Parivṛtti focused practice for an intermediate level Āsana student.
Also in the approach of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar to Yoga practice this idea is even more relevant as important information, that guides our initial and subsequent steps into Prāṇāyāma, is gleaned from certain factors only apparent from observation of how our respiratory system performs during Āsana practice.
When practicing Āsana,
it is as if something watches something.
What is the something that is watched?
What is the something that watches?
we need to develop the twin aspects of learning Yoga practice techniques and Yoga practice theory through engaging in learning how to practice, rather than just learning what to practice.
This means learning to engage with the process of what it means to have a personal Yoga practice alongside engaging learning to study the theory of the component principles that underpin what constitutes creating and sustaining a personalised Yoga practice.
“Yoga must be adapted to an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities,
rather than adapting an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities to Yoga.”
These twin aspects of the arts of Yoga practice techniques and Yoga practice theory support our being able to independently and intelligently choose, adapt and ultimately self-develop and self-refine our personal Yoga Sādhana.
“Yoga Practice is an essential part of Yoga Study.
Rather than Yoga Study being an essential part of Yoga Practice.”
This can be compared to learning to embrace and cultivate a relationship with any Art, such as learning the piano. Here our relationship with the art also depends on both cultivating the skill of making time on the mat, or in this case stool, alongside making time for learning the theory of how to play the piano and learning the theory of music itself.
“The target of Yoga is ‘svatantra’ which means to discover our own technique.
‘Sva’ means itself and ‘tantra’ means technique.
The techniques are in oneself and we must discover them;
if not we will depend on others.
I am sick and I go to the doctor;
but finally I must become my own therapist.
This is ‘svatantra’.”
– TKV Desikachar
With a commitment to a relationship with both aspects of Yoga practice and theory our personal skill and practice independence can truly bloom. Also as our personal practice evolves it impacts on our self-esteem and self confidence within other areas of our being with its many layers ranging over food, energy, mind and emotions.
First look at the circumstances around the practice rather than the practice itself.
For example, what is the purpose of the practice?
kuryāttadāsanaṃ sthairyamārogyaṃ cāṅgalāghvam |
‘Āsana brings steadiness, health and lightness.’
– Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 1 verse 17
For me, still to this day, one of the finest, simplest, direct and most succinct definitions on the purpose of Āsana within the processes and practices of Haṭha Yoga, is the definition offered in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 1 verse 17.
It is a definition valid for any presentation or as a response to questions from any level around why we practice Āsana.
It can be a springboard to discussing physiological qualities such as the relationship of Agni to the energetic qualities of health and lightness.
Or it can be a springboard to discussing psychological qualities such as the relationship of the Guṇa, such as Rajas, to mental qualities such as steadiness.
Just putting the finishing touches to the viniyoga of Āsana Module Two manual as I prepare to teach its contents for the four day Course for a small group starting this weekend. Currently running to 90 pages it complements the 60 page viniyoga of Āsana Module One two day workshop manual.
These 150 pages of student training manuals sit within the Āsana section of the Arts of Yoga and Chant Practice Modular Programmes. The Āsana module sits within the five linked aspects of practice which, taken as a whole aim to reflect the Yoga practice and theory teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar.
These five aspects of practice are the arts of Āsana, Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma, Dhyāna, and Adhyayanam or Chanting. This approach to transmitting the teachings of Desikachar as individual threads arose from the choice to make a complete restructuring of all my training programmes, the first major overhaul in 25 years of teaching courses to students and especially training teachers within group class situations.
It has taken five years from conception to completion and follows a conscious choice to go back to the fundamental learning methodologies following an accumulating dissatisfaction and frustration with my existing models of group student teaching Introductory and Foundation Courses and especially teacher focused training Practitioner and Postgraduate Programmes.
Where do we start when approaching the determination to open up to practice options beyond the group class mentality with its double edged sword of support and dependancy?
We can start by exploring what it means to cultivate a personal regular home practice in terms of looking at it as from the viewpoint of being a process as well as having content.
Here it might be helpful to examine what are the differences between these two concepts so vital in the work of Desikachar around planning Yoga practices for individual students.
So what is Yoga practice as a process? Practice as a process is everything that surrounds the establishing of a home practice.
This can be the time of the day, energy levels at the time of practice, what the student would be stepping away from in order to engage in practice, differences in gender and impact on body rhythms, what follows the practice in terms of activity or life demands, to name but a few aspects of process.
Practice as content is what we put into the practice in terms of choices around Yoga tools such as how we utilise and develop both short term and longer term, Yoga postures, breathing, chanting, rituals, meditation, etc.
Follow-on posts will examine these different aspects of Yoga as a process with examples of how we engage the important and unique differences between students personal lives, rather than the more standardised time and place processes within external group class setups.
One aspect of Yoga Sādhana is that it is ultimately about a maturing of our relationship with all aspects of on the mat Yoga practice, rather than just that of our Āsana practice. This is especially important as these various aspects sit within a hierarchical spiral with one level being the foundation, technical reference point, verification and ladder for the next.
We only have to study and reflect on the Yoga Sūtra to appreciate this relationship dynamic. Yet it increasingly appears that for many today the word ‘advancing’ in terms of on the mat practice means tackling increasingly complex Āsana or Āsana choreographies to the neglect or even detriment of what are seen as the levels that Āsana aims to prepare us to engage in.
Krishnamacharya understood this relationship dynamic and offered many teachings, tools and practices to help link the student to and in their upward ascent of the practice spiral. It will be a misunderstanding and misrepresentation if he is remembered only as the ‘father’ of modern Āsana.
How do we know that a student is ready to attempt a more progressive posture such as Sarvāṅgāsana?
From following the core principle in the teachings of Vinyāsa Krama. In that the Pratikriyāsana or counter posture for a particular Āsana needs to be mastered before that particular Āsana is attempted.
For example if we want to teach Sarvāṅgāsana or shoulder stand, because it will have a specific potential for the particular student, then we teach the counterpose Bhujaṅgāsana first.
So the student first works around Bhujaṅgāsana within their personal practice and the information that arises guides the teacher as to their readiness for, in this case, Sarvāṅgāsana.
“Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the student.”
– T Krishnamacharya
The information arising from observing how the student practices Bhujaṅgāsana guides the teacher as to the appropriateness of Sarvāṅgāsana. The information that feeds back may be on the level of Annamaya, Prāṇamaya, Manomaya or beyond. Obviously this implies that we are observing the students practice directly.
Once the student shows an adequate performance of Bhujaṅgāsana and it can be integrated into their existing personal practice, then we can be more secure that the student is ready to approach integrating Sarvāṅgāsana into their regular practice.
A fundamental facet in the principles of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice, in the teachings of Krishnamacharya through Desikachar, is the ordering of Āsana according to the acronym SLIBSS.
It is the practice arrangement or Vinyāsa Krama in the following order:
- Standing Āsana
- Supine Lying Āsana
- Inverted Āsana
- Prone Backbend Āsana
- Sitting Āsana
- Seated Āsana
This is referred to in Religiousness in Yoga page 23-27.
It is the foundational structure on which all the other variants of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice arise from or are goals towards.
Vinyāsa Krama is pronounced according to its meaning as Vi-Nyāsa Krama or special placing in sequence. It is the arranging of the various postures or breathing patterns in an intelligent sequence, respecting the variables in the student and the purpose of the practice.
Thus the way I was taught by Desikachar was that if I move away from this schematic as the core of my Āsana practice or teaching, there needs to be a compelling rationale within which it remains a potential goal to move back to or towards, both short term and long term.
When studying the many aspects of Āsana, my teacher taught me not just the final form of the Āsana, but also that there was learning around the context and especially the Vinyāsa Krama of each Āsana and the ‘family’ to which they belonged.
For example when studying Āsana such as Bakāsana, I was taught that there are certain protective and selective criteria that need to be considered as part of both the dynamic of the form and the prerequisite steps. These also help in determining the readiness of the practitioner to engage in the dynamic that Āsana such as this one sit.
These considerations include a specific Vinyāsa Krama or steps into and out of the Āsana. These steps in themselves offer a sort of check list to determine if the student is adequately prepared and thus ready to engage in the process of which the final form is but a still frame within a movie.
These considerations within the methodology of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s teaching appear to be somewhat at odds within many of the current attitudes to and within Modern Postural Yoga. In that Yoga students and teachers idée fixe with attaining the final form dominates the reality of the postural landscape that we call Yoga today.
This idée fixe around final form also appears to include exploring short cuts or nifty choreographical bypasses where the aim is to get into the posture by whatever means we can. This is not what or how Krishnamacharya and Desikachar taught in that the Vinyāsa Krama also determined if the student was prepared and physically competent for these more extreme physical forms.
Freedom of or in movement is a useful pursuit and obviously an asset in the world of homo-sedens that abounds these days.
However movement according to the principles inherent in Hatha Yoga has another role other than freedom of movement as an end in itself.
Thus in terms of Haṭha Yoga the role of freedom in movement is a useful tool but not the goal that seems to dominate Āsana classes within Modern Postural Yoga.
Of course freedom in movement is obviously a support in allowing us to apply the principles of Hatha Āsana practice, but not the end in itself it seems to have become.
For example it can help with facilitating an exploration of the energetic processes that define, guide and differentiate Hatha Yoga from movement forms such as exercise, fitness, dance, etc.
Yet it seems to be that on the way to the goals of Haṭha Yoga and its relationship to Rāja Yoga, we are being sidetracked by the goals within the myriad of movement forms that proliferate or even pose (‘xcuse pun) as Āsana practice today.
The viniyoga of Planning Principles Series Post 5
Vinyāsa Krama – Intelligent sequence building within Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma
Specific Areas within Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice to consider when planning:
1. Consider the overall purpose of practice (short/long term as appropriate)
- Be clear about the goal and don’t try to reach too many goals in same practice
- Keep the practice short and simple in intention and execution
- Consider time of day and season both inside and out
- Consider the accumulative effect of Āsana and Pratikriyāsana, in any one practice, and over time if being practiced regularly
- Consider psychological, physiological and energetic aspects of practice.
- Energetically we seek to expand, open upper part of the body, above diaphragm and close, reduce lower part of the body below the diaphragm