Monday, 7 May 2012

How to practice Krishnamacharya's 'Original' Ashtanga Yoga

krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda

One of the challenges we have with practicing Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga is time, here's why

1. Full Vinyasas : Krishnamacharya seems to be advocating full vinyasa between postures, half vinyasa between sides and possible variations of the key posture

2. Breathing : Long slow inhalations and exhalations, from 10- 15 seconds

3. Long stays in postures. 10 breaths seems to be standard more in certain postures

4. Kumbhaka (breath retention) In several postures kumbhaka is included , many of the forward bends for instance

5. Variations. Krishnamacharya doesn't seem to be advocating a fixed series, variations to certain postures might be added, perhaps preparatory postures but also extensions.

If we take Janusirsasana as an example

60 second lead in  and out (say, 5 seconds for each stage of the vinyasa )
10 breaths in the posture at 10 seconds each per inhalation and exhalation,  about six and a half minutes
Ashtanga already has three variations of this postures, so around twenty minutes
Doubt forget the half vinyasas between sides and between variations twenty seconds each so another minute and a half.

So in an ideal practice, around twenty-three minutes just for janusirsasana

If we compare the Primary group of postures in Krishnamacharya's list in Yogasanagalu with the Ashtanga primary we notice there aren't as many postures, this is just a framework of course but still, less postures seems to be the way to go.

Pattabhi Jois comes to the same conclusion, for those of us strapped for time. He outlines the problem in the first quote below and in the second quote offers a possible solution. He suggests that if your busy with work and don't have time for a full practice you might practice up to navasana only and then move to finishing, he even suggests doing your headstand at work. On the next day you begin with Navasana after your Sury's ( he suggests only doing half the amount of those).

And of course if your a beginner you will often stop your practice at marichiyasana C and move on to finishing or in 2nd series you might stop at Kapo or Karandavasana.

Practicing half a series then isn't that new or that radical and doesn't have to be just because your a beginner or have a busy lifestyle.

So should we decide to explore Krishnamacharya's approach we could take the Primary and 2nd series we're familiar with and divide them in half and practice the longer slower breathing, longer stays and breath retention allowing for deeper bandha engagement.

1st Day
Primary to navasana + pranayama

2nd Day
Primary to end of series + pranayama

3rd Day 
2nd series Bakasana + pranayama

4th Day
Bhaadvajrasana to end of series + pranayama

5th Day
Full regular Primary

6th Day
Full regular 2nd series.

It's difficult not to think of an advanced practice just in terms of the shapes of advanced postures and yet we might also think of an advanced or proficient practice as being reflected in the approach we take to the asana rather than the asana itself.

It appears Krishnamacharya's proficient group of postures wasn't intended to be practiced as one of more series but more likely as extensions to the asana found in the Primary and Middle group. One might reflect on whether turning them into fixed series in the 70's and 80's was, in retrospect, beneficial. I'd be interested to hear arguments for and against fixed advanced series.

My own argument for, is that by practising Advanced series we practice the most challenging postures everyday and this leads to increased proficiency rather than attempting an advanced posture once in a while which might lead to strain.

However my argument against the above is that in Vinyasa Krama I've practiced advanced postures as  extensions of similar asana of the same family. In Asymmetric series for example one moves from janu sirsasana and half lotus postures (primary), arcana dhanurasana A and B (advanced B)and on into eka pada sirsasana (2nd series) and then into skandasana and durvasana (Advanced A). I often add omkrasana, parsva dandasana kapilasana, buddhasana and marichyasana H (Advanced B) which while not in Ramaswami's book seem to be appropriate further extensions and because of the preparation any strain is avoided.

And yet do any of the postures above really appear more advanced than Krishnamacharya's janusirsasana at the top of the page. Janusirsasana appears simple, we find it in the current Ashtanga Primary series and Krishnamacharya's Primary group yet it's basically a forward bending version of mahamudra. It's a highly stable, grounded posture that cries out for breath and bandha work. We can stay here a long long time, engage mula, uddiyana and jalandhara bandha fully, it allows for variations, the deep forward bend of janusirsasana and yet also twist to both sides by changing the hold on the foot. It's all in the approach we take to it, five breaths only in such a pose seems a bit of a waste

Here are the quotes mentioned above.

Question: When is it good to do full vinyasa? That is come back to Samasthiti after each asana. Is it correct?

Answer: Yes correct. Take one asana, finish it. After full vinyasa you do, standing position you come. Again next. Your strength how is you use (depending on your strength you should do half or full vinyasa). Without strength chat (sixth vinyasa) stop (If you are not strong stop at the sixth vinyasa eg do half vinyasa). Increasing your strength, you full vinyasa you take. Now there is no time (too many students).

That is why I am telling. One asana, for example paschimottanasana (has) 16 vinyasas, Purvottanasana - 15, Ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, tiriang mukeka pada paschimottanasana, janu sirsasana A, B, C, marichyasana A, B, all 22 vinyasas. Full vinyasa .

You doing full vinyasa all - that is the best. Secondary you with sixth vinyasa all the asanas is coming. That you changing, this time (when) your strength is more, you changing that time. Sixth, seventh (vinyasa) paschimottanasana you do. After 8 – 9 then jump again. “sat” (six) position you go. I every day I teaching now. Same method you do. Both is no problem

Method is good no problem. Work is there. He is going work. (for a working man half vinyasa method is good) Your yoga practice, you take one hour. One hour or two hours your expanding your time. That time all the asanas taken one day full vinyasa you do at least five hours also you want you can understand (if you take full vinyasa, you need 5 hours to complete practice). One primary asanas doing, 5 hours also you want. That is why. You (are a) working (man). You not spending all the time on the yoga practice.

You can understand. Full time you take, full vinyasa you doing. Only for (completing) primary asanas takes 5 hours. 5 hours primary postures (with) full vinyasa. 50 asanas is there completely primary postures. That 50 asanas you doing taken 5 hours, with full vinyasa. You working. Another place is working. Yes you take money, you eating food, all you want. That only for your spending (free) time only for yoga, very rare (little time), very difficult also yourself. That is why you short cut you take. That is one or two hours. Two hours spent your yoga practice. That is good. That is also is good. Yes OK. That I tell you.

Sri K Pattabhi Jois Public Talks on Ashtanga Yoga - France 1991

Question: If one has only half an hour for practice, what should he do?

Answer: Now, no time. Many work is there. That time, no time. But you including half an hour time (if you have half an hour) you spend this way: You take practice.Anyone (always) start (with) Suryanamaskar half posture (half of the postures) you do, no problem. Halfposture means: primary half to Marichyasana D. (next day) Navasana you do aftertake Suryanamaskar (after you have finished surya namaskar you go on straight to navasana and the rest of the postures). Sirsasana and you do your work. No problem (do head stand at work?). 
Sri K Pattabhi Jois Public Talks on Ashtanga Yoga - France 1991


How to practice Krishnamacharya's early, 'original' Ashtanga Part 1

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