New Changes in the Primary Series of Ashtanga

Even in Mysore earlier this year I noticed some new changes to the led primary. The most dramatic perhaps is that the rolling back and forward in garba pindasana is now done only 5 times.  It used to be 9 which seemed very appropriate as the pose represents a child in the womb, but, changes happen.

Another has been, at least for me, the no wait on Ubbahya Padangustasana, where I seem to recall it being taught with five breaths while laying down and in preparation to/right before we come up to balance.  This could be a mistake of mine, but for years a I counted five breaths there.

Yesterday I was reading a post by Megan who is a little disappointed by all the changes. The way it was vs. the way it is. Specifically she points out that part of Utitta Hasta Padangustasana that is still taught in some studios where they make you bring the leg right up and touch knee to nose. I do not do that but I remember it being taught to me by different instructors from time to time.

I hear Megan. There are lots of changes. I pointed out in the comments some discussions that were brought up here at the blog on that, on changes. Take for example Grimmly, in the comments to the post on "Billionaires who practice Ashtanga" where he gave us his inside scope:

"The series themselves have changed, from Primary - Advanced B to now to what, six series. The poses' in the series since the change have changed. The way it's taught has changed several times, (introduction of led classes for instance in the eighties), numbers of breath, posture order. Full vinyasa has gone, five breathes not eight, more of a focus on alignment, the Iyengar influence, introduction of drishti and thus tristana although that seems to have happened quite early. We only have to skim through the Guruji book to see this has been the case. "

And I agree with him there, the Guruji book is indeed a tremendous resource when it comes to seeing how Asthanga did and is evolving, how it is a tradition that is fully alive and kicking, adapting, changing, moving.

Perhaps my favorite quote comes from when a student asked to be taught meditation and Jois answered: "mad attention"?

The most notorious change I see, which seems to have gone almost unnoticed is Sharath mentioning in his last conference the study of pranayama.  Yes we all know it is the limb that comes after asana and when we are solid in it, but he had never actually said "then you take pranayama" "from a guru" or something like that, at least not that I know of.

I wonder if this is a hint of a new future to come, a bright tomorrow where in the new institute (when they move out and the whole house is for yoga) maybe we will get the opportunity to study pranayama with him? Perhaps even some Mad-attention?  I would like that!

Some changes can be good!

What do you think?


  1. Hi Claudia,

    Regarding pranayama, it has been taught at the former AYRI (now KPYI) but only to advanced students. Also, Sharath now allows some of his certified teachers to teach it to their own students - I think the criteria is to be doing Third series but I might be wrong.

  2. Hi Claudia -

    Thanks for linking to my post! I'm not sure "disappointed" is the right word to describe my feelings on the seemingly arbitrary changes to the series. I think "disillusioned" is more accurate. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate that the changes are being made for the benefit of the practitioners. It's just a little strange to me that we're expected to respect the sequences and even, to some extent, to believe that they hold some inherent energetic significance, and yet when changes are made, that's just the way it is and no one seems to question it.

    Keep in mind that I'm relatively new to Ashtanga, so I'm still navigating the culture which has grown around the practice. As I move in toward the tradition, I keep stumbling across elements of Ashtanga which, at first, are either hilarious or completely bizarre. It's been fun discovering these little nuggets of strangeness.

  3. I think the garbha pindasana change came last year, because I was just getting down to 10 rocks and thinking I almost had it when my teacher came back and told us it was now 5. Sigh. This was my first experience with changes in the sequence, but as you point out, it has evolved over time. The lineage is ancient, but the practice itself is something of a living thing. (I may sound serene about all this, but it's actually very difficult for me, too).

    One comparison I've heard that kind of helps me with this is to imagine a doctor who has been practicing for 30 years, but hasn't changed anything since graduating med school. Would you go to that doctor? Or would you want one who's learned and adapted their practice over time?

  4. Changes in Ashtanga Vinyasa practice is an ongoing one and we can expect many more in years to come .This is inevitable in a group practice that is getting more popular day by day and with increasing number of students .But I feel that one should not get too tied up in strict routines and we must learn to listen to our own bodies and go with the flow .

  5. The way it was explained to me is that the institute in Mysore has always been called ashtanga yoga RESEARCH institute...Liska puts it perfectly with the doctor/medical school analogy. Changes are made over time and they may seem arbitrary to us but I have trust in the system, so I follow the teachings. But I think when the garbha change actually occurred depends on when your teacher last went to Mysore and discovered it had happened! I don't think it was *that* recent. Also regarding the pranayama, my teacher began with some breath retention in yoga mudra during led classes after returning from the level 2 authorisation course last summer. From my understand because (as V says) only very senior practitioners were taught pranayama by Guruji, others went elsewhere to learn - my first teachers studied with Tiwari, as does Paul in yoga thailand who i know you have studied with Claudia. This does seem to be more of a significant change to the "rules" ;)

  6. V, yes I had heard of the pranayama in the beginning and how it changed to only after third series, thing is I had never heard Sharath talk about it, it is cool if he is indeed letting some advance teachers teach, that is great news!

    Megan, thank you for clarifying the word, I appreciate that and I hope that my choice of word did not offend you, I struggle with the same thoughts and I relate completely that is why your post left me wondering, and thinking about it... and yes sometimes it is funny and sometimes disorienting, these at least is how I feel, but oh well... guess it is what it is...

    Liksha, yes that is a very good comparison! of course things would change, even Krishnamacharya changed, which is very clear in his later students (A G Mohan, Ramaswami, when compared with the earlier ones like Jois and BKS)... I also have feelings about the changes but more and more I am just letting go and surrendering, guess yoga did turn me into a B.5 personality type...

    Krishna, well put.

    Daydreamingmel, appreciate the update on that, yes it is very likely I jsut came to notice the change in garba but what do I know? as you say it is likely is not that recent, after all my previous Mysore adventure was in 08, ages ago! as per the teachers level two teaching pranayama that is interesting, guess that clarifies. And as per Paul, yes I did study with him and for the pranayama side he completely followed the Tiwariji side which is very structured and includes pulse taking and personalized sequences based on each individual's constitution, fascinating, wish I could go to him more often! so much yoga so little time!

  7. I first learned Ubhaya Padangustasana and Urdhva Mukha Pascimottanasana late in 2008, and there was no 5-breath hold. I heard about that being one of the things that's changed, but it must've changed before that that time.

    Really interesting about Garbha Pindasana. I've heard people counting only to 5 in led classes lately, but it was rather slow, and I was rolling 9 times anyway. I guess I just figured that they were counting to 5 to keep the rhythm the same as other asanas, as no one has explicitly said only to roll 5 times.

    Since last summer, between my travels and the revolving door of teachers I've had at home, I've done that pose with (let me count them...) 10 level-2 authorized teachers (meaning they've all been to Mysore recently and went through one of Sharath's training programs). Not a single one of them has told me I'm rolling too many times. (I'll discount the certified teachers I've practiced with, who generally don't seem to keep up with the changes...). Maybe they just don't care? Or maybe none of them noticed? I also do Baddha Konasana C when I do Primary in a Mysore class because a certified teacher told me to do it anyway (again, they don't always care to conform to the changes...)--not to mention that it's an extra awesome stretch in the hips, so why not throw it in? Never been told not to do that. Again, maybe teachers just don't care or they don't really notice?

    In any case, my point is that I'm still rolling 9 times in GP, and I'm still not convinced that that's actually "wrong". Must the count correspond with breaths? Or is it just a rhythm? As in, "Get back around to face the front of your mat for Kukkutasana by the time I get to 5, however many rolls it takes."? We all know that the count rarely corresponds with the breath anyway... :-) And does it really matter whether you roll 5 times or 7 or 9 or 11? Is this one of those things that detail-oriented people (and I'll include myself in that group) tend to obsess over but is, in the end, inconsequential? Is this, and everything else that's been mentioned, really a change to the system at a fundamental level? I don't think so. So, I just do what I'm told. If I'm travelling and practicing with a different teacher and I'm corrected, I change what I'm doing. Most people are very nice about it (though there are some teachers who snap for no apparent reason...). When I'm with my primary teacher, I do whatever he says (or will allow). None of these changes is so different that it's actually a different practice. At most, it's a bit of streamlining.

    As for pranayama, ask JC about the history of that when you get the chance. He was talking about this last time I saw him. He said he was studying with Guruji when he was still teaching pranayama to everyone (before he changed to only teaching people who've finished 3rd Series). Guruji said something to the effect of, "I teaching pranayama to everyone, and they're all going crazy." The sense I get though, is that this has been part of the cause of the crackdown in recent years. At that time, people were also going off to other teachers in Mysore and doing yoga/pranayama with them as well, and this may have caused a lot of the issues with teaching pranayama earlier. Hence Sharath's current admonishment of "Two gurus, dead student." Of course, the issues might also have just been due to newbies doing pranayama and also smoking too much weed... :-)

  8. Frank, I always find your perspective fascinating, you seem to have been through quite a bit! Funny you mention B.K. C, I was just thinking about that one this morning while in led class and noticing how much I miss it, the five counts there... and I also still count to five there when alone. As per the Ubhaya it may very well be that this was just my mistake! mae culpa....

    I would like to ask John about the pranayama part... think I will, think I have a perfect setting to ask too... thanks for the suggestion. And as per the "two gurus dead student", I had not heard that, and wonder the validity of it...because for example I find that Ashtanga and Vipassana seem to merge beautifully... and that would mean two gurus, and yet I am still quite alive and kicking... I wonder what all the "going crazy" was about when guruji was teaching pranayama...

    I appreciate your comment

  9. Frank I love your take on the pranayama story!! I also heard directly from a certified teacher who did "incorrect pranayama" (i.e. too soon) and their hair went completely white in 24 hours from root to tip (I know, I know, I am a sane and reasonable individual, but when somebody tells you this happened to them, maybe you believe them?).
    Claudia just on the off-chance you want to study with Tiwari, he will be in Canada soon where my first teachers are hosting him. They said that this may be the last chance to study with him (with them) - email me if you want to details but it is very soon (next week i think!).

  10. daydreamingmel, yes will email you, thank you... as per the "this might be the last time" I have heard that before.... but will take your word... I studied with Paul and wanted to go to his retreat last February (with Tiwariji) but was sold out...

    The story with the white hair is ... unique...

  11. By the way just went to your blog but cannot find a link to your email... mine is

  12. One of the nicest things I've noticed that has changed recently, is that Ashtangi's seem less ....dogmatic, no, not dogmatic, there's still dogma ( and we get to watch it develop, the one a few months ago that practice must be no longer than two hours is a nice case in point ) no, less ...fundamentalist.
    People used to get pretty het up in blog comments and get on your case if you were doing something that seemed to go against the holy writ. Now it's more a case of "Oh in Mysore this year it's done this way".

    The Guruji book, that every Ashtangi's no doubt read, might have gone someway to showing how things had changed but in an unchallenging way, then of course there was the Yoga Body book for everyone to deal with.

    Oh and Pranayama.... turned me into a, I got better.

  13. Only a teeny tiny percentage of Ashtangis blog, and you pretty much interact only with bloggers, Grimmly, so your generalization about Ashtangis is very skewed.

    Just saying - the statistician in me cannot help it.

  14. Very very true V but Statisticians use representative sample groups to extrapolate from and do their fancy counting on fingers, no? But then of course mine is only representative of ashtangi's who visit and comment (or send me direct mail) on blogs, still it's a nice little sample, International, intershala, beginners and experienced practitioners, home and shala Ashtangi's, some who have and haven't visited Mysoreland.

  15. Grimmly, V, thanks for your comments and interactions, I have to say that I also can only speak from hosting a blog and what I have seen in my time blogging, and I have to agree with Grimmly that at least on this side of the woods the conversation has gotten more, what is the word? ameanable? mellow? doabe? less dogmatic. I guess I do not speak with lots of practitioners all the time, not even in Mysore (as I realized that talking too much drained my already taxed energy), so I suppose there is a whole world I would not be able to speak for...

  16. I tend to see the blog wars as an attribute of online communities. Being a dinosaur internet-er by virtue of my job, I've been in many of those and there is always the same pattern: the community starts, there is a golden period where everyone is dovey lovey because they are SO GLAD to have found others with their passion (or fetish!), then a couple of sh$t stirrers turn up and start, well, stirring. People go up in arms, positions become entrenched, everything gets polarized...after a while everyone is exhausted from all that fighting. Many people leave the community or lose interest, and then there is another peaceful period of interaction, after which the community will probably die and another one will be born instead. Use case: the ezboard, which died in favour of the blogs.

  17. And for each Ashtangi I know who blogs, there are at least a hundred or two who don't.

  18. I could have sworn that "Two gurus, dead student." was an exact quote from a blog somewhere, but here's the closest thing I could find:

    The question is: What qualifies as "two gurus"? I imagine that you can dabble in other things (e.g., no harm, really, in taking an Iyengar- or yin-style class), but something needs to be primary (your practice). But I don't know..sounds like dabbling in advanced pranayama while doing Ashtanga might warrant some caution. Not sure about vipassana, but it seems that a lot of Ashtangis do this. But then, you can just ask your teacher; that's what they're for, right? :-)

  19. V, I have seen a fair amount of noise on the internet yes it cannot be denied. I suppose it comes down also to how subjects are presented/moderated etc, but the anomymity for example definitelly lends itself to a certain type of behavior, one that I am not very fond of... but that is pretty real. As per the yuki board? was it that which it was called? you are right that went away, although once in a while I check now it is mostly blogs... Oh, and finally yes, there is a lot more people practicing that DO NOT blog than those than do...

    Frank, that is a very good question, and a topic in itself, almost makes me want to explore in writting, cannot even think of one thing to say off the top of my head, it is rather deep... I suppose when I asked John about Vipassana he had a different view because he is into Tibetan Buddhism... I am wondering, and OK here I go off the top of my head if the practice, in full, the way to get to the 8 limbs, eventually chooses us, rather than us it.

  20. Dear Claudia
    There indeed where 5 breaths in the inversion before getting into the final expression of Ubaya Padangustasana. So if they have been taken out, one doesn't get the benefit of the inversion here, which is the first inversion during Primary. This change, and the other you point out to, that there are 5 and not 9 rolls out of Garba Pindasana, make me think that it's streamlining the practice to shorten the time it takes to do it.

  21. i usually comment first, then read, because i don't want to have other commenter's contribution make me vary from what i want to say. now that i read the discussion in the comments regarding meditation practice and yoga - my two cents are - there is no conflict there, and no "two" or "three" or "four" gurus, in my opinion. you can practice any of the forms of Buddhism, or of Christianity or other form of spiritual practice, or devotion to Goodwitch Glenda (to allude to a statement by David and Sharon of Jivamuktki) and still go happily about your yoga practice. I like Zen.

    V is so right in her observations about the online community.

  22. I'm still stuck with the question what qualifies as one guru let alone two, never really sure how people are using the expression. Are we talking teacher as in your asana teacher, some seem to have three here, your main teacher, the certified teacher you visit for workshops ( who perhaps gives you advanced poses your authorised teacher can't) and then of course there's Sharath at command central.

    But of course Sharath doesn't teach Yoga philosophy or chanting, he farms that out to others I believe and will no doubt do the same with pranayama and meditation at the new digs.

    Jois, iyengar, Deskichar Mohan my own teacher Ramaswami and of course Krishnamacharya himself all teach and taught all of the above themselves. Having such experience and being able to teach all these areas of philosophy I can just about grasp the principle that you might defer to such a teacher, Sharath not so much, perhaps when he's older and has studied some more.

    Not knocking Sharath here, sure nobody could manage that room like he does and it makes sense to have someone as an authority for how the series are to be practiced just so that everyones on the same page and can walk into any shala around the world. As long as everyone accepts that the series is how it is partly due to logistics and not down to any ancient tradition, internal logic, or anatomical principles.

  23. Arutro thanks for your comment, glad to know you were taught it that way too, so I am not the only one... as per your thoughts on guru I am on the same camp somehow, the only thing is that I tend to look hard for what rings true and then try to stick to that, and so far I have found Sharath for asana and the first three limbs, Tiwariji for pranayama together with Sami Rama (although have not met Ramaswami yet), and Vipassana for meditation.

    Grimmly, yes you are quite right, Sharath did not study direclty with Krishnamacharya, at least not that I know of, so his expertise is definitelly asana, I am not sure I agree the series changes just due to logistics, I still feel the purifying effects of primary as it is today, and very much so, and for someone learning it like James it is obvious that it is a powerful force of nature... I appreciate the comment though it leaves me with food for thought and I am sure some more posts will sprout from the conversation maybe here maybe elsewhere... the blogsphere

  24. "Sharath [...] will no doubt do the same with pranayama and meditation at the new digs."

    How can you say that? How do you know that Sharath is not teaching pranayama to his certified students already?

    Really, Grimmly!

    Claudia, Sharath did not study with Krishnamacharya but did with Guruji, who DID teach him pranayama and yoga philosophy.

  25. "Sharath not so much, perhaps when he's older and has studied some more."

    This is so offensive. Sharath might be young but he studied with Guruji for many, many years.

    You are basically judging someone you haven't even EVER MET.

  26. V, yes I know Sharath studied with Guruji that taught him, is just that I was not aware he was actually teaching it, although his conferences does constitute teachings of philosophy, and he also has Lakshimish teaching (albeint in the women's bathroom -for now) sutras and chanting. As per the pranayama I am happy to hear in the comments here that he is letting and teaching advanced students, this is what leads me to believe perhaps things will change when the new shala is in place with more room and accomodations.

    I believe Sharath to be the real thing, he is very genuine and wants to teach and propagate the message of Ashtanga, I cant wait to see how things develop.

  27. Grimmly, I find your implication that Sharath is barely more than an asana teacher a little offensive. Anyone who knows me in person or who has known me online for a long time knows that I'm not very 'woo-woo' or even a litle spiral-eyed. I'm not all into the esoteric aspects of what is supposed to be a very practical, householder style of yoga. However, I left Mysore with an unbelievable admiration for a man who works tirelessly to pass on a tradition he has been studying and teaching for MANY years. TIRELESSLY. He starts teaching at, what, 4:30am? He must be thanking GOD for those assistants because during peak season there are at least 250 people there practicing. He teaches until about 9:30am? Then comes BACK in the afternoon to do student registrations himself (don't you think he could 'farm that out' if he wanted to????) and then to teach the Indian students with Saraswathi in the afternoon and early evening. Six.Days.Per.Week. So just perhaps he's 'farming out' the other teaching because he has a WIFE and CHILDREN and would like to see them and spend time with them rather than due to any lack of motivation or even knowledge on his part? I'm not trying to tell you he's perfect or even that I'm madly in love with every change that has gone on over the last year or two. However, I really can't stand by while you disparage one of the hardest working yoga teachers I've ever met (and I've met quite a few, I promise). And how many teachers have you studied ashtanga with again?

  28. oops, Sorry Claudia, should have written that at my place and taken the hit there rather than disrupt your space.

    Appologies too to V and Lil and anyone else who feels I'm disparaging Sharath here, I did say 'I'm not knocking Sharath here' and meant it, I also said he's the best at what he does. He seems a really nice guy, love how he is with his family and I agree with Lil that he seems to work really hard. It's a tough gig he's taken on and he seems to be growing into it and in confidence too.

    I wasn't being critical of him farming out the Chanting and philosophy, (does farming out suggest that?) and while I'm sure he does teach pranyama in his TT's it does seem likely that he'll get someone else to do that too.

    My comments though were in the context of the guru discussion, Frank's comments in particular. I agree that Sharath seems an effective head of the organization but does that make him a guru in the sense of the other names I mentioned, should we see him as such and are we supposed to when he says that you must only have one guru and then talks about lineage.

    How are we supposed to intpret guru in our context? I struggle with this.

    I haven't studied with any Ashtanga teachers Lil, just a month with Ramaswami who of course is thirty odd years older than Sharath, which is perhaps my point.

    I only said partly logistical Claudia, I think I expressed how powerful I find this practice on James' post at his place, you know I love it.

  29. "I'm sure he does teach pranyama in his TT's it does seem likely that he'll get someone else to do that too"

    Again, you are especulating, on both accounts.

  30. i experienced the 5 count garba the last time i was in mysore, i interpret it this way: 'i'm going to count to 5 and you have that much time to rock around in a circle and come up into kukkutasana'. much less stress that way, especially for beginners.

  31. Ekamyogini, yes guess that is a good way to see it, no stress... to begin with... eventually the breathing has to correspond though, with the exhale as you drop back and inhaling as you come in... that is where, at least for me, the five count becomes very strict... but I am with you, in the beginning it is good to go for it, in any way you can! :-)

  32. in my yoga studio travels, I have found no consistency in how Ashtanga yoga is taught. each teacher is unique and Sherath is adding more to the various ways a class is taught. confusing but dynamic. when in ashtanga yoga class, forget about the rest and enjoy the moment! Mysore style in your personal practice is the best, you are your own teacher.

  33. Quentin I have found something very similar... and I agree, just enjoy the personal practice, good advise

  34. Claudia,

    I was watching the DVD of Guruji's 1993 led class in Los Angeles the other day and noted that for GP, Guriji counted from one to five as the practitioners were rolling back and forth. The video zooms in on Chuck Miller so you cannot see what the others are doing but Chuck rolls nine times while Guruji counts from one to five.

    So, at least as far back as 1993 the count was only to five and in that class at least Chuck Miller did just what Frank described above, rolling nine times over the course of the five-count.

    BTW, glad to hear that you are able to start getting back into a daily practice even if it's a gradual progression back into the series. Thank you for sharing everything you do in this blog - you are a true inspiration.


  35. Thank you Chris

    And that is very interesting, I wonder which version DVD I have of guruji, maybe I have an advanced practie not the primary series, has been a while since I put one of those DVDs on... great that you noticed! thanks for telling me, guess it is not really a new change then...

  36. This is the one:

  37. Thanks for thehe link Chris, was one of them Eddie? looked like him. Such an inspiration to watch right before practice... :-)


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