Book Review : Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana by R Sharath Jois
I was so excited when I heard that Sharath had written a book. Getting my hands on it was not easy though. It was only available from Ashtanga Yoga New York and from the shala in Mysore, India. It was on the top of my list of things to get when I visited New York last year and I was not disappointed once I finally got my hands on a copy and I delved inside.
Sharath Jois is the grandson of the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois, and ‘Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana’ is his first book on the practice of ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga means eight limbs. Anusthana means to carry out, undertake, to practice. With only 87 pages, mainly pictures, it’s slim-lined, it’s simple, and it focuses on what is important.
At first glance, it might seem strange that there is actually very little instruction on the shape of each posture, but this leaves centre stage for Sharath’s main focus, which is on the correct vinyasa count for each posture – this simple rhythm of when to breathe in and when to breathe out is the thread that holds the Ashtanga practice together, and by bringing attention to the breath, Sharath shows again that getting the posture absolutely perfect is not important, and perhaps not even possible.
Sharath also explains the benefits of practicing with the vinyasa method. He explains the purpose of vinyasa is for ‘internal cleansing’, saying ‘the heat created from the vinyasa cleanses the blood, making it thin so that it can circulate freely’; ‘This improved circulation allows the blood to move freely around the joints and the internal organs taking away bodily pains, impurities and disease’, and ‘If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy, strong and pure like gold’.
I have to say that the vinyasa is my favourite aspect of the practice. Yes the postures are difficult however, the real challenge is to practice to the correct vinyasa. The flowing nature of the practice is what attracted me in the first place. It felt like a beautiful piece of choreography to be performed with the breath as the rhythm to move in time with. What is refreshing and reassuring is that Sharath also notes that following the correct vinyasa may not be possible in the beginning and extra breaths may be needed but with time and practice it will eventually be possible.
What is also interesting about this book is the supplemental asanas for therapy and breathing exercises in the back. Sharath gives us some very basic postures for back pain and a breathing exercise (pranayama) to help with respiratory problems, which are not often talked about or demonstrated in a typical ashtanga yoga practice.
The simplicity of this book is what makes it so beautiful. The practice of ashtanga yoga can seem very difficult, sometimes impossible with all the fancy postures, Sanskrit names and correct breathing. Of course these are all important, but I think if we can keep it simple and not try to do everything at once we can slowly transform and one day all those things that seem so impossible in the beginning will become simple with time.
One of my favourite ashtanga bloggers Peg Mulqueen also offers her review of the book here.
ps – we have some copies of the book at the studio if you would like to grab one for yourself