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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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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Specifics of the breath in yoga asana - Notes from Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941)

Krishnamacharya gets quite specific with regard to the breath in Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941).

"In pranayama practice (yogangabhyasis), inhalation and exhalation motion is performed using both nostrils, trachea, tip of the tongue, between two lips and in between two rows of teeth.

Normally during yogasana practice, inhalation and exhalation is performed via the trachea deeply, subtly and with sound. This is 
common practice with everyone. This type of breathing is called anuloma ujjayi” 
Yogasanagalu  ( Mysore 1941).

Note: Krishnamacharya's use of the term Anuloma Ujjayi here should not be confused with the pranayama of the same name which tends to involve throat inhalation with exhalation through alternate nostrils. Anuloma means 'with the grain' thus...

"All expansion movements are usually done while inhaling and all contraction while exhaling"
Yoga beneath the Surface by Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz 
See full quote in Appendix 2 below


"When practicing asanas, we need to maintain deep inhalation and exhalation to normalise the uneven respiration through nasal passages.

In yoga positions where eyes, head and forehead are raised, inhalation must be performed slowly through the nostrils until the lungs are filled.

Then the chest is pushed forward and puffed up, abdomen tightly tucked in, focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose, and straighten the back bones tightly as much as possible. This type of inhalation which fills the lungs signifies Puraka.

In yoga positions where eyes, head, forehead, chest and the hip are lowered,we have to slowly exhale the filled air. Tucking in tightly the upper abdomen, the eyes must be closed. This type of exhalation is called Rechaka.

Holding the breath is called Kumbhaka". Yogasanagalu  ( Mysore 1941)


Note: A year or two I started to follow Simon Borg-Olivier's recommendation to breathe with a relaxed abdomen, a diaphragmatic focus rather than the chest- see this earlier post 'The breath: Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with asana all over again..

In the past I assumed Krishnamacharya breathed thoracically ( into the chest with uddiyana engaged throughout) at this period of his teaching) and yet in the instruction above he inhales fully AND THEN pushes out the chest and finally drawing in the belly, does this suggest or allow for a diaphragm focus, relaxed abdominal breath? 

UPDATE from Simon''s intro to sharing this post on fb.

"There has been a great push over the last two decades for many 'modern yogis' to emphasise chest breathing and often disregard the diaphragm but it makes no anatomical or physiological sense. Most untrained adults can only breathe fully into their chest by inhibiting their diaphragm and putting themselves into a physiological state of 'flight or fight'.

The fact that the ability to expand the chest with air held out (exhalation retention) and the abdomen fully relaxed in the manner described to be Uddiyana bandha in Mr Iyengar's "Light on Yoga'' is not accessible for most people is reflective of the fact that most people can only expand the chest by engaging the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation (the abdominal obliques), which inhibit (reciprocally relax) the diaphragm, and thus cause chest breathing by default.

In addition, most people can not activate the lower abdominal muscles (the lower transverse abdominis) without activating the the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation (the abdominal obliques). You can easily test this by asking a group of average people to begin with a completely relaxed abdomen and then ask them to only draw in the lower abdomen without hardening or changing the upper abdomen. Most people simply can not do this and as a physiotherapist we routinely show this on people with real time ultrasound. If the upper abdomen hardens even a bit when the lower abdominal muscles engage, then the chest will expand by default because the diaphragm has been inhibited.

Once the diaphragm is inhibited then sickness or ill health is not far away. This is a big story and I believe many people are potentially damaging their health by attempting pranayama before they are adequately prepared for it.

In Saptanga (seven stage) Yoga, also known as hatha yoga, the first stage is kriya, then asana, then mudra, then pranayama, then dharana, dhyana and samadhi. This implies that kriya has to be learned before pranayama and an important kriya is basti kriya, which involves expanding the chest with the anal sphincter expanded and the diaphragm contracted. This is almost impossible for most people to do. This suggests that complete breathing, where the diaphragm functions without inhibition, before the chest expands, is almost impossible for most people, and that most people breathing into their chest in most exercise classes and 'yoga' classes are simply forcing the air into their chest by inhibiting the diaphragm and entering a physiological state of 'flight or fight' (over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system), in which the digestive system, immune system and reproductive system are inhibited and the dominant emotions become fear, anger, aggression and lack of safety; and that doesn't sound like yoga to me!

My point is that for effective pranayama both diaphragmatic and chest breathing are necessary as indicated by Sri Krishnamacharya and all his senior students, but the neuro-muscular control needed for this is simply not available for most people without causing damaging stress. Superficially, many people seem to breathing into their chest, but often they are simply increasing stress levels by trying it and there very few practitioners that can do like like Krishnamacharya and the other maha gurus demonstrated. I love pranayama including all the work with diaphragm, chest as well as the transversus abdominis but i still find that when i teach other people (especially in groups) it is more effective to teach natural invisible inaudible diaphragmatic breathing to most people most of the time in the same way that my teacher Mr BKS Iyengar taught 95% of the time to his students practicing asana".

Below Krishnamacharya in the 1938 Mysore footage, again, back when Pattabhi Jois was his student.


It is perhaps important to point out once again that Pattabhi Jois seems to have been presenting a simplification of Krishnamacharya's Mysore teaching, perhaps just the approach to asana that Krishnamacharya taught to the boys of the palace in group classes (see the previous post).

Krishnamacharya suggest in Yogasanagalu that it is possible to split a class into physical condition and ability and teach asana as a group. The simplification then is perhaps Krishnamacharya's own rather than Pattabhi Jois', a necessity of teaching group classes.

"Yoga practitioners must perform pranayama on an individual basis. However, yogasanas can be performed individually or as a group. When teaching yoga in a group, it is advised to separate people with obese, lean, and short body types. Otherwise, they will not get their desired results. People with obese body naturally want to get lean. Drill and other exercises also follow this rule. All can not perform all types of practices (sadhanas)".

"In yoganga practice, asanas that are possible for a lean person are impossible for an obese person. However, we don’t need to increase the number of yoga instructors. Yoga practitioners may be divided approximately on the basis of body type and the same instructor can teach them. In the same way, practitioners with common disease types may be divided and treated (with yoga)". 

Given that the class Pattabhi Jois ( as one of Krishnamacharya's shala assistants) would present was only an hour in duration it's likely that the stays in asana were short and the breath less subtle than Krishnamacharya would present in his Mysore texts of the same period.

This simplified approach to practice, carried forward by Pattabhi Jois as Ashtanga Vinyasa, clearly works well as an introduction to asana practice. In the system Pattabhi Jois presented, you can come into the shala, jump on the mat run through your kata of asana, shower and head off to work. The whole system can fit on a double sided A4 card. It wasn't necessary to think about yoga philosophy, or concern yourself with the yama and niyama, all that would come.... or not, depending on your interest.

Unfortunately, the love and respect of his first students turned almost to worship for the person of Pattabhi Jois by those who followed, he became credited with the methodology he presented ( when I started it was hard to find much more than a line or two about Krishnamacharya) and thus the system became closed, ever more codified, defended, preserved in the shellac of lineage.

Parampara I would argue can be a hinderance.

Sharath preserves intact the presentation of the Ashtanga Vinyasa of Pattabhi Jois' later years for new generations of students and this is all to the good. Manju too, preserves the Ashtanga Vinyasa perhaps of Pattabhi Jois' middle period, a slightly more flexible, free approach, the asana followed by pranayama and chanting as a meditative activity.

But also preserved are Krishnamacharya own Mysore texts,  his Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu, written at the time Pattabhi Jois was his student and in Pattabhi Jois' own Kanada language. Here we can find a practice not confined to the necessities of an hour long group class, a fuller presentation of the mature Krishnamacharya's understanding of yoga at that time than that of the twenty year old student.

The asana are not locked into series, more input is required on our part in choosing which asana to practice. Long stays are indicated/suggested/recommended for certain asana, the breath is more subtle than that required of a rushed group class. The breath is slowed, lengthened, kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) suggested in most asana presented, bandhas fully engaged, the mind focussed....., asana become mudra like, gestures.

Krishnamacharya insists the yama and niyama are prerequisite to asana practice, they go hand in hand with our asana practice as does the practice of pranayama, after some proficiency is attained in a few primary asana.The later limbs follow, asana for Krishnamacharya is part of a fully integrated practice.

"12. Caution
Especially those who want to start practicing the two yoganga’s “Asana” and “Pranayama” without following the aforementioned niyamas (and yamas?), following drawing charts and practicing on their own freewill will not receive benefits but may also be responsible for tarnishing the name and bringing disrepute".

We don't have to wait until given the  illusion of authorisation, another's permission, until we have begun third series....second. If we have been practicing for a time, our health and fitness under control, out breath steady in a few Primary asana, our practice grounded and some degree of discipline obtained then we can begin to explore the asana we have, the practice we have, in other ways than though ever more asana.

"Most important asanas shirshasana, sarvangasana, mayurasana, paschimatanasana and baddha padmasana must be practiced daily without failure.

Other asanas are practiced according to their convenience as people become proficient.

By practicing shirshasana, sarvangasana and their variations at very early morning, great benefits are obtained.

Those who want to expand intelligence, heart energy and Jnanendriayas (sense organs) must practice these asanas ( shirshasana and sarvangasana) for long periods.

After practicing this, practice 15 minutes of one of the pranayama routines followed by 5 minutes of shavasana, without failure". Yogasanagalu  ( Mysore 1941)

I would argue that often, for all the sweat and labour,  it's laziness on our part than makes us rather work on the next asana and series than focus on pranayama, on exploring the later limbs.

"Indeed, anyone—men and women of all ages, sick or weak—can practice yoga, except those who are lazy". Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala (Mysore 1950s)

"Lazy people can not make progress in any work while energetic will not be left behind. India’s cultural and spiritual wealth was not only permeated by speech. The courageous overcome obstacles and practiced. In this edition, it is once again suggested that yoga sadhana is for people of all ages". Krishnamacharya. Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941)

Krishnamacharya strongly recommends that in the beginning and for a time, we practice under the guidance of a guru, an appropriate teacher.... but where are we to find such a teacher when so many are inhibited by an imagined tradition, constrained by lineage, hindered by a parampara that seeks to protect, preserve and propagate an incomplete, simplification of the teaching of the very teacher who is the most complete source we have of that traditions, lineage and parampara.

Learn key Primary asana from an experienced teacher and practitioner 'authorised' or not who can teach their safe practice, look then to Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala and then to the texts of his teacher T. Krishnamacharya.

Manju Jois stresses freedom in practice, that yoga is indeed ALL about freedom, I tend to think of yoga as radical enquiry, enquiry into that which we most firmly believe to be the case. Krishnamacharya's texts contain suggestions, recommendations for enquiry through our own practice.

Here is a link to my Free Download page where there are links to downloads of Krishnamacharya's texts including the now complete English translation of Yogasanagalu.

see also perhaps

In defence of Ashtanga 1.

In defence of Ashtanga 2


Comparison, ofPaschimottanasana in Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois

Example of the asana description from Krishnamacharya's
Yoga Makaranda ( Mysore 1934) and reproduced in Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941)

Pascimattanasana or Pascimottanasana

This asana has many kramas. Of these the first form has 16 vinyasas. Just doing the asana sthiti by sitting in the same spot without doing these vinyasas will not yield the complete benefits mentioned in the yoga sastras. This rule applies to all asanas.

The first three vinyasas are exactly as for uttanasana. The 4th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana, the 5th vinyasa is urdhvamukhasvanasana, the 6th vinyasa is adhomukhasvanasana. Practise these following the earlier instructions. In the 6th vinyasa, doing puraka kumbhaka, jump and arrive at the 7th vinyasa. That is, from adhomukhasvanasana sthiti, jump forward and move both legs between the arms without allowing the legs to touch the floor. Extend the legs out forward and sit down. Practise sitting like this with the rear part of the body either between the two hands or 4 angulas in front of the hands. It is better to learn the abhyasa krama from a guru.

In this sthiti, push the chest forward, do puraka kumbhaka and gaze steadily at the tip of the nose. After this extend both arms out towards the feet (the legs are already extended in front). Clasp the big toes of the feet tightly with the first three fingers (thumb, index, middle) of the hands such that the left hand holds the left big toe and the right hand holds the right big toe. Do not raise the knees even slightly. Then, pull in the stomach while doing recaka, lower the head and press the face down onto the knee. The knees should not rise from the ground in this sthiti either. This is the 9th vinyasa. This is called pascimottanasana.

In the beginning, everybody will find it very difficult. The nerves in the back, the thighs and the backs of the knees will feel as though they are being fiercely pulled and this will be extremely painful. The pain will remain for 8 days. After this, the pulling on the nerves will release and it will be possible to do the asana without any problem.

This pascimottanasana has many forms. After first practising this asana with the face pressed onto the knee, practise it with the chin placed on the knee and then eventually with it placed 3 angulas below the knee on the calf. In the 10th vinyasa raise the head. In the 11th vinyasa, keeping the hands firmly pressed on the ground, raise the entire body o the ground and balance it in the air without touching the ground. The 11th vinyasa is called uthpluthi. The 12th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana. The 13th is urdhvamukhasvanasana. The 14th is adhomukhasvanasana. The 15th is the first vinyasa of uttanasana. The 16th vinyasa is the 2nd vinyasa of uttanasana.

Afterwards, return to samasthiti. You should learn the intricacies of this vinyasa only from a guru.

Benefit: This will cure all diseases related to the stomach.

This asana can be done on the floor or on a mat according to the capabilities of one’s body. Learn some of the other forms of pascimottanasana krama by studying the pictures carefully. Pregnant women should not do this asana. But this can be done up to the third month of pregnancy. For men, there are no restrictions to practising this asana. If this is practised every day without fail for 15 minutes, all the bad diseases of the stomach will be removed.


from pattabhi Jois' Yoga mala (1950s)

There are sixteen vinyasas to this asana. The 9th is its state (see figures).
To begin, follow the first Surya Namaskara through the 6th vinyasa. Then, doing puraka and with only the strength of the arms, jump the legs between the hands without allowing them to touch the floor, and stretch out the legs. Then press the hands to the floor on either side of the hips, straighten the chest and waist, lower the head a little, draw the anus up tightly, lift the lower abdomen and hold firmly, and sit erect, slowly doing rechaka and puraka as much as possible; this constitutes the 7th vinyasa. Next, doing rechaka, grasp and hold the upper parts of the feet; this is the 8th vinyasa (as your practice becomes firm, you should be able to lock your hands behind your feet). Then, doing puraka slowly, then rechaka, straighten both legs, and place the head between the knees; this is the 9th vinyasa and the state of the asana. While in the state, do puraka and rechaka slowly and deeply, as much as possible. Then, slowly doing puraka, lift only the head; this is the 10th vinyasa. Next, doing rechaka and then puraka, let go of the feet, press the hands to the floor, bend the legs, and lift the entire body up off the floor merely with the strength of the arms; this is the 11th vinyasa. The remaining vinyasas are the same as those for the Surya Namaskara.

There are three types of Paschimattanasana: 1) holding the big toes and touching the nose to the knees; 2) holding on to either side of the feet and touching the nose to the knees; and 3) locking the hand and wrist beyond the feet, and touching the chin to the knee. All three types should be practiced, as each is useful.

The practice of this asana helps the stomach to become slender by dissolving its fat. It also increases jathara agni [the fire of hunger], helps food to digest well, and strengthens the organs of the digestive systems ( jir-nanga kosha). In addition, it cures weakness in the hands and legs resulting from a loss of appetite and low digestive fire, as well as indolence and giddiness stemming from an aberration in the liver, and gas problems in the stomach.


Appendix 2
Anuloma (with the grain)
explained by Krishnamacharya's student of 30+ years Srivatsa Ramaswami

from Yoga beneath the Surface by Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz

DAVID: In asana, when we do a vinyasa sequence that requires jumping, do we jump on hold after exhale or inhale? Far instance, in the sun salutation, we jump on hold after inhale from utatasana to chatarunga, and again from downward-facing dog to utkatasana, on hold after inhale. But, I've also done sun salutations where we jump  on uttanasana to chatarunga on hold after exhale. And, in trikonasana, we jump the legs apart on hold after exhale. Or, are these just guidelines and really we can do either?

RAMASWAMI: This can be answered better by understanding the reasoning behind the synchronization of breath and move­ment in vinyasa krama. All expansion movements are usually done while inhaling and all contraction while exhaling. When you raise the arms, you do it with inhalation. When you stretch the legs or bend back, it usually is done during inhalation. Likewise when you bend the knees and draw the legs toward your body, as in utkatasana or apanasana, it has to be during exhalation. Dropping your arms down or twisting the body or bending the body will be done with exhalation. When you do an expansive movement, such as raising the arms, if you also inhale, not only the muscles of the limbs stretch but also the muscles inside the chest expand with the inhalation. Thus, there is both an internal and external stretching taking place. This is anuloma (with the grain move­ment). On the other hand, if you do it without proper breathing, the full advantage of coordinated stretching is not obtained. Sim­ilarly, when you contract the body, as in bending forward, if you exhale it becomes easier to contract the internal muscles as you contract the external muscles.

Now, jumping is not a common occurrence in yoga practice. Since jumping is a swift movement, you cannot synchronize it with the breath as we do in slow vinyasa movements. So we hold the breath while jumping. Here, also, the reasoning will be to keep the internal muscles stretched as you stretch the external muscles. So when you jump from utkatasana to chaturanga-dandasana ( four-legged staff  pose), since there is an extension of the body and also the chest, it is logical to do it with internal breath holding. The same will be the case if you jump  from uttanasana to chaturanga­ dandasana. In the case of trikonasana, since only the legs are involved and not the chest, it is okay to jump after exhalation.
There is one more point to note. As discussed, people who are older or who are obese  find it dfficult to inhale and do some of the extension and backbending movements simultaneously. Applying the same logic, some may be advised to do the jumping from utkatasana to chaturanga-dandasana while holding the breath out after exhalation. But it is better not to ask older or obese people to jump as kids do.

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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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