Category: Blog
Practising with an injury

I saw a video the other day with two guys practising Ashtanga yoga primary series. One of these guys had a fractured femur. I never thought I would see someone practise with a broken leg. This video just proves that anyone can do the practice.

The best yoga-related snippets from the web part 2

So here we are again, there’s a lot of great stuff that we’ve seen in the last ten days or so.

First up, two great clips of Richard Freeman. The first is Richard breathing with sound helped by Guruji’s count. Second is extracts from a much more recent talk that he gave in Germany, where he talks about, amongst other things, injuries and yoga.

Speaking of injuries and yoga, we came across this video from A.G. Mohan (a student of krishnamacharya for twenty years and author of Krishnamacharya: His life and teachings).

And still on a somewhat similar theme, I personally loved this blog post by Alistair Francis (a practitioner of ashtanga yoga and ayurveda) on ‘breathing the practice’.

This is an absolutely fascinating article on the perfection of the Sanskrit language. NASA are said to be thinking of using Sanskrit as a new computer language bescause it is so precise.

But the winner this week, by a country mile is this animated film by Nina Paley. It is a re-telling of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. The music and animation is really top notch and the wit with which the story is told, kept us hooked all the way to the end. Once we starting watching it the other night, we ended up staying up way past our bedtime. It’s absolutely brilliant!!

The best yoga-related snippets from the web this week

We thought that we’d share a few blogs and articles that we found interesting, enlightening or both this week.

First up Chad Herst writes a great blog about Isvara Pranidhana (the last of the niyama). It’s a lengthy one but definitely worth a read Isvara Pranidhana: Sticking with what we truly know.

David Robson of Toronto features twice this week. First up, an interview he did in Portugal and then a blog post which he wrote for elephant journal on correct vinyasa and the variation of the length of the breath. Very interesting indeed. We like how he writes.

Two articles about sportsmen and yoga came up also this week. First of all world-cup-winning rugby team the all-blacks attribute their win totally to yoga (well not totally but we would like if they did). Brad Thorn, at age 37, has just signed a short term contract to play here in Ireland for Leinster. His longevity has definitely been helped by practising yoga. Ryan Giggs, at 38, reckons he might have another 100 games in him for Manchester United. He says that yoga gives him the strength and flexixility to stay in the game.

We liked this straight-forward article about Rolf Sovik of the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo. He highlights the importance of balance in yoga practice and life in general.

But most of all, we loved these photos of Marilyn Monroe doing her yoga practice. You have to check them out!

Yoga Stops Traffick in Dublin

‘Yoga Stops Traffick’ in Dublin was a rip-roaring success thanks to everyone who came along (and also those of you who donated online).

Some donations are still coming in but we managed to collect around €1,000 to go to Odanadi (Update: The final total collected in Dublin is €1,208!).  It seems that the yoga practitioners of Dublin are a very generous bunch.

We want to say a HUGE thank you to everybody involved.

Although you may never meet the children of Odanadi you have surely made a massive difference to their lives and to those children who will be saved from slavery in the future. Congratulations. It is truly a wonderful thing that you all did.

It’s not too late to donate if you know of anyone else who would like to do so. Click on this link to Yoga Stops Traffick’s donation page.

We will be running another event in Dublin next year and hopefully we can make it an even bigger event and raise more awareness for the horror of human-trafficking. Meanwhile, thank you all again for helping with a cause which is so close to our hearts.


The wonderful participants at Yoga Stops Traffick in Dublin looking surprisingly fresh after 108 sun-salutations.

Primary Series Asana Names

I have been meaning to add this to the site for a while now. Below is a list of all of the postures of primary series in a transliteration of the original Sanskrit.

I have taken the spelling of the asanas directly from a hand-out that was given to us by Lakshmish at the KPJAYI in Mysore.

  • sūryanamaskāra
  • pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • pāda hastāsana
  • utthita trikoṇāsana (A+B)
  • utthita pārśvakonāsana (A+B)
  • prasārita pādottānāsana (A,B,C,D)
  • pārśvottānāsana
  • utthita hasta pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ardha baddha padmottānāsana
  • utkatāsana
  • vīrabhadrāsana
  • paścimattānāsana
  • pūrvattanāsana
  • ardha baddha padma paścimattānāsana
  • tiryaṅgmukha ekapāda paścimattānāsana
  • jānuśīrṣāsana
  • marīcāsana
  • nāvāsana
  • bhujapīḍāsana
  • kūrmāsana
  • supta kūrmāsana
  • garbha piṇḍāsana
  • kukkuṭāsana
  • baddha konāsana
  • upaviṣṭha konāsana
  • supta konāsana
  • supta pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ubhaya pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ūrdhva mukha paścimattānāsana
  • setu bandhāsana

Finishing Postures

  • ūrdhva dhanurāsana
  • salaṁba sarvāṅgāsana
  • halāsana
  • karṇa pīḍāsana
  • ūrdhva padmāsana
  • piṇḍāsana
  • matsyāsana
  • uttāna pādāsana
  • cakrāsana
  • śīrṣāsana
  • baddha padmāsana
  • yoga mudrā
  • padmāsana
  • utpluthiḥ

Ashtanga: Tradition, Dogma and Modifying the Practice

On first reading this article by Chad Herst, on tradition versus dogma in Ashtanga Yoga, largely I agreed with the thrust of what he was trying to say. However, having reflected upon it for a day or two there are a few points which I think it is important to make. For the most part I still think it’s an eminently sensible article but, that being said, I would like to add my two cents. The reason I am compelled to write is to avoid the above article being used as justification for teachers who wish to change the Ashtanga system to suit themselves, and in doing so, throw the baby out with the bath-water.

Mr. Herst asks the question “Do I uphold the tradition or honour the well-being of my student?”. The answer is obvious; you honour the well-being of the student. But the two are not mutually exclusive. One can uphold the tradition and honour the well-being of the student. He goes on to explain how, early on in his practice he “discovered that in order to bind my legs in a lotus posture (padmasasna), I had to dislocate the meniscus”. Wouldn’t it have been better to discover that you don’t have to take padmasana if it is going to damage the cartilage in your knee.

I have had two very suspect knees since I was a child and, having spent the last five years travelling fairly regularly to Mysore I have never once been told to take padmasana. Never. The tradition is to honour the well-being of the student. Sharath has always been my teacher so perhaps it was different when Chad Herst was in Mysore. It depends who is doing the telling. Many Irish practitioners have had the honour of meeting Peter Sanson (who was in Mysore at around the same time as Chad Herst in the early 90s) on his trips to Dublin, and his message is just that; the tradition does honour the well-being of the student above all else.

It is very easy for us to get ahead of ourselves with the Ashtanga Yoga practice and to think that if we can do certain postures that we are further down the path of yoga. If somebody hurts their knee by taking padmasana (or any other asana) it is because they wanted to be able to ‘do’ padmasana. They wanted to achieve something. It is not because the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga says that you must take padmasana even if you can’t walk home afterwards. It seems that Mr. Herst was caught in this familiar trap on occasion;

“When I reflect on almost twenty years of practice, it seems to me that there have been periods of time when I’ve gotten stuck in the literal. I have, at times, been lured by the trajectory of progressing from the primary series, to intermediate, and then, eventually to the advanced series. Early on as a neophyte practitioner, I’d even hoped that as I advanced along the series, somehow life would take on a new shine, that samadhi was right around the corner.”

The above problem cannot be blamed on an adherence to tradition but, rather, to a misguided interpretation of that tradition. In essence, however, I do agree with the sentiment behind the article, which I read as, ‘don’t get bogged down in dogma which leads to suffering’.

That being said, it is not easy to know when to change the practice and when to rigidly stick with the tradition. That knowledge takes a long long time. We know that Guruji himself changed the practice over the years (read this by Nancy Gilgoff to see many examples). Sharath, it seems to me, has also made some subtle changes as have Richard Freeman and Tim Miller (or so I am told). The common thread amongst these teachers is that they are steeped in the tradition to begin with. From an outsider’s perspective the system seems very rigid but with further inquiry and practice it becomes obvious that it is a flexible system. As an example of this, on my last trip to Mysore Sharath got me to practice some postures out of sequence to help with those cursed knees of mine! A lot of people a very surprised when I tell them that. They seem to think that there is only one way to practise in Mysore. This is a misconception driven by the students, not by the Jois family.

It is my opinion that someone who wishes to teach the practice of Ashtanga Yoga must first learn all there is to learn about the tradition. Only then can they decide whether it works for them or not. Guruji wrote this letter to the Yoga Journal in 1995;

I was disappointed to find that so many novice students have taken Ashtanga yoga and have turned it into a circus for their own fame and profit (Power Yoga, Jan/Feb 1995). The title “Power Yoga” itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one’s ego. Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the “six enemies” (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one’s heart. The Yoga Sutra II.28 confirms this “Yogaanganusthanat asuddiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh”, which means “practicing all the aspects of yoga destroys the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discrimination shines”. It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out the essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations.
The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with “power yoga” or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building.
-K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, South India

 So before a teacher decides to alter the practice in any way they should be sure that they have matured in their own practice. How can you change what you don’t understand? That is why it takes such a long time to become an authorised or certified Ashtanga teacher. Dedication is required.

Part of the practice of yoga is to surrender. Surrender means acceptance. Acceptance of tradition, acceptance of the current limitations of one’s body and mind, and acceptance of the authority of somebody who has more knowledge than you. I am not suggesting that anyone takes Guruji, Sharath or anyone else as their teacher. A student should spend a long time finding a teacher who’s teaching resonates with them. It is important to choose your teacher very carefully. However, having done this, surrender is then required. Otherwise, one could just teach one’s-self.

All that being said, one is under absolutely no obligation to follow the Ashtanga tradition. There are many paths to enlightenment. It is my feeling, however, that if one is to follow this tradition, then one should follow it with as much faith and devotion as possible (let me reiterate that this does not mean putting your leg behind your head if it is going to cause injury). If one chooses to alter the method without fully understanding the tradition then it ceases to be Ashtanga Yoga. How can one decide what is wrong with the method, if one doesn’t fully understand it in the first place?

The Ashtanga tradition is one of discipline but also flexibility. Let us not blame our own failings on the tradition.


I should add that Chad Herst is a dedicated teacher and practitioner of traditional Ashtanga Yoga. See his website here.

Articles, blogs and tweets of the week

Guy Donahaye’s article on food for yoga practitioners is well worth a read.

Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb wrote this article about effects of yoga practice on brain function. Yoga: Changing the brain’s stressful habits. And you thought it was just stretching!

@yogadork posted this interview with Tom Myers in which he speaks about yoga, rolfing and the medicine of the future

And finally,

This video advertising something (I’m not sure what) caused a bit of a stir. Some thought it was beautiful and others thought it was disgusting/degrading. Michael A. Stusser liked it enough to make his own version. We prefer the second one, just for the record.