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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Yoga is how old? Mulabhandasana, Krishnamacharya and and Proto Shiva

I was reminded of this argument reading Desikachar's health , Healing and beyond.

ProtoSiva Seals of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro . The Harappan Civilization is said to have flourished c. 2500-1900 BC Deciphering the Indus Script 
"The person on the seal is seated with his legs drawn close to the body with two heels touching, which A L Basham calls, “a posture quite impossible for the average westerner”. This posture, has been identified by Yan as Mulabandhasana, which is difficult even for people who practice Yoga. (See this video and try it).  The same posture has been depicted on all five proto-Siva seals found disproving the theory that it was the work of an imaginative artist. Besides this other seals have been found with figures in other yoga postures suggesting that people in the Indus valley were the practitioners of Yoga".

These other images of the seals from here

Of course others argue that the seals don't represent Shiva or Yogi's at all but rather represent ...'plant people'.

Here's the representation again, this time on a tablet from Harappa
and here's Krishnamacharya in my favourite picture of him.

Not one of those postures that I've spent much time working on, below is the only picture I have attempting it, notice how high I am how low, settled and... comfortable Krishnamacharya looks in his above.

Having practiced/attempted it a few times, I'm going with the argument that this is a posture you need to work at and work towards via a lot of other hip opening asana, and over an extended period of time, suggesting that there was a postural practice going on all those thousands of years ago and in the service of meditation.

Looking at the seals and that wonderful picture of K. tempts me to work on the posture again, wonderful pranayama posture. To do so I'll probably go for more daily practice of as well as extended stays in janushirsasana, mahamudra, viracyasana B, badha konasana,....

Going to get me one of Fred's lodge hats too

see too perhaps this alternative view

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

First sutra from Aranya's Yoga Sutras Commentary

Renewed passion for the yoga sutras study thanks to  Swami Hariharananda Aranya's commentary (recommended by Ramaswami)

by Swami Hariharananda Aranya's
of the Kapil Math

Shared part of the introduction last week, here's the first sutra including the translation of Vyasa and Aranya's commentary. Longer preview at Amazon.

The actual sutra is in Sanskrit as is the Vyasa, although of course both translated, which will no doubt put many off but you probably have another copy lying around right and believe me it's worth it.

This next couple of pages are from an article in the appendix on meditating on the tatvas that have made me think that perhaps I could do with a guru after all, somebody who's walked the path as it were,. So tempted to run off to Kapil Math or stand outside Ramaswami's doorway every morning for a year or two.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?

The Temptation of St Anthony, by H. Bosch
One of the pleasures of blogging is to go off on a stream of consciousness , thinking out loud as it were, coming back to a post later to see to what extent we still agree or disagree with that which we've written and how we might think it anew, This is just such a post.

A status update by Ramaswami yesterday gave me pause.

"If I practice asanas alone all my life and expect everything mentioned in Yoga texts to happen to me, then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures? Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?" Ramaswami

I know many never get around to reading the Yoga Sutras or any other yoga text. For many yoga offers the promise of health and fitness, perhaps a greater sense of well being and yoga as asana, as purely exercise, can deliver.

That in itself is enough to recommend the practice.

But what are the expectations we might find in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts that are not perhaps fulfilled by asana alone.

Yoga offers...

clarity and focus,
heightened powers of concentration,
peace and tranquillity,
liberation from the tyranny of desires,
freedom (with a small f),

...for some this might signify happiness.

Yoga also claims to offer...

awareness of what is
...and what is not,
knowledge of self
and/or god.
perhaps union with god (depending on your reading).
Freedom (large F)

Quite a list, no wonder Ramaswami suggests asana is not enough.

Yoga is wilful one pointed concentration.

Asana can help develop concentration, most importantly perhaps, it develops self discipline, we focus on the breath, the bandhas (depending on our style of practice), the posture, perhaps the finer points of alignment and we concentrate on all this for an hour to two hours every day (perhaps twice a day).

It improves concentration but it isn't necessarily one pointed concentration, there's a lot going on in asana as we shift our attention from breath to bandha to alignment, refocusing, bringing one or the other back online all the time.

Pranayama has many benefits but there is less to think about, we stay in the same posture and can focus on just the breath, the bandhas, perhaps a mantra.

In pratyahara there is even less distractions as we withdraw the senses.

All this on the ground of our work the yama's and niyama's

It's in the meditation limbs however that we really get down to business, to working on one pointedness.

The asana has calmed our agitation, the pranayama our lethargy, we are peacefully alert.

We no longer worry about the posture, about the breath, about bandhas we merely bring our attention back to the object of our concentration practice, a simple mantra, an image, an icon. In other traditions a flame, a pebble, our heartbeat, inhalation, perhaps our exhalation, our 'third eye'....

The mind is frivolous, questions jump into our heads, we make a pact with ourselves to explore them at another time perhaps in our studies of the texts where such questions may have been raised before, perhaps with a teacher, we put the questions under erasure and continue to sit quietly renewing our focus again and again.

Our human lineage

Some argue that as Westerners we are not ready for the meditation practices, that it is an exclusively 'Eastern practice', that we are best left to asana, like children. The well established western Vipasasana, Zen and Buddhist communities have perhaps finally silenced that argument, quietly getting on with their practice, just sitting.

The tradition of Christian mysticism has received renewed interest of late, Thomas Merton comes to mind, the Desert Fathers, for me, despite being myself agnostic, it was Meister Eckhart.

"A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or he may be in Church and be aware of God; but if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is alike present in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere so far as lies in Him... He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere".
Meister Eckhart (c.1260 - c.1327)

To retain focus and concentration amidst the cacophony of modernity just as well as upon a pastoral hillside, to attain clarity whether concerning God or an Idea, was appealing to a young philosophy student.

Ekhart was a yogi.

"That which a man acquires by contemplation he should spend in love". also by Ekhart

In our tradition we refer to meditation as contemplation but I'm reminded of the last wedding I attended where the Reverend called on the congregation to take a moment of silent prayer of quiet reflection.

On 9/11 we didn't need to be asked.

Prayer and reflection, meditation practices, have always been a part of our culture as surely every other culture, it's in our nature, we reflect, we grow silent.

Perhaps in our hectic modern lifestyles our moments of silence, of reflection, aren't as sustained or as consistent as they used to be, disciplined. We're out of practice somewhat but meditation remains a birthright, our tradition, our...human lineage.

Krishnamacharya taught asana and pranayama, philosophy, meditative practices, he taught these limbs of yoga all his life, to beginners in yoga as well those more experienced. He taught them to women as well as to men and to those from the west as well as his native India.

To repeat Ramaswami

"...then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures?

...Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?"

Sunday, 27 May 2012

More of Krishanamacharya's Yogasanagalu translation : Complete Pranayama section plus Moolabhanda


There are many types of pranayama.  The special pranavayu kriya sadhana that improves life expectany, brightens prana, corrects inhalation and exhalation from lungs is called “pranayama.”

The radiance that shines on the face and other organs is called prana shakti.  Some people call it as atma shakti.
This radiance seems to disappear from the face and different organs in a person with disease.

We see that the radiance is totally lost in all parts of a dead body.

We need to try to improve this radiance day by day.

The only way to improve this is by the 4th step of yoganga called “pranayama.”

The basis of pranic energy is prana vayu(air).  This is not like the air around us. It is very subtle, with amazing lighting speed like a warm flood of radiance.

This is hidden in the chest cavity.  The cavity is between the two lungs.

The same place is the location of the atma and the antaryami (inner controller). The bright radiance exists because of them.

When its movement is normal, the pulse from the heart is regular and our life is full of hope and joy.

If this is poisoned, our movements become slow and ultimately  becomes stop and go.  Finally the heart and the organs stop working and the body’s radiant brightness disappears. This stage is called death in common language.

To summarize this,

“यावत्प्रानः स्थितो देहे तावज्जीवनमुच्यते”

“Yavatpranah sthito dehe tavajjivanamuchyate”

meaning, our bodies are only alive until the pranavayu and pranashakti takes residence and keep it radiant, once they are lost, there is no life according to people who have experience in yoga shastra.

In order to make this pranavayu and prana shakti always permeate our body, there are three important types of pranayama - 1. Suryabhedana 2. Ujjayi 3. Sheetali

Procedure -


Exhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril (keeping the left nostril closed with the right pinky and ring fingers). After a brief interval, inhale in the same way with the same nostril.  After, hold your breath as per capacity (5 seconds initially) exhale through the left nostril the the same way as described before (close the right nostril tightly with the right thumb and loosen the two fingers on the left side).  Inhalation and retention are same as before.  During retention, both nostrils must be closed by the respective fingers.

Exhalation is “rechaka”, inhalation is “puraka” and retention is “kumbhaka” according to Yoga shastra.  How many rechaka we perform, the same number of puraka and kumbhaka must be performed.  This is Suryabhedana.  Right side puraka, left side rechaka, and no puraka on left side according to some.

This improves pranavayu, pranashakti, knowledge and life expectancy.


Slowly and deeply Inhaling through both nostrils (puraka) while creating a sound in the back of the throat, hold (as per one’s ability) and then exhaling (rechaka) through the right nostril.  After this, as before, puraka and kumbhaka and then exhale through the left nostril. Afterwards Puraka.  This increases appetite, improves digestive fire and cleanses the bile ducts.


Folding the tip of the tongue  like a boat and pushing it out about half and inch in front of the puckered lips, keeping it tight as per ability, perform puraka and kumbhaka through the boat shaped tounge.  During kumbhaka, the tongue must be withdrwan inside the mouth. Rechaka procedure is similar to that of Ujjayi pranayama.  

During exhalation (rechaka) phase of the second and third pranayama, hand and finger positions must be held as described in suryabhedana pranayama.

This reduces thirst, heat in the head, chest pain and vertigo.

Three Bandhas

1. Moolabandha 2. Uddiyanabandha and 3. Jaladarabandha.  Bandha means - binding, tying or confining.  When you are practicing the yoganga called pranayama, the central part of the body from the base of the reproductive parts to the neck region must be tied up on our own volition.  Without these three bandhas, full benefits of pranayama can not be achieved for sure.  Therefore, practitioners must do this carefully.

Moolabhanda characteristics (in Hatahyogapradipika)

Procedure for binding

पार्श्णिभागेन संपीड्य योनिमाकुंचयद्गुदं
अपानमूर्ध्वमत्क्रुश्य मूलबंधोऽ भिधीयते॥

Parshnibhagena sampidya yonimakunchayeddgudam|
Apanamoordhwamatkrushya moolabhandho bhidhiyate||

Summary: Sit while pressing the perineum with the heel, contract the rectum firmly, withdraw and hold the lower abdomen.

Reason for the name

अधोगतिमपानं वै ऊर्ध्वगं कुरुते बलात्।
आकुंचेन तं प्राहुर्मूलभंदं हि योगिनः॥

Adhogatimapanam vai oordhwagam kurute balat|
Aakunchena tam prahurmoolabhandam hi yoginah||

Summary: This forces the apanavayu to flow upwards rather than down the rectum which can cause weakness. Therefore, this is called Moolabhanda.  According to yogi’s common usage, moola means, the bad vayu (prana)  that can cause the musculature of the lower abdomen to become weak.

Special procedure

गुदं पार्श्ण्या तु संपीड्य पायुमाकुंचयेत् बलात्।
वारं वारं यथा चोर्ध्वं समायति स्मीर​णः॥

Gudam parshrnya tu sampeedya paayumakuchayetat balat|
varam varam yatha chordhwam samayati sameeranah||

Summary: Firmly press the perineum from the heels of both feet, contract the inner rectum tightly, move the lower abdomen back and forth.

Benefits of moolabhanda

प्रानापानौ नादबिंदू मूलभंदेन चैकताम्।
गत्वा योगस्य संसिद्धिं यच्चतो नात्र संशयः॥

praanapanou nadabindu moolabhandena chaikatam|
gatva yogasya samsiddhim yachhato natra samshayah||

Summary: By practicing moolabhanda, pranavayu, apanavayu, hrudayadhwani and veeryabindu are united resulting in yogic benefits.

Special benefits

अपानप्राणयोरैक्यं  क्शयो मूत्रपुरीषयोः।
युवा भवति व्रुद्धोऽपि सततं मूलभंधनात्॥

Apanapranayoraikyam kshayo mootrapurishayoh|
yuva bhavati vruddhopi statam moolabandhanat||

Summary: The union of pranavayu and apanavayu reduces the frequency of urination and defecation.  Those who practice regularly feel youthfulness even in old age.
To be contiued.......


See previous post for notes on Surya bheda HERE

How long to practice pranayama?

In the previous section Krishnamacharya suggests a minimum of fifteen minutes of pranayama.

"After practicing this (asana) , practice 15 minutes of one of the pranayama routines followed by 5 minutes of shavasana, without failure".

Sitali in Ramaswami Yoga for the Three stages of Life

Ramaswami gooes inot a little ore detail about what's going on inside the mouth in sitali

1. Sit in a comfortable asana.

2. Curl the tongue into a roll, protrude it and inhale through the wet tongue.

3. At the end of the inhalation, release the curl, fold the tongue, and touch the top of the upper palate, even the uvula if possible, This is called jivha bandha.

4. Then stretch the back of the neck, drop the chin to around three inches below the neck pit, forming kantha bandha.

5. After Kumbhaka (retention) exhale through alternate nostrils (or both and visualise alternating).

6. Repeat wetting the tongue (before inhalation) -the air conditioning pranayama

Srivatsa Ramaswami : Yoga for the Three Stages of Life p209

More notes to come over the next couple of days.....

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Yoga What it is and What it is not :

Yoga as concentration rather than union.

"The two important features of Yoga to be noted are (i) that there is a suppression at will, of the modifications of the mind and (ii) that it is not casual but has been developed into a habit through constant practice, not for gaining a personal end, but in the spirit of renunciation". p xvii

Ramaswami recommended, Samkhya master, Swami Hariharananda Aranya's commentary on the Yoga Sutras.

Nicely laid out, very readable and smart, constant Ahhhhh factor. Have a look at the Amazon link above. The layout tends to be the Sutra and Vyasas' commentary in Sanskrit, the English translations with note indicators of both followed by Aranya's commentary. 

(1869-1947) spent six years of his early monastic life in utter seclusion in the caves of Barabar Hills, Bihar, India. His possessions were the barest  minimum, even for a Sannyasin. He devoted the whole time to gain the mastery over his mind, which is Yoga. Having attained his goal, he returned to the world of  men. Continuing the secluded and austere lifestyle and intense spiritual practice he began disseminating  the message of Samkhya-yoga through books in Bengali and Sanskrit. Emanating from his own experience it was unique, logical and penetrating Not only did he delineate the path of Yoga, he inspired and guided seekers to tread it. In April 1947, his body frail from age and years of penance started becoming a burden; he saw the signal and at once decided against continuing further. The end came peacefully, a fitting finale to a great and noble life.

This from the introduction...

googling the Author I found this about the Samkhya math he founded

Established in 1927-28 by Samkhya-yogacharya Swami Hariharananda Aranya. The founder came from an educated wealthy zamindar family in Bengal. In his student days, he felt the urge to renounce the world and don the robe of a sannyasin. In his search he met many spiritual adepts but was not fully satisfied until he chanced upon a copy of an ancient text on Samkhya-yoga in a library. It resulted in his leaving the home, taking the vow of a sannyasin and becoming a mendicant. 

Acharya Swamiji passed his early monastic life (1892-1898) in the caves of Barabar hills in Bihar where his earthly resources consisted of a blanket, a thick cotton shirt, a single piece of dhoti, a napkin and a wooden kamandulu (water pot). A devout and generous villager from two miles from the cave provided Swamiji with the means of his subsistence, which was brought to him once every noon. In absence of utensils, that frugal meal was deposited on a black stone and sparkling water from nearby mountain springs satisfied his thirst. He devoted the whole time to gain mastery over his mind, which is Yoga.

Having attained his goal, he returned to the world of men. He continued the same secluded austere lifestyle and intense spiritual practice in places like Tribeni in Hoogly district in West Bengal, Varanasi, Hardwar, Rishikesh and in other places in the Himalayas and finally decided to settle down at Madhupur, Jharkhand (formerly Bihar). He had already began disseminating the message of Samkhya-yoga through books in Bengali and Sanskrit. Emanating from his own experience it was unique, logical and penetrating. 

Attracted by his unique personality some genuine seekers after truth found him out in the small town of Madhupur and one of them volunteered to build a suitable house containing an artificial cave as the permanent home of the Master. Thus did Kapil Math came into existence. First a dwelling, and an artificial cave with it's one and only entrance permanently blocked, where the Master spent the rest of his life. The Math was built adjacent to the 'cave' to house his followers who responded to his call for accepting Samkhya-yoga as the only aim in their lives.

To culture Nirvana Dharma in the light of Samkhya, Yoga and cognate philosophies.
To help persons to attain spiritual advancement.
To educate and train persons in Nirvana Dharma.
To publish books on Samkhya, Yoga and cognate philosophies and to sell them or make free distribution thereof and to collect and preserve publications and manuscripts bearing on such subjects and to find and maintain a library of suitable books.
To educate and train up its monastic members and to provide them with food and shelter, if possible.
To perform acts of charity.
To diffuse philosophical and ethical knowledge.
To incorporate any institution, society or association having objects similar to those of Kapil Math, Madhupur.
To do all other such things as an incidental or conductive to attainment of the above or any of them.

Some interesting looking books here from the Kapil math

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

UPDATED How Ramaswami taught the Vinyasa Krama asana workshop

This post isn't really finished yet, mostly a bunch of notes, but I promised it for today so this is what I have so far. I'll be coming back to tidy it up and improve on it over the next couple of days. As it is my friend commenting here as Anonymous who attended Ramaswami's Big Sur workshop has done most of my john for me, many thanks.

Yoga goddess asked if Ramaswami instructed us in how to teach vinyasa Krama.

"Wonderful material, presented beautifully but how do we go about practicing or teaching it".

Here are two examples using Ramaswami himself as a model. The first is of the 200 hour TT course I attended in 2010, the morning class being a five week course covering the sequences and approach in Ramaswami's book The complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga , the second is a short workshop lasting I think a week, attended by a friend.

Although these are workshop formats, we can perhaps get an idea of how we might approach teaching a series of lessons, whether one-on-one or in a class situation.

The idea seems to be to lay out the basics of breath corresponding with movement in the first few arm movements of the On your feet sequences and then add on more subroutines from that and  other sequences as the course continued until we have the framework of a regular integrated practice. Along the way introducing pranayama, pratyahara and meditation as well as perhaps some chanting.

In the workshop we began the asana class with the first few arm movements of the On your feet sequence, this allowed Ramaswmi to focus on the breath, the long slow inhalation and exhalation corresponding with the arm movements. He focused on the stretching, on lifting the pelvis up and then lifting up out of the pelvis as we "Stretch, stretch, stretch".

 We would begin every asana class with a few of those basic movements reenforcing the focus on the breath, on ujayii, it's coordination with the movement and the reminder to stretch.

We covered most of the On your feet sequence in the first week leaving a few of the more challenging postures until the end of the week.

This then was the general approach as we continued to explore the different sequences. Begin with the basic movements of on your feet, then work through some of the other sequences leaving out perhaps the most challenging postures at first but coming back to them later, towards the end of the week, to at least attempt them.

By around the third week, having looked at several of the sequences,  we had a good framework of a Vinyasa Krama class. Some On your feet and Triangle subroutines, Asymmetric subroutines and a long paschimottanasana, shoulder stand and  Bow postures as a counter then we would begin to include pranayama carried over from the afternoon pranayama class as well as pratyahara, some chanting and meditation, again carried over from the respective afternoon classes.

As the course went on we would switch the subroutines, include subroutines from the other sequences, On one leg and Inverted for example as we covered them.

Below is a basic, very basic, outline of the asana part of the course as I roughly sketched it out in notes at the time.

Week I

Day 1. 
basic checks
arm movements
back salutes
shoulder rotation

Day 2.
side poses
forward bends
- began to introduce asymmetric

sideways forward stretch
standing turtle
noose pose

Day 4
days 1, 2, 3 + drop backs

Day 5 
full On your feet sequence

Week II

Day 1 
Simple lead in
Sirsasana half lotus

Day 2
Day 1 +
bent leg back
lead in (jump through)

Day 3
As Day 1 +
leg behind head

Day 4
As Day 1, 2 +
half kingfisher
maha bandha

Day 5
Full Asymmetric + purna matsyendrasana

Week III
As Day 1
Supta kurmasana
lead in
return sequence

Day 2
simplified supine up to shoulder stand
Bow simplified (as counter to shoulderstand)

Day 3
alternating bow and shoulderstand

Day 4

Day 5
Asymmetric postures

Week IV (introducing some pranayama into asana class)

Day 1

Day 2
tadasana, Shoulderstand
rest of triangle

Day 3
Paschi (10 minutes)
Inverted (headstand)

Day 4
headstand vinyasas

Day 5

Week IV (Integrated practice, Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, meditation).

Day 1
Holiday (5th July)

As week III but with On one leg (tapas) Introducing more pranayama/pratyahara
also exploring postures from asana section of Yoga Makaranda

Week IV (final week)
Visesha sequence Longer pranayama and pratyahara
Class model/framework (Me, Rene and Wyatt)


We were all also offered and encouraged to lead a subroutine or two as the course progressed. At the end of the course (fifth week) we all tried to come up with a Vinyasa Krama class in pairs.  Mine and Rene's seemed to be acceptible so we, or rather she, took the final class using the framework we came up with, while Wyatt led the Pranayama section. 

This was basically the usual ten minute On your feet mini sequence followed by a couple of triangle subroutines and the on one leg subroutine, asymmetric, bow, seated supine and shoulder stand, headstand with vinyasa and lotus. Ending with pranyama and pratyahara and meditation.

Obviously this was a workshop in which we were being taught the whole syllabus, in an actual Vinyasa Krama class there would be perhaps those basic movements at the beginning and then a few subroutines. Each class would include a long paschimottanasana, long shoulder stands and ideally headstands and finish with pranayama, pratyahara and meditation.

The trick is not to be too ambitious and plan too many subroutines or postures but rather to take your time with the ones you do have, less is more. Each class would be familiar containing the key postures but would also perhaps include something new, a different subroutine.

Another thing, Ramaswami didn't say much while teaching, only what was absolutely necessary to achieve the posture, mainly cuing the breath and a reminder of bandhas. Instruction always seemed a suggestion, an offering of instruction. Quite close in a way to a led ashtanga class with the bare minimum of the name of the posture but how to breath rather than the count.


I just asked a friend who was on the recent Big Sur workshop how Ramaswami approached the workshop given that it was only a week as opposed to five. I really want to thank him for passing on his notes, i'd been expecting just a couple of lines, much appreciated.

Ramaswami's recent Big Sur Workshop notes

Week of May 6-11, 2012
Hatha and Raja Yoga Practicum
Srivatsa RamaswamiAsana practice has caught the imagination of a number of enthusiasts—especially Vinyasakrama, the sequencing art form of yoga practice. However, yoga has other important ingredients, all of which promote a positive transformation of the individual. A holistic approach would require the yogi to practice not only asana and pranayama (the Hatha yoga aspects) but also chanting, meditation, and contemplation of the philosophical and spiritual aspects (the Raja yoga aspects).

In this program, half of each session will be devoted to different asanas, following the Vinyasakrama method. It will involve doing more than 300 vinyasas, or variations in classical yoga poses, in the course of the program. The other half of the time will be utilized for detailed and varied yogic breathing exercises and the other Raja yoga practices, like chanting, meditation, and philosophical and spiritual contemplation of the yoga sutras. The objective by the end of the program is for participants to have a well-rounded understanding and practice of yoga, as opposed to doing only asanas or meditation. Hatha yoga and Raja yoga are aspects of the integrated system of yogic progression. 
Overview of the workshop by Anonoymous

"Here's a brief overview of how he taught. He stressed foremost that it was a hata and raja yoga practicum, and as such, he wanted to impress on us the equal importance of the 8 limbs. His teaching, in a nutshell, was that asana is for reducing rajas, pranayama for reducing tamas, and pratyahara and meditation for increasing sattvas. As such, each course was divided among asana, pranayama and pratyahara and meditation, with a lecture section devoted to the various chapters of the Yoga Sutras. The course met each morning from 9:30 to 12:45, and each afternoon from 4:00 to 6:30.

The first course began with asana practice of the core Tadasana sequence. Since there were some elders in the class, I think he held back on the more vigorous vinyasa krama. He would essentially split the sequences, having us rest in savasana mid way through and then continue on after all caught their breath. After asana, he taught us pranayama. Each pranayama practice would commence with 108 rounds of kapalbhati, split in 3 groups of 36 breaths. One round with hands on knees, a second round with hands overhead, the third round with hands behind our head and on shoulder blades. After this, he taught viloma (nadi shodhana) pranayama. We started with 5 rounds, and eventually worked up to 10 rounds. Here is the practice:

 1. inhale ujjayi 5 seconds
 2. hold in 5 seconds
 3. exhale right 10 seconds
 4. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 5. inhale right 5 seconds
 6. hold in 5 seconds
 7. exhale ujjayi 10 seconds
 8. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 9. inhale ujjayi 5 seconds
 10. hold in 5 seconds
 11. exhale left 10 seconds
 12. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 13. inhale left 5 seconds
 14. hold in 5 seconds
 15. exhale ujjayi 10 seconds
 16. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 17. repeat from step # 1

After pranayama practice, we would move immediately into 3 minutes of shanmukhi mudra (for pratyahara), followed immediately with 10-15 minutes of meditation, during which we were instructed to recite silently "om hrim namasivaya." His instruction was to ignore the breath, ignore the meaning, ignore everything inside--just focus on the mantra repetition and stillness of head and body space. This was supported then by lecture on the Yoga Sutras. In most classes, we would go through all cycles at least twice.

So, aside from the Tadasana sequence, we worked on the supine sequence, some of the bow sequence, the triangle pose sequence, and the inverted posture sequence. However, in shoulder stand and headstand, we did not practice other vinyasas, due to the average capacity of students. Ramaswami seemed concerned of pushing people too far too fast. While the majority of the class was youthful and yogically prepared for vigorous practice, we also had a 63 year old, an 80 year old and a pregnant woman. Therefore, his was mainly concerned with our practice of pranayama and meditation.

On the last day of class, take us through a routine that we could practice at home, stressing the core asanas and mudras (paschimottanasana, sarvangasana, sirsasana, maha mudra), pranayama, pratyahara, mantra meditation, based on his daily practices with Krishnamacharya.

Interesting point I just remembered: Ramaswami said Krishnamacharya instructed the width of one's stance in standing postures to be as wide (no wider than) as the length of one's leg. I don't recall ever hearing this, so was delighted that he mentioned it.

He also recommended Swami Hariharananda Aranya's translation of the Yoga Sutras over any others for western students."


UPDATE from Comments.

Grimmly said...
I meant to ask you, our course was a teacher training and so Ramaswami could expect a resonable level of practice and experience as well as some awareness of his approach, we all had his book already I imagine. However, I wondered on your shorter course where there were perhaps some relative beginners and/or some unfamiliar with his approach, can you say something about his instruction and guidance in postures. in that context? For us it was mostly a case of saying the name of the posture almost as a reminder and then focussing on the breath or some tiny details as issues came up.
Thanks again for your help with this post anon.
23 May 2012 09:05

Anonymous said...
The following is a very rough sketch…

Lift! Lift! Lift! Straight back, straight arms, straight legs. Toes, ankles, knees together. Pelvis and rib cage lifting; chin down to pull the spine ever straighter, eyes down. Deep ujjayi breathing.

Ramaswami did not correct alignment by touch, so far as I could see. In one instance he very gently touched my left calf to bring it wider when we were in the preparatory hold in sarvangasana, where he instructs to keep the legs apart with the knees bent, to allow the legs and blood to settle. On another occasion, when I was demonstrating cobra pose, he very quickly pulled me back and up stretching me to my limits to show the length to which one can go in the posture. It was very unexpected and exhilarating and made me and the class chuckle with laughter.

Otherwise, his instruction for correct posture was purely verbal, which, again, is how he was instructed, I think, by Krishnamacharya. As an aside, I was reading through Mohan’s book on K and I think he said the same, regarding how there was no “hands on” correction of postures, per se. I will try and post this later tonight for reference.

Ramaswami’s teaching is very intellectual. As I noted before, my understanding (or experience) of vinyasa krama is that it is really something that must be taught on an individual, one-on-one basis, per the specific abilities and needs of the student. If I ever were to teach the method, I would have to do so in a way that Mysore classes are taught. It is not a practice that I think is easily or strategically taught to large classes. Moreover, it is not a method (at least in my understanding of it thus far) that seems to view asana as an end in itself. Rather, the asana practice is merely a necessary stage to be passed through (traditionally) to sit for pranayama and meditation. Such that if you are able to sit in padmasana, great. If you’re not, no worry—try something else that is suitable for your body. I sense that vinyasa krama astutely undermines the rather egotistical pursuit of perfection in asana. It doesn’t discourage proper asana practice, but it also doesn’t glorify it. It is as it is an integral limb of yoga.

A point Ramaswami stressed and that hit home for me was that pranayama/pratyahara/dharana is an internal process that cannot be seen by the teacher, and so we all must be our own vigilant teachers regarding the internal aspects. He suggested that it is not something we really ought to discuss with others (such as what is happening or being experienced inside) but should be observed and kept secret. He said one should directly approach their teacher for specific guidance or questions, but otherwise it is a individual path to be walked alone. This, I think, harkens back the traditional guru/disciple relationship.

Personally, I think asana can be corrected only so much from the point of view as a physical form. The alignment must be sensed by the practitioner from inside. Likewise with pranayama, the digital and cyclical method can be instructed, and the slow passage of breath listened to and observed by the teacher, but the process itself again is something that is personal and internal.

To close, I will note that Ramaswami stressed the importance and necessity of practicing the inversions and the bandhas, so as to massage the heart and organs covered by the rib cage. He also suggested that our joints all have superior and inferior aspects to them, and that when in inversions, these are thus inverted and can rejuvenate in the reversed positions, easing compression, such as the heart and lungs do in sirsasana, etc. Pranayama is necessary also for physically massaging and stretching the portion of the vertebral column that is connected to the rib cage, and likewise the heart and lungs.

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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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