In November 2015, I was fortunate to attend a weekend of Ashtanga Yoga workshops with John Scott in Oxford, organised by Ian Macdonald (who has been organising Ashtanga Yoga workshops in Oxford for over 25 years). I did teacher training with John in 2012–13 but first met John in 2009, the first time he taught at Stillpoint Yoga London.
On Friday evening and Sunday morning John led a counted Primary Series practice. When John guides a led practice class he holds the group with a clarity of focus that is amazing. For me, it really lets the simplicity of the Ashtanga Yoga method shine through and creates a space for the group to practice together with one breath, one body, one thought.
On Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon there was technique work including counting the vinyasa movements in the Primary Series, with the group counting the vinyasa together out loud, practicing counting twelve breaths, looking at the movement and anatomical patterns in some of the primary and intermediate series asana, breath work and chanting, and plenty of philosophy and stories from John’s time with Pattabhi Jois.
Stillpoint Yoga London has created a short film from footage of the Ashtanga Yoga led practice held on 3 January 2015, which captures the essence of the community there. Community and relationship is at the heart of Stillpoint Yoga London. Co-founder Ozge Karabiyik, who sadly died on 2 January 2012, raised thousands of pounds for charity and each year the Stillpoint Yoga London community has come together in this light to remember her and celebrate her life.
The Sanskrit word स्मृति (smṛti) means remembrance or memory.
The Ashtanga Yoga practice is a practice of memory.
It is held in our hearts.
Names and numbers are important. The Sanskrit word ‘Ashtanga’ refers to the eight limbs or components of yoga described in The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. John Scott tells of Pattabhi Jois calling Ashtanga Yoga a ‘counted method’, and even the name ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ has a number in it!
The fourth limb is given as prāṇāyāma, which can be translated as the practice of breathing exercises. The building blocks of pranayama are puraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) and kumbhaka (breath retention). John Scott teaches a pranayama technique of twelve exhalation-inhalation breaths and uses a counting technique based on the fingers of one hand, which is also described by T.K.V. Desikachar in his book The Heart of Yoga. The four fingers of a hand contain twelve bones, and the thumb can trace a spiral round from the base of the index finger to count each breath.
Counting, breathing, moving. The union of body, and breath, and mind into a single focus. Continuing this focus of the senses for a single full breath of unbroken concentration lasting twelve seconds. Repeating for twelve breaths, taking us to the edge of meditation. Then perhaps repeating this twelve times over, leading into total, perfect absorption. Stillness. Equanimity. All this bringing together the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga into a practice we can do anywhere.
In our November ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class at Whitespace Yoga & Wellbeing Studio, we practiced counting twelve breaths and looked at how this mindfulness can be carried into our practice.
The next ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class is on Saturday 12 December and there is regular Ashtanga self-practice and led-practice every Sunday.
Spending time listening to John Scott talk can be a life changing experience. I know it has been for me, and continues to be every time it happens. John’s perspective on a yoga practice always brings some new attitude, some new context to my practice. In the Ashtanga Dispatch podcast released today, John is in conversation with Peg Mulqueen, talking about the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the teachings of Pattabhi Jois. This is just part one, with part two next week.
There is so much in what John says, so many layers. But the root of a meditative, counted, breath-body-movement practice is clear. Transcending time and space, transcending what is up and what is down.
When we sit for meditation, we realise how slippery the mind is and so some of us need more support, more structure, more solid things to focus on to steady the mind. […] So there are many techniques of let’s say ‘static’ meditation. We could call our Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga a ‘dynamic’ meditation. And so if we just talk about them both being mediations then we can draw some parallels. That if we sit to meditate and we can accept that the mind is slippery. Let’s then also accept if we stand on our mat and be dynamic, through a flowing sequence of postures, our mind can also be slippery. -John Scott
Listen on SoundCloud or subscribe to the Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast on iTunes.
(Photograph of John Scott © D Manomas 2015)
On 4 January 2014, Stillpoint Yoga London joined with John Scott, Lucy Crawford and 101 practitioners, friends and family to remember Ozge Karabiyik, co-founder of Stillpoint Yoga London, who died in January 2012. The day raised over £3,000 for The Chartwell Cancer Trust.
You can read more about the day in the SYL website posting ‘Beginning By Remembering – The SYL Charity Class 2014‘.
The day was doubly special for me as someone from the self-practice group at Whitespace Studio was also able to make it to the practice. Four generations of paramparā.