Thursday, 29 June 2017

What, an Ashtanga class doesn't have a theme?

Krishnamacharya aged 84

A good friend was telling me about her upcoming yoga class and how she hadn't yet thought of a theme for the class.

I mentioned how alien this concept of 'theme' was to me, coming from Ashtanga.

But Ashtanga does have a theme she argued. If you go to an Ashtanga workshops, there's clearly a theme - backbend, arm balance...., floating. Primary series is basically forward bending.. Secondary series is backbends, Third series is Arm balance.......

No, I argued, that's imposing a theme upon it (often to flog a workshop or book). Primary series is nothing to do with forward bending, nor 2nd series backbending, nor are the Advanced series about arm balances although these series might be dominated by such postures.

It's a complete misunderstanding.

Ashtangi's don't give a damn about WHAT they are practicing just that they ARE practicing, they have no concern at all about whether one posture is having X effect and another Y effect.  It would be like suggesting that Christians pray to work on their kneeling or that the theme of a Monk's Zazen that morning was hip openers.

I honestly don't believe in any of the benefits Krishnamacharya mentioned in relation to any of the postures he presented (Update: Ok perhaps a few), to be honest I can't remember any of them because I have zero interest and I suspect most Ashtangi's tend to feel the same most of the time, although we probably all go through a brief period of looking at the proposed benefits to help justify our practice. Looking to justify practice, the time we spend on our mats and how we often construct our lives (and indeed relationships god help us) around our practice is something we all seem to descend into occasionally...., periodically.

No doubt we all tend believe it's probably good for us overall (except for those who make a career of telling us it isn't), that we mostly feel better for having practiced but I suspect we would continue to practice if it had no perceivable physical, mental or emotional.....(spiritual?) benefits.

It's Ashtanga for Ashtanga's sake, an end in itself, discipline for disciplines sake, practice for the sake of practice.... , for no other reason perhaps than that it grounds our lives, opens up a space, a clearing where light can, on a good day, stream through the trees.

Ramaswami stresses that there is a clear purpose to the limbs of Ashtanga, Asana reduces Rajas, pranayama, Tapas leaving us in a more Satvic state for the meditative limbs.

I suspect that is another theory imposed upon practice however old a theory it might be, another justification.

This practice we do is tapas (austerity/discipline), it's a commitment, a discipline. Practice too little and it doesn't work as discipline anymore, make our practice too short, too gentle...., too easy, and it doesn't work as tapas. To be a discipline practice needs to be a burden, at least to some degree, we may go skipping to the mat some mornings but when it's four, six,... seven days a week, at some point we're dead man walking.... but we step on the mat anyway.

Note: It's relative, to a beginner or working mum, getting on the mat for twenty minutes for some surys and a few seated postures, three or four times a week, may be just as much tapas as practicing Primary to Advanced series twice a day, seven days a week, was to me when I had nothing else going on in my life and all the time in the world to practice.

It's this discipline, I suspect, that grounds our lives. Devotion to practice, for those who have it (to teachers, a deity - or turning our teacher into a semi-deity for that matter) is, an optional extra, it's beside the point (and Patanjali I would argue may agree in this context). Dedication to practice, to constructing and maintaining the discipline is what is key. Practice and all is... well you know the rest.

The yama/niyama are a support for this discipline, for our practice. If we can simplify our lives ( effectively the role of yama/niyamas), stepping on the mat can be a little easier but it goes both ways. If my practice is disrupted, I notice I can so easily slip in the yama/niyama department, slide into old patterns, my life becomes somewhat more chaotic, disturbed, more of a distraction. Practice and the yama/niyamas go hand in hand, they support each other, support our discipline.

With the yama/niyamas observed more rather than less, the practice of asana steady and settled, pranayama consistent, I may indeed be in a more Satvic frame of mind and can settle into lesser or greater degrees of serenity, and this as Topol would say is the "greatest gift of all" but who looks to that in the morning when we shuffle towards the mat. We wash our face, we practice, we brush our teeth.

This is not to say that I'm suggesting there is anything wrong with a yoga class having a theme. Ashtanga as a discipline is not for everyone (it may indeed be a curse and "ruin your life") and no doubt postures, the practice of them, done well, mindfully, skilfully, can have great benefits for our lives. Pedagogically, having a theme for a class can be beneficial, Ramaswami takes a similar approach in his presentation of Vinyasa krama, we learn the relationships between asana via a theme before settling into daily practice. It wouldn't be a bad idea for Ashtangi's to learn to practice their asana more skilfully, make our practice safer for the long term as well as the short, more effective. I look to Simon Borg-Olivier for exactly this in his upcoming online Ashtanga course.

I hesitate to suggest that general Yoga classes and Ashtanga vinyasa Yoga are two different language games, it's like trying to introduce the rules of chess into snakes and ladders ( Ashtanga Vinyasa is snakes and ladders).

And of course this commitment to practice to daily practice can make Ashtangi's a little full of themselves, they/we can at times be judgemental, dismissive of other styles that we so often suspect as being either derivative, random or lacking in commitment...., as being less traditional. As if there is anything traditional about Ashtanga vinyasa, there isn't of course, not really but we too often impose our view on others (as I'm doing her of course), imposing ideas of tradition and lineage, parampara and paramagurus upon the practice like pretty paper and ribbons, all to help us get on the mat, to explain, justify, the practice to ourselves....., as if the practice needs any of these things, any explaining, it justifies itself.

We might just as well get up every morning and run ( or swim like a friend of mine, 365 mornings a year off the coast of Ireland), the marathon runner I suspect understands just as much about yoga as the Ashtangi, perhaps more so as they don't tend to resort to metaphysics or fairy tales, surely there must be a book, Zen and the long distance runner.

When our practice becomes the most significant part of our day, whether Running or Ashtanga, when despite those who seek to promote themselves through workshops and merchandise we realise that we are most at peace moving back and forth on a length of old rubber or cotton.... or tarmac and in our oldest, tattiest, most threadbare, much loved, favourite practice pants/shorts......, that during those one to two hours we feel at our most peaceful, serene, sufficient, then our attachments to things at hand are reduced. Then, if it has one, practice has done it's job.



*


See also perhaps....











Friday, 16 June 2017

Underwater Yoga on Bhaya kumbhaka and Krishnamacharya's one kumbhaka vinyasa.

Part 1 Yoga asana underwater
Part 2  Krishnamacharya's one kumbhaka vinyasa.
Part 3. Splashtanga 200hr TT


On fb this week I saw a video of my friend Simon Borg-Olivier (http://simonborgolivier.com/) practicing his Spinal movements sequence underwater....



The video isn't on youtube but you should be able to see it on this post.



So I have this Lake.......,


Living as I do on the shore of Japan's four million year old Lake Biwa, I couldn't resist trying it myself.

The trick here is exhale fully, which allows you to sink to the bottom where you can then attempt the sequence on bahya kumbhaka (ceasing of breath when the exhalation/Rechak is complete). This ties in nicely with the work I've been doing recently on Simon's Introduction to breath control (pranayama) course See THIS LINK to my review of  course ( and this to the course itself http://simonborgolivier.com/breath-training-for-health-and-longevity/).

In the course Simon has you emphasise different aspects of the breath, so in one exercise you are inhaling for thirty seconds or longer



Above a one minute inhalation, the trick is to visualise the inhalation back and forth up the body while trying to stay as relaxed as possible.

...., in another, exhaling for thirty seconds, in a third, Antar Kumbhaka (ceasing of breath when the inhalation/Puraka is complete) for thirty seconds and in a fourth, bahya kumbhaka (ceasing of breath when the exhalation/Rechak is complete).

In Simon's underwater spinal sequence video he is practicing the sequence on a minutes bahya kumbhaka, it's challenging. I can manage a three minutes Antar Kumbhaka at a push but ceasing to breathe for a minute after exhaling is at my limit, let alone trying move through a sequence and stay sitting on the bottom of the lake in padmasana.





Simon takes this further and has a wonderful video and post on underwater yoga on his blog. Simon's father was a free diver, he could swim a length below the surface before he could swim the same on the surface, probably before he could walk.




Below a couple of shots from the video, Simon in Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana




I've just been down to the lake to try this out and had the best time. It's a beautiful day here in Shiga, the rainy season is yet to start and I have the beach to myself as usual, the lake is a little cold though, I'm looking forward to July.

Simon talks of practicing thirty asana in thirty minutes underwater...

"In my late teens my Tibetan Lama told me that traditionally (in the system he learnt) that postures where help for a long as one breath retention. So progressively I developed my underwater yoga practice know finding it the easiest place to hold the breath and be in a pose.
In this practice I take a breath in, hold my breath, go underwater and get into a posture, hold for some time floating just under the surface, then exhale fully and sink down underwater (to the bottom if it is not far!) and hold my breath out and perform uddiyana bandha, mula bandha, nauli and lauliki (rolling my abdomen with my chest expanded etc). Then, I swim to the surface (often still in pose such as the lotus as in the video here) and when I break the surface I inhale to begin the next posture. I regularly practice a 30 minute sequence of up to 30 postures in this manner".

This afternoon I just practiced, 

Dandasana
Paschimattanasana 
Ustrasana
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana
Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana
 Bharadvajrasana
Janu Shirshasana A
Baddha Konasana
Baddha padmasana
Padmasana

It was only really in dandasana, baddha konasana and padmasana that I stayed for around thirty seconds, the others were perhaps fifteen to twenty as I had the bind to worry about.


Why do this?

Well, I have this lake......
                                                                                                  
The Shala


The Shala
Practice this morning: a swim in place of sun salutations, standing sequence in the water, Primary series up to upavishta konasana (which doesn't seem to work) under the water - bhaya kumbhaka ( ceasing to breathe after the exhalation) while mentally chanting the pranayama mantra in every posture. (Note: peg on the nose for folding forward) Back to the tatami room for finishing - until I'm more used to the sun. This may well be my summer and make up for working nights.
Update: I was asked on Instagram how you can practice Ashtanga underwater....should you want to.
Exhale fully, allows you to bend over underwater in standing (with the help of a peg on the nose) . Again, exhale fully to drop to the bottom and fold into the pose or the bind. Hold it for 20-30 seconds ( I mentally Chant the pranayama mantra), come up to the surface between sides or postures. It works, was a nice practice this morning.

Also, Krishnamacharya indicated bhaya kumbhaka ( ceasing to breathe after the exhalation) in most primary asana in Yoga Makaranda ( Mysore 1934).

Observation: Richard Freeman talks about giving a little extra puff in his pranayama course, to push out the last of the air and automatically engage bandhas. Getting rid of that last puff of the air helps ground you on the surface of the lake. That puff is almost automatic in twists if you allow it. Re twists, mostly Krishnamacharya doesn't mention kumbhaka on twists, preferring instead to indicate long slow equal inhalation and exhalation, except for a clear mention of kumbhaka for Bharadvajrasana.

Also, the movement of the water raises challenges for the posture which are interesting to overcome, likewise challenges for the breath, the kumbhaka and Bandha work but mostly, it's just beautiful and serene there in the lake with the sun breaking through the surface.



Part 2  Krishnamacharya's one kumbhaka vinyasa.

Splashtanga™may be more 'traditional than you might think...., Krishnamacharya is said to have learned from his teacher on the shore of Lake Manasarovar 




Did you pick up on the line in the quote about Simon's Tibetan Lama....

"In my late teens my Tibetan Lama told me that traditionally (in the system he learnt) that postures where help for a long as one breath retention". 

This reminded me of something that's played on my mind for some time.

In Ashtanga we tend to stay in a posture for five breaths, it used to be eight or ten back in the day supposedly but now it tends to be five, these can be pretty speedy.... Sharath for instance takes about fifteen seconds for five breaths on his dvd's and led classes (just double checked on his Moscow led for paschimottanasana). That's three seconds a breath, one and a half seconds each for inhalation and exhalation. In interviews/talks Pattabhi Jois would speak of fifteen, even twenty seconds, each for inhalation and exhalation as an ideal ( but then lead his demonstrators though there asana just as fast as Sharath), he recognised that householders didn't have time for such a slow practice but perhaps he over compensated.

NOTE: If I follow a led Ashtanga DVD or class I tend to take one or two slower breaths to the count of five, works for me.

So these days in Ashtanga it tends to be five breaths (finishing asana tend to be longer). In Yoga Mala however, Jois would talk of breathing in an asana for as long as possible....

"(for paschimottanasana) Next, doing rechaka, grasp and hold the upper parts of the feet; this is the 8th vinyasa (as your practice becomes firm, you should be able to lock your hands behind your feet). Then, doing puraka slowly, then rechaka, straighten both legs, and place the head between the knees; this is the 9th vinyasa and the state of the asana. While in the state, do puraka and rechaka slowly and deeply, as much as possible". Yoga Mala -Pattabhi Jois.

In Ashtanga then we have mention of a number of breaths, whether, ten, eight, five or, as in Yoga mala, breathing as much as possible.

In Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934), written when Pattabhi Jois was Krishnamacharya's student, we don't find this at all. Krishnamacharya stresses kumbhaka in almost every asana except for twists. He talks of practicing the kumbhaka for as long as possible while in the asana and this ties in with Simon's Tibetan Lama

"....that postures where held for a long as one breath retention".

What Krishnamacharya does talk about is TIME with regards to certain key asana that are held for a longer. He recognises that one might not be able to stay in kumbhaka for five minutes ( thank you for that K.) so suggests coming out of the posture, taking puraka (inhalation) then re entering the asana.

"While holding the feet with the hands, pull and clasp the feet tightly. Keep the head or face or nose on top of the kneecap and remain in this sthiti from 5 minutes up to half an hour. If it is not possible to stay in recaka for that long, raise the head in between, do puraka kumbhaka and then, doing recaka, place the head back down on the knee. While keeping the head lowered onto the knee, puraka kumbhaka should not be done". Yoga Makaranda - Krishnamacharya

For Krishnamacharya there are a few key asana he would have you stay in for a significant period, ten minutes or so E.G. Paschimottanasana, Maha mudra ( of which janu sirsasana is it's asana), Sarvangasana, Sirsasana, also trikonasana, mayaurasana. baddha konasana. 

But in other asana, is Krishnamacharya suggestion we stay in the asana for one (extended) kumbhaka? 

If we remember that Krishnamacharya was supposedly in Tibet with his teacher, even if not for as long as legend suggests, might he have been influenced by this suggestion of one asana one Kumbhaka, that may or may not have characterised tibetan yoga?

We would need more evidence, does one asana/one kumbhaka really characterise Tibetan yoga, is this indeed what Krishnamacharya was suggesting back in Yoga Makaranda?

It was carried forward into Jois' Ashtanga vinyasa, perhaps Krishnamacharya never taught it to the young boys of the practice, perhaps it was only how he practiced himself.

In Ramaswami we see both time and count, stay for five breaths, or , in the same key asana, stay for ten minutes. Kumbhaka was retained in Krishnamacharya's later teaching but there doesn't seem to be the suggestion of one asana/one kumbhaka, did he consider it too challenging for most students ( at this time many of Krishnamacharya's students were patients) ?


Just as I lost interest in Advanced asana after briefly practicing Ashtanga Advanced A and B, I lost interest in all the different pranayamas teachers would offer, they seemed a distraction, better to settle on Ramaswami's presentation of nadi shodhana and do more rounds rather learn and practice these endless variations.

And yet I was impressed by Simon's post on free divers (https://yogasynergy.com/blog/pranayama-at-its-highest-level-in-the-practical-sense-william-truebridges-world-record-free-dive-to-124-metres-with-only-one-breath/), on how free diving is all about relaxing...., and isn't that (one of) the objective of pranayama, calming the emotions, overcoming the growing sense of panic in bhaya kumbhaka, the fear of death.

And so with Simon's introduction to breath control I've been working on increasing the length of my inhalation and exhalation, of my kumbhaka's, not to ridiculous levels but longer than I might have considered in the past. Not so much for my pranayama practice, I'm happy with the nadi shodhana I practice, but for the kumbhaka's Krishnamacharya mentions in his asana.

Besides, Krishnamacharya talks of seeing god in the kumbhaka, kumbhaka is the infinity between two points, the two stages of the breath. 

Do we find god or the absence of god, it seems more worthy of exploration than yet another handstand variation.








Part 3. SPLASHTANGA™ 200 hour Teacher Training






You know you want one!



Come to Shiga, Japan, enjoy the beach, the sushi and explore your shapes underwater.



Best of all, go away with one of these bad boy Certificates that licence you too to teach YOGA

as an Authorised, Certified, licensed, PROFESSOR of


SPLASHTANGA™




Course includes: -

10hrs Traditional YOGA shape making (on sand).

5hrs Traditional shape making (under the water).

10hrs Breathing exercises

5hrs Study of Ashtanga series cheat sheets (home study).
*available for additional purchase

5hrs Review of YouTube anatomy videos (home study)

25hrs Tanning and Toning techniques, both artificial and SUN SUN SUN.

30hrs Photography for social media.

10hrs Underwater video streaming skills.

30hrs Photoshopping.

10hrs AdWords instruction.

*40hrs Self publishing techniques.

*Hands on skills acquired assisting in the actual publication of the 
SPLASHTANGA™ magazine and Teaching manual
(both available for an additionally charge)


5hrs Yoga Philosophy, 
Googling together as a group, references to water in traditional yoga texts

10hrs Chakra and Chanting of Classic Beach Boys mantras.
eg. babababababaran
*Cd and chant sheet available for additional purchase

3hrs Beach First aid
*includes, sunburn, chaffing, blisters, cardiac arrest.

2hrs Cultural Appropriation - awareness and response to online criticism



COST: Contact us at SPLASHTANGA™ for pricing details, please include your last three bank statements.






Look out for details of my upcoming


200hr FRIZYENGA™ Teacher Training




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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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