In this article I am referring as Ashtanga Yoga to the sequential yoga handed down via T Krishnamacharya, KP Jois and BNS Iyengar (do not mistake with BKS). This method was seen for the first time in writing in Krishnamacharya’s Yoga Makaranda in 1932 but it is claimed to come from an ancient text called Yoga Korunta (likely to refer to Kapala Kurantaka as mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika). The term Ashtanga however is confusing as it traditionally refers to Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga (sutra 2.29 “ashtau angani = these are the eight limbs). When I came across Ashtanga Yoga thirty years ago it was still called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga due to the importance of the sequential movements.
The term vinyasa in the meantime has been reinvented to refer to a newly created yoga that combines elements from Ashtanga and (BKS’s) Iyengar Yoga. From Ashtanga it took the fact that all postures are woven together with sequential movements to form a continuous flow. From Iyengar Yoga it took the fact that the order of postures is made up by the teacher and often fluctuates from class to class.
In this article I will analyse the problems with this new approach and show in what way Ashtanga excels. I will also however delve into the setbacks of the Ashtanga method and later down the track why Vinyasa Yoga still has merit.
- Vinyasa sequences are made up daily depending on the preference of the teacher. This is something that disturbed me already when practising Iyengar Yoga, which I did prior to changing to Ashtanga 30 years ago. How much do we know about the sequence of the day? Is it proven to work? How long is the track record? How much do I know about the abilities of this teacher to sequence postures?
In Ashtanga we have proven sequences, which date back to Krishnamacharya’s research or older. The problem with the current Ashtanga orthodoxy is that there is too much emphasis on sticking to a particular sequence even if it doesn’t work that well for an individual student. This was not Krishnamacharya’s approach.
The problem with discarding all established sequences is that we have no base to start from. My suggestion is to teach the established Ashtanga sequences and then modify them if necessary and adapt them to individual needs.
- Another important setback of Vinyasa Yoga, which it took over from its Iyengar roots, is that you may not be able to work on your weak spots as the teacher daily determines what you practice. When I used to practice Iyengar Yoga I used to hope that the teacher on that day wasn’t picking forward bending as a theme, which I hated. And I rejoiced when the theme was back bending which I loved. Correspondingly, when I did self-practice at home forward bends did not feature prominently in my practice. As a result I did not improve in forward bending until I hit Ashtanga. Once confronted with the Primary Series I had to face my demons and from there improved swiftly in forward bending.
A criticism of Ashtanga here: Teachers need to be trained to recognize problems such as flexion predominance, which is caused by too much forward bending. In this case an alternative sequence needs to be created until the student can return to the Primary Series. There is a ridiculous myth in orthodox Ashtanga that if you practice yourself long enough you know everything that’s good for the students. That’s silly. There are so many variations amongst human bodies that you never come across all problems in your own body. Teachers must formally study to supplement their own practice.
(A footnote regarding my use of the term orthodox Ashtanga. The term “traditional Ashtanga Yoga” should be reserved for Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga, which dates back millennia. However, the term is often claimed by followers of the Jois-method. When I practised with KP Jois in the 1990’s things were still much more fluid and things were changed sometimes. Also, if you do compare the vinyasa count in all available sources (books and videos) you will notice that it was fluid, too. Today’s Jois-method therefore has an age of possible 20 in some aspects 40 or 50 years but no older. I am proposing the term orthodox Ashtanga instead of “traditional” for a system that places adherence to set sequences above the needs of individual students.
- Teaching Vinyasa Yoga is not sustainable for the teacher as the teacher always demonstrates postures and practices in front of students. How long can you do that as a teacher? Being 40 years into yoga practice I would say you can do that for about 10 years, give and take a few years based on the level of stability and flexibility you start with. There are exceptions of course but the majority of teachers won’t teach a follow-the-leader type class for more than ten years. Teaching such classes demands of you that you focus on how your practice looks from the outside (some teachers even watch themselves in a mirror to make sure their postures look good). While that is good for looks it makes proprioception and interoception go out the window. Sustainable asana practice is relying on proprioception and interoception. That is you must learn to feel and listen to your body to find out whether a posture is right. If you don’t do that, wear and tear on your body such as arthritis, free radicals and injuries will eventually take their toll.
An important sub-point here is that many Vinyasa teachers I know do not have much of a self-practice outside of teaching. To be honest, I wouldn’t have much either after teaching a few follow-the-leader type practices per day. Ashtanga is really neat in that regard. As you slowly turn into a senior or elder you simply teach Led and Mysore and nobody expects you to strut your stuff in front of others. That’s sustainable into high age. With Vinyasa my impression is that it is relying on a constant influx of young and capable teachers bodies with the aging ones being spewn out at the other end of the conveyor belt.
- With Vinyasa Yoga you cannot take your practice home as you are always dependant on the teacher for what sequence you do (unless you study sequencing yourself but then you are pretty much a teacher already). Why would you want to take your practice home? Maybe there are days when you can’t make it to the studio or your teacher gets sick or leaves town and it takes you some time to find a new one. Maybe you don’t find a new one. Maybe there is no teacher in your town. And ultimately going to yoga classes and learning from teachers is something that needs to crystalize into your own practice, that is at some point in your life you need to take responsibility for what you practice. I see that process more difficult to achieve with Vinyasa. It seems to rely heavily on the stimulatory effect of the teacher.
A criticism towards Ashtanga here: our problem is the other way around. Students can get attached to their own practice really early on, we are talking a couple of years into their yoga journey. A sixty-year-old Ashtanga-colleague of mine once told me that he taught a group of young students in the Mysore-format and gave them a lot of input about improving their postures. This meant that he had to talk a fair bit about fundamentals. The young students attached to their pace and count eventual screamed at him (in class before all students), “We just want to do our own practice. We just came here to do our own practice.” They obviously wanted to be simply adjusted to get deeper into the postures but didn’t want to learn anything new. This can be an issue in Ashtanga.
- Any guided class whether Vinyasa, Ashtanga or any other style can only address the smallest common denominator in class. In most classes as a teacher you will see that the majority of the students need a set of instruction that we could call the standard-model. It works for about two thirds to 80% of students in class. But then you see groups of students whose bodies divert from the standard-model in various ways. If I break the instructions down and discuss the variations in actions to the whole group, including why somebody has to practice which subsets of instructions we will never get past Surya Namaskara A.
Ashtanga is very elegant here. You teach the standard model in Guided classes and workshops and then address individual needs in the Mysore-style format. I can’t think of any other method to teach a student long-term.
Ultimately if you really drill down there is no set of instructions that works for two people. There are always slight differences. No chance of conveying those when addressing a group. In other words as long as we teach Guided we can and must hover on the surface. Guided is nevertheless vital as a quite large set of surface instructions should be learned before we drill down to the particulars. This set is so large that it is not feasible to address each student individually in the Mysore-format. But the drilling down to the particulars can take place only in the Mysore-format when teaching individually. That’s really important to understand: for a sophisticated practice learn Guided early on and gradually transit to Mysore with a few Guided classes speckled in between now and then.
- In Vinyasa Yoga you always focus outwards and look what the teacher is doing or what the teacher is saying. For this reason the focus is not as meditative and internalizing. You may say it is still a meditative and internal experience and that may be true to some extent but not in the sense that I’m using the terms here. In my workshops and Led/Guided classes I am sometimes demonstrating a few postures and definitely in all of them I do give a lot of technical instructions. I do not expect the students to meditate but to intellectually understand the instructions and the reasons for them, replicate them in their postures and memorize them, too. Led/Guided classes therefore are an intense cerebral learning environment. At some point you have done enough of them (although you may come back periodically for new input) but then you take all of that into the Mysore-style format and practice it (with the teacher there to give individual attention and help).
The instructed class format (teacher addressing all students) is very important in the beginning but ultimately if you want to deepen your practice the majority of it needs to take place in the Mysore-style format because it is a meditative and deeply internalizing format. The Ashtanga-method excels here because instructed classes are clearly seen only as a conduit towards the Mysore-style format. Developing a meditative and deeply internal asana practice is so important because it forms the bedrock on which the later practices of pranayama and yogic meditation rest. Also pranayama and yogic meditation need to initially be instructed in the guided format but then later to be practiced Mysore-style, that is in the self-practice format.
A critique on the orthodox Ashtanga method: the importance of instructed classes and conveying cerebral/technical information about the postures is often not emphasized enough and therefore the practice of students regularly stunted.
- In any guided class, Vinyasa, Ashtanga or other, you cannot practice synchronized to your own breath as you have to keep up with the teacher instructions and/or breath. Having started yoga with a very hard, stiff body I cannot imagine how my body would have ever opened up if I had not learned to surrender to my own breath when moving through asana. Gliding through choreographed sequences of postures on the wave of my breath, literally to be moved through asana by the breath or surfing the waves of the breath through asana is what ultimately gave me yoga.
Krishna says in the Gita, “All things are moved by my prakrti. Only a fool believes to be the doer”. Prakrti, the divine creative force, is a complex term but amongst other things it means prana and breath. In asana we ultimately must put Krishna’s words into practice and give up the sense of agency. That means to give up the idea that we are the doers, that we are breathing, that we are performing the asanas. The magic of asana practice ultimately consists in sitting back inside our bodies and watching as the breath moves us effortlessly through the paces like the autumn wind picks up a leaf and moves it around. As long as we are the doers of the asana practice we are fools in Krishna’s words.
Of course we are talking about a high level of skill here but it is this level of skill that Ashtanga aims at and it is this level of skill that ultimately blossoms in higher-limbs practices such as pranayama and yogic meditation.
Such higher-limbs practice organically grows out of Ashtanga-asana-practice due to its reliance on the Mysore-style teaching format. I cannot see how it can be achieved to that extent by any method that does not employ largely set sequences and the self-practice format.
For all of the above reasons I believe the Ashtanga method to be superior to Vinyasa. I think that Vinyasa currently has its place in the sun but as practitioners want to dive deeper into yoga the above shortcomings will become clear. This is not to say that there is no value in offering Vinyasa Yoga. For a lot of yoga newcomers Ashtanga with its demand on commitment and its seriousness is too much of an ask. I remember teaching novices who told me that they simply wanted to be led and told what to do and did not want to develop their own practice. Vinyasa definitely has a place in introducing new people to yoga.
In the meantime, Ashtanga has a lot to learn to get ready for students who want to take it up. A few obvious points would be:
- A higher level of training of teachers in yogic anatomy and how to adapt it to individual student’s needs. Learning how anatomical knowledge must inform technical instruction in guided and Mysore style classes.
- Knowing the anatomical limitations of bodies, which adjustments are unsafe and how far the safe ones can be taken. This is not something that can be learned by watching or simply by adjusting. It can only be learned by somebody who is a long serving senior teacher and at the same time has done formal training in anatomy. Unfortunately students are often hurt because teachers believe no formal expertise is required.
- Understanding the differences between bodies and how they must be accommodated by altering the sequences if necessary. Many students have left Ashtanga for good because their teacher could not or would not modify their sequence.
- Understanding that the Ashtanga-asana practice is a preparation for the higher limbs (pranayama, yogic meditation) and not an end in itself. This is obvious from studying the Sutra and other yogic texts. When exactly did the idea originate that simply doing your asana practice would bring you everything? It’s unfortunate that Ashtanga Yoga has been watered down so much.
- Having a sophisticated understanding of pranayama and yogic meditation, having had experiences stemming from them and the ability and readiness to convey the techniques to students.
I believe there is a great opportunity for Ashtanga in the future but we need to ready ourselves to grow and evolve as Ashtanga teachers. Students are also playing an important role here in that regard that they need to inform themselves which teachers tick all of the above boxes.
For French translation please click here.
Thank you for a thought provoking set of arguments! I think I’m following the classic vinyasa, Ashtanga led introductory class, Mysore practice path- I just hope that, at my age, it will lead me into yogic meditation swiftly enough.
I think being inpatient is an obstacle in itself, but it’s hard to tackle it in Mysore practice, inevitably you compare yourself to others if you don’t have a very “introspective” type of day. Any tips on how to conquer this welcome!
Many thanks for your teachings- it’s wonderful these thoughts are available to all.
I think impatience disappears by itself. I remember it being an issue early on but at some point one realizes that one simply makes a lifelong commitment and from then on it doesn’t really matter how long it takes.
There is an interesting statement in the epilogue of Valmiki’s Ramayana that says, “the wise ones attained liberation after practising the necessary techniques.” It’s interesting because of the word “after” whereas one would have expected “because”. So Valmiki says there is a temporal relationship and not a causal relationship between yoga and mystical insight.
Another important point would be to be in it for the process and not for the outcome. I remember that this sounded utopian when I heard it first but the longer the go the less interested you actually become in the outcome and the process, i.e. where you currently are becomes everything. This is echoed in Krishna’s “surrender the outcomes of your actions to me”. In other words he suggested to perform actions for their own merit because they are the right thing to do and not because what we derive through them.
My last point is a bit tongue in cheek. I hope you get the humour. When I was young I used to run after the Nirvana literally with my tongue hanging out so desperate was I. One of my teachers at the time said to me, “What do you want in the Nirvana. It’s the most boring place in existence. There are only elderly, Asian males with beards sitting in lotus position and nobody says anything”! So let’s not be too much in a hurry. We’ll get there soon enough and maybe even too early.
Curious what you mean by “flexion predominance” and what problems emerge with continued forward bending. Thanks.
Flexion predominance occurs in a certain percentage of students when they bend forward too much for too long. The way we bend forward bending in yoga we mainly rely on hip flexion. This way you constantly engage your hip flexors, which eventually may become facilitated (dominant) and your hip extensors switched off. In some students this imbalance develops into a defunct motoric pattern called flexion predominance. They usually eventually walk out of the Ashtanga room and never come back. A skilled teacher will simply tell them to ditch the Primary Series for some time and make-up a therapeutic sequence for them that includes anything but forward bending. After some time then (maybe half a year) they can slowly introduce forward bends again and maybe at some point practice Primary every second day. Monica has written an article about that in the Australian Yoga Life, which doesn’t seem to be on our blog page. I will see whether I can find it and post it in a few days. Warm regards, Gregor
Hi Gregor. thank you for the interesting read that pretty much explained (better than I have been able to) why I made the switch from vinyasa flow type classes to ashtanga 2 years ago. But in regards to flexion predominance, I have personally expressed this critique of primary series and the tradition of sticking only to primary until you’re able to do some gateway posture or have achieved some kind of mastery. What are your thoughts on this? What do you think about introducing some second series backbends sooner than later?
For many people it’s completely sufficient to practice Primary Series only. I remember for example that KPJ said at some point that Primary was for all people, Intermediate for teachers and Advanced for demonstration purposes only. That was of course in stark contrast with much of the gymnastics circus going on in Mysore, which he didn’t impede at all but seemed to foster.
After having practiced Intermediate and Advanced for many years I’m back to Primary most of the time simply because now that I’m pushing sixty I want to invest most of my available practice time into the higher limbs.
I do, however, have a gripe with the currently taught Primary and that is that it goes from 40 forward bends in a row straight into Urdhva Dhanurasana. U.D. is one of the most important yoga postures but unless you are either young or very flexible it’s not feasible to approach ot straight after 40 successive forward bends without warming up.
I’m suggesting the following course of action. After Primary and before U.D. do the following postures.
a. Shalabhasana variation with both arms raised out to the front for firing the back extensors.
b. Dhanurasana for opening the chest.
c. Supta Virasana (use as much padding as needed under sit bones and shoulders, hold for some time) for lengthening the quads
d. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (reclining shoulder stand bridge, do not mistake with Setu Bandhasana) for nutating the sacrum.
Only then push up into Urdhva Dhanurasana. I also wouldn’t refer to the above postures as “Intermediate” although one happens to be in the Intermediate Series. They are simply a backbend warm-up sequence.
Please also note that in the old days there used to be no Urdhva Dhanurasana after the Primary Series. KPJ added it only after students complained after being too compressed after all the forward bends. I think U.D. is a good add-on but it’s not enough. The above sequence will be sufficient for most students.
Hope that helps
Thank you. I will keep a look out for it. It is coincidentally tying in with resolution of some chronic pain I’ve experienced.
Thank you Gregor, very interesting.
I can relate to a number of the points you raise.
I started with Vinyasa exercise, but was probably an exception. As I only exercised at home from video instruction, and only sough out shorter sequences that addressed particular weak spots I had developed from years of playing football and cycling.
After about a year I switched to KPJ Ashtanga Yoga also with the intent to work on specific issues, but instead I went full steam into it and fell pray to some of the problems described here https://chintamaniyoga.com/ashtanga-or-only-ekanga-yoga/
Your books and workshops, enquiry, and injury have led me to look for a more balanced postural practice, and make a start at breath work in preparation for Pranayama.
With regards the postural practice, it would be interesting if you compared KPJ Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama (https://vinyasakrama.com/).
I find that sometime doing multiple simple variations of a pose I am learning helps me overcome bodily resistance toward certain movements faster and easier, compared to only doing the posture once a day as best as I can. Often I would do a small routine like that in the evening, as a separate practice, to either work on a new posture or address areas I didn’t get to in my morning practice.
Glad to hear that my work was of benefit for you. Thank you. I did write my books mainly for junior teachers who don’t have access to seniors and for students who for various reason don’t have access to a good teacher. So it’s good to see that it worked.
I find vinaysakrama rather interesting. One of the more brainier systems. I think its strength is also its weakness that is many sequences with many complex vinyasas.
For my taste I would still need more emphasis on pranayama, kriya and meditation but it’s definitely pretty good compared to other forms. Nothing much that I could complain about.
Hope this finds you well
Thank you for the advise to include some back bending in the primary series routine.
I already do Shalabhasana, and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. I can see how Dhanurasana and Supta Virasana will be a great addition to that little segment.
Shalabhasana, Dhanurasana, and Supta Virasana are described and illustrated in your first and second book.
What instructions would you recommend for Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, and specifically with regard to nutating the sacrum.
To perform Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, lie down on your back and bend up your legs with your feet on the floor. Now lift your hips up towards the ceiling as high as you can. Next interlock your fingers and straighten your arms drawing the shoulder
blades down the back and the sternum towards your chin. Now bend up your elbows and place your hands under your waist with the fingers pointing out to the side. Use gravitation now and let your low back arch over your hands. This creates an extreme back-arch in your low-back inducing nutation of the sacrum. You can now straighten your legs and step the feet towards the end of the mat. In this position try to induce more nutation of the sacrum. Eventually, step your feet back in and if you are ready, while maintaining the nutation, gently pull out your arms, place the hands under your shoulders and slowly lift up into Urdhva Dhanurasana, while focusing on maintaining nutation of the sacrum.
Hope that helps
Thank you very much Gregor for putting it very clear, enriching and enlightening. I learn a lot from your books and hope to find an opportunity to study with you sometime somewhere in Europe.
I have 3 questions, if i may:
1) regarding the focus on the primary series:
Do you Agree that the asanas in second series should be practiced regularly only after acquiring enough strength in most of the primary asanas? A strong and open enough primary is a crucial prerequisite to practicing the intermediate, right? Actually, are there many poses in intermediate that one can focus on right from the beginning?
2) I loved your list of preparations asanas prior to Urdvadhanura. But do you think Dhanurasana is really safe for anyone? Because many of my students can’t and should not hold their ankles even in Setu bandha sarvang, without compressing their lower back. Let alone in Dhanurasana. Am I right?
3) By nutation do you mean tilting the sacrum so the tailbone points down toward the feet?
Thank you so much again,
Hello Shalom Zohar,
Thanks a lot for expressing your appreciation. To your questions:
1. Yes, I think a firm establishment in Primary is necessary before tackling Intermediate. Primary itself is enough for most purposes but most students will need to do the suggested back-bend warm-up sequence between Primary and Urdhva Dhanurasana.
2. Urdhva Dhanurasana means to simply push up into a complete backbend, however far your feet are from your ankles. The posture where you grab your ankles is called Chakra Bandhasana. I consider it unsafe for most students as you say in compresses the low back. I have heard of students fracturing their lumbar vertebrae when adjusted in it. I only let students do it if they really want it and if they are EXTREMELY flexible. If you are extremely flexible you can do it but the question remains whether this posture is that great and what the fuzz is about.
3. Emil on this same thread here compiled a list of our articles on nutation. It means to bow the the top of the sacrum forward (anteriorly) in the sacroiliac joints.
Gregor: https://chintamaniyoga.com/kapotasana/ -> see also: “Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series”
Monica: https://chintamaniyoga.com/why-use-glute-max-in-back-bends-part-1/ -> see also: “Sacral Nutation, the Key to Straight Feet in Backbends”
Looking forward to meeting you at some point.
Thank very much for the detailed instructions.
Just for ease of reference (although one can search the site for “nutation”), here some links to other blog entries that explain the sacrum nutation in forward and back bending
Gregor: https://chintamaniyoga.com/kapotasana/ -> see also: “Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series”
Monica: https://chintamaniyoga.com/why-use-glute-max-in-back-bends-part-1/ -> see also: “Sacral Nutation, the Key to Straight Feet in Backbends”
Thanks so much, Emil, for doing the search for us.
Thank you very much Gregor for your time answering my questions, but there was a misunderstanding:
I’m not interested in anyway in Chakra Bndhasana. Not in this lifetime or the one after…
My point was weather Dhanurasana should be on your preparation list prior to attempting pushing up to Urdvadhanura. In Dhanurasana we hold our ankles and lift our legs and chest up, with our belly on the floor, right? So i see that for the majority of practitioners this holding of the ankles is impossible, or comes with a compression and pain in the low back.
Same thing in Setu Bandha Sarvang- not suitable for all to catch their ankles, but only to interlock their fingers or just straighten their arms on the floor.
I would love to have your input on that.
Thanks very much again.
Sorry for misunderstanding. I seems that due to my Ashtanga background I’m attracting a more flexible crowd than you have in your classes. Not what I would have thought but so it seems from your message. In my classes almost everybody can catch their ankles in Dhanurasana. When I comes to Urdhva Dhanurasana I always say, “if you feel ready you can now push up into a complete backbend by slowly and gently straightening your arms.” About 5 – 10% of my students then do not push up.
So in your situation I recommend to forget about Dhanurasana and choose a different posture. How about Bhujangasana (a Shivananda posture that’s not done in Ashtanga)? Really you could choose any posture that turns out suitable for your students.
The other question then would be if your students are struggling with Dhanurasana whether Urdhva Dhanurasana would make much sense? This is not something that I can answer as I seem to be attracting a different clientele but spontaneously my answer would be no. Why don’t you bring in something easier than Urdhva Dhanurasana as it’s a difficult posture. Since I’m almost 60 I often warm up for Urdhva Dhanurasana by backarching over a fitball or thereabouts. How about that?
The other thing is also that I’m wondering if somebody is struggling to bind their ankles in Dhanurasana whether not nutating the sacrum in backbends does not constitute unnecessary complexity. I would think so. In this case scrap Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and choose a more basic backbend of your choice.
Hope this finds you well
this article came just in time for. Thank you!
I agree with it.
my experience with this:
I´ve been enriching my practice with “vinyasa yoga” postures in very fluid way. I also teach these and the students like the preparations for the still very hard postures of the 1 Series.
As I am used to a fixes set of postures -due to my long time ashtanga 😉 – it was very difficult to switch to creat “Flows” or “waves” according to Krama. I felt to get a knot im my brain …
So I decided repeat the flows again and again – with only slight modifications” each day. haha.
on the days practice the 1 or 2nd I then really feel the difference. It so much more demanding, and it triggers a much deeper sense of dropping in to Yoga.
So what would you suggest to teach oder introduce to beginners first?
I start with breath awareness the modified Sun Salutations A & B … quite traditional. so they get a set to work on (also at home) …
Sending love from Vienna
Thanks for your post. Monica actually published a whole book on what we teach beginners. Here it is https://chintamaniyoga.com/product/ashtanga-yoga-beginners-course-manual-for-teachers/.
In a nutshell we look at the Primary Series as consisting of three horizontally layered tranches. The first layer which we call Beginners Course Level 1 consists of about a third of the series and only the easiest postures. They are postures that almost everybody can do and are described in Monica’s book.
The second tranche consist of the next more difficult 30% and is introduced in Beginners Course Level 2 (not published). The third tranche with all the difficult postures like Janu C, Marichy B & D, Kurmansana, Garbhapindasana, Setu Bandhasana, etc is only introduced in Mysore classes depending on individual readiness.
We found that Ashtanga is excellently suited for beginners if modified thus. There is no need to reinvent the wheel every time a beginner enters the shala and teach everybody different series. We look at the Primary Series more like a basic fugue on which one may improvise if needed.
Hope to see you in Vienna in August
Lots of love
Thank you so much for your patience and wisdom dear Gregor!
Many thanks, Gregor, for your support!
Hi! This is very interesting for me. In my case, too much forward folding has made have a lower back pain that began only when I stood too long, then when I walked for more than 20-30 minutes and in the end was continuous. My phisio said it was a sacroiliac issue. I have avoided forward folds fore more than two months, came back to primary series last Friday because I felt good and really wanted to practice it. The practice was great but then I have been one weak with lower back pain that is ongoing. I’m usually practicing standing sequence, second series until Ardha Matsyendrasana, but I only do a preparatory pose for kapotasana because I have stiff upper back. Then closing poses. I am not sure at all if this practice is appropriate for me, and I’m feeling quite lost at the moment with my asana practice. I’ve been thinking about practicing led Hatha but I really like the meditative part of a self practice. And there is also this need I have for intensity and self regulating. Do you have any advice for me?
Great post, totally agree with you. Thank you very much!
Hello Ellsa, There are two or three important things here to consider. One is to find out what has caused your SI joint issues, i.e. is it functional or structural. Structural means things like leg-length discrepancy and functional means things that you do always on one side only, such as carrying a growing child always on the same hip. The second thing is that SI joint problems are often caused and exacerbated by too much sitting, especially in front of the computer. YOu need to change your sitting position, get the screen closer so that you don’t hunch forward and get up and work around for a couple of minutes every 45 minutes approximately to keep the SI joints mobile. Do the standing postures and then the first part of intermediate is a good practice for your situation. I would add extra vinyasas including full-vinyasas to standing between every posture. Also include lots of strength stuff such as Navasana, Bujapidasana, Bakasana and you could also do some of the strength postures later in the Intermediate Series if you feel comfortable. Depending on your condition some of the Marichyasanas (such as C for example) might be safe. I would use the available time also to work on increasing inversions (safety precautions described in my books and here on this blog) and also some pranayama and meditation. Whenever I was limited in my physical practice I took this to be a call to develop the spiritual side more and that proved to be very beneficial. Best wishes. Gregor
A lot of interesting points, though I must say I disagree with the central thesis. If you allow for a little friendly debate on the issue 🙂
It is an interesting point that perhaps a “free form” Vinyasa type class might require more demonstrating from the teacher than a “fixed form” like the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequences, and that over demonstrating by the teacher in the former is not sustainable on the body. I do wonder if the two must be mutually exclusive. Does a free form teacher really have to demonstrate most every pose? Iyengar classes call students over for the teacher’s demonstration at specific times in a class when perhaps showing something new or reminding points on a challenging process that takes time for the students to grasp (or if the teacher notices they didn’t grasp an instruction, etc). That being said, the teacher is demonstrating in a controlled setting without simultaneously scanning the room for the technique of the students while themself demonstrating, so full attention the teacher can place on their body and knowing “where they’re at” and even telling students openly of their own limits, etc. Otherwise in beginner type classes where the teacher might demonstrate mirror images of the students’ standing poses etc (simultaneously watching the students’ technique and providing feedback), the teacher might NOT demonstrate along for the full duration of class (like you’re suggesting), and the teacher can often choose to demonstrate the less demanding and “propped” version in such circumstances (which is also informative to those who require use of props, etc, observing the skillful use by the teacher).
In any case, outside of Krishnamacharya teaching the youthful able bodied students of the Mysore palace, he didn’t seem to place much emphasis on such a fixed form. Sir Ramaswami studying for 30+ years with Krishnamacharya always explains that there was never a fixed form in what Krishnamacharya taught him (which is curious as he did come to study under him at an early enough age, at 15). Even if Krishnamacharya determined early on that the Ashtanga Vinyasa fixed form may not be appropriate to Ramaswami’s Dosha type, when Ramaswami asked Krishnamacharya to teach him more Vinyasas for Ramaswami to teach his able bodied dancer students at Kalakshetra school in Madras/Chennai (one of Ramaswami’s first teaching posts in the 1970s, some 15 years of studying under Krishnamacharya without ever ambitiously wishing to go off on his own to teach throughout that time until it was suggested to him by Krishnamacharya), the Vinyasa Krama that Krishnamacharya continued to show Ramaswami and expand upon still did not fit any sort of fixed forms as in Ashtanga Vinyasa from Krishnamacharya’s Mysore years. Ramaswami explains how Krishnamacharya taught different asana groups in a linear fashion to show how they logically can reach their end points of complexity according to the capabilities of the students, and how one can pick and choose from within a larger group of asanas (and in logically mixing groups among the asana groups) as such and design a program with a specific focus, etc, that changes session to session.
If you allow for a little friendly criticism of fixed Ashtanga Vinyasa forms (which I’ll say hear that I do have respect for and practice them from time to time, attending the local Mysore room, here), in the pedagogy Ramaswami suggests Eka Pada Sirsasana would not be approached in isolated manner after deep back bending as in Ashtanga Vinyasa intermediate series but perhaps in a linear fashion that makes sense by some or many of primary seated postures progressing logically to Akarna Dhanurasana (that funnily sits in an advanced series, after Eka Pada Sirsasana was learnt in intermediate, of which the former can certainly help one to learn in developing for Eka Pada Sirsasana) and finally Eka Pada Sirsasana and related postures. Krounchasana would be done in one go right after Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana as a Krama (along with a Purvatana with one leg as a Pratikriya), and other such instances, and similar to what Nancy Gilgoff suggests in the early years of learning from Jois, the Vinyasa between each posture and side is absent and is more a means of bookending a family of asanas or a full group of asanas (in a “lead in” from and “return” to Samasthiti). That the full sequences for each posture found in Yoga Makaranda is not indicative of what Krishnamacharya largely meant for the form practice to take, and not for vast majority of persons or aging practitioners.
If Krishnamacharya didn’t see importance of teaching persons fixed forms either in part or in whole from the Ashtanga Vinyasa series’, but instead taught sequences according to the individual and changing the sequence day to day, in a daily Krama that lead to Pranayama (which did not require persons for having learnt complex asanas like Kapotasana, Eka Pada Sirsasana, or Karandavasana to be able to begin learning this valuable fourth Anga of Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga) and a Dharana type practice or Vedic chanting … it shows Krishnamacharya valued daily practice for his students other than such fixed forms. It shows that Ashtanga Vinyasa isn’t only the means for achieving meditative states through asana practice, it shows that he thought asana practice should precede daily Pranayama practice and with Dharana to follow (that the asanas are not where the meditative process of yoga practice ends with asana practice, but indeed should lead to higher limbs to higher forms of mind stilling, etc).
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts 🙂