In Ramaswami's newsletter this month ( see THIS blog post), he included his long interview with Wild Yogi, below is the section on how Krishnamacharya taught Ramaswami Pranayama and Bandhas over the thirty years Ramaswami spent with his teacher
See my pranayama page for more
The full interview along with many other excellent interviews can be found at the Wild yogi website
Questions: Yuri Sharonin, Ilya Zhuravlev
|Krishnamacharya - Pranayama|
Let's talk about Pranayama. In his writings he says numerous times, that Pranayama is the key to the whole practice; it is the most important anga. Vinyasa Krama you teach is centered around the breathing.
And yet, Pranayama, by and large, taught on the fringes, and sometimes has an air of being remote like samadhi. Often presented as dangerous. How Krishnamacharya taught it, and how soon?
I don't remember when he started to teach me Pranayama. I know it was very early, because he had started to use breathing on day one. That itself is half Pranayama: long inhalation, long exhalation. You start from day one. And then Pranayama practice is regular. I think I mentioned, Pranayama practice is an integral part of daily routine in olden days. You are required to do ten times Pranayama with Gayatri Mantra, and all that. Pranayama is considered essential part of your daily life. You are required to do, say, ten in the morning, ten in the afternoon, ten in the evening, and there two or three in addition in every sitting. Virtually you do forty pranayamas every day. Everybody - you don't have to be a yogi to practice Pranayama. Everybody is required to practice Pranayama forty times every day. So, what's the big deal?
Samantraka Pranayama (pranayama with Mantra)?
Samantraka Pranayama. But still a pranayama. In fact it's a more difficult pranayama. If everybody, even non-yogi do forty times pranayama, why yogi should shy away from that? And I don't think Krishnamacharya told anybody not to teach Pranayama. He might have not told somebody to teach specifically pranayama, I don't know what happened. But he didn't prevent anybody... He taught Pranayama from very beginning. In fact, almost anybody who has studied with him learned Pranayama from him. He would himself teach Pranayama. Normally your asana practice ends with pranayama session. I have never come out from his class without practicing Pranayama. I think I've mentioned it several times. You see, Pranayama is the one that makes Yoga unique. In all other systems there is no control over the breathing. In all physical exercises, there is no control over the breathing. Here you try bring your breathing under voluntary control. If there is something very big, very unique about Yoga - it is the breathing. Any people who want to meditate, to achieve samadhi, achieve kaivalya, some of those things that are mentioned - if you shy away from Pranayama, how can you progress? You have to use this vehicle, you got to use Pranayama. Krishnamacharya was insistent that without Pranayama, there is no Yoga.
In fact, word Hatha, as in Hatha Yoga, means Pranayama. You look in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the commentator says Ha is Prana, Tha is Apana, Yoga is a Union, Hatha Yoga is a union of Prana and Apana, which is Pranayama. So Hatha Yoga Is Pranayama. How can you say, "I practice Hatha Yoga without Pranayama?"
I don't know why people are unnecessarily discouraged from Pranayama. Everything is dangerous. If you do Pranayama in very unorganized way, then perhaps... But then enough instructions are given in the books. And they say you have to be careful, you have to learn from a teacher. Yes, you have to learn from a teacher. See that it is within your limits. In fact in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first instruction is "Inhale as much as you can." Yetashakti "Exhale as much as you can." Slowly build your capacity. You have to work along these lines. People who discourage Pranayama are doing a disservice to Yoga. That may not be their intent, but they are creating unnecessary fear in people, and they are doing a disservice to Yoga.
One reason why people are reluctant to teach Pranayama because they are afraid of teaching it. They don't teach Pranayama because they don't want to get into any problem. They don't want to teach Sirsasana, or Sarvangasana because they don't want to get any problem. These postures, these procedures are a bit tricky. If you understand, if you are able to practice them – well and good; but sometimes you make a mistake, you feel very uncomfortable...
|The pranayama mantra sheet Ramaswami gave us on our 2010 TT at LMU|
See my pranayama page for more
If Hatha Yoga is Pranayama, then Pranayama is Kumbhaka?
Kumbhaka is holding ones breath. It has to be proceeded by inhale, or exhale. Pranayama is control of the breathing. Kumbhaka is the most essential aspect of that. You have to use your inhalation or exhalation before you are able to hold your breath.
How would Krishnamacharya teach it?
|Krishnamacharya teaching pranayama|
After you practiced your asana, he would ask you to sit in padmasana, vajrasana, etc. do your Kapalabhati, 108 times, or whatever. And then he would ask you to do - one day Ujjai, another day Sitali, another day Nadi Shoddana, like that he would slowly build up the practice, and then later on you have to practice Pranayama on your own. You don't have to teach forever. Once he knew that you practice your Pranayama properly, he would say at the end of the class, "practice Pranayama for 15 minutes."
Which Pranayamas were taught, and which ones were mostly frequently used?
Mostly, in Vinyasa Krama practice, he would use Ujjai breathing, because we use Ujjai in our practice, so it becomes easier. Ujjai and Nadi Shoddana are the two most important pranayamas. And then if you combine those two, you get Anuloma Ujjai, Viloma Ujjai, Pratiloma Ujjai. Occasionally he would ask me to do Sitaly pranayama. When weather is very hot, he would say "you look tired, why don't you do a Sitali pranayama." The main emphasis was on Ujjai and Nadi Shoddana. Normally for Mantra Pranayama, they use Nadi Shoddana pranayama. Inhale through one nostril, chant the Pranayama Mantra, exhale through the other nostril. Nadi Shoddana pranayama is mentioned in the texts also.
What about Bhastrika, Brahmari?
Brhastrika, Brahmari are special pranayamas. They are not as common as Nadi Shoddana and Ujjai pranayamas. Because most of benefits expected from Pranayama you can get from these two procedures. Next question is how long you can inhale, what ratios you can maintain [puraka - antar kumbhaka - rechaka - bahya kumbhaka]; there are different parameters that come into play.
He did not use much of Bhastrika?
No. He would ask you to do Kapalabhati. Because Kapalabhati is a cleansing kriya. Bhastrika is a specific pranayama, for certain conditions.
What scriptures did he use as authority on Pranayama?
Hatha Yoga Pradipika talks about it. And then there are number of Smritis (texts) which refer to Pranayama, how to use the Mantras. Pranayama has two things: one is technique of doing pranayama; the other is how to use the mantra in this pranayama. There are several Upanishads, several Smritis which talk about Pranayama. So, lot of material available on Pranayama.
|Ramaswami chanting with Krishnamacharya|
Pranayama, according to Krishnamacharya, not effective without Bandhas. Just as Bandhas not viable without Kumbhakas.
Yes, without Bahya Kumbhaka, especially.
How did he teach the Bandhas? And how soon?
Once your breathing is comfortable, you have long inhalation and exhalation, and you can hold the breath for a short period of time, Bandhas can be done. I think he taught Trataka Mudra as the best procedure positioned to teach Mulah Bandha, and Uddiyana Bandha. Once you are able to do Bandhas in that position, then the next thing for you would be to try it in Adho Mukha Svanasana, then some of the seated postures, especially Padmasana and Vajrasana. These are the postures he would ask you to practice the Bandhas.
I think considerable confusion exists about Bandhas, and perhaps it may be useful for many people if we will discuss it. Let's go through three major bandhas. In case of Mula Bandha, queues can be very simple - yet books written about it.
He gave simple instructions, he did not elaborate on this. He would say draw your rectum and tighten lower abdomen. That is all instructions he would give. He would observe how your Bandha is, and say, it is fine. That's about all.
Uddiyana Bandha, anatomically, is a passive stretch of a diaphragm, done by exhaling, closing one's voice box and lifting the chest. But that description does not make it possible to do Uddiyana Bandha on inhale. Yet Hatha Yoga Pradipika talks about it. How is it done? Some lineages talk about Uddiyana Bandha vs. Uddiyana Kriya.
I don't know about Uddiyana Kriya, so I can't talk about it. Hatha Yoga Pradipika talks about Uddiyana Bandha, I think, even at the end of your inhalation, Antar Kumbhaka. I asked my teacher, he said, "this is not for Grihasthyas" [non-Brahmachari]. The idea appears to be getting the union of Prana and Apana, by pushing the Prana in the Antar Kumbhaka, pushing up Apana. It is a difficult procedure. Probably you can learn from a teacher. He himself practiced this, it is not impossible. But, the most benefit you get from certain things - for instance if you want to work with your heart, it is better to do it on exhalation. Depending upon the requirements, your condition. If you want Prana Apana Vayu to enter Sushumna and all that, maybe you would like to do your bandhas on inhalation. On the other hand, if you want them to be helpful to massage your internal organs, probably you want to do your Uddiyana on exhalation.
Do I understand it correctly, Uddiyana on exhale is not only passive lifting a diaphragm, but also active pressing of abdomen against the spine?
Yes, pinning of abdomen against the spine.
So Uddiyana on inhale, it is only pressing abdomen against the spine, because you cannot lift the diaphragm?
But there would be pressure there, you see. What I am trying to say, we do the Jalandhara Bandha, and then you got the air inside your chest. When you try to pull Uddiyana Bandha, it may be not as deep, but at the same time we produce enormous amount of pressure inside your chest. That way they say the Apana is moved up, and you get the union between these two, that's the idea. You can't lift the diaphragm as much as you can during Bahya Kumbhaka, it may be a negligible movement, but at the same time you will be able to feel the pressure. I don't know why it is mentioned there, I've not been taught that, but he said, it is not for us. Because he was not talking in terms of the Kundalini Yoga, Prana, Apana through Sushumna and all that. He was using Uddiyana Bandha, Mula Bandha, for the six koshas of the body. If you look at it from this point of view, it appears to be very logical. It all depends on who is asking you to do what.
I guess it is confusing to me because on exhale the diaphragm is relaxed, and this normally continues in Bahya Kumbhaka, where as during inhale, it is contracted, and after inhale completed, in Antar Kumbhaka, it can be either left contracted, or be relaxed.
Yes, but increasing chest pressure is what they are wanting to do - they wanted to get Prana and Apana closer.
Jalandhara Bandha. How did he teach it?
In Jalandhara Bandha, he showed me, saying, "get the chin to the breast bone, and then pull it up." Try to bring chin down, he would say four inches below the neck pit, some of the texts talk about it. Then lock the chin, and then straighten your back. What happen is the whole chest moves up along with it. And that is the correct Jalandhara Bandha.
And this bandha is let go once you start inhaling or exhaling?
Yes. The main thing you want to do it when spine is straight, while you hold your breath, that is during kumbhaka. You inhale, bring your chin down, pull it up and lift your chest. During this kumbhaka period, Antar Kumbhaka, you maintain Jalandhara Bandha. In Bahya Kumbhaka also, you bring it down down and pull it up. In Bahya Kumbhaka you maintain Jalandhara Bandha, Mula Bandha, and Uddiyana Bandha. The bandhas are very important during kumbhaka period. Naturally during inhale or exhale you will relax your bandha, but still you have to control the breath. You still control the breath by maintaining Jalandhara Bandha. You maintain the control with Jalandhara Bandha in Ujjai; you maintain the control with your fingers in Nadi Shoddana pranayama.
Jalandhara Bandha aids Ujjai.
Definitely! Jalandhara Bandha aids Ujjai. It also has a number of other benefits. It helps you to keep your back straighter. Once you pull up the spine, your Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha also become more effective. Because the pelvic muscles are pulled up, there is more space between the pelvis and ribcage, so you are able to do the bandhas much better. They are all related
Full interview here