In exploring the principles that underpin the practice of Āsana the first idea to consider is that our practice is not just another form of exercise. Yoga Āsana are more than just physical postures or exercises to stretch and tone the body, or enhance our sense of personalised well-being. From within its Haṭha roots the concern of Yoga is our relationship with the force which is behind our movements and its source that initiates our every action.
Further the different practice elements that constitute a mature Yoga practice are not separate compartments. They are linked through the principles underpinning them. For example a respiratory competence learnt through the practice of Āsana facilitates progress within the seated practice of Prāṇāyāma. An enduring stable posture learnt through the practice of Prāṇāyāma supports the cultivation the meditative attitude inherent in progress towards Dhyāna or meditation.
Seven Years have now passed since the Yoga Studies website was re-launched with a bringing together of a number of existing projects, along with the incorporation and correlation of a range of Yoga Study and Practice resources, all under one webrella.
Within this time it has been over two years since the Journal Blog aspect of the website has seen a Menu Category revision. Plus during this time the website has also developed or added:
- A searchable Romanised Saṃskṛta Core Glossary and Cross Reference Indexed Database with some 800 entries to date. Each word is increasingly cross linked in terms of textual sources, similar and opposite words and related concepts. Being added to each word are associated quotes, posts and articles, primarily from Krishnamacharya and Desikachar.
- A continuing development of the online verse by verse, word by word offering of the Yoga Sūtra with added commentaries of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar
- Plus on-going progress in setting up online verse by verse, word by word, versions of traditional texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā, the Gītārtha Saṃgraha, the Sāṃkhya Kārikā, the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, along with Krishnamacharya’s Yoga Rahasya. Obviously much work is still to be done with adding the verses, along with notes and commentaries. However the verses added so far are up and functioning in terms of searchable cross text reference resources.
- An extensive resource accessed from within the Dharma Downloads section of the website for Veda and Sūtra Chanting with chant sheets and sound files
Its potentially complex these days when something taught to an individual student,
in a personalised, age and situation relevant context;
within a specific environment and epoch;
becomes the ‘gold’ standard for groups of students to follow ‘faithfully’,
through respecting every inch of the formal nuances.
Equally, its potentially complex these days when something taught to a group of students,
in a generalised, open aged and multi-need context;
within a non-specific trans-national environment and epoch;
becomes the ‘gold’ standard for individual students to follow ‘faithfully’,
through respecting every inch of the formal nuances.
“Some people use Yoga (or even training for a career as a Yoga Teacher),
to move away from something undesirable for, or in their lives (Abhāva).
Others use Yoga to move towards something desirable (Bhāva) for, or in their lives.
Either can be positive, however good to be clear about our motives,
especially if our relationship with that which we wanted to move away from,
or that which we wanted to move towards,
changes along the way.”
My understanding from my discussions over the years with TKV Desikachar regarding the context and content of Yoga Makaranda, is that when teaching youngsters the length of the breath was minimised to a relatively short fixed length and use of Kumbhaka was limited to a few seconds Antar Kumbhaka and Bahya Kumbhaka.
However there were no limitations on the range or intensity of Āsana and lots of use of variations to be engaged with within each Āsana.
“The Āsana are presented in Vinyāsa Krama, the way it was taught to children in the Yogasāla.
This should not create the impression that T Krishnamacharya taught in this manner to everyone.”
– TKV Desikachar Introduction to Yoga Makaranda
This picture, taken 1979, with fond memories of early days with
TKV Desikachar and the KYM with co-founder AG Mohan and the faculty.
“Many years ago and not knowing my connection, a Yoga student commented around me “Don’t go to Desikachar, he has no charisma”. At the time, though saying nothing, I was reminded that this was for me an important facet around my appreciation of him, in that it was his ordinariness that I found engaging.
Furthermore, this quality was reflected throughout his life in terms of its simplicity in that it didn’t actually change over the decades that I visited and studied within lessons or spent personal time or travelled with him privately.
As I sit within this time of passing and remembrance it occurred to me that August 2016 exactly marks the 40th anniversary from the first time I met and worked with Desikachar in August 1976.
The setting was a small group of students, especially by todays seminar norms, amidst the august settings of Cambridge University at a week organised by a student of Desikachar from that era, Ian Rawlinson.
I remember the first moments of Desikachar coming onto a small platform in the room, a shy somewhat reticent person and asking us to show to him our personal Yoga practice, already not what we were expecting at our first meeting.
Memories from my early days, over 40 years ago now, of going to teachers to teach me Yoga were generally around the notion, replete with conscious and unconscious expectations, that the teacher was there to bring out the best in me.
For example I feel that many of us if group class teachers are used to working with the Lazarus factor (raising folks from the dead each week). Here we can get caught or even need the expectation, both in you and/or in the student, that you will be or are ‘the one’ to revitalise the students tired and/or wired bodies as well as restoring confident dispositions.
However my experiences arising from working with TKV Desikachar stood that notion on its head. This was not through anything he said or did but from my own slowly acquired realisation that my way of looking at the relationship was confused.
Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s I commented on an observation formed from discussions with my students within a study group I had brought to Madras (Chennai) for a two week programme at the KYM during my personal study stay that year.
As a part of this particular study group visit to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram some of the students took up the option of 121 lessons with teachers at the KYM. Sharing the content of the practices with me revealed the introduction of a sequence that I had not come across before within, at that time, my nearly 20 years of studies within the work of T Krishnamacharya.
Yoga practice evolves from an external other cooked restaurant experience
to an internal self cooked home experience via the stages of:
1. Dependence on an outside teacher and external ambient venue.
2. Interdependence where we add the beginnings of a home practice to our outside support.
3. Independence where we have refined the skill to rely on and be primarily nourished by our home practice.
This is Svatantra.
I recently needed to renew all my ageing and failing lever arch files, giving me an opportunity to peruse and reflect on the contents accumulated from my decades of personal study with Desikachar. As well as sifting out any stuff that was superfluous, it was a reminder of how wide and deep my studies in Madras were. As per the shelves in the picture, my notes fell into two main groups, that of Personal Textual Study and that of Personal Yoga Practice.
The heart of Yoga is the way in which a profound change is effected on the way we view our environment.
In other words arising out of the various complementary practices of Yoga,
the way we see the world and its processes,
is enriched by a sensitivity to change and understanding of impermanence.
Further, the different practices are not separate compartments,
they are linked through the principles underpinning them.
For example, a meditative attitude in the practice of postures,
complements a stable posture in the practice of seated meditation.
One other study area that I was privileged to be able to experience alongside my many visits to study Yoga Practice Techniques and Associated texts in Chennai with my teacher TKV Desikachar, within the intimacy and vitality of private lessons, was that of Āyurveda and its application within Yoga.
“In Āyurveda, it gives certain behaviour by which we can stay well.
If a person follows the following he will freer of sickness.
Regularly, systematically he eats, rests and exercises adequately.
Both in amount and quality. Food or Ahāra,
along with Vihāra – recreation, rest, exercise, other activities.”
– TKV Desikachar
Thus during my many visits to India, between 1979 and 2002, my work in Yoga was complemented by the study of Āyurveda constitutional diagnosis and prognosis, along with Nādī Parīkṣā or pulse diagnosis and the application skills or the viniyoga of Āyurveda, into Yoga practice and lifestyle, according to the teachings of T Krishnmacharya within Yoga Rakṣaṇa (lifestyle support) or Yoga Cikitsā (therapeutic recovery) situations.
The Das Indriya or ten senses of experience and action,
whilst seen as belonging to the Bāhya Aṅga or five external limbs
in the eight limb Aṣṭa Aṅga Yoga of Patañjali,
are also the gateway to the Antar Aṅga or three internal limbs.
The ten senses or Das Indriya are the gateway between the inner and the outer,
in the twin roads of this phenomena we call experience or action.
The five senses that transport experience from the outer to the inner
are called the Jñāna Indriya, or the senses through which we receive the world.
The five senses that transport actions from the the inner to the outer
are called the Karma Indriya, or the senses through which we put out into the world.
The co-ordinator of this remarkable interface is known as Manas.
The identifier in this remarkable process is known as Ahaṃkāra.
The discerner in this remarkable trinity is known as Buddhi.
The observer in this remarkable play of experience and action is known as Cit or Puruṣa.
These past ten years have found me increasingly re-evaluating my work as a Yoga Teacher Trainer, within an ever widening proliferation and saturation of Yoga teacher training options, amidst accompanying concerns of competitive bar-lowering in teacher training programme course lengths and entry criteria.
This on-going re-evaluation has also sat within the ever widening debates, around the dilution/merging/hijacking/branding/re-labelling of Yoga and amidst multifarious claims as to the ‘origins’ within the oft used generic of Modern Postural Yoga. These debates and origin/ownership source arguments now exist not only within the West but even within its original home in the Indian sub-continent.
Adapting the form of Yoga is one thing.
Adapting the roots of Yoga another.
Better not to confuse the two when choosing.
Aside from this, at the heart of my concerns, amidst the backdrop of the increasing compromises I experienced in trying to ‘fit’ the methodology and process I learnt in India into the Western educational large group learning paradigms, was a wish to reflect even more studiously the 121 and small group teaching mediums that were the lifelong foundations of T Krishnamacharya‘s and TKV Desikachar‘s work in Chennai.
Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life. However, even without outer obstacles, we can encounter inner feelings that arise and manifest as obstacles to that re-turning.
Here it might be helpful to reflect on the four pillars of Maitrī, Karuṇā, Muditā and Upekṣā and the role they can have in helping to transform the unhelpful aspects of these inner feelings.
“Bhāvana is a beneficial attitude that is consciously cultivated despite tendencies to the contrary”
– T Krishnamacharya commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 33
“Has the original and ancient Yoga gene now become merely a non-genetic Yoga meme
and thus is only capable of being imitated rather than propagated?”
Noted amidst a flurry of competing exercise/mind and body workout adverts in my local village newsletter:
- Booty Barre fuses legendary fitness techniques from Pilates, Dance, Callisthenics and Yoga creating balance, posture and body awareness.
- Pilates Fusion Flow is a mix of Yoga, Pilates and Dance Movements which will strengthen the body and calm the mind.
So on top of Yoga being reduced down to postural exercise with added stress reduction and/or autogenic relaxation techniques, we now encounter a further dissipation of even that element in terms of it being a name or technique that can be bolted on or blended in to other exercise entertainment offerings.
Plus they are all competing for the one stop shop marketplace cakeshare in terms of offering a fitness building and stress reducing marriage.
Who needs just Yoga as just Yoga anymore?
“Once I am very clear about what is to be known – Svadharma,
then I can be clear about what is universal Dharma.”
Reflecting on this quote from TKV Desikachar posted on February 15th 2014 on the relationship between Svadharma and Dharma. I feel we first need to understand our personal place within our inner world, only from there can we understand our universal place within our outer world.
This is a concept that can appear to be contrary to the more usual expectations within the Yoga world whereby we are often given a set of universal standardised principles which we are told to constantly aspire to and strive towards realising.
Picture courtesy of KYM Archives
Even these days, the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around Yoga are primarily known through his exacting teaching of Āsana. This has also been mainly experienced in the West with the developmental work of his early students, such as through the choreographical artistry in the work of Pattabhi Jois or through the geometrical precision in the work of BKS Iyengar.
However this area of Āsana teaching, though itself multifaceted and hugely influential, if disproportionately predominant within Yoga today, only reveals one aspect of the many dimensions of practice expressed within his teaching. This teaching evolved and refined over 70 years, from his return from his long stay around the borders of Nepal and Tibet in 1919, to his death in 1989
Śānti Pataḥ – Saha Nāvavatu with Translation
I have been teaching a Practitioner Training Group this weekend with a textual focus around the teachings of the Upaniṣat, especially the Taittirīya Upaniṣat Chapters 2 and 3.
Traditionally textual study or chanting practice was preceded and ended with a Śānti Pataḥ or invocatory passage to help forge a link between the chanters, what is chanted and its purport, as well as setting a context for textual study.
So it felt appropriate to include Saha Nāvavatu for our study together, as it is the opening invocation for the Taittirīya Upaniṣat Chapters 2 and 3, as well as for other Upaniṣat such as the Kaṭha and the Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣat.
This chant is where the teacher and the pupil chant together asking for harmonious co-operation within a context of keen and vigorous exploration of what is and especially what isn’t the self and the non-self. A topic fraught with potential resistances and self-illusion.
Paul’s cYs Blog Journal 2015 Revision
Five Years have now passed since the cYs website was re-launched with a bringing together of a number of existing projects, along with the creation and incorporation of new projects, all under one umbrella.
This re-launch incorporated existing and new projects into five different sections with:
- A Yoga Freenotes section with Online Word by Word Yoga Sūtra, a searchable Glossary and Freenotes, with further texts and commentaries around Associated Yoga Texts
Paul Teaching in Zinal, Switzerland in 1999
Medicine, Mastery and Mystery
An Interview with Paul Harvey by Joseph Le Page. Joseph is the founder and director of Integrative Yoga Therapy. This interview took place while Paul was teaching at Zinal for UENFY in 1999.
JL: How do you adapt Yoga to the individual?
PH: I can approach that in two ways, the chronological and the psychological. Chronologically, the starting point is the age at which people begin Yoga studies.
There are three stages of life, or Trikrama. The first is the stage of growth and expansion (Sṛṣṭi).
I have just come across a post on the “Pros and Cons of Yoga Teacher Training” by J Brown from July which rolled up yesterday in my Facebook newsfeed via YogaDork.
He raises some good points in his blog such as the observation that running Yoga Teacher Training Courses have become a de rigueur for Yoga Teachers and, I would add, especially Yoga Studios, to the point that as a new studio opens its doors, such offerings are part of its programme from day one.
As I observed in a post from March 2012 on:
Further musings on Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher Trainings……
I find a curious paradox emerging between those who want to use the word Yoga to promote what,
by all accounts, isn’t really Yoga and those who want to find another name for Yoga to promote what,
by all accounts, is really Yoga.