Sometimes you will actually stop me, hands together respectfully and with "Teacher", 'How does this work...how do I get from here to here...'. Either that or I will (think I) hear you mutter "Stupid Stupid" under your breath.
But now you're far away, oh so far away, mats separated by thousands of miles and practice by twelve hours or more, and also no wifi yet in nice our new house.
This then is for you, and any other home Ashtanga, an attempt to explain how we get from the full vinyasa to the half vinyasa count of Contemporary Ashtanga, how it actually works, where all the extra (uncounted) breaths come in.
The best thing to do of course is to consult Pattabhi Jois's Yoga Mala, Sharath's book (Eddie Sterne says there is a new updated version coming out), Petri Räisänen's recent 'up to date' book.... online there is the peerless ashtangayoga.info from Ronald Steiner and team ( without which home ashtanga would barely be possible), or,my favourite Ashtanga book for the Vinyasa count, John Scott's Ashtanga Yoga, all excellent in different way but while presenting the count and including the extra breaths, somehow they don't seem to stress those extra uncounted breaths, it's as if they are somewhat embarrassed by them ( I project of course)... if the system is perfect, semi divine, why would these extra inhalations and exhalation be necessary.
I've just booked myself on to John Scott's workshop, the more I explore the count the more questions I have.
I love the extra inhalations and extra exhalations, they make us realise that the vinyasa count can be paused as required, a couple of extra breaths included ( perhaps to help us bind in a postures) before picking up the count where we left off.
As it happens nothing tempts me to suspect that perhaps there was (is still somewhere) the Yoga Korunta ( the text on which Ashtanga Vinyasa is said to be based) than the imperfections of the Ashtanga system. What if there was such a text and Krishnamacharya saw it ( or it was recited to him) and it included a number of postures divided up into different groupings with a vinyasa count for each of those asana as well as numbers corresponding to the state of the asana in the vinyasa. Perhaps Krishnamacharya tried to recreate it, and as he would rediscover in his practice and teaching new (lost/forgotten) postures perhaps he would try to fit those too into some semblance of this vinyasa structure. Surely if you invented the system it would work, every breath would have a vinyasa count, there would be no need for an extra inhalation here and extra exhalation there. It's a nice theory, and that of course is all this blog contains, theories, it's certainly not history.
This then will be in three parts, first the Standing sequence in which we gain the basic principles, followed by another post on the Primary series and then a third on the Finishing sequence, which is actually pretty easy count wise. If I make any errors (and I'm sure to, they creep in) or it differes from current editions of (your favourite ) texts or how one (senior) teacher teaches, it then friends will surely let us know about it in comments, this is, as with the practice, a work in progress.
Before anything else you need to learn the Sanskrit count. Learn the first nine, to NAVA, that will get you through Surynamaskara A. Next add on up to 17, SAPTADASA for Surynamaskara B. Continuing up to 22, DVAVINSATAHI will account for most of the postures in Primary series. Add on the last few as you need them.
Counting In Sanskrit
1 = ekam
2 = dve
3 = trīṇi
4 = catvāri
5 = pañca
6 = ṣaṭ
7 = sapta
8 = aṣṭau
9 = nava
10 = daśa
11 = ekādaśa
12 = dvādaśa
13 = trayodaśa
14 = caturdaśa
15 = pañcadaśa
16 = ṣoḍaśa
17 = saptadaśa
18 = aṣṭadaśa
19 = ekonavimśatiḥ
20 = vimśatiḥ
21 = ekāvimśatiḥ
22 = dvāvimśatiḥ
23 = trayovimśatiḥ
24 = caturvimśatiḥ
25 = pañcavimśatiḥ
26 = ṣoḍavimśatiḥ;
27 = saptavimśatiḥ
28 = aṣṭovimśatiḥ
Sanskrit Numbers from here ashtangayoga.info
Count while you walking along, matching the numbers to each step, or while working on making our house nice, or perhaps with each change of water as you wash the rice. Nice clean shiny rice for surynamaskara B and it's seventeen vinyasa.
Next, actually count yourself through your Surynamaska A during your practice, nine vinyasa
notice how we tend to come UP on the inhalation, DOWN on the exhalation.
ekam - Inhaling, arms go UP
dve - Exhaling we fold over DOWN
trīṇi - Inhaling we flatten the back effectively coming UP
catvāri - Exhaling we jump back to Chatauranga ( kind of DOWN )
pañca - Inhaling we come through and UP
ṣaṭ - Exhaling, backside comes up and we effectively fold in to look at the navel (DOWN)
sapta - We jump our feet to our hands and Inhaling flatten the back as in DVE so UP
aṣṭau - Exhaling we fold over as in TRINI so DOWN
nava - Inhaling the arms come back UP
Notice too how the count stops after we raise our hands on NAVA, we just lower our hands to our side back to samastithi, it's not counted.
Once Sury A is comfortable, try it with Surynamaskara B, seventeen vinyasa.
10 = daśa
11 = ekādaśa
12 = dvādaśa
13 = trayodaśa
14 = caturdaśa
15 = pañcadaśa
16 = ṣoḍaśa
17 = saptadaśa
Standing sequence: How the Vinyasa Count actually works.
First number followed by * is the number of vinyasas
The numbers after the star are the states of the asana
So Jānuśīrṣāsana A - C 22 * 8 , 15 signifies that all three versions of
Jānuśīrṣāsanahave have 22 vinyasa each and that the states of the asana for each version are 8 and 15 ( IE. Both sides) I've included janu sirsasana at the bottom of this post as an example of how the seated postures work but in the second posture I'll be looking at all of them.
I've grouped asana that have the same vinyasa/state code to aid in memorising them.
In general I think we tend to think of a vinyasa as movement connected to the stage of a breath, inhale up EKAM, exhale down DVE, head up inhaling TRINI, jump back exhaling CATVARI….. And yet we find in the Ashtanga vinyasa system a number of extra uncounted inhalations and exhalations, It's almost better to think of a vinyasa as a moment or movements connected to one or more stages of the breath, all with a single count. Thus in the second vinyasa of Prasārita Pādottānāsana A, DVE, we exhale while folding towards the floor but then take an extra inhalation lifting the head and flattening the back so the vinyasa DVE would constitute an exhalation (counted) and inhalation (uncounted) as wells a downward and upward movement.
I say almost but we still want to associate the count with a particular stage of the breath. Supposedly the boys of the Mysore palace ( Krishnamacharya's students) used to go by whether a number was odd or even, odd numbers tended to signify inhalations and coming up, even numbers suggested exhalations and going down. Unfortunately the count as we have it now doesn't exactly work that way and it can lead to more confusion.
Sūryanamaskāra A = 9 vinyasa B = 17 vinyasa
The sury’s can be key to grasping the whole counted vinyasa practice as well as understanding how it shifts from full to half vinyasa, here’s Surynamaskara A.
1. ekam - Inhaling, arms go up (ODD NUMBER we move UP)
2. dve - Exhaling we fold over ( EVEN we move DOWN)
3. trīṇi - Inhaling we flatten the back and look up (ODD = UP)
4. catvāri - Exhaling we jump back to Chatauranga (EVEN we go BACK)
5. pañca - Inhaling we come through and up (ODD= UP)
6. ṣaṭ - Exhaling, backside comes up and we effectively fold in to look at the navel ( EVEN = DOWN)
7. sapta - We jump our feet to our hands and Inhaling flatten the back as in DVE (ODD=UP)
8. aṣṭau - Exhaling we fold over (EVEN=DOWN)
9. nava - Inhaling the arms come back (ODD=UP)
Samastithi Hands come back down to our sides (uncounted)
Confusion right from the start
Pādāngusthāsana 3 * 2
Pāda Hastāsana 3 * 2
These two postures are confusing as the count seems to begin at the third vinyasa of Surynamaskara A (inhaling up, flattening the back) it seems like it should be TRINI rather than Ekam. What actually happens is that from samastithi we exhale while folding over and taking hold of our toes, THEN the count begins on Ekam as we inhale and look up, flattening the back.
Perhaps it’s considered a variation of uttanasana (the intense forward bend). If we were already in Uttanasana then we might look up on the inhalation flattening the back EKAM before folding back down into the state of the new asana as on DVE, as happens in fact in the second of these two postures pada hastasana. In full vinyasa, after our five breaths, we would inhale all the way up TRINI.
In Contemporary Ashtanga however we only look up, flattening the back on TRINI we would now take an extra uncounted exhalation and change our hand position for pada hastasana then inhale while looking back up and flattening the back again EKAM. We fold back down into the state of the asana DVE. After our five count we Inhale looking up flattening the back once more TRINI. That is the end of the vinyasa, to come back to samastithi we take an uncounted extra exhalation then just inhale back up to samastithi.
This has been a good example of the extra inhalations and exhalation we take to make the vinyasa count 'fit' the practice as well as the adaptions we make for half vinyasa and moving straight into a following posture rather than coming back up to samasthiti each time.
Uthitta Trikoṇāsana A and B 5 * 2 , 4
We jump the legs apart while inhaling EKAM and fold straight down into the posture exhaling DVE, still on DVE we look and settle deeper into the posture during our five breaths. We come straight up inhaling TRINI and then straight back down into the other side exhaling CHATVARI. After the two states of the asana (IE.both sides) we come back to the same position inhaling PANCHA. In full vinyasa we would then jump back to samastihi (uncounted) However, in contemporary Ashtanga we go immediately into the state of the next asana, the reverse version, entering (windmilling up and over and down into the state of the asana) on DVE
Uthitta Pārśvakonāsana A and B 5 * 2 , 4
Notice that in this group we move straight into the asana and look up on the same count DVE (right side) and CHATVARI (left side) however we can adjust, settle deeper into the posture on our five breaths in the asana.
After inhaling up from Catvari we take our leg and arm spread position PANCHA the final vinyasa of the asana and then jump back to samastithi (uncounted)
Prasārita Pādottānāsana A and D 5 * 3
The logistics of the four variation of vinyasa for this asana can be tricky, it takes several extra uncounted inhalations and exhalations to allow us to enter and exit on the correct count. To be frank this whole sequence is a bit of a mess, nothing quite fits and I'm sure ( in fact I know) several teachers present it differently.
A: After jumping the legs and arms apart while inhaling EKAM we fold and put our hands on the floor DVE, however the state of the asana is at TRINI therefore we need to take an extra uncounted inhalation looking up and flattening the back, before exhaling TRINI our head to the floor. After our five breaths we inhale up CATVARI but only half way, looking up and flattening the back, we take an extra uncounted exhalation and then inhale back up to standing PANCHA. Again, in full vinyasa we would jump back to samastithi, Manju still seems to teach it that way but generally in contemporary Ashtanga we continue straight on into the next variation.
B: We stretch out the arms inhaling EKAM, just as if we had jumped into the vinyasa from samastithi. DVE exhaling we bring our hands to our waist but now we need to take an extra uncounted inhalation before exhaling and lowering TRINI into the state of the asana. This time after our five breaths we inhale ALL the way up CATVARI and then exhale. This is the end of the vinyasa in contemporary Ashtanga but the count is still supposed to be five, we seem to have lost PANCHA altogether.
C: This one makes the most sense, we inhale the arms out EKAM, exhale them behind our back DVE, take an extra uncounted inhalation then lower into the state of the asana TRINI. We come up inhaling on CATVARI and exhale but again we seem to have lost PANCHA, the fifth vinyasa.
D: This one too is a little confusing. After the last variation C. we already have our hands on our waist, we could take an extra inhalation taking the arms out to the side and then exhale our hands to our side EKAM then take an extra inhalations before exhaling DVE and taking our toes. We need another extra inhalation lifting the head before exhaling TRINI into the state of the asana. Inhaling CATVARI we just lift the head and take yet another extra uncounted exhalation before inhaling back up PANCHA and then finally jumping back to samastithi, phew.
Pārśvottānāsana 5 * 2 , 4
Straight forward thankfully after the parasaritas. It's worth mentioning however that the arms get folded behind the back on EKAM while turning to the side before lowering DVE into the state of the asana.
Interesting to note here that Krishnamacharya would have us take several breaths at EkAM including kumbhaka after the inhalations, he does the same after coming back up out of the state of the asana. I noticed that John Scott in his introduction to his workshop states that '...no one asana or sequence is better or worse than any other'. Krishnamacharya too helps me to realise that ever vinyasa, every stage of the count is a posture in and of itself, often Krishnamachrya will have us pause and take breaths (as well as Kumbhakas) at different points within the sequence of an individual asana
Utthita Hasta Pādāṅguṣṭhāsana 14 * 2 , 4 , 7 + 9, 11 , 14
Again, the count works fine here.
Ardha Baddha Padmottānāsana 9 * 2 + 7
While inhaling EKAM the leg comes up and we bind all on the same count. This can be challenging. However, and this holds for all the challenging postures, we can pause the count at EKAM taking as many extra breaths as we need to fully bind (or take up an option) and prepare to lower. When we are ready we need to complete an inhalation as that is what we paused our count on and then lower into the state of the asana on the next count IE. exhaling DVE. When we take extra breaths in this way we don't need to hurry them, keep them, just as long and slow and full as any other breath in our posture, in our vinyasa, use the breath to help us bind.Just as every asana is equal and every sequence so too is every stage of the vinyasa count as well as those of the extra inhalations and exhalations, in short every breath should carry equal weight whether it's the breath we take while in the state of the asana or while leading up to and out of it.
If that means in a led class that we only end up with one breath in the posture before everyone comes out of their asana so be it, we've maintained the integrity of our breath. In our own practice we can take those extra breaths AND the full count within the asana, that's the beauty of Mysore. If this means our practice is long then we have the option to jump to finishing after marichiyasana D and then pick it up at navasana the following day. better to sacrifice half a series than a single breath, this is a breathing practice.
Back to Ardha Baddha Padmottānāsana. We fold straight down into the posture on the exhalation DVE however, coming back up again we inhale just the head up TRINI, take an extra exhalation then inhale all the way up CHATVARI. Exhale while unbinding PANCHA. On the other side we inhale SHAT and bind and then fold all the way down exhaling into the state of the asana SUPTA. Coming back up is the same as on the first side we inhale up half way ASTAU, take the extra exhalation then inhale all the way up NAVA and unbind into samstithi.
Utkatāsana 13 * 7
SAPTA is a key part of the count ( this will become clear in the seated postures) and of the whole half-vinyasa/Contemporary Ashtanga approach, here we jump forward on SAPTA and take the arms up Inhaling. On the final exhalation of the five breaths, keeping the knees bent we bring our hands to the floor and lift the body up while inhaling ASTAU and then jump back. We transition through up and down dog but then, instead of jumping our feet to our hands at DVADASA as in the full vinyasa we switch back to SUPTA and inhaling step forward into Virabhadrasana. To me it feels a little like a record skipping, it happens through much of the seated postures, rather than complete the full vinyasa the count ‘skips’ back to SUPTA to come through directly into the next posture.
Vīrabhdrāsana 16 * 7 , 8 , 9 , 10
As with utkatasana there is the curios lift at the end of Virabhadrasana B, we need to bring the hands to the floor on the last exhalation of the five breaths then inhale while lifting the whole body up EKADESA and then jump back to chaturanga. As above with utkatasana after down dog the count Skips back to SUPTA as we jump through to Dandasana.
This is key to understanding the relationship between full and half vinyasa, the count stays the same, the first six vinyasas of Suryanamaskara are implied, we just don’t actually do them. The count for each posture begins at SUPTA as we step or jump through just as if we had transitioned back to standing and then all the way back again.
Another post to come on the actual Primary series. It's enough to work on the count in standing for a while and then just get on with our regular practice as usual. Once we get used to the count in standing then we can start adding on mentally, or why not, verbally counted primary postures.
See you in two and a half months xxx
This from comments to the Learning the Ashtanga Vinyasa Count post
Anonymous 28 February 2014 12:49
Can you explain further: "So Jānuśīrṣāsana A - C 22 * 8 , 15 signifies that all three versions of Jānuśīrṣāsana have have 22 vinyasa each and that the states of the asana for each versions are 8 and 15 ( IE. Both sides)?"
Does this mean Jānuśīrṣāsana A has 11 vinyasa for right and 11 for left side, Jānuśīrṣāsana B has 11 vinayas for right and 11 for left and Jānuśīrṣāsana C has 11 for right and 11 for left side, with the sides done alternately? Does "8" mean right side and "15" mean left side?
Anthony Grim Hall 28 February 2014 19:00
Hi Anon, I'm actually writing a post on How Full Vinyasa becomes half Vinyasa, looking at every posture in detail, showing were all the extra inhalations and exhalations come in to make the system 'fit' the count. I'm doing it because I'm not there in Japan with my wife to answer her questions about the count when they come up. This is should be stressed is my own explanation as I seek to make sense of the development of the vinyasa count historically, trying to expelling how it's been made to work, with it's extra uncounted inhalations and exhalations snuck in here and there.
No it doesn't mean each side has 11 vinyasa, doesn't work that way. If you were to separate the sides up and come back to standing after each side then they would both have 13 vinyasas. Confusing. Here's what I've written for janu Sirsasana, all three are the same even though C is more difficult to set up, it's all done on one inhalation whether A, B or C.
A preview of how the count works in seated postures using janu Sirsasana as an example.
Jānuśīrṣāsana A - C 22 * 8 , 15
CODE 22* = 22 vinyasa
8 = state of the asana on the first side
15= the state of the asana on the second side.
The count and the process is the same for all three Janu sirsasanas.
As with Ardha baddha pachimottanasana and Triyangmukha ekapada paschimottanasana the first six postures of the surynamaskara are implied ( as if we really had worked our way down from standing samastithi). We are in Downward facing dog exhaling (from the previous posture) which now becomes SAT we then jump through inhaling on SUPTA and immediately, still on the inhalation, bring the right foot into our groin, heel to perineum, and take hold of the toe of the other foot and look up, that’s all done on SUPTA. We exhale ASTAU (8) down into the state of the asana, traditionally head to knee (it’s in the name) but these days chin to knee or head to knee and then slide on to the chin. After our five breaths we sit up inhaling NAVA then take an extra uncounted exhalation allowing us to lift up on the next inhalation DASA while crossing our legs. We Jump back EKADASA and exhale into Chatuaranga. Up dog inhaling DVADASA, down dog exhaling TRAYODASA and then we are ready to Jump through again for the other side inhaling CATURDASA setting up to lower into the state of the asana, again all on on PANCHADASA (15). Now we repeat the exit, sitting up inhaling SODASA, the extra uncounted exhalation again so we can lift up inhaling and crossing our legs SAPTADASA and jump back exhaling into caturanga on ASTAUDASA. UP DOG inhaling EKONAVIMSATAHI (19) Down dog exhaling VIMSATAHI
BUT VIMSATAHI now switches back to become SAT ready for the next posture.
If we were doing full vinyasa after VIMSATAHI we would jump the feet to the hands inhaling while looking up and flattening the back EKAVIMSATAHI then fold over exhaling DVAVIMSATAHI (22) which completes the 22 vinyasa, we just stand back up into samastithi (uncounted).
As with all these postures we notice extra uncounted inhalations and exhalations as we make the vinyasa ‘fit’ into the sequence of breath and movement, remember we want to inhale up, exhale down.
Janu Sirsasana is quite straight forward but Janu C can be tricky, I have a dodgy knee and like to take a couple of breaths while setting in preparation for the state of the asana. That’s OK, jump through on SUPTA and take a couple of calm, steady, unrushed inhalations and exhalations while setting up all but the while saying to yourself SUPTA SUPTA SUPTA. When you ready to lower, take a final inhalation saying SUPTA to yourself one more time and then lower ASTAU into the state of the postures.
Coming out is the same come up inhaling NAVA and then take as many inhalations and exhalations as you need to allow your knee to come comfortably out of the posture, all the while saying NAVA NAVA NAVA mentally to yourself. When you're ready take your exhalation, then back on count, lift up inhaling DASA crossing the legs and jumping back.
Your Jump back might not be fully developed, that’s OK go through the motions preparing to step back while inhaling on DASA then step back while exhaling EKADASA.