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.

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Ashtanga Key - Surya Namaskar

Update (13/10/15) from research by Christopher Tompkins

"The Yogin should recite the mantra, while Dancing through the poses of the Namaskāra. He raises his arms in the air, takes Anjali mudra, descending towards the earth, he forms the shape of a staff; he should (both) come to the earth, and arise again [from it] in the way natural to a DOG. Having made his offering, he arises from the Āsana moving to the next direction around the Axis of the Mandala."

-from the Naradiya Samhita (pre-12th century), one of Krishnamacharya's stated sources for his revival of Tantric Āsana Vinyasa.

pdf version of this that blows up nicely on my google docs page

T. Krishnamacharya taught, among others, Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, TKV. Desikachar, TK. Sribhashyam, Srivatsa Ramaswami, AG. Mohan. The schools of Ashtanga, Iyeangar, Viniyoga Vinyasa Krama that have come from these teachers have of course been been highly influential and there is a strong likelihood that if you were decide to practice Yoga, the majority of the teachers in your area ( or books in your library, as was my case) will have been influenced to some degree by one or more of these schools and/or the satellite styles and variations that have derived from them.

Personally I was never that convinced by the suggestion that Krishnamacharya was so strongly influenced by the international fitness movement of his day, wrestlers exercises and/or the asana manuals in the Mysore palace libraries. Perhaps because when these suggestions came out I'd recently begun practicing a slower, less dynamic, approach to Ashtanga and found support for that approach in Krishnamacharya own texts from the 1930s and 40s. Krishnamacharya was stressing long slow inhalations and exhalations, kumbhaka (breath retentions), in almost every asana, long stays in certain postures and there was the suggestion of flexibility in the linking of asana, loose groups of asana rather than fixed sequences. The physical practice was closely linked to pranayama and meditation and embedded in a context of traditional yoga practices referenced to old, even ancient texts.

I have the same questions of course. How did the Vinyasa system come about; each movement from standing linked to the breath and counted, working towards a seated posture ( for example) before working back through the same sequence of postures and a return to standing. Why was there a kumbhaka (breath retention) at the end or beginning of each stage of the breath in Krishnamacharya (the breath held in after the inhalation and/or held out after the exhalation) and why was this not carried over into the Ashtanga of his long term student Pattabhi Jois.

I've come to feel that the key to answering these questions, the Ashtanga key may well be Surya namaskar, the sun salutation.

If we begin with the asana, paschimottanasana say, we might ask why Krishnamacharya added the postures either side of it, leading back and forth, to and from standing, why he encompassed the asana in the sequence and then began to link the breath and movements and finally introduce kumbhaka.

This viewpoint may well lead us to look at the exercises like the dand (chaturanga and upward facing dog) that we find practiced by Indian wrestlers

But what if we approach it from a different perspective and ask why Krishnamacharya added paschimottanasana to the Sun salutation?

What if we begin with the sun salutation, but not any sun salutation, the Surya namaskar with mantras.

Surya namaskar can perhaps be traced back to the epic The Ramayana (4th C BC?), where the hero Rama, wearied from shooting fruitless arrows at the demon king Ravena, was approached by the Sage/rishi Agastya who chanted a hymn/mantra/prayer to the sun god Suya which had the effect of removing Ravena's defences, allowing Rama to finally defeat him (see Appendix).

A tradition developed where a prostration and later a salutation would be introduced after each verse of the hymn. I actually practiced this with my teacher Ramaswami one Sunday on his teacher training course, the chant took two hours and we practiced 54 prostrations or sun salutations.

A shorter version/variation came about where 12 mantras would be chanted made up of three elements, each mantra would be followed by a prostration (see Appendix).

At some point the 12 mantras were integrated into each sun salutation, so a mantra would be chanted, then the arms raised and the next mantra chanted. The next mantra would come after folding over, the next after squatting down, the next after jumping back to chatauranga and the next after lowering the body to the floor and stretching the arms out above the head in prostration to Surya. The other mantras would be chanted at each stage, each posture, as one worked their way back to standing.

Surya at new Indra Gandhi Airport New Delhi 
Krishnamacharya seems to have taught this to students in the 1930s, he also taught it to his student of thirty years (1950s-80s), Srivatsa Ramaswami, who in turn taught it to us in his teacher training course 2010.

Indra Devi refers to this practice when recounting her studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore in 1937, at the time when he was also teaching the young Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar.

"In India, the Surya Namaskars are accompanied by the chanting of mantras, which are supposed to have a powerful effect on the mind, but on the glandular system as well". Indra Devi

from Yoga for health and  Happiness ( the chapter "In the Shala" on being taught by Krishnamacharya in 1937).

What's particularly interesting to me is that the mantra is chanted, whether aloud or mentally on a kumbhaka, while the breath is held in after an inhalation, as for example after the arms are raised at the beginning or after the exhalation when folding over and placing the hands on the floor.

The kumbhaka was then an essential element of the Surya namaskar, the sun salutation. That was the point at which the mantra/prayer was chanted, the moment of contemplation.

The sun salutation had become popular in India at the time, it was an exercise phenomenon, today we might think of it as the latest exercise fad. Hundreds of Sun salutations without mantra, or indeed the actual full protestation, would be practiced daily and at lightening speed a complete salutation on only three breaths although breath retentions were still included as well as the first part of the mantra (see Appendix 12 and 13).

Krishnamacharya appears to have been dismissive of the fad and seems to have refused to teach a 'Suryanamaskara class' although one was held at the Mysore palace and the young Pattabhi Jois would likely have been exposed to it, but according to Devi it does seem that Krishnamacharya taught the more traditional version complete with full mantras on kumbhakas and each stage of the breath ( an inhalation or exhalation) accompanying each movement.


It may appear that the whole point of the Surya namaskar, the salute to the sun, is the prostrated posture with contemplation. The other movements/postures lead one to and from that prostration.

Sounds familiar doesn't it.

All Krishnamacharya seems to have done is substitute different asana for the protestation.

Slot in paschimottansana or janu sirsasana or marichiyasana........

Everything else remains the same, we don't have to bring in any other explanation for the construction of the vinyasa system. I'm sure Krishnamacharya did see the Asana manuals in the mysore palace, he may well have looked to these just as he did to the tantra hatha texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipka for asana descriptions. Perhaps he, or more likely the Rajah of Aundh, was to some extent influenced by traditional India wrestling training in adapting slightly the approach to and from the prostration  But the vinyasa system the linking of postures to the breath seems to have been already there in the surya namaskar with mantras that Krishnamacharya appears to have been practicing at least as far back as the 1930's.

In Krishnamacharya's first book, Yoga Makaranda, he doesn't present the sun salutation as such, as  his student Pattabhi Jois does (stressing its historical tradition in his Surya namaskar pamphlet), but instead presents each movement that make up a sun salutation, as they lead to and from an asana, indicating the linking of the stage of the breath to each movement. He also includes an appropriate kumbhaka ( holding the breath in or out ) after either the inhalation or exhalation. And this is interesting because he doesn't merely stress the asana but every stage to and from the asana, there are kumbhaka's throughout just as if one were still chanting mantras.

In Yoga Makaranda Part II Krishnamcharya indicates that the kumbhaka should be 3-5 seconds (which is also how long it takes to chant each individual surya namaskar mantra).
It's as if Krishnamacharya has retained space for the prayer, the meditative contemplation and Krishnamacharya did say that in the Kumbhaka one sees/experiences God.

Krishnamacharya always keen to stress the independence of ones own religious belief, he may have removed the mantras (which are actually in this case quite secular) but he retained the kumbhaka, the space to introduce one's own contemplation. For those who don't believe in Ishvara, Krishnamacharya mentioned that Love could be Ishvara for them.

Krishnmacharya also stressed the Drishti. In Yoga Makaranda one's gaze throughout would be focussed between the eyebrows a point associated with Siva but later the tip of the nose was suggested especially if the head was down, head up look between the eyebrows, head down look to the tip of the nose. And later still other points some associated with other divinities but also with traditional marma points and health are introduced.

Kumbhaka, Drishti, contemplation all went together at every stage, every breath of every posture to and from an asana as well as while in the asana proper where a longer stay was often indicated.

We also know that Krishnamacharya would often/occasionally (?)  have the boys of the Mysore palace chant mantras while in postures, no doubt to keep their attentions. Manju Jois talks of the pranayama connection of chanting mantras, how mantras tend to be chanted on a kumbhaka, the mantra, kumbhaka, dristi connection is a common one.


If this is indeed the case then who first made the connection between asana and the Suryanamaskara, of placing an asana in the context of the breath/kumbhaka/drishti associated with the postures making up the sun salutation, was it Krishnamacharya himself, his teacher Ramohan Brahmachari or perhaps his teachers teacher?

Pattabhi Jois mentions in interview that when as a 13 year old boy he first saw Krishnamacharya, he was impressed by his '...jumping from asana to asana'. This would suggest that the linking of the asana to the sequence of postures that make up the suryanamaskara goes back before the Mysore period of Krishnamacharya's teaching .

Why didn't Pattabhi Jois maintain the kumbhaka element in his presentation of asana.

In the 1938 Mysore black and white demonstration by Krishnamacharya and his family we see little evidence of the use of kumbhaka, certainly not by BNS Iyengar who jumps from asana to asana just as krishnamacharya may have done in his early demonstrations of asana. Was it this high energy approach to asana practice that impressed  the young Pattabhi Jois and that he wished to continue. He does however stress again and again in interviews throughout his life that the breath should be long and slow and yet in one video demonstration he Indicates the breath should be around 10-15 seconds for each inhalation and exhalation but then proceeds to lead his demonstrators ( including Lino Miele) through asana at around five seconds or less. Pattabhi Jois stated that long slow breathing was the ideal but that in modern life when people have jobs to go to a shorter breath may be appropriate.

Sribhashyam, Krishnamacharya's third son has written that the inhalation and exhalation indicate motion which signifies time, the kumbhaka however is non-motion, an absence of time as such each kumbhaka is perhaps an experience of the eternal.

"Reflect constantly on the message of the Yoga teachings, dwell on the eternal while doing your asana, regulating your breath through pranayama, meditate on the ever compassionate dwelling in your heart."
~Sri T. Krishnamacharya.

Perhaps the practice that Krishnamacharya presents in Yoga Makaranda is an ideal, where the breath is long and slow, the kumbhaka present as a space for contemplation. Krishnamacharya brings not just pranayama into asana but also dharana.

Picture above from Gary Kissiah's attractive 
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali-Illuminations Through Image, Commentary and Design

Optional Appendix (shown below) is now up on the permanent Page for this post at the top of the blog

1. Sun Salutation with mantras
2. Sun Salutation / Suryanamaskara with mantra 
3. Indra Devi
4. What would Krishnamacharya's Sun Salutation be like?
5. Adityahridayam (Wikipedia)
6. Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)''
7. Ramaswami on chanting with Krishnamacharya
9. Surya Namaskara History (Wikipedia)
10. Origins of surya namaskar (Wikipedia)
11. Surya Namaskar Origins (Wikipedia)
12 Balasahib's 'original' 1928 Suya Namaskar, sun salutation 
13. More on the 'original' Sun salutation of 1928

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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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