Thursday, 17 December 2015

The story behind Krishnamacharya's 'Original' Ashtanga poster

Downloadable pdf version - higher resolution 

First thing to say about it is that this is NOT the order the asana are found in Krishnamacharya's 1934 book Yoga Makaranda.... but not far off.

See my free downloads page for links to Yoga Makarnda parts I and II

Krishnamacharya starts of with descriptions of the asana that are involved in the transitions in and out of postures, the same postures that make up the Surynamaska. However Krishnamacharya, as far as we can tell,  does not seem to have taught the Sun salutation as a separate entity other than the version with mantras (see this post). In the mantra version of the sun salutation each stage of the salutation is held with kumbhaka while a mantra praising the health giving benefits of the sun are mentally chanted, it also includes a full prostration. Indra Devi mentions that Krishnamacharya taught her the mantra version in the 30's.

Sun salutations where in 'vogue' in India at the time, Shrimant Balasahib Rajah of Aundh  published 'The Ten Point Way to Health in 1928 (1938 English translation)

See these earlier posts
Balasahib's 'original' 1928 Suya Namaskar , sun salutation
More on the 'original' Sun salutation of 1928

The Ten Point Way to Health by Shrimant Balasahib Rajah of Aundh
Sun salutations seem to have been considered an almost stand alone exercise regime, Krishnamacharya appears to have been uncomfortable with that and perhaps this is the reason he only seems to have taught the mantra version. On the first page of yoga Makaranda he writes...

"One cannot have such a trivial attitude as expecting immediate benefits in auspicious matters like yogabhyasa, worship, sandhya vandanam (salutation to the sun) or chanting of mantras as though one were a labourer who does one hour of work and expects immediate payment. They should not lament that they have not received even one paisa for all the time spent on this. When this pattern of thinking begins, we enter a phase of deterioration day by day".  
T. Krishnamacharya. Yoga makaranda p1

There are some extra variations of postures included in Yoga Makaranda, I've trimmed those out for this project and some of the other variations we are familiar with from Ashtanga Primary are not mentioned in Yoga Makaranda Part I but are included in Part II, especially the some of the inishing postures.

Krishnamacharya treats many of the Primary asana we're familiar with from Ashtanga but then moves on to some of the more advanced postures, marichyasana appears there as does trikonasana. But then Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya's student at this time,  as late as the 1980's seems to have introduced the reverse twists in the triangle postures only once a student had become more proficient. Once they had completed Primary series for example the postures would then be inserted in their regular position. Krishnamacharya may have had something similar in mind with his ordering or the asana descriptions in his book.

It's important to stress that Krishnamacharya did not seem to advocate a fixed sequence, this poster then makes sense only as a guideline, a framework...... signposts perhaps. Or more significantly for me, as a way for Ashtangis to approach Krishnamacharya's early text and see what he has to offer us as options in our approach to our own asana practice. We can continue to seek new postures, new series or perhaps explore more fully those we have, explore the breathing options, the longer stays... not necessarily in all postures in each practice but perhaps choosing a different asana each practice to explore more fully.

There seems to be an intuitive structure to Ashtanga practice doesn't there? Or is that just my own familiarity with the series speaking, standing, triangle, standing on one leg, seated, supine, inversions, seated meditative postures. And asana with in theses 'types' of postures seem to generally progress logically one from the other, perhaps a couple here or there could be switched around but generally I get the feeling that this is probably the framework that Krishnamacharya would have used.

Why do I say that? Because there are certain postures that Krishnamacharya stressed should be practiced everyday, tadasana, trikonasana, paschimottanasana, maha mudra/janu sirsasana, badha konasana, sarvangasana, sisrsasana, badhapadmasana, plus there were postures that were considered preparation and counter postures that Krishnamacharya stressed, put them together and we begin to see the Ashtanga Primary series.

We see it even more explicitly in Krishnamacharya's 1941 book Yogasanagalu, in a table where the postures are listed in primary, middle and proficient groups, the order of the list for primary is uncannily close to the Ashtanga primary series we have now. The list of middle postures is close to our current 2nd series but the proficient  group just seems to be a random list of asana.

Download full table here

Pattabhi Jois' genius seems to have been to more formally nail down Primary and 2nd series and then order the rest of the more challenging postures into Advanced A and B then later 3rd, 4th. 5th and 6th.

There are arguments of course for and against the idea of a fixed sequence but truth be told Ashtanga isn't perhaps as fixed as is generally thought, it's always been open to adaption, whether due to injuries, proficiency, strengths and weaknesses, bringing in extra postures to help with personally challenging asana, switching to half primary half second or just up to navasana if short on time or even just the surynamaskaras. And then there are those days when we want to focus on a particular area of our body and so really milk those postures for all they offer us and merely pass through some of the other postures. Do we ever treat every posture in an Ashtanga series equally? Maybe, when Sharath  might be watching, one of the best arguments for Mysore perhaps.

Vinyasa Krama too, arguable the most adaptive of approaches to practice, has a frameworks, certain key asana we're encouraged to include everyday, asana that follow a logical progression, a general ordering of sequences. In Vinyasa Krama we might change our practice everyday but so too in Ashtanga where we might practice Primary one day second series the next, alternating the series throughout the week. Manju Jois didn't seem keen on only practicing Primary only on Fridays once we had progressed to second or third series.

This is just a beginning, as well as exploring the breath in asana, bringing pranayama into the asana practice as it were Krishnamacharya also appears to be exploring pratyahara and meditation through his use of Chakra focus. It's less explicit Something I hope to explore here in the future.

There does seem to have been a focus on asana for health and well being in Krishnamacharya's later teaching but here in these early days he seems to have seen asana practice as a carrier for all the Ashtanga limbs. Krishnamacharya's asana practice was never only about health and fitness it was, in my reading, always a spiritual practice and this is something we still find in his later teaching.


I made up the poster for the first session of my upcoming workshop allowing me to look at the options Krishnamacharya offered while keeping the familiar Ashtanga framework, make it easier for those attending ( don't worry I won't make anyone hold anything for ten minutes). I also made an instruction booklet, trimming down the instructions for asana from Yoga Makaranda, stripping those dense paragraphs into a clear layout of instruction. The booklet is finished but I need to play around with the format a little more before uploading it to google docs but here's a taste of it below.

Is it a good idea to make such a booklet available? I've struggled with this. I'd much rather everyone read and studied the full Yoga Makaranda but perhaps for those who find it forbidding this may be a way in to the full text.

Paschimottanasana is a key description because so many of the other seated asana direct you to follow the paschimottanasana instructions.

The book is in epub ibooks mode

Only Supta padangusthasana appears in the poster but Krishnamacharya included in Yoga Makaranda
Supta Parsvangushtasana

The book includes posters for most of the seated postures with their vinyasa
Link to the Triangmukha post

NB: Asana Instructions taken from 

Yoga Makaranda
Yoga Saram (The Essence of Yoga)
First Part
Sri T. Krishnamacharya
Mysore Samasthan Acharya
(Written in Kannada)
Tamil Translation by Sri C.M.V. Krishnamacharya (with the assistance of Sri S. Ranganathadesikacharya)
Kannada Edition 1934 Madurai C.M.V. Press Tamil Edition 1938”


My book based on this material.

Available here

Book available from

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