The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ashtanga Yoga

I recently commented that Ashtanga yoga might be the single most powerful series of yoga poses in the world. I thought I'd leave a bread crumb trail of my reasoning.

1) This comment relates to the "1st Series" of Ashtanga, designed to heal, strengthen, and prepare the body and mind for the rigors of series 2-6. Series 4-6 is for mutants only.

2) K. Pathabi Jois, the core teacher of Ashtanga, was one of the three primary students of Krishnamacharya. the others were B.K.S. Iyengar (arguably the most influential hatha teacher in the world) and V. Descachar, creator of Viniyoga. A serious percentage of all yoga studied in the Western world derives from these three. Therefore, it is reasonable to suspect that Krishnamacharya can be considered a candidate for most important yoga teacher of modern times.

3) Krishnamacharya himself lived past his 100th birthday. I pay attention to stuff like that. It is reasonable to assume he was doing something right.

4) Ashtanga is an interesting beast. It uses the biomechanics of Iyengar, but is designed as several distinct series of poses, unchanging, each of which takes about 1-2 hours to perform. They are "aerobic" in the way hill walking is aerobic, using muscle locks and gymnastic jump-throughs to create inner heat. A good Ashtanga session is like a sauna. Amazing. Your body becomes rubbery.

5) Supposedly, Ashtanga originated in a document called the Yoga Korunta, found in an ancient library by Krishnamacharya and Jois. No one else has ever seen this document. Well, we've seen examples of THIS before, haven't we? It is reasonable to assume that it is possible the Y.K. never really existed, that what we have here is actually Krishnamacharya's statement on a lifetime of teaching. Iyengar style changes poses from class to class. Viniyoga is specifically the science of breaking poses down and individualizing them according to student needs. But Ashtanga is rigid, and one must find freedom within that rigidity. If that is the intent, then the poses chosen, and the methods designed to teach them, could reasonably be expected to be extraordinary.

6) An advanced Ashtanga instructor and athlete once told me she reckoned a well-done Ashtanga sequence was equal to "an hour of stretching, an hour of weights, and running a 10k." I don't know if I'd say that much...but I've noticed that if I do Ashtanga, my body works the way it did in my 20's. I'd say it creates a "false physiological profile" of a more efficient, energetic, lighter, stronger body.

Just morning thoughts on this terrific series of poses. The outer shell is very different from the inner world of breath control, muscle locks, visualizations and so forth. But look at Ashtanga on Youtube, and you'll see quickly that this ain't your Granny's yoga. Unless of course, she does an hour of stretching, an hour of weights, and runs a 10K every day. In which case the acryonym "GILF" may well apply.

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