Simha Krama

Patrick has talked about Matthew Sweeney’s Simha Krama sequence from his new book, Vinyasa Krama.

I finally got a chance to try the sequence out this morning. May I say it totally rocks?


Let’s start from yesterday, when I went to an all-levels Anusara class with a friend from work. We did a lot of nice alignmenty stuff, and then moved into some backbends. Ustrasana, for one.

I always feel lame when I do the intermediate backbends, because I am exquisitely aware of all of the little details I want to fix.

So I do my ustrasana, and when I come up, the teacher is standing at the front of my mat.

“You’re a backbender…” she says, with a knowing smile.

I shake my head and snort. “No,” I say, laughing — and perplexed that she’d make that mistake.

When we get to urdhva dhanurasana, I look around in the mirrors. Huh. My urdhva dhanurasana is most… arched? tall? advanced? Whatever. At first I take this as a reflection of the experience of the students in the class, but then I realize what a dope I am being. In my home yoga room, where I measure myself against some ideal, I always have more to do and further to climb. Here in an actual class with people, I have a nice urdhva dhanurasana.

Still, that doesn’t make me a backbender, like the teacher thought. It’s taken years, every DAY, to get here.

Meanwhile, my friend, who is a beginner, bent back into ustrasana quite handily. The teacher then suggested we do laghu vajrasana — the old version, where you grab your thighs instead of your ankles.

She asked me and my friend to do it and had the rest of the class watch. I could do it, because I’ve been hitting my head against the wall of backbends every morning for some years now. My friend could do it because she just can. She could have a smoking kapotasana in less than a month if she set her mind to it.

“You’re a backbender!” I exclaim excitedly when she comes back up. She has no idea what I’m talking about.

“Most people are either more forward bendy or more backward bendy. I’m forward bendy,” I say, falling forward flat onto my legs as a demonstration. She leans forward with her back curled and hands oustretched, far from her feet.

Suddenly I feel so grateful for Ashtanga, for the things I’ve learned — both physical and mental/emotional. I’m also reminded, as class proceeds, about how very pose-specific Ashtanga is. Yup, I’m good at the ones I’ve worked my way through, but I’m also intensely disoriented by poses I *don’t* practice every day. Basically, it comes clear how specialized Ashtanga has made me.

Okay, this little digression brings me to Simha Krama. Which is gorgeous. The chandra namaskara opening is, as Patrick mentioned, just marvelous. As I began the first lunge, I noted that the left leg goes forward first. What?! I had to laugh at the suspicion I felt in response to this apparent disregard for the “right leg first” rule. And then I remembered something that happened at Matthew’s workshop in Minnesota. He asked me to demonstrate a standing pose — can’t remember which one — so I did the first side. Then he asked me to do the other side, and when I went to shift to face the other end of the mat, in standard Ashtanga protocol, he said, “No, stay facing in the same direction, just change your feet.” And then he laughed as I blundered about and was totally flummoxed by the insurmountable challenge of doing something different from what I usually do.

Therein lies the potential pitfall of blind devotion to practice. Flexible body, not-so-flexible mind.

Okay, so what did I find out about Simha Krama? It’s about hips and shoulders, and the subtle relationships between. About halfway through, I thought about the salabhasana-bhekasana-dhanurasana-ustrasana-laghuvajrasana-kapotasana gauntlet, and wondered how a non-backbender like myself might make her way through to some sort of grace. There is no doubt that there is something to be had in doggedly pursuing the traditional path.

But what a joy to do a reverse anjali mudra in salabhasana (salabhasana C in this series), and how revealing to feel the back and shoulders during a reverse anjali mudra in ustrasana (ustrasana C). My favorite pose of all is ardha baddha padma ustrasana, half-bound ustrasana, where the arm that is grabbing the lotus leg makes a soothing cradle for the lumbar.

As Patrick mentioned, the series is about lotused legs and ustrasana bendings — all kinds of variations that challenge the hips to think about subtle relationships to shoulders, and vice versa.

Will I reach some rarefied heights of subtle awareness if I keep grinding out salabhasana-bhekasana-dhanurasana-ustrasana-laghuvajrasana-kapotasana? It’s a really interesting question. I *know* there are people who can find those subtleties, those awarenesses, in the classical series. Always, though, my own personal struggle with backbending (and I mean both physical and mental/emotional struggles here) have blinded — or perhaps desensitized — me to the kaleidoscopic subtleties of the hip/shoulder relationship.

Obviously, it’s always easier to be aware in new situations — and this sequence was a new situation. Could I turn it into a rote grind? Oh, yeah. Let’s just hope I’ve learned enough from yoga that I can avoid doing that.


5 Responses

  1. I’ve had that book for a couple of months now and STILL haven’t managed to do any of it. I’m dying to! And now I want to even more. But (apart from the fact that I’m normally at the shala) I simply don’t seem able to make myself look at a book while I’m practising. What to do??? He really SHOULD put out an accompanying CD. Or a DVD!

    I always slip in enough freestyle periodically to avoid my practice becoming too rote.

  2. Sounds amazing. I wonder if he considers the sequence his intellectual property…?

  3. I hear that MS has OK’d a studio in North Carolina to teach the first of the sequences; he said in Minnesota that he’d like to teach these to yogis before said yogis teach these to other people.

    I wrote myself a sort of “transcript” of the Simha, Baddha and Uddi Kramas, grouping the poses by categories such as “Standing 1, 2, 3” or “Camelotuses” or “Yogadandasanas” and that really helped grok the sequences. I have Simha virtually memorized from my “cheat sheet”.

    Why yes, I’m an academic, why do you ask? 😀

  4. Hmmm. If you find out more about this NC place, let me know, Patrick. Maybe a visit is in order?

    I spent time reviewing and “chunking” Simha Krama into sections, too. Helped immensely. If you go picture by picture, it’s impossible to see the… well, the bigger picture.

    Interesting question about the intellectual property, Owl. I’ll bet he’d disavow any “rights,” but also imagine he’d want to see the sequences “transmitted” with some sort of integrity (integrity in the sense of holding their original intention, rather than integrity in the sense of them being hyper-specific recipes)… But that’s just my guess.

  5. I spent time yesterday reviewing and ‘chunking’ it too. I’ll just memorise it, it’s the only way forward. I’m an academic at heart (all those years of foreign vocab lists)…

    I believe that in the book too, he asks teachers not to teach these without his permission. Though once I’ve practised them, I shall definitely nick chunks here and there.

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