Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I had an interesting discussion with a student before class on Monday night as we talked about what the traditional form of the Ashtanga practice expects. I thought this would be a great topic for today’s post.

Yes, there is a traditional form to the Ashtanga practice. This is the practice as developed by Sri Pattabhi Jois and as is practiced in Mysore, India. Students arrive very early in the morning at the Jois yogashala and move through the sequence on their own (called a Mysore practice - I’ll discuss this in a future posting), receiving one on one instruction from Jois but not being actively lead through each pose. The student does the sequence as far as they are able, then they roll up their mat and move to another room to complete the closing sequence and practice pranyama and chanting. It is not uncommon for Jois to stop a student partway through the sequence, his reason being they are not ready to continue on with the remaining postures that day.

In the traditional form of the practice, students are encouraged to master the first, or Primary, series before moving on into Secondary, Third, Forth, Fifth or Sixth Series. It is important to understand that the foundation of the Ashtanga practice is the Primary sequence. Secondary sequence and third sequence are of lesser importance, and everything else is for show.
The traditional form is also learned with the Sanscrit counting method (Eckum, Dwei, Trini, Chitari, Pancha, etc.) and with Sanscrit Asansa. The student or class begins with an invocation of Thanks and ends with a Closing Prayer.

To complete the Primary as Manju Jois leads it - 1 ½ hours. This is 1:10 for asana, 10 mintues for pranyama, 10 mintues for chanting. As David Swenson and Beryl Bender Birch teach it, the asana practice alone is 1 ½ hours. Richard Freeman 2 hours for asana.

The Ashtanga method is intended to be a daily practice and students are encouraged to make a commitment to practice at least 3 times a week. Again, traditionally, the practice is done every day except for Saturdays and Moon Days which occur about twice monthly (new moon and full moon). If the traditional form is what appeals to you, please remember it may be difficult to commit to a daily practice, and it often takes one or two years to establish this. Do not be discouraged if you're "only" practicing twice a week at first.

As many of my students have figured out, I do not teach the true "Traditional" primary practice. I teach as I learned the sequence from David Swenson during his 40 hour teacher training. I have done both methods, and I have decided his method is more approachable - and acceptable - to a wider variety of people. I encourage modifications, because we are all built differently and come to class from different places and ages in life and I cue the poses and breath in English. But I think it is important to at least understand and be able to appreciate the traditional form and I encourage anyone to try it at least a couple of times.

In closing, I would like to leave you with this quote. I’m afraid I don’t recall where I picked it up. "Ashtanga yoga is for everybody, but not everybody is for Ashtanga yoga."

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