After practicing yoga for over thirty years down in the big smoke we felt called to move back into nature into an environment ideal to go deeper into the higher limbs of yoga practice. The Vedas suggest that when one comes to the middle of ones life (around 50) to change ones mode of life and spend more time on spiritual practice in nature. This mode of life is called vanaprashtha (forest dweller). This same mode of life is suggested in many yogic texts. We took that quite literally and live now on a mountaintop surrounded by ancient rainforest. Living in nature inspires our practice greatly, which we can then share when we come back into the cities to teach workshops or retreats.

This blog will give you updates of what we are currently working on and it will give us the opportunity to stay in contact with the many people and students we have worked with throughout the last few decades. Of course if you want to post any questions, your mountaintop yogis will do their best to answer them. To sign up for our newsletter please go to http://www.8limbs.com/contact-us/

Ashtanga or only Ekanga Yoga?

When I first visited KP Jois house in late 1995 I did so with the desire to study classical Ashtanga Yoga. I interviewed him closely what sort of yoga he was teaching and he affirmed that it was indeed Patanjali’s yoga. That made me sign up with him. In the following years we Ashtanga yogis often sniggered at the Iyengars because we smugly thought we had it over them. Already the name of our yoga showed that it was a true, authentic and ancient form of yoga, whereas theirs was a yoga named after a modern person, it’s founder. But this initial hubris was long ago replaced by a questioning of what Ashtanga today is, and what it should be. What classical yoga actually is? The term Ashtanga refers to the stanza II.28 in the Yoga Sutra, where yoga is called eight-limbed. In his commentary on the Yoga Sutra I.1, Rishi Vyasa says, yogah samadhih, i.e. yoga is samadhi. What he means is that the first seven limbs of yoga are ancillary yoga and only the eight limb is true yoga. And this does not mean that the seven limbs are the process and the eight the result. No, it means that the first seven limbs are the preparation and samadhi is both the process and the result. For Vyasa goes on to say that there are two types of yoga, samprajnata and asamprajnata yoga. You may know these two words as the names of the two types of samadhi, cognitive samadhi (samadhi with cognition of object also called objective samadhi) and super-cognitive samadhi (samadhi beyond cognition of object or objectless samadhi). With calling these samadhis ‘yoga’ Vyasa again affirms that only samadhi is true yoga but he also shows that the objective samadhi (with its seven types) is the process to the state of objectless samadhi (of which there is only one, the final samadhi). The Yoga Sutra then goes on to devote almost 100 of its stanzas to samadhi. That is more than half of the 195 stanzas. This fact should make it clear that yoga mainly deals with samadhi. Samadhi is not something that comes about spontaneously or mysteriously but objectless samadhi comes about through the detailed, technical process of the seven objective samadhis. Taking the birds eye view we could call the seven objective samadhis ‘yoga stage two’. Prior to the seven objective samadhis the first seven limbs are practised, which we could call ‘yoga stage 1’. Apart from the first two foundational stages involving ethics yoga stage 1 involves asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. For the purpose of this article I will now try to summarize these limbs of yoga in short, simple sentences. More comprehensive descriptions  I have given elsewhere. Yogic asana is not just sitting with your back, neck and head in a straight line but it is the process of taking your body through the process of a whole range of yogic postures. These postures are accommodated by focus on breath, mudras and focal points during which some aspects of the following limbs are anticipated and trained. Through such practice we ready the body, breath and mind for formal sitting practice. Pranayama, the fourth limb, is not just Ujjayi breathing but a sitting practise in which you perform alternate nostril breathing using mantra and visualization until the breath has been made long and subtle (dirgha sukshmah). Only then internal and external kumbhakas (breath retentions) with maha-bandha (simultaneous use of all bandhas) are applied. Being established in pranayama, yogic meditation (the combined process of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana) is a formal yogic sitting practise in which the breath is extended and the mind focussed on sattvic objects including mantra, chakras, kundalini, divine images and sacred geometry. In this whole triple process of yoga stage 1, i.e. asana, pranayama and yogic meditation ancillary aspects such as kriyas and mudras play an important role. Another important aspect of yoga is bhakti. So is the term ishvara pranidhana (devotion to the Divine) mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra four times. Classical texts This process is described in the so-called Yoga Darshana, i.e. the philosophical school of yoga, which consists of the Yoga Sutra and its attached tradition of commentaries and sub-commentaries. In the Sutra none of the techniques of the lower limbs were described but only the effect or result achieved through their correct practice. So devotes the Sutra only 3 stanzas to asana, four stanzas to pranayama, one stanza to pratyahara and a few to dharana and dhyana. For brevity the author of the Sutra focused only on samadhi and it was left to yogic texts compiled in the following centuries and millennia to fill in those gaps. While there can be conflicting opinions on what limbs were emphasized when one thing can be said for sure: there is no evidence in classical texts whatsoever that the mere practice of postures was at any time considered Ashtanga Yoga. Some problems with contemporary “Ashtanga Yoga” In the light of all of the above we have to ask ourselves whether the name Ashtanga Yoga is correctly used to describe the asana-sequence and vinyasa based system handed down by the now disgraced KP Jois. We must sincerely ask ourselves whether Jois’ yoga is not in fact Ekanga Yoga, one-limbed yoga. One of the core-tenets of yoga is the dis-identification with the body. The fifth klesha (forms of suffering) listed by Patanjali is abhiniveshah – fear of death. It is produced by identification with the body. Also the first klesha, avidya (ignorance) arises by identifying that what is eternal (purusha- the consciousness) with that what is temporary (the body). Patanjali’s yoga aims at decreasing identification with body. The more one dis-identifies with the body one’s sense of self can expand and spiritual experiences can come about. Different to that modern Ashtanga culture seems to actually increase identification with the body. It’s linear, top-down delivery through sequences of postures seems to have the effect that the value and sense of self of a person is defined by how many postures and series they can perform. This has made the style very popular with Western students as it plays into the Western mindset of acquisition. Posture and series can be acquired like real estate or academic degrees. The obsession with gymnastic levels of performance of asanas in contemporary Ashtanga Yoga goes hand in hand with a neglect of higher limbs practice. Young people who enter Ashtanga are regularly brain-washed away from higher limbs practice with the nonsense statement that you need to have conquered certain number of series of postures before you can start. There is no evidence of anything of the like in any yogic text. It is an idea that has been entirely invented in the 20th century, possibly as recent as the 1960’s or 70’s. The dark side of overemphasizing the limb of asana is that students then tend to over-practice it. They tend to become zealous, ambitious and fanatic about their asana practice. This overemphasizing asana and the resulting ambition seems to me the number one reason for injuries in modern Ashtanga Yoga. If third series will open the Pearly Gates for you, you better go at it with a vengeance. If students are told they need to conquer second or third before they can practice the higher limbs, they tend to practice with such despair and aggression that they develop a lot of wear and tear in the bodies. I have never seen this in students who were established in pranayama and meditation adjunct to their asana practice. Many people come with a thirst for spiritual experiences to yoga. If the techniques such as pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana are then withheld, students are desperately trying to wring out of the body what the body was never designed to give. This leads to injury. This self-violating and self-abusing tendency in modern Ashtanga Yoga, however, is completely in conflict with Patanjali’s teaching for he says in sutra II.16 heyama  duhkham anagatam, i.e. ‘future suffering is to be avoided’. Or in simple words, don’t hurt, flog and abuse yourself. I will go on now to discuss a few arguments that are regularly posted to defend the Ashtanga-status of KP Jois’ yoga. Have not a few third series students been taught pranayama and therefore the whole system can be called Ashtanga yoga? Pranayama is not to be limited to a small elite of students who have achieved a ridiculous, Olympic-gymnast level of asana proficiency. It is to be taught to all students who have become proficient in a sitting asana such as Virasana. For me pranayama probably was the most beneficial part of yoga to learn. Even more so than asana. Why would that be withheld from 99% of practitioners who will never be able to master dozens of advanced asanas? And then what about the other incredible aspects of yoga that Jois has never taught at all? What about the whole gamut of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana? It is these techniques that give you spiritual experiences. It is these methods that quench your spiritual thirst. It is these aspects of yoga that can truly change your life and possibly our society as well.   Aren’t Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana not already present in the Asana practice? Is not everything already happening on the mat? All yogic limbs contain the same structural elements. When practising meditation or pranayama we assume an asana such as Virasana, Siddhasana or Padmasana. But by doing so we would not say that we have practised the limb of asana sufficiently. Similarly, when we are practising the full course of yogic asanas we are integrating pranic and mental aspects of yoga such as focusing on the breath (structural element of pranayama in asana) and drishti and bandha (structural elements of dharana in asana). But by integrating these structural elements of pranayama or dharana into asana this does not mean that “pranayama or dharana are now sufficiently practised”. They are only introduced through their structural elements to prepare for their true practice and to make asana more efficient. T. Krishnamacharya stated that to get the various benefits of yoga, the respective limbs have to be practised. That is asana for physical benefits, pranayama for pranic benefits and meditation for mental benefits. Asana practice, which includes ujjayi, bandhas and drishti, is the ideal preparation for a formal sitting practice of pranayama, dharana, etc, which should then also be made up of yoga’s structural elements. But in order to practice them and derive their benefits a formal siting practice must be engaged in.   Can asana practice by itself if done in a self-reflective mode teach you so much that it by itself constitutes yoga? I’m not saying that you couldn’t get self-reflective by practising asana. You can. Of course you can learn a lot about yourself by practising asana. It is great that some students found some form of wisdom simply by continuing their asana practice over a long period. But this is not what the classical process of yoga is about. For you can learn about yourself through almost any activity continued over a long period in a self-reflective mode. Such as playing an instrument. Or painting or sculpting. Or bringing up your children, being in relationship with a partner, caring for somebody, gardening, landscaping, tending to animals, or building houses. But this is still not yoga as the ancient yogis created it. We would not call being in a relationship or parenting yoga simply because it taught us about ourselves. Or maybe we do and maybe this is exactly our problem today. For I have read phrases such as “the yoga of relating” and “parenting is the new yoga”. It’s great that we can learn through parenting and relating but can you see how the term yoga is today so de-valued and neutered that almost anything-yoga-goes? Following this train of inquiry I conclude that the modern Ashtanga Vinyasa method is in dire need of re-integration into Patanjali’s eight-limbed path. If this was not to happen the term Ekanga Yoga may more aptly describe its current make-up.

Ashtanga’s Flawed Teacher Accreditation Process

Since Matthew Remski’s article and his interview with Karen Rain the Ashtanga world is trying to come to terms with K Pattabhi Jois’ history of sexual abuse and assault. I think this is an important process, which need not be hurried and in which context a lot of questions should and need to get asked. One of the arguments brought forth to lay this important process to rest before it really gets underway is, “KP Jois is dead and now things are different”. I would like to pierce this narrative. Things may be different today in that there may be no direct sexual assault and abuse in class. In many other ways though things have not become better at all and in some ways they may have become worse (for example in terms of personality cult and dogmatism). I hear from a lot of people that they are leaving or have left Ashtanga Yoga not because what happened in the past but because of what is happening today. This stampede away from Ashtanga will get worse if we as a community cannot openly speak about things. Starting with today’s article I will attempt to shed light on some of these murky areas of Ashtanga Yoga, which have not yet been cleaned up. I have not been in a hurry to start this project as the lack of pro-activity and accountability on part of many senior teachers in the system to this day leaves me disturbed. If we do not speak out and restore public trust in the system, modern Ashtanga Yoga will not recover. I will commence this series of articles by looking into what I perceive as Ashtanga Yoga’s flawed teacher accreditation process. I was authorized to teach by the late K Pattabhi Jois in 1997. The authorization came after I had practised with him for 12 months over 3 separate trips to India and after I had become proficient in the majority of the postures of the Intermediate Series. On the positive side this taught me dedication to my practice, endurance, perseverance and determination. Even now over 20 years later I do practice 6 days a week and miss practice days only ever if on long haul flights. I do have to credit K P Jois for that. It is also true that my body, which at first seem to be unable to bend was eventually moulded into shape by daily multi-hour fiery practice. However, it is very obvious to me now that I could do so only because I was genetically gifted, that my joint shape and direction combined with general ligament length and muscle tension did allow me to do that. I probably have to thank my ancestors for that more than KP Jois. I have also seen other practitioners more gifted than I who conquered more postures and series in that same timeframe and I have subsequently seen many of them fall apart and leave Ashtanga for good. For they suffered from structural problems that I do not suffer from, viz ligamentous laxity and hypermobility. During the period in which I underwent my authorization process, a combination of ideal joint shape and direction, ligamentous laxity and hypermobility could see you (and often did) become Ashtanga-authorized in 6 months of daily two-hour practices in the Lakshmipuram shala. Most of us who did become authorized didn’t know much about yoga outside of our commitment to our daily practice and our ability to crank ourselves into postures like Kapotasana and Dvipada Shirshasana with little warm-up. These two capacities though are not something exclusive to yogis but we share them with acrobats and gymnasts. In fact once I started to train teachers myself I found to my great surprise that it was a disadvantage to be too physically gifted or overly flexible. Most students aren’t and the person who easily can perform extreme postures usually does not have to understand the difficult process to attain them. As for many other aspiring teachers my true training started after my authorization. In many ways I was lucky that back in those days learning through books was not sneered at and it was not yet forbidden to seek out other teachers. The cult of the guru was not yet fully under way during the 90’s. Another myth that I would like to debunk here is the importance given to the vinyasa count format when assessing teachers. The latest nonsense that I hear is that the vinyasa count has been given mantra status. This is like translating primary school calculus exercises into Sanskrit (which software can do for you) and think they become mantras by doing so. I do think that the vinyasa count is a great meditative tool in the hands of an advanced or established practitioner but I consider it unsafe and hazardous to force an inexperienced practitioner to transit in and out of postures as quickly as the vinyasa count requires. I think students should first be instructed in a lot of technical detail before they are asked to transit in and out of postures that fast. In many cases a student will never be able to do so safely. Rather than rely simply on flexibility and the ability to rote learn the vinyasa count, accreditation to be a teacher must be based on a large selection of criteria including your grasp of anatomy, teaching skills, modification of the series for individuals and teaching the higher limbs. In the following list I am outlining areas that I see missing in the present official Ashtanga authorization and certification process.   Only one limb is taught: In the current format there is no emphasis on any other limb but asana. But most students come to yoga for more than just physical benefits as otherwise they would have elected sports. This leads to students desperately over-practising asana, trying to wring out of their body benefits which it cannot provide. The body cannot provide you with spiritual insight or wisdom. You do not get wise simply by practising asana. You need to practise the higher limbs such as pranayama and yogic meditation to get spiritual insights. The claim that spiritual insight will arise in you “spontaneously” simply by daily practising a certain sequence of physical posture is ludicrous. You might as well wait for Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny. Over-practising asana out of spiritual hunger eventually leads to a fibrous, worn-out body with lots of repetitive strain injuries. If students are introduced to the higher limbs early on they will find that they only need to practice asana for their physical needs and therefore will not over-practise. This is something that I have seen in students over and over again. A teacher must be able to teach the higher limbs of yoga and should offer this to all students interested.   Adapting the Series to Individual Needs The official Ashtanga teacher accreditation does not include any skills in how to adapt the sequences to individual needs. T. Krishnamacharya taught that the practice needs to be adapted to the individual and not the other way round. By slavishly adhering to a rigid model and failing to acknowledge that bodies differ in their needs many more students are injured and eventually turn their backs on the system. I hear that now in Mysuru some students that insist are allowed to leave out postures and are commended by others for their braveness to speak up. This is not enough. It is the teacher who has to understand and suggest to the student in what way the practice has to be adapted to avoid and pre-empt injuries and problems. Once injuries have occurred it is often too late and healing may be protracted and complicated. It is himsa (harmful) on behalf of the teachers to not assist the student in this way. The series also needs to be adapted for average Western students and for beginners who often have stiff hip joints. A beginner should be given the opportunity to explore postures like Baddha Konasana before they have to attempt complex postures such as Marichyasana D or Supta Kurmasana. Again to insist on this order by invoking a tradition that has no proven length beyond a generation or two is to violate the student.   Yoga Sutra and Sanskrit phonetics A yoga teacher cannot teach true yoga without a certain understanding of yogic philosophy as espoused in the Sutra, the Gita and the Pradipika (and ideally a few more texts) combined with a basic understanding of Sanskrit phonetics. A training without these can be called yoga gymnastics or asana but certainly not yoga. It is concerning that people now believe that yoga can be taught without its philosophical roots or alternatively that these roots would somehow manifest “spontaneously” by practising asana only.   Lack of Anatomical Training The institution that claims itself to be the only legitimate source of Ashtanga teacher training accreditation, does not include any human anatomy in its training. How anybody can think you can train teachers in such a physically demanding discipline in this day and age without them understanding joint range and motion, ligamentous limitation and muscle structure is beyond my understanding. This becomes important especially in light of Ashtanga’s intense adjustment culture. I have received intense adjustments over a long timeframe and to this day I enjoy giving adjustments to students even in advanced postures and consider them beneficial. I cannot see, however, that I would have ever been able to do this safely without having a good understanding of human anatomy. I would expect that giving such adjustments without any anatomical understanding will probably soon be outside the law. It would be a great shame if we as yogis would lose the privilege to give physical adjustments. Including human anatomy into all yoga teacher trainings will go a long way towards us being able to keep this privilege.   Consent and Limitation of Teachers Knowledge The Ashtanga teacher accreditation process does not include any policies how to get consent from students to adjust. Teachers perpetuate the myth that they know more about the student’s body than the students themselves. The student’s body is connected via their nervous system to the student’s brain and not the teacher’s. Feedback regarding adjustments and posture practice arrives therefore in the student’s brain and not the teacher’s. It sound ridiculous to point this out but yoga students today (and especially Ashtanga students) have been duped into believing that teachers somehow know more about what’s happening in their bodies than they themselves. This is a myth that needs to be debunked. It is the students body and the students need to be informed that they can refuse to receive an adjustment (or in fact any adjustment) or that they can ask that the adjustment be altered or in fact that they can refuse to do a particular posture.   Communication Skills There is a great dearth of communication skills in Ashtanga Yoga. When in 2007 I attended a workshop with a scion of the current Ashtanga dynasty he stepped before the class and immediately started his vinyasa count. After he finished it, he simply left. At no point was there any acknowledgement nor address of the people in class. He may as well have played a recording or parrot in front of the class. I recently heard that the gentleman still does it exactly in the same way. Reflecting of this hubris today many accredited teachers have very basic people- and communication skills and often act arrogantly and dismissive towards student’s needs.   Assessment Included in a training there needs to be some form of assessment of the above subjects other than just being able to perform postures.   All Content Providers to be Active Yoga Teachers A lot of trainings have started to include the above subjects into their curriculum. However, I  often hear from students that the trainings can be really boring because professionals are hired to deliver the content often without it being very relevant to the process of teaching and the practise of yoga. Simply having a professor of philosophy deliver the Sutra component or a physiotherapist deliver the anatomy section can be an alienating experience for trainees if the deliverer cannot connect the content to living the path of yoga. All content providers should therefore be active yoga teachers. It is my great hope that the current crisis within Ashtanga Yoga will bring about changes that this magnificent practice will finally become what it could be. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga can provide the ideal platform to venture into higher limbs practice such as pranayama and yogic meditation and ultimately samadhi. Over 20 years ago KP Jois told me that this practice will give me the light and strong body of a lion. While he did ultimately disgrace himself he was still right with many things he said. And while this lion is slowly getting on, 20 years later my body is in better condition than it ever was. I don’t think that any other form of yoga could have done this to that extent.  

Mary Taylor’s response to Karen Rain’s interview

My respect and gratitude to Mary Taylor who is coming out in support of Karen Rain in her latest blog article. Mary powerfully writes, “I see this as a time when the ashtanga lineage has an opportunity to evolve into one that is founded in truth rather than avoidance or denial, openness rather than tunnel vision, caring for others rather than putting ourselves first.” My respect again to Karen Rain. You taught all of us a lot through your interview in which you were so vulnerable and authentic but at the same time so lucid and clear. My apologies again for burying my head in the sand for too long. Through my silence I have enabled a culture of domination, silencing and coercion to continue. Your speaking out has created for us all a platform to come together to renew and cleanse our yoga. For that I am truly grateful to you. While I came on board late, I will continue to be here to support you in your (and our) journey of healing. Let us work together so that this cannot happen again

Why Did She Let it Happen?

After completing this article last night, after a long period of insomnia, I awoke again to a very disturbing nightmare. I feel exposed and vulnerable and now understand the terror Karen Rain speaks of in daring to state the brutal truth, in piercing the pressure of silence. With trust… Monica Why Did She Let it Happen? This is often the question people ask of survivors of sexual abuse. The circumstances, the power play that leads someone to commit this crime, most can understand, but how the victim ‘let it happen’ to them is often poorly understood. Whether the abuse happened in private or publicly the reasons it happened to us are no different. Our guilty part was naivety and placing our trust in the care of someone who was not trust-worthy. I personally find it offensive that those uppermost in the Ashtanga Yoga community remain in denial, presenting hollow defences and hurtful justifications. One common insinuating question is: Why did she wait so long to come out with it? It took me almost 40 years and the inspiration and borrowed courage of many brave women to be able to publicly state my own sexual abuse. After I posted my statement I realised that I still carried so much embarrassment, shame and guilt around this incident that I had not felt comfortable to name my assailant. The next day when I shared the post on our 8 Limbs page I finally named the late Iyengar Yoga teacher, Martyn Jackson, as the perpetrator. I burdened the shame and yet the shame SHOULD have been carried by my assailant – not me. So why did I feel the shame? One reason I took on the shame and guilt of my assault is because world-wide in so many cultures (obviously including ours) the blame and shame is still put onto the woman. We are all indoctrinated that ‘she must have done something to deserve it’. There are no excuses for sexual assault. I recommend that you watch the documentary ‘Seeing Allred’ to more deeply understand the mentality that haunts a victim. The women rights solicitor Gloria Allred represented over half of the 62 women who brought sexual assault claims of drugging and then rape against the beloved actor Bill Cosby. As the incidents stretched from the 1980’s- 2004 the majority of cases were past the ‘statute of limitations’ and could not be prosecuted. In April 2018 Bill Crosby was convicted of only 3 counts of sexual assault. Regardless Gloria Allred fought to ‘give voice’ to these women, to allow them to tell their stories for the purpose of healing and as part of a lobbying momentum. As a result several states in the USA either abolished or extended the statute of limitations for sex crimes. This means that victims in the future can lay criminal charges against perpetrators even if the crimes happened decades before. As Karen so eloquently points out, sexual abuse is not about sex, it’s about power. Even my little Dachshund Uma, who is spayed and therefore produces no sex hormones, humps her sister Tin Tin to dominate her! Did you know that this year in refugee camps in Bangladesh 48,000 Rohingya women will give birth following the ‘frenzy of sexual violence’ that was imposed upon them 9 months ago? Do you think that 48,000 soldiers were all sexually aroused? It was the permission to dominate and exert their power that enabled them to participate in these horrific acts. Right now refugee workers desperately struggle to find these women in the vast camps because they attempt to hide their pregnancies in shame… Another reason the shame and guilt is carried by the victim is the ‘permission’ given by the community that surrounds the perpetrator. How many cases were supressed NOT ONLY by the victim but also by others (especially those in high ranks) in the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Satyananda community, the Siddha Yoga community, the Anusara community around John Friend, Bikram, Swami Satchidananda and Kausthub Desikachar. And the list goes on and on and on and will continue to grow while denial and complicity remain. It is the collective power of the followers that empowers the guru. The pressure of belief becomes so strong that those within the community develop cognitive dissonance. What is being witnessed does not fit their belief system and thereby to them, it is not happening and did not happen. The other offensive justification given is: they’re doing it for the fame and money. Karen Rain was THE most advanced female Ashtanga yoga practitioner in the world at the time (and since!) she decided to leave the Ashtanga Yoga community. Unquestionably, if she had stayed she would be at least as rich and famous as the other advanced students who did stay have become. If fame or even recognition is the motivation then WHY do so many women take so long to admit what happened to them and WHY are so many others never able to admit it – even in the case of high-profile celebrities?! It is those who have the most to lose from dismantling the Jois cult that pose these defences. Most of us do not want recognition let alone fame for being sexually abused. I alone know a handful of women who may never publicly admit what happened to them and I fully understand why. Exposing myself has rattled me, stirring up deep emotions and unwanted memories. At the same time it has been liberating and healing in ways I did not expect. This is largely due to the support of my readers, your trust, your words of compassion and understanding. I do not wish to be remembered as a survivor of sexual assault. I am happy to be known as one of the people who dared to speak the truth and help break the destructive spell of silence. For many of us it is a now accepted fact that Pattabhi Jois was a sexual predator. Many of you are reading this because you agree with much of what I write. Who I really wish to address is the senior teachers, ‘the elders’ of the community who remain silent, continue to minimalise or blatantly deny the problem that is screaming at us. If you consider yourself to have adequate intuition to judge character and truth-telling then listen to the interview of Karen Rain. Then decide. If you have not listened it is only fair to refrain from judgements of her character and/or motives. Karen’s interview is clear, insightful and pragmatic. If you refuse to watch or read her interview then watch the video of Pattabhi Jois fondling, groping and humping his female students in public. The clip is consistent with Karen’s claims. Members of the Ashtanga community have repeatedly deleted this clip from YouTube. To continue denial in the face of evidence makes one not only ignorant but also complicit to the crime. For Sharath Jois on behalf of his grandfather and Saraswati and Manju Pattabhi Jois on behalf of their father to not acknowledge the victims and withhold an apology prevents healing for the whole community. I do not believe that Pattabhi Jois’ influence should be deleted. I distanced myself from the guru to stay true to the guru in my heart and the deep yogic traditions. Now it’s about seeing it for what it is, being grateful for the teachings that we can be grateful for, improving the delivery of teaching and trainings (including more respect for the body and sustainability of the asana practice) and moving on to include the other limbs of yoga and the clarity and wisdom of traditional Patanjali yoga. I extend a sincere thank you to my readers for your openness and to those who also wish to “bring about a renaissance of ancient dharma and to play a part in restoring yoga to the glory it once was”. (Gregor Maehle, ‘Ashtanga yoga: Practice and Philosophy’). Your support disarms the power that perpetuates twisted blame and wrongful denial. Namaste, Monica   Here again are the links to the interview with Karen Rain and to the suppressed video of Pattabhi Jois: http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/karen-rain-speaks-about-pattabhi-jois-and-recovering-from-sexual-and-spiritual-abuse-video-interview/   http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/pattabhi-jois-yoga-adjustments/  

Why I Left the Mysore Community in 1999 – My Statement

Now that the sexual misconduct of Pattabhi Jois has become common knowledge and while the victims wait their apology students are asking “now what?” What remains is a system of yoga practice and a hierarchy that are equally destructive to individuals, Ashtanga Yoga and yoga in general. For almost the last two decades my husband Gregor Maehle and I have taught Ashtanga Yoga in its holistic eight-limbed version outside of the ‘KP Jois tradition’. I was one of the first people to be removed from ‘The List’ in the early 2000s. I did not care because I did not want to be associated with what seemed to me a system gone wrong. When attempting to voice any dissent in Mysuru (the previous colonial name was Mysore) or amoungst friends Gregor and I we were publicly and privately condemned. We only dared express our observations and interpretations in the intimate, safe environment of our teacher trainings. It was and still is important to us that the tower of illusion maintained by the Jois tradition does not sully Patanjali’s eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga. My first visit to the KPJAYI in Mysuru was in 1995. I was authorised in 1996 after completing the Intermediate series. After three separate visits, totaling eight months in Mysuru I decided there were too many aspects of the Jois tradition that I disagreed with and could not abide by. I did not return after 1999. 1. I felt it was imperative for students to have the opportunity practice all the eight limbs of yoga regardless of physical prowess. Initially we were told that you could only learn pranayama once you completed the Intermediate series of postures. This later was changed to a completion of the Advanced A series. Pattabhi Jois did make some exceptions and allowed a select few to join the advanced asana group although these classes were infrequent. Sharath Jois did not teach pranayama while we visited Mysuru from 1995 – 1999. 2. We understood that meditation was to be reserved for those who had mastered pranayama. However, as the pranayama series was taught with four-minute kumbhakas (breath retentions) this made both pranayama and meditation pretty well out of reach for nearly every student. When I discovered Ashtanga Yoga I had already reaped the benefits of meditation for 13 years. I had no intention of giving up my meditation practice. Gregor also discontinued his study at KPJAYI in 1999 but visited Mysuru once more in 2004 to complete his study of pranayama and meditation, which he began in 1996 with BNS Iyengar (a former student of Krishnamacharya and then Pattabhi Jois). We were only ever taught the single limb of asana at KPJAYI. 3. There were no spiritual teachings or guidance. In the eight months that I spent studying with Pattabhi Jois in Mysuru, I attended every ‘Conference’ held. This time was spent discussing all sorts of things from rasam recipes (a South Indian soup) to the price of gold but never spirituality. I never heard Pattabhi Jois say anything profound. For this reason I referred to him as my asana teacher and had a separate spiritual teacher. 4. And then there is the myth of what makes an ‘advanced yogi’. In the Jois tradition this is based solely on physical prowess. The direct way to receive Ashtanga Yoga ‘certification’ was to complete the Advanced A series of postures and that only in Mysuru. What does the ability to perform advanced asana mean in the realm of an eight-limbed yoga path? It is this very attitude that idolises physical prowess and dictates and upholds it as the foundation of the hierarchy of yogic advancement that sadly makes a circus of yoga. This proverbial carrot of ‘the next posture’ and/or ‘the next series’ often allures students into a practice of discontent, self-coercion, greed, ambition and destruction. The opposite to what one hopes their yoga practice will bring. 5. Time spent in Mysuru was the main criteria that both earned you the next posture and/or permission to teach, i.e. to be authorised or certified. No kudos was given to time spent studying or practising anywhere else or even with a Jois certified teacher. Unfortunately, however, there was little education in the Mysuru room that qualified a student for the role of teaching apart from the limited education of receiving adjustments and more recently that gained from being talked through a vinyasa-count class. My instruction on a new posture was generally “Next posture you do”. When this subject and the insistence that one return to Mysuru every 12-18 months for at least 2-3 months was questioned the standard justification was that it was all about the mystical effects of parampara (the succession of knowledge from one guru to student). Authorised and certified teachers were strictly forbidden to hold their own teacher trainings as this was reserved as a qualification only the Jois family could impart. My interpretation of this was an attempt to monopolise the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga for personal power and profit. I knew the teachings to fall short in equipping students with important teaching skills and to fail the tradition of true Ashtau-anga (eight-limbed) yoga so did not adhere to this restriction. 6. I was fortunate to mainly practice with Pattabhi Jois under the watchful eye of my then boyfriend, now husband, Gregor Maehle. I remember on at least one occasion feeling Pattabhi Jois’ genitals against me. As he did not have an erection I presumed it was innocent poor positioning. I do not remember if this was before or after I met Gregor as I was practising in the small Lakshmipuram shala for two months before meeting Gregor in Mysuru. At the end of class I touched Pattabhi Jois’ feet as was customary to an Indian guru. He only offered his hugs to female students. The rare male insisted. I was fortunate to not have been kissed and groped at the same time. Having been the victim of overt sexual abuse at the age of 19 by the most revered Australian Iyengar teacher at that time, who was more than 40 years my senior, I deeply empathise with those who were abused by a teacher they trusted. 7. Contrary to fellow students complaining about Pattabhi Jois’ faults or flaws I only heard denial, justification, idolisation, projection and worship of someone I experienced as a simple, cute, cuddly old man who accidently stumbled upon fame and fortune. Students told me of dreams they had about him where he gave them guidance and generally created a sense of mystique and awe around him. I did not experience this which made it easy for me to leave. 8. I did witness and personally experience the dangerous adjustments given by K. Pattabhi and Sharath Jois at that time. I would cringe watching others being adjusted and avoiding doing certain postures when they were watching. To the loud “pop” of ligaments being torn Pattabhi Jois would comment “Mmmm, good. Opening”. Mysore became known for My sore knee, My sore back, etc. This damage was not only done in the practice room in Mysuru but is perpetuated by many teachers who have simply copied the same adjustments their teacher gave them. We actively discouraged our students from visiting Mysuru concerned that they would also incur injuries as we had. Many of these adjustments are anatomically and biomechanically unsound and thereby unsafe. I notice that adjustments are now often referred to as ‘assists’. I presume this is an attempt to soften the attitude of the adjuster, however, there is still much that needs to change. As a doctor of chiropractic and a yoga therapist I still often have the broken bodies of yogis on my table. Sometimes I can put them back together again and in some cases they will carry their injuries with them for the rest of their lives. My personal fear is that as yoga teachers we will lose the PRIVILEGE to use the profound communication tool and healing power of touch. Drawing on my training and skills as a Chiropractor, my contribution to yoga has been and continues to be to revolutionise yoga adjusting that it is the healing art it has the potential to be. We have always encouraged autonomy, open dialogue and verbal consent in the area of students being adjusted and train our teachers to do the same. In the light of past occurrences I urge teachers to formally give students the option to consent or deny being adjusted in asana. In 2000 Gregor and I removed the picture of Pattabhi Jois from our 8 Limbs yoga studio wall and left only a picture of Krishnamacharya. We held a staff meeting and told our teachers that we would no longer use the title of ‘Guruji’ when referring to Pattabhi Jois but instead his given name. I acknowledge, respect and am grateful for the contribution that Pattabhi Jois has made to yoga and myself personally by making the Ashtanga vinyasa practice accessible to the yoga community. In acknowledgement of this in 2010 I placed a small picture of Pattabhi Jois alongside one of BNS Iyengar beneath a larger picture of Krishnamacharya up on our yoga shala wall. I still could not accept nor appreciate the cult-like system that was built around him. Our conscious withdrawal from the Mysuru community and the Jois tradition was our silent protest. We were denounced, criticised and rejected especially by other local Ashtanga Yoga schools, teachers and students. I perceived that a cult had been built around the Jois family and the form of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as they teach it. There is much more I could write to elaborate but consciously omit in an attempt to not perpetuate the harm already done with no constructive purpose in confirming my points. Writing this statement is a healing for me. I now feel safe and ready for criticism in finally coming out and publicly speaking the unspoken of my long held conscience except when teaching those whose trust I felt. This open conversation is well overdue. I wish I had had the courage of state this publicly before now. I apologise for any complicity on my part that contributed to the suffering of those who have been sexually, physically and/or spiritually abused. The power behind the abuses committed by Pattabhi Jois and permitted by the Ashtanga community still stands until the tower of illusion built around the Jois tradition of Ashtanga Yoga is fully deconstructed. We need to reclaim Patanjali’s eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga and free it of this bondage. Finally the time is right and the obvious is captured in the spotlight. Faith, devotion and worship is appropriate only to the Divine. Namaste Monica Gauci If you have not already I recommend: http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/karen-rain-speaks-about-pattabhi-jois-and-recovering-from-sexual-and-spiritual-abuse-video-interview/
Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse: Nine Women Tell Their Stories
 

My Initial Response to Karen Rain’s Interview About Sexual Abuse

I’m posting here with a heavy heart the full transcript of Matthew Remski’s interview with Karen Rain. www.matthewremski.com/wordpress/karen-rain-speaks-about-pattabhi-jois-and-recovering-from-sexual-and-spiritual-abuse-video-interview/ Matthew forwarded me the interview last night and I read the first half then but couldn’t continue because I found it too distressing. I lay in bed for a long time and reflected, a process that continued through the night and in half daze this morning when reading the rest. I have known Karen as Karen Haberman and have practised close to her for around 10 or 11 months through 1996 and 1997 in KP Jois little Lakshmipuram studio. I will address you, Karen, now directly and will get Matthew to forward you my response. I want to thank you for coming out with your story. I was trying through the night to remember how close your mat must have been to mine. The old shala held 12 mats and my spot was front row, left corner in the 4:30am time slot. Sharath’s spot was front right and I think you practised next to him. This would have placed your mat about 3 metres maximum from mine. I am completely shocked that you had to go through all of this a few metres away from me and I was ignorant of it. I am deeply sorry. I am asking myself how I could not notice the extent to which these things were going on. I didn’t initially. We all focussed on our drishti (focal point) and practised as if the devil was breathing down our necks, literally. But I remember at some point I performed a twist, while KP Jois adjusted the girl next to me in drop backs. When I spun around I saw what looked to me like him grabbing her buttocks and rubbing himself against her while he stood between her legs and she was back arching. I was totally shocked. After practise I approached her, told her that I saw what happened and that I was happy to accompany and support her if she wanted to take it up with him. I remember to this day her clarity and steely determination in her eyes when she looked straight at me and said with a smile, “Forget about it. That did not happen. You are making it up”. I had two similar smaller occurrences when the girls in question simply smiled at me, shook their heads and walked on. At that point I decided that I must have hallucinated or made things up or maybe it was my ego or deviant nature that projected my own problems on the guru. I’m deeply and truthfully sorry. I’m sorry that you, and other women had to go through all of this and that I was so close to you and didn’t know nor did I feel what was going on in you. I should have trusted in my intuition and pursued that until it would blow up in some form or another. In my lack of action, I made myself complicit. At this point, after having read in the wake of MeToo so many accounts of sexual abuse by women conducted by men, I feel an almost primal shame of being male. I totally agree with you, Karen, that sexual abuse is not about sex. It is a ritual of domination. How much of that have men done to women through the ages. I think it behoves all us men to start treating women with more respect. Reflecting back now on Mysuru (new de-colonialized name for Mysore) it was a classic example of The Emperor and His New Clothes. The whole story was hidden in plain sight. I made a few attempts to discuss these things with senior teachers (I was a newie then and didn’t practise enough series to be taken seriously) but the response was usually along the lines of “Do your practice and all is coming” or “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”. I think I’ll spew if I hear those sentences once more. Questioning the guru was certainly considered theory. During my last stay in Mysuru in 1999 I shared all of my doubts with a friend. I talked to her about the process of projection, about idealizing a person, about giving up one’s power, hypnotizing oneself into beliefs and finally about taking self-responsibility. She said to me, “What you say sounds much too difficult and tiring. I just want to totally surrender to a person that fixes all my problems in return”. I think these really sums up the crux of the matter nicely. I realized then that I was a member of a cult. Shortly thereafter I packed up and left. Again, I am really sorry that all of this happened and that it damaged you and other women so much. Again, I’m sorry that I did not do enough to protect you and the others. I want to contribute to your healing by providing a safe space in which you can come forward and express all this. I will continue to post on my media and blog all new revelations in this matter. I also want to thank and acknowledge Anneke Lucas who apparently was the whistle blower on this affair. That must have been really scary to be the first person. Braver than I was. I would like also to thank you, Karen, for being so clear in your interview what constitutes assault and going through all the intellectualizations and rationalisations, that are trying to explain KP Jois behaviour away. I hope that we as a movement, the Ashtanga culture, can stop doing that and be truthful about what happened. I hope that we can show that we are more than a cult. And I believe we are or should I say that we can become that? Now here I am talking about providing a safe space where you can heal but I have to actually thank you for providing a safe space to me where I can come out. The year when you left, 1998, I wasn’t there. I came back in 1999 for a short period with unstable knees. My knees were getting better at the time and I could again do most of my practise. I shared my knee problem with Sharath Jois (then R. Sharath) and asked to be adjusted gently or not at all. In the coming weeks Sharath almost daily mounted me in Baddha Konasana by standing on both my knees with his full body weight. As he stepped up forcefully from behind, he found it hard to catch his balance and had to hold on to my shoulders to not fall over me. For a few moments he swung back and forth on my knees and it felt as if he was grinding them to dust. After the first day my knees were swelling to the size of footballs and I could hardly walk. Somehow, I thought the guru knows better and knows my body better than I (where did I get that idea from?) and I kept coming back for more. My knees were really saved by a senior teacher who came around to me and said, “Do not go back into that room! They don’t know what they are doing! If you don’t take responsibility for your body, you will end up in a wheelchair!” There was somehow an implied knowledge of that but nobody spoke out. I left Mysuru shortly thereafter and never went back to practice in the Jois shala. I am glad that I strongly advised any of my students not to go there. I am not writing that with any resentment. I have forgiven Sharath long ago. After years of healing my knees came good and I have a well-going daily Ashtanga practice 20 years on. The reason why I’m writing this is because there is still an emperor with no clothes in Mysuru. I think an apology should be issued by the Jois family for sexual assault and violating adjustments. More importantly I think there needs to be a disclaimer that Sharath has any form of guru status, that he knows our bodies better than we do. Let’s stop projecting our power on gurus and let’s cease worshipping people who insist on passing on knowledge and especially sacred knowledge in vertical relationships. That doesn’t work anymore (did it ever?). As all these things are being revealed the cult-like, fundamentalist tendencies in Ashtanga Yoga have only increased. More than ever one person defines exactly what is correct practice. Even just recently Sharath has accepted the title parama guru, claiming the fact that he is the only true representative of an ancient lineage and the only person to authorize teachers, etc. I am concerned that the wool is still being pulled over the eyes of young, unsuspecting people. To my knowledge the title was actually conferred to him by a Western senior teacher. The bogus-parampara juggernaut is still being propelled forward. Karen, you have brilliantly explored the issue of complicity in your interview, so I need not embark here on the issue. And the cover-up is still going on. In the last 24 hours I have hear from several sides that the video showing KP Jois sexually assaulting and adjusting violently students has been taken down several times by petitions of Jois followers. This has to stop. The cover-up has to stop and what has been done has to be owned. What we need here is a Truth and Reconciliation process and it needs to start with the truth. And not with cover-up. Until that has been done and apologies have been made a call to boycott the Jois shalas in Mysore is only fair. Also, those who are still touching the feet of that emperor without clothes should think whether they are not continuing that trajectory of power transfer that leads to unhealthy relationships and abuse. One woman commenting on my last post signed off with #gurufreezone. I have not explored that link but after all that has happened I think we need to make modern Ashtanga Yoga a guru free zone. Let’s be a collective of equals in which any form of teaching is not handed down in vertical relationships and where gurus can do as they please. Let’s turn modern Ashtanga Yoga into a collective of equals where teachers are mere facilitators and servants of growth for students. Let’s take our power back and stop projecting it on people who are as flawed as we all are. PS This post is only a fragment of what needs to be said but I hope to be addressing all that later down the track. Thanks to all of you who commented on my initial post of M. Remski’s article. I found them very valuable and will continue to read all. Gregor Maehle

Ashtanga Yoga Stories from Norman Blair

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Following on from Matthew’s article here Norman Blair’s article that explores a few more of today’s Ashtanga culture’s dark sides. Norman attended my event in London and we had a cuppa afterwards. He is a sincere person. I don’t share his love for Yin Yoga but a lot of what he writes about power dynamics, allegiance, rigidity, hierarchy, forceful adjustments, etc., is really important to look into. http://www.yogawithnorman.co.uk/space/1ff1de774005f8da13f42943881c655f/pdfs/ashtanga_yoga_stories_may_20181.pdf

Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse by Matthew Remski

Last night I had an hour-long phone conversation with the Canadian yoga researcher Matthew Remski about his inquiry into alleged sexual abuse conducted by the late K Pattabhi Jois. I found Matthew to be a very caring and genuine person and I am sharing here his article on the subject. It is important at this point that we as a movement are not coming from ‘sticking our head into the sand’ or ‘defending the fortress’. We need to listen to those women who have been assaulted and acknowledge and support them so that some form of healing can begin. For article please go to https://thewalrus.ca/yogas-culture-of-sexual-abuse-nine-women-tell-their-stories/

The Five States of the Afflictions

The forms of suffering, or afflictions (kleshas), according to Patanjali, are ignorance, egotism, desire, aversion and fear of death. In stanza II.4 he points out that forms of suffering do not just occur in the fully active form but also in the so-called dormant, thinned and interrupted states when they are subliminal and we are often not conscious of being in their grip. When I was young I always believed that I was not afraid of death. Then one day I was in a life-threatening situation and this incredible fear of annihilation, completely unbeknownst to me, surfaced. It was only when this fear had become conscious that I was ready to do something about it. I also used to think of myself as being completely incorruptible and looked at contempt at so-called corrupt people. Patanjali’s sutra made me realize that since I had never been in a position of power the appropriate stimulus to test my resilience against corruption had simply never been provided. I therefore could not call myself incorruptible. II.4  Ignorance is the origin of the other afflictions, whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted or active. Vyasa, the historical commentator on the Yoga Sutra, likens ignorance to a field that provides the breeding-ground for the other four afflictions, which are egoism, desire, repulsion and fear of death. These can occur in four different states: dormant, attenuated (thinned), interrupted and active. They are described to remind us that, just because we are not fully in the grip of an affliction, it doesn’t mean the affliction is not present.  Dormant state For example, we may not be aware that fear of death is present in us, because we have never had to fear for our life. But if the appropriate stimulus – a life-threatening situation – is presented, the fear will surface. Thus the affliction, fear of death, was in the dormant state. A dormant affliction will awaken once its object is presented. If the affliction does not surface at all, even in a life-threatening situation, it is not present, even in a dormant form. Attenuated (thinned) state If for example we are in a life-threatening situation and we react relatively calmly because, through study of the Bhagavad Gita, we have understood that we are not the body, but rather that which cannot be burned by fire, drowned by water, pierced by thorns or cut by blades, the affliction is said to be attenuated or thinned by Kriya Yoga – in this case through the second aspect of Kriya Yoga, which is svadhyaya, the study of sacred scripture. Interrupted state If an even stronger affliction cancels out a present affliction, that affliction is said to be interrupted. For example, let us say we are committing a bank robbery, and so eager to get our hands on a bag full of dollars that we have no fear of getting harmed. In this case fear is interrupted by greed. It is not that fear is not present, but it is interrupted or suppressed by the stronger notion of greed or desire. Active state If the object is presented and we are fully in the grip of the affliction, it is called active. This is the only state in which we are aware of the affliction. It is important to realise this: it means that, from our total portfolio of afflictions, only about as much is visible as of the iceberg that sank the Titanic. The Fifth State There is a fifth state of affliction that Patanjali does not count because it occurs only in the yogi. Once the yogi has gained discriminative knowledge (the knowledge that one is not the appearances, but the consciousness in which they appear) then and only then the seeds of the afflictions cannot propagate any more. The seeds are then said to be roasted in the fire of knowledge, which destroys their potency to sprout. This roasted state is also called the fifth state, which is different from the dormant state of the affliction. If a suitable object is presented, the affliction will not arise. This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

Mayurasana (peacock posture)

Yoga asana is often erroneously thought of as dealing only with flexibility. In fact increasing ones level of flexibility is only then functional if this increase is matched by a similar increase of your strength. Ideal for increasing strength is the practise of arm balances. Today we will look at Mayurasana (peacock posture). Since this posture has rather complex sequential movements I left in this description the traditional vinyasa count that is featured in my text Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series. Vinyasa count: We begin this and the next two postures with vinyasa one in Samasthiti for already described reasons. Exhaling, hop your feet hip width apart and bend forward. Vinyasa one Place your hands between your feet, palms facing down and fingers pointing backwards. Inhaling, straighten your back and look up. Vinyasa two Exhaling, fold forward. Vinyasa three Inhaling, raise your chest again and look up, arriving in the same position as vinyasa one. Vinyasa four Exhaling, hop back as if entering Chaturanga Dandasana. Bend your elbows in transit and bring them as close together as possible, ideally they would touch each other. Failure to do so means you will need to adduct the humeri (arm bones) the whole time, which means engaging the pectoralis major muscle. The weight of the chest will have the tendency to drive the arms apart unless you can place your chest on top of your arms rather than in between them. To enter Mayurasana the forearms must be firmly planted onto the chest and abdomen. This will give you the advantage of not having to the flex the ribcage at the outset of the posture, which will make it easier later on to lift your chest and shoulders away from the floor. Those whose centre of gravity is lower down, often females and people with long legs, need to make the thorax hyperkyphotic to place their elbows as low down as possible against the contracted rectus abdominis muscle. This contraction acts as armour for the abdominal organs and provides a stable platform on which to mount the arms. Assume now a right angle between arms and forearms. Consciously engage and co-contract all stabilizers of the shoulder girdle and joints before you raise your weight into the air. Vinyasa five Inhaling, shift your centre of gravity forward, engage your back extensors and lift up into what looks like a suspended Shalabhasana. Shifting your weight forward in this position means to partially extend your elbows. The lower down the centre of gravity in your body is (when standing) the more you have to lift your chest forward in Mayurasana and extend your elbows to lift your feet of the floor. Bring your feet together and point them. If you find it difficult to lift up, keep first your head down and lift your feet only for five breaths. Once you have mastered this lift your head by shifting your weight forward more. If you still encounter problems, look at the following scenarios.
  • Make sure that your elbows don’t come apart, what will make it much harder to lift. Strongly engaging pectoralis major will ensure that the elbows stay together.
  • On hot days your elbows may slip because you are sweating. In this case place fabric between your elbows and abdomen to provide traction.
  • Excess adipose tissue on thighs and buttocks will make you ‘bottom heavy’ and thus you will have to lunge forward by extending you elbows more. This will make the posture much more difficult. If this is the case dispose of excess adipose tissue.
  • Difficulties in lifting up can be caused by weakness of your back extensors but even the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and hamstrings contribute to the lifting. Put more emphasis into practicing Shalabhasana.
  • Shifting your weight forward on slowly extending elbows needs considerable strength of arms and shoulders. If lacking here, practise jumping through from Downward Dog to Dandasana. Perform this movement with great passion, very slowly, gliding through Lollasana without touching down, into a suspended Dandasana, while still inhaling. Lower down only once the exhalation commences.
  • The abdominals need to provide a strong base to balance on. They are also important as antagonists of your back extensors. To strengthen your abdominals hold Navasana longer and put more emphasis on clearing the floor when jumping through and jumping back.
Once you find Mayurasana easy, lift as high as you can and straighten your legs. Make sure that your shoulders don’t round and collapse down towards the floor. To do so would mean to court an imbalance of your shoulder muscles as the more forward and down your shoulders will be the more emphasis will be shifted towards the pectoralis muscles which bear already the brunt of this posture. For a more holistic approach to using your shoulders, lift them away from the floor. This is achieved by drawing the shoulder blades down the back and in towards the spine, using latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and lower trapezius. Make also sure that your shoulderblades do not have a winged appearance in this posture. To prevent this, suck the medial borders of the scapulae into the chest by engaging serratus anterior and subscapularis. If you have excess capacity in the posture, engage your erector spinae even more and arch up into a suspended Shalabhasana. This is the only posture apart from Shalabhasana in which we fully engage erector spinae. Contrary to common perception the full engagement of erector spinae although a back extensor, prevents back bending by drawing the spinous processes towards each other, thus shortening the back. As the erector spinae is therefore somewhat shunned by the astute yogi, we should engage it in Mayurasana to its maximum capacity. Look towards your nose and stay for five breaths. Exhaling, lower your feet down. Warm-up and research posture: Shalabhasana with arms extended overhead, if that’s not enough, lie on your belly, place your feet under a sofa and raise a barbell with your arms. Vinyasa six Inhaling, place your feet on the floor and lift into what resembles an Upward Dog with your hands still in Mayurasana position. Vinyasa seven Exhale into a Downward Dog-like position apart from keeping your hands in place. Vinyasa eight Inhaling jump forward to standing, repeating vinyasa three of Mayurasana. Vinyasa nine Exhaling, bend forward, repeating vinyasa two of Mayurasana. Inhaling, come up and hop your feet together, returning to Samastithi. This is an excerpt from my 2009 textbook Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series.