Wednesday, April 13, 2011

14) Questions regarding the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practice

I am writing this post after going through the blog post of another blogger Claudia who had written about a similar topic in her blog titled "New Changes in the Primary Series of Ashtanga" . If one looks at the Ashtanaga Vinyasa Yoga format one can see to it that it was never a static one and had been evolving over the times . These days there is lot of confusion in Ashtanga Circles regarding the following questions :
1) When to start secondary series ? Should one wait till the primary series is over and then start secondary or should one start practicing secondary along with primary ?
2) How many times Surya Namaskar A,B ? Is it :5,5, 3,3,5,3 ?
3) Should one practice Vinaysa between the sides or just between the postures ?
4) Some postures that were in the past in Primary series is not here now and some that were not in past are included now in the series and which is the right approach ?
5) Should one practice a mini series as given by David Swenson in case there is less time or should one strictly stick to the classical ashtanga sequence without changing the Order ?
6) Should one wait for mastering a posture before going to the next one or should one just continue to practice a set sequence without bothering about whether one masters a particular posture or not ?
7) Should one use props or modified positions as given by David Swenson or should one avoid props of any kind ?
8) When should one start Pranayama?
and like this I can go on and on regarding the type of questions that exist with regard to the Ashtanga Vinaysa Sequence and every senior teacher of Ashtanga Vinyasa will have their own answers to these questions and no 2 teachers may speak in the same way .This is because each teacher had his or her own back ground before coming to Guruji  ( some totally new to Yoga , some had been through other styles like Sivananda , Iyengar etc ) and some came in 70s when there were very few foreigners , some came in 80s when little more foreigners came and some in 90s when Ashtanga was getting more popular and the classes at Mysore become more crowded and for each person Guruji's approach differed  .My own Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Louise Ellis said to me that  when she started Ashtanga in 1990s said that Guruji after starting   primary  with her quickly put her in to  secondary as she had previously 20 years experience in Sivananda as well as Iyengar Yoga .So there is no standard answer to any of the questions listed above .It all depends upon one's previous yoga back ground , one's  flexibility and fitness levels and one's own commitment to the path of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga .
My feeling is that one should not go to either extremes while practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga  i.e never be too fanatical about the tradition  that you blindly do the practice without applying common sense and also never disrespect the tradition by doing things as per your own whims and wishes in the name of creativity(i.e mixing various styles in to Ashtanga )  or so called listening to one's body ( not everyone is competent to do this ) . Either extreme approach is dangerous and will lead to either injury or frustration later .
Ashtanga Vinayasa Yoga is a form of serious yoga practice and one will not get answers to all the questions by few days or few weeks of practice or by attending various workshops  and one must have a minimum commitment of 10 years of daily dedicated practice to understand all its subtle aspects .
So to start with it does not matter whether one follows the David Swenson's approach , Sharath's approach , Richar Freeman's Approach , John Scott's approach etc etc as long as one keeps a daily commitment to the Ashtanga practice and go slowly and steadily , use the modifications/props when required and later drop  it all together when you reach a stage where you can do the entire  practice on your own effortlessly using the proper co-ordination of breath , drishtis , bandhas and movement .
So that should be the goal : i.e an effortless practice of the entire series with the proper co-ordination of breath , drishtis , bandhas and to achieve this goal one must go slowly but steadily keeping the above points (i.e breath , drishtis , bandhas ) in focus during the practice without getting side tracked on other asana related issues which I feel is minor in nature and of not any serious importance . Many people in an eagerness to master the series go about practicing the series with the focus on asanas and on the jumps more( where there is lot of  counter opinions )   without giving importance to the other aspects of the practice : breath , drishtis , bandhas ( where there is very less controversy )which are  very much vital to the understanding of the complete Ashtanga Vinaysa Yoga practice as a whole .
So while the outer forms of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Practice may vary with time but its essence i.e co-ordinated practice with  breath , drishtis and bandhas will always remain same and hence one should  not get side tracked with these minor issues regarding asanas and jumps  and learn to focus on the broader integrated practice and reap the benefits of the Complete Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice . This is the essence of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practice according to all leading Ashtanga Teachers right from Krishnamacharya ,Guruji up to Sharath  now .


  1. yes, "do your practice" was pretty much the only answer Sharath gave in conference one day when people were asking and asking... the right answer comes...

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