This week I thought I would put up some practice sheets relating to Krishnamacharya's primary group asana that I've been working on, a different sheet each day but with the same opening introduction to link them to the earlier post as well as the same guidance notes for practicing kumbhaka. I'll probably add a couple of 'extras' here and there. If you've read the previous post you may want to jump straight to the practice sheets and notes.
But first a couple of 'extras' on kumbhaka theory. These quotes shared by Paul Harvey this morning are from his teacher of many years TKV Desikachar.
"I would also add some quotations from earlier posts from TKV Desikachar on the topic of Kumbhaka:
“Kumbhaka is the continuation of a specific movement that preceded it.”
- TKV Desikachar December 1987
”We are welcome to use Kumbhaka (breath suspension) but if it in any way affects the quality of the Inhale or Exhale and our own relation with this flow, then there is no meaning. The tragedy of Kumbhaka is that we can use force, as in Āsana, to achieve our aim. But why and at what price?”
- TKV Desikachar June 30th 1978
See Paul's EXCELLENT resource Center for yoga Studies
CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton
"I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless.
I decided that I was in the very fortunate position to run my own experiment. I decided that I would spend 2 months practising with Kumbhaka and then 2 months practising without Kumbhaka. This process was repeated three times across the course of the year. I was then able to compare my medical results while practising Kumbhaka to my medical results while not practising Kumbhaka".
|see this post for the complete table of asana from Yogasanagalu (1941)|
This has 22 vinyasas. The 8th and 15th vinyasas are the asana sthiti. Up to the 7th vinyasa, practise according to the pascimottanasana vinyasa krama. But in the 7th vinyasa, extend the left leg out in front. Place the right foot on top of the left thigh, such that the right heel touches the left lower abdomen. Take the right hand behind the back and clasp the right big toe with the fingers. Hold the big toe of the extended left leg with the fingers of the left hand. For the rest of the vinyasas, follow the same method as for pascimottanasana following the krama. In the 8th vinyasa itself, place the head on top of the knee of the left leg. The 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th vinyasas are as in pascimottanasana. But in the 14th vinyasa, extend the right leg and place the left foot onto its thigh such that the left heel touches the right lower abdomen. Take the left hand behind the back and take hold of the left big toe with the fingers. Hold the big toe of the extended right leg with the fingers of the right hand. Lower the head and place it on top of the outstretched kneecap. This is the 15th vinyasa. Do the 8th and the 15th vinyasas with recaka, pulling in the stomach and extending the legs straight out. These rules should not be forgotten while practising this sthiti. From the 16th until the 22nd vinyasas follow the krama for pascimottanasana vinyasa.
Benefit: All the diseases of the lower abdomen are cured. The apana vayu is cleaned and it helps awaken the kundalini.
Pregnant women should not do this.
Kumbhaka guidence notes from the earlier post.
In general, when inhaling the head goes up, exhaling it goes down, if up then there may well be the option of puraka kumbhaka, retaining the breath for 2-5 seconds at the end of the inhalation. When folded over rechka kumbhaka may be an option to consider.
"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
Yoga Makaranda T Krishnamacharya
In forward bending postures there is often the opportunity to include puraka kumbhaka before exhaling, folding over into the posture, and performing recaka kumbhaka. We might choose to spend a period of time in the preparatory posture taking a number of breaths and engaging in puraka kumbhaka after the inhalations. After completing the folded state of the asana and returning to the preparatory position we might again take a number of breaths and include purkaka kumbhaka after our inhalations.
We can perhaps think of many asana where we might introduce short kumbhaka's at the preparatory stage, the state of asana and following the asana on returning to the preparatory stage before transitioning back to standing or to the next posture.
Krishnamacharya stresses ( In Yoga Makaranda part II) that the kumbhaka in asana should be short, 2-5 seconds. Begin by noticing the 'natural kumbhaka' between the stages of the breath. If we breathe long, slow and full, "like the pouring of oil", as is recommended by Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois we should notice the faint hint of a pause between the inhalation and exhalation, we notice this more clearly the slower the breath. Begin by extending that pause, that 'natural kumbhaka' to a full second and then to two seconds. As this becomes comfortable we might increase it to three building up to perhaps five seconds but no more in asana ( mudras are a different case as is pranayama proper).
In the beginning we might introduce kumbhaka into only a handful of selected asana in our practice, paschimottanasana perhaps, janu sirsasana, badha konasana, later we might introduce it to others while avoiding including kumbhaka in the twists, binds and back bending.
The more we slow our breath and introduce kumbhaka into our practice the more time becomes an issue. there are several ways to address this.
- We might alternate the postures throughout the week in which we introduce kumbhaka.
- If our breath is becoming particularly long and slow we may wish to take three rather than five breaths within the state of an asana perhaps saving particularly long stays for postures like paschimottanasana, janu sirsasasana and baddha konasana or again alternating longer stays in different postures over a week cycle.
- We might divide our practice up over two or four days, practicing perhaps full vinyasa and including kumbhaka but only up to and including Marichiyasana D before moving straight to the finishing postures. n the second day we might go from the standing postures directly to navasana and then on through finishing. A similar approach could be made to the intermediate series.
- We might choose one day a week, when we have more time our day off or Sunday perhaps, to explore kumbhaka and or full vinyasa.
by Natanaga Zhander
The word sthiti in itself has several shades of meaning depending on where the term is used and in what context. The compound asana-sthiti can refer to stagnation, fixedness or holding steady at one point for a period of time. In the field of yoga, asana sthiti is utilized during the practice of asanas. However merely holding an asana with even respiration is not asana-sthiti. It only becomes asana-sthiti when kumbhaka (retention of breath) is introduced. Either antar (internal) or bahya (external) kumbhaka is used to cause the wind to become still at a particular point within the body. The focal point is determined by the nature of the asana; for example in paschimottanasana due to the natural tendency of the position the wind is forced to hold steady in the rectal region affecting the excretory organs by increasing their strength and energy."
To be able to activate asana-sthiti one must be very clear about a number of things including the importance of vinyasa, the difference between partial and complete bodily activity, the skillfull application of the three bandhas and their effects during kumbhaka, and also the type of kumbhakas that are suitable for different asanas. Only then can asana sthiti be put to full use with maximum benefits. Without this knowledge and these skills the whole activity becomes a fancy and glorified exercise programme devoid of the presence of shakti (power)."
Before discussing vinyasa it is important to understand what is meant by partial or complete bodily exercise. Partial bodily exercise is when a single asana is performed without any preparatory actions. For any one asana will only act on a single portion of the body as was pointed out in the example of
￼paschimottanasana. This will not affect the body in a harmonious manner. Complete bodily involvement is brought about through a systematic step by step mobilization of the body’s limbs prior to entering the chosen asana. At the completion of asana-sthiti withdrawal is carried out through a reversal of the preparatory steps. This systematic arrival and withdrawal is termed vinyasa. Without this, the individual is left with an incomplete experience."
Before the three bandhas (locks or ties) can be discussed one must understand how kumbhaka is supported by the bandhas. When kumbhaka is applied it causes an afferent impulse from the lungs through the vagus nerve while an efferent impulse is sent back from the medulla oblongata. The afferent impulse causes a stretching of the lungs during the holding of the breath while the efferent impulse slows down the heart. When jalandhara bandha (contraction of the throat) is applied after the process of inhalation for antar kumbhaka it presses on the carotid sinus which causes the lungs to stretch and the heart to slow down. Uddiyana bandha is begun at the start of exhalation and is fully employed at it’s end for bahya kumbhaka. Here also due to the deep contraction of the abdominal viscera towards the spine the pressure receptors are activated causing the lungs to stretch and the heart to slow down. Mulabandha (the contraction of the anus) is held through the whole of respiration and it’s retentions influencing the parasympathetic nervous system to achieve the same results as the two other bandhas. All three bandhas are used to fulfil the same and only purpose. Vinyasa and asana-sthiti when applied in the manner described above lay the foundation for the cultivation and extraction of shakti."
The simplest forms of vinyasa are the surya namskar sequences. There are more complicated forms of vinyasa which should be learnt under the guidance of a competent teacher well versed in this art. Such a teacher will know which asanas should be performed with which kumbhaka. There are asanas that are only suited for bahya kumbhaka, others only suited for antar kumbhaka and still others that are suited for both kumbhakas. Nowadays few people have this knowledge. The late T. Krishnamacharya of Chennai, the greatest propogator of the art of yoga in recent times, gives a number of explanations of the use of vinyasa and asana-sthiti in his two short treatises Yogasana and Yogamakaranda. He states clearly that unless the proper means of vinyasa and asana-sthiti are correctly applied and well understood, progress on the path of yoga is not possible since these activities are the foundations for the steady and obstruction-free approach towards the divine within."
Holding the wind at a point allows the inner flame to become steady and long spreading a pure light without shadows. This is in accordance with Patanjalis statement: sthiram sukham asanam.
Link to Natanga Zhander (Shandor Remete) Shadow Yoga site
In the preface to his Zhander's book Shadow Yoga - Chaya Yoga we find this
“… During this time, I also had the good fortune to receive some of the early writings of Sri T. Krishnamarcharya of Madras. Among these, one short work has influenced me profoundly: Salutation to the Teacher and the Eternal One. It has been this book more than any other that has helped me to decipher and understand the ancient hatha yogic texts in their fullness…”
Shadow Yoga - Chaya Yoga
by Shandor Remete (Natanaga Zhander.)
108 pages, full colour photos.
Now available for sale through these sites:
Salutations to the teacher the eternal one can be downloaded from my FREE DOWNLOADS page.
As can AG Mohan's rearrangement into it's 'original order which he believes to be krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda Part II - Also available from my FREE DOWNLOADS page.
UPDATED: Why did Krishnamacharya introduce kumbhaka (breath retention) into the practice of asana in Ashtanga?
Exploring Kumbhaka ( breath retention) in Krishnamacharya's Intermediate 'series' inc. Practice Sheets primary- 2nd series