Who has done all of the Ashtanga series? Does it matter?

As someone who doesn’t expect to even see any of Ashtanga’s Second Series, but remains hopeful, the uber “advanced” series of Pattahbi Jois’ yoga sequence may as well be performed on the moon.

But I know a lot of importance is placed on them. One sign of that is how Sharath often is described as being the only person to have practiced all six series.

Kino MacGregor, in the recent post we linked to about why go to Mysore, wrote this:

Sharath spent around 21 years studying yoga and living with Guruji and is the only person to learn the full six series of the Ashtanga Yoga method. There is no one else who has gone as deeply into the Ashtanga Yoga series as Sharath, nor anyone who spent as much time in close proximity with Guruji than he did. Sharath carries the light of Ashtanga Yoga with great skill, presence and honor. It is under his guidance that I feel most confident progressing further into the Advanced Series that is my daily practice.

Now, Anthony Gary Lopedota has posted this on Facebook, in response:

Dear Kino,
I have noticed your posts in the past and your sincere connection to the Ashtanga practice. I read your comment on going to Mysore and that Sharat is the only one that knows the six series. As a young practitioner, I wouldn’t expect you to know the history of this practice. The early practitioners that have studied with Professor K. P. Jois for 30 years or more learned all the six series in four segments, at the time they were called Primaries, Intermediates, Advanced A and B (3, 4, 5, 6 series). In the very early eighties I had the rare opportunity to study in private with Guru Ji for 3months. The practice was approximately four hours to do A or B series which is now as previously mentioned third, fourth filth and sixth series. The system did continue to change from the time he wrote the first syllabus.

I’m far from able to determine who has and hasn’t practiced what. But I can notice that it is a sensitive issue, as Lopedota’s Facebook response suggests.

I do wonder how important it is. I always appreciate David Swenson’s response to those wanting to do additional poses. It is along the lines of, “Will doing that pose make you a happier person?”

Yoga, and Ashtanga, is more than just perfected certain poses, right? But maybe that’s easy for me to say as I struggle with triangle pose, let alone something crazy from Advanced B. Or it’s just me talking out of turn.

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

24 thoughts on “Who has done all of the Ashtanga series? Does it matter?”

  1. More trivia:

    During a conference with Guruji and Sharath in Mysore in 2005, Guruji reiterated that the ‘take rest’ pose at the end of practice was not called ‘savasana.’

    He maintained savasana was a pose from the sixth series that entailed making your body stiff as a board and also stopping your heart.

    The next question was then, of course, “Which of your students is practicing sixth series?”

    We all looked expectantly at Sharath, who laughed. Guruji also laughed at the question and said, “No one!”

    Also, having seen a bit of fifth series, I would be curious to see Sharath’s (or any Ashtangi’s, for that matter) one-arm handstand.

    Kino means well; Gary (Anthony) is assertive.

    Also, kind of puts a nice spin on the “Mysore is the heart of Yoga” storyline as it points out the fact that there are 35-40 year practitioners of this system (i.e. some have been practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa with Guruji since before or nearabouts Sharath’s birth) who spent a lot of time with Pattabhi Jois AND have a sense of historicity, lineage and tradition (i.e. wisdom).

    1. I have to nitpick a little here: even students who studied with Guruji for 30+ years had to go home at some point. It’s hard to compare the knowledge/wisdom that can be transferred to someone who sits at the feet of the Master day in and day out for 20+ years and who also happens to speak the same language and is from the same culture. This isn’t to take away anything from the senior western teachers, who are amazing, but they had large obstacles to overcome that Sharath didn’t by mere fact that he grew up with Guruji.

  2. You all seem to forget about Guruji’s son, Manju. He learned from his father and is considered by some to be the “go to” person for questions and clarification about the practice. Some prefer him to Sharath because of his senior status.

    1. Also, back in the 70s David Williams was doing the entire series, which at that time was as Gary Lopedota described it. Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A and B. David and I produced a poster: The Complete Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus based on the reference Jois had on the wall at the shala. You can order this poster at http://www.ashtangawv.com.

  3. My former teacher, Dee Silvers, learned the original advanced A and advanced B from Manju. Her one armed handstand was (and probably still is) awesome.

  4. Sharath only one doing 6th. Kino working on 5th (one arm handstand). David Williams poster not how it’s being taught. I wouldn’t use it as your go to reference.

    1. Youngsters are doing the practice the “new” way and the seniors are practicing as they were taught. Whether you would use the poster as a reference is one thing, but seeing it as an historical document is another. The series was divided because of the time it took to do the practice. David wanted to duplicate the syllabus that was on the shala wall for the sake of history. You might be surprised at how many people have it, use it, love it, and compliment it.

  5. I can’t find it but i read an interview with Manju somewhere where he stated there were more advanced practitioners than Sharath, some in mysore when i find it again i’ll post it but it doesn’t matter there’s always someone better than you….lol.

    http://www.ashtanga-yoga-germany.com/Ashtanga%20Yoga%20Germany%20Deutschland%20Ashtanga-Yoga-Germany.com%20Method%20Manju%20Pattabhi%20Jois.html

    Thomas: From what you tell us, it seems that there was a big change in the style of teaching Ashtanga yoga since the 1970s. What happened to it in the 1980s, 1990s?
    Manju: It all has to do with supervision. When my father and I came to the USA in 1975, we taught asana, pranayama and chanting to a handful of students. But today, it is hard to give so many people attention. Anyone can put down their carpet. My father gave constant supervision originally but it all became too big. He had to introduce stricter rules.

    Thomas: My question also referred to another aspect. Do you think that the Western students gradually turned Ashtanga yoga into a circus art in Mysore, with Western egos trying to top each other, competing, trying to prove themselves and earn respect by, e. g., incorporating postures from the Advanced Series like handstands into the Primary Series?
    Manju: Yes. The Western students like to change everything and everyone wants to develop their own style. They are going over the top for fame and fortune.
    Thomas: Have people that started learning Ashtanga yoga in the 1980s, 1990s experienced sort of a “reduced” version of the original?
    Manju: Yes. Those that came in after 1985 don´t know what they are doing. Many of those that came in later are brainwashers and ego trippers that love to control others.

    Thomas: What do you think of Western teachers that say that they (or their respective Western master) are the ones that teach the “real”, “authentic”, “pure” Ashtanga yoga and put others down?
    Manju: They are all wrong. Please stay away from those types of characters that put others down. They won´t succeed.

    Thomas: Is there something else that you as a genuine Indian Ashtanga yoga master would like to tell us Western students?
    Manju: I don´t call myself a master. I am but a messenger. I try to keep up with what I learnt as a kid. I am trying to get Westerners to understand the method by teaching it in the original way. ”

    GREAT INTERVIEW A MUST READ!
    http://www.kripalu.org/pdfs/manju_jois_article.pdf

    Manju:
    I think there’s a very slight
    difference, because my father used to
    do the full vinyasas, start everything
    from sun salutation. That’s all we
    used to do, and slowly it changed,
    because of lack of time. A lot of people
    do not have time, they cannot do it all.
    So, I just try to stick with the old
    style, which is a lot of
    namaskars
    .
    The more
    namaskars
    you do, the
    more benefit you get. That’s what I
    try to do in my workshops some-
    times; teach the whole vinyasas

    1. As a beginner and avid reader on anything Ashtanga yoga it bothers me how a prolific blogger/poster could sway people’s perceptions or even re write the course of history by creating new myths based on their own biased opinions, perceptions and experience. The internet has a way of creating the perception that the now is what is real while what is not on the internet has not existed or doesn’t exist.

  6. http://www.ashtangayogi.com/HTML/the-complete-asana-poster.html

    “When I began learning the Ashtanga Yoga system, I knew of no one who was practicing the entire four series. I was determined to learn the complete syllabus, thus keeping it from being forgotten. For the next five years, I gave all my energy to learning and practicing these asanas and the pranayama. After learning the last posture of the Advanced B series, to my knowledge, I became the only living person practicing the entire syllabus at that time.

    Since 1974, it has been my pleasure to teach Ashtanga Yoga to thousands of others, with some learning the entire four series as listed in the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus. While a chart or list can never substitute for a teacher, it is my hope that these photographs will preserve the system as taught to me and aid others in their practice, as the syllabus on the wall of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute did for me.

    David Williams “

  7. To address your title question: Does this really matter at all?

    I remember in a conference with Sharath (who seems to replicate Guruji’s answers to many questions), two specific answers to students’ questions which I think fit perfectly in this conversation (forgive me but the exact wording may not be correct.):

    Student: What makes a good student?
    Sharath: One who is dedicated to experience practice and it’s true purpose. The intent of practice is self-transformation. Many students come and ask to learn more asana, they do not understand yet the purpose of this practice.”

    Student: Why are there so many series in Ashtanga?
    Sharath: When student does not understand practice, they get more asana. The primary series has many benefit and many students do not need anything further. Some students who don’t yet understand – second series. They still do not understand – more asana.

    When I get questions from students about asana and advancing, I remind them of why we practice asana. Asana is the tool, not the purpose.

    1. Wow, I must understand the practice better than I thought! 🙂

      Thanks for a nice addition to the discussion. All the “gross” stuff is so easy to get wrapped up, entangled in — which is of course the opposite of the “point.”

      S

  8. No single person was taught exactly the same by Guruji. Just practice with Nancy Gilgoff for any amount of time and you’ll learn this (http://www.ashtangamaui.com/article_1.html)

    To say that no one but Sharath practices all 6 series is nonsense. I don’t have an issue with him, but that accolade is purely self-proclaimed. Ashtanga either exists as an approach to and a system of yoga, or as whatever the person in charge of the Institute says. I fall in the former camp, and as such I believe any good system changes over time. You can look at any number of practice videos made in the 80s and 90s and see that the system changed for whatever reason. Perhaps Sharath is the ONLY person who really knows the exact order, right now, of all six series, but does that really even matter? Guruji apparently thought several of his students were able enough to teach anything they wanted, which is why he told Nancy to teach the way she was taught. End of discussion.

    Who says there are only 6 series? What if Sharath decides to add a 7th series? With this kind of broad claim of ownership of the system from Sharath, the discussion basically goes nowhere.

    So while I find it admirable that Kino, Sharath, and several other well-known ashtangis claim that only Sharath practices all 6 series, I think the validity of that statement depends on what kind of importance you give it. If you think that “practicing all 6 series” is knowing the exact order, right now, as Sharath decides, you are probably right. But if you recognize ashtanga as a system taught to many different people, in many different ways, you will probably come to a different conclusion.

  9. Seabrook Omura just sent this to me. The system can change a bit and still retain the original qualities. Like Manju said, Guru Ji’s vinyasa was ‘complete’, all the way to standing between every pose, even between every side. Is this necessary, depends on what you are going for. I have said this many times, Manju dwarfed other practitioners, the only person that even came close that I witnessed is Darby. The truth is, it doesn’t matter except for those who are looking for the exact history. Often times the difference between a pro in the NFL and a talent that did not make it all the way to the NFL is an injury, karma if you like that word. It does not suggest anything bad just changes. I respect anyone who has worked hard and long at this yoga but it does not make them a master or even a good teacher, just because they can do some outrageous posture. We all know that this is just esoteric exercise and that true yoga begins after asana and is not dependent on asana (although some say it makes you comfortable enough to sit longand steady enough to do the latter limbs, makes sense). Guru Ji always told me that enlightenment comes during one asana and it does not matter much which one it is. Can you picture Durvasa going into an altered state where he became one with all of humanity, all of the cosmos while standing upright with one leg behind his head/neck. He might have been there awhile before he came back. Guru Ji was not an awakened master like Ramana Maha RishI. That said, Brad and I witnessed his breath stopping on several occasions. It was a joke to us as we were holding our breath and could only laugh at the fact that he was teaching us pranayama and just checked out. He did that when spotting me in adho mukha dandasana and dropped me. Messed me up good. Oh well, the doorbell rang and distracted him. Not quite the same as forgetting that he was teaching us pranayama but a little similar:)

  10. One of the reasons that Anusara grew so quickly, is that many previous in the closet as it were advanced Ashtangis were able to practice out of sequence and we able to build a community that somewhat melted the lineages of Iyengar (alignment) with Astanga (difficult or advance poses). The skillful sequencing of knowing what parts of the body needed to be opened up to achieve an apex pose such as Eka pada galavasana or maybe something less demanding as eka pada shirshasana. Senior practitioners could come together as teachers and students in community doing what they liked best. Most senior Anusara teachers were Ashtangis including the auspicious John Friend. Vinyasa classes now put together various sequences to bring you to sweat and do four or five hard poses. Doing them back to back is another thing. Doing them daily is also yet another thing. Mr Brikram recently announced that he will no longer be teaching his advanced series mainly in part of his students getting injured among other things, including lack of humility and reverence for the set series. This is a long winded version of saying sometimes when you screw with a lineage you end up screwed up. My most revered line, “You do your yoga, I do mine.”

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