Saturday, 26 October 2013

UPDATED: Why did Krishnamacharya introduce kumbhaka (breath retention) into the practice of asana in Ashtanga?

In this post I explore why Krishnamacharya included Kumbhaka (breath retention) in his descriptions of asana in his 1934 manual Yoga Makaranda. I question too why it has not been passed along in current the Ashtanga of Pattabhi Jois. I argue that Krishnamacharya was bringing in meditation techniques into the asana practice to still the mind during practice, to avoid the Monkey mind that we so often experience, and that the meditation techniques he brought into his presentation of asana are consistent with Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. I present other options suggested by Patanjali including the attitude I employ in my own practice based on loving kindness and the four immeasurables.

“May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
“May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
“May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
“May they dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.”
-Traditional Chant based on the four immeasurable.


For a long time I've been wondering why Krishnamacharya included Kumbhaka in his presentation of asana in Yoga Makaranda (1934). I explored the practice myself, liked it, found it quite powerful actually and still include kumbhaka in my own practice. It's an approach that Krishnamacharya seems to have continued to explore throughout his life. Ramaswami, who studied with Krishnamacharya for 33 years through the 1950s-70s included a kumbhaka option in many of the asana he taught to us on his teacher training in 2010.

Kumbhaka in asana wasn't taken up by Pattabhi Jois in his presentation of Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga in Yoga Mala. When I asked Manju Jois recently about this he went so far as to suggest the practice was wrong, that Krishnamacharya was mistaken in including kumbhaka in asana.


We could come up with several reasons perhaps why one might seek to explore kumbhaka in asana but what was Krishnamacharya's reasoning, what was he after? Was it something he introduced himself or did it come from his teacher and perhaps his teacher's teacher, is it part of a lost teaching, a break in the lineage? Krishnamacharya argued that you knew a yoga practice was wrong if it it didn't correspond with the Yoga Sutras.

So is there any ground for including kumbhaka in as asana practice based on Patanjali?

I think there is.

"While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart.  During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana.  Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness.  Eliminates agitation and restlessness".  Krishnamacharya: Yogasanagalu (1941)

"While practicing yoga....



Here Krishnamacharya appears to be referring to yoga asana and that would tie in with his unique approach to asana as found in his book Yoga Makaranda (1934) written a couple of years earlier than Yogasanagalu (1941). In Yoga Makaranda he describes kumbhaka while in asana and not just padmasana but almost all asana that he describes.

"When practising asana, the breath that is inhaled into the body and the breath that is exhaled out must be kept equal. Moreover, practise the asana with their vinyasas by breathing only through the nose". p27

"Brahmana kriya means to take in the outside air through the nose, pull it inside, and hold it in firmly. This is called puraka kumbhaka.
Langhana kriya means to exhale the air that is inside the body out through he nose and to hold the breath firmly without allowing any air from outside into the body. This is called recaka kumbhaka".
p27-28

"In each section for each particular asana, we have included a description and an enumeration of its vinyasas. The vinyasas in which the head is raised are to be done with puraka kumbhaka and the ones in which the head is lowered must be done with recaka kumbhaka. Uthpluthi (raising the body from the floor with only the support of both hands on the floor is called uthpluthi) should be done on recaka kumbhaka for a fat person and on puraka kumbhaka for a thin person...." p28

2 Parsvottanasana
"...Standing in tadasana krama, draw in clean air through the nose and practise kumbhaka...." p59

11 Janusirsasana
"...This form follows the hatha yoga principles. Another form follows the raja yoga method. The practitioner should learn the difference. First, take either leg and extend it straight out in front. Keep the heel pressed firmly on the floor with the toes pointing upward. That is, the leg should not lean to either side. The base (back) of the knee should be pressed against the ground. Fold the other leg and place the heel against the genitals, with the area above the knee (the thigh) placed straight against the hip. That is, arrange the straight leg which has been extended in front and the folded leg so that together they form an “L”. Up to this point, there is no difference between the practice of the hatha yogi and the raja yogi.
For the hatha yoga practitioner, the heel of the bent leg should be pressed firmly between the rectum and the scrotum. Tightly clasp the extended foot with both hands, raise the head and do puraka kumbhaka. Remain in this position for some time and then, doing recaka, lower the head and place the face onto the knee of the outstretched leg. While doing this, do not pull the breath in. It may be exhaled. After this, raise the head and do puraka. Repeat this on the other side following the rules mentioned above.
The raja yogi should place the back of the sole of the folded leg between the scrotum and the genitals. Now practise following the other rules described above for the hatha yogis. There are 22 vinyasas for janusirsasana. Please note carefully that all parts of the outstretched leg and the folded leg should touch the floor. While holding the feet with the hands, pull and clasp the feet tightly. Keep the head or face or nose on top of the kneecap and remain in this sthiti from 5 minutes up to half an hour. If it is not possible to stay in recaka for that long, raise the head in between, do puraka kumbhaka and then, doing recaka, place the head back down on the knee. While keeping the head lowered onto the knee, puraka kumbhaka should not be done..." p79-80

SEE APPENDIX AT BOTTOM OF POST FOR MORE EXAMPLES

Why did Krishnamacharya introduced kumbhaka into asana?

Perhaps it has something to do with this.....

Translations of Yoga sutras below from Chip Hartranft
http://www.arlingtoncenter.org/Sanskrit-English.pdf (with some additional notes from Ramaswami).

1:30 vyâdhi-styâna-sanåaya-pramâdâlasyâvirati-bhrânti-daråanâlabdha-bhûmikatvânavasthitatvâni citta-vikæepâs te ‘ntarâyâï
Sickness, apathy, doubt, carelessness, laziness, hedonism, delusion, lack of progress, and inconstancy are all distractions which, by stirring up consciousness, act as barriers to stillness.

Ramaswami writes, "These are the nine impediments (to practice) removed by meditating on ishvara (The Lord, God)".

1:31 duïkha-daurmanasyâògam-ejayatva-åvâsa-praåvâsâ vikæepa-sahabhuvaï
When they do, one may experience distress, depression, or the inability to maintain steadiness of posture or breathing.

1:32 tat-pratiæedhârtham eka-tattvâbhyâsaï
One can subdue these distractions by working with any one of the following principles of practice.

"One principle' could refer to Ishvara". Ramaswami

Patanjali then goes on to outline seven attitudes, meditation/contemplation/concentration techniques to overcome these barriers to stillness.

The first is the traditional Buddhist meditation approach of contemplating the four imesurables that I mentioned in my previous post and which I have brought into my own practice.

1:33 maitrî-karuñâ-muditopekæâñâä sukha-duïkha-puñyâpuñya-viæayâñâä bhâvanâtaå citta-prasâdanam
"Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad"

Krishnamacharya however seems to be introducing into his asana descriptions the second meditation technique Patanjali outlines when he writes

"While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart.  During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana.  Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness.  Eliminates agitation and restlessness".  Krishnamacharya: Yogasanagalu

1:34 pracchardana-vidhârañâbhyâm vâ prâñasya
Or by pausing after breath flows in or out.

and also the seventh, for him Ishvara, the Lord, God

1:39 yathâbhimata-dhyânâd vâ
Or through meditative absorption in any desired object.

"or by taking your own favourite religious practice ( a particular god: an image; or a feeling) and meditating on that". Ramaswami


In our own asana practice we all struggle with 'monkey mind' citta-vëtti, the fluctuations of the mind. the idea has always seemed to be that by praqctcing asana and  pranayama that we will be able to still the mind somehow and then be able to practice meditation with a more stable mind.

What Krishnamachaya seems to be doing is bringing mind stilling techniques found in Patanjali into the asana itself, stilling the mind while in the asana. We do this already by seeking to follow the breath, focusing on drishti, on bandhas but it doesn't always help does it, our minds are still too often all over the place. And perhaps we go for ever more complicated asana in an attempt stay concentrated when perhaps with the most appropriate attitude/meditation technique we can still the mind in the most straight forward of asana.

Here are the seven contemplation/meditation techniques patanjali recommends in Chapter 1 of his yoga Sutras that we might consider bringing into our asana practice.

I.33 maitrî-karuñâ-muditopekæâñâä sukha-duïkha-puñyâpuñya-viæayâñâä bhâvanâtaå citta-prasâdanam
Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.

I.34 pracchardana-vidhârañâbhyâm vâ prâñasya
Or by pausing after breath flows in or out.

I.35 viæayavatî vâ pravëttir utpannâ manasaï sthiti-nibandhanî
Or by steadily observing as new sensations materialise.

I.36 viæokâ vâ jyotiæmatî
Or when experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

I.37 vîtarâgaviæayam vâ cittam
Or by focusing on things that do not inspire attachment.

I.38 svapna-nidrâ-jõânâlambanam vâ
Or by reflecting on insights culled from sleep and dreaming.

I.39  yathâbhimata-dhyânâd vâ
Or through meditative absorption in any desired object




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APPENDIX: Kumbhaka in Krishnamacharya's descriptions of asana

Examples of usage of Kumbhaka (Breath retention) in asana in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda

"When practising asana, the breath that is inhaled into the body and the breath that is exhaled out must be kept equal. Moreover, practise the asana with their vinyasas by breathing only through the nose". p27

"Brahmana kriya means to take in the outside air through the nose, pull it inside, and hold it in firmly. This is called puraka kumbhaka.
Langhana kriya means to exhale the air that is inside the body out through he nose and to hold the breath firmly without allowing any air from outside into the body. This is called recaka kumbhaka".
p27-28

"In each section for each particular asana, we have included a description and an enumeration of its vinyasas. The vinyasas in which the head is raised are to be done with puraka kumbhaka and the ones in which the head is lowered must be done with recaka kumbhaka. Uthpluthi (raising the body from the floor with only the support of both hands on the floor is called uthpluthi) should be done on recaka kumbhaka for a fat person and on puraka kumbhaka for a thin person...." p28

ASANA

1 Uttanasana

"Following the rules for tadasana (yogasana samasthiti krama) (Figure 4.1, 4.2), stand erect. Afterwards, while exhaling the breath out slowly, bend the upper part of the body (that is, the part above the hip) little by little and place the palms down by the legs. The knees must not be even slightly bent. Raise the head upwards and fix the gaze on the tip of the nose. While doing this, draw in clean air through the nostril, hold the breath firmly and maintain this position. This is called sahitha kumbhaka...." p51

2 Parsvottanasana
"...Standing in tadasana krama, draw in clean air through the nose and practise kumbhaka...." p59

3 Prasarita Padottanasana
"...Stand in tadasana krama. Jump the legs apart, placing the feet 3 mozhams apart on the ground. Practise jumping and placing the feet at the correct distance all in one jump. While jumping, either puraka kumbhaka or recaka kumbhaka can be done...." p61

4 Ardhabaddha Padmottanasana
"From tadasana, do puraka kumbhaka. After this, choose either leg and place its foot on top of the opposite thigh. Slowly, little by little, move the foot up until the back of the heel is pressed against the lower abdomen. Whichever leg is raised, move the same hand behind the back and clasp the big toe of that foot (from behind the back). Keep the other hand in tadasana sthiti and do puraka kumbhaka. After this, slowly exhale through the nose and bend the upper part of the body forward down to the floor. Place the palm down by the foot and keep it firmly pressed against the floor. Release the breath out completely, and without inhaling, practise kumbhaka and lower the head, placing it on top of the kneecap of the extended leg...."p61

6 Urdhvamukhasvanasana
"This has 4 vinyasas. Vinyasas 1, 2, and 3 are exactly as for uttanasana. The 4th vinyasa is to be done following the same method as for caturanga dandasana. But in caturanga dandasana, there are 4 angulas of space between the body and the floor everywhere. In this asana, the palms and toes are as in caturanga dandasana. However even while keeping the lower part of the body from the toes to the thighs just as in caturanga dandasana, raise the upper part of the body. Make sure that the navel rests between the hands and do puraka kumbhaka...." p65

8 Pascimattanasana or Pascimottanasana
"...This asana has many kramas. Of these the first form has 16 vinyasas. Just doing the asana sthiti by sitting in the same spot without doing these vinyasas will not yield the complete benefits mentioned in the yoga sastras. This rule applies to all asanas.
The first three vinyasas are exactly as for uttanasana. The 4th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana, the 5th vinyasa is urdhvamukhasvanasana, the 6th vinyasa is adhomukhasvanasana. Practise these following the earlier instructions. In the 6th vinyasa, doing puraka kumbhaka, jump and arrive at the 7th vinyasa. That is, from adhomukhasvanasana sthiti, jump forward and move both legs between the arms without allowing the legs to touch the floor. Extend the legs out forward and sit down. Practise sitting like this with the rear part of the body either between the two hands or 4 angulas in front of the hands. It is better to learn the abhyasa krama from a guru. In this sthiti, push the chest forward, do puraka kumbhaka and gaze steadily at the tip of the nose...." p69

11 Janusirsasana

"...This form follows the hatha yoga principles. Another form follows the raja yoga method. The practitioner should learn the difference. First, take either leg and extend it straight out in front. Keep the heel pressed firmly on the floor with the toes pointing upward. That is, the leg should not lean to either side. The base (back) of the knee should be pressed against the ground. Fold the other leg and place the heel against the genitals, with the area above the knee (the thigh) placed straight against the hip. That is, arrange the straight leg which has been extended in front and the folded leg so that together they form an “L”. Up to this point, there is no difference between the practice of the hatha yogi and the raja yogi.
For the hatha yoga practitioner, the heel of the bent leg should be pressed firmly between the rectum and the scrotum. Tightly clasp the extended foot with both hands, raise the head and do puraka kumbhaka. Remain in this position for some time and then, doing recaka, lower the head and place the face onto the knee of the outstretched leg. While doing this, do not pull the breath in. It may be exhaled. After this, raise the head and do puraka. Repeat this on the other side following the rules mentioned above.
The raja yogi should place the back of the sole of the folded leg between the scrotum and the genitals. Now practise following the other rules described above for the hatha yogis. There are 22 vinyasas for janusirsasana. Please note carefully that all parts of the outstretched leg and the folded leg should touch the floor. While holding the feet with the hands, pull and clasp the feet tightly. Keep the head or face or nose on top of the kneecap and remain in this sthiti from 5 minutes up to half an hour. If it is not possible to stay in recaka for that long, raise the head in between, do puraka kumbhaka and then, doing recaka, place the head back down on the knee. While keeping the head lowered onto the knee, puraka kumbhaka should not be done..." p79-80

12 Upavistakonasana

"This has 15 vinyasas. Recaka kumbhaka is its primary principle...." p83

13 Baddhakonasana

"This has 15 vinyasas. The 8th vinyasa is the asana sthiti. The 1st to the 6th vinyasas are like the 1st till the 6th vinyasas for pascimottanasana. In the 7th vinyasa, just like the 7th vinyasa for pascimottanasana, keep the hands down and bring the legs forward in uthpluthi. But instead of straightening them, fold the legs and place them down on the ground. Folding them means that the heel of the right foot is pasted against the base of the right thigh and the heel of the left foot is pasted against the base of the left thigh. When the legs are folded in this manner, the soles of the feet will be facing each other. Hold the sole of the left foot firmly with the left hand and hold the right sole firmly with the right hand. Clasping the soles together firmly, do recaka kumbhaka, lower the head and place it on the floor in front of the feet..."
 p85-86

14 Supta Padangushtasana

"...The first krama for this has 21 vinyasas. Through the 6th vinyasa, it is exactly as for pascimottanasana. In the 7th vinyasa, lie down facing upwards instead of extending the legs and sitting as in pascimottanasana. While lying down, the entire body must be pressed against the ground. The toes must point upwards and the back of the heels must be stuck to the ground. This is also called savasana by other schools. This is the 7th vinyasa for supta padangushthasana. In the 8th vinyasa, slowly raise the right leg straight up. Hold the big toe of the right foot with the fingers of the right hand, do recaka kumbhaka and remain in this position for as long as possible. .."p86

17 Utthitahasta Padangushtasana
"...First, push the chest forward and stand erect with equal balance. While standing this way, make sure that the head, neck, back, hips, arms and legs are aligned properly and gaze at the tip of the nose. The feet must be kept together. Now, raise one leg up slowly and maintain this position with the extended leg kept straight out in front at the height of the navel. The knee should not bend and the leg must be kept straight for the entire time that it is being raised. After the leg has been raised about 3/4 of the way without any assistance, take the first three fingers of the corresponding hand (the same as whichever leg was raised) and tightly clasp the big toe of the raised foot. Remain in this position for some time. Keep the other hand on the hip. Inhalation and exhalation of the breath must be slow and of equal duration. One says the sthiti is correct if there is the same measure of distance between the standing leg and the raised leg. In this there are many other forms.
After staying in this sthiti for some time, take either the face or the nose towards the knee of the raised leg and place it there. Recaka kumbhaka must be done in this sthiti. That is, expel the breath completely from the body, maintain this position and then without allowing any breath into the body, bend the upper body. Now carefully pull in the stomach as much as one’s strength allows and hold it in. Stay in this sthiti for at least one minute..." p99

18 Baddhapadmasana

"...Place the right foot on top of the left thigh and the left foot on top of the right thigh. Take the hands behind the back and tightly clasp the big toe of the right foot with the first three fingers of the right hand and tightly clasp the big toe of the left foot with the first three fingers of the left hand.
Press the chin firmly against the chest. Keep the gaze fixed on the midbrow. Sit down, keeping the rest of the body straight. This has the name baddhapad- masana. This asana must be repeated on the other side (that is, first place the left foot on top of the right thigh and then the right foot on top of the left thigh) in order to exercise both sides of the body.
This has 16 vinyasas. The 8th and 9th vinyasas are the asana sthiti. The other vinyasas are like pascimottanasana. Study the pictures (Figures 4.52, 4.53) and learn how to keep the gaze. In this asana, one must do puraka kumbhaka..." p103

25 Marichasana

"This has 22 vinyasas. This needs to be done on both the left and the right sides. Study the sannaha sthiti (the preparatory state) of marichasana in the picture. This sthiti is the 7th vinyasa.
The right-side marichasana paristhiti is shown in the second picture. Maricha Maharishi was known for bringing this asana to public knowledge and hence it is named for him.
Stay in the 7th vinyasa for some time doing puraka kumbhaka. After this, do recaka and come to the 8th vinyasa. Stay in this position for as long as possible. In case your head starts reeling (you get dizzy), come back to the 7th vinyasa, do puraka kumbhaka, close the eyes and remain here for some time. The dizziness will stop.
The 9th vinyasa is like the 7th vinyasa. The 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th vinyasas are like the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th vinyasas of janusirsasana.
The 14th vinyasa is marichasana sannaha sthiti on the left side. This is demonstrated in the 3rd picture. The 15th vinyasa is the left-side marichasana paristhiti. This is demonstrated in the 4th picture. In the 14th vinyasa do puraka kumbhaka and in the 15th vinyasa do only recaka..." p115

26 Niralamba Sarvangasana

"This has 14 vinyasas. The 8th vinyasa is the asana sthiti. The form depicted in the picture is the 8th vinyasa. This is niralamba sarvangasana paristhiti. In order to get to this sthiti, slowly raise the arms and legs either together or one-by- one in the 7th vinyasa . Do only recaka at this time. Never do puraka kumbhaka..." p115

27 Ekapada Sirsasana
"This has two forms: dakshina ekapada sirsasana and vama ekapada sirsasana. Both these forms together have 18 vinyasas. The first picture depicts dakshina ekapada sirsasana and the second picture vama ekapada sirsasana. The 7th and 12th vinyasas are the asana sthitis of these different forms. For this asana, you need to do sama svasauchvasam (same ratio breathing). In the 7th vinyasa, the left leg, and in the 12th vinyasa the right leg, should be extended and kept straight from the thigh to the heel. No part should be bent.
Keep the hands as shown in the picture. In this sthiti one needs to do equal ra- tio breathing. When the hands are joined together in ekapada sirsasana paristhiti, one must do puraka kumbhaka. One must never do recaka..." p120

29 Yoga Nidrasana

"This has 12 vinyasas. The 7th vinyasa is yoga nidrasana sthiti. The first 6 vinyasas for kurmasana are the first 6 vinyasas for this. In the 7th vinyasa, sit like you did in dvipada sirsasana and instead of keeping the two legs on the back of the neck, first lie back facing upwards. Then lift the legs up and place them on the back of the neck.
In dvipada sirsasana, we joined the hands together in prayer and placed them next to the muladhara cakra. In this asana, following the krama, take the shoul- ders (that is, the arms) on both the left and right sides over the top of the two thighs, and hold the right wrist tightly with the fingers of the left hand beneath the spine. Study the picture.
In the 7th vinyasa, after doing only recaka, arrive at the asana sthiti. Then, one should do puraka kumbhaka and lie down...." p123

32 Bhairavasana
"This has 20 vinyasas. The 8th and the 14th vinyasas are the right and left side asana sthitis.
From the 1st until the 7th vinyasa, follow the method for ekapada sirsasana. In the 8th vinyasa, instead of keeping the hands at the muladhara cakra (as in ekapada sirsasana), hug both arms together tightly as seen in the picture and lie down looking upwards. While remaining here, do puraka kumbhaka, raise the neck upwards and gaze at the midbrow...". p129

33 Cakorasana
"This has 20 vinyasas. This is from the Kapila Matham.
After observing that this follows the form of flight of the cakora bird, this came to be called cakorasana. In the Dhyana Bindu Upanishad, Parameshwara advises Parvati that “There are as many asanas as there are living beings in the world”. We readers must always remember this. The 8th and 14th vinyasas are this asana’s sthitis. The 7th and the 13th vinyasas are like the 7th and the 13th vinyasas of ekapada sirsasana. In the 8th and the 14th vinyasas, press the palms of the hand firmly into the ground, do puraka kumbhaka, raise the body 6 angulas off the ground and hold it there. Carefully study the picture where this is demonstrated. Keep the gaze fixed on the midbrow. The other vinyasas are like those of bhairavasana..." p131-132

37 Trivikramasana

"This has 7 vinyasas. From the 1st to the 5th vinyasas and then the 7th vinyasa, practise following those for utthita hasta padangushtasana. Practise the 2nd and 7th vinyasas as shown in the picture (study it carefully) and remain in these positions. The 2nd vinyasa is the right-side trivikramasana sthiti. The 6th vinyasa as shown is the left-side trivikramasana sthiti. The picture shown here only demonstrates the left-side trivikramasana. It is important that equal recaka and puraka kumbhaka must be carefully observed while practising this asana. Keep the gaze fixed on the midbrow. Both legs must be held straight and must not lean or bend to any side...".
p136

38 Gandabherundasana

"This has 10 vinyasas. The 6th and 7th vinyasas show the asana sthiti. The first picture shows the 6th vinyasa and the second picture shows the 7th. In the 4th vinyasa, come to caturanga dandasana sthiti and in the 5th vinyasa proceed to viparita salabasana sthiti. In the 6th vinyasa, spread the arms out wide, keeping them straight like a stick (like a wire) as shown in the picture. Take the soles of both feet and place them next to the ears such that the heels touch the arms and keep them there.
Next, do the 7th vinyasa as shown in the second picture. This is called supta ganda bherundasana. In this asana sthiti and in the preliminary positions, do equal recaka puraka kumbhaka. Keep the gaze fixed on the midbrow. This must not be forgotten". p142


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We can see that Krishnamacharya has indicated Kumbhaka in well over half of the asana described in Yoga Makaranda. In Yogasanagalu, Krishnamacharya includes the asana described in Yoga Makaranda and as well as a fuller list of asana divided up into three groups, Primary Middle and Proficient. The Primary and Middle groups correspond closely with the Ashtanga Primary and Intermediate series presented by Krishnamacharya's student from the Yoga Makaranda/Yogasanagalu period, Pattabhi Jois.


Interestingly, in the full table of asana found in Yogasanagalu Krishnamacharya indicates the appropriate kumbhaka but these are mostly found from the middle group onwards. However, because kumbhaka is found in the fuller descriptions of Primary asana found in the same book (and taken from Yoga makaranda) it may well be that in the beginning students would not include kumbhaka. Once students had gained some proficiency then kumbhaka may well have been introduced into the primary asana as well as the middle and proficient asana. this may also explain why Pattabhi Jois in his manual, Yoga Mala failed to include kumbhaka in his asana descriptions. One further point, in the book released by AG Mohan which he has titled Yoga Makaranda part II, Kumbhaka has been indicated but tends to be short, beginning at two seconds and rising to five seconds with proficiency. 









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See also this earlier post
TKV Desikachar speaking about exploring the breath in Asana and pranayama

My Krishnamacharya Blog

KRISHNAMACHARYA'S 'ORIGINAL' ASHTANGA PROJECT

and the ongoing

Yogasanagalu Translation Project


15 comments:

  1. Very interesting exploration. I've often wondered this my self. I was wondering if you could clarify a descrepincy I've come across. When doing Mahamudra, Ramaswami says to do uddiana pranayama, which would require rechaka kumbhaka. BKS Iyengar, in light on yoga, says to do puraka kumbhaka while engaging the uddiana bandha. Did Ramaswamy Sir elaborate on this in your training? It's very confusing. I've also read, somewhere, BKS Sir says "never engage uddiana bandha on puraka kumbhaka". Can't remember if that is from LOY or LOP. I can't find the quote right now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, rechaka kumbhaka (bahya kumbhaka) in mahamudra. Ramaswami taught us the option of including kumbhaka ( breath retention at the end of the exhalation along with the option of engaging uddiyana bhandha, jalandhara bandha and mula bahanda.

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    2. I think it is rechaka kumbhaka. It is very challenging to do uddiyana bandha in puraka kumbhaka and I suspect it may be not so good for the internal organs to be subjected to that pressure.

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    3. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter 10, Verses 10-13 state: 10.) "Press the left heel into the perineum, straighten the right leg, and with the hands, firmly take hold of the outstretched foot." 11.) "By locking the throat (Jalandhara) and retaining the breath (Antara Kumbhaka), the prana rises straight, just like a snake beaten with a stick becomes straight." 12.) "So the kundalini shakti becomes straight at once. Then the two (ida and pingala) become lifeless as the shakti enters sushumna." 13.) Then exhale slowly and gradually, not quickly. Indeed this is described as maha mudra by the great siddhas."
      I think Iyengar was simply saying engage Uddiyana, like one does in Ahstanga practice, rather than actually performing uddiyana pranayama. I believe there is a difference between engaging uddiyana and doing uddiyana pranyama which is not claer in light on yoga and the opposite of what is stated by Srivasta Ramaswami.

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  2. In the TKV Desikachar school kumbhakas are often used during the practice. They can increase the brmhana (more energising) or langhana (more soothing) effect of a practice and of course help with concentration.
    Also used are inhalation or exhalation kramas, that is you break your inhalation or exhalation a couple of times for a second or so during the vinyasa in or out of an asana to increase its effect. This can also help people to train their breathing capacity.
    In general brief kumbhakas are used to increase the desired effect. They are very powerful.
    Personally I love rechaka kumbhakas and I tend to always use them whenever I enter an asana in exhalation. I find it is very calming and also helps a lot with uddiyana bandha, malkes it even more pleasant.

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    1. Also important, in pranayama from what I understand a kumbhaka is defined as a pause longer than 3-4 seconds (a matra, I think, the average length of time for pranava recitation), otherwise is it simply a pause.
      So strictly speaking what we apply during asana practices should probably be considered a pause? We rarely apply pauses much longer than that, I think.

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    2. yes, noticed in Yoga Makaranda part II the kumbhaka's are short 2-5 seconds

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  3. Interesting. I just came across the concept of Kumbhaka in asana yesterday whilst reading one of Deshikacharji's books. I tried it in morning practice and found it really helped me engage the Bandhas (or what I think are the bandhas:))
    My first teacher was a student of BNS Iyengar and she treated kumbhaka with great caution saying that it would lead to health problems..I guess a reflection on what BNSji learnt from Krishnamachariyaji in his early days.

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    1. BNS or BKS Iyengar? we need to remember that BKS Iyengar only studied with Krishnamacharya for a couple of weeks and was mostly self-taught, by his own admission, so a lot of his warnings may also derive from not being so confident with teaching the techniques or perhaps with exagerating when he was experimenting with them.. don't we all, sometimes!? :-)
      Having said that, bandhas for example are introduced really gradually also in TKV Desikachar's teachings, starting from Jalandhara Bandha. For the abdominal ones, you sort of wait until the body spontaneously 'gets' them. There is a lot of work on abdominal contraction to prepare the body, then the bandhas sort of 'arrive'.
      In Religiousness in Yoga Desikachar talks about a guy who really exagerated with nauli kriya and did himself more harm than good, so in his teachings too there is a lot of caution and moderation...
      To be honest, I personally found that the strong emphasis on moola and uddiyana bandha in ashtanga vinyasa was very helpful for my personal practice, but I think that their application also depends a lot on one's knowledge of his/her own body and proprioception. Not everybody has the same level of self-perception, hence the graduality in the teachings I think.

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    2. I think Kumbhaka got bad press because people were holding them for so long, interesting to read free divers on this, the training involved 9and the dangers) in building up to long holds of the breath.

      I'd still like to spend some time with BNS Iyengar, he's still teaching pranayama in Mysore I believe.

      re Iyengar only studying with krishnamacharya for a couple of weeks. We have to be careful three no Chiara?

      My understanding is that he was in Mysore for around two years taking classes/practice (I'm assuming run by Krishnamacharya's senior students (although Iyengar swares it was never Jois : ) but that he only had a handful of classes actually with Krishnamacharya, amounting to a matter of hours. We can see from the 1938 video though, just after he left Mysore that he had clearly been through the 'mysore program'.

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    3. Iyengar was not taught Pranayama by Krishnamacharya. BKS Sir has said that Krishanmacharya felt he was not physically sound for such a practice. This may have had some influence on BKS Sir's strict application and teaching of pranayama to his students. He didn't study Pranayama until his mid to late 20s, and has also said that he didn't get into the philosophy of Yoga until 30. He has spent an immense amount of time studying pranayama, not sure with whom, and spends at least 2 hours a day practicing it. His book, Light on Pranayama, is an amazing gem that could take a life time to un-pack. At one point in the late 70s he injured his back and lost most of his ability to perform and practice Asana. He spent a lot of this time developing his practice and understanding of Pranayama. He has said, "My undergraduate degree was in asana and my graduate degree was in pranayama" and attributes his ability to return to the asana practice on the healing effects of pranayama.

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    4. Yes, I have Light on Pranayama, interesting book and yet I tend to think of it in the same way I do about all of Iyengar's work, not so much a question of correct or incorrect but rather Iyengar's approach to asana, Iyengar's approach to the Yoga Sutras, Iyengar's approach to pranayama, always fascinating but always Iyengar.

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  4. Just want to second much of what Chiara has written here - in Desikachar's teaching, kumbhaka is used all the time in asana practice and pranayama practice. I am forgetting the name of the practice but there is one where you inhale/exhale - usually at least 8 seconds each - and *then* move into the asana only during the recaka kumbhaka - for the whole practice. So, moving into and out of asana is only done during the hold. Try this for a 15 minute practice and see what your mind is like! It is quite something.

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    1. Interesting Robyn, let me know if you remember what it's called, would like to try it.

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  5. Definitely Anthony, and for sure BKS Iyengar has been instrumental in making many of us understand - me included - the importance of alignment! So thanks for bringing me back to a less 'coloured' vision of things!!!
    It's just that with regards to Pranayama I am sure I read an interview where he said he was begging Krishnamacharya to teach him pranayama and that repeatedly Krishnamacharya refused to do that saying that he was not ready.

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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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