This blog is essentially 'sleeping'.

I've deleted or returned to draft 80% of the blog, gone are most, if not all, of the videos I posted of Pattabhi Jois, gone are most of the posts regarding my own practice as well as most of my practice videos in YouTube, other than those linked to my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book).

Mostly I've just retained the 'Research' posts, those relating to Krishnamacharya in particular.

Blog Comments are turned off, there are no "members" of this blog .

Thursday, 30 October 2014

BKS Iyengar : "So I'm saying please don't think of the branch but how the branches touch."

Iyengar 1977

Nice video of Iyengar stressing that he, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar are all part of the same tree, all come from the same root, I.E. Krishnamacharya's teaching... they may have branched off but ..."don't think of the branch but of how the branches touch".

2:00 "Do you mean to say I haven't done Ashtanga yoga, jumpings? Do you mean to say I have not done in my life? I've done forty years. I've done forty years, not one day, not two days. But what I did... Pattabhi Jois took where my guruji (Krishnamacharya) stopped and he continued that. I said... I threw (?) over what my Guruji taught, is that the end? So what I learnt was, from the movement..., I'm the only teacher of myself..., I said Jumpings is the 'yoga of motion', Vinyasa yoga is the yoga of motion, mine is the 'yoga of action'. I don't want motion, so people not excited by the motion because the external mind gets the vibration but I want the internal mind to get the vibration not the external mind. So that is the jump I made from Krishnamacharya's teaching. So please don't say Iyengar is different, Krishnamacha..., viniyoga is different, Pattabhi's is different..., they are all the same. Root is the same but only it has branched off. So I'm saying please don't think of a branch but how the branches touch".

3:30 Why I left Ashtanga Yoga?

4:00 Why/how he came to alignment... " I'm the one using alignment"

He also talks about how he used to teach Ashtanga or rather 'jumpings', the 'yoga of motion' up until the 70s (See the second video clip from '77), even 80s.

Four and a half minutes in he has one of his teachers in Trikonasana and slips into the vinyasa count "ekam, dve, trini...., you know it, I also know it, it's not that I've forgotten.. I also know's because I still come from the same root".

4:55 Length of exhalation, matching the breath to the exhalation.

Iyengar teaching a 'jumping' class in 1977

Full movie here

Also, a link to one of the Iyengar sections from the old 1934 black and white footage

It's curious to me having spent so much time with Krishnamacharya's 1934 book Yoga Makaranda, that Iyengar focusses on the 'motion' aspect of Krishnamacharya's teaching as if that was the main element of the teaching back in the 30s. He goes so far as to talk about this 'motion' speaking to the external mind rather than the internal mind.

And yet for me, Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda is ALL about the internal mind. The movement focusses attention on the breath, the asana is a container for the breath or rather for the space between the breath, the kumbhaka (breath retention), the space in which, for Krishnamacharya, we see god (or  the self/absence of self).

Perhaps it's not surprising, teaching a large class of young boys in the 1930's, he was unlikely to have them stay in postures for long periods or focus on slowing the breath and introducing kumbhakas , better to have them jump about, to move from one posture to the next, keep their attention.

Did he try to teach it once, to have the kids slow their breath, to retain it, did he notice a lot of fidgeting, a lot of wayward, bored drishti....

Krishnamacharya's son TK Sribhashyam does talk about how Krishnamacharya would have the kids stand in an asana and then chant a mantra (an example in the movie breath of gods), the mantra would keep their attention but it would be chanted during a kumbhaka, one way perhaps to introduce kumbhaka into their practice and yet keep the attention.

Is this why Kumbhaka never made it into Iyengar and Pattabhi Joi's Ashtanga, because it was never an element of those large classes they attended, despite the fact it was the main focus of Krishnamacharya's writing at that time. And yet, didn't Krishnamacharya have Pattabhi Jois come to him privately, wouldn't he have taught his longest, perhaps most advanced student kumbhaka, the 'ideal approach to practice' that he presented in his first book (Yoga Makaranda). The book was in Kanada, Pattabhi Jois' own language, surely he had a copy on his desk when he wrote Yoga Mala.

But then Krishnamacharya was also teaching what we now call Vinyasa Krama and 'Vinyoga' back in the 30s, in private one-to-one sessions with students of different ages and fitness (we also see elements of that in Krishnamacharya's inversions in the 1938 footage), that approach seemingly didn't get picked up on by Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar in their main presentation either. Pattabhi Jois did mention however that his teaching exam was Krishnamacharya giving him a patient and saying 'heal him'.

Look to where the branches touch....


I was asked this week about the personal practice of those great teachers, post to come on this.

Monday, 27 October 2014

DRISHTI: Ashtanga and Meditation. How should one meditate in 33 bullet points.

Download a pdf version of this whole post from my google docs page for later viewing

Posting this extended version of this earlier post as happily the question continues to come up...

But first perhaps an encouraging thought... 

If we've been linking our breath to our movements in our practice. If we've been working on improving our employment of drishti (whether eyes open or closed, internal or external), then it's not a case of should we or shouldn't we consider a meditation practice... We've already begun a meditation practice, the Smayama, the meditation limbs of raja (ashtanga yoga) which include it's preparation.

Jump to the section that interests you
  1. The Aranya commentary from yesterday focusing on the Drishti aspect.
  2. My 33 point how to meditate 'manual'.
  3. The Yoga 'meditation' Newsletter from Ramaswami.
  4. The Ashtanga and Zen video following a Zen Monk who also practices Ashtanga.
  5. Concentration: the sixteen vital points

The Samyama. 
The upper three limbs of Raja (Ashtanga)yoga

 – concentration, one-pointedness of mind

– meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)

– the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state


"The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as preparations. They are asanas and pranayama". Ramaswami from the newsletter below.

At some point we can perhaps choose whether to look to the next pose and the next or look deeper within those that we have, explore them as asana (even as mudra ) rather than merely postures.

Aranya's commentary on YS 22-49 that I posted yesterday as support for Krishnamacharya's employment of breath suspension in asana strikes me as an excellent place to begin.

Drishti (internal or external, eyes closed or open).

"That is, the object of concentration should be present in the mind during each act of inhalation and exhalation, or the inhalation and exhalation are to be looked upon as the predisposing causes bringing the thought of the object of concentration; thus union between the breath and the object of concentration has to be practiced. When this becomes habitual, then the suspension of the movement (of breath) has to be practiced." Aranya.

Look too at his use of the Yoga as union translation option, yoking the breath to the object of concentration .

"Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills". Ramaswami Nov. 2009

A couple of years ago I put together what I like to think of as a short Yoga Meditation Manual for my own personal use ( I don't think I ever posted it and can't find my original), it's based on Ramaswami's  November 2009 newsletter  Meditating on Meditation (below), it's pretty much a numbering of the sentences outlining practice in the newsletter. I'd wondered why it was that we turn to the yoga tradition for asana and perhaps pranayama but when it comes to meditation often turn to , Zen, Vippasana...... This then was an attempt to make yoga meditation a little more accessible.

There is of course a more in depth yoga meditation manual,  Patanjali's Yoga Sutras,

Here is my own personal copy...


Meditating on Meditation by Srivatsa Ramaswami 

Newsletter Nov 2009

I was watching a live television program in India some 30 years back when TV had just been introduced in India. It was a program in which an elderly yogi was pitted against a leading cardiologist. It was virtually a war. The yogi was trying to impress with some unusualposes which were dubbed as potentially dangerous by the doctor. Almost everything the yogi claimed was contested by the non-yogi and soon the dialogue degenerated. The yogi stressed that headstand will increase longevity by retaining the amrita in the sahasrara in the head and the medical expert countered it by saying that there was no scientific basis for such claims and dubbed it as a pose which was unnatural and dangerous and will lead to a stroke. The Yogi replied by saying that Yoga had stood the test of time for centuries; it had been in voguemuch before modern medicine became popular. Thank God it was a black and white program; else you would have seen blood splashed all over the screen.
Things have become more civil in these three decades. Now neti pot, asanas, yogic breathing exercises and yogic meditation have all become part of the medical vocabulary. There is a grudging appreciation of yoga within the medical profession. Many times doctors suggest a few yogic procedures, especially Meditation, in several conditions like hypertension, anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic ailments.
Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills.
But how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for meditation.
The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.
Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further, when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4 liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas. Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm andbecomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.
What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail. Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras. Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation
For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without using the Pranayama Mantra.
 (** Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40 pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in theSep/Oct 2008 issue).
What of the technique? The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama) called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the “object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may (may means must) take a short time to review the quality of meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one meditates.
If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing tamasic interactions, foods etc.
Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation called Samadhi.
In this state only the object remains occupying the mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi– and one may be able to use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah)
The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself (sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.
The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person, which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of theLord made it possible for many to worship and meditate .
Of course many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.
Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).
Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be liberated. Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.
The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana) understand them and realize the nature of the self through several step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study and understand it from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta) of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.
Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti, samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or whatever.

And then we have this from another earlier post


Concentration: the sixteen vital points
see my earlier post 

Which contains examples of General Practice employing concentration on vital points as well as pranayama in asana.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

On pranayama in Asana : Mayurasana in Krishnamacharya's Original Ashtanga

On pranayama in Asana

We know Krishnamacharya included or saw the inclusion of kumbhaka as an ideal approach to practice but this is the first time I've noticed it referred to explicitly as pranayama in asana ... 

re mayurasana
"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position. Proper practice of Pranayama is difficult, but becomes easy after practice".

"If at this stage, regulated breathing is practiced in Padma Mayurasana position, it becomes easy later to practice Pranayama even in the ordinary Mayurasana position". 

This is from the Mayurasana instruction from Yoga Makaranda part II. Interestingly Krishnamacharya doesn't mention employing kumbhaka in the Yoga Makaranda instructions from part I which is where we usually find kumbhaka indications. And in the main body of the Yoga Makaranda part II instructions he specifically says NOT to include kumbhaka ( but this fits in with the apparent introductory focus of YM2.). The reference to practicing pranayama and thus kumbhaka comes as an addition at  the end.

How Long to spend in Mayurasana

Three durations are mention for mayurasana, the shocking...

"This asana sthiti should be held from 1 minute up to 3 hours according to the practitioner’s capa- ability".

from Yoga Makaranda Part 1

which thankfully is followed immediately by...

"If we make it a habit to practise this asana every day for at least fifteen minutes, we will attain tremendous benefits".

And finally in Yoga makaranda part II

"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position". 

Which is attainable.

It's still curious as to why kumbhaka never made it into  current Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois seems to have carried over so much from his teacher ( he stated that is all he ever taught), the lists of asana (and basic order as we see in the Yogasanagalu table of 1941), the long slow breathing (which seems to have become lost somewhat along the way), the longer stays (also neglected) but not the kumbhaka. 

And yet there it is in all three of Krishnamacharya's Primary texts and from the time when he was teaching the Young Pattabhi Jois (Yoga Makaranda Part II might have been just a little later). 

We are not talking secondary sources or rumour here, Kumbhaka is everywhere in Yoga Makarada part I (1934) explicitly indicated for almost all asana. Those same instructions were carried over to Yogasanagalu (1941) and here we find reference again in Yoga Makaranda part II (1950s?). 

We also find Kumbhaka in Krishnamacharya's later teaching as seen in Desikachar, Mohan, Sribhashyam and Ramaswami, even some references in Iyengar. Krishnamacharya seems to have retained kumbhaka as an important element of practice throughout his long life even when the vinyasa count was put to one side. It's only in the Pattabhi Jois tradition that it seems to be missing.

But where did Krishnamacharya come across the practice of kumbhaka in asana, which ancient texts, which teacher or is it his own introduction?

My reading of Aranya, commentary on Patanjali supports the practice as well as the approach in Yoga makaranda part II to introduce the kumbhaka into the asana gradually as one becomes more proficient, the asana, more steady, the mind more focussed.

Mayurasana Vinyasa in Yoga makaranda part I and in part II

Mayurasana Yoga Makaranda

This has 9 vinyasas. 

The 5th vinyasa itself is the asana sthiti. 

This asana has two forms. One form is called sampurna mayurasana. 

The second is called one-handed mayurasana. 

The picture included here depicts only sampurna mayurasana. 

In this asana, both hands should be firmly pressed down on the ground and with the strength of the arms, the whole body should be balanced like a bar in a balance scale with both sides at the same level. 

In the other type of mayurasana, keep only one hand on the ground and balance the body on this hand as mentioned above. Ordinarily, most people cannot do this type. So it is alright to just do sampurna mayurasana. 

Study the picture carefully to learn how to place the hands.

This asana must be done before eating (on an empty stomach). Wait a minimum of four hours after eating before practising this asana.

This asana sthiti should be held from 1 minute up to 3 hours according to the practitioner’s capa- bility. It is good to practise this regularly and to remain in this sthiti for longer periods during the winter or colder months rather than in the summer.

If we make it a habit to practise this asana every day for at least fifteen minutes, we will attain tremendous benefits. First, it will not allow unnecessary flesh or excessive impurities to remain in our body — it will expel them out. It will increase digestive power. It will protect us from every disease and keep these diseases from approaching. We can say that it is the death of all respiratory diseases, all paralytic diseases — all such dangerous diseases. No disease will approach the people who practise this asana.

One handed mayurasana, tricky but doable (with a shirt )

This asana has to be done on the bare ground. There should be no carpet or other spread on the ground.

1. Stand upright with the legs together. Jump spread the legs apart so that there may be 12 inches between the feet. Lift the arms, interlace the fingers and turn the palms upwards. Stretch the body and the arms. Inhale.

2. While exhaling, lower the trunk by bending the body at the hips. Keep the arms stretched. When the hands are near the ground, the fingers are freed, the palms turned downwards and placed between the feet firmly on the ground, the finger pointing towards the back and the little fingers touching each other. The legs should be kept stretched and the knees should not be bent. The spine should be kept stretched and as straight as possible.

3. Inhale and lift the head.

4. Exhale, bend the head, spread, the elbows for the passage of the head and place the
head between the knees.

5. Inhale, lift the head and come back to the position in step (3)

6. Take a few deep breaths.

7. While inhaling, jump back with both feet, so that the navel may be above the
elbows, when the legs are stretched behind. The legs touch each other, stretched with the toes pointed and the back of the feet resting on the ground. The elbows are placed firmly on the either side of the navel, and the elbows kept as near to each other as possible.

8. Slowly inhale, the inhalation should be only to half the extent that was being done during the previous deep breathing, and move the body forward by about three inches, so that the body assumes the position of a horizontal plank. The legs are to be kept stretched, the knees together and the toes pointed. Head should be raised up.

Note: The final position prescribed above may not be possible in the beginning stages. The feet should be raised only about an inch in the beginning stages of practice, and the height lifted slowly increased as practice advances.

9. Breathe in and breathe out in a regulated manner but with no retention of breath.

10. While inhaling, lower the legs.

11. While inhaling, jump forward and bring the feet on either side of the palms and
while inhaling life the head to the position in step (3).

12. While exhaling, bend the head, widen the elbows and place the head between the knees.

13. While inhaling, life head and reach the position as in step (3).

14. Lift the trunk and with a jump bring the legs together and reach a position as at the
beginning of the asana.

In this asana, the stomach is compressed, and the lungs are also compressed, and it may appear that regulated breathing in this posture may not be possible. When Mayurasana has been mastered sufficiently to keep the body steadily horizontal for half a minute, the variation mentioned below-Padma Mayurasana can be done. This variation should not however be attempted unless by previous practice padmasana i.e., crossing of the legs can be done without the help of the hands in the Sarvangasana and Sirshasana positions. 

If at this stage, regulated breathing is practiced in Padma Mayurasana position, it becomes easy later to practice Pranayama even in the ordinary Mayurasana position. 

Care should however be taken to see that the lungs are not unduly strained. 

For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position. Proper practice of Pranayama is difficult, but becomes easy after practice.

Note: At least 4 hours should lapse after the last meal, before this asana is attempted. Benefits:

i. This prevents all diseases pertaining to the liver and spleen.

ii. This also cures diseases of the spleen and liver, but such treatment, in the case of those suffering from these diseases should be undertaken only under the personal guidance of a properly qualified teacher.

iii. This increases the powers of digestion.

This asana should not be done by those suffering from excessive fat, breathing trouble, blood pressure or kidney complaint. This asana should be done in moderation during summer.
Milk should form a regular article of diet while practicing this asana.

BKS Iyengar 1938

Friday, 24 October 2014

Krishnamacharya's alternatives to Headstand in his third son Sri Sribhashyam's book Emergence of yoga

One of the challenges I found teaching Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama regularly in Rethymno this summer was what to do about Sirsasana (headstand), especially in a mixed class where several of those attending are perhaps unable to practice the inversion with or without a wall (and were also perhaps only in Rethymno and only in town for classes for a couple of weeks). This is especially troubling given the importance of Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Sirsasana (headstand) in Vinyasa Krama. These asana are considered two of the key postures in any daily Vinyasa krama practice and are both usually held for a minimum of ten minutes each.

Link to one of Ramaswami's excellent newsletter on Shoulderstand and Headstand and why they are considered so beneficial

from the newsletter...

"What is equally important is that Sirsasana helps improve circulation 
of the cerebro spinal fluid, which is helpful to the brain and also 
for the spinal nerve bundles—the chakras. Because of the increased 
pressure in the brain due to this fluid, the pituitary secretions 
increase helping the better functioning of the sympathetic nervous 
system which will help in many ways including the dilatation of the 
bronchial tubes giving great relief to asthmatics. There is draining 
of the bronchial tubes, giving some welcome relief for those with 
chronic chest congestion.  Many feel increased memory power and 
general better brain capacity. There are cases of even some correction 
of the eyesight. The vinyasas like the twists, Akunchanasana, the 
backbends like Viparitadandasana in Sirsasana and Uttanamayurasana in 
Sarvangasana help the spine considerably, by not only maintaining the 
flexibility of this structure but also nourish the nadis and chakras 
or nerve fibers and nerve bundles in the spinal chord".  Srivatsa Ramaswami

Which may make us question the purpose of some of these alternatives physiologically, personally I'm looking at the breath.

Notice the heavily pregnant woman in the first picture which ties in nicely with my previous post on Yoga and motherhood

I was especially delighted then to come across the headstand alternatives in Sri T.K. Sribhashyam's Emergence of Yoga. Sri Sribhashyam is Krishnamacharya's third son and working through his book I've started to think of the text as applied Vinyasa Krama. Ramaswami gives sequences of types of asana, Bow, Asymmetric, On one leg etc. but instructs us to chose asana and subroutines from those longer sequences when constructing our daily practice built around a number of key asana. Sri Sribhashyam gives around 70+ examples of how one might go about doing this.

In the book they are presented as complete practices, personally I tend to use them as a frame work and add a couple of extra asana around those mentioned in line with Ramaswami's subroutines but then I have extra time for practice.

Another nice aspect of Sri Sribhashyam's book is that it's laid out pedagogically, the level of difficulty of the asana builds up but more importantly so does the pranayama, the length of stay and number of repetitions and introduction of kumbhaka into certain asana and Mudra. At the end of the 58 general practices one might turn to examples of Krishnamacharya's own personal practices to explore how the practices are taken even further.

Here then are the five alternatives to Sirsaasana that Sri Sribhashyam introduces in the book and in the context of the practice. I know some will want to try out the whole practice so have included the outlines for practice as well as the internal drishti focal point sheet.

See this post as accompanying my more extensive review of the book found at the link below

Emergence of Yoga by Krishnamacharya's 3rd son SRI T K SRIBHASHYAM now available in English translation

I tend to practice my Krishnamacharya Original Ashtanga (see outline beneath the kapo at top of page) in the morning and then turn to one of these practices in the evening, for the Ashtangis' amongst you these practices might constitute a gentle Saturday (rest day), Moon day, Ladies holiday practice (with the sirsasana alternative)  or something to turn to if injured (wrists). They also give a nice progression for building a pranayama practice.

For those practicing Vinyasa Krama and wondering how to move from the full sequences to a daily practice they can give a general framework perhaps.

Unfortunately I don't have a scanner here in Japan so the picture quality isn't good and don't do the book, which is beautiful, justice but then this is supposed to be an introduction to the book, hopefully you'll be tempted to buy it especially as it's available in translation thus far in English, Spanish, French and German.

Here it is on

I've added a video example of one of Krishnamacharya's own personal 'Life saving' practices from the book at the bottom of the post.

Alternatives to Sirsa asana (headstand)

Alternative: Supta Pada Angusta Asana

Alternative: Maha Mudra

Alternative; Viparita Karani

Alternative: Utthita Pada Angusta Asana

Alternative: Savanga Asana
Alternative: Tatka mudra

The alternative asana and mudras

An excuse to try out my new Super 8 app for iPhone and some of it's filters. This is the Krishnamacharya, so called, Life saving sequence from the movie Der Atmende Gott, The breathing God. See this blog post 
Nice little app, very easy to import the videos from the iPhone/itouch via iTunes

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Krishnamacharya's Bharadvajrasana named after the sage (Rishi) Bharadvāja 12- 48 breaths

I'm becoming obsessed with exploring this asana, Krishnamacharya talks of staying from 12 to 48 breaths and introducing both types of kumbhaka (so holding the breath in after inhalation and out after exhalation). At first, the position of the arm reaching around to hold the foot seems to stop the blood, it takes some settling into the posture for the blood to flow. The nature of the posture, the twist and double bind both in front and behind challenges the breath, the kumbhaka, it's fascinating, feels quite profound. I intended to stay for 24 breaths but lost count and it's probably closer to twenty. The video runs for about five minutes so 48 breaths would take around ten for each side, twenty minutes one asana, stunning, it's an asana that thinks it's a mudra.

First time practicing on tatami.... Springy.

from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda Part II

1. Sit on a piece of soft folded cloth, with one leg stretched straight in front, and the other leg folded back at the knee, so that the foot is close and by the side of the buttocks, the sole of the foot upturned, toes stretched and the back of the foot touching the cloth. The knees should be as close as possible. The foot of the leg, stretched in front, should be upright, to the ground and not inclined sideways. The body should be erect and the spinal column stretched-chin lock.

2. Bend the stretched leg (say the right) at the knees and bring the right heel very near the umbilicus. The right knee should touch the ground. Both the knees should be as near to each other as possible.

3. The right hand is taken round the back to catch hold of the toes of the right leg. The palm to touch the back of the foot.

4. The palm of the left hand is placed on the cloth below the right thigh. The hand should be stretched and not bent at the elbow. The left wrist should touch the outside of the thigh.

5. Twist trunk to face front. Turn the head, so that the chin is over the left shoulder.

6. Take deep inhalations and exhalations with holding in of breath and holding out of
breath. Both types of kumbhakam are necessary. The total rounds of deep breaths may be slowly increased as practice advances, from 12 to 48.

7. Repeat with the other leg.

Note: This is contra indicated to those who have had abdominal operation.

Below from this post

Bharadwaja (Sanskritभरद्वाजIAST Bharadvāja, also spelled Bhardwaj) was one of the greatest Hindu sages (Maharshis) descendant of rishi Angirasa, whose accomplishments are detailed in the Puranas. He is one of the Saptarshis (Seven Great Sages Rishi) in the present Manvantara; with others being AtriVashishthaVishvamitraGautamaJamadagniKashyapa.[1]

picture from here

"Sage Bharadwaja is another renowned vedic rishi. He is considered to 
be a great vedic scholar and teacher. An episode found in the Kaataka 
portion of the Taittiriya sakha of Yajur Veda would be of interest. 
Bharadwaja was so much concentrating in studying the vedas that even 
as the life was coming to an end  he was still continuing with his 
studies. Indra, the Lord appeared before him and reminded him that it 
was almost the end of his life. He told Bharadwaj, “Bharadwaja!! If I 
give you another human life what would you like to do?” Back came the 
reply, “I will study the Vedas further”. Upon that, the Lord asked him 
to look at the three huge mountains the Lord created and took out from 
each one of them a handful of earth and placed them before Bharadwaja 
and said, “These mountains represent the three vedas and the three 
handfuls of dirt in front of you represent the vedas you have studied 
so far. You see the vedas are innumerable and infinite (ananta vai 
vedaH) and any number of births would not be sufficient to exhaust all 
the vedas. You try to understand the essence of the vedas, the source 
of all the Universe, the Brahman.” And Bharadwaja became a great 
spiritual teacher of the vedas. Again many families carry the 
Bharadwaja name".
from Srivatsa Ramaswami's Dec 2012 Newsletter

Curious how krishnamacharya has us looking over the other shoulder, why? Both Iyengar and Jois would have us look over the back shoulder focusing on the twist. My guess it's to do with the breath, 12-48 breaths with both types of kumbhaka, Krishnamacharya doesn't tend to indicate kumbhaka in twisting postures. Having us keep the head over the front allows us to  explore the breath, the  kumbhaka, Krishnamacharya often seems to want to turn all asana into mudras.

from Light on Yoga

My 3 hour intro to Vinyasa Krama class at Indaba Yoga Studio (Marylebone, London) has changed to Saturday, November 15th, 1.30-4.30pm
If you know anyone in London at that time who might be interested...

Update 2019

I've just noticed this curious Bharadvajrasana variation in the Yogasanagalu photos. Here we see Krishnamacharya with the arms switched, not holding the foot. It's photo 110, 109 is the more familiar Bhardavarasana with the foot held. It appears Krishnamacharya peforms the regular Bharadvajrasana and then switches hands. The non foot holding version is easier and would suit the long stays of 12-48 breaths Krishnamacharya mentions in Yoga Makaranda PT II

Here is a clearer version of the above regular version.

And another from an earlier shoot, here too holding the foot as expected.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ashtanga History: Extended stays in (certain) Asana, Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar

Like many I've often wondered why the Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois approach to asana are so different given that they both studied with the same teacher T. Krishnamacharya and at the same period. We do have the video of Iyengar practicing Ashtanga, jumping from one posture to the next in a demonstration for the camera in 1938 but why the parting of ways?

My understanding is that when Iyengar went to Pune and was asked to write a 'manual' he wasn't able to explain, in words rather than through demonstration,  how to perform an asana. It was in the act of writing out instructions for each asana that he began to focus so closely on the alignment to be explored in each posture. On giving attention to each and every aspect of an individual asana the length of stay in an asana would become longer to allow for exploring these different aspects.

Ramaswami has mentioned that Krishnamacharya did talk about how certain asana required longer stays for the benefits to be experienced, paschimottanasana comes to mind, sarvangasana (shoulder stand), sirsasana (headstand), maha mudra in the mudras, most full body mudras would tend to involve longer stays to maximise the .

But we find it also in Krishnamacharya's early writing, way back in 1934 in Mysore when Pattabhi Jois was his student we find in Krishnamacharya's first book, Yoga Makaranda, instruction and recommendation for extended stays.

Pattabhi Jois too (see below), in Interview talks about extended stays in certain asana.

"You long time you sitting, kurmasana is long time, 3 hours is possible. One asana is perfect, taken 3 hours."

Below then are some of the extended stays that I tend to explore in my own classes and workshops, you will  be relieved to know that we tend to only stay five breaths in Chaturanga rather than fifteen minutes, likewise with trikonasana, we usually stay ten breaths each side and in downward facing dog just ten breaths, enough to get the point of exploring longer stays in the privacy of ones own home practice.

Talking of home practice we have another Typhoon hitting osaka, an excuse to skip the shala for a couple of days and practice at home, Pranayama this morning before and after practicing along to The Pattabhi Jois Led Intermediate from 1989 that I posted yesterday as well as a sit. Half way through the Led I stopped at the leg behind head postures to stay for ten-twenty breaths in each and explore puraka kumbhaka (retention after the inhalation) in line with Krishnamacharya's instruction in yoga Makaranda. I also stopped it at Karandavasana to check Jessica Walden's excellent tutorial again and give it five to seven goes, seems to be coming back but slowly.

What constitutes an extended stay?

It can be confusing, when considering an extended stay in an asana should we count just one expression of the asana or several. Krishnamacharya presents several examples of paschimottanasana (see below), different hand positions and different head positions, the forehead on the knee, face on the knee and chin on the knee.

In Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga, going by the 1973 Syllabus given to Nancy and David, we find Paschimottanasana A, B, C, D, E.... at 5 breaths each, with 5 seconds for inhalation and the same for exhalation, that gives us approx. 5 minutes in paschimottanasana. If we were to take the old count of eight breaths and go by Pattabhi Jois' mention in Interviews of 10 (even 15) seconds for inhalation and the same for exhalation as the ideal, then we have just under fourteen minutes.

Maha Mudra is another posture where an extended stay may be expected. Janu Sirsasana is a vinyasa of Mahamudra and we still have three versions of this in the Ashtanga Primary series.

Sharat I seem to remember in past conference notes mentioned very long stays in sirsasana as being beneficial ".. but at home, not in the shala, too busy".

Here's Krishnamacharya's extended stays from Yoga Makaranda (1934 Mysore).


"Stand as seen in the picture for fifteen minutes daily. Make this a habit. It will create new energy in the body and a vigour in the walk and will increase the digestive power. Not only that, it cleans the rudra nadi and increases the life-span. While doing this asana, follow sama svasam (equal breath)".

Caturanga Dandasana

"(caturanga Dandasana) ...Remain in this stithi for at least ten minutes..."


"(Urdhvamukhasvanasana)...make the effort to practice until it becomes possible to stay in this asana for fifteen minutes."


"(Ardhomukhasvanasana)... As a result of the strength of practice, one learns to hold this posture for fifteen minutes."


"(Trikonasana)... This asana must be practiced for a minimum of ten minutes. However slowly and patiently we practice this this, there is that much corresponding benefit."


"(Mayurasana)...This asana stithi should be held from 1 minute to 3 hours according to the practitioner's capability... If we make it a habit to practise this asana every day for at least fifteen minutes, we will attain tremendous benefits." 


"If this (paschimottanasana) is practised every day without fail for 15 minutes, all the bad diseases of the stomach will be removed".

Quotes from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda  


Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois on extended stays in asana

Question: Yassin is asking if he should stay longer in kurmasana or in back bendings. You give some timing like 10 breaths for kurmasana. You give 3 times five breaths for urdhva dhanurasana. Yassin is asking if he should stay longer. He wants to stay longer sometimes.

Answer: "I telling: all the asanas you take practice how long your strength is so there, you take. Long time he is doing, 100 asanas you do - 1 asana is perfect. Long time sitting all the asanas he is doing time, you 1 take 10 breath or 15 breathing. You count it. Practice, that is all. You long time you sitting, kurmasana is long time, 3 hours is possible. One asana is perfect, taken 3 hours. Now practice how much your strength is there, you take. That is no problem. Your strength is 10 breathing is doing possible, you do 10 breathing, 15 breathing you possible, you do 15 breathing. One hundred possible, 100 you do. 5 you do, 5 is possible, 5 you do. Take practice, that is all. I am telling only for practice. Fix completely perfect. Asana, one asana siddhi, you do hundred asanas, one asana is coming, one asana perfectly is coming. That is real".

And finally we have the Rishi series that supposedly comes after Advanced A and B that I posted on again only yesterday, where we stay in ten postures for fifty breaths
See THIS post

'Originally there were five series: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, Advanced B, and the fifth was the “rishi” series'.

Ashtanga Rishi Approach
'...Doing a practice of 10 postures for up to 50 breaths is a method of preparing for "advanced series" after one has learned 1st and 2nd. It can be done once or twice a week. One does the "salutations" and then starts going thru the series, holding each posture for as long as comfortably possible. Notice which postures could be held for 50 breaths. The next time you practice this way, the postures which you could hold for 50 are omitted and new ones are added at the end. One gradually works thru the series, dropping and adding asanas, still doing 10 asanas per session. I have gone all the way thru 1st and 2nd this way several times over the years and have found it beneficiall'.

Ashtanga Rishi Series
'Then, once one has mastered all of the asanas, one can practice "the rishi series", the most advanced practice. One does the 10 postures that one intuits will be the most beneficial and appropriate for that day, holding each posture for up to 50 comfortable breaths'.

BKS Iyengar

In his later years, in his regular personal practice BKS Iyengar would tend to stay for three to five minutes for most postures, longer for certain seated postures,  7-15 minutes perhaps (example baddha konasana 15 minutes) and an extended period for shoulder stand and headstand 15-30 minutes. I also have him, in a regular practice staying 20 minutes in Vajrasana and the same in Raja kapotsasana and even 10 minutes in Hanumanasana.

3-5 minutes minimum in an asana seems perfectly reasonable to me.... except perhaps navasana where I'm happy to go with a minute and a half.


And in case your reaction, like my own, is that three hours in mayurasana is impossible.... perhaps not, here's plank held for four hours and 26 minutes ( his wifes birthday is 26th April i.e. 4:26), notice how composed he is at the end unlike the previous record holder shown at the end of the clip.

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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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