Prāṇāyāma brings fitness of the mind for concentration.

patanjali-1

धारणासु च योग्यता मनसः ॥५३॥
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ

“As Prāṇāyāma dissolves the covering of the light,
fitness of the mind for concentration arises.”
Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 53

From Prāṇāyāma the covering of the light dissolves.

seated_pranayama

ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम् ॥५२॥
tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśa-āvaraṇam

“From Prāṇāyāma the covering of the light dissolves.”
Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 52

Reflections on TKV Desikachar’s Teaching and Svatantra……

As his pupil my teacher worked at guiding me towards becoming increasingly independent in developing and refining more and more my personal practice skills so I became less and less dependent on him being the vehicle for if, when, where, what and how well I practice.

I have always respected this aspect of his 121 teaching in that, like a parent with a child, he progressively facilitated my learning to enable me to grow into an intelligently consistent, situation adaptive and yet long term developmental self-practice, initially through, then much more than just Āsana.

Especially as, like any art that we wish to become accomplished in, this self-skill was cultivated primarily within my home environment with all its hues and moods that inevitably influence, or are driven by deeper motivations within our current intentions and situation realities.

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Learning to Chant the Four Chapters of the Yoga Sūtra

Learning to Chant the Four Chapters of the Yoga Sūtra

This post is a kind of addendum to a longer post last August on ‘The strength, depth and potential of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around practice Sādhana“. In this post I talked about the long term development and refinement of the different aspects that constitute a Yoga practice.

These many different aspects of formal practice fell into two general groups:

  • Firstly Bahya Aṅga Sādhana through Haṭha Yoga and the practice of Kriyā, Āsana, Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma and Bandha
  • Secondly Antar Aṅga Sādhana through Rāja Yoga and the practice of Dhyānam and Bhakti Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Veda or Jñāna Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Yoga Sūtra

In this post I also used the analogy of raising a family and how to accommodate the “the emerging of other issues we have to contend with, such as the impact on our time, energy and priorities around additional commitments”.

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Experiencing the Yoga Sūtra through Chanting

Experiencing the Yoga Sūtra through Chanting

Over two years ago I offered a short post around Making a start in learning to Chant the Yoga Sūtra, an extract from which is quoted below:

“Mostly we come across the teachings of the Yoga Sūtra through a group class situation or by coming across a book. This is fine as a starting point, however longer term the Yoga Sūtra needs to permeate from the inside rather than just be read and thought about from the outside.

A good starting point for initiating this psychic process is to learn how to chant as a process in itself and then how to chant the Yoga Sūtra specifically. As well as offering a deepening of contact with those special Bhāvana that arise from Chanting, this can also be extremely helpful for the memory processes involved.

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Yoga Postures in Practice – A series on Āsana by Paul Part 1 Samasthiti

Part One – Moving into our Bodies with Samasthiti.

This is the first in a series of articles presenting the core principles for āsana practice as taught to me over many years of personal lessons in India with my teacher TKV Desikachar.

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Keeping the breath longer than the movement within an Āsana

I recently wrote a post on:

The Breath having its own developmental process within an Āsana.

Within this post I mapped out some of the preliminary steps in the Vinyāsa Krama of the breath that accompanies the performance of the form. Within this map for those beginning their journey into the mysteries of the breath within the mastery of the form, I offered four steps.

Here I want to review these four steps and especially focus on the last of the four, this time in relation to Nirālamba Bhujaṅgāsana or unsupported Cobra posture:

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Finding your starting point within an Āsana to set a direction and goal

“In order to know where we are going to,
we must first know where we are coming from.”

Often in the Āsana aspect of Yoga practice, whether within our personal practice or a group class environment, the student is directed towards a goal.

This may be to do with a physical or structural foci such as the:

  • Basic Performance of the Āsana
  • Continuing Improvement of the Āsana
  • Specific Intensification of the Āsana
  • Introducing Stay into the Āsana

However the common factor within all of these options is that they are goal based.

This is fine as a general principle however as in any area of our lives, setting off towards any goal requires that we also have a clear idea of our starting point. For example, if I am wanting to travel to London I need to know whether I am starting from Birmingham or Brighton in order to set a direction and distance to navigate from. So it is with Āsana.

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Design an Āsana Practice according to the principles taught by TKV Desikachar


Design an Āsana Practice for around 45′ according to the planning principles taught by TKV Desikachar.

The Vinyāsa Krama or planning steps in the practice will be a total of 90 breaths based around:

  • Standing Āsana 24 Breaths
  • Lying Āsana 12 Breaths
  • Inverted Āsana 12 Breaths
  • Prone Backbend Āsana 12 Breaths
  • Sitting Āsana 24 Breaths
  • Closing Counterpose Āsana 6 Breaths

In this instance the practice will not include any sitting Mudrā, or seated Prāṇāyāma or Dhyāna.
In the structure link Āsana such as Samasthiti, Śavāsana, Vajrāsana, do not count in the breath tally.

  • State the aim or purpose of the practice in terms of the Āsana goal or goals
  • Indicate the primary or crown Āsana you are choosing to build the practice around
  • Justify your choice of supporting or compensatory Āsana within the scheme

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The Breath has its own developmental process within an Āsana.

General perceptions in Yoga are that performance progressions in any Āsana are usually around improvement or refinement in the choreography of the entry or exit, or in the extremity of the final form.

For example if we were to compare the performance of students in say Uttānasana, evaluations would tend to be made concerning how far one bends forward, or how near the head is towards the knees, or how straight the legs are, or how close to the ground the hands are, et cetera.

However from the viewpoint of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, in terms of Āsana practice for adults, the breath has its own developmental path within the performance of any Āsana.

Furthermore, within an Āsana and alongside the Vinyāsa Krama of getting in and out of the Āsana and what would be the focus whilst at the crown of the sequence around that particular Āsana, there is also a Vinyāsa Krama around the development of the breath.

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Constancy of form reveals the inconstancy of the breath……

Āsana_23a

Constancy of form reveals the inconstancy of the breath.
Constancy of form and breath reveals the inconstancy of the mind.
Constancy of form, breath and mind reveals the constancy of awareness.

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Four

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Four

In the previous three articles in this series we discussed Krishnamacharya’s teachings around his understanding of and approach to the viniyoga or application of Prāṇāyāma.

Firstly in terms of Āsana being the starting point for exploring the breath in order to set a starting point and as a guideline for the direction of our Prāṇāyāma.

Secondly the importance of considerations around Prāṇāyāma as a process in terms of being in it for the long haul, rather than only looking at practices which offer immediate fruits after a single practice or class.

The second post also commented on the need to leave more than enough time during our Yoga practice for Prāṇāyāma, rather than it being the token twiddle at the end of the practice.

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Examples of Vinyāsa Krama for Sitting Āsana within a Single Practice.


As Desikachar actually had very few long term students, many peoples views around such as his Āsana teaching, or views on Yoga in general are formed from experiencing him teaching within a group situation, either at a seminar, lecture or retreat.

Actually he really was not very comfortable teaching mixed public groups in these situations, and in relation to teaching practices, what practices he could present had to be very generalised and therefore contrary to the principles he taught according to what he learnt from his father.

On the other hand as a private student the Āsana practices I was exposed to had a precision and intensity offering a breadth and depth impossible to emulate within a group class environment.

As an example I am offering an extract from the seated section of a practice he taught me. The Āsana in this section are Daṇḍāsana, Ardha Matsyendrāsana, Mahā Mudrā, Baddha Koṇāsana, Paścimatānāsana and as a Pratikriyāsana, Dvipāda Pīṭham.

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The relationship between the breath in Āsana with that in Prāṇāyāma.

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In the beginning of our journey into the arts of Āsana and Prāṇāyāma, the outcome of our exploration into the breath in Āsana sets a direction and parameters for the beginnings of our exploration into how and where to develop the breath in Prāṇāyāma.

As we establish, progress and refine our practice of Prāṇāyāma, the strengths and issues that arise from our practice of Prāṇāyāma invite a subtler investigation of the breath in Āsana.

This investigation with its reciprocal and yet increasingly subtle direction offers a more precise guidance for where and how we revisit and engage with our work with the breath in Āsana.

Over time we come to both realise and experience the uniqueness of the breath within each of these two arts and the increasingly subtle development of the qualities of the relationship between the breath in Āsana, with that of the breath in Prāṇāyāma.

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Three

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Three

In the previous two articles we discussed Krishnamacharya’s teachings around his understanding of and approach to the viniyoga or application of Prāṇāyāma.

Firstly in terms of Āsana being the starting point for exploring the breath in order to set a starting point and as a guideline for the direction of our Prāṇāyāma.

Secondly the importance of considerations around Prāṇāyāma as a process in terms of being in it for the long haul rather than only looking at practices which offer immediate fruits after a single practice or class.

The second post also commented on the need to leave more than enough time during our Yoga practice for Prāṇāyāma, rather than it being the token twiddle at the end of the practice.

I would like to use this post to consider how we need to add a structure within which we can build content. Without a structure our practice in this area can easily become random in terms of length or haphazard in terms of consistency.

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The viniyoga of Yoga is about a system to teach to a student

Āsana_18a

The viniyoga of Yoga is about a system to teach to a student,
rather than about students to teach a system to.

A Mantra is that which shapes space through vibration of sacred syllables.

mantra

A Mantra is that which shapes space through vibration of sacred syllables.
In the art of Mantra Saṃskṛta is a sacred tool for shaping sacred form out of space.
Sounding the Saṃskṛta according to the precisions of pronunciation and vibration
manifests the sacred form inherent in each Mantra out of universal space.
The ancient seers understood this process and left us sacred phonemes
to guide our journey into and beyond the self.

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Two

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Two

Continuing on from the previous post introducing the question of where to start in our investigation of our breath in Āsana in preparation for establishing and sustaining a consistent base within a Prāṇāyāma practice.

This also needs to be a base practice that both supports our day to day needs and yet allows it, as in any relationship, to grow and develop in terms of intensity and progress.

In this earlier post on where to start there were some key points that I would summarise around:

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Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part One

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start?

According to how I was taught there two possibilities, that of using ratio and that of using nostril techniques. Desikachar taught me, both for my personal practice and teaching skill base, that the journey towards Prāṇāyāma starts with the former before being enhanced and refined through the latter.

According to Krishnamacharya’s methodology around developing the breath aspect of the students practice, initially through Āsana and Mudrā and ultimately through Prāṇāyāma, begins with what happens in and to the breath in Āsana.

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Pratikriyā Bhāvana for Vīrabhadrāsana


Vīrabhadrāsana or warrior pose is an Āsana where the postural focus at the level of Annamaya or the structural aspect, involves the skill of holding opposite points of attention at the same time.

For example, if we consider the feet, the front foot focus is on the rooting of toes, whereas the focus on the rear foot is on the rooting of the heel.

Thus here we have an example of a Pratikriyā Bhāvana, or opposite action focus, where we need to hold our attention with a contrasting dynamic in two places simultaneously. In this example on both the front or rear foot at the same time, but with different points of attention.

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Dhyāna is taught as a personalised process unique to each student……

dhyanam

Question:
Would appreciate any clues as to the Dhyāna practice as you were taught.”

Response:
Reflecting on this question reminds me of a video of a lecture by S Sridharan from the KYM recently reposted on August 5th 2015 on the Krishnamacharya Yoga Facebook page. I feel that the extract below sums up well the essence of Krishnamacharya’s teaching, especially when involving the Antar Aṅga:

“But when it came to personal practice we would have to meet our teacher in his room separately…..
What my teacher has imparted to me as my Yoga practice. I cannot share it with any of you.
Not for the reason that I don’t want to share it, it will have no value for any of you…..

When we teach something it should be very personal from the point of view of Yoga practice.
Yoga is a topic that just cannot be taught over a platform.”

He also discussed earlier in the video the notion that the only group activity was the study of texts. When it came to personal practice this was within a private room and was a personal matter between the teacher and the student.

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The strength, depth and potential of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around practice Sādhana……

The teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar around Yoga practice were far more complex than is often presumed from the popular perception, often formed from the more well publicised work of some of Krishnamacharya’s early students.

My own experiences with Desikachar, developed over repeated study visits to Madras over two decades, may offer an insight into the practice possibilities that I became increasingly exposed to. As with many, being introduced to this tradition meant that Āsana was the starting point for our Bahya Aṅga Sādhana.

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The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa……


My extensive study of Āsana with TKV Desikachar was shaped around forming a deep appreciation of specific core principles that underpin the planning and practice of Āsana and their application to the individual student’s constitution, psychology and need.

Amongst these dozen or so core principles, the first group I studied when looking at any Āsana in depth, were the concepts of Nāma, Rūpa and Lakṣaṇa, or the name, the form and the characteristics of that particular Āsana.

Obviously the Nāma is a useful tag point for identification and the Rūpa is vital as a reference point for the Sat Viniyoga or appropriate application of the Āsana within overall considerations around direction and outcome such as the Śikṣaṇa Krama, Rakṣaṇa Krama or Cikitsā Krama application of the forms used.

However I do feel these days that our understanding in Āsana practice is dominated by the Nāma and the Rūpa with little emphasis on the Lakṣaṇa or inherent characteristics of the Āsana and how understanding this aspect can have a profound effect on the approach, application and outcome of the overall or accumulative impact of the Āsana within the student’s practice.

The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa, especially around the thirty or so primary Āsana such as Jaṭhara Parivṛtti, Bhujaṅgāsana or Januśīrṣāsana.

One of the key concepts in the viniyoga of Āsana……

Āsana_15

One of the key concepts in the viniyoga of Āsana
is how to facilitate movement in the spine
rather than just movement of the spine.

If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?


Question by Desikachar during my 121 lessons 1980:
“If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?”

From my notes from his response:

1. By using a valve, such as the throat (Ujjāyī) we can:

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