Thursday, 13 February 2014

AG Mohan's presentation of Krishnamacharya's legacy and teaching

Video and transcript from http://krishnamacharya.net



Transcript
Krishnamacharya was unique in many ways — as a master of yoga, as a teacher, as an Ayurvedic physician and as a scholar. 
In the West, Krishnamacharya is mostly known for his contribution to the revival of the more physically oriented disciplines and practices of hatha yoga.  Therefore, he is often referred to as “the father of modern yoga.”  

The notion that Krishnamacharya practiced and taught yoga that was somehow “new” or “modern” is primarily due to the many distortions or misunderstandings about the link between the physical practices of hatha yoga and the meditational practices of raja yoga.   He was the conservator of the ancient teachings of raja yoga.

As a master of yoga and a great scholar, he practiced and linked the physical practices of hatha yoga with the mental states of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.    Let us listen to the great master on what is yoga.  

Krishnamacharya:  Yoga is an awareness, a type of knowing.  Yoga will end in awareness. Yoga is arresting the fluctuations of the mind as said in the Yoga  Sutras (of Patanjali): citta vritti nirodha.  When the mind is without any movement, maybe for a quarter of an hour, or even quarter of a minute, you will realize that yoga is of the nature of infinite awareness, infinite knowing.  There is no other object there.”

During my interview of Krishnamacharya in 1988, he continued to expand on his personal experience of this yogic state of samadhi.  

This state of samadhi — the pinnacle of sustained mental focus and the goal of classical yoga — can be reached through pranayama.  Krishnamacharya used to say that pranayama is critical among the eight limbs of yoga.  The practice of pranayama is preceded by the practice of the mudras and the practice of asanas.  These are truly amazing photos of the great master.  

In addition to his mastery of asanas, Krishnamacharya was able to bring the involuntary functions of the body — like the heartbeat — under voluntary control.  

He was not only a master of yoga but also had titles equivalent to doctoral degrees in all the six Vedic darshanas.  

Krishnamacharya taught yoga for nearly seven decades.  He started teaching yoga under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore in the 1930s.  Indra Devi, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois studied with him during this period.  

What was Krishnamacharya teaching during the 1930s?  The silent film from 1938 contains the yoga practice of Krishnamacharya, his wife and children, and B.K.S. Iyengar, who was also the brother of his wife.  

An analysis of this 1938 video will reveal that Krishnamacharya’s teaching was based on this principle — “Teach what is appropriate for each individual.”

Video of Krishnamacharya’s children – 5 to 7 years old
He taught jumping asanas to his children, who were 5 to 7 years old. 

In an interview, B. K. S. Iyengar recalled that Krishnamacharya taught vigorous jumping movements to him.  

B.K.S. Iyengar:  “Well, you know it is very difficult for a boy of 14-15 years to analyze what my Guruji was teaching, what type of yoga was teaching, or something like that, you know?  Well, I can say it’s like a drill system to a very great extent… So, naturally my Guruji  must have thought that for these martial people, like martial art, yoga has to become a martial art to train them. So there were vigorous, rigorous movements what you call today ‘vinyasa,’ which is jumping movements from asana to asana which you have seen in my 1938 film.  So, that was the way he was teaching.”

Let’s see that.
Video of Iyengar – 20 years old

Video of Krishnamacharya’s wife – 24 years old
The Acharya taught differently to his wife to strengthen the organs in the lower abdomen.  Although his wife and Iyengar were almost the same age, Krishnamacharya taught them very differently.  He did not teach deep backbends to his wife.

Video of Krishnamacharya – 50 years old
Now, watch the practice of Krishnamacharya when he was 50 years old.  Although it appears as if he is doing just head stand, he was actually practicing the viparita karani mudra, which involves long, deep breathing and suspension of breath and bandhas with mental focus.

Krishnamacharya wrote a book called Yoga Makaranda in 1934.  Part I of this book was published by the then-Maharaja of Mysore.  Part II was not published. This is the file cover of the original type written manuscript of Part II.  His son, Desikachar, and myself had classes together on some texts like the Yoga Sutras.  During the 1970s, we reflected on and attempted to edit this manuscript but its publication did not come to fruition.  

In Yoga Makaranda Part II, the Acharya not only details the methodology for each asana but also cautions against the use of force in the practice of asana.  

Currently, there are several misconceptions and confusions regarding the teaching of the Acharya.  There is a notion, for instance, that he was innovating his teachings over a period of time.  He did not.  He always taught what was appropriate for each individual.  The purpose and the capability of the person determined the practice.  He always designed the practice depending on the person and the purpose.

To a question on “Should the asana practice be done fast and why not?”, Krishnamacharya replied that fast movements, and in turn, fast breathing will disturb the flow of prana and will result in imbalances.  Slow movements with long inhale and exhale will help with proper prana flow and mental focus.  

His personal practice was always with long deep breathing and mental focus. Observe the position of his head, the lower abdomen and his mental focus.  He was always concentrated on the inner alignment through breath.

According to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together.  He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind.  This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice. 

He also did not mix up yoga and religion.  As a Vaishnavite, he kept the wooden sandals of his religious guru.  He did not keep the sandals of his yoga guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari, and never asked his students to pay homage to his Vaishnavite lineage or the padukas.

There is only one yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is also known as raja yoga.  Hatha yoga, laya yoga, and mantra yoga each have four steps.   They involve the practice of some of the eight limbs of the Yoga Sutras, like the yamas and niyamas.  They merge into the sixth limb of yoga, dharana, which leads to samadhi. Krishnamacharya with his depth of knowledge and practice was clear about these connections.

In the 1930s, Krishnamacharya tried to resolve the prevailing confusions among the then-yoga luminaries. He later recalled: 

“In 1933 through 1937, some people were talking about different varieties of yoga, like hatha yoga, raja yoga, and kundalini yoga.  Some said that the kriyas were the most important, and that that was (true) yoga.  I was in the yoga school in Mysore, under the patronage of the king.  I wrote letters to well-known yoga teachers like Paramahamsa Yogananda, Kuvalayananda, and Yogindra, saying that we should have a meeting and resolve such confusion.  Eventually, however, no meeting took place and nothing came out of the correspondence.”
  
Currently, the confusions have become manifold with the addition of brands, labels, traditions, and lineages.  

The goal of the physical practices of hatha yoga is to lead to the mental states of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras.  Absence of knowledge of the connections and the practice has resulted in many confusions and distortions. The discernment that Krishnamacharya spoke of so many decades ago is even more important now.

On November 18th, we celebrate his 125th birth anniversary.  I vividly remember this day, 25 years ago on his 100th birthday, as I was the convener of his centenary celebrations.  Krishnamacharya would have been extremely happy that his tireless perseverance in propagating yoga has resulted in millions of people now practicing yoga around the world.  He would want all of us to carry on the ancient and authentic teachings of yoga as they have been conveyed to us by the sages. 
Let the message not be lost.  

To download Yoga Makaranda (Part II), click here.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. Happy to see someone of A G Mohan's stature refuting Mark Singleton's ridiculous claim that Krishnamacharya's yoga is a descendant of Western Gymnastics.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think that is what Singleton is claiming Niladra, he seems to be arguing, and it is a reasoned argument that certain aspects of modern postural yoga related to Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga can be traced back to the influence of British regimental callisthenics and the international fitness movement of the time on one aspects of Krishnamacharya's teaching, i.e. the vinyasa count. He has a fair argument, I'm not completely convinced by it but I certainly wouldn't call it ridiculous. I think Singleton has been misrepresented and it's that misrepresentation which is perhaps 'ridiculous'. There are many aspects to Krishnamacharya's teaching of course and Mohan draws attention to these, I'm not sure Singleton would disagree with the points Mohan raises. It should be remembered of course that AG Mohan himself is putting forward his own version of the Krishnamacharya story. I'm not convinced that what Mohan presents as Yoga Makaranda part II should really be referred to as such, there is no date on the texts and the only link is that Krishnamacharya writes about headstands and pranayama, the style and tone of the text is completely different. Everyone seems to have a different version of the Krishnamacharya story, I'd like to see an objective biography from somebody unconnected to Krishnamacharya without any interest in presenting a version that supports their own claims to lineage but then of course they would probably lack access I don't think anyone concerned is interested in having Krishnamacharya presented objectively.

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    2. Reading this article - http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2610 it doesn't seem to me that Singleton is restricting his claim to the vinyasa count only. He seems to be making the argument that modern yoga coming out of India(not taking into account the changes it has undergone in the west) had more in common with western gymnastics than the medieval Indian yoga traditions. And he backs it up with some very flimsy and sometimes inaccurate arguments -

      1. Swami Vivekanada rejected Hatha Yoga and he did it because he was prejudiced against low caste fakirs and yogis.

      First of all Swami Vivekanada didn't unconditionally reject Hatha Yoga. He rejected it in the context of the Yoga Sutras i.e. according to Vivekananda when Patanjali is talking about asana he is not referring to the asanas of Hatha Yoga. This is of course true - the Yoga Sutras precede Hatha Yoga by many centuries. Vivekananda makes a secondary claim that Hatha Yoga cannot be used for spiritual growth. And there is some sectarianism involved in this second claim. But it's not high caste vs low caste as Singleton claims(Swami Vivekananda actually initiated non-Brahmins in the sacred thread ceremony and taught them the Gayatri Mantra). It's more likely vedantists vs tantriks. In any case it's not an outright rejection as Singleton claims.

      http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_1/Raja-Yoga/The_First_Steps

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayatri_Mantra#Hindu_revivalism

      2. Even Hatha texts rarely talk about asanas. Granted I haven't read all the texts he cites in the article but I know that both the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita have a chapter each dedicated to asanas.

      3. Singleton claims that Scandinavian Gymnastics was wildly popular in India in the 1920s and he cites a YMCA survey to back this up but provides no additional information like the sample population of the survey. If the sample population was YMCA members then it's highly unlikely that those two worlds(YMCA and yogis) intersected much, if at all. I know that in my generation and my father's generation gymnastics was/is not popular in India. And if it was indeed popular that brings up the question what caused it's popularity to rapidly wane between 1920 and 1940.

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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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