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Saturday, 26 March 2011


First practice without a shirt this morning and the clocks go forward ( or is it back) this weekend. With the warmer weather here at last and feeling a little blogged out I figure I'll take a break from the blogosphere for the summer and.... I don't know, practice some yoga.

Pictures are of the state of play of some postures I'd started working on before it got too cold, thought I'd do a before and after summer practice thing and see how they come along. Mostly though I want to work on my Pranayama my Meditation and read some Heidegger. Oh and chant the Gita maybe

*And try to figure out why I continue to do this insular practice in a world of suffering.

TRY THIS: Going through your whole practice with your focus on the a spot between your upper lip and where the air enters your nostril's. This doesn't have to affect your drishti practice, gaze where you want but keep your attention on the breath as it crosses this spot.

Practice will probably be pretty much as in the previous post, Ashtanga Primary, Intermediate and Advanced Series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday then Vinyasa krama the rest of the week.

I still have to finish a review of an Iyengar DVD ( twenty hours left to go) Yoga Journal ( see previous post) and will continue to post Ramaswami's newsletters each month as well as the odd tweet over on the left of the blog.

Have a wonderful Spring/Summer

See you in the fall.

* Actually am a little... distracted by this, the Buddhists have a practiced response but the Yogi's?

Hmmmm, perhaps Karma yoga ( yoga of action, can be interpreted/applied as service to others). Our hatha practice is supposed to reduce Rajas allowing us perhaps to be selfless in our service to/support of others, without seeking gratitude or appreciation. Links the internal with the external nicely.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Iyengar intensive DVD from Yogajournal

Yogajournal recently invited me to review a couple of the DVDs from their shop I got to take my pick and went for the Iyengar Intensive at Estes Park, I don't think I noticed at the time that it was a 5 DVD set despite it being plastered all over the place, felt a bit bad about that (even more so now with another twenty hours to go).

I could have gone for a couple of others as well but didn't trust my motives for asking for the John Friend Anusura gathering. Jazz hands and words like kula and, well, gathering, still give me the willies, decided to give it a miss. I think I still have Natasha Rizopoulos 'step by step' yoga series, bought it a couple of years ago to tidy up my basics but didn't really get on with it. Is it difficult for ashtangi's to move to other styles of yoga, Vinyasa Krama seems to have been an exception, for me anyway.

So this will be a rolling review as I work my way through the Iyengar set.

So far I've only watched the first DVD and had a quick glance through the others. I really don't know what to make of it all. The 'intensive' takes place in a huge gym or conference hall that has all the intimacy and atmosphere of a aircraft hanger. There's a large podium where four of the senior Iyengar teachers give instruction, more instructions and then even more, there is very little practice going on. These are given in a bizarre style that reminds me of an old TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign language) course I took in the 90's. Throughout this instruction the senior teachers are heckled, berated and constantly criticised by Iyengar himself, humiliating or humbling, you decide. There is very little practice going on, did I mention that?

Mostly the crowd of practitioners, around 200 or so, at a guess, are called to the podium, sent back to their mats, called to the podium again and sent back again and again. This even happens in the Pranayama section ( no Iyengar here disappointingly just a senior teacher) where there's not really anything to see and the teacher is microphoned up, all very strange and off putting.

Do I really have to sit through the other twenty hours?

Disc two and three have the same format, disc four has a couple of master classes and the final disc includes Annette Benning interviewing Iyengar.

Actually I had a quick look at one of the master classes and caught Iyengar giving all the students a hard time for being so influenced by Indian yoga teachers, something like that, will need to watch it again, he at least is good value.

Despite the dreadful format, location and style of instruction, Iyengar himself is compulsive viewing and I'll probably sit through the next twenty hours just to, watch him slip into character and growl, berate and cajole everyone in sight before smiling and chuckling to himself as well as to hear what he'll come out with next and I guess that's the point of the set.

I'll come back to this post as I work my way through the other discs my impression may well change.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Morning Practice

Friday 11th
Ashtanga Primary

Saturday 12th
*Vinyasa Krama core asana + Chanting yoga Sutras

Vinyasa Krama Tadasana Sequence + 40 min meditation with M.

*Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric sequence

Tuesday 15th
*Vinyasa Krama Bow and meditative sequence focus

Wednesday 16th
*Vinyasa krama Asymmetric and seated sequence focus

Thursaday 17th
*Vinyasa krama Bow and meditative sequence focus

Friday 18th
Ashtanga Primary

Tomorrow Saturday 19th ?
Ashtanga 2nd, Supermoon can kiss my asana

*When I refer to my personal Vinyasa Krama practice it tends to involve 30 min. Vinyasa Krama Standing sequences( Tadasana, Triangle, On one leg subroutines), approx 60 min. of whatever the main sequence focus is for that day, 20 min. Inversions plus some Lotus subroutines followed by 20 mins or so of Pranayama, a few minutes Pratyahara and Dharana (usually japa mantra but this week some longer chanting).

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Not sure I can write this post.... Updated

I'm not sure I can write this post, seems inappropriate somehow to blog on a day like today but I want to bury the previous post which feels even more inappropriate, fretting over what yogi's are or aren't wearing. It is about more than this isn't it, this practice of ours, what we're wearing, how we're breathing, how aligned our pose.....

A friend on FB posted 'Praying for Japan' and I wanted to write the same or similar but having no deity I felt at a loss and almost yearned for something divine that I could call upon to help these people facing horrors that even a lifetime of disaster movies really can't allow me to grasp, cars turning this way and that as the waves come, such terror......

Twenty minutes before I caught the outrageously flippant and casual coverage on CNN I'd been chanting to Siva. Siva for pity's sake, the destroyer! Now I know there are subtleties to Shiva and I know why his throat is blue but frankly.... well I need another mantra.

Perhaps this practice has softened me somewhat, does it do that? I used to be so cold, so distant and objective but I've been to little towns like this in Japan having lived in Japan for several years, seen the old couples in rural and coastal Towns, bent over old lady's smiling at me, the foreigner and I see these waves.....

...and I'm not used to weeping at news stories, or at facebook prayers and I'm really not looking for a deity but it's supposed to be a spiritual practice isn't it, don't I get some air miles from this mornings tapas that I can pass Sendai's way.

Curiously chanting helps, thank you Ramaswami for bringing this cynical Englishman to appreciate your chants. Trying to decide whether I could face work and anxious parents concerned about a lost Clarinet pad, their child with a coming exam, I found myself chanting. Hadn't noticed I'd started, Ganesha prayer but slower than I usually chant it. Throughout the day I've been listening to Ramaswami's chanting or chanting to myself, most of them I have no idea what they're about but somehow they helped. I used to chant a little when I was feeling irritated or a bit down, perhaps they kicked in automatically.

Tomorrow, I'll need to think of a post to bury this one and I'm undecided whether to post it at all but perhaps I'm not the only one wondering about this practice, this 'spiritual (?)' practice that feels so insular and personal and today so impoverished when faced with the terrors and sufferings of others.

It's what 5am in Japan, I can't help but wonder if anyone managed to sleep and I wish I could send a prayer of some kind your way.

I've tried to write three posts since this but ended up abandoning them, perhaps I'm done. Still, there's practice, always practice. I'm back to my regular early morning Vinyasa Krama probably with Primary and Intermediate on Friday and Saturday, Pranayama, meditation and Chanting, lots of chanting plus an evening meditation practice with a little asana and pranayama prep.

PS Nice site supporting the crew trying to control the Fukushima reactor

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Metamorphosis : An artist envisions the Asanas of Yoga

Regular visitors may remember that a while back I posted on Hanuamanasana and included this picture. It turns out that the picture comes from a book called Metamorphosis (click on the title to preview) by Tarabooks a small publishing company in Chennai India.

Recently I was sent a copy and it's
delightful, here's Hanuman as he appears within the book.
It contains twenty-one paintings of asana by Emanuele Scanziani with text by Jennifer Abel.

Here's Matsyasana, M's favourite, I've included it in the post as it's her Birthday tomorrow.

My own favourite keeps changing, it was Ustrasana, then Simhasana but I think now I'll have to go with Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Best of all though was the Tarabooks catalogue which you can find online by clicking HERE, this will take you to their homepage. Just below the red picture you'll find FEATURES and the catalogue in pdf below that. It's just beautiful, sometimes you forget that books like this are still
being made, that tiny publishers still survive and haven't all been swallowed up by the big players.

Two books on my Christmas list already are Sita's Ramayana, told from the heroine's perspective and The Mahabharatha, a child's view.
The later written and illustrated by the author Samhita Arni when she was twelve and has now sold 50,000 copies.

Tarabooks have a blog with a post on her and her book HERE. I'll be adding the blog to my blog list so look out for it

Just found the video below on their handmade books

Oh, and they also do Stationary, hand stitched and bound journals.

If your in the UK, Tarabooks are available from Frances Lincoln publishers which is cheaper than having them shipped all the way from India. If you are in India and order from their website then the catalogue says shipping is free. 30% discount for overseas customers and 20% discount on all books and stationary if you can make it up to their offices in Chennai.

I can't resist one more picture, this from the back cover of the catalogue.

Thank you to Maegan for the heads up on the Publishers

'Some kind of meditative practice' :Meditation confusion

Ramaswami said something in one of the podcast's ( 2nd one) I featured in a previous post.

' don't get out of the class just doing asana. After asana you do Pranayama, after pranayama you sit down and do some kind of meditative practice. If you do them all in one sitting then you combine Hatha and Raja yoga'. ( loosely transposed)

'Some kind of meditative practice'

This is behind my thinking on an 'off the cuff' a comment I've just left on Claudia's blog, something I'm trying to get clear in my own head. I've reproduced the comment in full below mainly because I want to continue trying to get this clearer about this and come back to it later.

Ramaswami stressed how Book 1 of the Sutras was for the 'born yogi' who didn't really have to work at it, kind of an ideal. For the rest of us , and he said 'us',including himself in this, we have Book 2 of the sutras, on practice.

I'm starting to see a confusion around meditation. I think, in the west, if we haven't studied or practiced it, we tend to have a simplistic Zen model of meditation, as if any second we're going to experience nirvana which, on encountering yoga, we equate with samadhi. So as good yogi's we do our asana, our pranayama, possibly a little pratyahara and then settle down for meditation.

However, Ramaswami reminds us that the 'meditation section' of the limbs comprises three elements the first of which is concentration (Dharana). That's why he talks about japa mantra meditation (repeating a mantra over and over) as a concentration exercise, but also chanting or focussing on the study of an appropriate text, all concentration exercises and that the previous limbs help prepare us, get us into a fit state for concentration, not for liberation, not yet, just concentration.

Only once our concentration is sufficiently developed are we able to then focus it on the divine or absence of self ( Dhyna) and supposedly achieve liberation.

Current SKPJ Ashtanga then makes more sense, the stress on tristana as a concentration exercise, the tristana (breath, movement, gaze ) as dharana. It also explains perhaps why Jois didn't think we were ready for meditation, because what we were really talking about/asking about was Dhyna (the 2nd stage of meditation) not understanding the importance of the previous stage Dharana (concentration) that we were already working on in the practice. Same with Pranayama. Ashtanga, with it's strong ujaii breathing and use of mula and uddiyana bandhas seems to be trying to work on the tamas (lethargy, negativity) at the same time as the rajas (agitation and restlessness for example) which I guess are supposedly being reduced as the practice goes on, it's a clever approach.

Vinyasa Krama seems to keep the different limbs separate, some asana for health and to reduce rajas, pranyama for the tamas, pratyahara to withdraw the senses THEN Dharana/concentration practice ( japa or chanting or text study) which will, sooner or later, prepare you to practice Dhyna,

Vipassana of course works on Concentration/Dharana, through the focus on the breath, sensations, emotions, thoughts. Maybe we like it in the west because it also seems to work as an inner shrink ( kind of). Pranayama too in it's own way in it ability to work as a check and even control of the emotions. there's something almost comic about how we need something extra, some extra benefit to get us to sit still.

The question then shouldn't be whether gym yogis are working on meditation but are they working on concentration and does their practice prepare them for it ( this relates to the opening question on Claudia's blog post on whether modern yogi's practice meditation).

This is how I'm understanding it at the moment, seems to be making a little more sense.
I think it explains some of my own confusion recently and some of the conflicts and consternation that arose from my trying to integrate Ashtanga, Vipassana and Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, which is a post in itself.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Ramaswami's chanting on the 2011 Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training Course + Injury watch update

One of my fondest memory's of Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama course was his chanting. So I was delighted yesterday to come across a file, while cleaning up my Hard drive, called 'Voice recorder'. Turned out the the file contained a handful of recordings I'd made on my itouch, of Ramaswami's chanting. The only way I could think to share them is as background to a movie, here's a slideshow with pictures taken on the course by my friend Barry Wadsworth.

The course is coming up again and I hope the pictures give you a bit of a feel for it, they're mostly from the morning asana class and are predominantly asana. By the end of the week we would incorporate other elements from the course into that morning class, the asana followed by pranayama and meditation. There are a few shots where you can see pictures of Krishnamacharya by our mats in poses that we try to recreate, following our Krishnamacharya class. My favourite shots are the ones where we take a break from asana and gather around for 'story time' perhaps a story related to a posture, Vajrasana say or Durvasana perhaps. Some of the postures are quite challenging but there was never any pressure, you attempted what you were comfortable with.

The first sound clip is a variation of the Ganesha and Patanjali prayers in a different meter than I'm familiar with from Ramaswami's other recording's. I was dying to record this more playful version but you never knew which one he would do, so delighted last night to find I'd captured it after all.

The second segment of chanting (starting at 1:20 ) is what I'm most excited about finding. At the end of the two and a half hour morning asana class, Ramaswami would have us lay down in savasana and rest. He would open a little book or just wing it and chant 'till the end of class, it might be just a couple of minutes, five, ten or even, once, about twenty minutes. Ramaswami has such a calm, gentle voice when giving asana instruction that I remember being quite stunned when this big powerful chanting voice reverberated around the cavernous dance studio. But then it would wouldn't it, Ramaswami has recorded 40 audio cassettes and CD of chanting.

This morning, after practice, I put on the chant, laid down in Savasana and was transported back to that glorious summer. After an exhausting couple of hours practice, laying there with those ancient magical syllables doing their thing to your synapses for ten minutes is quite a powerful experience. I never expected to enjoy listening to chanting so much, or indeed chanting myself ( I also found a recording of our 'chanting the Yoga sutra's' class so will be doing that again after this post) but don't take my word for it, listen to it yourself after your next home practice or before going to sleep one night.

Injury Watch update
Re the back injury. It's getting a lot better, full expression of the postures in Primary and Intermediate on alternating days seems to have pretty much fixed it. I threw out the painkillers on Saturday, primary felt fine yesterday and this morning put the the Leg behind head and tittibhasana postures back into my 2nd and it felt OK although I did include a few extra VK prep postures before the LBH's though.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Manduka bolster

I mentioned yesterday that Manduka had offered me a couple of samples when notifying me that they were opening an online shop in Europe. While looking at their site I noticed they were now selling bolsters and that these had covers made form the same material as the equa towel that I use everyday.

This got me to thinking. At the end of a hot sweaty Ashtanga practice I really don't want to sit on my nice zafu to meditate. I used to try and find a dry part of the towel and put it under that but an equa bolster, there's an idea.

In the picture it looked pretty small a kind of square zafu thinks I. No, it's huge, basically the width of the mat, heck there's room for two rotund monks to comfortably side by side sharing the moss.

It works though, as a zafu and being equa you can rinse it in the shower and it's dry by the evening sit, perfect.

Ashtangi's don't know what the heck to do with bolsters I swear. I need an Iyengar version of Claudia to tell me thirty-two things to do with a bolster. I came up with five.

1. An easy clean quick drying zafu for meditation.

2. A bolster for Solo Supta Vajrasana, although I think a round one works better.

3. A futon substitute for dropping back ( see THIS post )

4. A pillow for Savasana? grabbing at straws here

5. A nice firm pillow for sitting up in bed on a Sunday morning with the times.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Manduka Europe and a New Manduka Prolite Mat

So the those nice folks at Manduka sent me a mail to let me know that Manduka Europe is now up and running. No longer need we pay over the odds for our mats, towels etc, shipping fees, custom charges or wait for weeks for our goodies to arrive.
'Manduka spoken here'....finally

Along with letting me know about the opening of Manduka Europe I was also asked if I might like to try a couple of samples.

Now I often get invited to review products, books (lots of books), practice DVD's etc. Last week there was a fancy Eco water bottle but I don't go to a shala so probably wouldn't use it. That's my policy, I'll only review something if I'd actually use it and if I hate it I'll say so, it's a gamble on their part.

Manduka are on to a safe bet, I love Manduka. I've been practicing on a Black mat pro for, what, three years and have three equa towels, not even sure where I putaway the yogitoes, it was OK but I'm an equa man, Manduka spoken here.

So samples. Thing is I don't really need anything, three towels are plenty, love my black mat, don't use water bottles and they sent me one of those mat carry slings once which I gave away on the TT course to someone charming who was trying to carry their own black mat with a piece of string ( got lots of brownie points for that one).

But then I remembered a post a few months back where I was trying to choose a travel mat that ran to forty odd comments many about the manduka prolite which I'd never tried ( also some on selling out to the yoga industry). While checking out the colours on their site I saw that they are now doing bolsters with covers made out of the same material as an equa towel. Which got me thinking. After practice I'm all hot and sweaty and really don't want to sit on my Zafu but an equa bolster, that might work, Hmmmm.

The Manduka Prolite Mat

I told Manduka I would try it out for a week before reviewing it.

It's now a little over two weeks and I've only been back to my BlackmatPro once, 'nuff said

OK , seriously... actually I am being serious I almost do prefer it to the blackmat. It's thinner but still has that support and cushioning without being squishy that characterises the blackmat. If anything being thinner I feel a little more grounded, more in contact with the floor, makes the black mat seem almost like overkill.

I say I almost prefer it, the blackmat is still cooler, that great big 'Fallop' sound as you roll it out, the blackmat means business and it's hard not to take your practice seriously when you step on it. The prolite feels more like a normal mat when you pick it up, it's lighter, more manageable (but somehow stickier).

Lighter, but I wouldn't call it a travel mat, there are much lighter mats around that will fold up nicely into your luggage but would you really want to practice on one once you've become used to a blackmat, Vatayanasana for instance or headstands or roll around in Garbha pindasana, of course not. For me my biggest concern on booking a holiday is where I will practice and on what. I have lighter mats but this is the one I'd take.

I'll probably go back to practicing on the blackmatpro for everyday practice but if you asked me to recommend one mat, for home, back and forth to the studio and traveling it's got to be the prolite, just wish they still did it in orange.

Coming up : The Manduka Bolster

PS. Dear Steve. If you'd like me to take a look at that slinky new 'post laptop device....

"A witch a witch, we found a witch" plus Stoning scene

Hooked on Yoga: Manju Jois in Warsaw

Thanks to Pat an independent filmmaker and yogi from Warsaw for inviting me to post this video here.

Some interesting quotes from the video below by Manju

@ 3:50 " My father put all the yoga series together, because it's from many different kinds of books, he got it all together, he put it into beginning, intermediate and advanced. So that's what we started teaching'.

@5.07 "Krishanamacharya taught my father, then my father put all the sequences together. There were a few postures not included, now everything is included and the same tradition I teach."

Hooked On Yoga: Manju Jois in Warsaw, July 2010 from Astanga Yoga Studio on Vimeo.

here's the link to where the video was posted

and a link to manju's own website

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

March 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Breath of Yoga

Greetings, I am back in USA after a three month visit to India. Before
leaving for USA I spoke at Srimathy and Ravi's Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
(studio) and also at Dr Kannan Pugazhendhi's well known Sport Medicine
Center (SPARRC) both in Chennai. It was a nice experience to
participate in yoga Programs in Chennai after a couple of decades.

For the year 2011 I am doing a limited number of programs due to some
chronic constraints (prarabda). I will be doing a six week Yoga
Alliance registered Teacher Training Program(200hrs) in Vinyasa Krama
Yoga at LMU during June/July. The registrations will open early March
and you may please write to Alana Bray at Other programs
include a six day retreat at Esalen Institute in May, a five
day(20hrs) program in Yoga Sutras at Long Island University, NY (I
have not been able to work out the logistics of reaching that place
daily from Fort Lee NJ where I live), a ten day program on Core
Vinyasa Krama at Chicago yoga Center in September (total 45 hrs). I
will also do short programs at Ananda Ashram, in New York State For
more details please visit my website and click on
the Events tab.


My friend David Hurwitz sent the following e letter

Dear Ramaswami,
I have two questions on the February Newsletter.
When Krishnamacharya gives his comprehensive treatment of
practice krama of Yoga he first recommends the student check the time
the breath takes while inhaling and exhaling. Then he says if there
is considerable difference in these durations, the teacher should
first ask the abhyasi to practice controlled rechaka-puraka prior to
the practice of asanas.
My first question is: what is the significance of rechaka and
puraka being of unequal duration? Does this indicate obstructions in
the airways? Is it simply because the student would be unable to do
asana with synchronized breathing?
And, secondly, what is meant by practicing controlled rechaka-
puraka? Does this mean reducing the length of rechaka to equal that
of puraka (or vice versa) and to practice breathing this way for some
I look forward to your response and thank you in advance.

--- yogidave

Basically Krishnamacharya's yogasana practice involves coordinated
breathing, there is a tremendous control over the breath. So he would
like his students to have some control over and uniform flow of breath
while practicing Yoga. Many starters do not have a good control over
breath due to may I say bad breathing habits. Some who have bronchial
problem like asthma, tend to have a shallower exhalation. Some others
including some singers have a good exhalation but have less control
over inhalation. The inhalation- exhalation should be smooth,
uniform, even and preferably the practitioner should be able to inhale
and exhale for approximately equal duration while doing yogasana the
breathing should be samavritti in most of vinyasakraa asana pracitce.
This question of Yogi Dave prompted me to base the article for the
month on the importance of breath control in Yoga. The following is
based on an article I wrote in Indian Review way back in 1970s.


Breath of Yoga

One innocuous looking but important feature of the Vinyasa krama way
of asana practice is the deliberate use of breathing while practicing
asanas. Unlike other forms of yogasana practice and other
popular aerobic exercises, Vinyasakrama requires the practice to be
breath oriented and breath controlled. If one practices vinyasakrama
asana practice for about an hour followed by 15 to 30 minutes of
Pranayama practice, it would mean having a complete voluntary control
over one's breathing for about 1 ½ hrs which otherwise is usually
involuntary. My Guru, Sri Krishnamacahrya, is credited with the
ability to alter the heart rate and even stop it. He has mentioned
that it was primarily due to deep Pranayama practice. A German doctor
who conducted studies on this feat of my Guru attributed it to deep
uddiyana Bandha which helps squeeze and arrest the heart so that it
stops beating during the period the bandha is done. And deep bandha
requires an exceptionally deep Rechaka or exhalation which again is
part of pranayama. My Guru used to say, as I have written earlier too,
that a lot of Siddhis in Hata Yoga are due to Pranayama especially
rechaka, exhalation. According to Brahmananda, the commentator of
Hathayogapradeepika, Hata Yoga means union of Prana (ha) and and apana
(ta) or Pranayama.

As we all know, the respiratory function is under both voluntary and
involuntary control. Breathing goes on involuntarily changing with the
physiological requirements without conscious effort. However it can
also be brought under voluntary control. There are several
other bodily functions that are somewhat of a similar nature—
urination, defecation, sex functions, etc. Normally our breathing is
shallow and involuntary. In Pranayama and Vinyasa krama asana
practice, a deliberate attempt is made to bring it under voluntary
control. The Yogis try to bring the breathing function under absolute
control by introducing several parameters like the place of control of
the breath, varying duration of inhalation exhalation, and breath
holding in and out, using the bandhas at the appropriate stages of
breathing. Then Pranayama is done with mantras and imaging or bhavana.
All these make up a formidable number of pranayama methods by which
the Yogi brings about a tremendous voluntary control over the
breathing function. We may add in passing that in cardio-
function,speech or vocal training one learns to discipline one's
breathing consciously in the initial stages but later subconsciously
for purposes other than the objective of life support. Human speech
also is dependent on continuous breath control.

This method of bringing the breathing under greater control of
the central nervous system or the cortex it is believed helps the Yogi
to bring several other physiological functions under the Yogi's will.
It leads to some extraordinary Siddhis like stopping the heart for a
considerable period of time, control of hunger and thirst
(kshudpipapasa) etc.

According to a well known neuro surgeon of yesteryears in India
(himself a fan of Sri Krishnamacharya), neurophysiologically speaking,
it appears that the basic factor of Yoga is the control of
respiration. Respiratory function can be more easily controlled than
any other vital function and the Yogi uses it as the first step in her/
his control of the nervous system. When cortical higher brain control
is achieved over one basic function, it is possible to bring about
control over other basic functions such as vasomotor, etc. It is
therefore possible to dilate bronchial tubes in an asthmatic, reduce
blood pressure or increase it, reduce the rate of heart beat, all with
the help of Pranayama. Neurological brain disorders like epilepsy,
skin allergies like eczema also respond to pranic control.

A number of functions classified as autonomic are not so for an adept
Yogi. She/He is able to control by will many functions that are
controlled in ordinary human beings by subcortical areas—which is
beyond one's voluntary control. The mechanism involved could be
neurological or chemical. Once a steady regular control of respiration
is achieved, there is perhaps a reciprocal biochemical stability which
helps in the maintenance of such control.

When a yogi wishes to establish full control over this lower vital and
emotional function by the exercise of the cortex (will) he/she has to
do it by the reciprocal connections among the cortex, the reticular
system and the various concerned centers of the brain. Autonomic
functions such as gastrointestinal peristalsis, glandular secretion,
sex, and urinary bladder are controlled by the reticular formation of
the medulla, pons, and mid-brain. The respiratory system, the
cardiovascular system, swallowing, mastication, and vomiting reflexes
are all equally controlled by the reticular formation at the level of
the medulla oblongata. It is said that more than a couple of dozen of
such functions are controlled by reticular formation. The reticular
formation consists of more than 100 small neural networks with varied
functions. It produces rhythmic signals to the muscles of breathing.
The reticular system also filters incoming stimuli to discriminate
irrelevant background stimuli/noise. Constant Yogic practice of both
pranayama and subsequent meditation quite likely leads to an
enlargement of the scope of the function of the reticular system and
the cortex. It is quite possible that in a real yogi the reticular
system and the cortex are both functionally altered and structurally

Patanjali also emphasizes that such a transformation of the brain
cells is possible The chitta Parinama or the scope of altered
arrangement of the brain cells is inherent in every individual and
only the appropriate practice is the cause of such a transformation.
Like a farmer (kshetrika) who merely diverts the flow of water in a
field, the yogi has only to channelize his neurological energies along
certain paths and systems. There is no external cause to bring about
such neurological and cortical changes. It is an activity of the
brain by the brain on the brain for the brain.

And the key appears to be Pranayama or breath control.

Sri Krishnamacharya's classes never allowed student's puffing and
breathing heavily, like aerobic exercise or aerobic like yoga
workouts. Whether doing asanas as per vinyasakrama, or Pranayama, the
student would exercise voluntary control over breathing during the
entire duration of yoga practice. If one breathes heavily, a
considerate Krishnamacharya would urge the student to lie down in
Savasana for a short period of time to get the breath back before
resuming the practice. The breath of yoga is conscious, controlled
breathing practice; an unhurried conscious controlled breathing is a
sine qua non for Krishnamacharya's yogasana practice.

Here is a translation of a verse from Tirumular's Tirumandiram on

The breath within moves
And wanders randomly
CONTROL it and purify it from within;
Your limbs will glow with red luster,then
Your hair will turn dark
And God (Siva) within will never leave you.

If you are interested in accessing the earlier newsletters and
articles (one of them, Oct 2009, contains the story of Tirumular),
please visit my website and click on the
Newsletter tab. If you wish you may send your comments or suggestions

Thank you and with best wishes
Srivatsa Ramaswami

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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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