I probably moved the furthest from Ashtanga I've ever been this year, trimming my practice down to just ten postures in my Proficient Primary posts early in the year, treating those ten asana somewhat as mudras before later reintroducing most of the Standing sequence. Throughout the year I focussed more and more on Simon Borg Olivier's teaching, making my asana practice safer, more beneficial perhaps, and explored in more depth Simon's Spinal sequence such that at one point, towards the end of the year, I moved all the way over into Qi Gong.
I still begin my practice with a five to ten minute version of Simon's Spinal (Qi gong/yoga) sequence but have ended the year settling back into a reasonably standard Ashtanga, it may be a Krishnamacharya, Manju Jois and Richard Freeman inspired, Simon Borg-Olivier informed, slightly Vinyasa Krama modified, soft, slow, half Primary/half Second Series Ashtanga Yoga practice.....but Ashtanga all the same...., after all these years it's just comforting. I don't tend to jump back between sides and will tend to focus on one asana or another, staying longer, introducing kumbhaka, treating them as mudras (see my Proficient Primary page), that Mingus approach to practice I used to talk about (I'll find the link).
The year ended on a sour note with Mary Taylor's article on Pattabhi Joi's 'adjustments', we'd suspected as much of course but this article clarified things, as did some of the responses and ongoing discussion (Thankfully that’s happening more in house now than via the ambulance chasers). Perhaps Guru Purnima will be more circumspect this year although I doubt it, the systems of power and authority remain, reenforced with title. My own post is mostly just links, to those it sadly happened to or to those who were actually there, I edited out the rising fury that was triggered at one point and decided to let the articles and responses speak for themselves.
My practice has always been a home practice. I tend to say I learned from books, DVDs..., YouTube etc. but that’s just being provocative, truth be told I worked my asana out on my own through daily practice, going on generally contradictory hints and suggestions....., just as we all do ultimately. No adjustments or assists sought, no guru's or teachers looked to, just daily practice, it stands up well on it's own I find. We can look back to Krishnamacharya's early texts, Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1931) and Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1934) and find the practice pretty much as Pattabhi Jois passed it along to his students.
Krishnamacharya suggested that we should look to our own traditions, for me that tends to be Greece and Rome rather than India., Greek and Latin rather than Sanskrit.
|Fire festival on the other side of Lake Biwa|
|Meanwhile, on our side of the lake....|
|Hiked to the top of the mountains, looking down on our beach|
|meanwhile down below, the paddy fields were being (intentionally) flooded|
|Started working nights for three month|
Q: Did you create your own sequence?
A: NO! I didn’t ‘create’ my own individual sequence, I'm a little horrified at the suggestion (thus this update to clarify), certainly not in the sense of trying to develop my own style or teach a new sequence ( I don't teach). Pattabhi Jois mentioned in Yoga Mala that after fifty you can adapt the practice as you wish, choose the asana you find most beneficial along with how you wish to practice them. But that was ALWAYS Krishnamacharya‘s way, throughout his teaching 'career', the asana were not, it seems, fixed in a set sequence. Why wait until you are fifty.
Even though I spent a little time with Ramaswami (Vinyasa Krama), I always seemed to settle back into Ashtanga, the shape of the practice I had become most familiar with, comfortable with. I would adapt the practice, perhaps, take a more 'vinyasa krama' approach, add some extra preparation postures or more advanced versions, developments, but the shape of the practice was basically the same, it was always, to my mind at least, still Ashtanga.
As I explored, in practice for a couple of years, Krishnamacharya's old Mysore texts (following the line by line close reading module on Ramaswami's TT) I spent longer in certain asana, exploring Krishnamacharya‘s kumbhaka options. That took more time so I cut out asana, reducing my practice down to to ten key asana from the Ashtanga series, a Rishi series if you like ( Pattabhi Jois had mentioned a Rishi series idea to David and Nancy in the 70s, choosing ten postures and practicing them for longer, 25-50 breaths each).
In blog posts I referred to that as 'Proficient Primary', not to promote my own series but rather to indicate that you didn't need to practice 'Advanced asana' to have an advanced practice, you could practice primary series in an 'Advanced' way, or rather in a more proficient way, not only in how we approached our alignment but in how we worked with the breath, with drishti. If you could only do half primary or just a few seated (perhaps in a chair), even just the supine postures you could have an advanced/proficient practice, no deep backbends, arm balances, headstands necessary.
I tended to still do most of Ashtanga standing before moving into those ten asana. Recently I explored some of Simon Borg-Olivier's spinal movements before moving into my asana and finished with some handstand variations to go into asana 'hands free' (to avoid pulling limbs into postures), but it still feels like Ashtanga to me, I personally can still see the shape but it was perhaps the furthest I moved away from straight by the book Ashtanga. It was always about my own home practice, adapting the practice to my needs and what I sought to explore in practice, never to teach to anyone else. Were I to teach (and I have NO intention to do so) it would be to encourage somebody in their own home practice. I feel strongly that a good teacher has NO students, or very few, who will move on to their own personal practice (this of course doesn't mean you can't hold a room, in which case you are not necessarily a teacher but perhaps merely a facilitator - Note: I have no intention to hold a room either).
In the end I settled back into a pretty standard approach to Ashtanga because ultimately I found that practice I had worked with for ten years, comforting, just comforting. Now I just do a quick (depending on time) Simon Borg-Olivier style spinal warm up before move into a pretty regular Ashtanga Primary plus a little 2nd, just picking one or two asana a practice to stay longer and explore the kumbhaka options?
Ashtanga is just comforting for me, no doubt because I’ve practiced it for so long now (actually, ten years is not so long), even though I may have explored it through adapting and modifying over the years. I think the potential to adapt the practice to our needs is built into the practice, it was always Krishnamacharya‘s intention. Jois lost his way a little perhaps when he introduced Led classes (madness to try and rush 80 to 300 students into Marichiyasana D on the count) and made it more and more fixed (although we might understand if not agree with his argument for doing so). Sharath, no doubt, just tries to continue what he saw as his grandfathers legacy but perhaps really we should be going back to early Ashtanga (Manju?) or even further, to Krishnamacharya himself, we have Krishnamacharya's early texts. Pattabhi Jois may have lost his way in more ways than one, when I see video of his led advanced class in the garage on YouTube, his adjustments, on those who clearly aren’t ready for Advanced (possibly not even 2nd) are frankly insane.
Pattabhi Jois didn't invent the Ashtanga vinyasa approach to practicing asana. The instructions for practicing the asana, the drishti, the vinyasa count...., it is all in his teacher Krishnamacharya's early text Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934). In Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu (Mysore1941) we even find the asana mostly in the order Jois presented them for his four year Sanskrit college course. Pattabhi Jois merely passed along his teacher's teaching. We can question how he passed it along, how he taught, how he behaved without that necessarily questioning what it was he was teaching, the practice stands up on it's own - we can question it separately and we should. We can question Pattabhi Jois' adjustments, how extreme as well as how sexually abusive they were at times, we can question the introduction of Led classes, how practice was speeded up to accommodate a fixed practice, how kumbhaka was lost along the way, how flexible Krishnamacharya seems to have been in his approach by contrast, we can question Pattabhi Jois' judgement. But even if we remove Pattabhi Jois from the equation altogether we still have Krishnamacharya's texts, the vinyasa, a shape/framework to practice, if not a set sequence (though the asana is presented in almost the same order as Jois, Krishnamacharya seems to have resisted teaching the asana as fixed sequences), we still have the practice as well as encouragement to explore the practice and adapt it to our own needs and preferences.
Krishnamacharya stressed that the practice of asana should be explored on a grounding of the yama/niyama, the moral code (and most if not all cultures no doubt have their own 'version' as well as contemplative traditions and worthy texts - there is no actual need to run off to India), the moral code comes first and foremost as well as accompanying our practice to help us avoid losing our way, to be there to fall back on when we slip (and Patanjali reminds us that we will constantly), to support our practice and what arises out of it. The asana too, for Krishnamacharya, is always in the context of pranayama and pratyahara, it is always a meditative and spiritual practice of radical enquiry in which, for Krishnamacharya, and he would hope for us, God or at least Love is sought.