June 25, 2013

A Book & Method in Review: Astanga Yoga Anusthana by R. Sharath Jois.

I went looking for rules…but what I found were options.

Ashtangis are known to throw around the term correct method and there’s almost an unspoken threat that’s hidden in the phrase. As my friends at The Confluence Countdown discussed recently—a mythical policing of those non-abiders.

Which probably means me, I figure. Not intentional always, but I’ve never visited Mysore, India. I have no stories of led primaries with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois nor have I ever practiced under his grandson and current authority, R. Sharath Jois.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve practiced with noted teachers and students of both these great masters of the lineage. Yet in doing so, I’ve also picked up some differences amongst them. Not just styles—but actual discrepancies in the finer details of the practice.

Ok, so never mind that I own no less than a dozen books on the Primary Series, I awaited my copy of Sharath’s first book, Astanga Yoga Anusthana with bated breath.  I mean, surely it’s a pretty big deal when the current living master of Ashtanga yoga decides to put his voice out there by publishing a book.

I also have to believe he’ll want to the record straight on a few significant matters …

Like which wrist to bind in Janu Sirsasana A-B-C. Or, if I’m to turn my hands in Prasarita Padottanasana C, and if so—when? And how about those infamous gateway postures? What exactly constitutes passing?

I search the pages and come up empty. Sharath doesn’t speak to any of this. Which can only mean one thing…that Sharath doesn’t give a rat’s ass what wrist you catch it’s simply not as important as we think.

We all get so bogged down in the details of the practice. Despite our dristi, we see variances between ourselves and the student across from us—you know, the one who can’t stand up from a backbend but just got Pasasana.

We want to cry out, that’s wrong! Where’s the rigid uniformity that we will both embrace and bash, given the circumstance?

It’s certainly not here, in this first book out of Mysore. In fact, the boss himself gives the allowance for extra breaths, supplemental postures and even variations when necessary.

That’s right—you heard me. Two pages nestled in just before the closing prayers in a section entitled, Supplemental Asanas for Therapy.

Here Sharath introduces therapeutic asana for back pain that the commoner will easily recognize as cat and cow pose, as well as a posture that looks remarkably like a salabhasana—a pose from second series. (Oh, the horror!)

For respiratory problems, Sharath proposes variations of the closing postures. And holy cow, the heresy—there’s even a breathing technique (though not specifically called pranayama) with no mention of practicing advanced series first.

Which is not to say Sharath doesn’t offer clear guidelines—he does.

Sharath speaks succinctly and practically to all eight limbs of yoga…he is clear about the importance of the Tristhana, the number of prescribed vinyasas, our point of gaze and the asanas themselves…and emphasizes how vital it is to take consistent practice under the guidance of one qualified and properly trained teacheryet curiously (or perhaps, not so) stops short of using the word, authorized.

So to anyone out there looking for a bit of hard core dogma to wave in judgment or in contrast, rattle and rally the rebels—sorry, you’re simply outta luck. Because all I discovered was a very pragmatic and compassionate approach to a practice that is often decried as just the opposite.

Certainly for those still not satisfied and needing a little controversy, I will admit Sharath does school us a bit on savasana. “No asana is being done here, one is only resting from the asana practice,” he explains.

So there you have it, you can just take rest.

And perhaps while we’re at it, we do ourselves a favor and take all our delusions of police and incorrect methods and give them a rest as well.

Looking for a copy for yourself? Visit Ashtanga Yoga New York.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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