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

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“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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Progress must be seen as the distance from the starting point……

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‎”Progress must be seen as the distance from the starting point,
rather than the more usual reference of the distance from the finishing point.”
TKV Desikachar England 1976

Q: How necessary is Yoga in these modern times?

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Question to T Krishnamacharya:
How necessary is Yoga in these modern times?
Krishnamacharya’s Response:
For the strengthening of the Aṅga,
Yoga Āsana practiced with long inhalation and exhalation is important.
To reduce the disturbances of the mind, to gain mental strength and to increase longevity,
Prāṇāyāma is necessary.

Breath is indispensable for life and its absence is death……

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“Breath is indispensable for life and its absence is death.
Hence the necessity to make it longer and accumulate the Prāṇa Śakti.
Just as a rich man accumulates money slowly to get wealthy,
so also one should practice every day
through the proper use of the breath in Āsana to maintain good health.”
T Krishnamacharya‘s response to a question on breathing.

The teacher decides which of the Tri Krama is the……

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“The teacher decides which of the Tri Krama (three steps) is the best for the student:
Śikṣaṇa Krama requires a perfect knowing to transmit a strict practice,
without any compromise, as it should be in Vedic chanting for example.
Rakṣaṇa Krama is aimed at protection and preservation;
it promotes continuity in any levels like health, abilities, knowledge, etc.
Cikitsā Krama looks for adaptation, healing, recovering…”
TKV Desikachar speaking with his senior Western students London 1998

Yoga has been adapted to life in the modern day.

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  • Yoga has been adapted to life in the modern day.
  • Any posture far removed from the normal posture is a problem and therefore risky if there is any problem with the body.
  • Inverted postures present problems because of the tension that people carry in their necks.
  • Postures that create tension should be avoided.
  • Moving into the posture after the exhale is an adaptation.
  • Krishnamacharya designed aids to help people achieve postures.
  • Slow movement has a different action on the muscles, it is harder work.
  • The role of Āsana, its purpose and goal must be respected.
  • Opposite postures are a handicap but can help us to appreciate something different in a posture.
  • We must feel ourselves and what is happening in a posture.

From study notes with TKV Desikachar England 1992

Śikṣaṇa Krama – do something perfectly or correctly……

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Śikṣaṇa Krama – do something perfectly or correctly.
Anything is taught to achieve perfection in the practice of Āsana and Prāṇāyāma.
In other words teaching children and healthy people where you can take risks with no problems.
Not a valid approach for groups.
We need to use intelligence and Viveka,
not follow the idea of no pain, no gain to become painless,
or to get to a point without suffering.”
– TKV Desikachar France 1983

Prāṇāyāma – Where to Start? Part Four

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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.

The third post developed this idea of making time for the practice of Prāṇāyāma by considering the need to add a fixed and consistent time slot within which to build content. We explored this question by looking at the relationship between Āsana and Prāṇāyāma and considered the relationship between the proportions of the time we devote to each.

In this and the next post we will look at some of the techniques that are considered a necessary prerequisite in our journey towards establishing a what would be seen by my teachers as a complete Prāṇāyāma practice.

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Even these days the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings……

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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

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How long should a person stay in an Āsana?

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Question to T Krishnamacharya –

Q: How long should a person stay in an Āsana every day?
A: A person must stay in any one Āsana for at least fifteen minutes.
From the book ‘Śrī Krishnamacharya – The Pūrnācārya’, published by the KYM in 1997

Even in the case of Śikṣaṇa Krama the ancient teachers had steps…….

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“Even in the case of Śikṣaṇa Krama the ancient teachers had steps in the teaching:

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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

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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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Āsana for problems of the body and Prāṇāyāma for problems of the mind.

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‎”Use Āsana for problems of the body and
Prāṇāyāma for problems of the mind.”
– T Krishnamacharya on Practice Priorities

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

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

Religiousness in Yoga Study Guide: Chapter Ten Theory

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

‘Religiousness in Yoga: Lectures on Theory and Practice’ by the University Press of America,
a transcript of recordings of a one month Yoga Programme in Colgate University in 1976, published in 1980.

Unlike the later redacted edition, re-published in 1995 as the ‘Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’, it captures the evolution of the retreat with the days lectures and Q & A dialogues as they alternated between ‘lectures on the principles and purposes of Yoga and discussions related to the practice of Yoga with special reference to the postures and the breathing techniques’.

TKV Desikachar, in his forward to the original version wrote:

“These lectures and discussions, printed words put before persons I might never meet,
are but reflections of that deeper result that grew out of a living face-to-face encounter.
Coming to learn of Yoga only through reading leaves much to be desired.
Yet, something worthwhile about Yoga might be shared through the medium of the printed word.”

A chapter by chapter Study guide is offered below with added verse and word cross-references where possible to support a a deeper linking with the teachings within these lectures and Q & A sessions.

Chapter 10 Theory: Prāṇāyāma – Pages 133-144

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