Category Archives: Krishnamacharya

explore yoga styles

types-of-yoga

Ashtanga Yoga

What to Expect: The inspiration for many vinyasa-style yoga classes, Ashtanga Yoga is an athletic and demanding practice. Traditionally, Ashtanga is taught “Mysore style”: Students learn a series of poses and practice at their own pace while a teacher moves around the room giving adjustments and personalized suggestions.

What It’s About: The practice is smooth and uninterrupted, so the practitioner learns to observe whatever arises without holding on to it or rejecting it. With continued practice, this skill of attentive nonattachment spills over into all aspects of life. This is one important meaning of K. Pattabhi Jois’s famous saying, “Practice, and all is coming.”

Teachers and Centers: Founded by K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), this system is taught around the world. Jois’s grandson R. Sharath now leads the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. There are teachers everywhere around the globe.

Find out more at kpjayi.org and ashtanga.com

 

Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga

What to Expect: This is a physically challenging, flowing practice that will get your heart pumping while also encouraging you to find your authentic personal power in life. Classes feature a vigorous 90-minute sequence, performed in a heated room and designed to condition the whole body.

What It’s About: The aim of Baptiste Yoga is to create freedom, peace of mind, and the ability to live more powerfully and authentically right now. The physically challenging practice is a training ground for facing emotional and philosophical challenges that arise in your life.

Teachers and Centers: Baron Baptiste, son of yoga pioneers Walt and Magana Baptiste (who opened San Francisco’s first yoga center in 1955), began practicing as a child and studied with many Indian yoga masters. The Baptiste Power Yoga Institute is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are more than 40 affiliated studios.

Find out more at baronbaptiste.com

 

Bikram Yoga

What to Expect: Rooms are heated to 105 degrees, and classes consist of 45 minutes of standing poses and 45 minutes of floor postures. You do the same series of two breathing exercises and 26 poses in each class.

What It’s About: This practice is designed to work your body and requires full mental concentration. The overall objective is to create a fit body and mind, allowing the physical self to unify with the spiritual self.

Teachers and Centers: Bikram Choudhury was born in Calcutta and introduced his system in the United States in 1971. His main teacher was Bishnu Ghosh (1903-1970). The Bikram Yoga College of India in Los Angeles serves as headquarters. There are now more than 5,000 certified Bikram teachers throughout the United States.

Find out more at bikramyoga.com

 

Forrest Yoga

What to expect: A strong, hot practice designed to help you release physical and emotional tension and pain, and celebrate the strength of your own body.

What It’s About: Working with the premise that clearing stored emotions makes room for your spirit to come home, the practice combines physically challenging sequences with deep emotional exploration.

Teachers and Centers: Ana Forrest began teaching Forrest Yoga in 1982. She studied various systems of yoga, healing, and native ceremony but credits her own pain and suffering, her students, the elements, and “the great mysterious” as her primary teachers.

Find out more forrestyoga.com

 

Integral Yoga

What to Expect: A gentle practice based on chanting, postures, deep relaxation, breathing practices, and meditation.

What It’s About: Integral Yoga focuses on returning us to our “natural condition,” which includes health and strength, a clear and calm mind, a heart full of love, a strong yet pliable will, and a life filled with supreme joy.

Teachers and Centers: Founded by Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), a student of Swami Sivananda, Integral Yoga is taught at the Satchidananda Ashram (Yogaville) in Virginia and the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan as well as at smaller centers and in studios.

Find out more at iyiny.orgyogaville.org, and iyta.org

 

Ishta Yoga

What to Expect: Classes include alignment-based vinyasa sequences, with meditation, Pranayama (breathwork), and kriyas (cleansing techniques) to create specific energetic effects.

What It’s About: ISHTA stands for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, and its aim is to balance the human organism to create a strong and stable platform for spiritual growth.

Teachers and Centers: Alan Finger laid the foundations for Ishta Yoga with his father, Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger (a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Venkatesananda) in South Africa in the 1960s. The Ishta Yoga School in Manhattan was opened in 2008.

Find out more at ishtayoga.com

 

Iyengar Yoga

What to Expect: Often, you’ll do only a few poses while exploring the subtle actions required to master proper alignment. Poses can be modified with props, making the practice accessible to all.

What It’s About: For beginners, the primary objective is to understand the alignment and basic structure of the poses, and to gain greater physical awareness, strength, and flexibility.

Teachers and Centers: B.K.S. Iyengar (a student of T. Krishnamacharya) founded the style. His children Gita and Prashant Iyengar teach in Pune, India, and around the world. There are four Iyengar institutes in the United States: in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Find out more at bksiyengar.com and iynaus.org

 

Jivamukti Yoga

What to Expect: A physically vigorous and intellectually stimulating practice with a focus on spiritual development. Expect to encounter flowing asana sequences along with Sanskrit chanting, references to scriptural texts, eclectic music (from the Beatles to Moby), yogic breathing practices, and meditation.

What It’s About: One of the predominant principles of Jivamukti Yoga isahimsa (nonharming), and classes often explore the link between yoga and animal rights, veganism, and activism.

Teachers and Centers: Jivamukti means “liberation while living.” Sharon Gannon and David Life founded Jivamukti Yoga in 1984, choosing the name as a reminder that the ultimate aim is enlightenment. Find centers in New York, Toronto, Munich, London, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Find out more at jivamuktiyoga.com

 

Kripalu Yoga

What to Expect: Through asana, pranayama, meditation, and relaxation techniques, you’ll learn to observe the sensations in the body and mind, and thereby discover how well a pose, or a life decision, is serving you. Classes can be physically demanding or extremely gentle, such as chair yoga.

What It’s About: The primary objective is to awaken the flow of prana—the natural life force that will enable you to thrive in all aspects of life.

Teachers and Centers: Swami Kripalu (1913-1981) was a Kundalini Yoga master who taught that all the world’s wisdom traditions stem from a single universal truth, which each of us can experience directly. The main center is the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Find out more at kripalu.org

 

Kundalini Yoga

What to Expect: A 90-minute class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing, and in between features asana, pranayama, and meditation designed to create a specific outcome. Expect to encounter challenging breathing exercises, including the rapid pranayama known as Breath of Fire, mini-meditations, mantras, mudras (sealing gestures), and vigorous movement-oriented postures, often repeated for minutes, that will push you to your limit—and beyond.

What It’s About: Kundalini Yoga is sometimes called the Yoga of Awareness. The primary goal is to awaken kundalini energy, the psychoenergetic force that leads to spiritual elevation, and kick-start the process of transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Kundalini Yoga was founded in the United States in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan. There are more than 5,000 certified Kundalini Yoga teachers in the United States.

Find out more at kriteachings.org3ho.orgyogibhajan.com, and kundaliniyoga.com

 

OM Yoga

What to Expect: Medium-paced vinyasa sequences combined with alignment instruction and Tibetan Buddhist concepts like mindfulness and compassion.

What It’s About: The aim is to cultivate strength, stability, and clarity and integrate mindfulness and compassion into your whole life.

Teachers and Centers: OM founder Cyndi Lee has practiced yoga since 1971 and Tibetan Buddhism since 1987. The OM Yoga Center is in New York City.

Find out more at omyoga.com

 

ParaYoga

What to Expect: Combining Tantric philosophy with dynamic practice, classes include challenging asanas with an emphasis on the practices of pranayama, meditation, mudras, and bandhas (locks).

What It’s About: Rooted in ancient texts and modern life, this practice reveals how asana affects and transforms energy. Its aim is to manifest spiritual and worldly success through increased Self-awareness and the refinement of prana.

Teachers and Centers: Rod Stryker, a student of Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, founded ParaYoga in 1995.

Find out more at parayoga.com

 

Prana Flow Yoga

What to Expect: “Challenging” and “empowering” are touchstone words for this active, fluid form of vinyasa yoga. After the opening Om, the class is an exercise in near-continuous motion. Sequences are creative, often incorporating elements of dance and moving meditation, and accompanied by music.

What It’s About: The practice is a vehicle to connect with prana.

Teachers and Centers: With a background in dance, yoga, Ayurveda, and Indian martial arts, Shiva Rea founded Prana Flow Yoga in 2005.

Find out more at shivarea.com

 

Purna Yoga

What to Expect: Classes are asana focused, with adherence to the alignment principles of Iyengar Yoga and incorporation of yogic philosophy. Short meditations begin and end class to connect students with the heart center.

What It’s About: The emphasis is on uniting the body and mind with the spirit. There are four limbs to Purna Yoga: meditation, asana and pranayama, applied philosophy, and nutrition and lifestyle.

Teachers and Centers: Inspired by the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Purna Yoga was officially founded by Aadil and Mirra Palkhivala in 2003. The main center is in Bellevue, Washington.

Find out more at yogacenters.com and aadilandmirra.com

 

Sivananda Yoga

What to Expect: Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda, this yoga style is more spiritual practice than exercise. Each 90-minute class focuses on 12 core poses and Sanskrit chanting, pranayama practices, meditation, and relaxation.

What It’s About: Designed to transform and elevate human consciousness, Sivananda Yoga focuses on five fundamental points of yoga: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation (Corpse Pose), proper diet (vegetarianism), and positive thinking and meditation.

Teachers and Centers: Sivananda Yoga was founded in 1957 by Swami Vishnu-devananda (1927-1993), a primary student of Swami Sivananda (1887-1963). Large teaching centers can be found in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto.

Find out more at sivananda.org

 

Svaroopa Yoga

What to Expect: Classes include a lot of floor work with ample propping and hands-on adjustments. Classes begin and end in Savasana (Corpse Pose) and focus on releasing tension.

What It’s About: Svaroopa means “the bliss of your own Being.” It refers to the Tantric view of the body as a form of consciousness. The goal is to create “core opening” to remove energetic impediments to inner transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Svaroopa was founded in 1992 by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, a longtime student of Swami Muktananda (1908-1982), who has been ordained into the order of Saraswati monks.

Find out more at svaroopayoga.org

 

TriYoga

What to Expect: A flowing asana practice, pranayama, mudras, dharana (concentration) practice, and meditation.

What It’s About: The wavelike spinal movements and synchronized breathing are designed to awaken prana.

Teachers and Centers: TriYoga was created by yogini Kali Ray, in 1980. Ray had experienced a kundalini awakening and created the practice in the manner of kundalini-inspired hatha yoga. The main TriYoga Center is located in Los Angeles; other centers are in Santa Cruz, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and around the world.

Find out more at triyoga.com

 

Viniyoga

What to Expect: Tailored to individual needs, classes vary greatly and may include asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, prayer, and ritual. All classes emphasize mobilizing the spine and coordinating movement with breath.

What It’s About: Viniyoga is a useful therapeutic tool for the body, but it also aims to develop the breath, voice, memory, intellect, character, and heart. The practice views yoga as a means to cultivate the positive, reduce the negative, and help each practitioner achieve discriminative awareness—the key to any process of self-transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Gary Kraftsow founded the American Viniyoga Institute in 1999. His main teacher was T.K.V. Desikachar. Gary Kraftsow and Mirka Scalco Kraftsow are the senior Viniyoga teachers.

Find out more at viniyoga.com

 

Yoga in the Tradition of Krishnamacharya

What to Expect: Classes are taught one-on-one or in very small groups, with a great deal of individualization. In the asana practice, each movement is coordinated with a particular breath (an inhalation, an exhalation, or a hold), and the effects are often felt in the body and breath, but also in the emotions.

What It’s About: Students like to say they practice not to be better yogis for the hour that they are on their mat, but to live more fully and with more ease the other 23 hours of the day.

Teachers and Centers: Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is known as the father of modern yoga. At the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India, his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, and grandson, Kausthub Desikachar, continue his tradition of making ancient teachings relevant for the modern world.

Find out more at kym.org and khyf.net

 

From Yoga Journal Article What’s Your Style? Explore the Types of Yoga by Yoga Journal Editors

 

See Also Yoga Style Definitions: An Expanded Glossary of traditional and modern yoga styles, yoga schools and yogic traditions


breath of the gods


ashtanga yoga opening and closing chants

Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant

Om
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Abahu Purushakaram
Shankhacakrsi Dharinam
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
Pranamami Patanjalim
Om

Translation

I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus
The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the Jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.

 

Ashtanga Yoga Closing Chant

Om
Svasthi Praja Bhyaha Pari Pala Yantam
Nya Yena Margena Mahim Mahishaha
Go Brahmanebhyaha Shubamastu Nityam
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi

Translation

May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.
OM Peace, Peace, Perfect Peace.

More info on Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute Website


tirumalai krishnamacharya “father of modern yoga”

 

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Krishnamacharya was unique in many ways — as a master of yoga, as a teacher, as an Ayurvedic physician and as a scholar.

In the West, Krishnamacharya is mostly known for his contribution to the revival of the more physically oriented disciplines and practices of hatha yoga.  Therefore, he is often referred to as “the father of modern yoga.”

The notion that Krishnamacharya practiced and taught yoga that was somehow “new” or “modern” is primarily due to the many distortions or misunderstandings about the link between the physical practices of hatha yoga and the meditational practices of raja yoga.   He was the conservator of the ancient teachings of raja yoga.

As a master of yoga and a great scholar, he practiced and linked the physical practices of hatha yoga with the mental states of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.    Let us listen to the great master on what is yoga.

Krishnamacharya:  Yoga is an awareness, a type of knowing.  Yoga will end in awareness. Yoga is arresting the fluctuations of the mind as said in the Yoga  Sutras (of Patanjali): citta vritti nirodha.  When the mind is without any movement, maybe for a quarter of an hour, or even quarter of a minute, you will realize that yoga is of the nature of infinite awareness, infinite knowing.  There is no other object there.”

Video and article excerpt from Krishnamacharya.net


yoga: the art of transformation

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Around 1600, a dramatic shift took place in Mughal art. The Mughal emperors of India were the most powerful monarchs of their day—at the beginning of the seventeenth century, they ruled over a hundred million subjects, five times the number administered by their only rivals, the Ottomans. Much of the painting that took place in the ateliers of the first Mughal emperors was effectively dynastic propaganda, and gloried in the Mughals’ pomp and prestige. Illustrated copies were produced of the diaries of Babur, the conqueror who first brought the Muslim dynasty of the Mughal emperors to India in 1526, as well as exquisite paintings illustrating every significant episode in the biography of his grandson, Akbar.

Then, quite suddenly, at this moment of imperial climax, a young Hindu khanazad (or “palace-born”) prodigy named Govardhan began painting images of a sort that had never been seen before in Mughal art. They were not pictures of battles or court receptions. Instead they were closely observed portraits of holy men performing yogic asanas or exercises that aimed to focus the mind and achieve spiritual liberation and transcendence. The results of Govardhan’s experiments in painting—along with a superbly curated selection of several hundred other images from the history of yoga—were recently on view in “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,”a remarkable exhibition at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington, D.C., which will travel next to San Francisco and Cleveland.

Excerpt from The New York Review of Books article Under the Spell of Yoga by William Dalrymple


yoga’s trip to america

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Vivekananda in Pasadena, California, in 1900

“In America is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything new,” wrote Swami Vivekananda before he left India in 1893. Vivekananda had learned from his guru, Sri Ramakrishna, that the world’s religions “are but various phases of one eternal religion” and that spiritual essence could be transmitted from one person to another. He set about to bring that transmission to our shores. His first speech was at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. “Sisters and brothers of America,” he began, and the audience was on its feet, giving him a standing ovation. Our love affair with the East was born, and so began a steady stream of Eastern ideas flowing west.

Introduction to Yoga Journal Article Yoga’s Trip to America By Holly Hammond


yoga yajnavalkya

The Yoga Yajnavalkya (Sanskrit: योगयाज्ञवल्क्य, yoga-yājñavalkya) is a classical treatise on yoga traditionally attributed to sage Yajnavalkya. It takes the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, a renowned female philosopher. The extant Sanskrit text consists of 12 chapters and contains 504 verses. Most later yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Kundalini and Yoga Tattva Upanishads have borrowed verses almost verbatim from or make frequent references to the Yoga Yajnavalkya. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, yoga is defined as the union between the individual self (jivatma) and the Divine (paramatma). The yogi, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, considered Yoga Yajnavalkya to be one of the most important yoga texts and refers to this text in the introduction to his book, Yoga Makaranda (1934).

The method of yoga described in the Yoga Yajnavalkya is both comprehensive and universally applicable—open to both women and men. Yajnavalkya explains the principles and practice of yoga, the path to freedom, to Gargi, his wife. The Yoga Yajnavalkya demonstrates that Vedic culture provided women with equal opportunities and encouragement for their spiritual pursuits to attain freedom.

Like the Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Yajavalkya describes eight limbs of yoga and describes the path of yoga practice as the development of these eight limbs. The text also dispels much of the aura of mystery surrounding the concept of kundalini by explaining it logically and relating to other terms and concepts in Vedic thought. An important feature of this text is the comprehensive discussion of pranayama, which sets it apart from other texts on yoga. Up to a hundred verses or slokas are devoted to elucidating the various techniques, applications and results of pranayama. The text also discusses the use of pranayama as a therapeutic tool, its role in ayurveda, and methods for incorporating pranayama with pratyahara, dharana and the other limbs of Patanjali yoga.

The Yoga Yajnavalkya provides insight into the various forms of meditation practiced during the Vedic period. It also addresses the issue of how to use form (Saguna Brahman, or God with form) to go beyond form (Nirguna Brahman, or the Godhead).

There are differing opinions as to the dating of Yoga Yajnavalkya. Prahlad Divanji, editor of Yoga-Yajnavalkya: A Treatise on Yoga as Taught by Yogi Yajnavalkya published by the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS), traced its origin to the period between the second century BCE and fourth century CE. According to Divanji, the author of the Yoga Yajnavalkya is also the author of the Yājñavalkya Smṛti. Gerald James Larson, a professor at Indiana University, has dated this text to about the 13th or 14th century CE.

Excerpt From Wikipedia


balasana and ujjayi

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For many of us, this asana possesses a deep physical and psychological memory of our time as infants. The shape of the pose is useful for many reasons, but in particular, it forces you to confront your attitudes and patterns of breathing, the health of your organs, and your level of awareness in moving from the abdomen. It is a very simple pose to begin with physically, yet it requires patience and the ability to surrender to gravity and a state of nondoing.

In Balasana, the shape of the pose forces the front of the rib cage to compress and causes an internal resistance to full, frontal breathing, which is the adopted pattern for most of us. In this resistance you will confront—possibly for the first time—the notion of breathing somewhere other than the front of your lungs, or in such a way as to avoid distending your belly as you inhale. As the frontal ribs are compressed, the unyielding presence of the internal organs and the compression of the abdomen trapped against the thighs limit the diaphragm, sometimes resulting in feelings of claustrophobia, nausea, or even fear. This further precludes soft, even breathing.

In “Salutation to the Teacher and the Eternal One,” a paper written by T. Krishnamacharya and distributed to students at the Yoga Mandiram in Madras, he says: “One important thing to be constantly kept in mind when doing asanas is the regulation of the breath. It should be slow, thin, long, and steady: breathing through both nostrils with a rubbing sensation at the throat and through the esophagus, inhaling when coming to the straight posture, and exhaling when bending the body.”

The breath described here is commonly known as Ujjayi Pranayama (Conquerer Breath). The word “ujjayi” can be broken down into the prefix ud—which means upward or superior in rank and conveys a sense of preeminence or power—and jaya, which means conquest, victory, triumph, or success. Like many Sanskrit terms, the word “jaya” has a compound meaning—it also implies restraint or curbing. Slightly contracting the back of the throat (the glottis) in ujjayi breathing creates a delicate friction and produces a soft, audible sound. Try fogging up a window with your breath—the sound you hear will be similar to the sound of ujjayi.

Slowing the inhalation and exhalation forces the breath to lengthen, and by the very nature of elongation, the vital force of the breath “narrows.” As it narrows, it moves closer to the spine, toward the sushumna nadi. The word “nadi” comes from the Sanskrit root nad, meaning movement.

Simply defined, nadis operate as conduits for the movement of subtle energy, prana, through the body. Like water, prana manifests in a dynamic flow, and hatha yoga is the body’s elemental irrigator: A yoga posture both increases the amount of prana available and removes obstacles to smooth circulation.

Ujjayi breathing, done while in Child’s Pose or other poses, squeezes the body as if it were a sponge and increases its capacity to soak up energy.

Excerpt From Yoga Journal Article Balasana By Peter Sterios


asanas old and new

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Ujjain Manuscript – Yogacintamani (photo: Jason Birch)

Why are so few asanas mentioned in the traditional Yoga texts, such as the Yogasutras and the Hathapradipika, and yet so many are practiced today in asana based systems like K. Pattahbhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga and B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga?

It has been difficult to ignore the absence of historical evidence on the development of later Haṭhayoga.  Modern practitioners have clung to the hope of finding the long lost and mysterious Yoga Kuruṇṭa (a purported Sanskrit text allegedly used by Krishnamacharya) in the hope that it will validate the practice of vinyasa and Surya Namaskar as well as provide precedents to the ropes and props used by B. K. S. Iyengar.

A recent academic conference Yoga in Transformation held in September 2013 at the Vienna University was an extraordinary event that highlights the importance of this conversation and the efforts of scholars to provide a historically accurate picture while attempting to predict the future trajectory of this global phenomenon.

Jason Birch’s presentation on the Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the practice of Numerous Asanas in the 17th and 18th Century is a helpful piece in attempting to solve this complex puzzle.  Jason presents evidence to suggest that there were well over 100 āsana being practised in India before the British arrived.  He states:

“Generally speaking, there are very few seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga that have not been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources.”

Jason’s research involved the detailed study of several 17th and 18th century manuscripts found in various library around India.  These particular findings are significant as they offer a window into the types of āsanas practiced in India at that time.  Some of the Haṭhayogic techniques were prominent enough to catch the inquisitive eye of the Mogul Court and are recorded in a Persian manuscript.

It contradicts the assumption made by Scholars and Yoga Teachers alike that the physical āsana of modern Yoga have no precedent.  Jason states that in the manuscript evidence:

“The majority of these āsana were not seated poses, but complex and physically-demanding postures some of which involved repetitive movement, breath control and the use of rope.  When these manuscript sources are combined, the assemblage of āsana provides antecedents to most of the floor and inverted postures in modern systems of Indian yoga.”

Jason confirms that moving āsana, rope āsana and standing āsana were all part of the picture long before the revival of physical yoga in the 20th century.  He also points out that Haṭhayoga had been appropriated by orthodox Brahmins before the 18th century, moving it away from the renunciant traditions, and they wrote yoga texts that blended Haṭhayoga with Patañjali’s yoga, the Upaniṣads and Bhagavadgītā, much like we see today.

Excerpt from Article ASANAS Old and New: Unpublished manuscripts and hints of the missing Yoga Kurunta By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES


gayatri mantra and surya namaskar

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Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat. 

The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.

-Translation by Douglas Brooks

 

The Gayatri mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, an early Vedic text written between 1800 and 1500 BCE. It is mentioned in the Upanishads as an important ritual, and in the Bhagavad Gita as the poem of the Divine. According to Douglas Brooks, PhD, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester and a teacher in the Rajanaka yoga tradition, the Gayatri is the most sacred phrase uttered in the Vedas. “It doesn’t get more ancient, more sacred, than this. It’s an ecstatic poetic moment.”

The mantra is a hymn to Savitur, the sun god. According to Brooks, the sun in the mantra represents both the physical sun and the Divine in all things. “The Vedic mind doesn’t separate the physical presence of the sun from its spiritual or symbolic meaning,” he says.

Chanting the mantra serves three purposes, Brooks explains. The first is to give back to the sun. “My teacher used to say the sun gives but never receives. The mantra is a gift back to the sun, an offering of gratitude to refuel the sun’s gracious offering.” The second purpose is to seek wisdom and enlightenment. The mantra is a request to the sun: May we meditate upon your form and be illumined by who you are? (Consider that the sun offers its gift of illumination and energy to all beings, without judgment and without attachment to the outcome of the gift.)

Finally, the mantra is an expression of gratitude, to both the life-giving sun and the Divine. Brooks encourages taking a heart-centered approach to the mantra. “The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning. It’s an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India,” he says. “Its effect is to inspire modern yogis to participate in the most ancient aspiration of illumination that connects modern yoga to the Vedic tradition.”

Christopher Key Chapple, professor of Indic and comparative theology at Loyola Marymount University, says Surya Namaskar is nothing less than the embodiment of the Gayatri mantra, a sacred prayer to the sun. “As we sweep our arms up and bow forward, we honor the earth, the heavens, and all of life in between that is nourished by the breath cycle,” he says. “As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth. As we rise up from the earth, we stretch through the atmosphere once more, reaching for the sky. As we bring our hands together in Namaste, we gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath, acknowledging that our body forms the center point between heaven and earth.”

The original Surya Namaskar wasn’t a sequence of postures, but rather a sequence of sacred words. The Vedic tradition, which predates classical yoga by several thousands of years, honored the sun as a symbol of the Divine. According to Ganesh Mohan, a Vedic and yoga scholar and teacher in Chennai, India, Vedic mantras to honor the sun were traditionally chanted at sunrise. The full practice includes 132 passages and takes more than an hour to recite. After each passage, the practitioner performs a full prostration, laying his body face-down on the ground in the direction of the sun in an expression of devotion.

The connection between the sun and the Divine continues to appear throughout the Vedic and yoga traditions. However, the origins of Surya Namaskar in modern hatha yoga are more mysterious. “There is no reference to asanas as ‘Sun Salutation’ in traditional yoga texts,” Mohan says.

So where did this popular sequence come from? The oldest-known yoga text to describe the Sun Salutation sequence, the Yoga Makaranda, was written in 1934 by T. Krishnamacharya, who is considered by many to be the father of modern hatha yoga. It is unclear whether Krishnamacharya learned the sequence from his teacher Ramamohan Brahmachari or from other sources, or whether he invented it himself. In The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, yoga scholar N.E. Sjoman identifies an earlier text called the Vyayama Dipika (or “Light on Exercise”) that illustrates athletic exercises for Indian wrestlers, including some that are strikingly similar to Krishnamacharya’s version of Surya Namaskar.

“Certainly, modern asana practice—and Surya Namaskar, after it was grafted on to it—is an innovation that has no precedent in the ancient Indian tradition, but it was rarely formulated as ‘mere gymnastics,'” says Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. “More often, it was conceived within a religious [Hindu] framework, and was seen as a spiritual expression as well as a physical one. But in modern India, for many people, it made complete sense for physical training to be conceived as a form of spiritual practice, with no contradiction implied.”

So, it appears that Krishnamacharya was influenced by both athletics and spiritual practice, and it was the emphasis he placed on the breath and on devotion that set his teaching of yoga asana apart from a purely athletic endeavor. According to Mohan, co-author (with his father, A.G. Mohan) of the forthcoming From Here Flows the River: The Life and Teachings of Krishnamacharya, it was the attitude of Surya Namaskar that Krishnamacharya cared about. Whether he was teaching the Vedic mantras or the sequence of postures, the intention was the same. “One is offering salutation to the Divine, represented by the sun, as a source of light removing the darkness of a clouded mind and as a source of vitality removing the diseases of the body,” says Mohan.

Edited Excerpts from Yoga Journal Articles Chant to the Sun and Shine on Me by Kelly McGonigal