What a great day for yoga on Saturday afternoon, it
was so much fun to share the Ashtanga yoga workshop on the Primary Series, or Mysore style of yoga practice with my friends in the East Wind community a little over two weeks ago. The Ashtanga yoga series workshop was difficult and taxing, but the participants were all warriors! Everyone who showed up got a great series of postures in which to practice their breath control and challenge their bodies and we got to have some fun chanting and challenging our minds and bodies.
The Second Workshop is on 3/3 in Auburn
In this Second Ashtanga Workshop, we will be practicing the first 11 postures of the Ashtanga Intermediate Series:
Kapotanasana A & B
Ashtanga Yoga Workshop #2 will also focus on advanced seated postures and modifications to help the body to find the stretch that the asana implies.
The Ashtanga Yoga Workshop will last 2 hours, but we will start to practice for longer if we all want to. Drop-backs might happen in this workshop, so get ready for some hands on backbends and handstands!
In the Second Ashtanga Yoga Workshop, we get to have some fun practicing advanced postures! Please ensure that you check your ego at the door to avoid any injuries and to optimally enjoy the difficulty of this practice 😉
Sign-Up for the Second Series Ashtanga Workshop Below:
I have included some links to the postures so you can reference them before the workshop begins. We will be doing the same chaturanga basics and flow basics at the beginning of the workshop because working on alignment is a constant in the yoga practice to maintain the integrity of the postures. Get ready for some fun!
Ashtanga Workshop designed For INTERMEDIATE to ADVANCED practitioners
This series will include additional workshops to cover various aspects of the postures and sequences that work up to the primary series, which is relatively advanced. These will accompany the primary series workshop as sister series. This is an opportunity for both practiced ashtangi and those that are brand new to the series to learn from the practice. Yogi’s should know sun salutation A and B or have practiced yoga for more than 1 year, with some regularity.
Space is Limited to 16 Spots. Reserve yours today by contacting Elliot @ [email protected]
Ashtanga Workshop Schedule:
1:00-1:10 Minute Discussion, materials will have been previously provided via email
1:11-1:15 Chant the Opening Mantra
1:15-2:50 Practice the primary series with various modifications
2:50-3:00 Questions, spare time for fall-backs, handstands, etc..
3:00 Closing Mantra
The History of the Primary Series
Pattabhi Jois began teaching the primary series in 1948 in Mysore, India where I traveled in January 2015. The Jois Shala is now much larger than Pattabhi Jois’ first class capacity of 8 students. Pattabhi Jois is one of a short list of Indians who were instrumental in transmitting yoga from India to the West in the 20th century.
The Roots of Yoga
Dive into the series that began the spread of yoga into the West and formed the foundation for modern-day vinyasa yoga. Move beyond the superficial western approach to yoga and into a deeper, vast ocean of personal space, discipline, honor, and care-taking of the incredible gift that is the human body.
Here are the videos I use for practicing the series:
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence).
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta)
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
Svasthi Praja Bhyaha Pari Pala Yantam
Nya Yena Margena Mahim Mahishaha
Go Brahmanebhyaha Shubamastu Nityam
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi
Closing Mantra Meaning:
May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue
For protecting the welfare of all generations.
May the religious, and all peoples be forever blessed,
May all beings everywhere be happy and free
New Year of Music, the Eros Album, and Getting into Playing Live Shows
I am working hard this new year on an album/Live show experience that will be a couple of years in the making. The music itself is forming pretty quickly, but will require a bunch of visual work to bring to life the world that I am creating. Also, Ableton is releasing a new version of Live soon in the new year. That should make my creativity spike in February or March.
There is going to be a story line behind it that I have been working on for a few months. I have written some great beats and even have a few near complete tracks. But I want to ensure that the tracks are all cohesive, so I am making sure to design sounds that I use across various tracks. This is my first concept album, so get stoked.
New Year Yoga and Ashtanga
Living in America and practicing lots of yoga at the same time is a difficult endeavor. Right now, I am getting ready for the New Year rush. The studio is going to be packed with awesomeness soon! When you throw teaching on top of that and a second job because teaching isn’t enough by itself, you have just enough to make someone completely exhausted.
I still practice yoga every day, but not for 2 hours or more, which is how I’d like to. First thing in the morning! But I still take a day or two off each week. I love just waking up early to the practice and breathing. And I’ve really started to miss India. There is something really special about going over there to learn yoga from the people who have experienced it as a part of tradition.
I have my first Ashtanga Workshop on February 3rd, so get ready! I am going have people sign-up beforehand and give out lots of information before we get started with the primary series.
More focus on Quality of Experience
Both in music and in yoga I try to focus on the experience of the person that has signed up for the time period and making their time as enjoyable possible. I am trying to do that while working on giving individuals attention and affirmation as often as I can. I also try to help people to understand the difficulty of what they are trying to do, but in the new year I will simply be continuing to work on connecting with individuals.
A YouTube Channel in the new year
My biggest New Years Resolution is to start a YouTube channel where I can share what I know about yoga. I think that my knowledge will be super useful to people of all ages! Also, I have a lot of killer abdominal exercises.. I will be carving out a section of my website for this as well, so expect some changes soon.
Music everyday in 2018 is a given. I am recommitting to my daily yoga practice. And finally I want to try to post a blog article every day of 2018.
Happy New Year Everyone! Let me know about your resolutions/goals are!
Just not every day. I practiced every day while I was in India up until 3 months ago and when I began to travel. However, I stopped practicing every day and have gone back to a more diverse practice of general Hatha poses. But there are some major reasons why I stopped practicing Ashtanga every day and starting practicing it more like twice a week. You should know them
Muscle mechanics – Muscles are designed to handle unforeseen obstacles, in fact they perform extremely well in a diverse landscape and require different types of movements than only the poses of the primary series to functioning optimally. We are not meant to walk on treadmills, we are meant to climb hills and rocks, ice and mountains. There are fundamental movements that are missing from Pattabhi Jois‘ method, originally prescribed by Krishnamacharya. Low lunges, certain types of sitting, abdominal exercises, and back lengthening are all missing from Krishnamacharya’s sequences, likely because they were as necessary in the lifestyles of young Indians at the time. With modern science, especially in the fields of anatomy and physiology, we can structure other exercises to compliment the poses of the primary series to make our practice of the old method more efficient.
Injuries– It’s easy to get injured while practicing Ashtanga, especially while practicing every day. Some studies have posted numbers as high as 60% of people who practice Ashtanga get injured and I would be willing to bet a lot of the injuries are knees, ankles, and toes. When you practice the same routine every single day it is easy to become somewhat mindless in the practice and to allow things to move on autopilot. This is not necessarily very good for your muscles either because they get used to the same movements and over time try to create shortcuts. Muscle confusion is a good remedy for this.
Sense of Progress– Ashtanga give the practitioner a false sense of progress every day. You become efficient and masterful at certain asanas while forgetting others and focusing on a non-existent path in Ashtanga. The path is the same whether you practice Ashtanga or not and being able to perform yoga poses should only lead to a sense of internal triumph, rather than comparative progress. Where is yoga taking you anyways?
Time – Yoga is a huge time commitment. Ashtanga is oftentimes an even bigger one, with full sequencing and the need to warm up and prepare mentally. I like to take 2 hours to practice Ashtanga, it gives me plenty of time for headstand and the closing sequences and I don’t feel rushed. Did I mentioned I spent 10 breaths in a lot of poses?
Variation is beautiful – Why practice only one style of yoga? We are born into an age with seemingly limitless traditions and styles to draw from, we should take advantage of this. Incredibly skilled teachers also seem to be popping out like daisies so take advantage while you can!
I also do other forms of exercises, like running, and climbing, hiking, and generally spend a lot of time outside. You should switch it up every once in a while, your body will love you for it!
Krishnamacharya is one of the more interesting figures in the paradigm of modern yoga’s founders. He probably had the greatest effect on the types of yoga that we practice today in the west and he healed many people during the course of his life. He used Ayurveda in conjunction with yoga to restore health and well-being to the individuals he treated and he wrote four books on yoga. He might have invented vinyasa flow as we know it today.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya lived for 100 years; was born in 1888 and died in 1989. During his lifetime he taught many of the world’s most renowned yoga teachers: BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, TKV Desikachar (his son), and A.G Mohan (worked alongside Desikachar).
Krishnamacharya had a traditional childhood; when he was six he underwent upanayaya when he learnt to write and read Sanskrit, chant the Vedas, and learnt asana and pranayama from his father. When he was 10, Krishnamacharya’s father died and his family moved to his grandfather’s house in Mysore. In Mysore Krishnamacharya attended more advanced schooling and began traveling around India when he was in Mysore.
When he was 18 he moved to Benares to study logic and sanskrit, but would visit Mysore again at 21 to study at the university of Mysore. He would continue to study and practice his yoga in Mysore and Benares until he walked 2 and a half months to the base of Mount Kailash in Tibet, where Brahmachari lived with his family. Krishnamacharya spent 7 & 1/2 years studying under his guru and took payment of teaching yoga, having a family, and maintaining a household.
Krishnamacharya returned to the world and traveled to Varnasi, where he did menial labor for a time until his knowledge was recognized and he was introduced to various nobility for his healing and yogic knowledge and skills. The Maharaja of Mysore took particular interest in Krishnamacharya and installed the yoga teacher in his palace in Mysore. Krishnamacharya would move on to perform lectures all over India, stimulating interest in yoga and eventually was able to start a yoga shala in Mysore.
While in Mysore, Krishnamacharya authored several books and taught yoga consistently, a guru to many of the world’s future gurus. Many scholars also place emphasis on some of Krishnamacharya’s sources, saying that he used books referencing western gymnastics in many of his exercises. In 1946 India gained its independence, but this was bad news for Krishnamacharya; he was forced to travel to find students and to support his family. His yoga school eventually closed in 1960.
The remainder of Krishnamacharya’s life was spent in scholarship; he viewed himself as an eternal student. When he was 96 he fractured his hip, but refused surgery to treat himself while in bed. He lived and taught in Chennai until he died in 1989, at the ripe age of 100. Even though Krishnamacharya’s teachings radically changed the world he never left his homeland of India. He is one of the most influential figures in yoga; it is possible that he even invented modern yoga as it is known today; he was a learned scholar with degrees in philosophy, logic, divinity, philology, and music; and you might have heard of him. He is certainly one of the most influential individuals of the modern age.
I am a huge fan of the Ashtanga practice. The intensity, the discipline, the mindlessness, and the routine of the sequential practice makes it like a second home for me. I always know that there are mornings where I can wake up and work without thinking, push myself without thinking of how, breathing without having to plan for a destination. But there are some problems with practicing the Ashtanga practice exclusively.
The Ashtanga series were a prescription for Krishnamacharya’s Indian students, namely his most famous student Pattabhi Jois. Krishnamacharya made them specifically for 15-year-old Indian men that were training for hours each day and that didn’t have previous injuries, or probably a lot of other sports and exercise experience.
This means that Krishnamacharya had a specific purpose in creating this sequences for young and fit Indian men and that the sequence is optimized for the Indian skeleton and definitely not for the other types of human skeletons. This becomes especially apparent when westerners begin trying lotus pose, Kukkutasana, and the Marichyasanas.
So there comes a point when one starts to realize that certain poses simply aren’t good for their body. This is half-bound lotus pose for me. The reason is that my knees are simply not strong enough to stretch my hips as deeply as the stretch requires, even though my hips are very open and I have good alignment. At a certain point, we have to realize that the body is mechanical; it has very real limitations that you will sooner or later be coming into increased contact with.
In my first two weeks, I was injured in the Ashtanga sequence. Marichyasana B, I can remember the stress of feeling injured like it was yesterday, my lateral collateral ligament snapped and I heard a very audible pop while I was in the full pose with the bind. I quickly got out of the pose and finished my sequence, then went home to look up some rehab exercises for my knee. It took a couple of days of exercises and taking it easy to let my knee heal. Not a fun few days while I was healing.
I continued my full practice for the rest of the time in India, making adjustments and skipping poses when it felt right. I did some extra work to make sure my knee was stable and working properly and avoided walking too much to make sure that the joint was getting less stress. Slowly full lotus opened up for me while I was rehabilitating my knee, though there is still quite a bit of space left to create in my hips. The injury forced me to be more conscious of what I was doing, to not accept things as they were explained, in black and white.
What is the point of that story? Every body is unique, so how can one series work for everyone’s skeleton? It can’t.
I think that there are parts of the Ashtanga sequence that are almost perfect in their ideal succession, mainly the standing series of the primary series. There is something especially cleansing about doing the poses in that order, and the inversions at the end are simply magical.
Sunday, I taught my first class back in the states. It was great, it was easy to forget how much I love teaching yoga until I was in the room again with all the wheels turning. It was a hybrid style so we warmed up slowly, with a bit of flow including some low lunges complete with back-bends, and even an extended child’s pose. Then we moved into standing postures and the full Sun Salutation B sequence, holding warrior 1 for less and less time and getting into the full back-bend in upward dog. Then we moved into the entirety of the Ashtanga practice. Instead of doing floor stretches, we did a bunch of ab work and then moved into some final yin-type stretches. I loved teaching the sequence and it felt right for the class; music was slow and complimentary more than anything else.
So if you come to my classes, except a little flair of Ashtanga. It’s evolving into something pretty cool and I think that someday soon I might help to develop a new series based on the Primary Series. It’s all an evolution 🙂
Tuesday marked the final day of my practice at the Pattabhi Jois yoga shala (kpjayi) with Saraswathi Jois. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to spend the last couple of months practicing with her and exploring the lineage of Ashtanga yoga.
Learning there was a bit of a unique challenge in my case because I have practiced for five years before I even got to India. There were certain asanas that I hadn’t done regularly and certain asanas that I was very proficient at in the advanced and intermediate series, but didn’t practice because of how late they are in the series. Even the first day was weird. Saraswathi belted out some commands to me, which I tried to enact (her english is not amazing) and we got up to the Maricyasanas. I worked through them for a while then a couple weeks later moved into kurmasana and supta kurmasana and Bhujangasana and was able to work on the finishing sequence since the beginning of practice. Eventually, 25 breaths of headstand are pretty much effortless.
My daily practice has completely transformed and now I have something to work from. I deviate into variations and stretches that I am craving and work in back bends and some of the intermediate series at the end. Soon, I will start working on the first few poses of the sequence (I’ve been working on Pasasana for over a year, except while in Mysore). And as much as I want to say that I do not care about progression, I do care about deepening my Samadhi and I find that new poses and deepening certain existing postures is a part of that. Supta Kurmasana taught by itself has deepened my practice in many ways, same with the Maricyasanas, so I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn them.
I didn’t get to drop backs or Setu Bandhasana, but that is fine with me. I will work on the intermediate series and the primary series, maybe I will even come back. I enjoyed the alone time and the doing nothing but writing a little, making some music, and making room to practice yoga every morning and meditate during the days. Having experienced the atmosphere of India I can really understand how yoga came about and why it is so powerful for the human body. History I’ve been reading makes a lot more sense now after seeing the environment that Indians live in.
Saraswathi is traditional and you really can’t blame her for that. She teaches the sequence the way it was taught to her and she is a powerful voice for many things, but ultimately you have to regulate your own injuries if the (re)occur. So with the Ashtanga practice in general comes an enormous responsibility to know your own anatomy and to increase your awareness for the functioning of your body. Without a heightened awareness, you can easily injury your knees, shoulders can get used to being hyper-extended in down dog(this happens a lot), and muscles can be easily strained. In doing yoga, you are increasing your sensitivity to your body, especially in a practice as intense as Ashtanga. This allows your to better manage your body, which increases the steadiness of your mind, because your are more aware of the consequences of your actions and of the actions of your environment, which have direct effects upon your body.
So ultimately Saraswathi wakes up early and facilitates the yoga of her students and is very committed and so are her assistants, but the Ashtanga yoga method is usually not suitable for beginners. Especially when you are older, you should have pretty much mastered sun salutations and at least practiced most of the postures. Also knowing and using yin yoga can be a great addition to an Ashtanga yoga, even though it isn’t prescribed by the KPJAYI.
If you want to take a couple of months off, practice a yoga practice that you conform to and focus on those postures for a few months while quieting your mind, the Ashtanga Institute is a great resource and so is Mysore, more specifically Gokulam.
Gokulam is an amazing place, a quiet repose in the midst of a semi-busy city that supposedly is a prototype for southern India. I didn’t get to visit too much else, but Mysore itself is an amazing city, full of animals and wildlife and scooters. The pollution there is bad as well, but I am told that as far as India goes, the pollution in Mysore is minimal. Basically I didn’t have to wear a mask every day and the streets were walkable, though just barely.
The yoga institutes are hidden away from the city in much quieter Gokulam, with plenty of facilities to practice yoga quietly. It was an experience I will remember as having quieted my mind, as well as given me some great experience with yoga’s history.
So if you are looking to come to the source to practice yoga as it has been taught for the last five decades or so, Saraswathi is great. Ensure you know the sequence, at least the beginning and end, when you arrive. You can also take your time to learn, they are very accepting at the shala, but keep in mind that personal attention from the teachers isn’t something you should rely on. But if you need more, Saraswathi is the one to go to simply because she has fewer students and you are learning the method and not a teacher.
My last day of practicing yoga with Saraswathi Jois was on Tuesday, but I am very happy to continue moving. I am very happy with how the trip and Saraswathi have added to my practice, though it definitely evolved much differently than I expected.
Ashtanga can be grueling at time. I think this is one of the reasons that it is so liberating; challenge makes us feel comfortable where we might not have before. I missed one morning practice because I was late (I drank beer…) and practiced myself in my room. This was one of the times when I really started to realize that I am ready to teach and am not just a student anymore. Even my arrival in Saraswathi’s class was a bit weird because my practice is very unique.
A few poses have developed significantly since I arrived; I now have a full lotus pose (always working deeper into my hips with careful attention to my overused knees), the Maricyasanas, Supta Kurmasana and I can jump through with crossed legs now. In some ways, I am very happy to progress, but at the same time I realize how unimportant my physical progress is. After all, my body will one day die and decay and no longer exist. At the same time, its fun to move through new poses, deeper variations, and I will tell you that Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana have made permanent changes to the way that I practice.
In modern yoga, there is too much emphasis placed on the sequencing of postures rather than focusing on cueing people deeper into postures. Even Ashtanga yoga can be too focused on the sequences (getting it done, rather than enjoying it) instead of the feeling of the breath moving through your body. This, in my opinion, is why yoga was invented; to increase your sensitivity to the life-force energy of breath so that you can better regulate the fluctuations of your mind. The first time I went into Supta Kurmasana, I felt like I had just placed in a prison cell full of water with barely any air to breath. It was a dark, lonely, and crushing place; if you have ever seen someone do the stretch, you can probably imagine why, but I think this first one was particularly crushing, therefore liberating for me. I won’t forget what I gleaned from those eight breaths or so in the posture; it all passes, it all changes, no matter how shitty it might be. It will change. No matter how good it can be, it will change. Just be cool and go with the flow.
I am now in Kathmandu and am so happy to have experienced India in the way that I did. Saraswathi was amazingly accommodating, very genial, and a little flexible to my unique yoga practice. I will miss practicing with her and in the shala with all of the other incredible Ashtanga yogis that wake up at the break of dawn to feel their breath coming and going.
I am thinner, lighter, and happier than when I came. Things are good, even though I was sick for a little while with food poisoning. I guess we can call the trip a success! I am very excited to come back and continue teaching and looking forward to teaching when I get back.
Ashtanga yoga sequences are a tradition expounded by Pattabhi Jois and is currently taught by teachers in different forms across the world. It is most likely that these sequences were originally created by Krishnamacharya for Pattabhi Jois, using knowledge he obtained from his guru, Brahmachari for short, who lived in a cave with his family in isolation. Krishnamacharya created the sequence for Pattabhi Jois who claimed that the yoga koruntha (which explained the yoga system) was written on a palm leaf that was eaten by ants. This tradition was passed orally from Krishnamacharya to Jois and Iyengar, and Jois used it to create the Ashtanga system. The existence of the document is questioned and although Jois claims to be Iyengar’s appointed guru, Iyengar claims no such relationship. The modern lineage of yoga is an incredibly interesting a complex series of relationships and history.
Here is the known lineage of the originators of Ashtanga Yoga:
Students of Pattabhi Jois include Bryan Kest, Iyengar, Larry Schultz, Richard Freeman, and Chuck Miller. BKS Iyengar was a student, but they were in disagreement whether Pattabhi was his appointed guru. Both were called Guruji.
The Ashtanga yoga lineage has expounded yoga into the west, but its traditional original can be questioned. Many of the exercises seem extremely gymnastic to be so ancient and many people discuss where the influence of the postures and sequence really come from. However, one thing is certain; Surya namaskar
is an incredible movement pattern that is excellent for your body’s health if properly aligned. There are also transitions in the ashtanga series that create incredible concentration and focus, but it is certainly true that no series is perfect for every skeleton. Ashtanga yoga, while exemplary, is no exception to that rule.
Balancing the intense yang posture of Ashtanga with Yin postures that counterbalance the spinal twists and shoulder openers of the primary series is completely necessary to progress properly in the primary series. This requires responsibility over your own body. The combination is powerful and relatively unexplored, but there is no reason to spent only 5 breaths in each pose and to continue to practice the exact same way, without variation. I think that the pattern of 5 breaths for many movements is great, but some poses can be held for much longer and indeed have expanded benefits from being held.
Yoga is not a religion. There are no rules. Attempts at trying to organize it are a joke. It is a system for learning about the self and the limitations and delusions of consciousness. Rules in regard to yoga are silly, because at its best it needs to be completely personalized. Therefore its leaders are simply the people with the most experience in the field through their own practice and assisting the practices of others. This is why it takes so long to become a true guru.
I think it is important to realize that yoga has been passed father to son in many generations before a system like Krishnamacharyas was expounded and spread to the West. He even spent many years in poverty teaching before befriending the Maharaja and gaining the raja’s patronage for his yoga shala. It’s popularity was in decline up until this point, but Krishnamacharya would make demonstrations on his days off work, and would eventually travel with his students to demonstrate asana, then send students to become teachers in other cities. Jois and Iyengar were two of these students and both learned different lessons from Krishnamacharya because they studied with him at different times in his life.
To think you have to practice with a certain guru is silly. To think you “have” to practice Ashtanga is silly. The energy of India is great, but the primary series is the same no matter where you do it. Ashtanga yoga should absolutely be supplemented with other activities. The tradition of Pattabhi Jois is continued by his daughter, Saraswathi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Jois, both studied under his guideance in the same sequence as all other practitioners. Both
are currently teaching in Gokulam, Mysore (links to when I went). It is interesting to know where styles of yoga come from, so you may want to continue by reading Krishnamacharya’s, Pattabhi Jois’, and Iyengar’s books about yoga. Iyegnar’s book is particularly interesting, though Krishnamacharya are much more detailed in interesting ways and somewhat cryptic and mysterious. Krishnamacharya’s guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari and Krishnamacharya are the only ones that we can credit with the creation of modern yoga, though it many poses from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are much older, such as shoulder stand/sarvangasana, headstand/sirsasana, sun salutations, spinal twists, and lotus poses They all make for very fun and interesting reads, I’m sure. Many are available online, I’ve found a bunch by searching in Wikipedia.
Modern Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Shala –
The K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Research Institute in Mysore, India http://kpjayi.org/