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Myth of the 90-minute Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Led Class

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

Search online videos, DVDs of international teachers, yoga class schedules, beginning classes...etc. The 90-minute Ashtanga Yoga Primary series led class is available everywhere and seems to be the "standard class". You probably don't think very much about it (or confront it): "Can my movement really follow the breath every moment? “ Most people think they can progress by attending led classes regularly. Does "progression" mean doing all the postures of the primary series?

This article explores several aspects: the logic of moving with the second of breathing; the effects of shortness of breath; the reasons for focusing on the breath in yoga asana practice; the intention of the led class; what is the progress; conclusion and the views of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Manju Pattabhi Jois, and Mark Darby on the subject of yoga.

[ The logic of moving with the second of breathing ]

First of all, ask yourself this question: How many seconds do I inhale and exhale during asanas (postures) practice?

The natural breathing of a human being is short and irregular. The practice of yoga already requires to become aware of this nature and then by introducing the Ujjayi breath to become familiar with this regular, slow and smooth breathing. Thus, a significant aspect of learning breathing techniques is the awareness of the difference between controlled breathing and natural breathing.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) used to speak in interviews and insist on keeping the inhalations and exhalations regular, i.e. if you have a 10 second inhalation the exhalation is also 10 seconds if it is 15 seconds on the inhalation then also 15 seconds on the exhalation and this without doing retention.

When we learned the Vinyasa Krama method with Srivatsa Ramswami who remained a student of T. Krishnamacharia (the same master as K. Pattabhi Jois) for 33 years, he insisted on longer exhalations than inhalations and he easily counted 5 seconds on the inhalation and 8 seconds on the exhalation, or even in some postures 15 seconds on the inhalation and 15 seconds on the exhalation as in Sirsasana posture (headstand).

The method is certainly not the same, but if you bring a critical sense on yoga practices, we will certainly agree on the fact that 4 seconds on the inhalation and 4 seconds on the exhalation seems to be a minimum, because below that we can't talk anymore about a yogic breathing which is supposed to have an impact on the nervous system and bring a deep calm and develop intelligence, which is essential for a realization.

If we take as an example 5 seconds of inhalation and 5 seconds of exhalation which should be a good average for an average practitioner in the first and second series, how long will it take to do the whole first series?

The result of our calculation is 2 hours and 12 minutes, which is 132 minutes.

It may be difficult for some people to inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds. So, as an example, how many minutes does the entire Primary Series last with 4 seconds of inhalation and 4 seconds of exhalation?

The result of our calculation is 1 hour and 46 minutes, which is 106 minutes.

And to this you should add at least 15 minutes for Savasana.

If you watch a movie, for example, the 121 minutes fast forward to 90 minutes to watch the end, the action in the movie becomes fast. The original normal fast walking scenes become fast walking.

Even as viewers, we cannot help but breathe faster as the characters in the film do.

This calculation is made with respect to the first series as it is given at present by Sharath Jois. The series has changed on the number of counts in certain postures compared to the time of K. Pattabhi Jois, but this and another subject.

With regular practice and provided you pay full attention, it is quite possible to keep a regular rhythm of breathing. If you observe K. Pattabhi Jois's count, it is not regular and everyone does the same thing, it has become an irregular count that everyone does by imitation to the point of copying even the intonation of K. Pattabhi Jois's English. If you observe well when he was conducting Samasthiti the last movement of the A and B sun salutation, the intonation and speed is not the same, but slackened and accelerated, and there you see everyone slackening and accelerating the movement with total lack of attention. Everybody knows that he was not regular in his count, this is not really the biggest problem, but it is a pity that most teachers and practitioners copy this model which leads to nonsense and an effect of the practice that is not as beneficial as it could be. Most of the time, the count is not regular ranging from 2 to 5 seconds and often, the transitions are sloppy. Most practitioners want to chain postures together by jumping from one posture to another without any awareness, without attention it develops the ego, and you see what you want to see but not what is actually there, if you put all your attention while respecting the well-directed breath then you will have more presence and this presence will bring you into awareness of the reality of the moment, this is the most difficult aspect of the practice, but when you taste it and you see what is in reality, you can't help but deal with it, because you see all your perverted patterns, it is no longer possible to go back, the practice will become a mirror of yourself, and if you are sincere then you have the possibility to change. No one is telling you to get there straight away, but don't escape this aspect as most people do in their everyday lives. Practice should never be an escape. And if there is an effort to be made, it is that of being in total attention, and there comes the possibility of a change, of a vision different from what we have been used to, of an internal transformation. It is double-edged, either you develop the ego and go down into the matter in more illusion and that makes monsters, and there are already quite enough of them in this world, either you bring to light what is in reality, in an upward movement and develop the intelligence. There are practitioners who have become worse than when they started Yoga by going in a direction that was the opposite of what Yoga should be about.

[ The effects of shortness of breath ]

● What happens when you feel shortness of breath?