"The physical exercise that is yoga, this asana kriya that is with us is more than enough for us (rather than importing foreign forms of exercise). Krishnamacharya 1934
"I practice Yoga".
"No, no you don't".
"No really I practice Ashtanga".
"Ashtanga? No, I don't think you do".
"I do I...... No?"
"I don't practice Yoga?"
"Bugger....., So what the hell am I doing each morning?"
Let me explain, and I'm not intending to be critical.... Yoga, as I understand it, is the goal, it's what we're aiming at, working towards. Union, Ekagrata (one pointedness), the 'cessation of the fluctuations of the mind', overcoming of the identification with self or of the distinction between purusha and prakriti, whichever working definition of yoga you may have or feel most comfortable with. Yoga is the end game.
Are you at the end game, couple of moves to go? Still exchanging pawns perhaps...? Then you're not doing yoga, not yet BUT, that's not a bad thing, it's all kind of the same path, or the driveway at least.
And here's the good news, it's said that drop dead tomorrow and we pick up where we left off, born to a yoga family.
Not sure how I feel about that actually. I worked with a guy once whose middle name was Siddhartha. When he was eight he wrote a book with lots of pictures called "It's not much fun being a hippies son". Yep his parents practised yoga, the horror. But I digress".
"Oh well, that's OK So I'm, practising........"
"But Ashtanga right, surely,the practise... I'm practising.... towards yoga, it's Ashtanga yes. I have books, cheat sheets, t-shirts (this one, Ashtanga Blood Guard is my favourite), please tell me I'm an Ashtangi at least give me that".
"I wish I could.... really.... and perhaps (sniff) you should get more than one shirt for practice".
"Not Ashtanga then".
"You're sure......? Damn, I love this shirt.
So if not Ashtanga....?"
"Kriya, you're practicing Kriya, part of it anyway."
"Don't I have to stick a hose up my bottom or squat in a river or something...."
" Not anymore, that's a later usage of kriya, Kriyas plural, of course if you want to squat in a river and...."
"No, not really. What the hell is Kriya then, never heard of it. I have my Patnjali right here, look...
Yoga Sutra 1.1
The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)
Yoga sutra 1.2
The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing or loosening of effort, and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite.
(prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam)
Yoga Sutra 1.3
From the attainment of that perfected posture, there arises an unassailable, unimpeded freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, good and bad, or pain and pleasure).
(tatah dvandva anabhighata)
See I typed the whole book out, keep it with me always, actually I have the second one tattooed on my right buttock... see?"
"Damned Right, but see, no mention of this Kriya stuff".
"OK, so you missed a couple of.... lines..."
"No, no that was the whole book, I did a teacher training and everything".
"Trust me there was more, another 193 actually and those three you mention are from the the second pada and are actually numbers 2.46, 2.47 and 2.48".
"Part II, Cool, a sequel, like "Empire strikes back".
"Pada 2, It's more like Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers" let me explain.
So In Patanjali, the Kriya section comes before the Ashtanga section. Ashtanga in Patanjali refers to eight steps. Kriya might be thought of as preparation for those eight steps. Here''s Frodo at the beginning of the two towers having just run aways from Boromir, he's like a frightened rabbit, by the end of the Two Towers he's more a Knight of Faith... OK let's forget about Frodo".
The Kriya's are all about transformation, they take us from how we are when we first walk into a Shala, wrapped up in the world and all it's temptations and delights and transform us into a focused disciplined... 'focused disciplined thing', a yoga student basically.
The practice we call Ashtanga has a mostly fixed sequence because we're seeking to build discipline through routine, we practice it everyday, pretty much. We practice the same postures, the same movements linked to the breath, quite slowly actually. We focus on every inhalation and every exhalation (we might include kumbhaka). We fix our eyes on a gazing point (or points) and turn further inwards by focusing on 'bandhas'. For 90, 120, hot, sweaty minutes the world drops away and there is just the mat and the sweat and we even forget about those. It becomes the most important part of our day and all it requires is 68x24 piece of rubber and preferably a pair of shorts or comfortable clothing of an appropriate kind.
If the best part of our day makes us feel this good, this calm, this contented and doesn't cost a thing ( or relatively little) then it kind of puts everything else into perspective does it not. The temptations of the world lose a little of their hold, we find perhaps that we would rather read, even study, some worthy and often beautiful texts leading to reflection than go out and party. We begin to take more care possibly over what we eat and drink, too much makes our practice uncomfortable and if we are going to consume less then it needs to be the more nutritious, beneficial. As our needs become less, more simple we begin to detach somewhat from our attachments, to objects of the senses. Over time the practice too becomes less about me practicing and more about the practice itself, devotion to the path of the practice if you will, to where it begins within and where it's leading... Practice as kriya is preparing us for the further practice of a yoga student which Patanjali goes on to outline in the Ashtanga section of his yoga sutras".
"But you mentioned postures, breathing, aren't they the asana and the pranayama that come up in that Ashtanga section?"
"The very same but here, at this point perhaps we're practicing them as kriya as tapas actually, austerities, as preparatory practices. Asana and pranayama are tools that can be employed as kriya just as they are also a part of the eight steps of Ashtanga, it can be confusing that way".
So let me see if I've got this right. I'm not practicing yoga but working towards Yoga, I'm not practicing ashtanga but preparing myself for the path of Ashtanga......
So I shouldn't refer to it as Yoga or Ashtanga. Damn, I thought it was just those once a week Gym guys who were't doing real yoga..."
"You can refer to it however you wish of course, 'Yoga' if it's convenient, 'Ashtanga','Iyengar','Vinyoga', 'Vinyasa Krama', 'Original Krishnamacharya Ashtanga', 'transnational postural whatnot' or just asana practice, chances are we're still; working on the kriya aspect of it... but we're just talking it through here, an exercise in discriminative knowledge perhaps, we're all working on our own tapas, on Kriya, however we practice".
"Hey, what about my teacher, my teacher's teacher? My teacher's been to India and everything, goes every year is she practicing, Ashtanga or ashtanga or still working on kriya?"
"Could be either there are many kinds of teachers, his/her job may be merely to pass along the system of tapasya,the kriya practice in the form that was passed on to them, for you to work on your detachment and discernment just as he/she continues to do in their own kriya practice. It's not a question of how advanced a practice appears from the outside. It may well be that like many teachers they move back and forth between the two, between kriya and the Ashtanga path, it's easy to slip a little just as it's possible to jump back on the path, 'ekam-inhale'.
I say merely but that is a lot, a great gift, worry about our own detachment, not anyone else, not even our teachers".
"How will I know when I'm not doing kriya anymore but actually on the Ashtanga...?".
"You'll know.... probably"
(one week later)
I've brought you a present, I had a weeks worth made up but don't need Saturday's
" I don't know what to say"
" You're welcome".
"There are many types of pranayama. The special pranavayu kriya sadhana that improves life expectany, brightens prana, corrects inhalation and exhalation from lungs is called “pranayama.” Krishnamacharya (Yogasanagalu 1941)