David Garrigues delves into Ashtanga’s pranayama sequence, and so can you

I promised to spread the David Garrigues news, and so here it is:

He’s releasing a DVD/book set about breathing and Ashtanga’s pranayama sequence. It sounds good. You can find info both at his blog and at a dedicated website (where you can order it):

Championing your breath is the key to truly enjoying the fruits of your yoga practice, because it is through caring about your breathing that your tapas, your stubborn dedication and your pointed, daily toil will yield its important inner rewards. Through working with your breath in using this dvd/book set I hope you will turn to and trust your breath during times of celebration and challenge, that you will cultivate healthy breathing habits, and view breath as the key to unlocking the secrets to all yoga techniques.

In presenting this material I aim to transform your ideas about the role that your breath can play in your daily practice, to see how the consciousness that you develop through breath awareness leads you into the greater spiritual context of your life. I aim to set your imagination ablaze on the vital subject of breathing as your principal source of Self knowledge.

There are two DVDs and a book. The first DVD explores breathing practices to help with asana practice; the second “introduces you to the Ashtanga Pranayama sequence by giving you step by step, detailed instruction in each of the five pranayama’s that make up the sequence.”

I want to make sure to quote from the dedication on the site:

This DVD/book set is dedicated to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who was a Vayu Siddha, a master of breathing, and from whom I learned this sequence. Study the material offered on these discs and your breathing can become a well spring, a main source for tapping the tremendous life force within you. Like Hanuman, the loyal servant of Ram, your breath can become a formidable ally, a most devoted friend that guides you further into the beloved practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Through practice may you attain Vayu Siddhi, perfection of breathing and go inwards to Self.

Jaya Satguru Natha Maharaja Ki Jai!
Bolo Sri K Pattabhi Jois Guruji Ki Jai!

For those who were at the Confluence and heard David Swenson tell the story, or just have heard the tale of Hanuman and the ants, let me say: I think my breathing is more of the ant variety. But it could be worse. It could be like a grasshopper.

Finally, the video DG has posted:

Posted by Steve

So much yoga teaching to devour

It’ll come as no surprise to regular readers that I haven’t been to many yoga conferences.

The reason for it all
The reason for it all

You’re probably wondering if I’ve been to any. I’m sure I have, but they made such a small impression on me that I can’t tell you what it or they was/were.

And so I wouldn’t dive into the idea behind this post without having heard others at the Confluence talking about it — and I think the teachers, too, during panel discussions alluded to it. It being: There was serious, real teaching going on.

I’m not saying teaching doesn’t happen at yoga conferences. I’m suggesting that the gist I got was that more was happening at the Confluence. I suspect part of the reason for that is the basic shared knowledge we all had. Nancy Gilgoff could suggest something about my downdog (thankfully not “please, please stop”) and I have the experience to process it and react. To learn from her teaching.

If Shiva Rea came by and told me something about my ecstatic dance moves (also, probably, “please, please stop”), I couldn’t learn as much and she couldn’t teach as much. We don’t have the same scaffolding upon which to engage each other.

Another reason, of course, is that one of Pattabhi Jois’ great gifts, a fundamental part of his parampara, is teaching and his love of teaching. So a gathering in his name is going to be heavy on the teaching. (Also, heavy on the laughing, heavy on the joy, heavy on the community.)

Here’s just a taste of what I mean. I suspect a bunch of the Confluence attendees have their own story.

Bobbie and I both attended Dena Kingsberg’s “Spirit of the Breath” workshop. She shared a lot of wonderful information. The one I’ve latched on to is the idea of expanding my lungs in all four directions: front, at my floating ribs; my sides; back “behind my heart”; and, finally, up, lifting my chest.

I’ve heard Tim Miller talk about the back of heart a bunch of times. But whatever words Dena used, she got into my mind the idea of expanding my back off of my spine, or perhaps filling my lungs so they fill the space between the skin of my back and my spine. (Metaphorically speaking. Oh, and I’ve also heard Tim talk about how as a teacher one can tell a student something 100 times, thinking you are being totally clear, until it finally clicks. And then the student will say, “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” I think I’ve had that moment here, so apologies, Tim. [I think an iHanuman talk of his includes this idea.])

What she taught made sense. My breathing, judging by the compelling body of evidence that is two practices, has changed.

Dena also suggested I shortened by updog, rolling forward over my feet more, which changes the way my back bends in that pose. I’m still working with this. It’s both comfortable and uncomfortable.

Tim continued to give me stronger, in my mind, adjustments over the weekend. So in my head there was this sense of loosening. (He also offered me his encouraging smile, which is always welcomed.)

There was all the information from Nancy’s “How I was taught” workshop, as well. (I’ll get to it this week.) There was a warm, funny, truly memorable exchange with Eddie Stern.

I received a ton of teaching, in other words. And my Sunday Mysore practice was one of my best — most focused, consistent breathing — ever.

It culminated in perhaps my best series of back bends ever. A few I felt, almost, like I could stay aloft for a day. An hour. A minute. OK, five solid breaths.

And then there were the best drop backs ever. And some hope for … something more. (Also, the knowledge from the weekend that “something more” isn’t intrinsically valuable.)

I think that’s the point of the Confluence.

Posted by Steve

Documentary on Krishnamacharya’s life opens in English

A documentary on Krishnamacharya, which we noted back in its German form here, is showing — I think for the first time — this week in Scotland and England. It is set to come to North America this summer.

“The Breath of the Gods” runs 105 minutes. Here is more from the movie’s website:

Krishnamacharya’s life and teachings are seen through the eyes of the director Jan Schmidt-Garre on his search for authentic yoga. His journey leads him from the legendary students and relatives of Krishnamacharya’s to the source of modern yoga, at the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. From Pattabhi Jois Jan learns the “Sun salutation”, from Iyengar the “King of Asanas”, the headstand, and finally Sribhashyam reveals to him his father’s secret “Life Saving Yoga Session”.

And here is the movie’s upcoming scheduled showings/releases:

Fall 2013: DVD and download release (French version) with many bonus tracks

Summer 2013: DVD and download release (English/Italian/Greek version) with many bonus tracks

Summer 2013: Theatrical releases in France, Canada and in the US

23.4.2013: Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre, Dumfries, Scotland

22.2.2013: Theatrical release in the UK: ICA, London & Dukes @ Komedia, Brighton

The trailer, for those who missed it the first time:

Posted by Steve

Video: Guruji and Sharath demo Ashtanga in Sydney

Some new — I think — video from a visit by Pattabhi Jois and Sharath to Sydney is online.

At the least, this particular upload is new — it’s from the past week. I know a fair amount of people hunger after video of Sharath’s practicing, so this should fill you up a bit.


Posted by Steve


What makes a practice ‘Ashtanga enough’ to be Ashtanga?

As Bobbie and I thought in recent posts about the guidelines that hold Ashtanga students back from more poses and the positive effects of stretching beyond the usual sequence, a topic came up that did not surprise me: the “traditional Ashtanga method.” The rules and regulations, so to speak, of our particular form of yoga were hovering around the recent discussion here.

One commenter paraphrased the description from the Jois website; but even that, as a 2012 version, is it the “traditional” method? Traditional suggests having stood the test of time. One hears pretty regularly of something “new” being taught in Mysore these days.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that even “the source” has changed — and always has. And as we’ve argued here before, in the first years after Westerners first encountered Pattabhi Jois, the practice changed due to research. It even was part of Guruji’s institute’s name. That also allowed for different individual practices suited for different students’ needs.

Rather than getting hung up on “traditional” versus “not traditional,” I’ve been thinking about what’s fundamental to Ashtanga, what makes it Ashtanga and not, say, Power Yoga, flow or even Iyengar.

For me — and I emphasize for me, although I assume that’s understood, and that I’m no way claiming to be an authority —  the fundamentals, the things that need to be present (or at least sought after) for a yoga practice to be Ashtanga, are:

  • Controlled, slow, audible breath through the nose. It’s critical that our breathing during Ashtanga be different from our normal breath; that’s part of what makes the practice something else, something extra. We’re working with prana here, after all.
  • Activated bandhas. This goes with the breathing, and with our engagement with our energetic body.
  • Moving in time with the breath. Not quite vinyasa, but close.
  • A focus on drishti and trying to see God in all things.

That’s it. The poses and sequence we know as Ashtanga — beginning with Sun Salutes, moving through the standing poses, etc. — almost make the list, but don’t. And that’s because of the example of someone with severe physical limitations who perhaps can only sit in a chair and raise his/her hands up in time with the breath, and does so with right intent and as part of Sadhana.

That person is doing something I’d describe as Ashtanga — more so than many people. I’ve seen a lot of folks doing acrobatics, with no regards to the quality of their breath or whether it is linked to movement. These people might be doing First Series or Second (or beyond) in the proper order, but if we’re going to get all judgmental about it (which we already are), I say they are missing the point of the practice. They are getting a good workout, though. (My snap judgment way of sensing these not-doing-Ashtanga practices? If I don’t enjoy practicing next to the person.)

I suppose I’m leaving out an obvious element: Being taught by an Ashtanga teacher or considering yourself part of the Ashtanga tradition. Probably important, true. But I think someone could essentially stumble upon the key elements of Ashtanga independently, and so it may not be a requirement. (That said, I’m very much a believer in the importance in getting the Parampara from a teacher and being part of a teacher-student relationship. But you have to account for autogenesis.)

What I note as I look at my list is I’m clearly talking about a practice that isn’t rooting in Prakriti. It’s about the energy body (or deeper). And it’s about seeking yoga, or as Guruji is said to have put it: “Seeing God in all things.” That may explain why I’m not sure Ashtanga yoga can be taught in schools in the U.S. without violating the First Amendment. It operates on other levels, which much of the yoga-as-exercise (as practiced in the West) ignores.

I’ll also add that I explicitly say these four features at least need to be sought after, because otherwise I’d have to drop myself from the list of Ashtangis — and plenty of other folks, too. Who gets it perfect every time? My breathing often is too quick and thin; my bandhas don’t stay engaged enough. But when I notice these shortcomings, I do try to reapply myself. The Ashtanga practice is one big reapplication, in a sense.

Or there’s another way to look at this: The old saying about pornography holds true to Ashtanga for me: I know it when I see it. If someone is breathing and moving properly and has a focused gaze … it’s probably Ashtanga, or “Ashtanga enough.” For me, anyway.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga as a remedy for our modern times

We all have heard some description of Ashtanga that highlights how it was developed specifically for householders — for those of us too busy with family and work to spend all our time in sadhana. This week, in his Tuesdays with Timji post, Tim Miller draws that familiar line from Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari through Kirshnamacharya to Pattabhi Jois.

And for all of us who would rather be off on a warm, sandy beach, alternating our time between surfing and yoga practice (I’m not alone, am I?), it’s a reminder that our time in the world is, most likely, the best for us. As Tim writes, “Guruji used to say that in modern times there are few who take the path of renunciation, and that, for most of us, the path of the householder is the best.”

Here’s a chicken vs. egg question: Did Ashtanga (and so much of the asana yoga that’s based on it) spread to the West to such an unprecedented degree because it finally had been adapted for the modern world or was it simply that the modern world opened up the spread of information so that people like Tim could get to India, stay for a while and study, and then return home?

I think part of the answer might be found in the last word of my question: “home.” Obviously, people have been traveling to India for centuries — you might pick a more critical word than “traveling” — but if they found a teacher or guru, the end result would have been renunciation. Even if they chose to return to their own country (which I’m guessing was rare), a sanyassin would have faced a mountain the size of the Himalayans to convince the Victorian English, for instance, to follow that path. Right?

And then along comes Krishnamacharya and Jois, who offered a form of yoga that works within the householding world. And soon after comes air travel, TV, the Internet, etc. to help spread that yoga.

Perhaps the “modern times” aren’t so bad, after all.

Tim also points out that there is a long tradition of not living as a renunciate and still attaining God. He tells the story of Priyavatra, the son of Manu, the progenitor of humanity:

The indriyas (senses) are never conquered until a man has lived in grihatasrama, as a husband and father, as a man who has faced and overcome his six enemies in open battle.” The six enemies are Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), and Matsarya (envy). Brahma continues, “Once they are subdued he can walk freely among other men, for then the Lord is his refuge and wisdom.” God’s great gift to the householder is to allow him to face these “six enemies” in open battle. With yoga we have a slim chance in this battle.

I wonder in which of those six enemies sitting in front of a computer falls? No doubt that the asana part of Ashtanga is a good remedy for that enemy of the modern era.

Posted by Steve

Intermediate as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Intermediate has been much on my mind lately, so I’ve been tooling around the interweb for information. I came across this recently (April) posted video of the entire 1993 Yoga Works video of Guruji peacefully teaching some amazing students.

And by “amazing” we mean: Tim Miller, Chuck Miller, Richard Freeman, Eddie Stern, Maty Ezraty and Karen Haberman. A few things to note: Not a lot of sweating the small stuff (although there is a lot of sweating), but Guruji does make some small verbal corrections here and there (oh the shame!). I also watched with headphones–I recommend that. Guruji makes these small little, “hrm” and “humm” and “humrph” noises that are pretty funny to hear. Stay for the last word–it’s worth it. Also: there is a complete absence of drama. Don’t blink or you’ll miss kapotasana–it’s only five breaths long, like all poses. And each practitioner seems to handle poses in very different ways, mentally. You can sense it, really, more than see it. An excellent thing. Hard to believe it has so few views, so I figured it was a must-share.

Posted by Bobbie