The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.

Friday, 17 November 2017

'...the Yoga Korunta, which was written on palm leaves' - on preserving palm leaf manuscripts

A new clip from the recent documentary, Mysore yoga Traditions.

See my earlier review perhaps of the recent documentary
Mysore yoga Traditions
Trailer at the end of the post.

Preserving palm leaf manuscripts.

Stills below from the clip.

below, from an earlier post.

'...the Yoga Korunta, which was written on palm leaves'

'The method of Yoga taught at KPJAYI is that which has been told by the ancient Sage Vamana in his text called “Yoga Korunta.” Although many books on Yoga have been written, Vamana is the only one who has delineated a complete practical method. In the 1920’s, the Yogi and Sanskrit Scholar, T. Krishnamacharya traveled to Calcutta where he transcribed and recorded the Yoga Korunta, which was written on palm leaves and was in a bad state of decay, having been partially eaten by ants. Later, Krishnamacharya passed on these teachings to the late Pattabhi Jois, whose school continues to teach this method today'.

I've often wondered what a palm leaf manuscript looked like, well here they are

I'm as sceptical as the next guy about the Yoga Korunta and had pretty much decided it was a myth, a real myth not a well presented argument (whether you agree with it or not) dismissed as a myth.

However, though there is no mention of it in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makarnada,  I noticed this in the book credits in the first Introduction of Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu


I did not attempt a detailed review of all ancient yoga treatises since it will make this book very long and perhaps cause boredom to the readers.  Please forgive.  This writing is mainly based on the following texts:

Upanishads related to yoga
Learning’s from my Guru and self-experience

Certainly not looking to revisit the old Yoga Korunta discussion, not too bothered these days whether it did or did not exist, mainly wanted to show some pictures of palm leave manuscripts.


See my earlier review perhaps of the recent documentary
Mysore yoga Traditions

Monday, 6 November 2017

Current practice: Dropping (much of) Standing, Seated and moving straight to inversions. Asana with pranayama, entry and exit from headstand

"For people over fifty, it is enough to practice some of the easier and more useful asanas, as well as some of the pranayamas." Pattabhi Jois -Yoga Mala

But why wait till fifty?


My current practice, still very much work in progress (when isn't it?).  

Standing strongly influenced by Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss's Yoga Synergy Spinal Sequence, 

Seated influenced by Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, 

Inversions influenced by Krishnamacharya's early shoulderstand  and headstand vinyasa...., plus ten years of Ashtanga.

Actual speed is approx 40 minutes, I spent less time in some of the asana as well as in the static versions of shoulder stand and headstand than usual, as a rule the whole practice takes about an hour.
Actual speed version to come.

Actual speed, bit wobbly in places still

It took me a long time to come around to these movements in standing, for the longest time all I saw was arm waving. THIS series of videos from Simon Borg-Olivier, where he explains what is happening anatomically, physiologically in all the movements as well as the surya namaskara and  several asana went someway to bringing me around  but even then what I was looking for was a similar explanation for the asana I was already practicing in Ashtanga or in Vinyasa Krama (which Simon has done in his 84 key asana course). In the end it takes a leap of faith, just practicing these movements for a week or two, incorporating them into your regular practice.

some blog posts
On Simon's spinal sequence and diaphragmatic breathing

On YogaSynergy fundamentals course

On Simon's 84 key asana course

And a new Blog of mine bringing together my posts on this

In the photos of the practice below I've shown the basic standing spinal movements then the different foot positions those spinal movements are repeated in. I've only shown the one side.


The post below was originally from August 2017, reposting it for the sun salutation update

My Current practice

A shift (or evolution) from Proficient Primary (see page above) to a more 'Spinal/active movements' approach, inspired by Simon Borg-Olivier

I seem to be dropping most of Ashtanga Primary Standing and Seated postures altogether and moving straight from an opening Spinal sequence to inversions. The few classic seated postures with pranayama exercises I do include, I enter and exit, hands free, from Sirsasana.

Spinal movements

Surya namaskara
(Can't quite bring myself to drop these altogether)
Simon Borg-Olivier's Simplified/subtle (Method 3) sun salutation x 5, followed by Method 1 Supine sun salutation x3 - see video below

Paschimattanasana /Purvatanasana
Maha Mudra/Janu Shirshasana D
(optional marichiyasana)

Sarvangasana prep
Urdhva Dhanurasana

Sarvangasana - static 5 mins,
Sarvangasana vinyasas

Sirsasana - static 5-10 mins
Sirsasana entry to seated asana inc. pranayama exercises.
- gomukhasana - 30 inhalation

- baddha konasana - 30 second kumbhaka after exhalation
- Baddha padmasana 
- Padmasana Nadi shodhana - 20 second kumbhaka after inhalation

Sit - Siddhasana


I've been asked where one can find more on this approach.

See this post for an intro into Simon's approach, with videos, links etc

Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with my SPINE all over again

For those not sure about the arm waving, and it took me a while to come around, I recommend Simon's 84 key asana course, see this post where I include a concordance with Ashtanga.

I hear Simon has an online Ashtanga course in the editing stage, should be excellent.

I'm just about to start Simon's 13 week online Yoga Therapy course, more on that to come.


The videos below give an idea of my current approach to practice.

Spinal movements in different foot positions including a slower version......,

The first five minutes of the video below shows Simon demonstrating some of the spinal movements.

Below- lengthening the inhalation and exhalation, so, one inhalation for both sides of the first exercise/vinyasa, one exhalation for both sides of the second twisting 'exercise/vinyasa

I might include one or more active movement variations of standing asana

After the spinal movements I might do a couple of sury's

Simon Borg-Olivier's Simplified/subtle (Method 3) sun salutation x 5, followed by Method 1 Supine sun salutation x3 - see video below

I've started skipping standing and most seated postures altogether and am going straight into some shoulderstand preparation postures, these too perhaps from Simon which strike me as important, a revelation in fact. I'm exploring introducing the principles Simon outlined below into my inversion vinyasas - posts to come on this. See Appendix for more from Simon.

Followed by some shoulderstand prep from Vinyasa Krama that Krishnamacharya/Ramaswami recommended.

After a five minute static shoulderstand, lengthening the inhalation and exhalation to twenty seconds for each, I'm tending to include the vinyasas below from Krishnamachary's old 1938 Mysore film footage, as well as perhaps a few other of his vinyasas that may come to mind.

I finish shoulderstands with the standard vinyasas from Ashtanga Finishing, leading into padma mayurasana, followed by...

Urdhva danhurasana

Sirsasana, a five minute static headstand, lengthening the inhalation and exhalation to twenty seconds for each.... followed by the asana below entered from sirsasana and including different pranayama exercises.

The videos below don't include the pranayama.

Gomukhasana - 3 breaths each side - lengthening the inhalation to thirty seconds

Bharadvajrasana - Lengthening the exhalation to thirty seconds

Baddha Konasana A - Kumbhaka: Holding the breath out for thirty seconds

Padmasana: Nadi shodhana 12 rounds - 1:4:2:1 A twenty second Kumbhaka after the inhalation

Back up to sirsasana to stretch out the legs before lowering and entering siddhasana hands free for a twenty or forty minute Sit.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Karana Krama and Are Qi Gong and Yoga complimentary or mutually exclusive?

"Karana Krama as part of the practice of hatha yoga has nothing to do with the aesthetics of Indian dance and the practice of martial arts, but the basic movements are borrowed from preparatory techniques of Indian dancers, Kalaripayattu and contemporary Australian teachers of hatha yoga Sandor Remete (Shadow Yoga) and Simon Borg-Olivier (Yoga Synergy), which over the years developed their practice of yoga asanas and pranayama, using elements of the martial arts of India and China, as well as the experience of the traditional Ayurvedic and modern knowledge of anatomy and physiology."
Mikhail Baranov: "Karana-Krama as a Standard of Movement in Hatha-Yoga"

From this Wildyogi article

Enjoyed watching this video from Mikhail Baranov as well as reading the article but I'm starting to wonder how complimentary Chinese Qi Gong and the postural yoga that tends to be associated with India are.

Here's Mikhail again, a particularly interesting section of the article

"How does vinyasa- and asana-krama differ, you would ask, from well-known vinyasas and less known dynamic techniques like sukshma- and stulha-vyayamas?

Main features:

  1. Promoting “active flexibility” – the main range of movements (bends forward and backward, twists,  rotations, lunges and others) are done without “arms”, for example, in a standing position we move one leg aside and put it back without support of the arms (a sequence Utthita-padangushthasana 1 – Utthita-padangushthasana 2 – Ardha-chandrasana). Backbends, bends forward in twists are also done without help of the arms, the main movements of the spine are fulfilled due to more active work of the body muscles.
  2. Warming up and redistribution of the muscular tone are fulfilled using special techniques inherent to hatha-yoga and yoga-therapy.
  3. Developing standard of the movement – gradual awareness and optimization of habitual movement stereotypes. All movements of arms and legs purposely include work of torso muscles and the spine as well.
  4. Developing skills of concentration and volumetric attention through coordination of breathing and movement.
  5. Stimulating movement of the prana and taking control over prana-vajyu (subtle vital force) – application of bandhas (special means of muscular tone redistribution) and kumbhakas (breath detention) in a context of dynamic practices.
Besides, series of karana-krama movements as well as asana sequences are characterized by using the following techniques regulating the movement of Prana-vajyu and increasing blood circulation without negative influence to the heart:
  1. Using the force of gravity (inverted positions)
  2. Regulation of heart rate (techniques activating the parasympathetic tone of the ANS)
  3. Purposeful work of respiratory muscles (ujjayi, uddiyana-bandha, tadagi-mudra)
  4. Active involvement of muscular micropumps
  5. Joint bandhas
  6. Asanas are fulfilled in a certain sequence when configuration of elongated and strained muscles creates conditions that cause the circulation of blood from high pressure zone to low pressure zone.
  7. Relocation of attention
Thus, karana-krama is an interesting, effective and useful addition to the practice of classical asanas and vinyasas".

I can see why we might want to appropriate Qi Gong to compliment our overly static asana practice but What does asana offer Qigong other than myriad Instagram accounts.

Are they not perhaps mutually exclusive? After employing Qi Gong to move the Energy/Prana/Chi around the body nicely and  clear any 'blockages' we then BIND ourselves in a posture???

Does binding make any sense in Qi Gong? I'm guessing but wouldn't that create more blockages than you'd just got rid of.

Perhaps, I'm still too ignorant and on a steep Qi Gong learning curve but the breathing too seems different, contradictory even, there's movement rather than postures and what of my beloved inversions, do they have a place other than with the Shaolin boys?

And yet it all seems to make more sense somehow and best of all it's almost impossible to make Qi Gong look cool..

....unless you're Mikhail or Simon or practicing in you eighties perhaps

Qi Gong is delightfully uninstagramable.

It started off for me as a preparatory practice, taking the place of my pre Ashtanga ten minute tadasana Vinyasa Krama, now it's becoming the main event.

How unexpected and unlooked for, the turns in the path. "Oh, OK, this way then".

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

माया māyā (Illusion) November 2017 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswam

 November 2017 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami--माया māyā (Illusion)

I am planning to go to India end November and stay there for about 4 months. I am scheduled to teach two programs at Yoga Vahini in Chennai-- a 20 hr Samkhyakarika program in January 2018 and a 100 hr Advanced Vinyasakrama TT program in Vinyasakrama Yoga in February. Then a 50 hr  ten day program on Bhagavatgita at Omyoga in New Delhi in March 2018 . Then the same Bhagavatgita in Hyderabad, @ Yogavahini (March 20 to 29th 9948312492) You may get the details of the programs in my website

I am also likely to do a few other programs in 2018, . I may teach a weekend workshop in Germany in May, a week long programs in Austin TX in June, a week long program on the twin subjects of Samkhyakarika and yogasutras at Loyola Marymount University ( July 28 to August 4), Yogayagnyavalkya a weekend program in Chicago in September and possibly a week long Core vinyasakrama yoga program at Yogakanda, Santiago in Chile in October 2018 ( Once the details are confirmed I will have  them  listed in the Events page of my website.

माया māyā (Illusion)

Disciple: Guruji. I have been hearing that there are a few philosophers who say that the universes is not real but only an illusion.
Guruji: Yes they do
D: How can they say that this universe of bricks and mortar and me made of bones and muscles is an illusion?
G: Are you sure that what you see and feel is real.
D: Most certainly, it is obvious. Can there be any doubt?
G: Those philosophers are sure that the universe is merely an illusion just as you are sure that it is all real.
D: How can this be an illusion? It is real, can't they see that it is all real. Won't they feel the pain if hurt?
G: Just as we see they also see this universe, still they assert that it can only be an illusion. They are reasonable thinkers,truth seekers and sincere people: that is why they are called rishis. Since they also have the same experience as we have but still come to a different conclusion we must spare  some time to find out why they say so--try to find what they see that we do not seem to see.

D: What is the Sanskrit word for this illusion we are talking about?
G: There are a few but the most well known one is माया māyā

D; I find that this word is interpreted differently
G: True. It could be different due to the context but it could also depend upon how the word is broken down, analyzed. Usually this samasa (compound word) is split (vigraha) into mA plus yA. Let us restrict the interpretation to the present context which is about the universe. It is "yA mA sA mAya". It is easy to find the meaning of the word 'yA' and it would mean 'the one' in feminine gender.

D: Why feminine gender?
G: It is a peculiarity with Sanskrit . All nouns are masculine, feminine or neuter gender. One reason why the word yA is used is because it is associated with creation.. mother
D: Oh
GL Let us get to the part 'mA' now.

D: 'Yes I see now, 'mA' is mother in many Indian languages and maybe an abbreviation of maatru or mother.
G: Yes one interpretation of the word is mother, here the creatrix or universal mother, She is goddess, sakti one main form of worship, it is one of the six mathas. The word mAyA then would be the one who is the universal mother. MayA, prakriti are used to describle the creative power.

D:Yes we find mAyA a popular name given to girls. Gautama Buddha's mother's name is said to be mAyA. So Maya is the universal sakti or power of creation. But coming to our discussion how does Maya mean illusion?
G: There is another interpretation of the word mA. mA is measure or to measure. In the context of vedanta the created universe is that which is measured or limited or the one that is limited (mA). It should be so understood in the context of vedanta. In vedanta the source of the universe is Brahman which is consciousness unlimited (ananta). In comparison to it the created universe or prakriti is limited. In fact the purusha sukta, a  vivid vedic description of creation from the purusha or brahman, the purusha is said to extend beyond the universe by ten digits indicating that the brahman is unlimited and unbounded whereas the created prakriti is limited. There are references to this in a number of vedic and puranic narrations of creation. The created universe is one part or amsa of the Supreme. Even according to scientists the universe in unbounded but limited-it is limited to an immensely dense  singularity maybe the size of a dime in its origin. The Samkhyas also appear to suggest the prakriti is atomic in its mula or root stage.

D: So mAyA would represent the mammoth creation but finite. Or mAyA would mean the finite one in the context of the source Brahman which is infinite.
G: Now the other interpretation of 'mA'. It  is 'not' or an injunction  'do not' or don't

D: Then it also means who is not, am I right?
G: First let us take the interpretation of 'do not'.  Lord Krishna in the Gita tells Arjuna 'mA sochi (sucha) meaning do not worry. MAyA would mean something that one, the spiritual aspirant is advised not to get involved. Why so? Because it is full of duhkha or pain and sorrow or because it repeatedly enslaves one birth after birth with incessant karmas. This is the main theme of samkhya, yoga and vedanta and a few other Eastern philosophies. They all say that the the outside universe is productive of predominantly duhkha, of course sugar quoted with some pleasures which all creatures love and thus captivated and enslaved. Because it is full of duhkha and makes one do karmas both good and bad the consequences of which are repeated duhkha dominated universe in which one takes repeated birhts. So Patanjali says "This repeated misery-- birth after birth-- should be ended (heyam duhkham anagatam)". Fully agree the Samkhyas and vedantins. renunciates, yogis, sanyasins, vivekis bairagis who lead a completely detached life.

D; So you say Maya could indicate that which should be renounced?  Yes Maya binds everyone offering  some little pleasure for a disproportionate amount of pain and sorrow.
G: Then we have mA meaning 'not' or 'not really existing' whereby we get the interpretation that mAyA is illusion. So mAyA would mean that which does not (really) exist, though it may appear to exist.

D: Who are the scholars that say that the universe is but an illusion or mAyA
G; The most well known of this group are the vednatins who subscribe to the theory of advaita. Other non advaitic vedantins even as they agree that Brahman is the source of everything, that Brahman is 'sat' or real, also imply that the creation also is real, this would be sat vada and satkarya vada. It would mean that the source of the universe Brahman is the reality and then the creation also is a real activity. There are of course a few other non vedic philosophies which imply that the creation is not really real even as they do not subscribe to a real source as Brahman

D: What reasoning these mayavadins put forward to substantiate the assertion that it is all an illusion?
G: Several arguments-- many examples like the rope and snake and others. But one has to reason out step by step.

D: Can we go through the steps you consider helpful?
G: We have done this up to a point  in some of our earlier discussions. Ok let us start. First answer the question about how you are able to experience the universe around you. How does science explain this?

D: We experience the outside world through our senses, even though the senses do not directly experience the objects. They are experienced through sight, hearing, taste smell and the touch. According to science these sensations are transmitted by the sense organs like eyes ears etc., to different parts of the brain where they are processed, collated  analyzed, compared, emotions added and finally the picture is seen by the brain in the brain. They emphasize that the eyes do not see but only the brain sees.
G. But the universe also consists of you, the subject

D: Some scientists also indicate that there is the awareness of one's own body through the nervous system, the afferent nerves. The impulses sent to the brain by the network of nerves are also felt by the brain. Thus we have a composite picture of what we experience-- the outside world and the subject also as part of the universe. The total experience consists of “I seeing the universe”
G: Ok let us say the brain sees everything. But the brain space is limited but what we see is in front of us, say, like you sitting in front of me outside the brain even as   all are within the brain space. Further in the brain the information as processed is in the form of neurons floating around the brain. The whole information may have to be reconverted into some form like what we see.

D I see
G: So the brain after the complete processing in a split second will have to project the whole information exactly as we see, as we experience. And that projection even as it can be assumed to take place in the brain space has to take place in virtual space.

D; Ok like the dream experience taking place in our head during dream state.
G: Now this raises two conclusions. One is that what we see are only the projections of the mind even if we admit that the outside world is real.

D: So the brain  receives information as impulses through the senses then projects them in the virtual space. We see only the projection and not the object per say.
G: Yes without the brain recreating what is received through the senses it is not possible to explain how the objects are seen because the brain cells and neurons are not what is seen. The brain itself receives the information through the senses only as electrical impulses.

D: So according to science it amounts to saying that the brain projects the processed information in the virtual/mental space and it also sees what it projects.
G: But then we have a couple of issues with this. One is, if the brain projects what one sees it will amount to saying that since the brain projects also the subject that experiences the outside world, it would imply this.-- that the brain projects itself because the brain is part of the subject. Can the brain project itself and also see that. Then the question the brain the subject has, what is it, is it the organ brain or the projection? It also has another question to answer: can the brain project itself and also see

D: It also raises another question if the brain has got consciousness which is awareness as we experience is not changing, it is unwavering and experiences everything that we experience everything the brain itself is said to process and project.
G: Also the brain is made of matter, just organic matter created from the food matter taken from the outside world. How does the non-conscious matter produce a non changing consciousness. So we could say that that the view held by science that brain is the one that experiences and also is the one which processes and projects the information received through the senses may not be conclusive.

D So what does it mean I am confused
G: It amounts to saying that we do not see the objects of the outside world and can see only the projection a virtual image in virtual space. The view that the brain processes and projects the sensations received and also sees is not really convincing, tenable. So the  first conclusion we can make is that one can not ascertain that the outside universe really exists which is the default  belief because what we experience can only be virtual.  So many philosophers conclude that one cannot prove that the universe exists, and say it is anirvacaniya or indeterminate.

D: Can we say that it is just an illusion? It appears that it is equally difficult to prove that the universe is real.
G: We have to determine two things here. Since we see the universe of which the physical observer the subject also is a part, is just a projection which is all one can say. It is not the result of real objects that are processed and then reprojected as we have just seen. They can only be objectless projections which can be considered or called as an illusion . There is no creation but only a projection.

D: Yes since according to this line of approach, my world that includes me- your disciple -that I perceive is only a projection. And the brain is not the projector of this world I see because since the brain also is a part of the universe it can not project itself.. Further my brain is not the observer. It is funny, that the common belief that the brain experiences and acts itself is an illusion. Looks as though it is difficult to prove that the world is real. In that case from where this world of mine that I experience--even if it is an illusion-- comes and also who is the observer, because the brain can not see, it has no consciousness.
G: Even among those who view that the individual world is but an illusion, an appearance, differ in their answers to your question. According to a well known Indian philosophy very popular in South East Asia, this question is irrelevant. Once you know the whole thing is but an appearance, there is no purpose served in trying to find more answers using the brain. It is known now that it is but an illusion and that it is also full of misery. The only thing one has to do is to overcome this miserable illusion by proper meditation and remove all thoughts the absence of which will remove all pain and sorrow for ever. The search for the self, the observer, subject or whatever is irrelevant, unnecessary or even counterproductive they would advice.

D: It is tough
G: The other view that can be gleaned from the Bhagavat gita is also interesting. Krishna says inter alia, that He or God  (Maayin) created the universe by the power of his Maya. Maya now can be considered as real but limited creation as we have considered earlier or it can be considered as an illusion. In fact the Lord is called a Mayavi which expression is usually associated with a magician. This will amount to saying that the Lord created the universe but it is just an illusion not material. Again the subject is the Lord/Brahman Himself  which is pure unvarying consciousness who indwells in every body as the atman observing the illusion of each one individually. Ofcourse   one should understand the nature of the self, the Lord and the nature of Maya and attain salvation.

D: Are  there other views which indicate the universe is not as real as we commonly believe
G; There is another religion/philosophy which implies that God created the universe as succession of momentary impulses. Every moment He creates this universe anew-it is continuous creation-- and the individual creatures are caught up in this mammoth illusion. He is the beacon light to get out of this enslaving creation.

D: Thank you.
G: Think about this line of discussion and understand the texts like the Gita the upanishads and the advaita literature of sankara and others to know more about this mAyA. They all aver that our default understanding of the universe and our own selves are defective.

D: It is not difficult to understand why the mayavadins assert that it is all an illusion or mAyA, but it is yet another to 'feel' that it is so. The sages like Suka,  son of Vyasa is  believed  to have remained   completely oblivious to the surroundings and his own body in a state of sahaja samadhi. Gaudapada says to the effect that nobody is ever born  really(na kascit jayate jivaha) or anything is ever created really. All creatures are just organic robots activated by their karma/samskaras, like the dream self that runs around with a illusory body and appears to think with a non existing mind. All creatures appear  confused about the universe and about themselves life after life.
G: Yes

D: What about Advaita which is associated with Mayavada or the theory of Illusion?
G: It is of the vedantic school. In vedanta the source is Brahman which  is unwavering consciousness. This can be immediately identified as the individual consciousness in the subject. In us the body- brain complex, there is consciousness, distinct and uncarying. The vedantins observe that  this body/ mind that constantly changes is known due to the consciousness that as we have seen is independent and not part of the brain that is organic matter and is for ever changing. The consciousness  in us is ever aware of  whatever that goes on as a cittavritti during our childhood then adulthood then old age and according to Lord Krishana into the future lives. It is the same consciousness that is aware of the experiences during waking, dream and deep sleep stages and remains unaffected even in the yogic state of kaivalya or turiya. So all that is experienced is in this atomic brahman whose essence is pure consciousness unaffected by time or space. Everything that is experienced takes place within it ( so is unaffected by space) as a mayavritti or an illusion but appears without it and appears real. That is why in the initial stages one meditates within oneself to locate the atman. So the whole, ever changing experience I have is my world which is an illusion stream is taking place within me within the consciousness Brahman/Atman

D: One more question. Even to experience an illusion one needs eyes and ears, like watching a magic show
G: Not necessarily. Take the case of your dream experience. Dream is an illusion that appears to take place within you. At that time according to science, most motor activities are paralyzed, you forget yourself. Dream experience takes place  without the senses coming into play. The dream self sees illusory dream objects with illusory senses and thinks with a brain which is an illusion.  Similarly the whole life experience takes place within the Self, the non changing pure consciousness

D: So Brahman the source of my illusory world is the consciousness that should be called as  I
G: Yes . Ok be calm, study the texts, think deeply,internalize and  clear  all  doubts.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Qi Gong Yoga? Exploring Simon Borg-Olivier's teacher Zhen Hua Yang's Calligraphy Yoga

Note: I've just brought together this post and earlier posts related to my current approach to practice as well as my posts on Simon Borg-Olivier in a new blog, just as I did with Vinyasa Krama and Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga

Having become so absorbed with practicing Simon Borg-Olivier's approach to Yoga of late, it seemed a good idea to look more closely at his sources. BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Shandor Remete I'm familiar with of course but recently I've been curious about the man Simon credit's as his main teacher for the last ten years or so, Zhen Hua Yang. Practicing Simons Spinal sequence before my regular practice I'm reminded of Qi Gong, Tai Chi, my own martial Art training in Aikido and Iaido, perhaps by exploring Zhen Hua Yang's Calligraphy Yoga I will better understand Simon's teaching and my attempt to bring it into my own practice.

The master plan was/is to, at some point, apply all that I've been exploring with Simon and now with Zhen Hua Yang and see how it informs my Vinyasa Krama, to finally go through again all Ramaswami/Krishnamacharya's asana, subroutines and sequences and see how they present themselves...., but perhaps it will go the other way, my Ashtanga/Vinyasa Krama practice informing my Qi Gong yoga.

Was this what Krishnamacharya did perhaps, explore Burmese, Buddhist, Tibetan Yoga to see how they played out with hatha and raja.

I have a post in the works about how really there is no yoga tradition but rather a hodge podge of jumbled up techniques and methodologies, asana with mixed up names and representations often drawn, painted, sculpted, reported by non practitioners and written down in a great game of Chinese whispers.

In the end it probably doesn't matter, against an horizon of yama/niyama we practice our physical exercises, our breathing practice to better allow us to focus on our contemplation of self.

Below I've included some videos and a post of Simon introducing his teacher as well as a demonstration by Zhen Hua Yang on one of Simon and Bianca's YogaSynergy courses. That's followed by Zen Hua Yang's own introduction to his Calligraphy health approach.

A nice introduction to the practice is with Master Yang's 'Wake up' program, I've included videos of him demonstrating as well as a demonstration with instruction by one of his students.

I was asked about the DVDs by a reader of the blog so contacted the website, I received no reply so just went ahead and bought the complete set and downloaded them. I've been exploring them this week.

The six DVDs follow the same format. Zhen Hua Yang teaches four exercise on each of the six DVDs with one of his students demonstrating (Sasha below) ,then he will demonstrate himself, first from the frount and then from the side. At the end of the DVD Master Yang demonstrates the four together as a complete form.

My approach to the exercises has been to add some of them on/build them into Simon's Spinal sequence.

Just as Indian yoga as hundreds of asana and perhaps thousands of variations, Qi Gong has hundreds, possibly thousands of exercises. We start perhaps with a core practice, some simple exercises/asana (Morning Wake up program perhaps) which we then build upon (see the 30 minute practice videos just before the appendix at the end of the post ), or more challenging (or not) variations that we encounter and seem more appropriate to include in our practice. Ashtanga, Vinyasa Krama seem to me not unlike a Qi Gong practice. Just as a Qi Gong practice, if grounded upon the yama/niyama and followed by breathing exercises and a Sit is surely Ashtanga.

Note: I believe the argument of Qi Gong is that the practice includes breathing exercises and is basically a moving meditation with focus on the breath......., now where have I heard that before.

You can see how some of these exercises have flowed through Simon's teaching although practiced in Simon's own manor, there seems to be a lot of freedom in this approach. Some exercises I'll probably end up including in my own practice, others I'm not sure of yet.

by Simon Borg-Olivier

"Master Zhen Hua Yang has been my main yoga teacher since 2006. After practicing yoga for more than 40 years and teaching for 30 years Master Yang has helped me make a fresh beginning to my practice that has resolved many of the physical and physiological challenges that my previous practice was unable to resolve. He has helped me develop increased spinal flexibility without ever making me feel like I was doing stretching exercises, he has given me increased strength without feeling tense and helped heal the most significant bone breakage and muscle tears I have ever had in my life. Master Yang is a true Master who's energy is tangible. His demonstrations of strength and internal energy are as impressive as I have ever seen. If you have a chance I strongly recommend you don’t miss an opportunity to learn from him in person, on video or online at Master Yang’s new website.

The principles that Master Yang teaches his yoga with are at the core of the Yoga Synergy System and so if you do not have a chance to work with Master Yang personally then consider looking at one of the comprehensive and award winning Online courses at YogaSynergy called Yoga Fundamentals (a very practical course for anyone with an interest in yoga, exercise or health) and Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga (a more technical course for teachers, therapists and experienced students)."

Below the Morning wake up program with instruction by one of Master Yang's students Laila Sell, this would be a good introduction should you want to try it out.

Below,  some of the exercises you'll find on the Calligraphy yoga DVDs

The six DVDs follow the same format. Zhen Hua Yang teaches four exercise on each of the six DVDs with one of his students demonstrating (Sasha below) ,then he will demonstrate himself, first from the frount and then from the side. At the end of the DVD Master Yang demonstrates the four together as a complete form.

And finally this demonstration of Calligraphy Yoga by another student of Master Yang and Simon, Monika Lenkefi followed by another demonstration ,by the same student, of Simon and Bianca's Yogasynergy approach.


I'll give Simon Borg-Olivier the final word, he got me into all this in the first place, thank you Simon, it's an adventure.


Calligraphy Yoga DVDs

Standing tree, 
Peeking turtle, 
Dancing Dragon, 
Follow Ribbon, 

cobra dancing, 
flowing dragon, 
sweeping tail, 
Bird stretches wing, 
Dan Tian breath.    

Morning breeze, 
Monkey stretch, 
Monkey standing, 
Emu stretch, 

Crane playing water, 
Eagle standing, 
Energy transfer
Peacock dancing, 

Hugging tree, 
Eagle spreading wings, 
Oyster standing, 
Spring flower, 

Peacock opening tail, 
chicken walking, 
spiral energy, 
water dragon, 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

How to handstand - Simon Borg-Olivier

A good friend recently asked me about handstands.

Simon Borg-Olivier - lifting to handstand

Handstands aren't something I tend to engage in much these days. Personally, lolasana and my shoulderstand and headstand variations feel quite sufficient ( I should probably practice forearm stand more often). That said, Jessica Walden's videos of slow, seemingly effortless floating up into handstand on the breath as well as equally slowly lowering into postures fills me with awe. I can see the point of exploring them.

On Simon's online courses, his excellent Fundamentals course as well as the superb Yoga Therapy course I'm currently following, he mentions (and includes video of) handstands and how to approach them through diaphragmatic breathing, "a firm but calm", seemingly effortless lift into handstand. I've tried it and it's true, even with my lack of arm balances and loss of arm and shoulder strength of late I was able to pretty much float up.

Yogasynergy Fundamentals course

Yogasynergy Yoga Therapy course (note in the context of the Yoga Therapy course, Simon is discussing breathing into the abdomen, the handstand demonstration is more an illustration
Video 70: Case study – Lower back and sacroiliac joint pain 3.
In this section, Simon explains how to release a stiff and painful lower back by breathing into the abdomen, and how to stimulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system
to help the healing process.

Quote from the video
Simon: "Did I ask you to lift up to handstand?
Attendee: "(with the biggest grin) It just happened naturally.... because I was pushing down..."

Simon: "Put the hands on the floor, bring the shoulders forward, push the sitting bones down, lift the top of the hips up, bend less at the hips, lift the ribs up, bend more at the spine, push the belly button down, push down on my hands (simon has his hands beneath her belly), push down on my hands, push down on my hands from there (L5), push the sitting bones down, top of the hips up, push the belly button down, now breathe in.....(and up she goes)".

Here then is as much as Simon's presentation of his approach as I can find freely available, outside his course, on Youtube and his blog, I hope it helps.


This is a similar demonstration to the one I've described above from the Yoga therapy course


See this post on pre-requisites for headstand

"To be adequately prepared for the Headstand (Sirsasana) you have to have first mastered  the ‘Shoulderstand posture’ (Salamba sarvangâsana). To be adequately prepared for the ‘Shoulderstand posture’ (Salamba sarvangâsana) and variations of the ‘Plough posture’ (Halâsana) the following postures should have been mastered first:

‘Legs up the wall posture’ (Salamba urdhva prasarita padâsana)
‘Unsupported arms-up bridge posture’ (Niralamba urdhva hasta setu bandhâsana)
‘Back-spinal-lengthening forward-bending posture’ (Pascimotanâsana)
‘Toes-to-floor unsupported half sit-up two-knees-to-chest posture’ (Padangustha niralamba uttana supta pavan muktâsana)
‘Front-spinal-lengthening backward-bending posture’ (Purvotanâsana)

Also to be safe to be able to do headstand I believe it is important to recognise that in many more traditional sequences, such as the ashtanga vinyasa sequences  taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), headstand was taught last, and one thing that Guruji was very big on was that you should not attempt any posture in his sequence till the ones before that posture were mastered. Hence to really be safe in headstand (sirsasana) you should first have mastered shoulder stand (sarvangasaana), and to be safe in shoulder stand you need to have mastered full forward bends and backbending postures too. In fact to be really fair one needs to acknowledge that the first postures in a sequence like the ashtanga vinyasa practices taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois are those in the Salute to the Sun (surya namaskar) and the third posture is the preparation to a handstand (lolasana) that comes just before the smooth transition to the ‘push up’ posture (chataranga dandasaana). Lolasana is fact such an important posture that it should in fact be practiced twice for every vinyasa (‘up-dog’ to ‘down-dog movement) in the traditional series of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Hence, I believe  it is therefore fair to say that a really important pre-requisite of being able to do a safe headstand is lolasana, and if for some reason the wrists are not able to do this arm balancing posture then at least you should be able to have the abdominal (core) control to do similar supine postures such as a half-situp (similar to ardha navasana in BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’)"

Hand, harm, shoulder stability

Simple Tips to help to Arm Balancing Postures and Push-up positions: from this post

(note that every position that takes weight on the arms has specific details that may not be mentioned here)

- have the palms flat on the floor but grip with your finger tips
- press more on the inside (thumb-side) of the palms for better force transfer from the forearms to the wrists
- squeeze the heel of the palm inwards (as if trying to turn the palm out) in order to stabilise the elbow
- tighten the underarm muscles by pressing the arm pits in the direction they are pointing
- generally bring the shoulders over the over the finger tips (for most arm balances)
- spread the shoulder blades and lengthen the skin between the shoulder blades in the upper back
- push the sitting bones and lower trunk toward the same direction the navel is pointing until the front of the abdomen becomes firm without sucking the navel to the spine
- breathe into the firm abdomen to give you relaxed inner power that can be maintained for a long time without stress
- don’t do anything that feels painful or is potentially dangerous for you


How to lift to handstand

See this post

from the notes
"The same principle is used in things like handstands. So if I bring my arms up in the air initially and lengthen the spine, slightly extending the spine as well, and then bring my hands to the floor, as I moving towards the floor I am pushing the hips forward throughout. I lean onto the hands and lift the head up. Lifting the upper back and pushing the sitting bones towards the hands firms the front of the abdomen. Simply breathing into my abdomen (firmed by posture), or rather breathing with my diaphragm into the abdomen causes an increase in the intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure which straight away puts strength into my arms. Here I simply breathe into the abdomen as my legs are lifting and the instant strength comes to the body. It doesn’t feel like a strain to lift the body. Whereas you can lift up to a handstand with just brute force.

A lot of weightlifters will do lifting exercises using what’s called a Valsalva manoeuvre. Where you make an in-breath then hold the breath and then tense all the muscles of exhalation. In so doing you also increase intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure and intra-cranial pressure as well. This gives you more strength in the arms but the problem is that a weightlifters blood pressure has been shown to go up from a normal level of 120/70 to extreme levels of 380/360. And so there’s a risk then that if you use the Valsalva manoeuvre for strength exercises such as lifting weights or handstands that you risk bursting a blood vessel in your head, or your heart, have a heart attack or a stroke and just increase a lot of stress at the same time. So the trick is to remain very calm and breathe with your diaphragm into an abdomen firmed by posture (as opposed to tension)."


see this post

from the notes


Of course you can get away with doing this if you harden the abdomen with the muscles of exhalation. So if I breathe in here [See demonstration of breathing into the abdomen], and then exhale gently and relaxed as I’ve done there [See demonstration of relaxed exhalation] with the abdomen soft the lungs are not fully empty. Also, to exhale fully you are required to tighten the muscles of exhalation. These are circular muscles that go all around the bottom of the trunk. So you see my fingers in my abdomen now, if I tighten my exhalation muscles, the trunk moves inwards away from my fingers. So it’s like I’ve wrapped a belt around my lower waist. This gives a certain amount of abdominal firmness and protects my back if I’m doing a lifting exercise or a straining or stretching exercise.
But the problem is because I’ve used the muscles of exhalation to tighten my abdomen that straight away reciprocally relaxes or inhibits the main muscles of inhalation which is the diaphragm. So it means then with the diaphragm inhibited there is an inhibition of the organs that the diaphragm helps to control and stimulate, including the reproductive system, the immune system, and the digestive system.
Also with these belt muscles contracted and pulling the whole spine inwards it blocks the energy and information from the trunk to the legs. So then to pump the blood to the legs the heart has to work a lot harder, the lungs have to work a lot harder. So, the movements that I am trying to do should not have to tighten all of these things if I want to stay calm. In the Hatha Yoga tradition of India there is only one description of physical exercise. It’s only one sentence. It says “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”. It means physical exercise should be with firmness but with calmness. It’s learning how to do stressful things in a relaxing way. So to protect the back I need to be firm. But to keep calm diaphragmatic breathing and stimulation of the para-sympathetic nervous system is important. The funny thing is that once you learn this you will not only be protected but it will give you tremendous strength. So if someone is just tightening the abdomen like this [See demonstration of pulling the abdomen inwards] they cannot breathe from their diaphragm. So, then what tends to happen is that their chest expands. When the chest expands it makes the body weaker. If the abdomen expands it also makes the body weaker. So when you see adept practitioners of eastern forms of exercise including the Chinese Martial Arts or the Indian Hatha Yoga – there’s also Indian Martial Arts and Chinese Yoga as well, but they all relate – you never see adept practitioners expand their abdomen or their chest. You can use the analogy of the balloon which a child blows up as opposed to the tyre of a car, when you blow a balloon up it gets bigger but the walls actually get thinner and less strong. Whereas when you add more air to a car tyre the walls don’t get any larger but actually the more air coming into the tyre allows it to become much stronger. So you can actually put a ten tonne truck on a hard walled tyre filled with air but something which expands like a balloon will just burst if you put more air into it. So the chest and the abdomen are the same. An in-breath which expands the chest will only make the spine weaker. An in-breath which expands the abdomen will only make you weaker. So in the Martial Arts, in Hatha Yoga it’s always said that you should breathe diaphragmatically but with firmness. So if I breathe diaphragmatically standing normally the abdomen puffs out. But if all I do is push the sitting bones forward the front of the abdomen automatically goes firm and the sides are relaxed. Then if I breathe into the abdomen it doesn’t move but because it’s a diaphragmatic breath I stay calm".


I was asked about the "push down the sit bones", how do you do that when upside down. I think it's easier to make sense of it when the right way up, see this post

Video Transcript:

“Now I do four movements to help lengthen the spine using the hips and the arms. With the fingers interlocked I push the sitting bones down and forward and the armpits up and forward and traction the spine. Raising the heels helps firm around the knees and squeezing in the thighs helps firm knees and spine. Now I flex (forward bend) the spine first tilting the spine forward, flexing from the middle and pushing the shoulders down and forward. Now the front of my abdomen becomes firm and the sides are relaxed. Front firmness causes reciprocal relaxation of the back of the spine. Breathing into the abdomen using the diaphragm, an inhalation muscle, causes reciprocal relaxation of the exhalation muscles. So the back of my spine is relaxing while the front is firming.”

"This is a simple explanation. Ideally in reality you should move the spine one vertebra at a time starting from the base of the spine up".

UPDATE from Simon

It may be a surprise to some that the common household ‘triangle posture’ has surprisingly so much in common with how to lift up slowly into a handstand, starting by leaning into the palms with your elbows straight, your shoulders over your fingers, with your heels raised and your toe tips initially on the floor.
Some tips to begin both postures:
* Push the sitting bones down
* Move the top of the hips backward to lengthen your lower back
* Move your lower front ribs inwards and lengthen the upper back
* Inhale into the abdomen
For detailed instructions see my friend Anthony Grim Hall’s brilliant blog on handstand here. In it he refers a lot to how Bianca Machliss and I teach many postures to become firm and strong but remain calm and energised.


Below: back when I used to indulge.

Iyengar includes a handstand in his demonstration in the Krishnamacharya footage video Mysore 1938 suggesting Krishnamacharya taught them.

Ramaswami also includes a handstand in his group of arm balances in his Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga based on his studies with Krishnamacharya. 

In a recent Chuck Miller interview he suggests that Pattabhi Jois encouraged them for a time before later discouraging them.

A couple of old posts on handstands

Handstand in the old text Yogāsana-Jaina

Updated draft: Handstands, backbends and Saganaki in Rethymno - Pattabhi Jois led handstands and Derek Irelands handstand after every 2nd series asana.

Did Krishnamacharya teach arm balances? plus arm balances by BKS Iyengar, Krishnamacharya's wife, Pattabhi Jois and Jessica Walden



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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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