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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Interview with Simon Borg-Olivier: Breath, Kumbhaka, Bandhas in Ashtanga and vinyasa Yoga. Yoga Rainbow Festival 2014

Simon Borg-Olivier MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) is a Co-Director of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. The Yoga Synergy style is based on a deep understanding of yoga anatomy, yoga physiology and traditional Hatha Yoga. Simon has been teaching since 1982. He is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. Simon has been regularly invited to teach at special workshops and conferences interstate and overseas since 1990.

While on The Yoga Rainbow Festival earlier this month I got to meet and hang out with Simon Borg-Oliver and discuss over breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as while walking up and down mountains, among other things, the breath, kumbhaka in particular as well as it's possible health benefits, bandhas and how to employ them to effectively push blood around the body, keep down the heart rate during practice and make you fancy a salad rather than a steak after practice.

The Interview is below

My friend Mick, you may remember his guest post recently,(CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton) insisted I asked Simon lots of questions about the health benefits of kumbhaka and seeing as I couldn't exactly take notes over breakfast we decided to make a short interview and try and cover some of the topics we had been discussing while breaking bread or in Simon's case consuming huge bowls of salad.

Over the last couple of days I've tried to use Youtube's sub-title/caption tools but have lost the work three times. I can't bare to hold of on publishing this any longer so here it is, I'm going to be uploading an extra copy of the video tonight and will work on subtitles and a full transcription over the following week.

The interview revolves around the question of Kumbhaka and it's possible health benefits. I begin the interview by reminding Simon about my Ashtanga friend Mick Lawton and the the hereditary illness he suffers from and how his healing seems to be improved when he employs kumbhaka in asana and pranayama.

"I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless". Ideal for a case study.

As someone who has a genetic disease there are times when I can flow through Primary and Intermediate without ever questioning the sequence. However, during times of active disease I have to modify and question the sequences, often changing things to best serve the therapeutic repair of my body."

During the periods when I employed Kumbhaka during asana practice I generally enjoyed  an improved state of health. This was reflected in my blood tests that showed lower CRP, lower SAA and lower cytokine markers for inflammation. 
Generally speaking, all my markers for inflammation were lower during the periods I employed Kumbhaka during my asana practice. 
This effect was further enhanced if I employed pranayama within 10 mins of Asana practice.  
The period when my inflammatory markers were  at their lowest was when I employed Kumbhaka during asana and then immediately followed the asana practice with 20 mins of pranayama.

I also advocate a slow, deep inhalation and exhalation.

I wanted to ask Simon if this apparent healing effect made any sense to him from his Molecular Biology, Physiotherapy and Yoga background and if so why.

We talked about the breath and how CO2 could be increased through different methods in the body, allowing greater release of oxygen to the cells due to the Bohr effect (which Simon explains with a Big toe example). Krishnamacharya's use of kumbhaka in asana and how this might be a useful method of directing blood to particular areas of the body as well as the use of bandhas was also discussed. We talked about how the PH levels in the body could be effected through particular approach to the employment of bandhas and how this could effect whether you fancied a steak after practice or a salad. One of my concerns as a kidney stone sufferer is to sweat less in my Ashtanga practice ( I need liquids to flow through my system, through my kidneys rather than miss them altogether through sweating excessively). Simon relates sweating to heart rate and how this can be controlled during practice, again through the use of bandhas and our approach to breathing. We discussed different approaches to breathing and use of bandhas in Ashtanga vinyasa practice as well as within yoga in general.

Here's the interview (with transcription to come).

NOTE:  "I have apologise that on the video at 7:30 - 7:45 i made a mistake in what i said - I actually meant to say "The only way to ensure oxygen gets to the cells is by increasing CO2" and by not by decreasing CO2 as in unintentionally spoke - thank you Mick Lawton for pointing this out
thank You to Eva Kincsei for filming this and getting the video to Anthony". Simon

UPDATE: We now have the transcription thanks to my friend Esther

nterview with Simon Borg-Olivier with Anthony Grim Hall
Location: Yoga Rainbow Festival, Turkey
Transcription by Esther.

ANTHONY: Krishnamacharya outlined how he was using Kumbhaka in his first book Yoga Makaranda.  

My friend Mick, has an hereditary illness with regular attacks throughout the year, which causes much inflammation and pain in joints, he also had regular visits to hospital.  He started to incorporate Kumbhaka into his practice, and he started to find that his healing was much quicker.  Due to regular visits and blood tests at hospital, the hospital was also noticing a difference.

So we’d like to ask you about Kumbhaka, and if that makes sense to you coming from a background in molecular biology and physiotherapy.  Does it make sense to you that Kumbhaka can have a healing effect.

SIMON: Yes definitely, there are many benefits that can be attributed to various types of breath retention, Kumbhaka, and of course there are several different ways you can do a kumbhaka and each of them will have a different effect.  You can hold the breath in, you can hold the breath out, and you could hold the breath partly in, you could also get a similar effect to kumbhaka just by not breathing very much at all. You could also get a similar physiological effect from kumbhaka by breathing very very very slowly, breathing very very slowly would look to someone else like you are not breathing at all.  So, all of these things have effects physiologically and physically as well.

ANTHONY: When you say breathing very slowly do you mean long slow inhalations or do you mean just breathing regularly but very softly?

SIMON: You can do either.  If I had to do a graphical analysis, say this is time in the horizontal axis, and amount of breath on the vertical axis.

If I go deep breath in deep breath out.

This is a lot of fluctuations in the breath.

But if I do a kumbhaka, inhale, hold the breath, exhale, hold the breath. Inhale, hold the breath. Holding is a straight line.

But I could simulate that straight line, by just doing little breath in little breath out.

So from a distance a little breath in and a little breath out would look like a straight line. Physiologically, it has the same effect as kumbhaka.

In Sanskrit, in Yoga terms, that’s really what is Kaivela Kumbhaka is. It’s what happens when you’re meditating, you feel like you’re not breathing at all, but actually if you study it, it’s just a very little in breath and out breath.

ANTHONY: Why does that have a similar effect as a very large inhalation and a very large exhalation?

SIMON: It has a similar effect as holding the breath in or holding the breath out.  Because holding the breath in and holding the breath out will build up carbon dioxide.  And carbon dioxide is one of the main effectors of the physiological effects of kumbhaka. So you’ll also get high levels of carbon dioxide, not just from holding the breath in or holding the breath out, but by not breathing very much. So when we meditate we don’t breath very much, it’s a very little in breath, a very little out breath. So because the air is not exchanging much, you’ll actually start building up CO2. Physiologically one of the best ways of getting the positive effects of carbon dioxide build up is by doing meditation. You hear of many people who have cured themselves of cancer, by doing meditation. On a physiological level one can speculate that the increases in health from someone, say who has had cancer, may be because of the increases in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is necessary to be present for oxygen to be deposited into cells via the Bohr effect.

ANTHONY: Yeah, can you explain the Bohr effect, because I’ve tried reading about it a few times, and don’t really get it so well.

SIMON: The Bohr effect very simply would say that if you have oxygen which is carried on Haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood, and it’s travelling through your blood, it might come to say, your big toe, and would say I’ve got oxygen, does anyone here in the big toe want oxygen? And all the cells in the big toe will say, yes I want oxygen, and before it releases its oxygen to the big toe’s cells, it’ll say show me your carbon dioxide and if the big toe cells have no carbon dioxide then the oxyhaemoglobin will not release it’s oxygen, it’ll just travel off somewhere else.  You need the local presence of carbon dioxide for oxyhaemoglobin to be able to release it’s oxygen and make it accessible to cells. This is the Bohr effect.

So high levels of carbon dioxide there’s a lot more deposition of oxygen into cells, and low levels of carbon dioxide, you might get increased blood flow, but you might not get entry of oxygen into cells. When oxygen enters cells, you get much better healing, and also, you get much more energy.  So for example a cell can run off glucose, glucose is a simple sugar, and glucose is used as the fuel to be burnt, for that particular cell, will get two molecules of ATP, the energy source of the cell, for every one glucose burnt. But, if you burn glucose in the presence of oxygen you get 38 molecules of ATP, so it’s 19 times more energy can be generated in the presence of oxygen.  Funnily enough cancer cells don’t function with this oxygen method, they don’t work on the aerobic pathway, they only have anaerobic metabolism happening.  So it’s not to say that the presence of oxygen will kill cancer cells, or the absence of oxygen causes cancer, but rather healthy cells, will not do very well, and cancer cells will do very well, in low levels of oxygen. Whereas with high levels of oxygen, healthy cells do very well, and cancer cells don’t necessarily do very much better than normal. So cancer, sometimes, is said to be helped if you can get more oxygen into your cells, and one of the ways of doing that is by putting it in a high CO2 environment, and one of the ways of generating high carbon dioxide is using either kumbhaka or minimal breathing which is Sanskrit terms is Kevalya kumbhaka, which is the type of breathing that happens when you sit in meditation. And on a graphical level that’s a little breath in a little breath out little breath in little breath out, which looks like a straight line. Same as if you inhaled, held the breath in, looks like a straight line. But to simulate a straight line also, you could do a very slow breath in, if I inhaled fast, the line goes up dramatically, but if I inhale slower, the line goes up slower still.  If I inhale and I take one minute to inhale, the line goes up so slowly, that from a distance it looks like a parallel line and so very slow inhales, of say one minute for an inhalation would simulate kumbhaka on a physiological level.

ANTHONY: That’s interesting as Krishnamacharya was talking all the time about long slow breathing, 

SIMON: That’s what long slow breathing is.  And I think in the modern world, people imagine, you know in a common vinyasa class, some people say, deep breath in take up your arms, deep breath slow breath out take down your arms, so of course that’s only 3 seconds breathing in three seconds breathing out. Where as Krishnamacharya was talking much more about one minute inhalations.

ANTHONY: Slow, as in pouring the oil.  

SIMON: That’s right. They also talk about when the exhalation comes out, it should be so fine that you can’t blow out a candle from a certain distance. And there’s also the beautiful videos that Iyengar has put out, where he’s breathing with a microphone and you hear the sound of Ujjayi, and he inhales for 45 seconds and exhales for 55 seconds.

ANTHONY: Stunning.

SIMON: It’s beautiful, yeah.

ANTHONY: We’re quite aware of the benefits of using kumbhaka in Pranayama, and you’ve talked about in meditation getting a similar effect by breathing very shallowly. Iin Asana, Krishnamacharya is quite surprising, when you look at the yoga Makaranda, in that he is using kumbhaka in Asana, and while we’ve been here on the Yoga Rainbow Festival, we’ve been talking about using kumbhaka, in asana, and we were talking about how we could, you said, for example about, getting oxygen and co2 to the two, and how did you put it?

ANTHONY: If there’s not enough carbon dioxide there, you won’t be able to transport the oxygen from the oxyhaemoglobin to the cells. So you need CO2.
So then we were talking about how we could um, one of the interesting things about Kumbhaka in Asana was that it seemed there might be the possibility that you could direct the blood that you’ve effected with your kumbhaka to different areas of the body. So for example if I’m doing a posture where, a certain area is perhaps compressed, and then when I release it, perhaps when I’m doing my vinyasa, the blood, could perhaps flow into that area. In Ramaswami he talks about shoulder stands, where we would have the legs very relaxed, and the idea seems to be to let the blood kind of drop away, and when we straighten the legs and tense, we are then sending the blood straight through, so it seemed to me, that if relax the blood drains away slightly, we’re doing a kumbhaka, and then we extend our legs, the new kumbhaka co2 infused blood, then flies through that area. Does that make sense?

SIMON: Yeah it does make sense.

ANTHONY: Why does that make sense?

Well I’ve measured, ten different ways you can move blood through the body, other than the heart. One of them includes using the muscles of breathing, another uses the effect of carbon dioxide. So, carbon dioxide when it builds up, not only helps the bohr effect, but also causes vasodilation. 11;48??  The blood vessels of the body, so for examples the blood vessels to the brain would get larger, more open, and allow greater entry of blood to the brain, also to the heart, and several other places in the body.

ANTHONY: Is that why we do Jalandhara Bandha?

SIMON: Yes, because otherwise you get too much transmission of energy back and forth to the head. So carbon dioxide can have this vasodilation effect.  It also effects the bronchial tubes, it’ll make them vasodilate it also effects pretty much every tube in the body, it makes the stomach dilate, the bladder wall dilate, stuff like this.  So that’s one effect that comes from breathing, especially from kumbhaka in terms of long kumbhakas, where the breath is held long enough to increase co2 in which ever way you do that. But the other effect that Pranayama can have on blood flow is that you can use the muscles of breathing to pull the air in and out of you. For example if I expand my chest, the expansion will cause a suction, that pulls air into my nostrils, but if I close my nostrils, either with my fingers or my glottis, I close the holes in my face and expand my chest, as if I’m taking a breath into the chest but not, then you get uddiyana bandha.  And so, use of the muscles of breathing will cause various increases and decreases in pressure in the body, and those increase and decreases in pressure will push and pull blood. So if I exhale fully that going to push blood away from my chest, that actually slows the entry of blood into the heart. If you inhale to the chest that pulls blood toward the heart, and actually increases heart rate, and that’s well recorded in medical texts. But then if you hold your breath, and while holding the breath in you compress your chest that’s an even more powerful way of moving the blood through the body.  And similarly if you hold your breath out and then you expand your chest like breathing in but not, this is using bandha with Kumbhaka, that moves the blood a lot more.

ANTHONY: So this would allow us to practice without increasing the heart rate.

SIOMON: It can give you control of your heart rate certainly. But it also helps you move blood through your body in different ways, plus with the movement of blood through the body there is also the possibility of taking increased or decreased amounts of carbon dioxide, which can help with the bohr effect and which can help with vasodilation, and also increase levels of oxygen, and blood carrying oxygen as well. The effect of carbon dioxide is also going to effect the ph levels inside the blood as well. And ph levels are very significant in terms of the effect on things like stem cell production.  So holding the breath can also effect how stem cells are produced and how well they’re moved throughout the body, and stem cells of course can turn into any cells in the body. And so a lot of research in the world is being done nowadays to try and work out the best ways of harvesting stems and increasing endogenous production of stem cells.

ANTHONY: Can you explain a bit more about how the ph in the body is effected. I mean you talked for several days, while we’ve been talking about the ph, increasing alkaline or decreasing and how certain kumbhakas can have an effect, you also talked about diet effecting that. So how the kumbhakas we’re using the diet we’re using, how all these factors can have an effect on the ………..

SIMON: Effect on everything, ph can effect almost everything in the body.  The body will only work properly between a very narrow ph of 7.35 and 7.45 that’s when you get the healthiest things happening. But the ph is effected by how you breath, how long you breath in for, how long you breath out for, how many breaths per minute, what type of air you’re breathing. It can also be effected by what you eat as well. So if you eat very acidic foods that will make your blood acidic, if you eat alkaline foods, that will make your blood alkaline, if you breath a lot of air per minute, that will make you very alkaline, because the more you breath the more you blow off carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide in blood or water becomes carbonic acid.

ANTHONY: I remember reading your book, and you were saying at the end of the practice, depending on your ph levels, at the end of the practice you might feel famished and just stuff your face, or you won’t feel that hungry at all. So for example after Pranayama generally you don’t feel very hungry. But after practice, often people just, will just eat anything. . . 

SIMON: Yes, and they use the excuse that they’ve just had a work out, therefore they should be able to eat more. But if you do Pranayama while you practice, if you don’t breath much while you practice, then you’re not hungry, and so that would be coming as a result of creating significant levels of carbon dioxide while you’re practicing, doing Pranayama while you’re practicing, or just not breathing much while you’re practicing, and this co2 will cause an increase in carbonic acid which will lower your ph levels and then instead of craving acidic foods you will be more craving alkaline foods or nothing. Whereas if you breath a lot during your practice which will blow off carbon dioxide, reduce your carbonic acid levels, increase your ph, you will feel unbalanced. Your ph will be increased, too alkaline, and if your ph is increased and you are too alkaline the symptoms include sensitivity of the nerves, your nerves might start to shake, you might start to feel emotional, you’ll feel weak, you’ll feel hypersensitive also the blood vessels to the brain will be constricted and you’ll feel like your dizzy, lightheaded, so the body will know, we need acidity in our body now, and the quickest way to get acidity into your body will be to eat acidic foods. A good stodgy meal, some breads some rice.  Alkaline food fruit and vegetable, pretty much everything else meat, fish, eggs, bread, rice, that’s all going to be acidic in the body and will make you straight away feel grounded. And grounded means more blood goes to the brain and the nervous system calms down. But you can also become grounded by doing something like meditation. Because meditation also causes co2 to be built up because you’re not breathing much in meditation. And so that co2 build up is one of the main reasons why you feel relaxed after doing meditation, because co2 has built up.

ANTHONY: So again, if we have an integrated practice, where we are doing our asana, pranayama and meditation and we’re coming out of our practice . . . 

SIMON: Not hungry and feeling very grounded.

ANTHONY: And fancying some fruit rather than a steak.

SIMON: Yes if you’re going to eat anything, you’re more likely to eat some fruit. And so you can also do pranayama in the postures if you either do long slow breathing or you do meditative breathing which is more like natural breath in postures, which is what Iyengar teaches. Or if you do kumbhaka like Krishnamacharya teaches. And of course the simplest kumbhaka is just to pause at the end of the in breath and pause at the end of the out breath, and not change the muscles of inhalation or exhalation at all. But more complex pranayama would include bandha, like Krishnamacharya demonstrated in his videos, where at the end of the exhalation you can do a full uddiyana bandha, nauli, nauli hi, and at the end of the inhalation you would not just hold the breath in but you could activate the muscles of chest exhalation, muscles we use for forced exhalation from the chest. 19:53  Like when you force the air out of the chest you can do this. So if I breath in now for example, 19:59 my air is fully in my lungs, my chest is expanded, but if I hold the breath in I can compress the chest 20:05 and that chest compression will increase the inter-thoracic pressure and that will actually push blood away from the chest, reduce the blood coming into my heart. That can have a very powerful effect on the body. You could do it in asana as a Valsalva maneuver.  When you do this, in western terms it’s called a Valsalva maneuver.  So a Valsalva maneuver has been studied extensively you can Google it and read a lot, learn a lot about how people do this in Yoga. Valsalva maneuver is when you take a full breath in, you hold the breath in and make a false attempt at exhalation. There’s another one called the Muller maneuver, where you exhale fully, this is also a scientific medical term, hold the breath out, and make a false attempt at inhalation.


Valsalva Maneuver.
SIMON: I will inhale fully into my abdomen and into my chest, hold the breath in and then I’m going to pretend to exhale from my abdomen and my chest. To help you appreciate I’m pretending I’m going to hold my nose. 21:48  Let me do it again, so you can see I can also expand or contract.

So it looks like I’m breathing, but I’m not breathing, I’m activating my muscles of inhalation and exhalation while actually holding my breath in. And that act of trying to breath out, having held the breath in is called a Valsalva Maneuver.  It’s very well studied there are hundreds of papers about it. There are many physiological effects. Many of them can be healing effects. There are also a few negative effects, such as when weightlifters do this, weightlifters do exactly that inhale, pick up the weight, and and they exhale once the weight is lifted. A valsalva maneuver can help you increase strength and you pointed out that Krishnamacharya has actually said to do this while doing lolasana, it’s very usuable, you actually see people all round the world doing this intuitively because they know it makes them feel stronger.

ANTHONY: So Krishnamacharya when he does his jump throughs, jump backs, he is doing it on a kumbhaka. 

Yes, and that’s what he wrote in Makaranda right?  So that was a surprise to me that he wrote that, because Pattabhi Jois doesn’t teach that. He teaches inhale, and you inhale diaphragmatically, and I’ll come to that in a moment.  That’s what can be used to increase strength, but when weightlifters are studied doing this their blood pressure increases from a normal blood pressure of 120 over 70 to a very intense blood pressure of 380 over 360 which to me says that they’re super yogis of sorts, but actually they could also burst a blood vessel in the brain very easily. So it’s potentially very dangerous to do a Valsalva maneuver.

So this is what could be called a Muller Maneuver, is by the medical definition, a full exhalation and then a false attempt at inhalation. 24:33  So the act of pretending to breath in the chest looks like uddiyana bandha. But it’s not the uddiyana bandha that some people use. Many people say that uddiyana bandha is something to do with hardening the abdomen.  But actually the uddiyana bandha that BKS Iyengar described in his book, that many yoga texts describe is actually, purely and simply an expansion of the chest, the same way you would breath into the chest but without breathing. But it is done without tightening the abdomen at all.

ANTHONY: The problem with tightening the abdomen is you’re restricting the diaphragm. 

SIMON: Well the problem with tightening the abdomen to do this is that it wouldn’t work very well. If someone tightens their abdomen and then tries to expand the chest, it doesn’t lift up as high, because the rib cage is being pulled down. But it depends on what muscles you tighten the abdomen with. I can tighten my abdomen at the same time, I can use my muscles of forced exhalation to tighten the abdomen while doing my muscles of chest inhalation.  I can use my muscles of abdominal exhalation 25:51  So then perhaps you could see the two external oblique muscles coming on and that indicates that I was using my external obliques in exactly the same way that I would use to make a forced abdominal exhalation. So that was activating my muscles of chest inhalation and my muscles of abdominal forced exhalation while holding the breath out. And that’s a combination of a Valsalva and Muller maneuver at the same time on exhalation retention.

But a real Valsalva Maneuver and a real Muller Maneuver are very hard to explain because if I talked to a cardiologist and I say to them, what is a Valsalva Maneuver, they’ll give you the description I just gave, but if I say to them, what should I be trying to exhale with, my abdomen or my chest?  They’ll say what do you mean? And I’ll say is this the Valsalva Maneuver 27:03?  In other words am I trying to exhale with my chest, or my abdomen, or both?  And they’ll look at you in surprise and say I didn’t even know you could do that. And then of course a Muller Maneuver is a false attempt at inhalation, so this is an inhalation 27:19 with the chest, this is an inhalation with the abdomen.  And I’ll say to the cardiologist which type of Muller Maneuver do you want? Do you want a false inhale to the abdomen or the chest, because this is a chest inhalation 27:38 this is a false abdominal inhalation 27:42 and of course I could do both.  One looks like uddiyana bandha, one looks like some very esoteric yoga who knows what, but I could pretend to inhale to my abdomen and my chest at the same time 28:00. And that’s actually very very difficult.

ANTHONY: And what would be the benefit of doing that? Why would we do that?

SIMON: The chest muscles are going one way the diaphragm is going the other way and it creates a tremendous suction. You can get a similar effect by doing nauli. The effect that’s more common and more easy that also creates that of this going up and this going down 28:28 That’s using my rectus abdominis to push the abdome out. What I did before was use my diaphragm, to push the abdomen out. And that’s very stressful because when you expand the chest,that pulls the diaphragm up, when you breath diaphragmatically that pulls the chest down. So to do a complete breath for most people is very difficult. This is a complete breath 28:58. I inhaled into my abdomen and then into my chest but most people when they try that do this 29:06 and once the chest starts expanding the abdomen goes in, to actually inhale to the abdomen keep and expand and then inhale to the chest that for most people is very very difficult. In fact most people if you ask them to breath into the chest with the abdomen relaxed one in ten people can do it, nine in ten can’t. Most people can only breath into the chest with the abdomen tight. By doing that they also make themselves quite stressed.

During practice often that’s what people are doing.

Most people are breathing into the chest by inhibiting the diaphragm and if you inhibit the diaphragm the whole time you don’t have diaphragmatic strength power, you also don’t have good digestive ability, good reproductive function, good immune system function because the diaphragm is the main controller of the parasympathetic nervous system. So unless your diaphragm is really freely able to breath the whole way through your practice you are potentially inhibiting digestive, immune and reproductive function.  And you are basically stimulating a sympathetic nervous system response, the fight or flight response. And that fear anger and aggression that comes with the fight or flight response doesn’t sound like yoga to me. You know, whereas if you’re in the parasympathetic nervous system then that’s going to be promoting love and peace and harmony. But to feel parasympathetic response you must be able to breath diaphragmatically. And so this is where Pattabhi Jois changed what Krishnamacharya was teaching he said that when you lift to Tolasana you do inhale, hold the breath, and then lift up in the air, whereas what Pattabhi Jois teaches, is he say you inhale while you lifting up in the air. And the only way you can do that is by contracting the chest and then activating the rectus abdominus and then breathing in, and then you can breath diaphragmatically. But if you try and exhale into the tummy and inhale into the chest while trying to lift into the air, most people can’t lift up in the air. And you can see this when you do something like a half sit up 31:17 Lolasana, PJ says inhale into that posture, but if you inhale to the chest there’s no power. If you inhale to the abdomen with the abdomen soft, there’s no power.  But if you make this contraction 31:36 to tighten the abdomen, then inhale diaphragmatically, then it’s possible to lift up, and you feel power. The way you can show that to someone, because not everyone can do that posture is you can do a simple version of lolasana which is this 31:52 This is what I call a simple version of Lolasana, I do a half sit up and you can see it’s the same shape as Lolasana but in the half sit up it obliges the rectus abdominus to work. But nothing else has to work. And in this position this doesn’t inhibit the diaphragm. So I can breath diaphragmatically as I sit up, everything’s relaxed. But if I exhale fully and draw the navel to the spine and keep it firm here I can’t breath here. Unless I release the muscles of exhalation. If I try and sit up it stresses my neck, and if I try and sit up further the abdomen pushes out. So a person who’s trying to hold their abdomen in and breathe either into the abdomen or into the chest will have no power and often neck pain if they do it in sit up. You can actually lift up but it’s very stressful, it’s much easier to lift up into a sit up or a half or Lolasana if you just simply engage the rectus abdominus and simultaneously inhale diaphragmatically. But the rectus abdominus in this pose and in Lolasana will hold the ribcage down so it’s very difficult to inflate the chest now because the ribs are held in.

ANTHONY: Generally in Ashtanga we tend to, the belly tends to be drawn in slightly, throughout, which is restricting our diaphragmatic breathing.

SIMON: It can and it can’t

But you were talking earlier about how we can do a similar effect of drawing the belly in using similar muscles and allow ourselves to breathe more diaphragmatically. 

SIMON: And this I can show you 33:36

This is my relaxed baby abdomen.  Now if I tighten my abdomen with the muscles of exhalation, the abdomen is drawn in. Now if I tighten my abdomen with the same muscles that we use to do Lolasana, that’s this 33:54 looks the same on the outside. But if I put your fingers into my soft abdomen, this is tightening my abdomen using my exhalation muscles 34:04 and then this is using my muscles that one would use for Lolasana 34:10 which is the rectus abdominus. And so the muscles of exhalation drawn the abdomen in, the muscles of Lolasana push the abdomen out but relative to relaxed baby belly both of them appear to draw the abdomen in. But when you use the muscles of exhalation if I now try and breathe diaphragmatically I can’t because it goes to the chest. Whereas if I use Lolasana (rectus abdominus) now I breathe diaphragmatically, I can breathe fine in my diaphragm. But I have a firmness, I have an abdomen that is drawn in, a little bit at least, and I have relaxation and strength.

ANTHONY: So if we breathe like this we can basically increase our diaphragmatic breathing throughout our whole practice it’s gonna effect how calm you are heart rate, it’s going to effect the degree to which we are sweating and our breathing is going to ???????  as well.

SIMON: Yes because if you use muscles of abdominal exhalation it’s a little bit like tying a noose around your neck, people die from that, you don’t get blood to the brain,  so if you tie a noose round here (waist) you don’t get blood to the legs, but the blood needs to come to the legs, so the heart says better pump faster.  But if this (belly) is expanded, firmly expanded, the heart can easily push blood through without pumping faster.



I mention my friend Mick in the interview as a case study fro  the effects of Kumbhaka. I was lucky enough to have Mick join me for a workshop I was giving at Stillpoint Yoga the weekend before last, at the end of the workshop Mick gave a presentation I just asked him  on fb if it's OK to post the hndout here.

MICK: "Cool. No problems. As long as you indicate its just a "rough" guide. The lengths of breaths and Kumbhakas can be varied depending on where your at with it. There's no rules. So inhales / exhales might just be 5 secs to begin with and retentions 2 secs. You build it up slowly. I think I mention that in the notes anyway. I don't have access to them at moment.
Same with the CO2 increasing pranayamas. People may find they have to shorten the lengths to begin with and build it up over time.
Also I didn't put in the notes - like you I tend to stay in pashimottanasana for more cycles of the breath. Same with shoulder stands and headstands"..

Preparing for the interview

Simon's YouTube Channel

Some extra background info from Simon on topics raised in this Interview from his Yogasynergy blog click on the title to continue reading.

To Breathe or Not to Breathe!

Breathing less than normal can calm the nervous system, decrease appetite and cause more oxygen to be transported to the brain. Breathing more than normal can have some beneficial effects too, however it also can make you feel dizzy, jittery and hungry. It is also better to keep breathing exercises and physical exercises separate until one is firmly established in the physical exercises. Once one no longer needs to focus on alignment and can confidently and safely perform the postures, doing simple or more complex breathing exercises can further deepen the physical practice......

Is it Correct to ‘Pull the Navel towards the Spine’? Answer: Yes and No!

Many people in the world of yoga, Pilates and fitness tell their clients and students to do something like ‘pull the navel to the spine’. If you google this expression you find articles that give a flurry of controversy on whether on not it is a good idea to ’pull the navel to the spine’.
In this video, exercise-based physiotherapist and yoga teacher Simon-Borg Olivier, discusses core stability and different ways to interpret the instruction “pull the navel to the spine”. This can be a confusing instruction and is often misunderstood, depending on the experience and the body of the practitioner.
However, just what exactly does it mean to ’pull the navel to the spine’. It turns out that when people are given this instruction they actually appear to move the navel towards the spine in 3 main ways. Neither of these ways can be said to be wrong or right as such, but they do have different effects....

Exhale for Pleasure, Strength and Freedom
In this short video below I discuss the seven main ways you can exhale and how by understanding and mastering these ways of exhalation you can stimulate the pleasure centres of your brain, improve core strength, save energy, reduce stress, make your spine more mobile and flexible, and massage your internal organs to improve the function of your digestive system, immune system and reproductive system.
The body can derive benefit from making passive minimal exhalations, which are seemingly effortless and help promote a calm restful state; and complete exhalations, which benefit the body by eliminating toxins from the body in the ‘stale’ air. The seven (7) main ways to exhale shown in this video and some of their applications are as follows:
1. Passive Abdominal Exhale
2. Passive Chest Exhale
3. Passive Postural Exhale
4. Active Postural Exhale
5. Forced Oblique Abdominal Exhale
6. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Exhale
7. Active Chest Exhale

See also

Preview of Simon's excellent book Applied Anatomy & Physiology of Yoga

Also information on Simon's Online Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga

See also my earlier post on Simon's book

The nine bandhas (yes Nine) in the APPLIED ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY OF YOGA of Simon Borg-oliver and Bianca Machliss

And this just in a blogtalkradio interview today

Five Things that Block Energy and 10 Ways to Move Them With Simon Borg-Olivier

Falling ( safely ?) out of Pinca Mayurasana and Karandavasana : Moving away from the wall

Feels a bit like a post from my when I first started blogging, old school, feel quite nostalgic.

See the update at the end of the post with David Garrigues new dropping out of pincha to blocks video

Kristina mentioned that I was 'fearless' on fb the this morning, that put me to shame a little because there is one thing (at least) in Ashtanga that scares the bejesus out of me, Pincha mayurasana, let along karandavasana, away from the wall.

This never used to be an issue, as a Home Ashtangi I would happily do my Pinca Mayurasan and Karandavasana in front of the wall at the end of my mat. If I was facing the other way in my practice I would tend to turn around and go to the back of my mat for those two asana, no problem.

I learned to do Karandavasana what, five years ago with my Richard Freeman Two week Karandavasana challenge (actually I think I took the duck back up for the first time the week following that challenge). Five years and I still like to have a wall there even though I rarely need it.

Last year at Kristina's shala in Rethymno on Manju's TT I found myself practicing my 2nd series in front of Kristina's beautiful alter, I was terrified of flipping over landing on the alter and sending everything flying. When she came to spot me I felt uncomfortable and couldn't go up, karandavasana too felt all wrong with somebody standing there. Later that week I tried to sneak over to a wall during practice, Kristina called me back..... top of the mat or not at all grrrrrrr.

Next month I'm going back to Crete to practice at Kristina's shala for two months as well as attend Manju's TT again, that Pinca without a wall is haunting my dreams.

"Why you fearing?" Pattabhi Jois would supposedly ask. Well Guruji it's not so much the falling, I was fine about tic tocks (eventually) it's the way the arms are set up, it seems all wrong, I'm not convinced I can drop out of it, land on my feet without ripping my arms out of my socket and I never liked the twisting out of a fall method.

Perhaps Youtube can help, it owes me one. I found these

OK, so it seems you don't rip your arms out of your sockets after all.

The evening after watching these I went up to the shala with great determination and intention, did my evening Vinyasa Krama practice and set up for pinca mayurasana, did one at the wall as well as my first karandavasana in pretty much a year (been exploring the ultra slow, kumbhaka infused original Krishana primary all year), went to the end of the mat, set up again....... and decided not today. Again, it felt all wrong, "Why fearing?"

Gee'd up by Kristina's 'fearless comment this afternoon I decided to 'overcome the asana' (subtitle of my blog, overcoming the difficulties we have with asana as well as out fixation on asana). But still with great reluctance.

I was a little worried about the shoulders and back so did a short shoulder and backbend focused Vinyasa Krama practice, did a couple of pinca's at the wall then set up at the top of the mat... paused went back the the wall and walked down it into a forearm version of urdhava danhurasana (wheel), just to double check, still felt all wrong, couldn't visualise it, what the hell.....

The idea here then was to try and 'fall' safely such that I would no longer worry about falling and feel more confident about Pinca Mayurasana and Karandavasana away from the wall.

And so here it is my first attempt at intentionally falling out of pinca mayurasana, followed by my first ever Pinca Mayurasana and Karandavasana away from the wall. To be honest the Karandavasana barely counts, I'm still not comfortable enough away from the wall to lower it nice and tightly which pretty much cancels any thoughts of getting it all the way back up, but hey, first one, I'll take it.

It felt fine for me but then I have pretty good backbends and flexible shoulders, you'll have to make your own decision based on your own practice on whether you want to try this yourself at home.

So a little more fearless this evening perhaps..... however coming back up from Karandavasana still in lotus and flipping over..... now that scares the bejesus out of me.....

"Why you fearing?"

Here's my friend laruga showing how karandavasana can be done, look how far she takes her hips back as she goes back up, terrifying.

And here's David with the argument for the wall that is there but we pretend that it isn't

a new video from David on dropping out of Pincha mayurasana to BLOCKS

(Thank you to my dear friend HD for the heads up on this one).


Monday, 26 May 2014

More pictures from My Vinyasa Krama Class (tree house) Yoga Rainbow festival

Not really a tree house but I like to think of it that way and those are orange and lemon trees.

See my Yoga Rainbow festival post  

and in Russian at WILD YOGI magazine 

Utkatasana - Cirali, Turkey at Yoga Rainbow Festival
before class
from tadasana sequence
from 'On your feet' sequence
Utkatasana - Ramaswami would have us do this posture for three minutes and count the number breaths then repeat later for the same amount of time but aim for half the number of breaths #proficiencyinasana

from Triangle sequence

from seated sequence
from Bow sequence
from Bow sequence
from Bow sequence
from the meditative sequence (called thus because it's built on and around Vajrasana, includes kapotasana)
Vinyasa krama is an Integrated yoga practice, finishes with pranayama, pratyahara, meditation

Srivatsa Ramaswami - Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga

Next weekend Ramaswami will be discussing Krishnamacharya, his teacher for over thirty years, at the Jivamukti centre, London, see you there perhaps

Saturday, May 31st 6:30pm-8:30pm


I'll be offering pretty much this same Vinyasa Krama class as in Cirali in the afternoon session up in Leamington spa at Stone Monkey on 22 June 2014, following the morning's 'Introduction to Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga' class,

The next few months I'll be travelling back and forth quite a bit before settling in Japan for good most likely at the end of the year.

My schedule is looking something like this

July - Aug - Crete (Manju), UK, 

September - Japan, 

November - UK, Russia, UK, 

December onwards - Japan. 

I will be available to present this workshop or something like it in the short visits back to the UK/Europe (and possibly while in Crete), perhaps a weekend or Sunday workshop, please do get in touch if this is something you would like to discuss

While In Japan I'll pretty much be doing nothing but exploring my practice and working on my Japanese for months at a time and waiting for my work Visa. Again, please get in touch if you'd like to discuss a workshop in that part of the world.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Ashtanga like Clockwork, a thank you letter

Just recently I've had the opportunity to practice my Ashtanga with a friend in the mornings, I've been struck by their practice, I aspire to their practice.

My own Ashtanga has been disrupted this last year with experiments in longer, slower breathing, Krishnamacharya's use of Kumbhaka as well as the disruption that surrounds workshops as you prepare ,leading up to them, and come back afterwards a little drained.

The impression my friends practice made on me was one of clockwork, there is a regularity, each breath, each inhalation and exhalation appearing the same throughout the practice, from Sury to savasana.... I could set my watch by it.

But more than that, their practice gives me the impression of of the workings of a clock, a wristwatch perhaps where each part seems to work in relation to another, the different groups of asana the different parts that make up the working of the watch, the movement the vinyasa. My friend is a dawn horologists, measuring time with the breath and the movement of the practice.

All those who criticise Ashtanga as being took fast, too energetic, to athletic, gymnastic should observe my friends practice, it's unhurried, focused, steady, it's an essay in meditative practice.

I aspire to this practice.

My friend of course, being an Ashtangi, would probably not recognise this description, and no doubt be more than a little embarrassed. Ever critical of their own practice, Ashtangi's when not aspiring to the next asana, a floaty jump through perhaps, are constantly tweaking here, tweaking there.... at what point do we accept our practice for what it is with gratitude, I've taken to include a small prayer of thanks for the morning's practice, however it turned out, along with my closing chant.

I thought I'd begun to, accept my practice for what it is. I no longer concern myself with new or fancy postures but here I am aspiring to more balance, more steadiness.

Practicing on the next mat I find I'm aware of the unevenness of my own practice, discord, double action, a sliding between the cogs, a lack of steadiness, of regularity, an unevenness of the breath. There are times however when our practices come into sync and I'm reminded of how powerful a practice this is, to practice with such balance, evenness, for ninety minutes, two hours, now there is a thing.

This time then is a re grounding of my practice, a steadying, evening out, a balancing.

And it makes me think, my breath tends to be a little longer, a little slower than my friends but is it perhaps a little too long. Fine in certain postures but in others it will naturally need to shorten, the binds for example of the marichiyasana's and kurmasana, is there perhaps a breath, a rate of breathing that I can maintain throughout, from sury to savasana, what is the longest, the slowest my breath can be that I can maintain comfortably throughout my practice.

And once my practice has been rebalanced, what of kumbhaka, when I then reintroduce my kumbhaka into my morning practice is there an ideal length of kumbhaka that will balance with the inhalation and exhalation, Krishnamacharya talks of the length of Kumbhaka in Yoga Makaranda II, he explored this to some degree.

At the end of June I move to Crete for a couple of months to practice at Kristina's shala in Rethymno, hopefully to work on Intermediate, to reground that practice in preparation for introducing Krishnamacharya's use of Kumbhaka into my 2nd series. I began to explore it a short while back but I had allowed my Intermediate series to become ragged, it needed tidying before I introduced Kumbhaka in any disciplined way.

Now though I'm starting to think of balance in 2nd, not merely tidying the practice but balancing each of the elements, the breath, each movement, asana, vinyasa....

It would be nice to have a 2nd series that would be like clockwork, steady and even and balanced.

Thank You

*Of course there are problems with a practice like clockwork metaphor, it suggests that each part is necessary and what of half a practice (half a watch?). There are of course many designs for a watch/clock and is our watchmaker somewhat blind perhaps.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois memorial practice with Kristina Ireland at Gingi Lee's The Shala

Kristina Ireland

So the second day of Kristina's workshop, Saturday we had Mysore practice in the morning I'd done a full Primary sweated a couple of kilo into my mat, then in the afternoon we looked at the the first six postures of 2nd series, each posture done twice as well as all standing and finishing, so basically two practices.

Today (Sunday) was another Mysore session this one dedicated to the memory of Guruji , Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who had passed away on this day five years before, 18th May 2009. 

I noticed in the mirror as I was getting ready that I looked a little shabby thought I'd tidy the beard up then thought what the hell and shaved the whole thing off, kind of a gesture.

Regretted it immediately, M. says I now have a boiled egg face and of course sweaty practice to come, gonna sting.

On the train in I thought perhaps I'd roll out my much neglected 2nd series, with all the work on Krishnamacharya's original primary over the last year, 2nd series had been almost forgotten about. Occasionally I would add the first half of second to my Primary or bring kapo etc into the evening Vinyasa krama practice but most of the time I was exploring such long slow breathing and Kumbhakas that I was happy if I made it to navasana before moving on to finishing. The thought came to me that it might actually have been at Kristina's Shala in Crete with Manju August  last year that I last practiced full 2nd.

The morning's practice, as I mentioned, was dedicated to Guruji, Kristina said a couple of words of dedication before the opening mantra, that was nice and I still had in mind the little interview about Kristina's memories of him from the night before (see below). 

I've spent a lot of time on this blog trying to bringing out the debt we have to Krishnamacharya that seemed to be almost forgotten ( the odd line or brief mention here and there) but there is no denying that we wouldn't have Ashtanga Vinyasa without Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, he preserved for us the early Krishnamacharya practice we find in Yoga Makaranda, pretty much intact ( however the few differences are interesting). He adapted it slightly perhaps for the college course at the Sanskrit college in the 1940's and this format/approach seemed to work well for the western visitors who came trickling in to Mysore the 70's and then as the river we have now, the practice flows from it's source. It felt an honour to pay my respects yesterday morning as we do each time we practice.

Gingi Lee and Kristina under a picture of Kristina's late husband and Gingi's teacher Derek Ireland

So second series with Kristina.... now I know Kristina is a pussycat, big softhearted, heart on the sleeve Greek but boy she's tough too "BREATHE", she'll bark across the room again and again, and at nobody in particular I might add, but you always think it's at you directly, "TRISTANA, BANDHA, DRISHTI, BREATHE", she'll repeat that too again and again before going back to chanting softly as she works the room. I'm trying to decide if she puts the tristana in any particular order or changes the order throughout, "BREATHE". 

Strong firm adjustments, interesting, pressing down here, guiding there each time an AHAH moment. 

I've practiced in Crete with several of Kristina's students, many teachers themselves now (they all seem to come back each year to take Manju's workshops), I know how much they love her, are devoted to her but have seen too how she'll make them work, make them want to work, to give a little more not just to her but to their practice. 

Come to think of it wasn't Guruji like this, from the stories we hear, the love but also resignation that you will have to work, that he wouldn't let you ease up.... there is no rest in this practice, each time we begin again, if you coast through your prayers they aren't prayers.

And this is serious stuff, ...this is learning" (Kristina again).

There was a point in the second session where I was tempted to ask a smart arse question along the lines of "If you only have two hours to practice is it better to practice two hours of asana or one hour of asana and half an hour of pranayama, half hour of mediation". But then I thought to myself Kristina's answer would probably be "Do three hours, four" (speculating here). 

This yoga is a gift, look at us, we've discovered yoga (I'm not talking just asana here), we've looked or begun to look inwards, to devote time to that search to understand our nature, or just to be present, open, are we fully aware how remarkable that is. And this practice is how some of us choose to go about it, our baby steps (paraphrasing my interpretation, impression of something Kristina seemed to stress in the after lunch session).

July and August I'm heading to Crete to practice at Kristina and her student's shala, two months of daily practice, I'm a little terrified. Since the first day I walked up to the shala door and saw her standing there, so familiar as if I'd known her for years, I've tended to think of her as my Ashtanga teacher, her and Manju and her Rethymno shala as my shala, how weird is that, curious how these things work.

But she took away my 2nd series rest postures! There are a couple of asana that I tended to feel were put there to give us a breather, I don't know.... Bharadvajrasana, gomuukhasana, couple of others maybe, now those too now are work.

This summer then in Crete, hopefully, I'll get to ground my 2nd series, I say hopefully, who am I kidding, Kristina wouldn't let me do otherwise, I know she won't let me go near a wall as a karandavasana security blanket, guess this is the surrendering thing huh.

Once 2nd series is back I can start looking at what Krishnamacharya was up to with his kumbhaka in 2nd series.... but that's for Japan.

This may well be my favourite end of workshop photo ever (despite my lack of beard),  I felt like a sore thumb standing up there but I love the mix of standing, kneeling seated, turned in, turned out, looking here, looking there, thank you to Ella for taking these wonderful photos.

And to both Gingi and Ella for bringing Kristina here and allowing her to share this practice with us.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Memorial practice Interview with Kristina Ireland

I posted this when it came in late Saturday night but it kind of belongs in this post more so here it is again and besides who reads blog posts at the weekend.

I asked Kristina three questions  last week related to tomorrow's memorial practice, here they are with her response, thank you as ever to Niko for his help ( i also asked her for her favourite picture of Guruji, she just sent me these two.

1. What do you remember as being your first impression of meeting Guruji, of that first trip to Mysore and perhaps how he was with you in the beginning, your first impressions.

2. How did your impression of Guruji and perhaps of his teaching, your relationship with him change over subsequent visits, as you grew to know him a little better and he you.

3. With the passing of time, what has stayed with you most strongly and as you dedicate next Sunday’s practice to his memory what is it about him that you most wish to remember

It was back in 1995 and after having completed more than five years of practicing that I decided to visit Mysore for the very first time. The main reason was, that it was considered a great honor for any Ashtangi to find himself practicing under the guidance of the Guru in his Shala and become directly connected with his teachings while practicing in the birthplace of the method. Back then the modern authorization system of a teacher did not exist, making thus any visit to Mysore a pure case of connecting to the lineage and practicing with the most important figure of Ashtanga. That's why it was very important to prepare yourself with a direct student of the Guru before actually visiting him.

I arrived on a Saturday together with my son Dennis Ireland, who at the time was 10 months old, and with a friend who actually offered to help me around with the kid at least for the first few days. The day I arrived, the Shala was closed, so I visited Guruji in his house. The moment he opened the front door I saw this impressively strong man dressed in a traditional outfit while chanting. The few words we managed to exchange did not disturb his spiritual practice of chanting. I informed him that I was there with my son, and he asked me to be at the Shala the next morning in a late shift.

The meeting was obviously really short, but his complete understanding of my family status and the needs of motherhood earned my respects and love. His approach as a family man was always the key up until the end. Knowing that I was Derek Ireland's wife and mother of his children he would always show great interest in their well being especially after Derek's untimely departure.

On the first day of my practice what made the biggest impression to me, was the direct relationship of Guruji with his students. I had always thought that being in the Shala of a great teacher would actually make it impossible to approach him and build a relationship with him. However, this was not the case in Mysore. Guruji together with Sharath would assist each and every one of the practitioners in the Shala with the aim of actually getting to know them not just in a physical level but in a more personal and honest way, in order to help them improve so much as practitioners but also as human beings. He had the gift of extracting the best out of you as he was capable of forging a relationship without the limitations of time and space. The simplicity and clarity of his teachings would actually welcome you to his own spiritual environment where everyone could feel at home.

At the same time Guruji was an exceptionally generous figure. Although everybody had told me that, since I could not bind myself in Marichyasana D or Kurmasana after having given birth he would ask me to stop, he actually assisted me himself in those two and urged me to do the whole primary series. Many times he would sit beside me, giving important information on the nature and technique of Asana. He was always keen on sharing knowledge and was so very much tuned with the practice of his students, that despite his heavy workload and tiredness he would always have the awareness to remind the practitioner what he might have missed in his practice.

I will never forget that when I found myself seriously ill during the third week of my visit there, he immediately noticed and started asking about me and my whereabouts. As soon as I was back in the Shala his main concern was how I could regain my strength in order to be completely healthy and fit again. He would always pay attention on the emotional physical and psychological state of his students considering them part of his greater family.

Derek died in September 1998. Funnily enough I found myself without a husband, a job, in a foreign country having to look after my 2 adorable and very young boys. I had to make some very tough decisions in order to keep balance in a chaos.I knew what my priorities were. In the funeral a time when I felt really supported by Derek’s students and friends, a lovely bunch of flowers came. It was from Guruji and his family as well as my dear Mister Joseph who is not with us anymore.

The words of that card were so moving that a few days later I found myself in Mysore with my younger son Liam who was then 18 months old. Both Guruji and Sharath took care of me. It was the place to go as I knew that Guruji would accept me with my pain. It was only a few months after he himself had lost his beloved wife. He was in the class every day, teaching and mourning for his loss, sitting on his stool for a few seconds while Sharath would carry on, crying until he could feel that somebody needed him. He never tried to hide his human nature. Every morning after having received my humble gift of flowers he would place them on the pictures of the dead members of his family that were decorating his shala, his own private world.  He would ask me If I was ok, and when tears used to come while I was practicing he knew and he would gently lift my head saying “No, no, no. Don’t cry.” shaking his head to the left and to the right.

In this visit I used to love sitting next to him in afternoon meetings. There were really few students in October thus the questions were few but we used to love being with him, just sitting there, being in his company. These moments were so precious to me. One day I said to him, “You know Derek and Ama will see us suffering from above and they’ll probably have fun with us”, and we liked the idea so much that we immediately burst into laughter.

The family gave me again the message of independence and the strength to move on like a warrior. I returned to the UK, sold my flat so that I could build up again my work as a teacher, alone this time but with the blessings of Guruji and of my beloved till this day Derek.

Sri k. Pattabhi Jois was a very strong man and his students admired him for that. He was a scholar, a great philosopher, teaching in universities for years, nobody could be compared with him on that matter. He was like his teacher Krisnamacharya. Really strong. He had the great respect of all his male and female students, strong practitioners that travelled the world to spread the method and share Guruji’s strength, to help people and make them strong. These teachers are still doing the same thing today. 

I remember the period when the new shala was under construction. He was so excited to show me the place. He used to live in Saraswati’s house that was at the time opposite the new building site. By then I had seen the family a couple of times in London. Guruji always wanted to see the boys, so we were lucky to have some extra time with him on the place he was staying. His close students would be invited with their family and spend few hours with him away from the busy shala. This is where I met Saraswati for the first time as she used to escort Guruji to the tours, to cook and look after him. Later and as time passed by we had the pleasure to receive her teaching in the shala.

So back to Mysore in 2002, Guruji insisted on showing the new shala. So we walked to the other side of the road and he gave me a private tour of his new practice room where so many students practice today. Then he started climbing the stairs leading to the next floor, the one with his family house. 
I remember that climb because he would walk slowly supporting himself by keeping close to the walls in case he lost his balance. My friend stayed in front of him and I was following him at the back in case he fell back. After big effort he showed me the four corners of the flat. He said there were going to be four small apartments on each corner: one for him, one for Saraswati, one for Sharath and one for Manju . I remember asking him if Manju would return, and of course his answer was “Yes, yes, Manju will come to stay here.” I find it so wonderful that he wanted everyone together. I was so excited that till this day I have the whole Jois family in my mind like one sole power. That was his vision, not division but unity.

It was then that Guruji gave me the most beautiful letter of Authorization. It was a personal letter where he would recognize not just how far I had studied with him but also Derek's contribution referring to him as his beloved student. At the time the blessing from your teacher was the most important tool for us in order to spread this knowledge. When he gave me the letter he said to me “Open it! Open it!” like he was the one that was receiving this gift. Only it was me actually receiving that gift, that blessing which made me what I am today and I am sure that he wanted me to feel protected and secure.

After that we met again in his European tours and every time he wanted to see the boys. In his 2005 workshop in London, I visited him with my good friend and business partner Michael Anastassiades. In our meeting I asked him what I should do to help in this effort of sharing the Ashtanga method. He looked at me straight in the eyes and said quietly: “You Teach!” Then I said “Just that?” He turned to me and with a very strong voice he repeated “YOU TEACH!!!” Since then these words are guiding me. In that tour I invited him to Greece, and he agreed which had made me really happy and excited. However, this workshop never actually happened as he had some health problems so I did not want to push him.  

There is always a point and a place that somebody feels he belongs. For Guruji this place was his shala. I can understand this now. In his shala he offered us the most important tools to get an honest job; a job that has great benefit for the people by showing freedom to them. He showed us Ashtanga as it is; the Ashtanga of Patanjali. He wanted his students to be honest, to be knights serving humanity with nobility. He asked from us to care and look after other people and help them get involved by making them teachers of their own selves. Independent and free.

The night he was dying, I experienced a sense of stress and necessity towards this practice and the teaching. As it seems I was not the only one of his students that had this experience. Only when the morning came a lovely feeling of liberation spread through the community. Guruji had left without leaving tears behind. He spread his message about unity, love and sense of duty through the community all the way to the end. On the 18th of March 2009 Guruji left, leaving a better world behind him because of his teachings. He and his family have managed to contribute to the change of the vibration of the planet.

There are no words to express my gratitude to sri K ,Pattabhi Jois. His legacy continues threw his family and his students. Some times when I look back I feel that I have been one of the luckiest people in the world even if I could not notice at the time the impact of the love I had received from the Jois family. I am so honored to be part of this tradition, to have met these teachers, to be an Ashtangi.

Thank you Guruji! Thank you for reminding me how precious this practice is, this life is.

See this link for another longer interview with Kristina from last year

Entelechy : An Interview with Certified Ashtanga Teacher Kristina Karitinou


Here's the link to Gingi Lee's The Shala (20 minutes from Victoria and five minutes from the station)

Derek assisting Gingi Lee, The practice Place

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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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