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
Olympiad.

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'.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
miscellaneous

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
wants.”

“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

Sincerely
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

http://www.yogamind.com/workshop-ramaswami_TT10.shtml


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

http://registration.xenegrade.com/lmuextension/courseDisplay.cfm?schID=724


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

http://vinyasakramayoga.blogspot.com/

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
info@vinyasakrama.com and not use the reply tab.


3 comments:

  1. Wow, that was a beautiful and powerful rebuttal of the vinyasa is just glorified gymnastic moves theory

    ReplyDelete
  2. folks
    I personally think it is a total waste of time analyzing these. If anyone has read a book called "Yoga Enlightment & Perfection" published by Sringeri press the prior swamiji of Sringeri Abhinava VidyaTeertha as narrated to the author Umesh says that on the day of his attaining Sanyasa Siva taught him numerous yoga poses in his dreams. He learns Karma Yoga, Yogasana Kundalini yoga (from sarada the reigning deity of the mutt), Savikalpa samadhi and Nirvikalpa samadhi all due to the blessings of his guru. He says his guru says "Sarada will teach you everything". He says it included asanas not found in any of the texts and proceeded to demonstrate to him. Even Krisnamacharya has indicated I believe that some of the items were learnt when he was near a mango grove and asleep. Now where do you go for the origin?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for your comments Savim and Shridar. I was just looking at the book you mention Shridar, if anyone is interested here is a link where you can read part of it http://www.sringeri.net/2001/12/31/publication/book/yoga-enlightenment-and-perfection.htm

    I was thinking about the Singleton book this week. I bought David Williams Ashtanga Syllabus poster ( see my recent posts) and when you stand in frount of it, it's not the vinyasa that strikes you but the postures themselves. While the movements of the Sury namaskara may look a little like western gymnastics and perhaps some of the standing postures too when you see the two hundred or so postures laid out on a poster like this it doesn't seem to have any similarity with western gymnastics at all.

    ReplyDelete

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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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