“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Using the Breath in Asana also Pañca Maya/Kosha; working from the inside out

Good day for post today, couple of books and a 'graze box' arrived at work


The Serpent Power, is supposed THE book on the Chakra's, am approaching it with an open mind or at least ajar. Religiousness in Yoga is something I've been wanting to read for a long time. It's the result of a course offered by TKV Desikacahar ( Krishnamacharya's son) at Colgate University in 1976. The book is a transcription of the lectures and discussions. I'd heard it was excellent, more in a moment.


For those who dont know about the graze box, you basically choose form a couple of hundred options, saying which ones you love, like, hate or are willing to try. They'll then send you a box once or twice a week, you never really know what will be in it. First and fifth one tend to be free otherwise I think they are £3.49 each.

Back to Desikachar's book Religiousness in Yoga. So I opened the it at random this morning and the first page that caight my eye was the one below. Notice the question half way dawn the first page

Question: Could you explain the various ways of using the breath in asana movement?

This caught my eye because of something Ramaswami had written to me last week.

"Even as Sri TK uses the terms rechaka kumbhaka and pura kumbhaka in asanas these may be considered as facilitators of the movements and postures and effect enhancers rather than pranayamas. Usually the term pranayama is used when the regular seated breathing exercise is practised. But Sri TK used breath judiciously to facilitate and enhance effects of asanas and vinyasas". Srivatsa Ramaswami

I'd asked him about Krishnamacharya's use of Kumbhaka (breath retention ) options in his 1934 text Yoga Makaranda. This book of course was written while Krishnamacharya was teaching in Mysore and at the same time that Pattabhi Jois was one of his students ( See this post on my other blog for asana in Yoga makaranda where Krishnamacharya offers a Kumbhaka option).

Desikachar goes on to list the different options for approaching the breath in asana, 

1. Free breathing with inhalation and exhalation as long as possible, 

2. Making inhalation and exhalation the same length, 

3. Making exhalation twice as long as the inhalation, 

4. Holding the breath after the inhalation, 

5. Holding the breath after the exhalation, 

6. Holding the breath after both, 

7. Doing the pose on the held breath, 

8. Changing the way around we usually do the posture so on the exhalation perhaps rather than the inhalation or vica versa





To link this with something interesting I saw on fb this morning take a look at the dedication page on this a first edition of Desikachar's book

Joy Jones
3 oct 81
Paul Harvey Seminar


Paul Harvey is one of TKV Desikachar's long time students and knew Krishnamacharya in the last ten years of his life. Paul even made the pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, where Krishnamacharya is said to have studied with his teacher Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari.  

"At the age of twenty-eight, he (Krishnamacharya) trekked over 200 miles to Lake Manosarovar at the foot of Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas in Western Tibet, to learn Yoga from Ram Mohana Brahmacari. He stayed for over seven years returning on his teacher’s instructions to South India to teach

" ...in 1995 (Paul) with a group including Dr. Robert Svoboda to make a parikrama (sacred circumambulation) around Mount Kailash walking up to 18,600 feet and visit the lake Manasarovar at 15,000 feet. It was here that his teacher’s father and teacher T Krishnamacharya was said to have lived and studied Yoga for over 7 years, from 1911 through to 1918".  

Paul's website is the Center for Yoga studies which contains the excellent resource pages Dharma Downloads 


I liked this status update from Paul on fb this morning on the topic of Pañca Maya (for an explanation of pancha maya/kosha theory see Ramaswami's newsletter below the quote).

Oh and what's the difference between Pancha maya and Pancha kosha, supposedly there isn't one, 'maya' here suggests 'layer' or 'sheath', kosha means bag early upanishad sources used maya, Sankara in his commentaries on them used kosha but my understanding is that it refers to the same thing. Pancha means five, so five, sheaths, layers or bags. See HERE.

One way it maybe helpful to reflect on the relationship between……

One way it maybe helpful to reflect on the relationship between our lives and our practice is through the model of the Pañca Maya or the five aspects of the human being. In this instance through reflecting on the notion that influencing the subtler aspects of the Pañca Maya can impact more powerfully on the gross aspect, whereas influencing the gross aspects of the Pañca Maya may well impact less powerfully on the subtler aspects.
For example what happens at the level of the physical body may not impact that strongly on the increasingly subtler aspects of the Pañca Maya such as our energy processes, social conditionings, latent impressions and emotional drives. Whereas what happens at the subtler levels of being, such as the conscious and unconscious stimuli of our external surroundings and internal processes on the latent impressions and emotional drives, can impact very strongly on how our body functions and responds .
For example when looking at our practice and what we are ‘doing’ at the Annamaya or the gross physical aspect, though immediately satisfying to that aspect of our being, may not impact as powerfully on the increasingly subtler aspects of the Pañca Maya such as the Prāṇāmaya or energy processes, Manomaya or social conditionings, Vijñānamaya or latent impressions and Ānandamaya or emotional drives.
The consideration for me is the level or aspect of being we prioritise in the cultivation of a developmental depth to our practice, rather than an experiential breadth. Perhaps from this notion it might be prudent to choose to reflect more on how we might cultivate our practice with a increasing focus on how we can prioritise the subtler aspects of the Pañca Maya more directly through our practice. The potential here is that the impact of such priorities will both impact on the subtler potentials of being, as well as permeating through to the increasingly grosser aspects of our being.
The model of the Pañca Maya offers compass points to guide us in our journey from the gross to the subtle and both warning us of and enabling us to transcend the illusions that can be re-enforced through the temptational seeds that arise within the fruits of working with the Body or Annamaya.
I also feel that the lack of a clear goal as in a “View” is a thorn in the side of teachers and thus students and is patently obvious through the way so many casually and ignorantly mix up the words Āsana and Yoga when talking about practice. I feel this confusion underpins all sorts of body based attempts to reach some kind of thorn free physical bliss and interpret that as existential freedom.
However in order to realise these possibilities we may have to forgo some of the physical effects and ambitions that we have become used to and even expect. Such is the dilemma of choosing to work from the inside out rather than the more usual choice and even social expectation, amidst the popularised perception of Yoga being synonymous with Āsana, of the outside in.

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Here's Srivatsa Ramaswami explaining the pancha Maya/kosha theory



Pancha Kosa Vidya

In my previous newsletter I wrote about the enormous scholarship of my
revered Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. He taught several traditional texts
including many upanishads

I had mentioned the general approach of the old works to guide the
student from the known to the unknown. One of the well known vidyas of
the upanishads, the pancha-kosa-vidya is popular with many yoga
students, teachers and spiritual seekers. The Yogasutras refer to the
known-- of seen person (drusya atma)-- to lead to the subtle unseen
'self' or Purusha. The pancha kosa vidya leads the inquirer from the
seen or known five-kosa-person to the indwelling Self or atman in a
step by step approach. It urges the sadhaka to contemplate on each of
the kosas in succession to ultimately arrive at the true self. This is
the main purpose of this vidya found in Tattiriya Upanishad.

In the Yoga Sutra the physical person seen is made up of basically the
three gunas, the five bhutas and the eleven indriyas and this body-
mind complex is used by most people for experiences, pleasant and
unpleasant, but a few use this person for 'roll back' or resolution to
the basic elements of prakriti which is identified as nirodha. While
most persons look outward to obtain experiences (bhoga) , the yogi
uses the body and life time to look and work inward (apavarga)to
obtain the state of Kaivalya.

The Taittiriya upanishad looks at the 'seen person' as one made up of
five kosas, and exhorts the spiritual seeker to transcend the 'five
kosa seen person' by deep step by step contemplation and understand
the nature of the atman. These five kosas are envisaged, each one of
them as made up of the five parts of a bird, and each one of the
kosas more subtle than the outer one. The five kosas start with the
one made of food or matter, the physical body. It is made of physical
matter consisting of five distinct portions as the head, the right
and left wings, the body of the front and the tail or the back. It
gets energy from anna or food/matter. This kosa should be kept pure
and yogasanas are said to help one achieve this goal. There is a vedic
prayer which helps one pray for the pure satvic quality of the
physical body made fully of anna(annamaya) or matter.

This physical body is identified by everybody, including a child, as
the person, the self. But the self by definition is the innermost,
subtlest principle in every human being. Is there anything more subtle
than the physical body? The upanishad begins to investigate.

And it finds out that there is an inner self to the physical body made
fully of life force called prana, in the same mold of the physical
body. This pranamaya permeates the whole physical body and is
visualized as the self of the physical body or annamaya kosa. It also
is visualized with five distinct parts, the head, the two wings, the
chest and then the tail. The Prana, the main life force is the head
of vyana and apana are the right and left wings, then udana is the
body or heart of this kosa and then samana is the tail or support of
this system. A regular pranayama workout will help maintain this kosa
in good stead.

There is an inner self, of the shape of the person, to this prana maya
kosa which itself is a sheath or a kosa called mano maya. It is
permeated with an aspect of the chitta called manas. Manas coordinates
all the senses and instruments of action. Interestingly the most
important sense for a vedic scholar is the sense of hearing. Hearing
the vedas from the teacher the vedic student learns by heart the
vedas. Also this vedic student has his mano maya kosa full of vedic
knowledge. The head of this mano maya is the yajur veda, the right
and the left wings are the rik and sama vedas. The body or the chest
is the vedic injunctions (adesa or the brahmana portion) and the tail
is the last veda, the atharva veda. It therefore actually refers to
our entire memory kosa. This kosa according to yogis can be kept in
good condition by pratyahara. The vaidics would say chanting of the
vedas keeps the manomaya kosa in good shape.

Is there anything subtler than this? Yes, says the Upanishad. Subtler
than the mano maya is the vigyana maya or the kosa of intellect. This
is the self of the previous kosa, of the human form but is visualized
with a head which is shraddha or faith(in the scriptures). Since the
vedic scholar is doing this self analysis and investigation, he uses
this kosa towards the spiritual end. So the right wing is
righteousness or straight forwardness(rtam) and the left wing is satya
or the ultimate spiritual Truth. Then the heart or the atma of this
sheath is yoga or the ability to remain concentrated or go into
samadhi. The whole kosa is supported by mahat or universal
intelligence. The upanishad sadhaka has to have this kosa in good
stead to clearly understand the nature of the self using this kosa
diligently. And dhyana or meditation is the means of keeping this kosa
unpolluted.

The soul of this kosa is another subtle kosa called ananda maya which
is translated roughly as the bliss kosa. Again this kosa is in the
human form but is visualized as a bird. The head of this kosa is
affection (priya), the right wing is glee (moda), the left wing is
ecstasy (pramoda) and the heart is bliss (ananda) and the support of
this is Brahman, the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality, the Atman/
Brahman which is defined (swarupa lakshana) as pure consciousness
unaffected by ether time or space (satyam, gnanam anantam brahma) and
whose realization is possible by the path shown (tatasta lakshana) by
the knowledge called the pancha maya (kosa) vidya is what is to be
known to end the evil of transmigratory existence.

The first step is to consider the human body, called the annamaya, as
part of the outside matter of the universe as it is that which is made
up of five elements, earth, water, etc., returns to the earth/universe
after death. During the lifetime, the annamaya body is sustained by
anna or food/matter, itself drawing the energy from it. The subtle
self of the human body which is the inner sheath known as pranamaya is
the one that keeps the body alive. The force that maintains it is
called prana sakti. It is said that udana, one of the five forces
keeps the balance between prana the inward life force and apana the
outward life force under balance. Once the udana loses that control at
the time of death, the apana with prana and other life forces leaves
the body. The other three sheaths , the manomaya, its inner core/
atman, the vigyana maya and the subtlest sheath the ananda maya are
controlled by the power of veil or ignorance called the avarana
sakthi. This is the power which prevents the individual from realizing
the true nature of one's core or atman which is pure consciousness and
beyond the five kosas. This power when it operates in the subtlest or
the ananda maya kosa is known as ichha sakti or the power of desire.
When it operates in the vignyana maya kosa it is known as gnana sakti
or power of discrimination and then when it operates in the mano maya
it is known as kriya sakti. The desire for the desirable object arsing
in the ananda maya leads the vignyana maya to contemplate the means
for fulfilling it and thereafter the manomaya directs the physical
body to do the necessary physical work to achieve the goal, which it
succeeds in sometimes and not some other times leading to the feeling
of happiness or unhappiness in the ananda maya self. Thus even though
the spiritual nature of the self is clearly discernible from the
pancha maya vidya of the Upanishads, it is obscured by the power of
the avarana sakthi or the power of spiritual ignorance which gets more
and more strengthened by the operation of this sakthi, life after
life. Hence the upanishad not only explains the nature of the real
self as opposed to the mistaken self (mithya atma) made up of five
kosas but also gives a step by step approach to strengthen the
spiritual knowledge leading to transcending the evil of endless
transmigratory existence.

Since the human body returns to earth and other elements the entire
universe including the human body is considered one virat one whole
universe of anna or matter of the five elements. The prana which is
the subtle self of the human body is considered the subtle self
therefore of the universe and then regressing further one arrives at
the individual soul or atman as the self. And since now it is also the
Self of the Universe it is called Brahman and the advaitins proclaims
the oneness (advaita) of the individual self (atman) and the supreme
self (brahman) as one and the same

Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the 10 major upanishads and is chanted
regularly especially (early on the 12th day after full moon and new
moon days, after a day of fasting, Ekadasi) in South India. I had made
a recording some 25 years ago of this Upanishad and I find it is
available in USA now at


This is a very brief introductory sketch and those who are
interested will find Upanishadic study very fascinating and
uplifting.Excellent commentaries by Adi Sankara and Ramanuja and a few
others are studied and pored over by spiritual seekers.

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This post is a little long isn't it, got carried away, sorry.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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