|Update (13/10/15) from research by Christopher Tompkins|
"The Yogin should recite the mantra, while Dancing through the poses of the Namaskāra. He raises his arms in the air, takes Anjali mudra, descending towards the earth, he forms the shape of a staff; he should (both) come to the earth, and arise again [from it] in the way natural to a DOG. Having made his offering, he arises from the Āsana moving to the next direction around the Axis of the Mandala."
-from the Naradiya Samhita (pre-12th century), one of Krishnamacharya's stated sources for his revival of Tantric Āsana Vinyasa.
|pdf version of this that blows up nicely on my google docs page|
Personally I was never that convinced by the suggestion that Krishnamacharya was so strongly influenced by the international fitness movement of his day, wrestlers exercises and/or the asana manuals in the Mysore palace libraries. Perhaps because when these suggestions came out I'd recently begun practicing a slower, less dynamic, approach to Ashtanga and found support for that approach in Krishnamacharya own texts from the 1930s and 40s. Krishnamacharya was stressing long slow inhalations and exhalations, kumbhaka (breath retentions), in almost every asana, long stays in certain postures and there was the suggestion of flexibility in the linking of asana, loose groups of asana rather than fixed sequences. The physical practice was closely linked to pranayama and meditation and embedded in a context of traditional yoga practices referenced to old, even ancient texts.
I have the same questions of course. How did the Vinyasa system come about; each movement from standing linked to the breath and counted, working towards a seated posture ( for example) before working back through the same sequence of postures and a return to standing. Why was there a kumbhaka (breath retention) at the end or beginning of each stage of the breath in Krishnamacharya (the breath held in after the inhalation and/or held out after the exhalation) and why was this not carried over into the Ashtanga of his long term student Pattabhi Jois.
I've come to feel that the key to answering these questions, the Ashtanga key may well be Surya namaskar, the sun salutation.
If we begin with the asana, paschimottanasana say, we might ask why Krishnamacharya added the postures either side of it, leading back and forth, to and from standing, why he encompassed the asana in the sequence and then began to link the breath and movements and finally introduce kumbhaka.
This viewpoint may well lead us to look at the exercises like the dand (chaturanga and upward facing dog) that we find practiced by Indian wrestlers
But what if we approach it from a different perspective and ask why Krishnamacharya added paschimottanasana to the Sun salutation?
What if we begin with the sun salutation, but not any sun salutation, the Surya namaskar with mantras.
Surya namaskar can perhaps be traced back to the epic The Ramayana (4th C BC?), where the hero Rama, wearied from shooting fruitless arrows at the demon king Ravena, was approached by the Sage/rishi Agastya who chanted a hymn/mantra/prayer to the sun god Suya which had the effect of removing Ravena's defences, allowing Rama to finally defeat him (see Appendix).
A tradition developed where a prostration and later a salutation would be introduced after each verse of the hymn. I actually practiced this with my teacher Ramaswami one Sunday on his teacher training course, the chant took two hours and we practiced 54 prostrations or sun salutations.
A shorter version/variation came about where 12 mantras would be chanted made up of three elements, each mantra would be followed by a prostration (see Appendix).
At some point the 12 mantras were integrated into each sun salutation, so a mantra would be chanted, then the arms raised and the next mantra chanted. The next mantra would come after folding over, the next after squatting down, the next after jumping back to chatauranga and the next after lowering the body to the floor and stretching the arms out above the head in prostration to Surya. The other mantras would be chanted at each stage, each posture, as one worked their way back to standing.
|Surya at new Indra Gandhi Airport New Delhi|
Indra Devi refers to this practice when recounting her studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore in 1937, at the time when he was also teaching the young Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar.
"In India, the Surya Namaskars are accompanied by the chanting of mantras, which are supposed to have a powerful effect on the mind, but on the glandular system as well". Indra Devi
from Yoga for health and Happiness ( the chapter "In the Shala" on being taught by Krishnamacharya in 1937).
The kumbhaka was then an essential element of the Surya namaskar, the sun salutation. That was the point at which the mantra/prayer was chanted, the moment of contemplation.
The sun salutation had become popular in India at the time, it was an exercise phenomenon, today we might think of it as the latest exercise fad. Hundreds of Sun salutations without mantra, or indeed the actual full protestation, would be practiced daily and at lightening speed a complete salutation on only three breaths although breath retentions were still included as well as the first part of the mantra (see Appendix 12 and 13).
Krishnamacharya appears to have been dismissive of the fad and seems to have refused to teach a 'Suryanamaskara class' although one was held at the Mysore palace and the young Pattabhi Jois would likely have been exposed to it, but according to Devi it does seem that Krishnamacharya taught the more traditional version complete with full mantras on kumbhakas and each stage of the breath ( an inhalation or exhalation) accompanying each movement.
It may appear that the whole point of the Surya namaskar, the salute to the sun, is the prostrated posture with contemplation. The other movements/postures lead one to and from that prostration.
Sounds familiar doesn't it.
All Krishnamacharya seems to have done is substitute different asana for the protestation.
Slot in paschimottansana or janu sirsasana or marichiyasana........
Everything else remains the same, we don't have to bring in any other explanation for the construction of the vinyasa system. I'm sure Krishnamacharya did see the Asana manuals in the mysore palace, he may well have looked to these just as he did to the tantra hatha texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipka for asana descriptions. Perhaps he, or more likely the Rajah of Aundh, was to some extent influenced by traditional India wrestling training in adapting slightly the approach to and from the prostration But the vinyasa system the linking of postures to the breath seems to have been already there in the surya namaskar with mantras that Krishnamacharya appears to have been practicing at least as far back as the 1930's.
In Krishnamacharya's first book, Yoga Makaranda, he doesn't present the sun salutation as such, as his student Pattabhi Jois does (stressing its historical tradition in his Surya namaskar pamphlet), but instead presents each movement that make up a sun salutation, as they lead to and from an asana, indicating the linking of the stage of the breath to each movement. He also includes an appropriate kumbhaka ( holding the breath in or out ) after either the inhalation or exhalation. And this is interesting because he doesn't merely stress the asana but every stage to and from the asana, there are kumbhaka's throughout just as if one were still chanting mantras.
It's as if Krishnamacharya has retained space for the prayer, the meditative contemplation and Krishnamacharya did say that in the Kumbhaka one sees/experiences God.
Krishnamacharya always keen to stress the independence of ones own religious belief, he may have removed the mantras (which are actually in this case quite secular) but he retained the kumbhaka, the space to introduce one's own contemplation. For those who don't believe in Ishvara, Krishnamacharya mentioned that Love could be Ishvara for them.
Krishnmacharya also stressed the Drishti. In Yoga Makaranda one's gaze throughout would be focussed between the eyebrows a point associated with Siva but later the tip of the nose was suggested especially if the head was down, head up look between the eyebrows, head down look to the tip of the nose. And later still other points some associated with other divinities but also with traditional marma points and health are introduced.
Kumbhaka, Drishti, contemplation all went together at every stage, every breath of every posture to and from an asana as well as while in the asana proper where a longer stay was often indicated.
We also know that Krishnamacharya would often/occasionally (?) have the boys of the Mysore palace chant mantras while in postures, no doubt to keep their attentions. Manju Jois talks of the pranayama connection of chanting mantras, how mantras tend to be chanted on a kumbhaka, the mantra, kumbhaka, dristi connection is a common one.
If this is indeed the case then who first made the connection between asana and the Suryanamaskara, of placing an asana in the context of the breath/kumbhaka/drishti associated with the postures making up the sun salutation, was it Krishnamacharya himself, his teacher Ramohan Brahmachari or perhaps his teachers teacher?
Pattabhi Jois mentions in interview that when as a 13 year old boy he first saw Krishnamacharya, he was impressed by his '...jumping from asana to asana'. This would suggest that the linking of the asana to the sequence of postures that make up the suryanamaskara goes back before the Mysore period of Krishnamacharya's teaching .
Why didn't Pattabhi Jois maintain the kumbhaka element in his presentation of asana.
In the 1938 Mysore black and white demonstration by Krishnamacharya and his family we see little evidence of the use of kumbhaka, certainly not by BNS Iyengar who jumps from asana to asana just as krishnamacharya may have done in his early demonstrations of asana. Was it this high energy approach to asana practice that impressed the young Pattabhi Jois and that he wished to continue. He does however stress again and again in interviews throughout his life that the breath should be long and slow and yet in one video demonstration he Indicates the breath should be around 10-15 seconds for each inhalation and exhalation but then proceeds to lead his demonstrators ( including Lino Miele) through asana at around five seconds or less. Pattabhi Jois stated that long slow breathing was the ideal but that in modern life when people have jobs to go to a shorter breath may be appropriate.
Sribhashyam, Krishnamacharya's third son has written that the inhalation and exhalation indicate motion which signifies time, the kumbhaka however is non-motion, an absence of time as such each kumbhaka is perhaps an experience of the eternal.
"Reflect constantly on the message of the Yoga teachings, dwell on the eternal while doing your asana, regulating your breath through pranayama, meditate on the ever compassionate dwelling in your heart."
~Sri T. Krishnamacharya.
Perhaps the practice that Krishnamacharya presents in Yoga Makaranda is an ideal, where the breath is long and slow, the kumbhaka present as a space for contemplation. Krishnamacharya brings not just pranayama into asana but also dharana.
UPDATE See Ramaswami's March 2015 Newsletter 'Namaskar'