Reflections on TKV Desikachar’s Teaching and Svatantra……

As his pupil my teacher worked at guiding me towards becoming increasingly independent in developing and refining more and more my personal practice skills so I became less and less dependent on him being the vehicle for if, when, where, what and how well I practice.

I have always respected this aspect of his 121 teaching in that, like a parent with a child, he progressively facilitated my learning to enable me to grow into an intelligently consistent, situation adaptive and yet long term developmental self-practice, initially through, then much more than just Āsana.

Especially as, like any art that we wish to become accomplished in, this self-skill was cultivated primarily within my home environment with all its hues and moods that inevitably influence, or are driven by deeper motivations within our current intentions and situation realities.

“The road to good intention is paved with hell.”

Thus he guided me into self-inspired and self-motivated practice without the need for neutral or even conducive surroundings to influence the mood, or please the eye, ear or nose. Of course adding these factors may arise as a fruit in terms of creating a supportive environment, but the message here was that the ‘temple’ we need to enter ultimately sits within the heart rather than within some external room or building.

Also from the very beginning of our work together Desikachar diminished his role with regard to the teachers physical presence, voice or image. Reflecting back I now see that he took steps to ensure that, from the students perspective, the presence of the teacher is ultimately a distraction to, rather than an enhancement of ones personal practice aura, or focus gatherer, or energy simulator, or endurance sustainer.

Decades later I can really appreciate this strategy, especially given the modern predilection for not only live ‘teachers’, but also the ‘presence’ of the virtual ‘teacher’ ‘companion’ through the multiple on-line or on-site mediums that we are assailed with such as TV, DVD, MP3, Youtube, Skype, Mobile App, or Video Streaming, all presenting themselves to either lead or lubricate, cajole or caress, or stimulate or soothe the student.

Of course these resources can be helpful as an occasional support or for ‘beginners’  but as a first choice in that without them we are unable to get onto the mat and even once on unable to deeply get into the practice? There can also be a further consideration in that the use of outside stimuli, however ‘good’, are ultimately sustaining a link to the external rather than fully stepping across the threshold towards ones own Nimitta or internal ‘farmer’.

This journey towards svatantra or independence around self-practice was also ultimately self-empowering with regard to an increasing self-responsibility in setting the time of day or night I practiced, or length of time I would be on the mat, or mat rather than cushion, or the tone, or intensity, or style, or proportion between Kriyā, Āsana, Mudrā, Bandha, Prāṇāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Adhyayanam or Dhyānam.

“The target of Yoga is ‘svatantra’ 
which means to discover our own technique.
‘Sva’ means self and ‘Tantra’ means technique.
The techniques are in oneself and we must discover them;
if not we will depend on others.
This is svatantra.”
– TKV Desikachar

I am eternally grateful to the initiation into this process and salute him for his insistence and persistence in guiding me into this dimension of experiencing what a personal Yoga practice means from the perspective of Desikachar and Krishnamacharya.

This independence also progressed through the fivefold field of the Pañca Maya (more on this in an upcoming post) developing from the physical aspect and embracing increasingly subtler aspects as the practice evolved from just Kriyā and Āsana, before adding Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma, then towards Adhyayanam and Dhyānam.

Understanding more the relationship between the dimensions of practice tools also facilitated skilful space and time management and offered opportunities to move beyond becoming stuck on the sticky mat so to speak. In other words Āsana becoming synonymous with Yoga or limiting my desires as fruits from practice to just fitness, stress busting, or inducing feelings of happy hips, heart or head.

“We are always experiencing Duḥkha even though some of us might not be seeking clarity.”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Five Page 79

So as well as these short term finite goals, a comprehensive Yoga practice can also support a lifetime process moving towards the deeper more complex issues of why the experience of Duḥkha or suffering impacts on our psyche and its resulting effect on our individualised perspective in terms of desire, aversion or fear.

“The way to better oneself is not to ponder over the past but to look ahead.
Even Duḥkha is a great teacher.
In fact it is the first and important step in the ladder of Viveka or clarity.
The greatness of Patañjali is to look at Duḥkha as the stepping stone to success.”
– T Krishnamacharya commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 16

From offering stability within this initial awareness of its impact, Yoga practice can become a tool within the journey towards understanding the cause of Duḥkha in the spirit of the four noble truths of Patañjali (more on the Catur Vyūham in an upcoming post) outlined so eloquently from the Yoga Sūtra through its companion commentary.


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