Aṣṭāṅgāsana – The eight limbs of Āsana Planning and Practice

With nearly 2000 Posts and Resources on the site I have been reflecting on how to expand the access points and yet simplify the reader experience for visitors. So I started by looking at the Blog Page by reviewing the broad topic categories and considering the need to re-organise the groupings as well as increasing the  range of related topics within the sub-groupings.

The first general topic in the Journal is that of Posts on Yoga Practice and its five main areas for study are:

Going deeper into these five aspects of practice I see that the first topic, that of Āsana & Kriyā Practice, now has some 500 posts in the one thread. Obviously a need for review here! So turning my attention to this I started to consider what would be a useful, yet appropriate way to sub-categorise the topics in this particular section.

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Vinyāsa Krama for Upaviṣṭa Koṇāsana from TKV Desikachar’s Notebooks

An example of a Vinyāsa Krama for an Āsana,
this one for Upaviṣṭa Koṇāsana,
from TKV Desikachar’s personal notebooks.
View or Download this example as a PDF

Five Musings around Śīrṣāsana……

sirsasana

Five questions my teacher taught me that need to be ‘posed’,
for or to any student wishing to practice Śīrṣāsana,
or even for and to any teacher wishing to teach Śīrṣāsana,
whatever the situation.

1. Who is going to practice it?
2. Why do they wish to use it?
3. When are they going to practice it?
4. How are they going to get in and out of it?
5. What do they need to have done to verify their capability?

The role of Śavāsana within an Āsana practice was as a transitional link pose…

savasana

Within the teachings of T Krishnamacharya, as transmitted to TKV Desikachar, the role of Śavāsana within an Āsana practice was as a transitional link pose between categories of Āsana.

For example between Standing and Lying Āsana, or Lying and Inverted Āsana, or Inverted and Prone Backbends, or Prone Backbends and Seated Āsana, or Seated Āsana and Sitting Practices.

The extent of its use and length of rest at each stage, when transiting from one category to another within our Āsana practice journey, was dependent on the facility of the practitioner and the intensity of the practice.

“Cale Vāte Calaṃ Cittam
As is the breath so is the mind.”

Within this individualised variance is the guiding principle that the role of Śavāsana is to facilitate a smooth transition for the flow of the breath and also the pulse through and beyond the Āsana practice as a marker for the practitioners state of mind.

However according to Desikachar the viniyoga of Śavāsana was seen in terms of recovery from the fatigue of the preceding aspect of the practice rather, than say recovery from the preceding aspects of ones life.

Regarding the approach for the latter, amongst other things such as Vihāra, the purpose, content, duration and frequency of the Āsana practice must be carefully reconsidered.

Vinyāsa Krama is pronounced according to its meaning as……


Vinyāsa Krama is pronounced according to its meaning as Vi-Nyāsa Krama or special placing in a sequence of steps. It is the arranging of the various postures or breathing patterns in an intelligent sequence, respecting the variables in the student and the purpose of the practice.

What might be helpful to consider is one of the ways Desikachar presented this teaching to me within our lessons in that the viniyoga of Vinyāsa Krama is comparable to the notion of climbing steps. Here intelligent application means to climb each step by bringing both feet onto the same step before taking the next one. In other words ensure we are grounded and stable before we take another step.

It also has the benefit of allowing a steady view of what is involved in taking the next step as well as reducing the risk of losing what we already have. However this way of approaching the developmental aspects of our practice may be at variance with our more usual way of climbing steps, such as one step at a time.

How do we know that? Here a teacher who knows you as an individual rather than a member of a group can be very helpful. For example we all have different modes of being, some climb steps slowly, some quickly, some two at a time, all according to our innate tendencies. This is an attitude to life that can reflect in the way we practice, or in the choice of the style of practice, or how we approach ‘progressing’ our practice, or even in the teacher we ‘choose’.

Add to this the notion that in its essential role Yoga was seen as a means to destabilise our perception of self in order to ‘break up’ the notion of what we see as the ‘I’. Perhaps comparing this against the modern approach where folks come to classes seeking stability as a counterpose to the destabilising effects of our worldly involvements, then the notion of Vinyāsa Krama as presented here can have even more relevance.

Reflections on Pratikriyāsana or the role of Opposite Action Postures

pka

When considering the viniyoga or application of Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures within a students personal practice, it may help to look at the integration of their intended role from three perspectives.

– Firstly their intended role as a counterposture, thus more from a physiological perspective.
– Secondly their intended role as a compensation, thus more from a psychological perspective.
– Thirdly their intended role as a transition, thus more from sequential perspective.

Appropriate integration of these three principles constitute an essential component in the Vinyāsa Krama or intelligent steps utilised within practice planning.

Five Musings around Sarvāṅgāsana……

sarvangasana

Five questions my teacher taught me that need to be ‘posed’,
for or to any student wishing to practice Sarvāṅgāsana,
or even for and to any teacher wishing to teach Sarvāṅgāsana,
whatever the situation.

1. Who is going to practice it?
2. Why do they wish to use it?
3. When are they going to practice it?
4. How are they going to get in and out of it?
5. What do they need to have done to verify their capability?

What are the points to be considered while planning an Āsana practice?


Question asked from the recent post on moving into the posture after the exhale:
What are the points to be considered while planning an Āsana practice?

Response:
An important question within which there are many aspects that come into three primary areas.
Firstly the general considerations or directional overview around planning a Yoga practice.

For Example:

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There are some forms within the postural resources developed by……


There are some forms within the postural resources developed by Krishnamacharya that can function as either an Āsana or as a Mudrā. The choice of outcome can be realised according to the specific Bhāvana associated with the intention of the practitioner and the style of performance.

For example if we look at the possibilities around inverted postures interpreted as Āsana through forms known as Śīrṣāsana or Sarvāṅgāsana, we can cultivate the external intensity of Āsana or the internal intensity of a Mudrā through choosing either of two practice directions.

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Nāma, Rūpa, Lakṣana – The Name, Form and Characteristics of Āsana

The Aṣṭāṅgāsana or the eight limbs of Āsana Planning and Practice are the formula for constructing a skilful and place, time and lifestyle appropriate Āsana practice. These eight limbs fall into eight categories, that of:

  • The definition, meaning and context of Āsana
    – Core concept – Nāma Rūpa Lakṣana – name, form and characteristics
  • How Āsana are arranged into groups and categories
    – Core concept – Vinyāsa Krama – collecting postures together
  • How counterpostures or Pratikriyāsana are integrated
    – Core concept – Pratikriyāsana– maintaining the balance
  • The value and purpose of the breath in Āsana
    – Core concept – Prāṇāpāna Dhāraṇā – where the focus is
  • How movement or stay are used in Āsana 
    Core concept – Circulation and Purification – dynamic and static
  • The adaptation of Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Variation and Modification – change and necessity
  • Intelligently planning and Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Bṛṃhaṇa and Laṅghana Kriyā – connecting postures together
  • Observation within Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Spine, Breath and Attention – learning to look

In my last post on Aṣṭāṅgāsana I talked about introducing each of these eight topics to help the reader to appreciate more about what is inherent in the depth and breadth of this approach in terms of Āsana planning having a precise and comprehensive formula.

Āsana practice starts with a need to know something about the Āsana we are going to work with as we introduce, persevere and develop and especially personalise our practice. Hence we have to both practice but also have some theoretical background in order to context an Āsana in itself and in relationship to other Āsana.

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Keeping the breath longer than the movement within an Āsana

I recently wrote a post on:

The Breath having its own developmental process within an Āsana.

Within this post I mapped out some of the preliminary steps in the Vinyāsa Krama of the breath that accompanies the performance of the form. Within this map for those beginning their journey into the mysteries of the breath within the mastery of the form, I offered four steps.

Here I want to review these four steps and especially focus on the last of the four, this time in relation to Nirālamba Bhujaṅgāsana or unsupported Cobra posture:

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Finding your starting point within an Āsana to set a direction and goal

“In order to know where we are going to,
we must first know where we are coming from.”

Often in the Āsana aspect of Yoga practice, whether within our personal practice or a group class environment, the student is directed towards a goal.

This may be to do with a physical or structural foci such as the:

  • Basic Performance of the Āsana
  • Continuing Improvement of the Āsana
  • Specific Intensification of the Āsana
  • Introducing Stay into the Āsana

However the common factor within all of these options is that they are goal based.

This is fine as a general principle however as in any area of our lives, setting off towards any goal requires that we also have a clear idea of our starting point. For example, if I am wanting to travel to London I need to know whether I am starting from Birmingham or Brighton in order to set a direction and distance to navigate from. So it is with Āsana.

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The Breath has its own developmental process within an Āsana.

General perceptions in Yoga are that performance progressions in any Āsana are usually around improvement or refinement in the choreography of the entry or exit, or in the extremity of the final form.

For example if we were to compare the performance of students in say Uttānasana, evaluations would tend to be made concerning how far one bends forward, or how near the head is towards the knees, or how straight the legs are, or how close to the ground the hands are, et cetera.

However from the viewpoint of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, in terms of Āsana practice for adults, the breath has its own developmental path within the performance of any Āsana.

Furthermore, within an Āsana and alongside the Vinyāsa Krama of getting in and out of the Āsana and what would be the focus whilst at the crown of the sequence around that particular Āsana, there is also a Vinyāsa Krama around the development of the breath.

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The relationship between the breath in Āsana with that in Prāṇāyāma.


In the beginning of our journey into the arts of Āsana and Prāṇāyāma, the outcome of our exploration into the breath in Āsana sets a direction and parameters for the beginnings of our exploration into how and where to develop the breath in Prāṇāyāma.

As we establish, progress and refine our practice of Prāṇāyāma, the strengths and issues that arise from our practice of Prāṇāyāma invite a subtler investigation of the breath in Āsana.

This investigation with its reciprocal and yet increasingly subtle direction offers a more precise guidance for where and how we revisit and engage with our work with the breath in Āsana.

Over time we come to both realise and experience the uniqueness of the breath within each of these two arts and the increasingly subtle development of the qualities of the relationship between the breath in Āsana, with that of the breath in Prāṇāyāma.

The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa……


My extensive study of Āsana with TKV Desikachar was shaped around forming a deep appreciation of specific core principles that underpin the planning and practice of Āsana and their application to the individual student’s constitution, psychology and need.

Amongst these dozen or so core principles, the first group I studied when looking at any Āsana in depth, were the concepts of Nāma, Rūpa and Lakṣaṇa, or the name, the form and the characteristics of that particular Āsana.

Obviously the Nāma is a useful tag point for identification and the Rūpa is vital as a reference point for the Sat Viniyoga or appropriate application of the Āsana within overall considerations around direction and outcome such as the Śikṣaṇa Krama, Rakṣaṇa Krama or Cikitsā Krama application of the forms used.

However I do feel these days that our understanding in Āsana practice is dominated by the Nāma and the Rūpa with little emphasis on the Lakṣaṇa or inherent characteristics of the Āsana and how understanding this aspect can have a profound effect on the approach, application and outcome of the overall or accumulative impact of the Āsana within the student’s practice.

The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa, especially around the thirty or so primary Āsana such as Jaṭhara Parivṛtti, Bhujaṅgāsana or Januśīrṣāsana.

If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?


Question by Desikachar during my 121 lessons 1980:
“If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?”

From my notes from his response:

1. By using a valve, such as the throat (Ujjāyī) we can:

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Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures have counterpostural, compensational and transitional roles

PKA_2015

Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures have counterpostural, compensational and transitional roles and are applied at specific points in the practice in order to maintain a sound physiological and psychological base.

This principle has an important role in how we link the different aspects of the Āsana practice, how we close the practice or how we integrate the Āsana element of the practice into other aspects of our Yoga practice.

There are specific guidelines around how they can be integrated into the practice, the first of which is that the counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted.

This principle is especially important when attempting to integrate more complex Āsana such as Bhujaṅgāsana or Sarvāṅgāsana into our practice.

On this point you may wish to refer back to a previous post around the question, how do we know that a student is ready to attempt a more progressive posture such as Sarvāṅgāsana?

Links to Related Posts:

The counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted

The counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted

bhujangasanasarvangasana

How do we know that a student is ready to attempt a more progressive posture such as Sarvāṅgāsana?

From following the core principle in the teachings of Vinyāsa Krama. In that the Pratikriyāsana or counter posture for a particular Āsana needs to be mastered before that particular Āsana is attempted.

For example if we want to teach Sarvāṅgāsana or shoulder stand, because it will have a specific potential for the particular student, then we teach the counterpose Bhujaṅgāsana first.

So the student first works around Bhujaṅgāsana within their personal practice and the information that arises guides the teacher as to their readiness for, in this case, Sarvāṅgāsana.

“Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the student.”
– T Krishnamacharya

The information arising from observing how the student practices Bhujaṅgāsana guides the teacher as to the appropriateness of Sarvāṅgāsana. The information that feeds back may be on the level of Annamaya, Prāṇamaya, Manomaya or beyond. Obviously this implies that we are observing the students practice directly.

Once the student shows an adequate performance of Bhujaṅgāsana and it can be integrated into their existing personal practice, then we can be more secure that the student is ready to approach integrating Sarvāṅgāsana into their regular practice.

A fundamental facet in the principles of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice……

slibss_web

A fundamental facet in the principles of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice, in the teachings of Krishnamacharya through Desikachar, is the ordering of Āsana according to the acronym SLIBSS.

It is the practice arrangement or Vinyāsa Krama in the following order:

  • Standing Āsana
  • Supine Lying Āsana
  • Inverted Āsana
  • Prone Backbend Āsana
  • Sitting Āsana
  • Seated Āsana

This is referred to in Religiousness in Yoga page 23-27.

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Saravāṅgāsana as a Mudrā – Part One

There are certain Yoga postures that, depending on how they are approached and utilised, can function as either an Āsana or as a Mudrā.

This distinction in function can be generalised around whether the practitioner focuses on a static form with the focus on the development of the breath or on a dynamic form with the development of the variations of and in the posture.

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Know your breath and its unique characteristics in Āsana and you will……

dhanurasananadi_sodana

Know your breath and its unique characteristics within Āsana and
you will have an initial template for working with your breath in Prāṇāyāma.

Modern postural Yoga talks a lot about individual patterning from our genetic past, along with upbringing and lifestyle conditioning, determining what body patterns we inherently carry from life to death

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Śavāsana is a recovery from the fatigue of practice……

savasana

Śavāsana is a recovery from the fatigue of practice,
rather than a recovery from the fatigue of Saṃsāra.”

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