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

Via Peg Mulqueen
on Jun 24, 2013
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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


About Peg Mulqueen

With a gentle warmth and contagious sense of humor, Peggy shares her passion of life and love with all those she meets. She was a counselor for many years before stumbling upon one of the oldest forms of healing therapies: yoga. Since then, she has been helping others lead lives of change and renewal, exploration and—all from a yoga mat. When not on her mat, Peggy (her husband and two children close at hand) can be found on a surf board in Maui—learning to fall off gracefully and get back up, or suspended 500 feet in the air on a zip line over a Costa Rican jungle—conquering her fear of heights, or searching for the perfect cast, fly fishing in the wilder places of Montana. You can follow her adventures in yoga on her blog here.


9 Responses to “A Book & Method in Review: Astanga Yoga Anusthana by R. Sharath Jois.”

  1. Really enjoyed this, Peg. Well done.

    Could you tell us a little more about how, "Sharath speaks succinctly and practically to all eight limbs of yoga"? Most of your engaging review is about understandably about asana. But I'd love to hear about the rest–either in a comment here or in a followup article. Thanks.

    Just posted to my new experimental site "Best of Yoga Philosophy" ​ http://bit.ly/13WYsIM, as well as facebook and twitter.

    Bob W. http://bobweisenberg.wordpress.com/

  2. @pegmulqueen says:

    Thanks Bob! The book is an unassuming 88 page paperback so the mere brevity demands that every word and page, count. Sharath, therefore, gets right to the point and just after a heartfelt dedication to his grandfather and teacher, he gets right to the point and begins on page 5: Practicing Astanga yoga means practicing all of the 8 limbs.

    But what impressed me most was his incredibly pragmatic and almost colloquial style of speaking to each of the Yamas and Niyamas. For example, when describing Ahimsa, Sharath shares a saying they have in Kannada, his mother tongue: "'It takes twho hands to clap and make a sound.' With just one hand, no sound is made. So if you do not react when someone has a conflict with you, then the conflict will end – no clap, no noise."

    No clap, no noise. Hmmmm …. kind of sums up the original review as well, eh?

    Thanks for the read and the share!

  3. Barbara says:

    I have learned from many of the Ashtanga senior teachers, David Williams, Manju Jois, David Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff, Lino Miele, three classes with Sharath, and each one teaches a little differently. Probably Lino was the most dogmatic, with humor, however. The rigidity I first encountered with the practice has vanished, based on what I have learned from my amazing teachers. Just a couple of months ago I took a led class with Sharath and it was absolute fun!

  4. Omiya says:

    not the first book out of Mysore though, that was 'Yoga Mala".

  5. @pegmulqueen says:

    thanks for the comment barbara! i'm tickled that you called your led class "fun"!! careful, you're apt to spoil what intimidating reputation we have left!

  6. Annette says:

    I recently had the amazing opportunity to take a workshop offered by David Williams. He said that he was going to teach us the 'practice' exactly as he was taught by Pattabhi Jois. There was no rigidity, the asanas were done 'briskly' , and you kept going even if you could not get into a specific pose – what stopped you was your stamina, not your inability to get into the posture! Wow, I had never heard of that before. So needless to say, we completed the entire 1st series, with modifications if needed, and we all felt amazing. I think there is a sense of power when a teacher can say 'no, you are not ready to move on, or yes, now you are ready'. As an RN, I know for a fact, that there are certain poses some of us will never be able to successfully master, so does that mean we are stuck there forever? David said absolutely not, and Pattabhi never stopped anyone either. I wonder how Sharath feels about this? Anyway, good write up Peg! xoxo

  7. @pegmulqueen says:

    yes, very true. this should read, the first book out of Mysore from Sharath. thank you for correcting!

  8. Paul says:

    Please. Look at the cover of the book. Look at what people are doing at 9:25:

    Guru To Go. A portrait of R. Sharath Jois. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dSAyFmmARI

    It's a cult. It's obvious.

  9. Louis says:

    Annette and Paul, I totally agree with you guys. The way ashtanga is being taught nowadays is not the same as K.Jois did. David Williams opened my eyes and after 5 years of serious ashtanga practice, I decided to stop doing it. For many reasons, part of it was Sharath's greed for more money when he decided to change his name to Jois and associate with Sonia Jones to create Jois Yoga Studios. Then putting more restrictions in the practice to keep his followers under control. Stupid yogis who want to achieve mastery of asanas will keep going to him. Those who want to progress on the path of the real "Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali" will know that Sharath's yoga is not authentic.