Tuesday, 29 April 2014

INTERVIEW Krishnamacharya: Yoga Healer – Ramaswami on His Guru.

Krishnamacharya: Yoga Healer – Ramaswami on His Guru.


Posted by Kailas, April 26, 2014
Welcome to the Ayurveda Report. Today’s show features Srivatsa Ramaswami, a student of Krishnamacharya for over 30 years. One on one. One of the senior most students of yoga in the world today, an authority whose clarity, wisdom and humility is unmatched in my experience in the realm of asana practice, pranayama, and the understanding of the Patanjali yoga sutras.
Ramaswami shared with me some of the most wonderful remembrances and recollections about studying with Krishnamacharya. As well as how Krishnamacharya used yoga to heal people. And also some of the unique spiritual qualities that Krishnamacharya rolled into the yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the presentation of that based on the pursuit of sattva, which is a very important part of the Vaishnava path, of which Krishnamacharya was an emblematic scholar.
In this interview, we talk about healing yoga’s power to heal the body. And Ramaswami talks about Krishnamacharya’s approach and he gives and shares with us some of the most wonderful remembrances and recollections about studying with Krishnamacharya.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  From chikitsa point of view or health point of view or rather call it as, you know, arogya or health point of view. Apart from the asanas, asanas are necessary because, you know, the skeletal muscles are to be, are to be exercised so that blood circulation to the skeletal system is good.
But then there is a lot of muscles, lots of tissues inside the body. And they, you know, you take the heart, the lungs, and the stomach, they are.
Ayurveda Report:  …Critical, critical tissue.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, so they have to be attended to and then, you know. And if you really look at that, the, the way pranayama, pranayama does a lot, will not only, it helps the respiratory system.
It helps, indirectly, the heart, because the heart also is in the thoracic system. So this aspect of Krishnamacharya’s teaching appealed to me most. That’s one reason why, you know, all pranayama of the bandhas are important. The inversions like shirsasana headstand and sarvangasana, they also become very important.
Ayurveda Report:  Uh-huh.
Are there some examples that you remember from watching him work with people?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Of course, you know, this is the general, you know, general approach to health and then, then he will apply to individuals depending upon their requirements. I remember eight year old girl you know, who came to him for, what do you call this scoliosis?
Ayurveda Report:  Uh-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  …eight year old girl… the way he treated her, you know. The different arm positions, different pre breathing, so that in a matter of about 15 days also, you could see substantial improvement. In that, he specifically asked me to come and observe, how he was teaching that girl.
And he will manipulate with, with manipulate with different asanas. For instance, he would use shalabhasana. Shalabhasana or dhanurasana, I mean shalabhasana or bhujangasana, and then keep the arms in different positions, so that you’ll be able to manipulate and then.
Ayurveda Report:  To keep the spine going more straight?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, right, right. And then, in addition to that, you would use the breathing, you know?
Ayurveda Report:  Uh-huh.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Because you are able to stretch the spine from within, with breathing.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  You know, other ways there is no traction possible, the whole thoracic, you know, thoracic spine, you know, you can’t move unless you are able to stretch from within.
That’s why done by breathing. So, these are, these are number of ways and then he also yeah, he also would treat people and he had. See, there is a view that, you know, the various organs of the body, they get displaced from their original position.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  And heart sentential sack, you know, we have the condition like, what do you call, the prolapse of the, prolapse of the uterus.
Ayurveda Report:  Uterus. Yeah.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right. All these various organs tend to, muscles get slack, and then they are, extend to. Tend to move away from their intended positions.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So, yoga, you know, one of the reasons why inversions for you was to, you know, get these organs back to their position and put them back to their position with pranayama, and the bandhas, you know.
So internally, we can really access all, so if the organs get displaced, you know, there is, you know, there are 18 marmasthanas, 18 different what do you call, vital points.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  In the body and then there are certain measures. So, he used to use, he used to measure the distance between the main organs and then he will ask, okay, or heart is, you know, not in the right position and like, and then suggest.
Ayurveda Report:  Wow!
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes, so these are.
Ayurveda Report:  And he, he combined this with his knowledge of the marma as well?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, right, right.
Ayurveda Report:  So he had a very in-depth Ayurvedic perspective.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Marmasthana… marmasthana are mentioned in the yoga texts also.
Ayurveda Report:  Oh.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yeah, for instance the Yoga Yajnavalkya talks about the 18 marmasthanas.
And then one of the methods that is, you know, that is used, one of the pratyaharas, actually refers to the 18 marmasthanas by which. You know, in this, you try to draw the, your prana from the, one marmasthana to the next, and then all the way up to the sahasrara.
Ayurveda Report:  Interesting.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So, like that, it is not meant, these ideas were, are contained in some of the, yoga systems. And then he had vast, you know, understanding and then he would use them, put them in to proper use.
Ayurveda Report:  And, and in your teaching and you’ve been teaching for 30 years?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes, about 30 years.
Ayurveda Report:  Yeah. So you’ve probably come across all kinds of students with different sizes and shapes and limitations. How do you, deal with class situation? Or do you just bring people one on one sometimes, to work with them?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  No, it’s a question of… you know… I don’t teach on a one to one basis.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  I mean, because right from the beginning, I, I was teaching in a, a class situation. So I don’t really do on a one-to-one basis. But sometimes people come. In that case what you’ve got, we’ve got to take care of the physical requirements and also sometimes a little bit of meditation, a little bit of chanting, you know a little bit of the yoga philosophy.
Depends upon the condition of the individual. Fortunately, in yoga, we’ve got, it takes care of the physical side, the physiological, the ability to concentrate, and also the spiritual side. So, it is possible to combine, you know, combine everything and then, make, you know, prepare a, prepare a scheme for individuals.
Ayurveda Report:  I see. So, one of the things that you spoke about recently was the difference between the vinyasa krama, and the shikshana krama, and the chikitsa krama, that their methodologies.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, you see if you want to be a, if you want to really be a, you know, successful, chikitsa suppose that is a goal, chikitsa krama is you know, depending you know, try to adopt yoga to individual requirements, you know?
Ultimately it boils down to that, you know, you try to find out the requirements of an individual and then see whether what you can do to help that particular individual. And I’m have difficulty in doing a particular posture or I’m having stiffness in my neck or some problem, some, some breathing problem I have, or you know, there can be any number of problems.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So the whole approach will be for you to find out. But then as a teacher, I must, I do not know who’s going to come to you. You got to, so you had to learn in the entire, you know, as much as, as much as possible, yoga is able to offer.
So shikshana krama is the way to learn yoga. Supposing you want to learn yoga, you know? That is why you’ve got the various aspects. You’ve got, you must know as many movements as possible. As many asanas and as many movements as possible. So, in vinyasa krama, what we try to do is, we try to teach almost 700 vinyasas, 150 asanas also.
The whole idea, it is not as though that student is going to learn all these asanas and going to practice on a regular basis. That will be the, what do you call, resource that the, the, the student who is going to become a teacher or a therapist later on.
Ayurveda Report:  It’s their, their reference.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right.
Ayurveda Report:  To all the different possibilities.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right. Yes, all the possibilities and of course their own practice, they’ll have to adapt to their own requirements.
Ayurveda Report:  Uh-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  And the, in chikitsa krama or viniyoga krama, if you want to call it, what you’d got to do is, or you see a individual, okay, this individual requires all these things and then you teach them.
And then they practice. Then after a while you again, oh, you know, you again go back and then see if there is any progress. And then modify the practice. Until finally you give them a practice which they can or, keep on doing for, let’s say, an year or so.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So this adaptation to individual requirement is, is you call it as viniyoga karma. If there they come for a, for a, for some treatment, then you can call it as chikitsa krama.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  But then basically every yoga teacher should have a very strong, you know, just like a medical doctor.
If, supposing I want to become a gynecologist, it’s not sufficient to know only about the uterus and the reproductive system, I still have to study the, the entire body.
Ayurveda Report:  Right, and all the other physiological and.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Because they are interconnected.
Ayurveda Report:  Yeah.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  They are all interconnected and I must have… Likewise in yoga also, when you’re a student, when you want to become a teacher, you must try to get as much information as possible. That is what shikshana krama is all about. shikshana krama is to teach a student to know this particular subject, I want to learn yoga.
So the teacher has to give as much information as possible. That’s exactly what Krishnamacharya gave, he gave, you know, much more than I can use. But then, he gave all the information. And then, depends, you got to have variety of asanas, movements and all that, you can adopt into your requirements.
Supposing you know only about half a dozen asanas or 10, 20 asanas, and no movements what so ever. Your choice is absolutely limited. If you can’t find a student, if you find a student is unable to do that, you can’t do anything about it. You can’t adapt into individual requirement.
But if you know the, what you call the hundred of vinyasas that are available, then you can do.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Similarly with the… of the pranayama… there are so many different types of pranayama. Whom should I teach whom should I teach nadi shodana, whom should I teach the combination, whom should I teach kapala bhati, whom should I teach bhastrika.
All these things become, know once I know all the different types of pranayama, and then I can, you must also understand how these various pranayamas operate. What happens, nadi shodana will help the upper respiratory tract, breathing will help the, what you call the bronchial tubes, you know.
Bhastrika will help your lungs proper.
Like that there are, each aspect of pranayama has got, you know, its own application. So all these things has a, has a, in the shikshana krama, one must learn.
Ayurveda Report:  Right, right. And then what does it really take to, to understand the needs of an individual.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Sometime a teacher used to check the nadi, you know, the, the pulse.
Ayurveda Report:  Pulse.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  The pulse and a few other tests, look at the tongue and all, just like a Ayurvedic doctor will do. And then as I told you, would measure the distance between the, the navel that is central to the body, to different parts and all that.
Ayurveda Report:  Looking at proportion.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Proportion or the, you know, yeah, proportion or the, or the, on, has the distance narrowed, you know. All these things he will check. And then, you know, prescribe. That, at the physical level, but then at the. Then what happens afterward you try to find out whether there is any psychological issue, you know, that may be the cause of all these problems.
Sometimes, you know, we don’t pay that kind of attention. So in which case, he will try to find out whether the person is, and has a, has got, has got a religious, religious belief, or if does not believe in. So depending upon that, he will suggest, he will suggest you know, he will suggest meditation methods or he will suggest, you know, mantras or whatever.
So, it’s a, it’s a package.
Ayurveda Report:  It’s like, I think some people, would approach yoga from a standpoint of leaving the world. But in the case of being a yoga teacher.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes.
Ayurveda Report:  It’s really about knowing the world.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right.
Ayurveda Report:  And knowing the people. And being connected.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  You see, that’s why yoga, yoga is for ihasukha and parasukha. Ihasukha means worldly happiness. Parasuka, you know, the out of the world experience or happiness. So, that is why it is called the completion system. It’s a complete system. It’s an adhyatmaka vidhya, everything you want to know about yourself, it is there, you know.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  It’s called an adhyatmaka vidhya. There is, as I told you, there is the physical aspect of it. And there is, what do you call, interpersonal relationship, how you conduct yourself in the world. The yama niyamas take care of that, then your body, your asanas will take care of your body then pranayama, physiological changes.
And ultimately then the, the philosophy behind that, then the meditation to take care of your, how to modify the functioning of your mind.
Ayurveda Report:  Hm-mm, right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So and then ultimately there is a, a, what should I do with my mind? What should I be thinking about? What should I be contemplating upon?
And that you find in this spiritual aspect of yoga. So, you got a complete range in individual, you know, needs. So, I mean as a yoga teacher depending upon the requirement of the individual, you know, that is what happens with Krishnamacharya. When someone, as I told you, when an eight year old girl comes there, and then you know, he will treat that girl as if, he will say, what matters what to correct her, what you call the, school uses.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That’s all what. The next hour a older man, an older man, a 60 year old man, who just retired, would come to him with other complication. Maybe high blood pressure or some problem with the family and all.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  But he will suggest an entirely different thing, you know.
He won’t talk. Oh, about, about too much of asanas. He will still suggest a few movements. So this way, adopting to individual requirements, and then basically as I told, as I tell you that I basically, the teacher should be well informed. He should strive to get as much, resources as possible.
Then only you can apply to individual requirement. That I think is something what we have to do, if you want to make yoga you know, get the best out of yoga system. The teaching should be such that we should be able to get as much information as possible.
Ayurveda Report:  Do you think that’s happening right now in the spread of yoga?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That may or may not be happening but then because there is the. You teach, you train teachers to teach asanas, and then what do they do? They become teachers. So, because their resources are limited, they try to teach whatever they know.
This is, this is what would happen. Once you start expanding the, expanding the, what you call the base, then naturally people will start, okay, we can try this, we can try this, you see? Because all aspects of yoga are interesting. People say asanas are interesting.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  I would say pranayama is equally interesting.
And so sometime in the way I teach, I teach sometimes people are slowly are able to do 80 times pranayama in one sitting. It takes about 40 to 45 minutes. I mean, if they are not interested, if they are not comfortable, they can’t, they won’t sit and do it for 45 minutes.
So that means there’s something in pranayama.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Which makes it you know something, something agreeable in pranayama.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So you are able to stay there and do it. Like they sit down and meditate. So it’s a question of, it’s a question of the teacher, you know, wanting to teach.
Once you are able to tell the student these are all available, they will try and they will start getting interested in that. So when I went to Krishnamacharya I never knew anything about any of these things. But he started slowly, you know, develop interest in that. So initially I went to him for asanas, then after a month or so he started pranayama, then afterwards he started teaching me a lot of chanting.
Then we went to the philosophy, you know, and application. So over a period of time, you know, you were able to really see the scope of yoga. Unfortunately I think the, we are not able to appreciate the entire scope of yoga, you know.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Because you limit to asanas, you limit to asanas.
On the other hand there are people who say that meditation will do the trick, but then meditation does not work unless you prepare yourself with asana and pranayama. This is the way, if you don’t do asana, you tend to be highly rajsik, the mind doesn’t settle down. You don’t do pranayama, the mind is dull, you can’t see, you can’t meditate.
So that is why in the olden days, asana and pranayama were absolutely necessary before you can sit down and meditate. So we have to completely, you know, completely understand how yoga works, and then, you know, accordingly, accordingly learn and then teach.
Ayurveda Report:  And also for longevity, cuz if the project is enlightenment, well, it could take a long time, right?
So you wanna have a very good body as you age.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That’s right. That’s the main, main, my main, what you call, thrust of yoga. It doesn’t merely say that what you call the ultimate goal is the spiritual goal. But then, unless you got a strong you have to live a long number of years.
You have to take, unless. If the body is not strong, if my body is not cooperating, then it is going to be distraction.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hmm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  It is going to distract me. I get sick every three days, that is a. The next two days I won’t be able to do anything.
My whole concentration, my, all my mind, minds energy is going to be taken up by my body. So, so that is why a yogi should maintain good health, has to maintain good health, so that, you know I’m not distracted by my own body. It’s not, it’s no use if I get away from the outside world and then, you know, if I am sick.
Because the, the, the sick body is going to drag your mind away from concentration, away from your spiritual thought. So one of the reasons why we had have to practice asanas is to, what do you call, to see that the body is no distraction.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  My body doesn’t distract me anymore, some other pranayama, the mind also becomes less and less tamsik.
As it is clear, so mind is not going to be a distraction. Then I can meditate very well. Otherwise what happen there are lot of thoughts going on, mind doesn’t settle down. So the yogis have found out the different methods, by which we have, we can take care of each aspect, so that ultimately, I’m able to sit down and meditate what ever form.
Ayurveda Report:  Uh-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Meditate upon my Ishta Devata, or I can meditate upon the ultimate goal of yoga which is you know, kaivalya, whatever you know.
Ayurveda Report:  You know there are a lot of commentaries on the yoga sutras. And, for a long time, I, I, myself and many other people who have studied them have found them extremely confusing.
But hearing you, lecture on the yoga sutras all, suddenly everything makes sense. what’s, what’s so special about the transmission that you have that you understand this?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That’s, you see, yoga sutra is a very, very clearly written, text, you know? That is, very little ambiguity in it, you know.
The thought process is very straight forward. See the way Krishnamacharya taught yoga sutra, the first time what we’ll do is he will go word by word. You know he’ll take each word, “atha”, “yoga”, “anushasana”. And then break that down into, you know the, the sama. He’ll break it down.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So that you can understand the, what do you call, the word meaning first and then we will go to the commentary. So what happens. If you know the word meaning correctly and then go to the commentary you won’t deviate from that. On the other hand, nowadays yoga sutras are taught, you know, by people who had not read the original.
They have not studied the original, they have read some commentaries, especially contemporary writers, contemporary writers who themselves have not studied the original text. So, they read a commentary, then, you know, you read four or five commentaries, and then each one says something, you try to pick that out and then when you want it interpret, you may, you may lose.
Ayurveda Report:  All right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  And with yoga sutras what happens is, you know, it’s a, what you call it, is condensed writing like what I am saying is, the sutra language says that if you miss one particular word, you lose track. The Sutra means something which is condensed, you know?
They take away a lot of unnecessary words, the verbs are not there. So like a, you know, in a “zip”.
Ayurveda Report:  Right, it’s compressed file.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Compressed file, yeah. So you’ve got to expand it, you’ve got to expand each word, you’ve got to expand. So, and then, according to my guru, it is addressed to three different levels of yogis.
First chapter is supposed to be for the uttama adhikari, that’s the born yogis. The second chapter, beginning, is for the entry level yogi, third. Middle of the second chapter, you got the ashtanga yoga, which is well known. That is for people who, who probably would like to spend their entire life, life-long yogi and they’ve made a commitment.
That you know, just like I wanted to be a, a, I wanted to be a, you know, I want to be a businessman. Some people desire, I want to be a yogi. Okay, right. So they go ahead and then they continue to, for their, they spend their entire lifetime learning and practicing yoga.
So, the, the, entire yoga sutra is divided into three, three parts. The what you call, the top level yogi. So, sometime what happens is, when you take one sutra from the first chapter and then the one from this second chapter, and then try to compare them, it get’s, it gets confusing.
So you’ve got to follow the, what do you call, follow the thought process continuously. That is what Krishnamacharya did, you know? He made it very accessible, very accessible, right. And of course, you know, you have to struggle to find out the thread. You’ve got to try to find out the, the entire logic behind it, it’s very logical.
Any person, any person, any logical, thinking person will be able to understand that it is, there’s no, nothing mysterious about it you know. It is very sensible, you know. That is what we have got to otherwise what happens you will try to introduce a lot of mysterious things in it that’s not going to help.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  There’s nothing mysterious about it.
Ayurveda Report:  Right. When you studied with Krishnamacharya it was in, in Madras, right?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes. Yes.
Ayurveda Report:  So, that’s after the Mysore days.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right.
Ayurveda Report:  People are talking about how his style of teaching changed from Mysore. And, do you know, was that because he was just being employed by the Maharaja and he had to do specific things in that context.
What was more natural for him, I think.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:   No, I mean, you see, when you are beginning to teach, you teach in a particular way over a period of time, you know, you, you acquire a kind of experience slowly without, without your own knowledge you keep on modifying that could have happened to him.
It could have happened to him. Initially enthusiastic and then over a period of time okay, now, anyway whatever be the reason. The only yoga I know from Krishnamacharya is what he taught me. So I, I, I studied with him on a one to one basis virtually for the entire duration except for a few, you know, a few years, a few classes on.
Not on asanas, mostly on the text, some chanting, people thought they but by and large it was on a one to one basis. So, I am surprised that he would have taught yoga in a different way than the way I have been.
Ayurveda Report:  Of course.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That’s why I am surprised. See one thing about, as I told you he used the breathing. So breath in all the asana movements. So, I am surprised when somebody teaches yoga without the associated breathing, synchronized breathing, and then if it is supposed to come from Krishnamacharya’s, may be he didn’t teach like that at the initial stage I can’t say.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  But then you know, but then I have not seen him teach anybody, anybody, without the breathing, without the vinyasas, you know, not only to me but also to my family members, like my father, mother, sister. But also to a few other people whom, you know, whom I have seen him teach.
So this was part of his teaching, so I don’t know why, maybe in the early stages, people missed. Another thing you’ve got to understand is I spent a lot of time with him. You know I was there with him virtually three decades, you know, Krishanamacharya spent a lot of time.
So, so we, we have to understand that you know, we have to understand that, I mean I can’t, maybe the earlier teachers, the earlier teachers missed a few points. That could be. Because they were there for a short period of time. And then you know they were very young at the time.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Whereas we were, I started going from when I was 15. And almost I was 50 by the time, you know by the time. So over a period of time, you know, over a period of time, when you spend a lot, a lot more time you know.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, so it could be, the one reason could be that. Yeah.
Ayurveda Report:  So he, he was a Vaishnava, right?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes.
Ayurveda Report:  And you said the Yajur Veda?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yeah, he belonged to Yajur Veda, Krishna Yajur Veda tradition. In fact, our family also belonged to the Krishna Yajur Veda tradition.
By and large most of the people in south India, you know, many of them are Krishna Yajurvedis.
Ayurveda Report:  Hm, and do you do you feel, will you remember him as a spiritually focused person, was he always doing sadhana or was?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes. Yes, you know, apart from the asana, pranayama, that you see, he was a, you know, he was a staunch Vaishnavite.
So he had his puja everyday, you know, he had his puja, he had icons in front of him. Sometimes when you go a bit early, before the class, you could see him, you know, do. So he had his own, his own sadhana. I can’t, I don’t know completely what he was doing.
Ayurveda Report:  Of course.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  But from, you know, from what you could see, he had a very strong, very good, strong spiritual practice. It is more oriented to old set, you can call it as a religious or a devotional practice, but still, but still, you could, you should understand that his understanding of religious practice and spirituality is that, you know, it is not even a Bhakti yogi will have to, what you call, he will have to prepare oneself with asana and pranayama.
A Bhakti yogi also has to be highly sattvik.
Without that, you know, bhakti yoga doesn’t make much sense.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So, so you could see that he combined, you know, he combined his hatha yoga practice, and then he went for his spiritual, spiritual, I would call it a spiritual and devotional.
You know, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a…
What’s the difference between spiritual and devotional? You know, sometimes if you go to the Raj yoga. The raja yoga of, of, the Patanjali, Raj yoga, he talks about understanding the true nature of your own self, you know. And he doesn’t you know, so, so the goal for a raja yogi is to understand “who really I am”.
So, even if you pray to God, – you pray to God so that God will tell you I will show you your real nature.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That’s what “Ishwara pranidhana” in the first chapter is all about. So on the other hand, if you’re what do you call, if you, if you are very religious person, your goal will be to have a vision of the lord or you know whatever.
Ayurveda Report:  I see.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  You know that approach will be there. So there is a difference, then your Patanjali yoga sutras, you know appears to be more oriented towards the spiritual aspect, that is I want to know who really I am.
Ayurveda Report:  Right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Because according to him, once you know who really you are the mind is going to be absolutely peaceful, you are not going to take another you won’t transmigrate.
Ayurveda Report:  Well, can you, can you tell me a little bit about your own spiritual evolution?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  I won’t, it’s not, you know. I, I, you know, I could see that, how I was when I was young, how I am and then. There are some slow changes that take place, I’m quite happy with that.
Ayurveda Report:  Yeah.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  I’m comfortable with that, so, that’s all I can say. I’m very, I’m very grateful to my teacher for you know, for putting me in this. Without that, I don’t know. I mean, yeah. It’s a, it’s a, he was a wonderful teacher. The subject yoga is, you know, absolutely phenomenal.
So if you get a good teacher, you know, and you know, a subject like this. It’s born to do you good.
Ayurveda Report:  There’s a lot of, let’s say, there’s a lot of negative talk about tapasvis and yogis holding their hands high. Hatha yogis, my personal feeling is that they have the same desires as we do.
And not to disrespect them, if their form is a little different. Do you find in Indian society, growing up, did you, hear, respect for other different schools of yoga? Or, or was it all just a?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yeah, unfortunately, people who do the meditation, and know it’s something like this, spiritual, you know, we can call them on the spiritual path.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  They have little respect for people who practice only asanas and you know, maybe a little bit of pranayama, but if you look at the yoga sutras of Patanjali or if you look at the hatha yoga, the hatha yoga is already, we have got hatha yoga so that we can help the raja yogis.
Okay, so if you take the first, second and part of the third chapter. They are consistent with the raja yoga goal. But of course some portion of hatha yoga are, you know, are not completely acceptable to the Raj yogi. So, my guru use to say, alright hatha yoga has got some things which seem to violate the tenets of raja yoga, so you need know them.
Take whatever is most suitable as a raja yogi, without, which does not conflict with the Raj yoga goal. So unfortunately hatha yogi, what happens is because they don’t, you know, they don’t have the Raj yoga goal, the spiritual goal they, you know, there seems to be, what do you call a block, roadblock.
You can’t proceed. So my guru used to say that, you know, Hatha yoga doesn’t give you, what is the principle tattva, you know, tattvas involved in that. So, that is why, so in India, we have got one set of people that were than those people who give, who talk about the Upanishads, the prasthanatraya and all that you know, but they don’t have a, they don’t have a, what you call, they are physically they don’t do any yoga practice they don’t do you know, little bit of pranayama.
By and large there is intellectual.
Ayurveda Report:  Cerebral.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yeah, yeah, cerebral completely. That is, these people keep on working with their body, like you know, most of the yogis do in, you know, modern day yogis do. Krishnamacharya is one person who married both. This is how it was supposed to be, it was supposed to be.
If you want a Raj yogi you cannot go on without your hatha yoga portion of practice involving. Supposing I don’t do any asana practice, I don’t do any pranayama practice. I can’t make any progress in spiritual. I can, you know, over a period of time, what happen the mind keeps on, keeps on, you know, thinking on this line, but you don’t have the physical strength and nor the mind has the discipline to settle down.
So that’s not going to work. On the other hand people who practice only Hatha yoga, they don’t have any principle to follow. So what they do is, they keep on working with their body, with the breath, body, breath and again, that doesn’t seem to, you know.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So properly when you are able to combine these three. This is what Krishnamacharya. That’s what the yoga sutras also talk about. Yoga Sutras say that there are eight steps to it Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara. These are, by and large, they can, you know, by and large, you, you find in the hatha yoga approach.
So, this is again Krishnamacharya’s contributions, there, he, he did not want to ignore the benefits of hatha yoga. So, he practiced hatha yoga, he talked hatha yoga number, but he didn’t stop with that, even when, when at least during the later part of his life. He really went out of the way to encourage his students to study the spiritual parts like the Samkhya Karika or the what you call the Yoga Sutra, then the various Upanishads, the Brahmasutra, the Bhagavad Gita.
You know, then, lots of chanting.
Ayurveda Report:  Mm-hm.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  So, this is the kind of, this is the kind of yoga that will be helpful for everybody. You know, it is not sufficient to do one, Hatha yoga alone, or sit down and meditate alone. Both of them won’t work.
Ayurveda Report:  And you know, one of the things that is important, which you stress in the class, is the contribution of the yoga as opposed to sheer physical exercise.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes. Yoga has got certain peculiarities. We teach a unique physical exercise system. The way Krishnamacharya taught us is, one thing he would say is, “you must never strain your heart”.
The way to help the heart is to work with the other aspects, especially deep breathing. Breathing is like a pump, it helps to draw blood to the heart. Likewise through the various asanas and movements (vinyasas), you are able to work with the different muscle groups, and these muscle groups pump the blood so that more and more blood is circulated, and between these two, you are able to take a lot of load off the heart. At least during the period of time you practice asanas. So breathing becomes very important. And the vinyasas also become very important in this system, which is not the case in other physical exercises.
In other forms of physical exercise the breathe rate goes up. Most of the gym workouts and all.
Ayurveda Report:  Right, right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  You increase the heart rate. Where as in yoga, what you try to do is reduce the breathe rate from the normal 15 to about four or five per minute.
We try to reduce the number of breaths per minute. Then later on, you will do pranayama. So the total number of breaths you take starts coming down, and this is a completely different approach to physical culture.
And there is another important aspect of yoga which you don’t find in other systems of exercise – that is the inversions. The headstand and shoulder stand, shirshasana. So, the koshas (sacks) in the body are attached to the whole body fascia.
So the inversion is a very unique invention of the yogis. When you stand in shoulder stand for a period of time, all the organs which have been prolapsed or changed due to gravity and postural defects, are returned and adjusted.
Organs are getting displaced from their original position through gravity. So if you stay in a headstand for about 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and shoulder stand for another 10 or 15 minutes, they slowly go back to their original position. And then you try to sit in a seated posture, do your bandhas, and then this exercises and strengthens them.
See in this way, the yoga approach is much different from the way modern exercise is done. So these things are being left out of the modern yoga practice. And then, people have started practicing yoga as if it’s a workout, you know.
Ayurveda Report:  Right, right.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Again, they are sweating a lot, there is no control over the breathing you know. And then, one more thing about yoga is “Kayakalesha varjit”, Kayakalesha means, you know you shouldn’t strain yourself too much, like in a heavy body lifting, in fact it even say that you should not do too many surya namaskar.
Surya namaskar is a fairly strenuous exercise. But then you can do surya namaskar, a few times, you know maybe three times, or maybe five times. But sometimes you know you, your breath is out of control, you are sweating a lot, but you keep on doing it over and over again, you know? You see, this is not the way.
This is not the way yoga is supposed to be done. It’s much, much different. There is a much different approach to the practice of yoga when compared to other forms of physical exercise.
Ayurveda Report:  Certainly, if the goal is to reduce the influence of rajas and tamas then you cannot be too tired. And you cannot be too active. There has to be that progressive clarification of the bio energy.
That’s a very important thing for people to understand: what the heart of the yoga practice is versus the workout yoga practice.
Ayurveda Report:  Right. Because yoga is really a chance to get more in touch with our own healing and our own development in so many different ways.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  There’s a distinct difference between the aerobic approach to health and the yoga approach to health.
I mean, I don’t say aerobics is bad, but the yogis have a different philosophy.
Ayurveda Report:  Well, also one thing I noticed was that Krishnamacharya has had several students who lived to 100 years old.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes.
Ayurveda Report:  And he himself.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right.
Ayurveda Report:  I heard that at his 100th birthday he gave a three hour lecture in Sanskrit.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right, right.
Ayurveda Report:  Not stopping.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes.
Ayurveda Report:  And I think that anybody who has any concern for healing, or eating right, needs to understand that there’s a reason that Krishnamacharya has 100 year old disciples!
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Right.
Ayurveda Report:  Are you going to live to a 100?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:   (jokingly) When you start talking about living to 100, I got worried.
Ayurveda Report:  Well I plan on living to a 120.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Okay.
Ayurveda Report:  That’s my goal.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Good.
Ayurveda Report:  What you’re describing is that the yoga system has a comprehensive, holistic approach to literally all the problems of life.
And, when we think about Indian wisdom, the Indian tradition, we think the meditation tradition is one part, the asana tradition’s one part. The Ayurveda is over here, and the Jyotish is over there. But it’s not really true, because they are all one body. How do you describe that?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Even if you take yoga itself you know, yoga itself contributes a lot to health, and I think one of the Ayurveda texts says that certain diseases that cannot be cured by medication should be tackled with pranayama, so yoga is there in Ayurveda.
Everywhere, yoga is there. So they are all interrelated. Yoga and Ayurveda draw inspiration from the Samkhya philosophy, and in the ideas contained in Vedanta, which are further developments of the ideas contained in samkhya and yoga. So, they are all related, they are all related.
Ayurveda Report:  Interesting.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Yes, so depending upon our requirements, you know.
Ayurveda Report:  So, if you took the philosophy of Samkhya – then that would be the structure (the metaphysics)- but the practice manual would be yoga, vedanta, bhakti.
Ayurveda Report:  Right. And even samkhya gives the complete theoretical basis. They also talk about how to achieve the ultimate goal. But then, supposing you’re a beginner; you don’t find information on how to proceed practically in samkhya. You’ve got to come to yoga (to get the practical steps).
Ayurveda Report:  Okay.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  Only yoga gives you all the nuts and bolts, that is there only in yoga. Likewise, vedanta has its own goal; if they want to, a few people can go into samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi or savikalpa samadhi.
But suppose I like Vedanta, but then I’m not able to meditate because there are so many distractions. My mind cannot settle down into it. So I have to take some time every day, about half an hour or so, and meditate on those ideas. That requires that my mind should be focused.
I need asana, pranayama. If I want to meditate on Ishta Devata again, my mind should be able to concentrate. So everybody needs to come to meditation ultimately, and then I can’t do it unless I’m able to take the tamas from my system.
I got to reduce tamas and rajas. And, in yoga very clearly asanas are supposed to reduce rajas, and pranayama is supposed to reduce tamas. And so, very clearly it says that these two gunas are not the most desirable gunas when you want to meditate, should be first tackled by these hatha yoga practices.
Ayurveda Report:  What’s the attitude towards food and nourishment?
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  That would be about two things mainly; the two instructions given by Svatmarama (in Hatha Yoga Pradipika).
You must eat food which is easily digestible. Some food that you eat, you may be able to digest easily. Also, you must eat moderately. You can never, should never overload the system.
These are the two instructions, because we want to make our mind more sattvik to be able to meditate. If I do only asanas probably I need more rajsik food because, you know, I need lot of energy, but if I want to reduce the gunas, I will have to do only as much of asanas as necessary.
So I will have to cut down on rajsik or tamsik food, and then I should take more of the nourishing, sattvik food. What is sattvik food? A number of texts talk about it. The Bhagavad Gita talks about it. Ayurvedic texts talk about it, hatha yoga talks about it.
So we have some information about it, so depending upon your preferences, you can find out a diet that is more suitable to you. And avoid the rajsik and tamsik diet, or reduce the intake of rajsik and tamsik foods in your diet.
Ayurveda Report:  What was your experience of the relationship with the guru? Because some yoga practitioners take the knowledge and then leave, the guru doesn’t matter to them. Others are very devoted to the guru.
Srivatsa Ramaswami:  When I studied with Krishnamacharya, even though I studied with him for a long period of time, I thought that he, he had, you know, he had my welfare in his mind.
You know, I liked him very well; the way he talked. But then, the common thread is the knowledge that he wanted to transfer. There is nothing personal. Don’t get… I didn’t get too close to him in the sense, you know, you don’t get involved into personal things of the guru.
So he was taking care of himself. I used to go, and during the one hour or whatever, the study or chanting or. He will be focused completely on transmitting the knowledge. So the only connection between the teacher and the group should be the knowledge.


About Kailas
Kailas is a certified Ayurvedic healer specializing in consultations, herbs, Ayurvedic massage, and panchakarma therapy. Visit him at AyurvedaByKailas.com.

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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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