Ashtanga yoga jumps

Reinvigorating my practice of Ashtanga Yoga I realise how I have lost the ability to fly. During the years of static posture work I have lost my mojo!

I started practising the style of Ashtanga Yoga about twenty years ago. Ashtanga is a dynamic style of yoga founded by K. Pattabhi Jois consisting of set sequences which are grouped into series. Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’. All yoga styles follow the eight limbs set out by Patanjali¹, author of the Yoga Sutras, but Ashtanga Yoga is the name of this particular school of yoga. The whole style integrates vinyasa – which literally means movement between poses accompanied by regulated breathing (ujjayi breath).

All those years ago I managed to practice the Primary series relatively well but then I signed up for a yoga teacher training course and found that the style I was to teach was actually termed ‘Hatha yoga’ which meant a more static form of yoga than Ashtanga. My own practice then became a mixture of Hatha and the Iyengar style and I dropped the vinyasa style. (In fact all yoga styles that include physical postures come under the ‘hatha’ label which often confuses folk taking up ‘hatha’ yoga).

It is now some 15 years later that I am returning to the discipline of Ashtanga. I am somewhat older. Despite my continuous ‘hatha’ yoga practice I am not so fluid in practising the dynamic sequences of Ashtanga as I was. One thing I have particularly found on return to Ashtanga practice is that I have forgotten how to fly.

In Ashtanga at certain points in the vinyasa the practitioner transitions from one posture to another by jumping. This has come to be known as flying in Ashtanga yoga if you do it well.

David Swenson, in his book: ‘Ashtanga Yoga – The Practice Manual – An illustrated guide to Personal Practice’ has a section on ‘Applying the Physics of Flight’. So for example if a practitioner is transitioning from the yogic posture of down dog to the sitting stick pose the idea is to jump the legs up and then bring them smoothly down between your arms and buttocks on the floor. This seems to require jumping the feet off the floor so you are almost in a half hand stand. But actually it is more complicated than that.

David Swenson’s advice is to follow a set of four rules for applying the physics of flight as summarised below:

To jump from down dog and bring the legs through to dandasana.

  1. Engaging the lower bhandhasMulabhanda and Uddiyana Bhanda
  2. Lift the sit-bones, sacrum and pelvis (‘your landing gear’) up towards the ceiling
  3. Lead the jump with the hips not the feet
  4. Imagine the ceiling is high and aim for it with the hips.
  5. Drop the sit-bones, sacrum and pelvis (‘landing gear’) when landing.

So I am now to be seen in my yoga hut hands on the floor, buttocks in the air, hips jumping up and down towards the ceiling pulling in my perineum so my hips can get as high as possible. That is all very well but I am no longer light enough to float my legs through my arms so in an ungainly manner I readjust myself so that I am sitting on my buttocks with both my legs straight out in front of me! Oh how I long to be able to fly up with the legs and float through again as I used to do in my younger body. At the moment I can only imagine that happening. But the great thing about yoga is that if you give the mind a posture to mull over in all its intricacy it does somehow send a message to the body that this may be possible in the future. And of course endless practice helps too!

‘99% Practice ~ 1% Theory’!

K. Pattabhi Jois (quoted in Swenson 1999 p.249)
Flying © Sanandi-jacq

Bibliography

Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood. (1969) How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. New York: New American Library (translation and commentary).

Swenson, David. (1999. Ninth Printing 2004) Ashtanga Yoga. the Practice Manual. An Illustrated Guide to Personal Practice. Ashtanga Yoga Productions. pp.60-65

Footnote

¹ Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras named the eight limbs of yoga as follows: Yama = ethical disciplines; Niyama = self observation; Asana = posture; Pranayama = breath control; Pratyahara = sense withdrawal; Dharana = concentration; Dhyana = meditation; Samadhi = a state of joy and peace

Integration of yoga postures

One of the main goals of yoga is to relax body and mind so that the individual can touch the still point within – the point of inner intuition.

At the end of the physical practice of yoga the posture of savasana (literally corpse pose) is fundamental to integrating the physical and mental changes that have occurred as the result of practice. This pose held for about 10 minutes minimum allows the body to rebalance and the mind and spirit to relax. Anyone who leaves a yoga class before the relaxation is missing a vitally important section of the class.

It is also true to say that any type of strenuous physical practice such as walking, swimming, running or cycling can also bring us to a point of great physical relaxation so that the mind and spirit have a chance to relax completely and enjoy ‘what is’. After seven days of walking 15 miles a day on the Camino Francés to Santiago there came a point where the body was so gloriously fatigued. I lay down in savasana on the allotted Albergue bunk bed and felt a deep sense of relaxation and lightness of being.

In yoga it is not only the corpse pose that aids integration of the physical postures but also the practice of meditation. Simply sitting quietly with the eyes closed and focussing on the breath after a hatha yoga session can over time draw the individual to the ‘still point’ within.

Photo and painting: Sanandi-jacq

Yoga yoking to the whole

Each person is unique yet we belong to the whole of humanity much like individual pebbles belong to the beach. Pebbles are shaped by the action of the sea as we are shaped by the action of life’s currents of conditioning.

No two pebbles are exactly the same. Each pebble has its unique history, shape, colour and provenance. Each pebble has a right to be on the beach. Each pebble contributes to the beach.

Yoga in Sanskrit means ‘to yoke’ or ‘union’. Practising yoga brings a sense of wholeness with oneself and connection with all that is.

Pebbles on a Dorset beach – each one unique Photo credit: © Sanandi-jacq

Blogger seeks mission

A newbie blogger, one month old, had one intention in setting up a blog: I wanted to learn about the blogosphere and the whole concept of blogging through plunging in and experimenting. So, what have I learned?

  • The astounding creativity of other people’s blogs
  • The nuts and bolts of setting up a blog – Phew. I did it!
  • Basic blog terminology – themes, categories, tags, posts, blocks, etc.
  • Writing a blog every day is hard work unless you have a strong theme
  • Blogging is interactive – connecting with other bloggers is fascinating
  • Statistics don’t always lie – must try harder
  • The importance of the blogger’s voice and tone
  • The importance of having a mission statement or plan for your blog
  • The need to identify who my potential reader could be
  • Blogging can be addictive and fun
  • Adding photos makes a blog more appealing
  • Which of my blog topics appear to work and which don’t
  • Regular blogging helps the skill of writing
  • The need for an ABOUT page
  • The importance of good headlines

I am sure there are many other things I have learned but am not consciously aware of their impact on how I might blog in the future. One thing I do know is how much I have learned about blogging from visiting other bloggers sites. Very inspiring.

Thank you to those bloggers that visited my site, liked my posts and made comments. It has been good learning about you. You inspire me to continue blogging. Any advice welcome.

A newbie blogger seeking a mission statement.