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  • Writer's pictureJérôme Jaquier

If the teacher answers: because it is a "traditional" or "original" Ashtanga yoga sequence ....

Updated: May 21, 2022

If the teacher answers you: because it is "traditional" or "original" Ashtanga yoga sequence, then we suggest you better think it over!

Mark Darby and Joanne have been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for over 35 years. He began with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the master of Ashtanga Yoga, in 1979 when he spent four years in Mysore.

Extracted from the book: ‘Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students.’ Interview with Mark Darby and Joanne.

Q: It's key as teacher to know when a student is ready.

Joanne : None of us learned the same advanced. Now it's very A, B, C, or one, two, three, but in those days I think he (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) would see what were your good points and he would just give us the postures.

Q :Today people get so obsessed about the sequence that he taught in such an individualized way.

Darby : I think now when you transition to intermediate you have to be able to stand up from urdhva dhanurasana. We learned primary and intermediate and when you got into advanced, then we did urdhva dhanurasana, and we didn't even have to stand up from it.

And I think it's because of the number of people who are going. They don't have the time, so they made it more difficult and shortened the breaths from eight to five. Some of the postures we held for five breaths are not there, they would just be in the transition.

Joanne :There were just a few of us in those days. Now it's 350 people.

Q : Were primary and intermediate different in those days, too?

Joanne : There is a slight difference, mostly the standing postures.

Darby : We didn't learn the reversed triangle or reversed parshvakonasana as beginners. Utthita hasta padangushtasana and then ardha baddha padmottanasana were at the end of primary instead of the beginning - after setu bandhasana - then we did utthita hasta, which made sense because you don't have the strength as a beginner to stand on one leg and take the leg to one side. It's easier to learn it in supta padangushtasana. Even ardha baddha padmottanasana, to stand up on one leg and bend, is quite dangerous. First you learned primary and you had the strength of ten, eleven, twelve week's practice before the postures were introduced.

Q : If the precise sequencing is not the most important thing...

Darby : The sequencing is there, just the details are a little different. Like standing trikonasana with the side twist is not a beginner's posture. That was given as we got more into intermediate. If you are a beginner watching an advanced student and you copy the person... I think what happened, with so many people doing that coming to Mysore, Guruji gave up and said, "Okay, everybody does it now," and put it in the beginner series.

Joanne : Besides those minor changes, the only one I remember in intermediate is the scorpion. We used to do pincha mayurasana, karandavasana, and scorpion. Other than that, intermediate has not changed; primary has not changed, either. So primary and intermediate are 90 percent the same.

Extracted from the article : ”Mysore 1978” Interview with Mark Darby and Joanne Darby. (In 2010)

Q: Some people who studied in the 70-s told me that before, students practiced both 1st and 2nd series during one class. Some people told that sequence was different.

Darby : At first we learned Surya Namaskara A, B, Padangushtasana, Padahastasana, Trikonasana, Parshvakonasana - and then Baddha Padmasana, Yoga Mudra and Utpluthi - this was first class. And my friend Old Cliff said: "Oh, he likes you - he gave you a lot of asanas". Next day I got one more posture, next day - one more. So maybe for one week I was given one posture per day, and after two more postures per week. In three months we completed Primary Series. After three month I went for holiday - my body was tired. After one month I came back - and I started Intermediate, it took two months. An every day I did primary and Intermediate. An then we started Advanced postures. So it was Primary, Intermediate, Advanced every day. So I did three series daily, and after two years my practice was 3 and half hours. Joanne was doing 4 and half hours, because she was standing one hour in Shirshasana.

Q: So you started visit Mysore every year?

Darby : We stayed two years in Mysore, than spend one year in Australia, than came back again for two years. And you asked about sequence - Advanced series was different. But also he made series specific for each person - I know Nancy Gilgoff practiced a different sequence. When Joanne was pregnant he gave me different postures, more strength, handstands variations - he also gave Joanne different postures. More postures focusing on hip openings and more meditative postures.

Q: Somebody told me that Hanumanasana was in Primary series.

Darby :He gave it to Derek Ireland - Hanumanasana and Somakonasana, it was individual instruction, but Derek gave this to his students. So only his students did this. But he was advanced student. It was not given to beginners.

Q: What I see looking to old-school ashtanga guys, like you or Swenson, or Freeman, or Corigliano - from my experience every teacher has his own approach, all of them teaching the same series but with own vision how to practice, own hints. What do you think about it?

Darby : First it should be your own practice. Pattabhi Jois said to us - you practice what I teach you for 20 years - after you can change something.

Joanne : It takes many years. 12 or 20, usually Indians like sacred number of 12 years.

Darby : First you start asana practice more like gymnastic, stretching, then you start to realize - it becomes more powerful, more subtle. You discover different things. The same in martial arts - first you do like physical exercises, after you start to feel the motion of energy. So after just performing yoga posture you start to feel deeper what you are doing and you have experienced and things come up. I’m keeping the ashtanga system but put my own interpretation. And then I’ll go back and understand my interpretation and remember what Pattabhi Jois said - its the same thing! He said but we did not understand. When you do it for long time, you understand what he said.

Joanne : I think it also depends from experience. Darby was very intense, like Misha Baranov, but very brutal sometimes. He injured his knee, injured his back, and from experience he understand that its better to have a more gentle approach.

Darby : Now I keep more slow rhythm in practice. More softness in shoulders and neck, more emphasis on breathing, feel good after practice.


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