Me and one of my mentors, the lovely Kino MacGregor, after completing the Primary Ashtanga Series today!
It was an incredible feeling to practice with someone I have looked up to in my practice for many years. What stood out to me the most was the simplicity of her direction and count. Many teachers today incorporate their own styles and trademarks into the classical series which is wonderful and definitely serves a purpose but for me, just practicing in silence with the traditional Sanskrit counts helped me find my single-pointed focus and I was deeply engaged. Kino offered the richness of a traditional Ashtanga practice, which I plan to bring more of into my own daily practice from now on.
See my post on Ashtanga Yoga for more details.
Ashtanga Primary Series
Today I had the absolute pleasure of workshopping the Ashtanga Primary Series with one of my mentors Kino MacGregor:
Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The youngest woman to hold this title, she has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series. Kino spent seven years working with her true teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (“Guruji”), on her frequent trips to India.
Kino is dedicated to carrying the torch of Ashtanga yoga throughout the world and sharing the amazing tradition of Ashtanga yoga with everyone who is inspired to practice. In her unique, inspirational and playful approach Kino helps all her students expand and deepen their understanding of yoga and life. Yoga found its expression through her message of spiritual strength, balanced flexibility and emotional peace.
Nearly a hundred students packed together at the Semperviva City Studio as Kino led breath count and a mysore style traditional Ashtanga practice. It felt incredible. It was as if the entire room was breathing together and I could really feel the tradition emanating from her brief instruction.
Ashtanga yoga is the style that I most frequently practice and have done so for the last ten years of my practice. I studied a mysore practice in India and in London and now practice Vinyasa Yoga which is based upon the Ashtanga Primary Series.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga is not only an physical asana practice but a spiritual discipline based on the philosophies of the Yoga Sutras. I have been fortunate to study the sutras both in Sanskrit, Tibetan and English through my teachers at my yoga ashram in the Bahamas, where I retreat each year for intense practice and study and in doing so, my physical practice has been strengthened as it is now dedicated to a higher purpose. I appreciate that yoga is considered a physical practice in the West and that it attracts many to its door because of that; however, I would encourage you who do practice to delve deeper into the philosophy if it calls to you as there is so much richness in the pages of the books, pastimes and stories of this rich philosophy.
As you will come to learn through practice, Ashtanga yoga is a very strong and intensive practice used to control the fluctuations of the mind. One of my teachers, teachers, often refers to yoga as “the end of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs” and this is the definition that rings most true for me.
Ashtanga Yoga Background
(info from Ashtanga.com)
Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript “said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy”.
The text of the Yoga Korunta “was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927” Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga from his yoga shala, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara [disciplic succession].
Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
- Yama [moral codes]
- Niyama [self-purification and study]
- Asana [posture]
- Pranayama [breath control]
- Pratyahara [sense control]
- Dharana [concentration]
- Dhyana [meditation]
- Samadhi [absorption into the Universal]
The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable.
However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the “Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga” (Flynn).
“The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong (“Ashtanga Yoga”).
Whilst practicing Ashtanga yoga, one must observe
- Tristhana: the union of “three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place.
- Posture or Asana ”the method for purifying and strengthening the body
- Breathing - the technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi or victorious breath
- Bandhas are essential components of the ujjayi breathing technique. Bandha means “lock” or “seal” (Scott 21). The purpose of bandha is to unlock pranic energy and direct it into the 72,000 nadi [energy channels] of the subtle body.
- Dristhi - the gazing point on which one focuses while performing the asana (“Ashtanga Yoga”).
Practicing asana for many years with correct vinyasa and tristhana gives the student the clarity of mind, steadiness of body, and purification of the nervous system to begin the prescribed pranayama practice (Flynn). “Through the practice of pranayama, the mind becomes arrested in a single direction and follows the movement of the breath” (Jois 2002 23). Pranayama forms the foundation for the internal cleansing practices of Ashtanga yoga(Flynn).
The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi—bring the mind under control. When purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons surrounding the spiritual heart [kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (sloth), and mada(envy)]—”will, one by one, go completely”, revealing the Universal Self. In this way, the correct, diligent practice of
Ashtanga Yoga under the direction of a Guru “with a subdued mind unshackled from the external and internal sense organs” (Jois 2002 22) eventually leads one to the full realization of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga.