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Thursday, 30 September 2010

A short, vigorous evening practice.

So you have your main morning asana practice, no doubt followed by either some pranayama and meditation or perhaps a long savasana. Currently mine tends to be 90-120 minutes of Ashtanga Intermediate with a Vinyasa Krama Approach. I follow that with half an hour of pranayama and meditation.

On the Vinyasa Krama TT course this summer we would have a pranayama/mantra meditation class in the late afternoon. Ramaswami was very keen to stress a triadic approach to practice, so we would do fifteen minutes of Asana followed by thirty to forty minutes of pranayama and fifteen to twenty minutes of Mantra meditation ( we would do pratyahara too but for some reason that doesn't get counted, triadic sounds better).

We were given the freedom to choose which asana we wanted to do in the afternoon class, this was great as you would have twenty students just getting on with their own choice of practice. I experimented to see what worked best as a lead in to the pranayama. One day I would try a calming tadasana sequences, another day headstands, and another arm balances. Given that we only had fifteen- twenty minutes and I wanted to burn off some rajas a vigorous practice seemed called for, I think I remember Ramaswami suggesting a short vigorous practice too somewhere, but don't quote me.

In the end I settled on a few Sun salutations, some hip openers and arm balances, perhaps a daily rotating subroutine. Time being short you want to combine as much as you can and have a bit of fun with it. So I was delighted to come across this video from Yuya yesterday. I'd seen the picture of Matthew Sweeney in parsva Dandasana in his book but could never work out how he got into it. Here's Yuya showing us how.

I love it because it's a hip opener AND an arm balance. Here's my, very much, work in progress.

Another thing I like about it is what it shows up. I've always known my back needs to be straighter but check out my head. I'm trying to keep it up here but it's still bent down and turned to the side, compare that with Yuya's, he also does a little dip at the end that brings the pointed leg up higher.

More work needed.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Tirumular's Thirumandiram

I've been after a copy of Tirumular's Tirumantiam (Thirumandiram) since the summer's Vinyasa Krama course, Ramaswami often referred to it as it's an important early Ashtanga yoga text, and it's where the ganesha prayer ( Links to Ramaswami teaching the prayer) that I like so much comes from. Ramaswami would often begin the asana class with this prayer

Aindu karattanai
Aanai muhattanai
Indin ilampirai pondra eyitrinai
Nandi mahandanai
Pundiyil vaittadi potruhinrene.

Him, who has arms five,
Him, who has an elephant face
Him, whose single tusk equals the charm of the crescent moon,
Him, who is the offspring of the Blissful Lord,
Him, who is wisdom overflowing
I worship (by) keeping His feet
In my consciousness (mind)

There is a three volume edition (pictured left), has anyone got or seen it? I'm wondering if this edition has the romanization of the Tamil included.

I spent most of my day off yesterday reading an online version. Here's a taste of it from the opening of the Third Tantra which focuses on Ashtanga Yoga


549: Difficult to Expound is Science of Yoga
Of difficult vast to expound
Is the Science of Breath;
Closing nostril alternate
And counting time in measure appropriate
Thus did Nandi reveal at length
The eight-fold science of yoga great--
Iyama, Niyama and the rest.

550: Yoga Includes Kavacha Nyasa and Mudra
I shall reveal herein,
The ways of Iyama and Niyama,
The secret of Kavacha, Nyasa and Mudra
The paths to reach the Samadhi State;
To course Kundalini Sakti upward,
And to reach Parasakti at Cranium high.

551: Ashtanga Yoga Leads to Samadhi and to Jnana
Waver not, this way and that
Follow the way of eight-limbed Yoga
And reach Samadhi State;
They who tread that blessed path
Shall reach Jnana's peak;
No more are they in this vile flesh born.

552: Eight Limbs of Yoga
Iyama, Niyama, and Asana numberless
Pranayama wholesome and Pratyahara alike,
Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi to triumph
--These eight are the steely limbs of Yoga.

The yoga section reads a little dry but the first Tantra (only read the first and the third so far) is quite beautiful.

Here's Ramaswami giving a background to Saint Tirmular from his October 2009 Newsletter.

'The story of Tirumular is also interesting. He was a Sivayogi and a
siddha yogi, one who had attained siddhis—like what you find in the
Vibhuti Pada of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Here is the story.
It is said that the Siva Yogi, Sundaranatha, who was one of the eight
direct disciples of Lord Siva, having received the blessings of Lord
Siva and also having become a Sidhha and being a great Vedic scholar,
decided to visit the South Indian sage Agastya (rhymes with Augustus?)
who was living in the Podihai mountains of Tamil Nadu in South India.
He worshipped the Lord in Kedhar and Pasupati in Nepal. He took a holy
dip in the Ganga and proceeded towards the South. He visited the
mountain range of Shrisailam, on the banks of the great Southern river
Krishna and worshipped Sivasankara. Travelling further south he
reached Kalahasti, another venerated hill temple of Siva. Then he went
to the dancing Siva’s (Nataraja) temple Alavanam and then went to
Kancheepuram and worshipped the Lord in the Ekambresvara temple, about
50 miles from the city of Madras (Chennai). Then he reached the great
temple in Tillai or Chidambaram and witnessed the primordial dance of
Lord Siva, the same place where Patanjali also had the vision of the
divine dance. His heart was full of immense divine joy on seeing the
dance of the Lord. Then he slowly moved further south and reached the
banks of the river Kaviri.
One day, after taking his bath in the holy river Kaveri, he went to
another Siva temple in Aduthurai. He worshipped the icon of the Lord
in that temple and never felt like leaving the beautiful form and the
spiritual environs of the place. But he collected himself and started
proceeding towards the Podihai mountains to meet with the short
statured Agastya. As he was slowly treading along the bank of Kaveri,
he saw a herd of cows standing around a spot, not moving, not grazing
as expected. He went near them and saw to his dismay, the cowherd
lying dead in front of the cows. The orphaned cows which seemed to be
unable to bear the loss of their friendly cowherd were weeping with
their heads down. It was also time for the cows to return to their
habitats to be milked and such milch cows were struggling to stay in
place with their heavy udders. The Yogi, who considers ‘Love is the
Lord’ (anbe Sivam), took pity on the cows. He used his yogic powers
called “para kaya pravesa” and transmigrated into the body of the
cowherd, known as Mula. In an instant Mula woke up as if from sleep
and the cows instantly looked happy. The Yogi, now a cowherd, kept his
own body aside under a banyan tree-planning to re-enter his own body a
short while afterwards- and led the cows back to their habitats. He
waited for the cows to return to their respective spots and then
decided to get back to the forest where his original body was.
Reaching the spot where he had left his body, he was shocked to find
that his body was missing. Actually the King’s servants finding an
unclaimed body decided to dispose of it by cremating it as per the
custom. Now the Yogi who had renounced everything had now renounced
his own body. Though he was taken aback by the turn of events, he
realized that the Lord Siva was directing him to propagate Sivayoga
through him in the Sothern part of India through the medium of the
Southern language, Tamizh . Shortly thereafter, some of the villagers
not finding Mula with the returning cows came in search of him in the
forest and brought him back to the village and left him in his house.
Mulan’s wife who herself was an orphan and childless found the
behavior of her husband odd. He said to her that he had renounced the
world and would not come back home and went into a Mutt and remained
there for the night, planning to leave the place the following day.
Mulan’s wife was restless all night. She had no relatives or grown up
children to take care of her. Early in the morning she approached the
elders of the village and narrated her plight and requested them to
persuade Mulan to return home. The elders after talking to him for a
few minutes realized that a transformation had taken place in Mula and
that he was not the illiterate cowherd anymore but an accomplished
Yogi and they thought it was due to the grace of Lord Siva. They went
back and consoled Mulan’s wife, telling her that her husband has
transformed himself to a Yogi and she should feel happy and proud of
her husband. They also persuaded the Yogi to stay near the village so
that his wife would feel more secure even though he would be separated
from her. The Yogi sat under a tree and meditated for one year and at
the end woke up from his Samadhi and composed one verse. Again he went
into Samadhi and at the end of the second year he opened his eyes and
composed the second verse and went on to compose three thousand
verses, it is believed in the following 3000 years! Thirumantiram
(lit., the sacred mantras) became a classic in Siva Yoga and there is
no one who would not be touched deeply by one verse or the other.

And again, Ramaswami giving a taste of some of the verses pertaining to Ashtanga Yoga.

1. Certain constraints and prescribed duties (dont’s and do’s),
countless postures, breath control, sense control, concentration,
meditation, and absorption are the eight aspects of yoga.

2. One who is steadfast in Yama, the first Anga, will never cause
injuries to anyone by word or deed (nor abet). Thoroughly truthful, he
never covets; possesses exemplary qualities, and is pious. Modest and
neutral he shares his possessions with others. Pure he abjures use of

3. The Niyamas (vows) are cleanliness, both outward and inward,
compassion, dieting, forbearance, truth, sensitiveness and a mind free
from lust, greed, or sadism.

4. Further, austerity, chanting, contentment, faith, charity,
religiousness, scriptural study and its propagation, and worship are
the aspects of Niyama.

5. Asanas are many hundreds. The important ones are Bhadrasana,
Gomukhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, Siddhasana, Veerasana, Sukhasana
and Swastikasana.

6. By the proper control of Prana (Pranayama) bliss arises in one
automatically. Why resort to intoxicating drinks? The gait becomes
sprightly and laziness vanishes. This is the truth, oh sensible one,
of the efficacy of Pranayama.

7. Usually Prana circulates in the body without control. If one, by
proper practice purifies and controls it, the complexion will become
golden, grey hair will turn black, and ultimately/untimely death will
be prevented.

8. Thirumular indicates that he, by the aid of Yoga lived long (3, 000
years). Knowledge of life and long life are essential, he says, to
attain spiritual knowledge. He says “Once I was under the impression
that the body need not be protected since it is perishable. Of late I
found that something is inside it, and that something is the all-
pervading entity, which is inside my body as though my body is its
temple. After finding that truth I have taken a vow to protect and
preserve my body temple and keep perfect.”

Monday, 27 September 2010

Hanuman's leap

Wonderful image of Hanuman's return journey from here . Thank you Susan for giving me permision to use it

Finally got up to this famous scene this afternoon. It's wonderful, I tried to find it online so I could share it and came across a site, with the wholeof The Ramayana, in the original, in translation and in both prose and verse, gotta love the net.

'... About to fly, Hanuma jolted his tail, which was rolled into a circle from top to bottom, and which was covered with hair, just as Garuda, the king of birds would jolt a snake. Receiving his vigor, the tail curled at his back was seen like a great serpent being stolen by Garuda. Hanuma firmly supported his arms (on the mountain surface) which resembled huge iron clubs, crouched the waist and contracted his feet.
Bending shoulders and neck, that mighty and glorious Hanuma, increased his energy, strength and courage. With his eyes raised up, seeing the way from a distance, viewing the sky, he held his breath in his heart. That mighty Hanuma, equal to an elephant among monkeys and the best among Vaanaraas, stood firmly with his legs, bent his ears and before flying spoke these words to the Vaanaraas.
"I will go to the city of Lanka, ruled by Ravana just like an arrow released by Rama will go, with wind-like speed. If I do not see the daughter of Janaka there, I will go with the same speed to the abode of gods. If I do not see Seetha there in heaven, I will get Ravana the king of raakshasaas tied up in chains without any effort. I will, in all events, return successfully along with Seetha or I will get Lanka along with Ravana after uprooting it."
The best among Vaanaraas, Hanuma, spoke in this way to Vaanaraas and then without thinking about anything else, flew up with lot of vigor. That great monkey also thought himself equal to Garuda, the king of birds. While he was flying up, due to that force, all trees on that mountain flew away in all directions, drawing together all their branches.
While flying in the sky, he took along with him, because of the force of his thighs, trees shining with flowers and with fattened lapwing birds. The trees thus being held aloft by the speed of Hanuma's thighs, followed him for a while just as relatives would follow their loved ones embarking on a long journey.
Uprooted by the force of Hanuma's thighs, Sal and other excellent trees followed Hanuma like soldiers following their king. Hanuma the great monkey presented a wonderful sight, with his mountain-like appearance together with the well flowered trees.
After that, powerful trees sank into the salt ocean like mountains sinking into ocean due to fear of Mahendra. That Hanuma who was equal to a cloud, covered with flowers of various kinds, shoots and buds, shone like a mountain with fireflies. Those trees which were released by Hanuma's speed, dropped flowers and fell down in the water like friends going back after bidding farewell to their dear one. Set in motion by the wind from the movement of Hanuma, that variety of blossom, with various hues, from the trees fell down into the sea. That great ocean shone like the sky filled with stars.
Hanuma shone like a cloud in the sky decorated by lightening, with flowers of various hues sticking to his body. That sea water looked like the sky with delightful stars rising up, with flowers flown up by Hanuma's speed. That sky-borne Hanuma's arms which were spread out, were seen like five-headed serpents coming out of a mountain's peak.
That great monkey shone like one who is drinking the great sea together with its waves. He also seemed like one who desires to drink the whole of sky. The eyes of that Hanuma, who was following the path of sky, which had a brilliance equal to that of lightening, were shining like two fires on a mountain.
The round, wide, reddish brown eyes of Hanuma, the best among the monkeys shone like fully risen sun and moon. The ruddy face of Hanuma, with His reddish face shone like the Sun touched by twilight. The tail of Hanuma, the son of Vayu floating in the sky, being risen up looked like the pillar erected in honour of Indra.
The great intellectual Hanuma, with his great body, and with white teeth, shone like the Sun, being surrounded by his circular tail. That great monkey Hanuma, with his red colored buttocks, shone like a mountain with a large deposit of red Gairika herb broken into pieces.
Air passing through the lion among monkeys Hanuma's arm pits sounded like a thundering cloud. The best among monkeys Hanuma flying thus in the sky, looked like a meteor darting away with great speed in the sky from northern direction. With a fast pace equaling that of Sun god, the tall Hanuma shone like an elephant which increases its size when being festered by a rope.
Then Hanuma who was flying above the ocean with his body above the ocean and his shadow being immersed in the sea below, looked like a boat being driven by wind. Whatever place Hanuma went towards on the ocean, that place became agitated due to the force of thighs.
That great monkey with great speed flew in the sky striking with his chest series of waves which had a great body like that of mountains. Wind from the mighty Hanuma and the wind released from the clouds caused the ocean with a fearful sound to shake a lot.
Hanuma flew in the sky dragging along with him big waves from the ocean as though he were sprinkling them in the sky. Hanuma with great speed crossed waves which were equal to Mount Meru and Mount Mandara, that had risen up in the sea, as if counting them...'

And a link to the version I'm reading

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Injuries and Vinyasa Krama

One of the benefits of practicing Vinyasa Krama is it's ability to cope with injuries within the practice. If I retained any sense of caution while practicing Ashtanga it was from the fear of an injury that would keep me from my practicing. Of course, if you have an experienced teacher then no doubt you'll have help in coping with an injury but practicing at home, it would probably be a case of deciding which asana you have to leave out.

I've had two injuries since I started practicing yoga, an old knee problem that flared up while walking too long in London and the sore coccyx I have at the moment. My response to the knee problem was to only practice asana on one side, with the coccyx I'm a little better prepared.

This is where Vinyasa Krama comes into it's own. Having trouble practicing the seated* Marichiyasanas ( and I am), that's OK, there's a standing option. In fact, for pretty much all the seated postures in Ashtanga there are standing versions in VK, whether on one leg or two. Getting fed up of Standing postures? That's fine, there are versions of the seated asanas in Supine, in Shoulderstand and even headstand.

If you've came to Ashtanga from other styles of yoga then you've probably been exposed to different asanas and possibly practiced a different sequence every time you took a class. I started out with Ashtanga and it's fixed sequence, it was the only yoga I knew, I was terrified of wrist injuries.

Ramaswami recommends familiarity with as wide a range of asana as possible. Practicing the different asana allows you to access all areas of the body with a high degree of localization but it also gives you a wide range of options when faced with injury, whether your own or, I would imagine, your students.

One of the things I noted while reading Mohan's, Krishnamacharya and the Guruji book was how both teachers we're able to respond to students, referred to them by doctors, with individualized practices. I remember too, Manju Jois mentioning, in an interview how, when he would struggle with a posture, his father would give him asana that would help prepare him for the more difficult posture.

*Seated postures are OK for me at the moment as long as I sit far forward on my sit bones. Still able to do my long Paschimottanasanas and my lotus is fine for pranayama and meditation. Actually most postures are OK, it's more a case of getting in and out of them that's painful, in ashtanga I've always rocked back a little before lifting up, perhaps it's time to break that habit and work on lifting straight up.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Baddha padmasana, Supta vajrasana

I was looking for an old photo or movie of my Lotus to show how it's changed in the last couple of weeks (re yesterday's post). While hunting around my old video files I came across this from a couple of years ago taken on my phone, must be one of the first movies I took.

What struck me was this was back when I was struggling with grabbing both toes in Baddha Padmasana and came up with a 'cheat', basically to thread one arm behind the other when reaching for the second toe, kind of acts like a brace to work your arm around.

Here's a better angle on what's going on behind, another old video.

And the proper bind, this comes from a Vinyasa Krama subroutine of the Lotus sequence.

and while where at it, a solo Supta vajrasana, which has the same bind, it goes a little wrong on the lotus jump back exit and I couldn't resist re posting it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Updated: Miscellaneous; Mouse, Ramayana, Coccyx, Sodastream, Lotus, 2nd

Mouse in the house
I have a mouse in the house, an unwelcome mouse. Caught a glimpse of it a couple of nights ago but then it disappeared. I wasn't believed until SHE saw it too. Now what's the yogic way to get rid of an unwelcome mouse? At the moment we're trying peppermint in the hope it might decide to pack it's bags and move on.


Caught that mouse but then found we had another one. Managed to film where we released it in the local woods.

The Ramayana
New bath book is the Indian epic, The Ramayana. It's kind of a giant fairy tale. I picked it up in LA but had enough books to be going on with on the course, then Mohan's Krisnamacharya came out as did Guruji. Bit disappointed with both of them actually, think I was hoping for something more scholarly on Krisnamacharya and the Guruji book, well, it went on a bit, same questions again and again. A few interviews stood out though, The Darby's in particular was great fun, other good ones I'd read before elsewhere, oh and Saraswathi should get her own book deal, would love to read more about her life. Back to The Ramayana, found it hard to get into at first but after a hundred pages or so it's taken off. The evil Manthara has caused trouble and on the day of his coronation Prince Rama has been exiled to the forest to become an ascetic, adventure awaits.

On the Calvino, to read next shelf, Smith's translation of The Mahabarata for penguin, it arrived just before I left for the course and I reluctantly left it behind, can't wait. Easwaran's Translation of The Upanishads. I had the Oxford translation but loved his version of the Gita so had to get it. Dalrymple's Nine lives, a present that I'm savouring. Yogayajnavalkya Samhita, translated by Desikachar, don't think twiceYogi's, get it while it's still in print, wonderful book charmingly presented. Also, Early India by Romila Thapar.

Sore Coccyx
OK a little too much information perhaps but I'm kind of wondering if this is an Ashtanga thing. My coccyx (tailbone) seems to have changed alignment, either it's sticking out a little more or the areas become swollen , bit painful to sit down. Anyone else developed this?

Improved Lotus
I'm wondering if the two are related but my lotus seems to have, to take Kino's phrase, blossomed. I've been able to get into it for years, never that comfortable for very long but OK, I've tended to use half lotus for meditation. In the last couple of weeks something seems to have shifted and I'm much more comfortable and seem able to sit for pretty much as long as I want. I'm assuming it's Vinyasa Krama related, perhaps the way you really stick your backside out as you go into forward bends or the long stays in Paschimottanasana, perhaps it's the extra work I've been doing with Hanumanasana or Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, I'm not sure what it is but something seems to have worked. Best of all I'm not bothered by the sore coccyx above while in lotus.

I bought a Sodastream, one of those fizzy drink things we had (some of us ) as kids. I got fed up of all the empty carbonated water bottles so decided to make my own. Expensive outlay at first but after the first 60 liters it should save a bit too (I got the cheaper one but the penguin version makes a better picture).

Ashtanga Morning practice
I've been practicing Ashtanga in the mornings all week, alternating Primary and Intermediate. This morning I even fished out my old Richard Freeman 2nd series DVD, enjoyed it actually. Can't remember a single thing he said right now but at the time everything seemed to make perfect sense and was helpful, my palate feels very relaxed. So It's Ashtanga but I'm employing a Vinyasa Krama approach. I start with the Tadasana subroutine before going into the Sury's. Long slow exhalations, long stays in paschimottanasana and the inversions, sometimes I enter a pose come out and then enter it again for the long stay. I add the Shoulderstand prep I'm used to and add another shoulderstand after my ten minute headstand. Pranyama and meditation after the practice.

In the evening I practice 20 minutes or so of Vinyasa Krama, (a rotating selection of subroutines) followed by Pranayama and Japa meditation.

I ordered the old 1993 DVD with Jois leading Richard and the Miller brother's etc through Primary and 2nd, looking forward to seeing it and following along, here's a clip from YouTube.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Asana madness

So not quite cured of this then, constant vigilance required it seems. Asana practice getting longer, Pranayama shorter. Caught myself cramming more and more asana into the practice as if I wanted to do everything in one morning.

Madness is certainly the right word, squeezing in most of the backbends from ashtanga 2nd and 3rd and then doing the same with the leg behind head poses, all within the same practice and on top of everything else.

Primary on Friday, Saturday 2nd series, that's OK, still a lot I can learn from practicing Ashtanga but do I really need to be exploring 3rd on Sunday, what was I thinking.

So, back on track this morning still a 90 minute practice but fewer asana, longer stays, nice focus on the exaltation and bandhas. Thinking of the practice in the context of the week again, rather than of the day, spreading those backbends and LBH postures out a bit. Half an hour Pranayama 20 minutes meditation too, nice practice.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

3rd, Primary and 2nd series that order

Curious end of the week. After talking about 3rd on FB Thursday evening I decided to revisit it Friday morning. I practice quite a bit of the second half of 3rd in my VK practice these days so was curious to see how it went. Got through it but raggedy, undisciplined, certainly something to be said for doing the same poses everyday and having a teacher working with you day in day out in a mysore class ( how to do that in VK, nobody can afford a 'one to one' VK class everyday, realizing how unique the Mysore style class is).

This is a problem for Vinyasa Krama, great in principle to cover a wide range of postures but some you just need to do day in day out. I was able to do lot of postures on the course but this was only because I'd practiced most of them day after day. If your doing the core VK routine of Tadasana, long Paschimottanasana, Shoulder stands and headstand including prep and Maha mudra, then that's an hour gone. I tend to do a 90 minutes to two hours asana practice every morning, I do the core practice plus a bunch of the same postures I'm working on if not everyday then every other day. I rotate the rest of the subroutines within the different sequences where possible, it kind of works but only because it's a long practice. Something to think about.

So 3rd, second half was OK but my arm balances where weak, a complete turn around from when I was exploring it a year ago, then the arm balances where less challenging and I wasn't interested in muscling up anymore, one of the reasons I became disenchanted with it. In awe of those who do it everyday and having just finished Intermediate, even more in awe of those who do the first half of 3rd after 2nd while awaiting their split. Respect.

Primary I ended up doing Saturday, comforting as usual in it's familiarity. Felt tidy and controlled, breath was good, the VK practice has had a good effect on it I think. I sweated a lot and that's something else that's been playing on my mind re. VK. You don't sweat as much in a Vinyasa Krama practice, I kind of miss that detox effect of sweating buckets every morning. There are sections of the VK practice where you do sweat, it is a tough practice but not to the same degree. But then you really don't feel like forty minutes of Pranayama and meditation after such a sweaty practice, again more to think about.

Just finished Ashtanga 2nd. My VK practice is quite close to it anyway but this morning I still did tadasana and all my usual standing but then did 2nd by the book (had to check a couple of places too). Pretty well controlled, breathing not bad. Krounchasana is better, seem to have lost my hands to heels form the air Kapo again (comes and goes). LBH postures are better and better but then I do them everyday (see, again the doing postures everyday issue). Karanda took two attempts (had tried something from a Kino video but it messed with my balance so switched back, interesting though, post to come on this after more work). The lotus to handstand has helped and I can keep my chin off the mat but still end up too squished with an untidy exit. The seven deadlies (headstands) felt amazing, haven't done them more than a couple of times recently but have been doing long long headstand in VK every morning. Oh and Vatayanasana was most steady, probably because I squat down into it in VK standing, that was a surprise though.

Monday I'm looking forward to just a core VK practice long long Paschi' and inversions and more time for Pranayama. I did this on wednesday, kept the asana down to an hour and had time for the full quota of Viloma Ujaii pranyama and three trips round the mala in Japa, delightful.

Still interesting to do both practices together and see how they play on each other and I still need to work this out, might stick with Friday Primary, Saturday 2nd series and Sunday 3rd for a little while, VK Monday to Thursday, besides Ashtanga IS a Vinyasa Krama practice, just a very vigorous one. I can get the vigorous side out of my system over the weekend and settle into the calmer practice during the week.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Response to "Yoga Gymnastique"

Mid-Sept. 2010 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami--Mr Mark Singleton's Book, Yoga body

Last week I posted Ramaswami's Newsletter Yoga Gymnastique in full. This morning Ramaswami posted a mid month newsletter with a response by Mark Singleton, writer of Yoga Body, a book I've been recommending to anyone who'll listen all year. It seemed appropriate to post his response in full also.

Hello Friends: This is an out of turn letter. I thought I should share
the lucid and informative letter with you which I received from Mr
Mark Singleton and is pasted below. Thank you and with best wishes
Sicerely Srivatsa Rama

Dear Mr. Ramaswami,
Thank you for your recent article "Yoga Gymnastique". I am not a
subscriber to your newsletter, but several people have forwarded it on
to me since the article appears to be talking about my book, Yoga
Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Neither I nor the book
are mentioned by name, so it's possible that I (and they) are
mistaken. But it seems obvious enough that you are engaging on some
level with my material and not somebody else's. That said, there is
something very puzzling about the article: in general it is very clear
that your responses are not in any way a pertinent critique of my
thesis. I therefore have to wonder whether you yourself have had the
chance to read the book yet. In other words, there is little doubt in
my mind that you generally have missed the point of my argument, and I
therefore have to surmise that it has been represented to you in
accurately or out of context.
Actually, I believe that we find ourselves in agreement on most of the
points you raise. I would therefore like to take a few moments to
address some of the ways that my arguments are misrepresented in your
article. Now it could be (since you don't name me) that you are
talking about a different "research scholar". If that is the case,
please forgive my presumption. However, it seemed obvious to everyone
who forwarded the newsletter on to me that you were in fact critiquing
Yoga Body. I greatly admire your work and trust your judgement on
matters of yoga. Because of this, I'm particularly concerned about how
you appear to have misunderstood my thesis, and that as a result of
this newsletter your students will also form a negative and ill-
informed notion of it. I fear that the result will be a lost
opportunity for discussion. So I hope you will allow me a few
I am intrigued by your opening anecdote about the Texas yoga
conference that you attended some years ago. At that conference, you
relate, a well known teacher wondered at what you might have been
doing with Sri T. Krishnamacharya for thirty years-his hasty
conclusion was that you must have been doing a daily practice of the
six series (presumably of Ashtanga Vinyasa as taught by the late Sri
K. Pattabhi Jois). You use this example as a prelude to an explanation
of the immense and multi-faceted learning of T. Krishnamacharya, of
which this particular high profile teacher was oblivious.
This kind of encounter is precisely where my book's inquiry begins.
How is it possible that such misunderstanding can occur? How is it
that this American teacher (and, presumably, thousands of other
teachers and practitioners like him) can have such a narrow vision of
the totality of yoga on the one hand, and of the vast learning of T.
Krishnamacharya on the other? How can this teacher assume that these
six series represent the sum of Krishnamacharya's yoga legacy over his
sixty year teaching career? I'm not entirely sure of the meaning of
this anecdote in relation to the whole article, but I presume you are
suggesting that I am making the same mistake as this American
The fact is that such misunderstandings do occur on a very regular and
widespread basis. My book is an attempt to explain why this is so.
Just to be clear, I am *not* making an argument about the relative age
of asanas, nor whether they came before or after physical culture
exercises: I agree with you completely that such a genealogy is futile
and beside the point. Rather, I am interested in showing how certain
meanings become attached to physical practice, whether it be yoga or
gymnastics, and how these accreted meanings inevitably change the way
people approach these disciplines. In sum, my investigation aims to
show how modern understandings have altered the meaning of yoga
practice for many people. It is not an attack on the venerability of
yoga as such, but on how yoga has been taken and shaped by modern
Let me take an example. You write, "The head stand, the sarvangasana,
padmasana are distinctly different from gymnastics and each one of
them has scores of vinyasas that are uniquely yogic and no other
system seems to have anything like that." While that is true in one
sense, it is also true that "gymnastic" systems from the early
twentieth century did in fact routinely use positions such as the ones
you mention. Physical culture journals are full of representations of
these postural shapes. However, it should be clear that the meaning is
quite different in the modern, non-yogic context. To take one
instance: a shape very much like sarvangasana was the emblem of the
British Women's League of Health and Beauty during the 1920s. It was
not associated with yoga, but rather had its own characteristic set of
meanings. It helped one to stay young, trimmed fat around the waist
and so on. Obviously, this cosmetic reading of the posture makes it
something wholly other than the meaning of the posture in a medieval
hatha yoga context (notwithstanding some overlaps). My study is really
about how these other meanings come to attach themselves to yoga. It
investigates how modern, scientific, physical culture-oriented
understandings are read back into the original yoga posture, and how
they thus alter the original meaning of that posture.
It is as if one were to take two pieces of tracing paper and on the
first draw a yogi in sarvangasana. On the other, one draws the emblem
of the Women's League. Placed one on top of the other, these figures
appear identical-and yet they carry vastly different meanings. But
what happens as yoga begins to enter the modern gymnastic-dominated
world is that these two meanings compete and sometimes merge. The
sarvangasana that many people know today (especially in "gym yoga"
contexts) incorporates some mix of both. This is what is interesting
about how yoga has developed, for better or worse, in the West. One
might well lament this as a degradation of the integrity of
sarvangasana (or whichever posture is in question), but it seems to me
that this describes quite well the actual process of yoga's
transformation in modern Western society, as it is reflected in the
understandings (and misunderstandings) of its practitioners.
When one makes this process the primary focus of study, it then makes
little sense to argue about whether gymnastics or yoga came first, or
to squabble about the relative age of asanas. This is a false debate,
and it is largely irrelevant to my project. It seems to me that you
have wrongly assumed that this is what I'm up to, which is why I have
to assume that you haven't yet had chance to read the book thoroughly.
Of course there are postures that date back a long time. I, for one,
would certainly not want to assert otherwise. And of course yoga is
not just gymnastics: as I argue consistently in Yoga Body, this is a
spurious claim-often made by those that want to denigrate yoga,
particularly hatha yoga. That said, I do think that a lot of the body
practices that we see emerging in the modern period reflect a very
particular zeitgeist, and that many people (in India and elsewhere)
were innovating new, radically adapted physical practices in the name
of "yoga". Let me be clear: I am not judging one way or another on the
desirability and integrity of these experiments, but merely presenting
the facts as I see them. This period of experimentation is a
historical fact. It also seems incontrovertible that many of these
systems were in some sense new, insofar as they incorporated modern
understandings into yogic knowledge. Regardless of whether you
consider these experiments as lamentable betrayals of yoga per se, or
as developments of tradition, there is no doubt (historically
speaking) that things were changing very quickly in the early years of
the twentieth century. We only have to look at the self-consciously
gymnastic experiments in yoga of the likes of B. C. Ghosh, Prof.
Sundaram, Shri Yogendra, Swami Kuvalayananda and others to see that
this is the case.
But it is also important to note the narrowing of the term
"gymnastics" from the 1960s onwards, such that when people hear the
word today, the immediate association is with televised displays such
as those of the Olympics. This is clearly also your primary
association. But it is inadequate. The term used to carry a much
wider, richer meaning that has far less to do with Nadia Comăneci and
her ilk than most people today assume. Imagine that Bikram Choudhury's
attempt to make yoga an Olympic event is successful: millions of
people around the world will begin to associate yoga primarily (and
probably uniquely) with a particular kind of asana display. This would
be as narrow and skewed an understanding of "yoga" as is our
contemporary understanding of "gymnastics". As well as being ways to
stay fit and healthy, early modern gymnastics traditions were often
deeply spiritually oriented-they were understood as methods of using
the body to access the divine. In many ways, they match the
predominant understanding today of the practices and function of yoga
itself. This is no accident. You write:
"We do not find deep movement, synchronized breathing, and the
significantly profound exercises like the bandhas-- which are an
integral part of Sri Krishnamacharya's asana practice-- in other forms
of physical exercises, especially gymnastics."
Well, the fact is that we do find all these things (or close
approximations of them) in early modern, non-Indian gymnastics
traditions. Deep movement is usually a cornerstone of the gymnastic
traditions I investigate, and it is often assumed that such movement
must always be accompanied by synchronized breathing (termed "rhythmic
breathing" in the parlance of the time). Surprisingly, exercises that
appear-at least in form-to be identical with the mula, uddiyana and
jalandhara bandhas also crop up in these early gymnastic practices. So
"gymnastics" is historically a tradition that is much richer, and
structurally closer to Sri Krishnamacharya's method, than you are
giving it credit for.
That said, the meaning of the deep movement, the synchronized
breathing, the gymnastic "bandhas" is obviously different in this
context. Compare a gymnastic manual of the time with the Hatha
Pradipika and one sees in a moment how distinct the frames of
understanding are. However, this historical perspective is not
immediately available to practitioners of yoga. And the result, once
again, is that meanings start to merge. It's not hard to see why this
happens: the gymnastic frame of reference was likely to be more
familiar to modern audiences, and so the practices of yoga which
appear to overlap with gymnastics are interpreted and (mis-)
understood in that context, rather than in the unfamiliar, and
apparently arcane, context of classical yoga. The learning was just
not available, and besides, people were happy and comfortable with
their "gymnastic" understanding of yoga. Once again, this is not judge
this process for better or worse. My job has been to show how it came
You focus particularly on the aspect of breathing as a distinguishing
feature of the yoga tradition. I have already mentioned the key role
that synchronized breathing played in many of the "spiritual"
gymnastics traditions of the time (there are more details in my book).
Further, you note that in yoga the respiration rate is often reduced
to 3-5 breaths per minute, as opposed to "contemporary aerobic
exercises including gymnastics and gym workouts". While this is very
true, a quick review of the audio CD of the Ashtanga Vinyasa primary
series by Sharat Rangaswamy (grandson of K. Pattabhi Jois), shows that
each full pose (not including entry and exit) takes about 20 seconds.
As you know, there are five breaths per pose, which makes about one
breath every four seconds, or one inhalation and one exhalation every
two seconds. This is, from my own experience, also roughly the speed
that the sequence, as taught to him by T. Krishnamacharya, used to be
counted through by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (with the entire series often
being completed in just over and hour). These are just rough
estimates, but it seems clear that the Ashtanga system moves away from
the principles of breathing that you lay out as being in some senses
defining of "yoga", and particularly of the yoga of T.
Krishnamacharya. How do we explain this?
Well, you yourself have contextualized this particular aspect of
Krishnamacharya's teaching as srustikrama, a method of practice for
youngsters, and which was particularly suited to group situations.
Children like to move, and breathe, faster than adults, generally
speaking. T. K. V. Desikachar has expressed a similar opinion on more
than one occasion, and has added that during that period his father
was experimenting with the vinyasa forms that have become so familiar
to us through the Ashtanga Vinyasa of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. What I
point out in chapter 9 of my book is that this particular method has
many similarities with the standard pedagogical gymnastics of the time
in India. Two of the closest relatives of this system, I propose, are
Swami Kuvalayananda's immensely popular and widespread regimens of
children's gymnastics ("yaugik sangh vyayam"), and a system innovated
by the Dane Niels Bukh called "Primary Gymnastics", which was the
second most popular system of physical exercise in India at the time.
If you read the book you will see that I am careful NOT to propose
that Krishnamacharya borrowed his system from either of these sources.
There is no way of knowing this apart from suggestive speculation.
Rather, I suggest that this teaching format appears to closely match
the wider zeitgeist of the time. If Krishnamacharya was innovating in
response to that zeitgeist (as Mr. Desikachar suggests he was), then
it seems reasonable that he would have come up with similar methods,
particularly in his capacity as a yoga teacher to the royal youth. It
also seems perfectly in accord with the principle of adaptation (to
constitution, age, country etc.) that is, to my understanding, central
to Krishnamacharya's teaching ethos. It seems reasonable to look to
this principle in order to understand the way Krishnamacharya taught
in that particular time and place.
And, incidentally, I do not suggest that his position at the Palace
compromised his teaching: merely that he had a job to do, and he used
all the available resources to do it to the best of his ability.
Please correct me if I am wrong about any of this. To say that I
portray Krishnamacharya as "a hata teacher who plagiarized some
exercises from gymnastics and called it yoga to make a living, and
nothing more" is very saddening to me. It is the cartoon version of my
research. It's very unfortunate that now your readership considers
that I am a disrespectful ignoramus who neither knows nor cares about
Krishnamacharya's vast learning and scholarship. For the record, that
is not the case.
Note also that I am very careful to point out in the book that this
innovation within tradition is perfectly consistent with standard,
orthodox procedures of knowledge transmission, as I understand them.
The fact that Sri Krishnamacharya was adapting and innovating is not,
as far as I can see, inconsistent with his status as the most learned
and influential yoga teacher of the modern age, nor with his being
steeped in and faithful to tradition. You yourself write that
"dandals" were "outside the pale of yogasanas". However, we see their
entry into the popular yoga lexicon in the early twentieth century via
the system of suryanamaskar. Around this time, Sri Yogendra is
complaining that suryanamaskar has been mixed up with yoga by the
uninformed: it was, in other words, a new addition to the standard
body of practices as he understood it. This is a fact whose
implications are often misunderstood. I am not claiming, as your
article seems to imply, that there are not ancient traditions of
prostration to the sun. Of course there are. I recognize this
explicitly in the book, and I have recently commented on the same
topic in Yoga Journal. Again, this is to take the mistaken view that I
am primarily interested in showing which practices are old and which
are new, presumably with the aim of debunking the new ones (?). No.
No. What I am interested in is how innovators like the Raja of Aundh
revived suryanamaskar in the context of vyayama, and how it was
initially promoted as an Indian alternative to Sandow bodybuilding. I
am also interested in how (to Sri Yogendra's chagrin) it was
subsequently incorporated by others into physical culture-oriented
yoga practices.
You ask, "Are these physical drills, yoga exercises or devotional
practices? Which came first? God knows, Lord Ganesa knows". Well, the
answer is that it depends entirely on context. In modern times the
context can often be radically different. For example, into which
category should we place a mass drill-type practice of suryanamaskar
for children led by the Raja of Aundh circa 1935? Certainly he did not
categorize it as yoga himself. It would have looked to many like a
standard drill gymnastics of the time, and was to some extent
conceived by the Raja as a replacement for this. And yet he clearly
also recognized the "traditional" meaning of sun prostration. So how
one answers your question depends on which aspect is foregrounded.
Modern yoga practice, in its popular form, is usually a similar kind
of mix of meanings. Once again, to protest that sun worship in India
is ancient, and to believe one has said something counter to my
thesis, is to entirely miss the point of my inquiry. What is far more
interesting to me (given that the age of sun worship is not at all in
question) is how divergent meanings become attached and harmonized in
modern expressions of yoga.
To sum up: I am not particularly interested in judging the relative
value of these experiments in yoga, but rather in describing how a
particular set of historical factors contributed to the creation of a
distinctly modern form of practice. One may wish, in some cases, to
judge these innovations as modern "misunderstandings" of the yoga
tradition. But my job has been simply to document them. No doubt on
account of a lack of such outspoken condemnation on my part, some
people superficially read my book as an attack on yoga itself.
It could be that yoga has been handed down whole and entire from time
immemorial. It could be that all expressions of yoga are traditional
and immune from the historical forces of modernity. But this seems
hugely unlikely to me. To assert that yoga adapts to the conditions it
finds itself in does not seem like a contentious assertion. Nor does
it necessarily impugn the "authenticity" of the teachings. I believe
that modern Western practitioners today sorely need tools to navigate
through the bewildering, and often crass, market place of yoga. Such
practitioners do not, in general, have access to truly qualified
traditional teachers, nor are they born and bred in places where there
are adequate societal frameworks for understanding yoga practice. This
problem becomes increasingly acute with the sheer volume of
misinformation about yoga on the internet and in books. Being aware of
the recent history of yoga, and how it has changed, adapted and
diversified in response to modern and global concerns can help
practitioners to understand where they are coming from, and spur them
to go deeper into their inquiry into yoga traditions.
I hope that my study goes some way to aiding yoga practitioners in
this process. I have already seen it happening in response to the
book, which is heartening. But if Yoga Body is misrepresented simply
as an attack on the authenticity of yoga, then I have utterly failed
to get my message across. The tired old debate of whether yoga is old
or not is a boring and fruitless one. Practitioners squabble over this
in yoga studios all over the world. It's not surprising, then, that
some of them instantly assume that my book is part of the same
squabble. I am disappointed that your article tends in a similar
I hope you will receive this in the spirit is intended. I am a yoga
practitioner and teacher (in the Iyengar system) as well as a devoted
practitioner. I have given the last fifteen years to deepening my
understanding of yoga, through my sadhana and through my research. I
remain committed to the practice and study of yoga. Your books have
been very helpful in my understanding over the years, and for that I
humbly thank you. However, I do think that you have missed the point
of my work, for reasons that I can only speculate about. I hope you
don't mind me trying to set the record straight here.
I would be happy to talk about any of this further, perhaps in person
one day. I will be visiting Loyola Marymount University in the near
future (for possible collaboration with Chris Chapple), so perhaps if
you are around we can meet and get to know each other a little. I
would also be interested in perhaps recording a conversation with you,
perhaps for publication somewhere, if that seemed appropriate. In the
mean time, you are welcome to reproduce any or all of this letter,
should you wish. And I would be happy to send you a copy of my book.
Yours Sincerely,
Mark SIngleton

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


I've just posted a bunch of Pranayama videos on Youtube for the sister blog , Vinyasa Krama Sequences and subroutines and thought I'd make the most of them and make this Pranayama week here too. They basically outline stages in developing a practice, I've broken them down so you can start wherever you feel most comfortable.

The videos aren't great, the sound quality is poor, sorry, but if you crank up the volume I think you can get an idea of what's going on. Also, my chanting is quite awful, sounds a lot better in my head which is where it tends to stay. Mostly I give instruction and a count for the first round and then just do it for the next couple. I'd hoped the recording would pick up the sound of my breathing but it doesn't really catch it. In the later videos I try recording a voice over but that's a nightmare to sync. They are what they and if anyone is curious or had wanted to start building a practice they might be something to be going on with. If your tempted to dive in right away here's a suggestion.

Start off with some Kapalibhati HERE and then move on through the main Pranayama videos. Try Pranayama 1 and 2 and see how comfortable that is, you might want to keep the exhale at an eight count rather than ten, that's fine. If your comfortable there give Nadi Shodana a try, videos 5 & 6, they have the same ratio. At this point you might want to try learning the Pranayama mantra (see the chant page at the top of the blog, it printed out as well as some MP3's of Ramaswami teaching it ) and chanting along, it has the same ratio as the first ujaii video. After a couple of days, sessions or weeks start increasing the ratios with videos 3 & 4 and/or 6 & 7. When your ready you might like to try and increase the retention of the breath long enough to chant the full mantra 15-20 seconds depending how fast you go. I tend to start off fast and then settle down to a slower chant half way through my practice.

If your linking here from the Youtube videos and aren't an Ashtangi then I should probably say something about bandhas. You could give them a miss at first and just go through the videos missing that part out altogether although some would argue it's not pranayama without them. Start with what feels comfortable, a nod in their direction perhaps. So three bandhas here, very very simply put Mula bahanda (rectal lock, just lightly clench and lift the rectal muscles for now, it gets more subtle as you go on), Uddiyana is where you see me draw in my belly and lift. Mine is a little extreme here, it's how I tend to practice but also makes clear what's going on for the video. To start with you might like to imagine a thread that draws your belly button back towards your spine, it's a start. The third lock is Jhalandara, throat lock, just bring your chin down towards your chest, ideally the space between your clavicle

The first four videos are straight forward Ujaii breathing (constrict the throat to make yourself sound a little like Darth Vader) building up the ratios. The first one is 1;1;1, five seconds inhale, five holding the breath and five exhaling. The second one has the same ratio but includes the bandhas so 1;1;1;1. The next one doubles the exhale 1;1;2;1 and the fourth doubles the holding of the inhale so 1;2;2;1 thats 5 second inhale/ 10 seconds hold /10 seconds exhale/ 5 seconds for the bandhas.

The next group, five, six and seven are basically doing the same thing, building up the ratios, but employ Nadi Shodana, alternating the nostrils.

Pranayama 8 is one of my favourites. It's Ujaii Pranayama but with mantra. While inhaling you chant in your head the first part of the Pranayama mantra then chant the second part while holding the breath and chant the final part as you exhale. I've made it 1;1;1;1; but you can slow down the speed of your chanting to change the ratio.

Pranayama 9 is my standard, everyday, Pranayama practice. The ratio is 1;4;2;1 and I chant the full pranayama mantra while retaining the breath after the inhale.

The final video is Viloma Ujaii with mantra and at the same ratio 1;4;2;1. This alternates the nostrils as in nadi Shaodana but also includes ujaii breathing. It's tricky but quite something once you get the hang of it.

I should also mention the Kapalibhati I put up a couple of weeks ago as I always do that before starting my Pranayama, kind of the link between my asana practice and the Pranayama.

Srivatsa Ramaswami's Yoga for the three stages of life has an excellent chapter on Pranayama, ( Chapter 13 ).

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Moon days in Vinyasa Krama ?

I kept meaning to ask Ramaswami if there were 'moon days' in Vinyasa Krama, he beat me to it in this months newsletter.

'Certain days in the month are considered “anadhyayana” days. Some
people ask if Yoga should not be done on these anadhyayana days.
During my studies with my teacher he did not specify any days when we
should not practice Yoga. Anadhyayana is usually associated with study
of the vedas and anadhyayana days are days one should not study the
vedas, presumably with the teacher. In short we may say that the veda
pathasala or veda schools would be closed on these days. I started
learning veda chanting (with my father) when I was about 10 years old
and I had a teacher who would come to our house at about 5 in the
morning to teach vedic chanting. But he would not come on these
“anadhyayana” days. The smritis say that vedas should be chanted daily
(vedam nityam adhiyetaam). So we may say that the prohibition is with
respect to studying, perhaps new lessons but not chanting the portions
already learned (swadhyaya). On anadhyayana days like the new moon
day, one may refrain from learning with a teacher new vedic lessons,
but may chant what one has already learnt. It is a moot question if
this restriction applies to yogasana learning and certainly does not
appear to apply to home yogasana practice.'

I guess this means it's a seven day a week practice too. I think someone said in one of the interviews in GURUJI that Ashtanga used to be seven days a week practice, 'back in the day'. Never liked taking a day off anyway, would feel fidgety and restless all day and end up doing an evening practice of sorts when I got home from work. Of course with VK you can regulate your practice a little more, perhaps a lighter or shorter asana practice once a week allowing you to spend longer on your pranayama and meditation practice.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Yoga Gymnastique

From Srivatsa Ramaswami's September 2010 Vinyasa krama Newsletter

'Yoga Gymnastique

Some eight years back I wangled a presenter assignment at a Yoga
Conference in Texas. I was never invited again because, among all the
presenters, I had the dubious distinction of attracting the least
number of participants for every one of my presentations.

During one of the breaks a well known Yoga Teacher in US, came and
sat by my side and inquired about me, about where I was from etc. I
mentioned that I was a student of Pandit Krishnamcahary for 3 decades.
With a quizzical look he asked, “What were you doing for 30 years with
him?', and with a wry smile he said, “Oh you must have been doing your
daily practice at his school”. He left before I could start my long
answer. “How can anyone study Yoga for such a long period when there
are just a half a dozen sequences or just a little over a score of
asanas?” He must have wondered

“Krishnamacharya as I have mentioned earlier was like a many
splendoured diamond each facet brilliant in its own way. He taught
yogasanas following the Vinyasakrama, the art form. He also used
yogasanas, pranayama and meditiation for chikitsa or therapeutic
applications. He taught a vast range of Sanskrit chants from the vedas
and also from smritis. He taught several traditional texts like the
yoga sutras and the sibling philosophies including the several
upanishads, following mainly the Visishtadwaita approach. He taught
vaishnava religious texts as well to a number of his vaishnava
followers. He was a well rounded Yogi and he could make every class
absorbing. There would always be something new and insightful. One
could never get bored in his classes whether it be the asanas,
chanting or textual studies...” I wanted to explain these to my
celebrity friend but he was too busy to stay and listen.

Some research scholars have mentioned that Krishnamacharya's vinyasa
approach to yoga has a considerable dose of physical exercise
systems prevalent at that time in India like the drills and also
gymnastics imported into it. But my experience with Krishnamacharya's
asana practice is somewhat different. It is true that some of the
vinyasas and vinyasa sequences like part of Surya Namaskra, the hand
stands, the jump throughs, jump arounds, push ups (utplutis) may
appear to mimic floor exercises in gymnastics. Perhaps there are some
asanas and vinyasas Sri Krishnamacharya taught that had some
resemblance to drills or gymnastics. But he taught to me almost 1000
vinyasas making up close to 150 asana subroutines. The head stand, the
sarvangasana, padmasana are distinctly different from gymnastics and
each one of them has scores of vinyasas that are uniquely yogic and no
other system seems to have anything like that. Further yoga as a
physical culture is very old. We may not have records because in
ancient times most of instructions were oral and the transmission of
knowledge was from teacher to student and the only way to learn was to
go to a teacher and learn, practice and internalize. Later on a few
texts were written as scripts were developed but they were written in
easily perishable palm leaves—like the Yoga Kuranta-- and barely one
manuscript , no xerox copies, no electronic books were available. So
in these matters we have to rely upon authorities/tradition or as the
vedas would call it “aitihya” or firmly held belief. Even from the
available texts like the puranas one can glean a lot of reference to
yoga practice including asana practice. The Brahma Sutras mention that
a seated asana is a necessity for meditation. Works written hundreds
or even a thousand years back contain sections on Yoga including
asanas. Thirumular, a yogi said to have lived 3000 years back wrote
about several asanas in his Tamil classic Thirumandiram. Puranas,
smritis and several later day upanishads have sections on asana
practice. There is a dhyanasloka pertaining to the Ramayana which
mentions that Sri Rama was in Vajrasana while seated in his flowered
bedecked, jeweled throne. In fact from time immemorial many people in
India, as a religious practice, have been doing sandhya or morning
worship of the sun with specific sun worship mantras and physical
movements and gestures. It includes mantras like the gayatri,
pranayama and many postures like tadasana, uttanasana, utkatakaasana
and danda namaskara and utakatasana are specifically mentioned in the
smritis. So in a way we may say that suryanamaskara with mantras and
the physical exercise has been a very old practice. The word Yoga is
indeed a vedic word. You may check with my book “The Complete book of
Vinyasa Yoga” (here no commercial intended) based on my studies with
my guru and I do not think it in any way resembles a book of
gymnastics. Yogasanas have their own distinct nicety. Gymanstics of
course has its own charm. Gymnastics was one my favourite programs
while watching the Olympics. I do not know if I would enjoy Yoga

My Guru had mentioned on a couple of occasions that physical yoga had
been the core system of physical exercises in India. It had
technically influenced several ancient systems like wrestling,
archery, fencing etc., very physically demanding disciplines,
requiring a high degree of strength, dexterity and focus. Yoga is
called a sarvanga sadhana as it is helpful for all parts of the body,
including the internal organs. There were other indigenous circus-like
practices such as malcam, kazhakkoothu where they use ropes or poles
and do routines very similar to asanas. He had also mentioned that
almost all the physical systems of the world, including gymnastics,
had borrowed heavily from Yoga, because the asana portion of Yoga was
the most ancient and developed physical culture system. Therefore it
could be that there were a few similarities between asanas and some
obscure gymnastic systems in different parts of the world at different
times. Then one has to investigate the origin of those obscure
systems, whether they were older than Yoga, or if they themselves
borrowed from ancient yoga practices. My Guru himself was a passionate
researcher. He would always be looking for works on yoga and other
systems. He even would advise us to go to different agraharams (small
cluster of homes of scholars in certain villages) and look for works
on Yoga available with such scholars. He would say that we should
visit the hundreds of temples in India, especially South India, and
observe the sculptures and idols all over the temples for study of
yoga postures. And because of the oral tradition and relying on
degradable palm leaves, Yoga itself had a checkered progression, in
the limelight during some time in history and obscure at some other
times. Then it becomes a futile exercise to try to determine which
among the physical exercise regimens came first, the seed or the tree
or the better known example of the chicken and the egg.

There are distinct differences between the yoga I learned from Sri
Krishnamacharya for a long period of time and some of the aerobic
exercises like gymnastics. In the vinyasa krama asana practice, the
breathing is synchronized with the movements at the rate of anywhere
between 5 to 10 seconds for inhalation and exhalation thereby reducing
the breath rate to about 3 to 5 per minute, whereas in contemporary
aerobic exercises including gymnastics and gym workouts, the breath
rate increases to much beyond the normal breathing rate of about 15 or
so. This alone makes yoga practice of Sri Krishnamacharya distinctly
different from other drills. The variety of movements in Vinyasa
asana practice is said to be designed to exercise all parts of the
body including the internal organs. We do not find deep movement,
synchronized breathing, and the significantly profound exercises like
the bandhas-- which are an integral part of Sri Krishnamacharya's
asana practice-- in other forms of physical exercises, especially
gymnastics. Look at the 30's videos, the bandhas of my Guru, They are
not a gymnast's cup of chai.

When I was young, some exercises were very popular. They were outside
the pale of yogasanas. One was known as “dandal”, which would look
very much like a repetitive movement between caturanga dandasana and
the plank or a simpler version of urdhwa mukha swanasana. The other
was known as, if I remember right, 'bhaski'. It involved standing up
and doing repeated squats. The first one, 'dandal' looks very
similar to part of Surya namaskara. Baski resembles a very popular
ritual that is done by thousands even today and is known as
“toppukaranam” in Tamil and “dorbhyam karanam” in Sanskrit. One holds
the lobes of the opposite ears with one's hands and squats usually in
front of the idol of Lord Ganesha. It could be 12 times or 108 times.
It is both a good physical exercise and a loving devotional practice
to the charming Lord Ganesha. Are these physical drills, yoga
exercises or devotional practices? Which came first? God knows, Lord
Ganesa knows.

Then there is the question of whether Suryanamaskara is old, from the
vedic times. The Surya namaskara can be considered from two views; one
is the mantra portion the other is vyayama or the physical part.
Certainly Suryanamaskara mantras are from the vedas. In fact there is
a complete chapter of Suryanamaskra mantras from the veda which takes
about an hour to chant. Again the other important Surya mantra,
Gayatri, is also a vedic mantra. The vedas exhort using Gayatri as a
mantra to worship the sun daily. Worship of the sun is considered a
daily obligatory duty for the orthodox in India. We have a procedure
called Sandhya vandana which is supposed to be done thrice a day, but
definitely once a day. This Sandhya procedure is a kind of a worship
ritual, towards the end of which one prostrates towards the Sun. While
the gayatri japa portion is done sitting in a yogic posture after
required number of pranayama, the upasthana or the second part is done
standing. Towards the conclusion the worshipper of the sun has to do a
namaskara, a prostration. So from the standing position, usually one
bends forward, half squats, places the palms on the floor, takes the
legs back by jumping or taking one leg after the other and does an
saashtanga namaskara or the danda namaskara (prostration). One has to
go through these steps (from standing to prostration) and if the steps
are properly organized we get the surya namaskara vyayama, a sequence,
a vinyasakrama. So, since one has to do sandhya daily and has to do
the namaskara startig from standing and since the sandhya is
mentioned as an obligatory duty, it will be correct to say that
suryanamaskara, both the mantra portion and physical namaskara
portion, are from the vedic times. The actual steps may vary but the
physical namaskara to the sun is a procedure practiced from ancient
vedic times. Further In India you can see many people who do not
practice yoga or the formal ritualistic sandhyavandana, standing on
the terrace or on the beach, facing East early in the morning, and
doing prostrations a few times, returning to the standing position
every time. They do not call it Yoga but suryanamaskara. Some of the
present day yoga enthusiasts however do the suryanamaskara, probably
at night, in any direction or directionless, do not use the mantras or
the devotional bhavana associated with it, but as a mere workout.

I had chanted the suyanamaskara mantra almost on every Sunday with my
Guru for several years. Namarupa also published my article on Sandhya
vandana with pictures of the steps some time back. I also have the one
hour long Suryanamaskara mantra chant from the Yajur Veda (which I
learned from Sri Krishnamacharya) recorded in mid 80s and the cds are
still made available in India.

Sri Krishnamacharya's range of teaching was sweeping. I have mentioned
about the asana teaching, his chikitsa krama and vinyasa krama. His
chanting of vedas was beautiful and very engaging. I do not
know of any yoga teacher during his times who could chant as well as
he could from memory. He earned the title “Veda Kesari”, or Lion of Vedas. He was a Sanskrit scholar, a Sanskrit Pandit. He taught the vedanta philosophy, the prastana trayas, the upanishads, the Brahma sutra and the Bhagavad Gita in the visishtadvaita tradition. He was given the title “Vedanta Vageesa”. He was also quite familiar with the advaitic interpretation. He once said while doing the sutra on Anandamaya “Anandamaya abhyasat” in which the two interpretations, advaita and visistadwaita differ from each other, “If you want I can teach you the advaitic interpretation, but advaita may be intellectually challenging but does not give the emotional satisfaction one gets from the visishtadvaitic approach”. He also taught us several important upanishads. I studied with him several upanishad vidyas from the major upanishads, like Brahadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Kaushitaki and others. Some of the vidyas he taught include Pancha kosa Vidya, panchagni, pranava, madhu, Sandilya, Dahara Pratardana and many others. Once I asked him why if the goal is the same, understanding Brahman the ultimate Reality, then there are so many upanishads, why so many vidyas. He would say that pupils have different questions about the ultimate reality and these vidyas take you from the known to the unknown. Supposing fifty people, strangers from different places go to an unknown country, Pineland, and take a picture with the leader of the country Mr Pineman. Every one sends home a copy of the picture by e mail. The way they would point to the unknown leader, Mr Pineman to those back home would be to start from the known. The known entity in the picture will be the one who sends the picture. He may tell his son/daughter, ”the leader is three rows in front and eight to the right of me. Another person would start first by asking his kid to identify him/her first in the picture and may say the leader is three rows behind and five seats to the left. Likewise all the various vidyas of the upanishads try to help the aspirants to realize the ultimate truth, starting from a known tatwa. I had the privilege of studying several upanishd vidyas from my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya.

He also taught many of the sibling philosophies so that one's
understanding of Yoga and Vedanta will be on firm grounds. He taught
Samkhya philosophy by explaining the Samkhya karika with the
commentary of Gaudapada. He also taught Yoga Sutra in considerable
detail. He had obtained the titles “Yogacharya” and “Samkhya
Siromani”. He also was an expert in another profound philosophy called
Nyaya and had been conferred the title “Nyayacharya”. He also taught
smaller or easier works like Tarka Sangraha to introduce the difficult
Nyaya philosophy.

His religious studies were outstanding. He was such an expert in the
Vaishnava philosophy, that he was in consideration to head a well
known Vaishnava Mutt. He was truly a devotional person. As he
practiced yoga he performed his daily puja with great devotion. He had
several students who studied the Vaishnava religion in considerable
detail. He could quote from the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharata and
several other puranas like Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana etc.

I do not know of any person who was so well versed in the sastras and
also at the same time an outstanding practising Yogi. Sri
Krishnamacharya is well known, it is almost exclusively due to his
yogasana teachings. But his scholarship and teachings were enormous. I
feel a bit sad when he is portrayed as a hata yoga teacher who
plagiarized some exercises from gymnastics and called it yoga to make
a living, and nothing more. Maybe there is some common ground between
these two different physical disciplines. I continue to remain in awe
of his enormous scholarship, practice and teachings and kindness
towards his students. He was a teacher who would uplift you, a true
Acharya. When you study with him, you get an unmistakable feeling that
his only goal in life was to transmit the traditional knowledge and
make it accessible to the student. He was a unique Yogi, a unique
teacher, a unique individual. Twenty years after his passing away, I
remember him everyday, while practicing, studying or teaching;
sometimes in dreams-- fondly'.


Certain days in the month are considered “anadhyayana” days. Some
people ask if Yoga should not be done on these anadhyayana days.
During my studies with my teacher he did not specify any days when we
should not practice Yoga. Anadhyayana is usually associated with study
of the vedas and anadhyayana days are days one should not study the
vedas, presumably with the teacher. In short we may say that the veda
pathasala or veda schools would be closed on these days. I started
learning veda chanting (with my father) when I was about 10 years old
and I had a teacher who would come to our house at about 5 in the
morning to teach vedic chanting. But he would not come on these
“anadhyayana” days. The smritis say that vedas should be chanted daily
(vedam nityam adhiyetaam). So we may say that the prohibition is with
respect to studying, perhaps new lessons but not chanting the portions
already learned (swadhyaya). On anadhyayana days like the new moon
day, one may refrain from learning with a teacher new vedic lessons,
but may chant what one has already learnt. It is a moot question if
this restriction applies to yogasana learning and certainly does not
appear to apply to home yogasana practice

“The outer mind does not know what the inner mind needs. The outer
mind is excited about doing hours of alluring asana practice, but how
come the inner mind feels very comfortable and serene with an hour 's
practice of what appears to the outer mind as insipid, unexciting,
monotonous, unvarying yoga practices like pranayama, meditation and
chanting? No, no, the outer mind does not know what the inner mind

“I have attained the highest, the spiritual realization, the hidden
treasure in my heart. I move back and forth between samadhi (shyama)
and waking state (sabala) with consummate ease. I am like a glorious
full moon just coming out of an eclipse; like a horse that shrugs off
the loose hair, I toss away the sins (karma bundle) and attain
freedom.” Chandogya Upanishad

Bringing under control the breath (pavana) by pranayama and then the
senses (indriyas) by pratyahara, one should meditate on the auspicious
principle (subhasraya)-- Vishnu Purana
The world talks in admiration of one who helps even those who had
harmed him/her. "What is great in I-scratch- your- back, you- scratch-
mine kind of help?"--adopted from a Sanskrit proverb

“The help a father can render to his son/offspring is to educate him/
her so well that he/she would be in the forefront in an assembly of
scholars” Tirukural, a 4th century Tamil classic

The best way to repay the debt of an offspring to one's parent is to
make the whole world exclaim in admiration “What good karmas the
parent should have done to beget such an exemplary
offspring”..Tirukkural a 4th century Tamil classic

The best Gurudakshina a student can offer to the teacher is to make
the teacher's teachings known to the world (by practice, adherence and
teaching). A Sanskrit saying.

The relationship (bondage) between a wife and husband is considered
very sacred. The relationship between a parent and offspring, teacher
and student and the devotee and the deity are all considered very
special. Any attempt to create a rift in these relationships is
considered 'no-good karma'.

The one in this human being and one in the sun yonder, are one and the
same -..One who realizes this oneness (of the soul), never fears,
never feels sorrow.-Taittiriya Upanishad

If you wish, you may forward to anyone interested,reproduce or quote
in your blogs or share with others.

With best wishes

Srivatsa Ramaswami


Other Vinyasa Krama News from the Sept. 2010 newsletter

The month between Aug 15 to Sep 15th is known as Shravana, or we may
say veda month. On the full moon day during this month many in India
who have been initiated into vedic studies do a ceremony restarting
the vedic studies and also chant a “Kamokarshit..” mantra 108 times.
It is a mantra asking for forgiveness for the various misdeeds
violating the yamas/dharmas of the vedas, due to desire (kama) and
anger (manyu), The following day one sits down and does 1008 japa of
the famous Gayatri, after doing 10 times of mantra pranayama. In the
north on the full moon day sisters tie a rakhi around the wrist of
their brothers, strengthening the bondage between the siblings. Aug
25th, 1008 Gaytri Japa with the preliminaries and rituals took about
90 mts. (“We meditate on the orb of the sun, the luster of the Lord.
May It kindle/sparkle our intellect” –gayatri mantra). On 24th,
shravan day, I chanted a chapter from the Yajur veda, Pravargya
Brahmana which took about 75 mts.

Between September 17th and 26th I will be teaching at Suddha
Weixler's Chicago Yoga Center. There is a weekend program on Yoga
Sutras Ch I and II, a week long Core Vinyasa asana program and a week
end of asana, pranayama and meditation, the three pronged yoga
sadhana. Here is the link

LMU is registering for the December retreat in India (New Delhi and
Rishikesh). Here is the link

Anthony Hall has created a blog Vinyasa Krama Yoga, with his videos of
many asana sub-sequences from my book “Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”.
Thank you very much Tony for your energy, effort, expertise and
focus. Here is the link

I have written earlier requesting the scores of participants to my
various programs to make a video of at least one subroutine showing
the slow long fine breathing and the sedate, controlled pace at which
vinyasakrama is done and load it on to You Tube or somewhere and send
me the link. You may perhaps even use a cell phone to record it—may be
you could ask your spouse or friend to do a favour of recording a
short video for you.

Madhu Berber has started a Vinyasa Krama Yoga School, called Kaivalya
nMaui, in Hawaii. I wish him well.

I have confirmed programs to do; a 200 hr Vinyasakrama yoga Teacher
Training Program (regd with Yoga Alliance) in June July 2011 at LMU
and a one week program at Esalen Institue in May 2011.

If you want to send a message or comment please send it to and not use the reply tab.

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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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