Category Archives: Krishnamacharya

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

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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

 


3 gurus, 48 questions

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SOME PEOPLE SPEAK OF PHYSICAL
YOGA, MENTAL YOGA, SPIRITUAL YOGA.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

Desikachar: Yoga is a relationship. It is
not that the body is not important—
the body is very important; it is the
temple—but a transformation in the
body cannot happen without a good
relationship with the mind. Whatever
happens in the body affects the mind
and whatever happens in the mind
affects the body. And whatever happens
in the emotional body affects the mind,
as well. But the essence of yoga is often
not taught through the body. What is
essential and needs to be taught is the
spirit of yoga, and that people don’t
understand.
Iyengar: Refer to my books and CD.
Asanas are not meant for physical
fitness, but for conquering the elements,
energy, and so on. So, how to balance
the energy in the body, how to control
the five elements, how to balance the
various aspects of the mind without
mixing them all together, and how to be
able to perceive the difference between
the gunas [qualities], and to experience
that there is something behind them,
operating in the world of man—that is
what asanas are for. The process is slow
and painstaking, but a steady inquiry
facilitates a growing awareness.
Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is one. God is one.
Yoga means sambandaha, which is atma
manah samyogah, or knowing God
inside you. But using it only for physical
practice is no good, of no use—just a
lot of sweating, pushing, and heavy
breathing for nothing. The spiritual
aspect, which is beyond the physical, is
the purpose of yoga. When the nervous
system is purified, when your mind rests
in the atman [the Self], then you can
experience the true greatness of yoga.

EXCERPT FROM 3 GURUS, 48 QUESTIONS: MATCHING INTERVIEWS WITH SRI T.K.V. DESIKACHAR, SRI B.K.S. IYENGAR & SRI K. PATTABHI JOIS, Interviews by R. ALEXANDER MEDIN, Edited by DEIRDRE SUMMERBELL


yoga makaranda

krishnamacharya

The Yoga Makaranda was Krishnamacharya’s first book, it was written in 1932, supposedly over four days and published in 1934. It was clearly a major influence on Krishanamacharya’s student Sri K Patabhi Jois’s own book Yoga Mala and of the Ashtanga practice, as well as many of the current styles of Yoga.

Yoga Makaranda Part I

Yoga Makaranda Part II


krishnamacharya asana practice

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, demonstrating the practices of yoga in 1938 at the age of 50. Music is Hanuman Chalisa by Bhagavan Das.


origins of surya namaskar

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the oldest known hatha yoga text does not mention “Sun Salutations” but mentions a sūrya-bhedana (sun-piercing) kumbhaka (II, 44 and 48-50) while the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā mentions sūrya-bheda kumbhaka (58-59). The oldest documented book with clear depictions of asanas is the Sritattvanidhi, though there is no mention of “Sun Salutations” in the text, it does describe the asanas “Sarpasana” (Bhujangasana), “Gajasana” (Adhomukh Swannasan), “Uttanasana” and series of asanas done in tandem, similar to Sūrya Namaskāra.

The translator of the ancient Sritattvanidhi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, was also responsible for arranging for Sri. T. Krishnamacharya to teach yoga at Yogaśālā in Mysore sometime around 1930. Sri. T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings are largely responsible for the modern version of Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in modern day Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the Visesha Vinyasa Sun Salutation subroutine from Vinyasa Krama Yoga, as well as a host of other popular forms of yoga. K. Pattabhi Jois claims to have taught exactly as he had learned from Krishnamacharya, though other than personal testimony, there seems to be no other evidence as to the precise content of Krishnamacharya’s teachings. While Krishnamacharya’s specific sources for his yoga teachings are unclear, it is said that he learned from Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari in the Himilayan Mountains (perhaps Muktinath where his son has visited, but certainly somewhere near the Gandaki River in Nepal) beginning in 1916; however, the source of his teaching (at the Mysore Yogashala or otherwise) is not otherwise documented. Krishnamacharya’s son attests to his father having developed some of his teachings himself. There is the possibility that he may have been influenced by the Mysore Palace Gymnastics Tradition.

Another indication as to the origins of Sūrya Namaskāra is the 1928 Indian publication of “The Ten Point Way of Health” by Raja Bhavan Rao Srinivas (“Bala Sahib”), Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947), followed by later publication in England in 1938. The Raja claims to have practiced the series as a child. And some sources report that only after extensive practice and analysis (and potentially modification) himself did he finally publish the book. Thus, the true origin of the series remains unclear, though it has to be noted that Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented Surya Namaskar. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure. He helped in popularizing surya namaskar as a simple physical exercise for all round development of an individual in India. He introduced it in schools as a form of education and encouraged even the ordinary man to be physically fit by performing surya namaskar every day. Still, how exactly Sūrya Namaskāra came to be included in the yogic practices of Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga remains unclear.

Other sources which cite early use of “Sun Salutations” are A Short History of Aryan Medical Science from 1896, which claims that in India “there are various kinds of physical exercise indoors and outdoors. But some of the Hindus set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations. This method of adoration affords them so much muscular activity that it takes to some extent the place of physical exercise”.

Early English publications record some ancient methods of sun salutation; however, the do not seem to be related to the modern Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in Yoga practice today. In “A Catalogue raisonnée [sic] of oriental manuscripts”, noted that a short book with 71 leaves with “Tricha calpa vidhi” from “Aditya Puranam” was preserved. He describes the vidhi as “Modes of rendering homage to Sun, with praise and spells; the object being health or delivery from disease”. He further notes the presence of Arghya Pradana, Surya Stotaram, Aditya dvadasa namam – 12 names of the Sun according to the monthly signs of zodiac, Surya Narayana cavacham, Saurashtacshari mantram, and many other elaborate rituals as the part of the vidhi. In Page 148 of the same book he describes a shorter version called “Laghu tricha kalpa vidhi”.

Aditya Hridayam is another ancient practice which involves a variation of Sūrya Namaskāra. It is a procedure of saluting The Sun, taught to Sri Rama by Sage Agastya, before his fight with Ravana. It is described in the “Yuddha Kaanda” Canto 107 of Ramayana.

There are numerous references of praising the Sun for the purpose of good health and prosperity, in Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu) for the well being of an individual, through salutations to the Sun. These daily procedures were termed as Surya Namaskara (literally translates as “sun salutations”). Physical prostration to Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of these procedures. The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna.

Excerpt From Wikipedia Articles, Surya Namaskar and  Surya Namaskar Origins