Ashtanga Higher Math

Eddie Stern posted a little video on Instagram you’ve probably seen by now, and we’ve posted about, but in case you have not, here’s Steve’s post about it, which links to Eddie. The gist is this: A fit and stately TV host on The Today Show runs down an oddball collection of yoga names in front of a really unnecessarily large board with the heading, “What kind of yogi are you?” Leaving aside for the moment the obvious problem of there being “kinds” of yogis, as well as the numerous other factual errors she makes in her other categories, the deceptive organization of the list (which seems to be in order of perceived difficulty–Ashtanga is apparently harder than Bikram although Bikram will get you more cardio), and the inclusion of “barre” as a kind of yoga that will make you some “kind” of yogi (!), all Ashtanga eyes and ears turned to this sentence:

Advanced yogis may like Ashtanga yoga, six poses that are physically demanding.

Six. My Ashtanga Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feed explodes. Hilarity ensues. “Can I pick which six?” “Like an idiot, I’ve been doing ten times that many.” “From now on my six are all savasana,” etc. Sure, she probably meant six series; however, considering the mistakes she makes when describing the other categories, and the fact that she makes this mistake more than once, it’s probably not so much as a slip as just blithe ignorance, but it got me thinking: Let’s say we wanted to correct The Today Show. Has anybody counted the poses?

This is not my first encounter with doing Ashtanga math. Back when I started practicing, an early teacher of mine claimed to have counted the exact number of breaths in First Series. This makes sense, since all the breaths are accounted for in all the series, even those that aren’t numbered by the teacher in a led class. You can, in theory, count the exact number of breaths for all the Series. Unfortunately, since I was actually physically practicing First Series when she said this and did not have a pen handy, I don’t remember what the exact number was. Since then, I’ve tried every now and then to count them, but truthfully, as an English major, numbers make me bored. I make it to navasana and wander off. Which I’ve just done in the post, so back to the question:

How many poses are there?

Depends on how you count. Do you count samatitihi? The number of poses in suryanamaskara A and B (is chatrurunga dandasana a pose?)? Urdhva mukha svanasana or adho mukha svanasana? Do you count both sides? Repetitions such as navasana and bakasana? Opening? Transitions? The backbend sequence at the end? Savasana? It reminds me of an old question of my youth:

So there’s this: Who cares?

Obviously we care. Look how ticked off we get when someone gets it wrong. Granted, she got it comically wrong. But still.

You could just count. According to the John Scott drawings in Tim Miller’s First Series teacher training manuals—and let’s say for the sake of argument only asanas count and that you know what I mean by that—there are 46 in poses First, 51 in Second. Let’s just say I gave the Today Show’s expert a call to correct her. Do I correct her with 46? But wouldn’t it be more accurate to total up all six series and give her that number? When I first started, I only practiced up to navasana, and I was in no way advanced, so wouldn’t it be more accurate to tell her that you don’t have to be advanced and there are only as many poses as you can actually do? Because, basically, it’s not really the number of poses that defines Ashtanga.

But I think about all those old videos of Guruji assiduously counting, the careful metronome of Ashtanga he regulated and his students maintain, and I think, well, that’s the most important number in Ashtanga, isn’t it? Five. Why is it five breaths? Why not four, or six, or the eight or ten it is in closing? And yes, Monte Python and the Holy Grail is running through my head, the number so important to the Holy Hand Grenade…

So now that I’ve totally geeked out on my practice, I’ve gotten it out my system and I’ve effectively passed these questions on to my fellow practitioners and can just go practice.

Posted by Bobbie

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “Ashtanga Higher Math”

  1. There are a few mornings I would love to do just six postures – do I get to pick? The Today show clip was actually pretty funny, IMHO. I doubt correcting the newscaster would work. My understanding is that they are supposed to do their research. Guess she didn’t. Anyway, reality just wouldn’t cut it on TV. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am sure someone told her there are six series’ and she just got mixed up. I pretty much guarantee that’s what happened.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s