Sunday, October 5, 2008

Astanga Vinyasa

" I am unaware of anything that has a right to be called an impossibility" Thomas H. Huxley

"Have patience. Everything is difficult before it is easy." Saadi

As a yoga teacher, I am always constantly learning how to improvise or improve the postures or movements. How to get into the pose without struggle and to gracefully come out of it without a ‘huff’ and a ‘puff’. Those who have studied yoga with me would have practice hatha yoga. Hatha yoga comes in various forms and some postures includes poses from astanga vinyasa yoga. I didn’t really get to practice astanga yoga in full till I attended the Langkawi retreat a week ago. The movements are dynamic requiring agility, arm strength and flexibility. The core principles that underpin this practice was to combine ujjayi breath, muscular locks called bandhas, the synchronization of movement and breath, and to maintain a steady point of focus called drishtis.

During the practice with Master Satya and Master Paalu, along with other students, I found myself in a struggle with the postures. Partly because I had a bit of a cold, but to be truthful I wasn’t prepared to do the movements myself. The movement required a great deal of arm strength, bandhas ( the lock system- uddiyana, moola and jalandhara bandha) and concentration. My arms were giving way some parts and within less than 40 minutes, I felt exhausted. It felt defeating at first. I had a lot of thought about it and wondered if I should incorporate it into my teachings.

I felt I was learning yoga “all over again”. Over the past week, as I slowly recovered from my cold, I started my own practice again. I tried the movements on my own and through perseverance, I have managed some of the postures better than before. I did land hard on my bottom more than 20 times on the floor but I guess it’s through the falls I am able to understand what is required to do astanga yoga.

To fully understand the term, the concept and principles behind it, I read through Tara Fraser’s book and it really helped me to improve my steps. For those who aren’t familiar with astanga yoga, here’s a short summary from T.Fraser’s book.

The word astanga yoga means eight limbed yoga. Pranayama (breath control-third limb) and asanas (postures-fourth limb) are the two fundamental practices of ashtanga yoga. The core practice of ashtanga vinyasa is a set sequence of postures (asanas) that is said to have been described in a text called the Yoga Kurunta. The yoga kurunta is said to have described three series of postures: Yoga Chikitsa( yoga therapy) which we know as the “Primary Series”; Nadi Sodhana(channel cleansing) known as “Iintermediate Series” and Sthira Bhaga (divine stability) which can be broken down into four parts and is known as the “Advanced Series”.

The primary series consists of forward bends of various kinds. The intermediate series contains a lot of back bending poses and the advanced series contains more variations of both with some difficult balances.

At the moment, I still have a lot to learn about the primary series of astanga yoga. I am taking it step by step, which is the right thing to do when you need to grasp the basics and the concept behind the movements prior to teaching it.

I do feel that astanga yoga is essentially a young person’s practice unless you have been practicing astanga yoga for a long time. However, Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois has recommended older people to concentrate more on yogic breathing exercises and possibly include the primary series but without the vinyasa in it.

I think I will slowly prepare the students, this way I can learn the series at my own pace.