morning, a brief rest and then a pranayama practice – David Williams returned to the USA where he taught such people as Danny Paradise and David Swenson: the Ashtanga yoga wheels were rolling.

Fast forwards nearly 15 years: Ashtanga yoga is becoming firmly established in the USA. There is growing interest in this athletic and physically demanding form of yoga. It’s 1987 and Richard Freeman – a long established Iyengar yoga practitioner and Sanskrit scholar – meets Pattabhi Jois on one of the now regular tours that he’s making to the west (he first visited the USA in 1975). Now I was 24: an anarchist rebel struggling against the state and on the cusp of the second summer of love when we would find ecstacy teaching the white man how to dance.

Long gone were the short trousers: it was about to be baggy trousers. It was also in 1987 when Derek Ireland and Radha Warrell first went to Mysore: Derek and Radha being among the most important individuals in the introducing of Ashtanga yoga to western Europe. Six years later – 1993 – and I would start regular attendance at a yoga class that subsequently became an Ashtanga practice when the teacher studied with Derek and Radha.

TRAPPED OR TRANSFORMATIVE?
For more than 15 years I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga: first in led classes and since 1999 in the self-practice environment with a certified teacher. This has been a journey: from straining to touch my toes to a practice that has a level of smoothness flowing through the poses. But what I am interested in knowing is if this practice reinforces or reduces neuroses? We are all neurotic to a greater or lesser extent: we all experience differing levels of unease which in the words of Carl Jung are expressed as “restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications”. There is a similarity to the kleshas of yoga philosophy: a translation is “torments of the mind”. A contrast to the kleshas is ‘metta’ (sometimes translated as “gentle”): can our practices lessen the kleshas and increase the metta? Can there be a diminishing of torments and a growing of gentleness? Are we trapped in Ashtanga or can it be transformative?

Richard Freeman wrote “as yoga students and teachers, we tend to become attached to and prejudiced about our own school and methodology… consequently it is not uncommon to simply rest on the superficial levels of the school we consider to be our own”. Might this be true for us Ashtangis? These are questions that puzzle me – perhaps I am looking for answers in writing this piece.

One criticism that comes from those outside Ashtanga is that of its self-declared ancient origins. Pattabhi Jois claimed to discover the original postural sequences on banana leaves (sometimes it was said to be palm leaves) that were a few thousand years old. Conveniently these leaves then promptly crumbled to dust leaving no evidence at the scene. Often when Pattabhi Jois recounted this story it would be with a smile – and as has been documented in books such as ‘Yoga Body’, the origin of the Ashtanga postural sequence is probably more about 19th century physical health movements in Europe than distant yogic texts.

On the basis of this evidence Ashtanga has been described as “fraudulent deception”– which somewhat misses the point. An authorised Ashtanga teacher said “one of the reasons I got into this yoga thing was because I was looking for an alternative to the likes of the creationist Christians…now looking at it, it is as if the whole raison d’etre of practice is based on a similar creationist myth”. But the important point is that for Indian religions this method is a tested way of introducing new ideas into tradition. Rather than Pattabhi Jois being a fraud, in fact he (along with his teacher Krishnamacharya) were original thinkers attempting to adapt and update their tradition. This practice of introducing innovation into tradition existed for example in Tibetan Buddhism (see footnote 1).

THE TURN TO SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
Far from being a fraud, Pattabhi Jois has been a significant figure in the western turn towards spiritual practices. The vehicle of Ashtanga has been a transmission belt for many people to enter practices they might not have considered. The athleticism of Ashtanga has been attractive to those who could dismiss yoga as navel gazing. Plenty of people have come to practices that they otherwise would have not been reached – which is great. Because in this western world (for all its material abundance and relative egalitarian openness) there is loss of meaning, there is breakdown of human community, there is lack of appreciation, there is unsustainable strain placed on environment. Cultures that were more contemplative have been replaced by absorption in distraction: rather than arts of storytelling we have fascination with celebrity and an endless parade of so-called information in the mass media. These are the anxious ages – though anxieties have been part of the human condition since the start of our species.

There is profound dislocation in modern society and not only are we dislocated, this is an unsustainable social structure. We are living out Easter Island (where they cut down all the trees and then civilisation collapsed) on a global scale. Despite the abundance, despite the great social gains of the last 150 years, this is our reality within the materialism of modern world.

That brings us back to the question: does Ashtanga yoga help in resolving such dislocations and this meaninglessness – in bringing us closer to places of insight and peace? For some people definitely yes and for some people probably no: because we are disparate individuals with our own storylines. So for one person Ashtanga can become a meditating in movement which creates ground for stillness and lucidity in mind. For another person Ashtanga is the basis for more striving, the struggling and the straining where we are simply replicating already present patterns in the fixation on postural success.

According to Richard Freeman “if you practice a system unwaveringly, something will remain unaddressed or unresolved and there is likely to be residue from the practice and some aspect of your life that remains unconscious”. We come to the requirement for paths to be plural – what can be problematic is that some people who are drawn to Ashtanga are the ones who might need it least: what could be called the type A success oriented personality.

PERSONALITIES
It’s these personalities – and there are many of us like this – who are easily caught in the ladder of Ashtanga yoga: climbing through the postures so practice just strengthens the wanting mind. One experienced student came back from a week retreat with a certified teacher stating “I was the worst practitioner there” – when the actual reality is that she has a strong practice. Ashtanga can be such a hard taskmaster with its narrative principally written by winners rather than losers. One senior teacher said “that’s why you get such good results” (which some would query). But how many have to be broken on the wheels of rigidity and dogma?

It is these wheels that can cause the failure to point out the obvious (such as jumping straight into chaturanga can damage shoulders, such as turning feet out for drop-backs can damage knees). The acrobatic aspects of practice does mean that the inherently flexible rise up the hierarchy of teachers more rapidly then others. Admired for their circus skills, maybe more essential aspects of teaching – such as personal integrity, ethical foundations, empathetic connection – are not as well developed.

This wanting mind means that we might be less likely to critique the way that these postures are adjusted by teachers: some adjustments are verging on brutal because of that drive to be getting further on through the sequence. There are the nightmare stories of over-enthusiastic teachers struggling to force round pegs of individuality into what could be viewed as the square holes of Ashtanga.

Too many adjustments have been done with too little awareness and rather than the body being a temple, it becomes a battlefield to be bullied into perceived perfect posture. How many authorised teachers have broken people’s knees in postures such as bhekasana or garbha pindasana – and certified teachers breaking femurs in Marichysasana B? And the many examples of everyday Ashtanga teachers causing injury through too much zeal, too much attachment to how a posture should be (and also of course making mistakes – that human fallibility).

CONDUITS FOR CONNECTION
But at the same time adjustments – when done well – are a powerful way of encouraging and enabling practice: showing us what is possible within the body, gently leading towards places where we probably thought that we would never arrive, a genuine conduit for connection. This requires skill and sensitivity to ensure that adjustments are not just a copying of what someone else has done: that the adjusting arises from a place of care and love. Because often this does not happen – at times when being adjusted I have wondered where is the love.

There has been no serious attempt made to study the rate of injuries amongst Ashtanga practitioners – there do seem to be a number of sensitive shoulders and sore backs. And those knee operations that are held up almost like badges of battle honours, the long-term practitioners who experience degrees of discomfort in their bodies. But it has to be noted that this applies to other yoga styles – two teachers (one teaching since 1985 and the other from the early 1990s) told me that as much as there are knee issues with Ashtanga practitioners, there are hip issues with Iyengar practitioners. Both of these teachers trained and taught within the Iyengar tradition before branching out.

There is anecdotal evidence of long-term intense yoga practice wearing out joints – though it could be said that so does life. If it’s all about sitting in padmasana surely something has gone wrong somewhere? And it’s not just about sitting in padmasana – in Ashtanga it’s sitting in padmasana always leading with the right foot. This might have been one of the straws that broke the camel’s back for a third series practitioner – she simply said “I got fed up with putting the right foot in first”.

ASHTANGA AS HEALING
Yet I know several people who have experienced significant healing from conditions such as cancer or chronic fatigue thanks to their Ashtanga practice. There are many examples of sick people getting better because of Ashtanga – practice definitely has the potential to be healing. One reason is that this strong stretching of the physical body can be highly therapeutic as there is releasing of held tension and a breaking down of emotional tightness. It is unquestionable that Ashtanga can be healing: but this does not mean that we cannot question the how of practice and encourage a wider perspective beyond physical postures.

And maybe one reason why it might have gone wrong sometimes is the arrogance that often attaches itself to Ashtanga. Of course arrogance isn’t solely reserved to Ashtangis: other systems and styles can be greatly arrogant. But within Ashtanga there can be an  arrogance that accompanies a high level of physical proficiency – yet one of the few certainties in this highly uncertain world is that over time physical proficiency declines: so if there is an attachment to that, then inevitably there is greater suffering.

Two meditation teachers illustrated these difficulties: Tsokyni Rinpoche said “one of the pitfalls when hatha yogis use the body solely is arrogance” (footnote 2). Rigdzin Shikpo wrote: “physical yoga develops both power and feelings of power…the feeling of power that comes from the successful practice of yoga can be used to manipulate others…success in physical yoga can also produce pride…it takes significant effort to accomplish this kind of practice, although it’s nowhere near as difficult as working directly with the mind”.

This attachment to power and physicality could be called “the tantra of Ashtanga” – and it is true that amongst yoga systems, Ashtanga is one of the closest to tantric hatha yoga practices with its emphasis on breath, bandhas, drishti. There is an approach of sacred body which draws inspiration from tantra – but to balance dangers of over-attachment, tantric practitioners would live in charnel grounds to watch the decomposing of bodies: flesh rotting away, falling off bone, being eaten by birds and other animals. Maybe us modern Ashtangis could go to crematoriums and work in hospices as a reminding of the inevitability of physical impermanence: getting ever fitter or being botoxed will not prevent sickness, old age, death.

FLEXIBILITY AND INFLEXIBILITY
As well as this attaching and arrogance there can be inflexibility amongst long-term practitioners, which is ironic considering the levels of physically flexibility. The teacher verbally assaulting a student when they wanted to practice elsewhere – the teacher refusing to let one of their students assist another teacher – the certified Ashtanga teacher who said to a student when she asked if she could use a block: “no, that’s not yoga”.

Yet there are numerous examples of teachers acting with great generosity and kindness, encouraging and enabling their students, assisting other teachers to set up their own classes even when that is in ‘competition’ with them. These teachers being beacons on a path. However there is a tendency amongst some teachers towards controlling – rather than sharing, there is a reaction where behaviour is defensive and sectarian: blind faith might lead to blindness. This calls into question aspects of what we are practicing.

One suggestion for such behaviour is the sheer speed of the practice – holding postures for five breaths is an advanced form and the breath easily becomes shallow. Despite Pattabhi Jois’ instruction – according to Lino Miele: “teaching a long breath…a practice of ten seconds each inhalation, ten seconds each exhalation” – often the breath is much shorter. Research has shown that when shorter breath is combined with vigorous physical movement we go more into the sympathetic nervous system. It’s the sympathetic nervous system that is fight, flight, freeze – and here we become defended and individualised. In the parasympathetic nervous system there is much more ability to connect: that’s a system of tending and befriending, resting and digesting.

This suggestion that practicing Ashtanga could be pushing us into the sympathetic nervous system needs consideration. Fast breathing is demonstrated in Sharat’s audio CD of the primary series: each pose (not including entry and exit) takes about 20 seconds. With the five breaths in each pose this means that there are four seconds per breath which is an inhalation in two seconds and an exhalation in two seconds. The rapidity of this breath along with strong physical movements might be putting us into that fighting flighting freezing nervous system: where rather than openness and inclusivity, abundance and compassion there is control and rigidity.

Because isn’t a point of this practice to encourage openness and inclusivity, abundance and compassion? This isn’t a matter of adept physicality (if it was, then this is just gymnastics) – it is a matter of transforming consciousness so there is an increasing of insight balanced by loving-kindness. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like that within the Ashtanga box.

There is rivalry, there is competitiveness, there is lack of dialogue and defending of empires. Of course this is true of many aspects of life and it has been said that Ashtanga is just a mirror that brings up the existing tendencies. But a practice within Buddhism is that students are encouraged to spend time with teachers from different traditions which might help to undermine such tendencies. This is not so true within Ashtanga with its emphasis on “practice, practice and all is coming”.

SOMETHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN
But what kind of practice? Many Ashtanga practitioners just do the physical practice: that postural sequence. One practitioner told me how as he went through the third series he really thought something was going to happen when he got to the end: but nothing did. He then finished the fourth series – and still nothing happened: maybe that is the lesson in itself. His practice now is the standing sequence several times a week and a sitting practice. When talking about other teachers he said “I need to look inside myself and wonder if there is any animosity towards that person”.

This practitioner’s honesty was significant – in contrast possibly to others who are more in the realm of physicality. Because it is in stillness of sitting that there might be more possibilities for self-reflection and maybe growing of awareness. Ashtanga can help us to be aware and reflective but this ‘movement as meditation’ proposal which is presented by those who are only doing the physical practice could be lacking in validity for many of us.

We entertain ourselves with movement thus keeping the distractions at arms length as we stay addicted to stimulation. In the stillness and simplicity of sitting there are opportunities for observation that are not so present when we are moving. And if we are able to embrace the boredom of meditation it becomes more like equilibrium in which we could be free from that craving for entertainment – and our need to grasp happiness and fight discomfort is gradually relaxed.

As we move from pose to pose there is clearly a requirement for attention (a studying of body and breath) but we can just become fixated in this body and not go as deep within as a stillness practice might perhaps enable. As well as a lack of validity, this breaks one of the traditions that Ashtanga is upholding: the tradition that the physical postures are preparations for sitting and meditation – the sixth and seventh limbs: dharana and dhyana. In all the sweating and the striving of much Ashtanga these limbs seem to be have been marginalised.

I love the Ashtanga practice: I love the power that it gives to me – I love its flow and the concentration required for practicing: yet I feel that there is a lack somewhere. The fascinations with flexibility ignore the fact that we can have highly flexible bodies but tight minds. It’s often forgotten that for nearly all of us this brain is the stiffest muscle. The common failure to encourage practitioners towards other forms such as pranayama and sitting mean that Ashtanga stays as a sequence of physicality. And the intensity of practice lessens the probability that people will look outside the box (this can be a cult characteristic).

MENTAL CLEARING
A number of practitioners have said to me that they do not have the time to meditate. Obviously there are many demands on time: the childcare commitments, the struggle to survive in this world – but it’s about what we prioritise. Pattabhi Jois called meditation “mad attention” and he never taught anyone to sit. The truth is that it is much easier for us to ground ourselves in body instead of this mind that is so like a chimpanzee caught in a cappuccino bar: the busyness and things to do.  But Pattabhi Jois also said “this is not physical practice, this is mental clearing”. At some point we have to investigate mind. We need to be reminded that “the purpose of asana is to tune our body in such a way that we can sit for long hours in meditation” (the words of SL Bhyrappa who studied with Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s).

Essentially when the perception is of primacy of the physical practice that means a prioritising of physiques over mind training. Obviously there is very significant overlap and an intimate connection between mind and body: but there are differences in techniques for body and mind. Norman Allen (one of the first westerners to be taught by Pattabhi Jois) was asked “how far do you think the physical practice can take you?” His reply was succinct: “in most cases probably nowhere without taking other steps”.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the spiritual leader of Shambhala which is a network of Buddhist centres set up by Chogyam Trungpa. He studied with Pattabhi Jois and is an Ashtanga practitioner. He talks of the need to bridge gaps between meditative forms – some of which are called ‘Buddhism’ – and physical forms – some of which are called ‘yoga’. In describing these meditative forms Sakyong Mipham emphasised “to understand what is going on we have to stabilise the situation…we have to slow down and get a feeling of who we are and what we are doing…through the practice of meditation we learn to penetrate the confusion of our minds and our perceptions”.

We have our well-toned Ashtanga physiques but ultimately so what – where’s the liberation from conditioned existence when we can see the rope is actually a rope (far too often we think it is a snake), where we experience insight into phenomena and are connected to compassion?

SNAKES AND ROPES
Both Pattabhi Jois and Chogyam Trungpa would have very probably seen that the rope is a rope. Both came from places of having no students from outside their own cultures (South Indian Brahmin and Tibetan) to being enthusiastically followed by thousands of westerners. Both displayed an approach that has been called the trickster (this is meant in a positive way and comes from the words of Richard Freeman). As they went on there was a making up regulations and on occasion fooling their students to help the waking up process.

Yet as their spheres of influence grew there arose problems. One of those close to Chogyam Trungpa was Reggie Ray – in an interview he said: “He worked with us each individually but later his teachings were converted into this sort of step-by-step process with a somewhat rigid curriculum. We all relied too much on trying to pin everything down mainly because I think our community was so large and we couldn’t think of any other way to do it. I think this was a mistake because beginning in the later 1970s we were running things the only way we knew how which was to fall back on a lot of rules to try to preserve what he had taught”. (See footnote 3).

Having been in this box for a period of time, it is interesting to look back and observe the changes: from not touching my toes to folding flat forwards – from fearing headstand to standing on my head for a long time – from that first inhale to the young boy in short trousers to those baggy trousers and anarchist politics to now. By looking backwards we can understand how much change is present in life. An obvious example of this change was the death of Pattabhi Jois in May 2009 – the successor has been his grandson, Sharat.

INTERESTING TRANSITIONS
The death of the guru can be an interesting transition: the guru often feels free to make it up as they go along (there is freedom in being the guru while the disciples are more rigid). Recently there appears to be a tendency towards corporatisation of Ashtanga into a brand more like Bikram: an increasing strictness of sequence (Pattabhi Jois introduced postures into the practice over the years); growing emphasis on money-making (one practitioner said a two week teacher training in Mysore could have been easily condensed into two days – and 70 people were present each paying £1000 to ensure their placing in the hierarchy); moving towards studios that are centrally controlled.

Is Ashtanga going to become trademarked as a way of preserving control and maintaining income streams? Transformation might be evolving into a business – like Bikram (how many Rolls-Royces, Rolexes and law suits does one man need (see footnote 4)). How can we avoid the corporatising of a practice that promises liberation, the institutionalising of a philosophy that preaches freedom?

A question that has to be asked is whether we are being empowered as individuals – with qualities such as insight, kindness, autonomy – or are we being diminished and controlled? Part of the problem is that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. This is challenging work – but necessary for transformation: being aware, being vigilant, being awake. In many ways it’s much easier to just stretch this body and perhaps partially delude ourselves that we are on a spiritual journey.

DIFFERENT STROKES
Maybe it’s a journey that takes a very long time – BKS Iyengar said “the philosophical teaching came to me only after 1960” (about thirty years into practicing and teaching). But do we have the luxury of that length of time – especially when there are many calls for us to sit down and watch the contents of this mind, especially when we are at this stage of so much speeding up? This doesn’t mean enlightenment in one lifetime. What it does mean is that considering all current circumstances then stuff has to shift: are we shifting quick enough?

There was a Zen teacher in the 13th century – Dogen: when he returned from a long period of retreat, he was asked what he had bought back. His reply was simply “a soft and flexible mind”. That reminds me of a journalist asking the Dalai Lama “when were you happiest?” – the answer was “now”. Obviously both Dogen and the Dalai Lama had gone through very long periods of training but these responses – the soft and flexible mind, the experience of happiness right now – does show what might be possible: a lessening of unease, a greater ability to be present: not so neurotic. A young American – Alan Clements – who undertook a rigorous meditation training in 1970s Burma described his experiences as: “awareness put eyes and ears where there had been none…it enhanced perception and revealed greater nuance…sounds were accentuated…colours became brighter…tastes more subtle and sweeter…smells more fragrant…I fell in love with the simplicity of just being”.

Can Ashtanga help us to get to such places – my answer is “I’m not sure”. It can be a stepping stone, part of paths towards awareness – but too often it becomes too stuck, too rigid, too fixated.

WHAT’S GOING ON
Having examined to some extent this Ashtanga culture it is important to remember that there are flaws and failings within all traditions. The life expectancy of Zen monks in Japan is significantly less than average – another example of the harshness within Zen is when a student was experiencing the appearance of a nervous breakdown, the teacher told her “if you feel you’re dying, please die peacefully”. A long-term teacher encountered the rigidity within orthodoxy when she was informed by a meditation centre that “if you don’t give up walking meditation, give up your body movement that we hear you are doing, your mixing Zen practice in, then you are not belonging to our lineage”.

Some meditators can be distant and dry and disconnected – using the tool of meditation as an avoidance strategy to lessen engagement with living life. And in the Buddha’s own time there were splits within the community one of which (according to old texts) culminated in an assassination plot against him by a senior monk. Striving – and the consequent envy – occurs in meditative experiences as much as Ashtanga experiences. Someone recently told me that “I am jealous of my friends’ having sartori experiences”. I reassured him that he had no need to be envious of me as I had not had such events.

In this writing and thinking (it has taken two years to put together this piece) it is worth remembering words from the 7th century teacher Chandrakirti: “attachment to one’s beliefs and aversions for another’s view – all this is thought”. I am conscious that some of these constructs that have been used are just fleeting mental formations. This is human nature – as much as we breathe and we bend how easily we find division and discord. On occasion this has benefits but at times it is about building brands and defending empires.

What intrigues is how well certain paths serve a purpose in our practicing to be better human beings: a problem is that waves see themselves as separate from the water (and then there is that fear which arises from separation). A purpose of practice is dealing with this unsteadiness that one commentator beautifully described as “the mind is more than capable of seeing a stationary blue car and constructing out of it a six act melodrama”. A purpose of practice is to overcome our mistaken perceptions, to enable us to connect inside and outside so we can discover what many traditions describe as the luminosity of mind where there is insight and peacefulness: a brightening of the inner skies.

Some people get stuck and some people don’t: this vehicle of Ashtanga is a powerful transformative practice but all of us need to look at our practicing with an approach of curiosity. I am just one person attempting to make some sense of what is around me – like a young boy faced by the emperor’s new clothes I have to try to see with clarity. Hopefully this piece will deepen our debates and discussions about the meaning of practice. My own feeling about Ashtanga is great affection and respect – but there is much fixation on the external form. Rather than all the sweating and all the striving, practice as a gentle daily ritual with less attachment to asana could have more possibilities for deeper impact. A question for us as practitioners is – in the words of the religious scholar Huston Smith: are our practices “enhancing awareness, patience and generosity and enabling us to respond creatively to the complexities, distractions and uncertainties of modern times”.

I think that there is a requirement for other flavours on particular paths – you could call it a seasoning of path: because otherwise the path might be too tight where there is a tautness which becomes neurotic. The point is this self being less stuck so that in the words of a poet there is a realisation that “we are a process and an unfolding”. There aren’t any particular answers: it’s more how honest can we be with ourselves and how much can we temper that honesty with kindness. The hope is to keep questioning and to stay as open as we can: to feel our way towards a more easeful existence.

Thanks to all those who have talked to me and helped me along these paths.

Norman Blair June 2011

www.yogawithnorman.co.uk for more writings on practicing yoga and ideas of self-transformation. Norman108@clara.co.uk for any comments/suggestions/feedback.

Please feel free to distribute.

FOOTNOTES

1. “Padmakara, with his overwhelming presence and spiritual power, is the central figure and inspiration of the Nyimga tradition. He realised that the Tibetans were not yet ready for many of the profound insights of tantra…and so he magically concealed a vast number of teachings for the future…These hidden teachings are known as ‘terma’, treasures. He prophesied that they would be rediscovered at the appropriate time by certain accomplished practitioners…a person who finds them is called a ‘terton’, ‘revealer of treasures’. The tradition of teachings being concealed until the appropriate time for their propagation is not confined to Tibet, but goes back to India…” (‘Luminous Emptiness’ – Francesca Fremantle).

2. “People start identifying with and then clinging to the body – a transitory, composite impermanent – and so end up suffering in the aging process and having to let go of attachment to a body that they spent so much time cultivating…sincerely take a look at any practice, and notice within yourself if compassion, faith and wisdom are developing from it. If they are, then stay with it. If they’re not, take a look and either change the way you experience the practice or change the practice itself” (Tsokyni Rinpoche).

3. Reggie Ray is an important Buddhist teacher in America. He studied under the guidance of Chogyam Trungpa – after Trungpa’s death in 1987 he became one of the leading teachers in this lineage. In 2005 he separated from the Shambhala organisation and set up Dharma Ocean Foundation. This is from an interview with him in 2010: “What I learned  from Chogyam Trungpa was that however esoteric or prestigious or exotic any practice might seem, it was always about the same thing: nothing more than a way to strip oneself down even further to the empty, exposed core of one’s being. It was about being more absolutely and utterly naked as a human being. It was about surrendering more and

more fully to this world, this life, this experience and entering more deeply into it and giving oneself over to it. What I learned from him is that the dharma is not about credentials. It’s not about how many practices you’ve done or how peaceful you can make your mind. It’s not about being in a community where you feel safe or enjoying the cachet of being a ‘Buddhist’. It’s not even about accumulating teachings, empowerments or ‘spiritual accomplishments’. It’s about how naked you’re willing to be with your own life and how much you’re willing to let go of your masks and your armour and live as a completely exposed, undefended and open human person. Which is what he was: he was so human. What he taught us in the very early 1970s, there were a myriad different ways to

meditate, and he showed us what they were… At a certain point Chogyam Trungpa was

asked ‘how are we going to keep all this together?’. And basically he said ‘maybe we should just let it go. Let it fall apart. It’s probably the best thing that could happen. Just let the whole thing go’.”

4. In the words of Bikram: “Before me, there was no money, no business with yoga…From pope to president to prime minister, billionaire, superstar, novelist, sportsman, athlete, hooker, street boy, they say, ‘Bikram, you changed my life, you saved my life’…I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each…Nobody fucks with me…Bikram yoga is so big – this is a bathroom slipper you buy $2 in Kmart” he says, waving a plastic flip-flop in my face. “But you put ‘Bikram’ on it, it’ll sell for $35 in a second…all the time I have to think about law and justice and courts”. (Interview 2005 ‘Mother Jones’). Yet when Bikram first arrived in America, apparently he was humble and gentle – perhaps this might be a sign of too much power and too little dissent, a lack of peer groups and critiques.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

How to practice Vinyasa Krama Yoga ( in bullet points) plus 10 sample practices

In this post I've tried to bring together Ramaswami's guide to practicing Vinyasa Krama as outlined in his September 2009 Newsletter ( this newsletter lives permanently as one of the sub pages at the top of this blog).

Claudia once expressed the wish for bullet points and so I've tried to break the newsletter up in such a way to as to make Ramaswami's practice guidelines as clear and approachable as possible, I hope this meets with his approval. I've not added anything but have cut out a couple of explanatory passages so  I recommend reading the newsletter in full, in it's original format.

The second part of this post contains 10 sample practices design by Chris, a fellow teacher trainee on Ramaswami's 200 hour VK TT course last year held at LMU in LA.

Chris stresses that they were designed for his own personal practice. Taken together they cover most of the postures, subroutines and sequences found in Ramaswami's book Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga


They can be taken as individual sample practice ideas that one might like to try or just as sketches, illustrations, of one the myriad ways Vinyasa Krama practice might be approached.

My own Sister Blog Vinyasa Krama sequences and subroutines has practice sheets of all the major sequences in Ramaswamis books as well as videos of the individual subroutines. It also has some pranayama instruction videos.

My own personal practice is a hybrid of the Ashtanga practice ( early Krishnamacharya) with which I was first introduced to yoga and the Vinyasa Krama ( later Krishnamacharya ) taught to me by Ramaswami.

My morning practice tends to be a slightlyVinyasa Krama influenced Ashtanga Primary, 2nd and Advanced series followed by Pranyama, Pratyahara and Japa Mantra Meditation.

My evening practice is 20 minutes Vinyasa krama subroutines, 20 minutes pranayama and 20 minutes meditation (including pratyahara).


My morning practice tends to fluctuate between periods of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama, some posts on my morning Vinyasa Krama practice routines can be found HERE
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How to practice Vinyasa Krama yoga (Ramaswami's September 2009 Newsletter in bullet points)

  • (Many who) have read the “Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” book... ask the question, what next? How can I do a daily practice from these sequences? 
  • There are more than 700 asanas/vinyasas and I normally recommend doing each vinyasa three times. At the rate of about 4/5 movements per minute (it could be even 3 per minute for good breathers), it could take about 8 to 9 hours to do the complete vinyasakrama. 
  • Then my Guru would commend doing a short stint of Pranayama, say for about 15 to 30 mts and then chanting or meditation  for another 15 to 30 mts, daily. 
  • We also have to consider that in asana practice, there are a few heavy weight poses which require one to stay for a long time. 
  • So it is almost impossible to practice all of it everyday even by a full time ‘practice-live-and-sleep-in yoga mat’ yogi. 
  • The book was written to give as complete as possible, a presentation of all the vinyasas  in a series of sequences that is logical and easy to learn, as I learnt from my Guru. 
  • It is a book for learning the system. 
  • Any serious student of yoga who would spend years studying and teaching yoga should have in one’s repertoire as many  asanas, vinyasas and logical sequences (krama) as possible. So, one  should firstly study the entire range of asanas and vinyasas of the  vinyasakrama system from a teacher say in the 60 hr vinyasakrama program. Then note down all the vinyasas that are a bit difficult to do. 
  • One should practice daily for half hour to one hour as many vinyasas as possible following the recommended sequence, with special emphasis on the difficult ones. 
  • In about six months to one year of consistent practice one would be comfortable with the system, the  sequences and especially the required synchronous breathing. This would complete the learning process. 
  • Then one may prepare a green list of asanas and vinyasas one would be able to do and wants to practice regularly. 
  • There will be another list, amber list which would contain  those vinyasas which are difficult now but one would like to practice them even if they are somewhat imperfect. 
  • Then there would be another red list which will contain procedures that are not appropriate or possible for the practitioner—which could probably be taken up in the next janma. 
  • Then it would be time for concentrating on using vinyasakrama for daily practice and also teaching to individuals for their daily yoga practice
  • However, as a general rule, for the serious mid-life yogi, a daily practice of about 90 mts to 2 hrs will be necessary and sufficient.
  • Here is modifiable one. 
  • After a short prayer, one could do a brief stint of Tadasana doing the main vinyasas two or preferably three times each. It should take about ten minutes. 
  • Then one subsequence in the asymmetric could be taken up, say Marichyasana or Triyangmukha or the half lotus. The choice may be varied on a daily basis. 
  • Five minute stay in Paschimatanasana and the counter poses may be practiced. 
  • Then one may do preparation of Sarvangasana and a brief stay in it, followed by headstand stay for about 5 to 10 minutes or more and then  staying in Sarvangasana for 5 to 10 more minutes, if one can do  inversions. 
  • Paschimatanasana, Sarvangaana and Headstand are to be practiced preferably daily for their health benefits.  
  • If time permits one may do few vinyasas in these inversions. 
  • One may do a subsequence of Triangle pose like warrior pose and /or one sequence in one legged pose.  
  • Mahamudra for about 5 minutes each on both sides can then be practiced.  
  • Then sitting in Vajrasana or Padmasana after doing some movements one should do a suitable variant of Kapalabhati, say for about 108 times  and then an appropriate Pranayama, Ujjayi, Nadisodhana or Viloma with or without mantras for about 15 minutes to be followed by five minutes Shanmukhimudra and then chanting or meditation of about 15 minutes.
  • The efficacy of Pranayama on the whole system and mind cannot be overemphasized. Please read the article on “Yoga for the Heart”, in an  earlier newsletter... It refers to the benefits of Pranayama to the  heart and the circulatory system. 
  • If interested, one may allocate an additional 30 minutes (or practice at another time in the day, say, in the evening) during which time one may practice a few subroutines from the other scores of sequences that have not been included in this core yoga practice.
  • Everyday before the start of the practice the yogi should take a minute and decide on a definite agenda and as far as possible try to stick to the agenda. What asanas and vinyasas, which pranayama and how many rounds and other details should be determined before hand and one should adhere to it. It brings some discipline and coherence to one’s practice. 
  • It is customary to end the practice with peace chant. 
  • One reason why people nowadays look for a definite  routine is because a few of the more popular vinyasa systems have a very small number of regimented sequences which are taught over and  over again almost to all students. So there is a mindset that there  should be a rigid sequence that is applicable for everyone, but that is not the way we learnt yoga from my Guru. 
  • Firstly the teacher should learn the whole system and then apply it to individuals as per the  requirements -- pick and choose those vinyasa sequences, pranayama and meditation practices, dietary requirements, etc.
  • The question that is to be answered is what does the practitioner want/need and how should the yoga routine be designed to get the required benefit. 
  • Vinyasakrama is like a yoga supermarket, and each one should put into the cart what one needs. 
  • And the term Vinyasakrama includes not just asanas but also other aspects of yoga like pranayama, meditation, etc. It is a progression of different aspects of Yoga. 
  • The Vinyasakrama  has a huge collection of asana vinyasas, a well stocked section on Pranayama, then the meditation department and a spiritual study/contemplation section as well. So a lot of initiative should be taken by the individual consumer, like our practitioner who should take the responsibility of working out with the teacher how to design an intelligent purposeful yoga practice pertaining to oneself. 
  • To reduce Vinyasakrama to a standard routine as is done with several other contemporary Vinyasa systems and put it in a straight jacket is not desirable. I have explained these ideas to many participants of the longer versions of the programs and thought to touch upon them for the general reader who would be wondering how to force the VK elephant (or a camel) into the needle’s eye of daily practice. 
  • There are a few serious practitioners who have their daily routine cut out, but then do the complete vinyasakrama separately say in the evening for about an hour so that they could go through all the vinyasa sequences in a span of one week. 
  • You have myriad possibilities. 
  • There is no one rigid universal daily practice routine in Vinyasakrama as I have explained.
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Ramaswami stressed the importance of covering a wide range of asanas to reach all areas of the body  and recommended of his trainees that, if possible, they should try to work through all the Vinyasa Krama sequences over a couple of weeks perhaps in addition to their regular daily practice.

Chris, who was on the Vinyasa Krama teacher training course with me last year has come up with a ten day approach to the series and I'd like to thank him for allowing me to present it below. Because of my Ashtanga practice in the morning I have a shorter Vinyasa Krama asana practice in the evening so am working through the sequences over a longer period, more like our my fellow blogger Arturo, but of course I cover quite a wide range of asana in the different series of my morning ashtanga practice.

 My own approach to Vinyasa Krama is strongly influenced by my Ashtanga background so I thought it would be interesting to show how somebody else approaches their Vinyasa Krama practice.

I'm hoping blogger will blow these up when you click on them so you can actually see what's going on.

You can approach this, as Chris is, as a ten day cycle covering most of the postures in Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga or as ten independent ideas for structuring your practice. Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama is highly flexible you, adapt the practice to yourself, practice what your able, work towards what's currently beyond you through practicing the easier postures. Ramaswami does recommend, however that you have a clear idea of what you intend to practice before you begin.

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Chris discusses this approach to practice in his current post HERE

I asked Chris ( he has a blog of his own here ) for a few lines concerning his yoga background.

I almost never talk about my yoga biography but I will try: I started yoga at a gym and it was more or less a basic "gym" yoga. I stayed with this teacher for about a year and then he moved off and I was somewhat forced (I was guilt-ed into it) to teach yoga. This made me realize I knew nothing about yoga: how to structure the practice, the full Ujjiya breath etc. So, basically I taught in this confused state for about a year during which time I ran into Ricky Tran and he talked about his experience with Ramaswami which left an impression on me. After this year teaching, I ended up taking a TT course in Gaia Flow Yoga which was heated vinyasa. This class did teach me but I felt like it oversimplified things. After another year, I finally ended up taking Ramaswami's course. Basically, I wanted a more systematic approach to doing the asanas and working up towards pranayama. In general, my background is a bastardization of gym yoga and hot vinyasa yoga but I enjoy VK so much more then these though I also have a weak spot for ashtanga. That is the best overview I can give; I am also unsure on how these things affect my VK practice.
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Here is yet another approach to Vinyasa Krama practice, this time from Wyatt, another alumni of Ramaswami's School of yoga. These include several video's of Wyatt's home practice

Wyatt part one
Wyatt part two

Saturday, 16 July 2011

GURU PURNIMA

Today is Guru Purnima where, traditionally, you pay respects to your guru or teacher and re intensify your efforts as a student.

I consider Srivatsa Ramaswami my teacher and will be dedicating this evening Vinyasa Krama practice to him out of respect and appreciation.

Today is also, I believe, the last day of Ramaswami's six week Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training course at LMU in LA. It's a long course and I know how much Ramaswami gives of himself. I'm sure the current batch of trainees are as appreciative of his efforts and all he has shared as we were last year. I can't thank him enough for all he passed on to me in those few short weeks as well as the dignified manner in which he did so, which was an example in itself of how to conduct oneself as a teacher.

Though I still tend to practice the Mysore Ashtanga system in the morning, I do practice Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, as taught to him by his own teacher Krishnamacharya, in the evening and have managed to keep up the integrated asana, pranayama and meditation practice he taught to us on the VK TT course. However I could, of course, be more conscientious. I could spend more time on pranayama and meditation as well as on chanting and study of the sutras and other texts, this is where the re intensifying of my practice comes in

My morning Ashtanga too is strongly influenced by Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama. This week I've returned to the Ashtanga 2nd series yet I include a large section of the Vinyasa Krama Bow sequence leading up to the 2nd series backbends. I also have some Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric poses as extra preparation for the leg behind head postures, I include maha mudra before badha konasana, have an extra long paschimottanasana after dropbacks and longer shoulderstands and headstands than the usual 25 breaths found in Ashtanga. I also tend to start my morning practice with a ten minute Vinyasa Krama tadasana sequence and may add a couple of extra postures to the Ashtanga standing section. The idea is to retain some degree of flexibility while retaining the integrity of the Ashtanga series. Too many adaptations in one practice and the serious doesn't feel right, it's a balancing act.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Book review : 21 Things to know before starting an ashtanga practice ...plus Blogs 3rd Birthday

Before I talk about Claudia's book, I wanted to mention that this is my blogs 3rd anniversary.

Happy Birthday Blog, it's been fun

...and a big thank you too to all the readers and commenter's, supporters and critics as well as to those of you who have sent me email's with questions and encouragement over the last three years. I really do feel the experience of writing it has benefited my practice and highly recommend it, particularly for the home ashtangi.

Here's my very first post entitled, Jumping back from when the blog was called Ashtanga Jump back.

Birthday's, anniversaries, seem inevitably to bring some reflection, perhaps a certain wistfulness and an urge to return to basics, to beginnings.

Perhaps it's time for some consolidation and refinement.
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In celebration though here's a review I've been saving up of something rather charming.

There is one thing I wish I'd known before I started practicing Ashtanga but it's not in Claudia's book, I looked. I'll tell you what that is later. 

Anyone who's stuck with my blog over the years has probably figured out that I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Ashtanga ( for hate read, frustration and irritation), every now and again I tend to bang my head against it. It was during one of these ...more negative periods that Claudia brought out her book and I immediately switched over to feelin' the love again as a result of reading it, it reminded me why I love the practice.

Claudia's own passion for the practice is infectious, it's on almost every page. Yet despite that passion there's also an openness that I respect immensely. As a blogger herself Claudia's come up against questions and criticisms regarding the practice both on her own blog and those on which she contributes through comments. She's aware of what makes people uncomfortable or perhaps suspicious at times and is always respectful in her response, she is constantly exploring the practice and trying to understand it a little more herself. 

In the book that translates as respect for her readers.

She doesn't just throw information about the practice at you, she invites you in, she doesn't avoid the difficult questions, she often struggles with them too. Her book is a guide to pretty much everything surrounding the practice ( and more besides ) but she's also a fellow traveller, she wants to share her view of the practice but her curiosity comes through, she wants to hear yours too.

The last section is called...

'Keep in touch'

Claudia shares.

The book is personal, she's telling you why she chose to practice Ashtanga, (that's pretty much the title of Chapter four).

'I will never preach or try to convince anyone of anything, but I can tell you some of the reasons why I came into ashtanga, why it has worked for me and how it continues to work.' p39

One of my favourite things about the book is an in-joke, I didn't get right a way. The book's title relates to a blog post Claudia wrote a while back and it's the title of chapter three, on a hunch I took another look at the contents, page, yep, there are also twenty-one chapters. 

Claudia loves lists.

For example

Chapter six : 3 specific cases in which yoga helped me personally
Chapter seven : 15 unusual benefits of yoga
Chapter fourteen : 9 lame excuses that keep people away from yoga
Chapter sixteen 19 suggestions to improve your yoga practice
Chapter twenty-one : 32 unusual ways to love ourselves.

Notice too that none of those chapters mention Ashtanga in the title. Claudia practices Ashtanga but I would argue her book is relevant to any style of yoga in fact it might be said it's a book about taking more control of your life

Chapter 18 : A few ways to practice yoga when we're off the mat.

Notice she says when we're off the mat, she's not preachy.

This is not a practice manual, you wont find the ashtanga sequences laid out but If you're an Ashtangi then your going to want this book, it has, for example, one of the best guides around to making the leap and visit Mysore, India where the Ashtanga style began, command Central if you will.

Chapter ten: An Ashtanga yoga guide to Mysore

Which talks about Accommodation, transportation, food, supermarkets, bookstores, sightseeing just about everything.

But we also have...

Chapter eleven : Adventures of a beginner in Mysore

This is an hilarious account written by Claudia's husband relating his first experience of visiting ( being dragged along) to Mysore to practice ashtanga for the first time. This was a guest post on Claudia's blog, here James gets a guest chapter.

There's also a chapter on the Saturday, rest day practice, the oil bath.

It's a wonderful little book and Claudia has made a free pdf copy available on her blog,  however your going to want it in book form, in fact your probably going to want several copies as your sure to be passing them on to all your friends who ask you about this strange bouncing up and down on mats we do and are tempted to give it a try.

That said, in a couple of years your probably going to find several battered and well thumbed copies laying around your local shalas as well as in Mysore itself. 

Have a LOOK INSIDE on Amazon

There's also a kindle version.

I said at the beginning of this post that there is one thing I wish I'd known before I started practicing Ashtanga that isn't Claudia's book, here it is

22. Once you practice Ashtanga for a while you'll find it almost impossible to settle on practicing anything else.

That's not in there but Claudia's book helped me to understand a little of why that is.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Evening practice

Best bit about having practicing twice a day is that if the first one sucks you get another shot at it in a few hours. This morning's ashtanga didn't suck exactly but it was hard work... in a bad way, a case of grinding it out.

This evening was better, 20 minutes or so of Vinyasa Krama subroutines from the Asymmetric sequence, setting me up for trying something out with Karandavasana., some positives, something to take away and we might be on to something thanks to L. (more on this later).

3x36 Kapalabhati in padmasana vinyasas followed by some pratyahara that's getting interesting and twenty minutes of japa mantra meditation with a little sutra chanting.

Ideal evening practice and just what I needed.

Ate light this evening, so hopefully a little better prepared for Friday's Primary.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Memento mori : the crash

It is said that during a 'Triumph', when victorious Roman generals would re enter Rome to great pomp, the general's slave would whisper in his masters ear,  "Memento mori", remember thou art mortal.

The gods take a dim view of hubris.

I wasn't feeling particularly triumphant after practicing my first 4th series on Tuesday, it went well enough but I was mindful of the work to be done, some sections were better than others, some, most,  messy to say the least.

As it happened, I had so much respect for the series and for my body that I decided to take the following day as a rare rest day, aware that I had probably used a lot of different muscles than I was used to, that I should probably take it easy.

Yesterday, however, I felt like a million dollars, body felt loose, flexible, energised and that was from the first moment I jumped out of bed. I'd practiced 4th lived to tell the tale and felt marvelous.
.....until this morning. Age might not stop you form practicing the advanced series but it probably takes more out of you than you think, you don't recover as quickly as perhaps you once did.

This morning I ached, I creaked and had to drag myself out of bed. I felt stiff and old ....and heavy.

I should also mention that I'd slipped into bad habits this week. M. made her glorious Japanese curry at the weekend. I ate a huge bowl of that and had a beer because Japanese Curry just requires beer, 'tis the done thing. Then Monday I had leftover curry (and another beer), another large bowl and Tuesday there was a large potato left so I baked that and had that with the last of the curry (more than I thought there was). Then last night M. came home early, cause for celebration so I made pasta ( Onion, mushroom, asparagus and goats cheese linguine ) plus salad, lots of it and all topped off with a couple of martini's....bad yogi.

So on to the mat this morning, fat, heavy and old. I'd planned on 4th again but decided to go with a fast paced primary, wanted to hit the rest button.

And it was agony and misery and I wanted to stop half way through and call it a day and could finally understand ashtangi's who say they burst into tears half way through their practice ( no I didn't but could sympathise). I don't think I've ever experienced the 'Ashtangi misery' before plus the realization of how many practices I'm going to have to drag myself though as well as the re disciplining of eating habits that has to take place before I feel at my best again.

memento mori,

Thank you to V for correcting my Latin.

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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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