Selections from Ramaswami's WildYogi interview, On Studying with Krishnamacharya, On Pranayama, On Bandhas, On Drishti, On Vinyasa Krama Method, On Books, On Teaching and Teachers.
Here's the link to the full interview
Ramaswami included the full interview in his special mid November newsletter but recommended we have a look at the Wildyogi edition which also includes a number of pictures. I contacted the magazine to make sure it was OK to quote from their interview, they said sure, that it was a free magazine and that they looking to raise the profile of their English edition. A big thank you then to Ilya for allowing me to quote substantially from the article and I highly recommend stopping by and checking out their other interviews and article and putting the word around.
|Ramaswami, Chris & me VK TT 2010 PIcture by Barry Wadsworth|
A few of the questions from the Ramaswami interview, I've included more of the questions and ramaswami's responses but it's so hard to choose and really I've still only scratched the surface of the interview, he goes into so much more detail on all these points.
The headings are mine
Interview with Srivatsa Ramaswami
Questions: Yuri Sharonin, Ilya Zhuravlev
S. Ramaswami (born 1939 in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India) was a student of the father of modern yoga, Shri T. Krishnamacharya, and studied under him for 33 years, from 1955 until 1988 shortly before Krishnamacharya's passing. He is Krishnamacharya's longest-standing student outside of Krishnamacharya's immediate family. Нe currently lives and teaches in the U.S.
What was your first impression of him (Krishnamacharya)?
First impression was that he appeared to be a bit stern. But once he started to teach - the first thing he said was "Inhale, raise your arms. Breath with hissing sound, rubbing sensation in the throat." - I had never seen a yoga teacher doing it with breathing. I used to have a few teachers, seen a few books. I was young - just 15 at the time. Like all Indians, I had some exposure to yoga. First thing that struck me was the use of breath, the way he was teaching vinyasas. He was very clear with his instructions. And then also types and number of vinyasas he was able to teach - that was also very impressive. Even with the first few classes I can see that yoga was much different than how we were practicing in India at that time. I had started studying with him, this went on, he started to teach lots of other things. Soon he started teaching pranayama, then afterwards he started teaching Vedic chanting. I had some exposure to chanting when I was young; I liked the way he taught Vedic chanting. Then he started to teach various texts, like Yoga Sutras, Samkhya Karika... So this went on. I never knew he was a scholar, I thought he was just a yoga teacher. But later on I found he was an exceptional scholar.
Did you have any background in sports, any martial arts?
Me? No, not in martial arts. But I used to play cricket at school; I was playing tennis also. I had some exposure. In fact, I was in college tennis team, captain of the team. I used to play ping-pong. Once I started studying with him, I slowly cut down on these, and concentrated more and more on yoga.
When did you realize that he is your Guru?
I just started going to him - I thought everything he has to offer was very useful to me. I did not have any plan. I was very young then. I used to be interested in Indian philosophy at that time. When he started teaching I found that was another dimension to his teaching, which I thought was very good for me. I did not know he was able to do that. One day, I think it was his son, Desikachar - we started chanting together – came and asked "I am going to study Yoga Sutras with my father. Would you like to join? My father asked me to find out from you." I got interested, and started to study Yoga Sutras also. After we went through Yoga Sutras, we went through the commentary of Vyasa. By that time 4-5 years are gone by. Then he was started saying "why don't you study Samkhya Karika?" So we went on studying Sankya Karika. Like that, he would suggest which subject I should study, and I studied with him.
Have you observed his practice?
No, no. Ekagrata. Everyone has his own practice. But occasionally - suppose I was five minutes early to his class, I could probably sometimes see him doing his headstand, or shoulderstand, or sitting in mahamudra, or some of those postures. But then, he would be completing his practice. So I would stand outside. Of course he did not object me observing his practice, but you don't really go sit down and look. Sometimes he used to show some pranayama, some postures. Beyond that I did not observe his practice. And he also had daily puja which he was performing, so I had a good idea how he spent his time.
STUDYING WITH KRISHNAMACHARYA
What was it like to study with him?
His main goal was to convey the subject to the student, that's all. He would be focused totally on that. His focus would be teaching, and you would be always thinking whether you are able to understand what he was talking about. Usually he would close his eyes and speak for 5-10 minutes, because most of the Sutras he knew by heart. And then suddenly he would open his eyes to see if you were sitting there, then close his eyes and continue. With him, there were nothing extraneous. From the moment you come to the class and start with the prayer, go through the class, and end with the prayer. After the prayer is over, I would just stand up, and go out of the room, and then come back next class. He was totally focused on whatever he wanted to teach. Not merely the subject, but how to convey it so you will be able to understand. That is the main thing. I think the impression you get from studying with him was this: these are the shastras, scriptures. His life goal was to understand it, bit by bit, so they will become part of his own psyche, his own way of thinking. And then convey it to the next generation. The rest of the things were secondary. I don't know how he was earlier. You can see a fierce intent in transmission of knowledge. Of course he used to charge fees. He needed money, everybody needs money. But that was not the main thing. If you can show that you are really interested, he came out of his way to help you by explaining, that's about all. And normally I never used to ask questions. If I had a doubt, I would keep it to myself. I tried to understand it myself by thinking about what he said, did I miss something. Sometimes I refer to other notes, other commentaries. But usually, if I had a doubt, in two-three days time, I don't know how he knew, but he would explain it. That was something very good about him. You can see that he was really interested in you, in your development.
It is said that Krishnamacharya was continued to call himself a student because he felt that he was always “studying, exploring and experimenting” with the practice. It seems like his practice changed through the years. His yoga as presented in Yoga Makaranda seems quite different from yoga he taught you.
I would not say Yoga Makaranda and Yoga Rahasya are complete representation of the way he taught. Sometimes when you write a book, you are writing about some asanas, how particular asana should be done.
Watching snippets of his 1938 movie, one get impression of very active, fast practice.
Right, right. I will tell you that all those things were done with a purpose of demonstration. For the purpose of people knowing it. See, when he was teaching in Mysore, he was teaching youngsters. He was also teaching the royal family. I don't think he was teaching those things to the royal family. They were not jumping through, or doing those difficult things. He would adopt to individual requirements. People like to see those things, so he presented things that people like to see. And that does not mean that this was what was he teaching. Even at that time he was teaching differently to different people.
It is clear that he was leaning towards individual, one-on-one approach in his later years.
No, even in earlier years. Whatever you see in the movies, in those photographs, or whatever is mentioned in Yoga Makaranda - he wanted to present a particular view of the whole thing. Whereas in Yoga Rahasya he says that the whole thing have to change, depending upon your age, view not found in Yoga Makaranda. So books are not a complete picture of how he was teaching. That is what I feel reading Yoga Makaranda, Yoga Rahasya, those movies. And I think he himself would say it sometimes that those were made to attract people towards yoga. Because people like to see those things, and shown them. He was capable of that. I would not say that his teachings were confined to what you see in 1938 movie, or what was mentioned in some of the earlier books. That is my view.
What other works he considered to be essential?
After the Yoga Sutras, he asked us to study Samkhya Karika, because a lot of things that are taken for granted in Yoga Sutras you find in Samkhya Karika, that is a theoretical basis for Yoga. He taught Samkhya Karika shloka by shloka, and then he also used Gaudapada's brief commentary on that. First you go through the Samkhya Karika text, and then - the commentary. There is also equally good commentary by Vachaspati Mishra; both are available in English translation. Traditional translations are available. That was the second most important text.
Then he went on to teach several of Upanishads. Not the complete Upanishads - he would take one section, they called Vidyas, Upanishadic Vidyas. Like the Panchakosha-Vidya, or Panchagni-Vidya, or Sad-Vidya, Bhuma-Vidya... That went on for a number of years. And of course, in addition to that - chanting, a lot of chanting. I have learned a lot of chanting.
Did he give any recommendations on massage, oil bath, other cleaning procedures?
Yes, oil bath is something that people in India, especially in South India, do it regularly. He did not give any particular recommendations, but he would say don't let anybody do an oil bath or a massage to you, as a yogi, a practitioner of yoga. You have to massage your own body, allow 20 minutes to half an hour for oil to soak, and then have a bath. And then there are some materials that are available to remove excess oil from the body. Usually this was done twice a week. He would also recommend taking castor oil twice a year for cleaning digestive tract. These were accepted practices. Normally in Madras we take a warm water bath in the morning. Many times we take a cold water bath, it is more refreshing. But Krishnamacharya insisted you take warm water bath. Of course yogis take cold water bath, we know that. But he said, at your age, this is what you should do. Naturally the condition of yogi who lives in Himalaya will be different. But from that day on, I take a warm water bath before my yoga practice.
Did he gave any other recommendations on diet, sleep, or monitoring one's health?
As far as sleep is concerned, he would say, go to bed early, and get up early in the morning. Because morning is the best time for you to practice your yoga, or chanting, or meditation, or whatever. He himself used to wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning. But he used to go to bed around 8:30 at night. Of course, this would be difficult in theWestern countries. In India sunset is always around 6pm, whether it is winter or summer. So he used to go to bed around 8-8:30, be up by 3 in the morning. By 6 or 7 would have completed all his morning ritual, and the ready to receive anybody for a class, about 7 o'clock in the morning. He would say, "go to bed early, get up early in the morning, try to get at least 6 hours of sleep".
"Don't put on weight, be careful about your diet". I think I mentioned to you, that he would say "don't allow your thighs and waist to spread".
Let's talk about Pranayama. In his writings he says numerous times, that Pranayama is the key to the whole practice; it is the most important anga. Vinyasa Krama you teach is centered around the breathing.
And yet, Pranayama, by and large, taught on the fringes, and sometimes has an air of being remote like samadhi. Often presented as dangerous. How Krishnamacharya taught it, and how soon?
I don't remember when he started to teach me Pranayama. I know it was very early, because he had started to use breathing on day one. That itself is half Pranayama: long inhalation, long exhalation. You start from day one. And then Pranayama practice is regular. I think I mentioned, Pranayama practice is an integral part of daily routine in olden days. You are required to do ten times Pranayama with Gayatri Mantra, and all that. Pranayama is considered essential part of your daily life. You are required to do, say, ten in the morning, ten in the afternoon, ten in the evening, and there two or three in addition in every sitting. Virtually you do forty pranayamas every day. Everybody - you don't have to be a yogi to practice Pranayama. Everybody is required to practice Pranayama forty times every day. So, what's the big deal?
Samantraka Pranayama (pranayama with Mantra)?
Samantraka Pranayama. But still a pranayama. In fact it's a more difficult pranayama. If everybody, even non-yogi do forty times pranayama, why yogi should shy away from that? And I don't think Krishnamacharya told anybody not to teach Pranayama. He might have not told somebody to teach specifically pranayama, I don't know what happened. But he didn't prevent anybody... He taught Pranayama from very beginning. In fact, almost anybody who has studied with him learned Pranayama from him. He would himself teach Pranayama. Normally your asana practice ends with pranayama session. I have never come out from his class without practicing Pranayama. I think I've mentioned it several times. You see, Pranayama is the one that makes Yoga unique. In all other systems there is no control over the breathing. In all physical exercises, there is no control over the breathing. Here you try bring your breathing under voluntary control. If there is something very big, very unique about Yoga - it is the breathing. Any people who want to meditate, to achieve samadhi, achieve kaivalya, some of those things that are mentioned - if you shy away from Pranayama, how can you progress? You have to use this vehicle, you got to use Pranayama. Krishnamacharya was insistent that without Pranayama, there is no Yoga.
In fact, word Hatha, as in Hatha Yoga, means Pranayama. You look in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the commentator says Ha is Prana, Tha is Apana, Yoga is a Union, Hatha Yoga is a union of Prana and Apana, which is Pranayama. So Hatha Yoga Is Pranayama. How can you say, "I practice Hatha Yoga without Pranayama"?
I don't know why people are unnecessarily discouraged from Pranayama. Everything is dangerous. If you do Pranayama in very unorganized way, then perhaps... But then enough instructions are given in the books. And they say you have to be careful, you have to learn from a teacher. Yes, you have to learn from a teacher. See that it is within your limits. In fact in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first instruction is "Inhale as much as you can". Yetashakti "Exhale as much as you can". Slowly build your capacity. You have to work along these lines. People who discourage Pranayama are doing a disservice to Yoga. That may not be their intent, but they are creating unnecessary fear in people, and they are doing a disservice to Yoga.
One reason why people are reluctant to teach Pranayama because they are afraid of teaching it. They don't teach Pranayama because they don't want to get into any problem. They don't want to teach Sirsasana, or Sarvangasana because they don't want to get any problem. These postures, these procedures are a bit tricky. If you understand, if you are able to practice them – well and good; but sometimes you make a mistake, you feel very uncomfortable...
If Hatha Yoga is Pranayama, then Pranayama is Kumbhaka?
Kumbhaka is breath holding. It has to be proceeded by inhale, or exhale. Pranayama is control of the breathing. Kumbhaka is the most essential aspect of that. You have to use your inhalation or exhalation before you are able to hold your breath.
How would Krishnamacharya teach it?
After you practiced your asana, he would ask you to sit in padmasana, vajrasana, etc. do your Kapalabhati, 108 times, or whatever. And then he would ask you to do - one day Ujjai, another day Sitali, another day Nadi Shoddana, like that he would slowly build up the practice, and then later on you have to practice Pranayama on your own. You don't have to teach forever. Once he knew that you practice your Pranayama properly, he would say at the end of the class, "practice Pranayama for 15 minutes".
Which Pranayamas were taught, and which ones were mostly frequently used?
Mostly, in Vinyasa Krama practice, he would use Ujjai breathing, because we use Ujjai in our practice, so it becomes easier. Ujjai and Nadi Shoddana are the two most important pranayamas. And then if you combine those two, you get Anuloma Ujjai, Viloma Ujjai, Pratiloma Ujjai. Occasionally he would ask me to do Sitaly pranayama. When weather is very hot, he would say "you look tired, why don't you do a Sitali pranayama". The main emphasis was on Ujjai and Nadi Shoddana. Normally for Mantra Pranayama, they use Nadi Shoddana pranayama. Inhale through one nostril, chant the Pranayama Mantra, exhale through the other nostril. Nadi Shoddana pranayama is mentioned in the texts also.
How did he teach the Bandhas? And how soon?
Once your breathing is comfortable, you have long inhalation and exhalation, and you can hold the breath for a short period of time, Bandhas can be done. I think he taught Trataka Mudra as the best procedure positioned to teach Mulah Bandha, and Uddiyana Bandha. Once you are able to do Bandhas in that position, then the next thing for you would be to try it in Adho Mukha Svanasana, then some of the seated postures, especially Padmasana and Vajrasana. These are the postures he would ask you to practice the Bandhas.
I think considerable confusion exists about Bandhas, and perhaps it may be useful for many people if we will discuss it. Let's go through three major bandhas. In case of Mula Bandha, queues can be very simple - yet books written about it.
He gave simple instructions, he did not elaborate on this. He would say draw your rectum and tighten lower abdomen. That is all instructions he would give. He would observe how your Bandha is, and say, it is fine. That's about all.
Jalandhara Bandha aids Ujjai.
Definitely! Jalandhara Bandha aids Ujjai. It also has a number of other benefits. It helps you to keep your back straighter. Once you pull up the spine, your Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha also become more effective. Because the pelvic muscles are pulled up, there is more space between the pelvis and ribcage, so you are able to do the bandhas much better. They are all related.
How is Drishti used in Vinyasa Krama?
Drishti is mentioned in many of Pattabhi Jois works, but for all those years I've been studied with Krishnamacharya, he never mentioned about Drishti. He never mentioned about it. Only thing he will say, whenever you do Trataka you gaze at the lamp, and then internalize it. That's about all. But whether you must look at the toe, and all that I find, that kind of thing he never mentioned. Keep your head down, and your eyes closed. Most of the time our eyes are closed, we are following the breath. Most of the asanas you keep the eyes closed and work with the breath. Concentrate on breath, except in standing poses. When you are doing Paschimottanasana, you better have your eyes closed, so that you will be able to focus on the breath and the bandhas. Everything is happening inside, you don't need to keep your eyes open.
It is peculiar that here in the West, people seeking to start meditation practice come to Vedantic or Buddhist meditation, and think of Yoga only as a source of health benefits. Why do you think that is? Why not Yogic Meditation?
The whole problem is, nobody teaches that. Nobody teaches the yogic meditation. You look at some older teachers, they don't teach meditation at all. So people who practice Yoga, when they want meditation, because meditation is mentioned there, what do they do? They have to go to Vedantic school, because they can teach some Vedantic mantras, like Aham Brahmaasmi, So-Ham, Shivo-Ham, and all that. Or, they go to Buddhist meditation, or, sometimes they take a mantra. They go to religious people, take a mantra, and trying to meditate.
VINYASA KRAMA METHOD
Can you describe the Vinyasa Krama, the method you are teaching? It's uniqueness?
Vinyasa Krama is a method, by which you do asanas, with a number of movements leading to asanas, movements in the asanas, counterposes to the asanas. And then all the asanas are done with a proper breathing. There is an appropriate breathing for each of these movements. And then the mind is focused on the breath. These are the main differences between Vinyasa Krama and other methods. The term Vinyasa means Art. Vinyasa Krama is practicing yoga as an Art. That's why it got so many movements. All of the various movements body can do, falling within common definition of asana. One more advantage of Vinyasa Krama is that you are able to access different parts of the body, which you won't do, if you doing fixed number of movements, fixed number of asanas. There are so many different movements, you are likely to reach and exercise all parts of the body. Prana goes to those areas, Rakta [blood] goes to those areas.
In his early works, Krishnamacharya recommends 10-15 asanas for a regular practice. You mentioned he asked four asanas for constant long hold practice: Maha Mudra, Paschimottanasana, Sarvangasana, and Sirsasana.
Yes, that is what I remember, because, for instance, he also talks, for example, about Mayurasana in the Yoga Makaranda. But I remember these four. He would insist, almost every day he would ask us to do these four asanas.
How particular was Krishnamacharya in Vinyasa sequences? Did he required to stick to a particular sequence, or did he encouraged variations?
Yes, he would teach you the way I go about teaching this class. Once you learned these vinyasas, then in your own practice you will pick and choose on a daily basis. That is your responsibility. But, on the other hand, if you come to me for a treatment, then I will pick and choose the vinyasas and give it to you. But if you are doing it for yourself, and you had learned these vinyasas, then you have to design your program on a daily basis. You don't need a teacher to come and tell you. I've done this, tomorrow I think I should do something for my neck and shoulders, or sometimes I feel heavy in my legs, so I probably spend more time doing vinyasas in my shoulderstand, or headstand. I vary my procedures from day to day.
Did he taught Surya Namaskar, was it a part of a daily practice? You mentioned earlier it was a part of weekly routine.
No, no. That was a chanting, not the physical aspect. Just a chanting. We used to do only chanting part. We never used to do the physical part. He taught it, but then he never insisted on a physical part of the Surya Namaskar. Not as it is being done in the West.
So physical Surya Namaskar sequence was not practiced at all?
No, no. It was just taught out, that's about all.
How specific he was about alignment, in any vinyasas or asanas?
He would make minor adjustments. Few minor adjustments I've made in the class, similarly to that he will do. [very minor, gentle physical touch, rare; occasional verbal suggestions.] Supposing your shoulderstand is very uncomfortable, so he would come and help you out. But it won't be rough. Not a very meticulous kind of adjustment to the posture.
In your opinion, why Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga follows strict sequences, no variations allowed? Pattabhi Jois was stating that he was teaching strictly according with Krishnamacharya tradition.
Right. I can only speculate. One is that Krishnamacharya taught only those vinyasas at that particular time. They belong to much earlier group, 1940s maybe. And another thing, it is all depends on how long they studied. I studied with Krishnamacharya for a long, long period of time. I specifically asked him for more vinyasas, when I started teaching. I realized that that I was not able to teach much more, so I went and asked him, are there more vinyasas? I said, I am not able to teach my students, is there something more? Yes, then he started, “did you teach this vinyasa, this other vinyasa”. Like that, he kept on teaching more and more... I used to practice, and then go and teach.
The first writings I did for a journal, called Indian Review journal. I think it was way back in 1978 or so. At that time I was a trustee of Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM). When the Mandiram started, I was one of the trustees. Desikachar, myself, and one of his class fellows, we were all the trustees. So at that time, what we did, Desikachar said, we should publish to make Mandiram known, and this particular magazine was interested. He asked me to write those articles, so I started writing. In about six months time I got out of Mandiram. But the publishers said, why don't you keep on writing? I went on writing, it went on for about 28 months or so. First few issues I used to type the article, give it to Desikachar, and he would, whenever find time, read it to his father, explain it to him. And then he would make suggestions. Not corrections, suggestions. He used to be very happy about what was going on. Then after a few years, one of the Desikachar students, Paul Harvey from the UK who studied Yoga Sutras with me at that time, asked me to write a book, an introductory book on Yoga Sutras.
So I wrote a book called “Basic Tenets of Patanjala Yoga”. It was not a great success, not many people read that. When the book was published in 1982, I was not going to classes for three-four months, I had something going on. But when Krishnamacharya came to know about it, he came all the way to my house. One Sunday, he and Desikachar came to my house, I was surprised. He said, “I understand you have written a book, and I want to bless you. It is a very good thing, you must write more books.” He was very positive, very supportive. He used to encourage you very well. So he wanted Vinyasa Krama, he wanted these teachings be known.
At that time, Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar were teaching, but not directly in contact with him; Desikachar started to go to different parts of the world. He was very supportive. And then another thing started doing, I first recorded the Yoga Sutras, then wanted to have a recording company do it. Ultimately I was able to find a Recording company, they recorded it and released it. Then subsequently they asked me to come up with a number of other subjects. So over the period of 15 years, most of the chanting I have learned from Krishnamacharya I was able to record about 30 in all, about 30 hrs of sanskrit chants, and this company released it. This was another important aspect of Krishnamacharya's teaching.
These were two early publications. Then in 1999-2000 I wrote “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”, and in 2005 I wrote “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”, a Vinyasa Krama book, and in 2006 a book with David Hurwitz, “Yoga Beneath the Surface”. These are the publications. And subsequently, I started to send Vinyasa Krama newsletters, so I can share whatever I consider is important. It was good to keep on writing, one way or the other.
What do you think is your best work so far?
Of course “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”, I really, really enjoyed writing it. But then Vinyasa Krama book is also good. Reason why I wrote this particular book, is that I found that even though I go and teach workshops, not many people heard about it. I thought I will not teach, so I wanted to put everything I knew in form of the book, and publish it, so it is out of my mind. And then LMU fortunately started this program [LMU 200 hr Teacher Training with Srivatsa Ramaswami in LA, California, USA]. Few people now had studied this. And then book with David was good – I could see what kind of questions arise in people, that was good.
Any other books, besides essential scriptures, that should be studied?
As yoga teachers you must be familiar with various texts. Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yoga Yajnavalkya – these three texts... Yoga Upanishads are there, but they are not very accessible, some of them are repetitive. You can still have a look at them. This is all with respect to Hatha Yoga. There is also other text – it is not a text, it is part of the Purana – it is called Sutra Samhita. It is not very important, just an additional material.
Then you can probably think about Samkhya Karika. It is work of 75 shlokas or so, like Yoga Sutras it is also very concise, and a beautifully written text. Lot of things that are taken for granted in Yoga Sutras can be found there. For instance, the three Gunas, the evolution from the Mulah Prakriti explained very well, Transmigration; number of other concepts that are taken for granted by yogis can be found there. English translations are available; english commentaries are also available. Samkhya is one of the six traditional Indian Philosophies. Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta form a compact group. They all talk about Nivriti Shastras – how to stop the Transmigration.
Go through the Yoga Sutras, get a good outline of that, then try to support it by Bhagavad Gita from one side, and Samkhya Karika on the other side. Bhagavad Gita will be very helpful, because it is very “user-friendly”, not like the Yoga Sutras. Yoga Sutras are very dry – Bhagavad Gita tries to explain. In fact, you don't need any commentary for it, because same ideas explained over and over again. Arjuna was a warrior, not an intellectual.
Then once you are familiar with these texts, then you can read some of the Upanishads, Upanishad Vidyas. Vedas per se might not be of much importance to us. It contains lot of rituals, things like this. More important thing for people who study Yoga is to study Upanishads. The Upanishads portions is the Thought, philosophical ideas are contained there, and there are many.
Do you feel that someone with a serious practice of several years has a duty to teach?
My feeling is, anybody who practicing Yoga for five years should start thinking about it. Where am I going, what I am trying to do? Some introspection is necessary. You can't just keep doing the same thing over and over again. That is not an intelligent approach to Yoga. You try to find out, what else is there in Yoga. Suppose somebody says, don't do Pranayama - why you should not do Pranayama? Or if somebody says, don't do shoulderstand – what are the problems? Why shouldn't I do shoulderstand? Otherwise it is all the same routine. As they get older, it will not going to be helpful, I am sure. Practices that are good when you are young will not be helpful when you get older. You need a different set of practices.
Do you feel like in the West people are reinventing the Yoga?
Yes, many people are now inventing Yoga, because they don't have access to tradition, like Krishnamacharya had. What happens – yoga is popular, so I run my own yoga, or stick to the same routine. I am not saying that everybody is doing it... At least in olden days, I used to know many people who come to India to study. Nowadays it is all gone. They say that “who knows Yoga in India? Now it has become established here.” My approach would be: alright, I had studied with Krishnamacharya, and the only reason I had stayed with him for a long period of time, was because he was interpreting the shastras with his experience to me. If he would have said, it is a yoga he is invented, I would not have gone to him. I would not have gone to him. Because I had wanted to know what was Yoga, Vedanta have to offer. I wanted to know that. And he faithfully interpreted those shastras to tell you what they are all about, which he did admirably. Whatever I understood from him, now I want to explain to people the way I understood. It is not as good as he taught, but that is the best I can do. I will do whatever I can do to explain the way I understood. And I should be happy about it.
What is your advice for those times when one feels uncertain, even discouraged about yoga practice, practice progression? Everyone has those moments at some point.
Right. I get that feeling quite often even now (laughs). It should not be frequent, it could happen once in a while. What I can tell you from my own experience, 90 people out of 100, when they start on Yoga, after some time they don't find any improvement whatsoever. “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” That is why I would say, the reason why we are getting this feeling is, we are not getting everything that practice supposed to give. Yogis promise so much, but they are very sincere. They have no ax to grind, they tell you what they had experienced. The only problem, I am not able to experience it, that is the only thing – at least when I was young. The reason why it does not work for me is I don't know what they are talking about. Maybe I am not doing it properly, not understood it properly. I have to persist. That faith I must have in this. I had that faith in my Teacher. I have the faith in subject also. These two things you must have. That's what they call Shraddha (faith with love and reverence). So first starting point - you must have Faith. And then another thing, what happens in our life – sometimes there are other problems. They come into our life...
Here Yoga Philosophy comes more importantly. You try to understand Yoga Philosophy, what does it say about Three Gunas... One of the reasons sometimes we get more depressed, or more and more angry – that can be due to preponderance of other two Gunas: Rajas and Tamas. Philosophy is the only way they can help us. We must try to find out situations that causing these problems. Sometimes you must find a permanent solution for a chronic problem. All of us – we don't solve the problem, we expect it will go away. So we have to devise a solution, and then deal with it. Then there is certain problems which you cannot completely eliminate. Then you must at least learn to make use of Yoga so you can overcome those difficulties. Sometimes it can be Pranayama practice, sometimes it can be Asana practice. But to greatest extent – the Philosophy.
Personally, I will tell you: Yoga Philosophy, the Upanishads, they were very helpful. These thoughts contained there... You are able to see that those people in olden days – they were able to see those problems; it is nothing new to me. It has happened to many people earlier, only details may be different. All of us have our own set of problems. If we can make use of Yoga to deal with these problems better, it will be good. There is no other way. If we don't deal with the problems at this level, then we have to depend on external help. We must slowly try to see that these problems do not affect us. They may not go away completely, but at least they won't affect us so much. I am not saying it is going completely solve the problem, but to some extent Yoga Philosophy may be very very helpful. Like you, I too have or had my own problems, but it is much easier to deal with them, if you understand philosophy. Maybe Asana and Pranayama can help on physiological level. On psychological level you have to sit down and analyze. Frankly speaking, many problems we come across in life are of our own creation. When you solve the problems, you also have to give up certain things. You have to sit down and analyze, what do you want to give up, what do I want to get rid of. Analyze and choose a course. Sometimes, though, we take ourselves too seriously, and get affected by outside factors too much.
Practice sustained by Yoga Philosophy.
For the mind to become quiet, it should have an anchor. The mind should know it can be peaceful without any external things, things you depend upon, health, relationship. So long as everything ok, all is fine, but if something goes wrong, mind is shattered. I should not allow myself to get shattered. Once I allow it to get shattered, it is a big problem. It is very difficult to rebuild it. That is why these things will be helpful: Practice to some extent, Philosophy to some extent. Between them, mind is reinforced so I can deal with problems better. Mere Practice won't do.
Do you have any advice for teachers who only starting? Or do wish you had done something differently in your own teaching career?
I will say that Yoga is a very very rich subject, it is very rewarding. It helps you physically, psychologically, disciplines your mind. Only thing is, try to understand all these things, reflect on all the practices. Even if you do your asana practice, reflect upon that: how do you feel after this particular asana, this particular vinyasa, kriya? How do you feel after Pranayama? And look for long-term effects. Over the period of time – maybe practice for a month or two, and see how you feel. I am sure that the whole system was designed in such a way that it was going to benefit the individual. It meant to benefit the individual. They have done a lot of research, a lot of practice on this. It is a result of accumulation of lots of individual practices, and practices of gurus, like my Guru, Krishnamacharya. Teachers must teach with certain amount of conviction. You practice, see how you feel, and start teaching – that should be helpful.
Try to maintain practice, try to enlarge your base, so you make it really useful for yourself first. Before you start teaching others, find usefulness to yourself. And then, share it with others.
Thank you very, very much for your time.
Thank you. I hope it will be useful.
More on Wild Yogi Magazine
Here's their own introduction to the magazine
"Let us to present you a new online magazine Wild Yogi, dedicated to different styles of yoga, spiritual practice, self development and healthy way of life.
What occurs when you hear this title – Wild Yogi? Maybe those who are familiar with Indian culture will imagine hаlf naked sadhu, coated with ashes, roving ascet, with impressive trishula (trident) in hands. This may seem strange to the modern buyer of yoga mates, props and fashionable yoga clothes. But, most likely, this is how yogis looked like at the times when those texts were written, which are sometimes recited by western educated inhabitants of big cities, who are familiar with yoga practice.
We decided – let Wild Yogi be a source of alternative information among different "yoga brands" and a process of yoga conversion into a glamourous fitness industry. We want a thinking person to have for reading and looking something else than young girls in white leotards, retouched with Photoshop, who diligently perform yoga postures among all sorts of international cosmetic products advertising.
Yoga was born in India thousands years ago, it is a powerful system of spiritual and physical improvement, today it became popular all over the World. Great yoga teachers said that this science belongs to all Humanity. According to the insights of sages in ancient India each one of us is Atman – a soul, it means that yoga lives in all of us, because it is a way of discovering your soul. And it does not matter in what spot of our Planet we were born and live. Our creative teamwork practices yoga for a log time and we consider it an important part of our life. Considerable amount of our authors are professional yoga teachers. Our desire to share our ideas, information, to tell about interesting people and events in the yoga world and at last just a need of creative self-expression brought us to making this magazine.
We define a conception of our magazine as “a magazine about Yoga for thinking reader”. In the first place it will interest those for whom yoga is not just a popular kind of fitness, but a profound and interesting system of body and consciousness development.
«Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…» wrote Sir Rudyard Kipling in “The Ballad of East and West” (1889) But is it true? We think, that it is possible to preserve and even to multiply rich heritage of traditional yoga in the western world. The world changes and with it history of yoga also changes, along with areas of its spreading. We all, those, who practice and teach yoga, also create this history.
We invite authors, practitioners and yoga teachers to cooperate with us on the volunteer basis. Welcome if you have something interesting to say, which maybe does not fit into the frame of “modern yogic mainstream”. With our magazine we invite you to accompany us in the journey along this fascinating way.
Interview with Bal Mukund Singh, disciple of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, senior yoga-teacher of Morarji Desai National Yoga Institute, New Delhi 2002 - Ilya Zhuravlev, Marina Raykis.
Interview with Dharma Mittra, NY 2003 - Ilya Zhuravlev, Boris Sirchenko.
"Yoga and Vipassana: An internal work" article by A.Vorobiev and M.Baranov. Interview with V.Karpinsky and I.Zhuravlev, 2003
Interview with Krishna Das, NY 2004 - Ilya Zhuravlev, Boris Sirchenko.
"My experience in Bihar school of yoga" - Interview with Swami Akhilesh Saraswati, russian yoga teacher from Kazakhstan, 2006.
"Brahmins' favorite planets" - Interview with Anand Bihari, indian Vedic astrologer (Jyotirvid). Arambol, Goa, 2007.
"Kumbha Mela - The Great Flow" - my article about Kumbha Mela holy festival in Allahabad (India), jan 2007.
"Tradition of Tamil Siddhas" - interview with Shri Panduranga Swamigal, doctor of ancient tamil siddha medicine, 2007
Interview with Hariji Baba, head of Aghora ("Left Hand Tantra") ashram in Sonoma, California, NY 2004 - Ilya Zhuravlev, Boris Sirchenko.
"Talks with Rampuri Baba" - american born sadhu of Juna Akhara order - Arambol, Goa, 2006 - Tim Rakin, Ilya Zhuravlev.
|Best regards, editor in chief of the Wild Yogi magazine Ilya Zhuravlev.|
Founders of the project:
Ilya Zhuravlev, editor in shief
Маxim Yasochka, co-editor, commercial director
Mikhail Baranov, co-editor