An Asana by Any Other Name

There’s now no doubt about it: We are on the wild frontier. As we left the familiar standing poses behind in our Third Series Teacher Training, it became immediately clear that for those of us who had been learning Third out there, information is thin, and opinions are all over the place.

In this little on line log about our Ashtanga yoga experience, we often seek to convey information that our readers might find useful. While I’m not a big fan of transcribing information about Tim Miller’s trainings directly to you (it’s best you get those sorts of things from the guru directly), I do make a few exceptions, and this is one of them.

The first two asanas of Third.

Now, as I was learning Third, just like when I was learning First and Second, I used a cheat sheet. My cheat sheet was, as is sometimes said in a Guruji accent, incorrect. Luckily, I was working with Maria Zavala, who promptly corrected me. But many in the room were not so lucky, and now have to rewire their brains.

The first two poses of Third are, and in this order, viswamitrasana and vasisthasana.

You may have learned them the other way around. I’m not even posting images or links because frankly the internet mostly has it wrong as well. The source of the issue? B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, which transposes the names of these asanas. You can look it up.

Tim told us that when Guruji—our own Sri K. Pattabhi Jois—was asked about this, he said, and I quote, “This man is not knowing Sanskrit.” Given Guruji’s status as a Sanskrit professor, his Ashtanga students are inclined to believe his asana names are correct.

But this pales in comparison to the next controversy. When taking viswamitrasana, correct is taking outer edge of the foot. Not flat.

When we broke up to practice the pose and assist each other, the room erupted. Most had learned to flatten the foot. Some had learned to lift the hips high, even backbend into it as you look up. This, in Tim’s words, “ruins the geometry of the pose,” which he compared to trikonasana and with legs like samokonasana. Strong vertical and perpendicular lines.

So the question on the break became, “Are you a side foot person or a flat foot person?” Which camp are you in?

Me, I was relieved. I have tight ankles and actually find it very difficult to flatten my feet. Finally, a correct way of doing an asana that works in may favor, and actually makes the pose easier (please note that I said easy-er).

And that was just the first pose.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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