Where do we start when approaching the determination to open up to practice options beyond the group class mentality with its double edged sword of support and dependancy? For example we could start by exploring what it means to cultivate a personal regular home practice in terms of looking at it as from the initial viewpoint of being a process, before considering what is its content.
At this point it might be helpful to examine what are the differences between the two concepts of process and content, so vital in the work of Desikachar around planning Yoga practices for individual students. Here it might also be useful to remind ourselves that Krishnamacharya and Desikachar considered teaching individuals as the only valid means to explore Yoga as having both a process and content.
“Yoga Sādhana is about what grows out of
practising alone amidst the inside at home, rather
than practising with others amidst the outside in class.”
So what is Yoga practice as a process?
To experience the intention behind
the Bandha, the body must be prepared.
For example if the pulse remains increased
after their use, it is an indicator that we are not ready.
If excessive tension is felt in the areas where they are used,
then an indicator that we are not ready for Bandha in Mahāmudrā.
“Is Yoga relevant to the West?
Question which is relevant to India as well. Because of the changes there.
The word Yoga is integrated into its language, religion rituals etc., so it is accepted in India. But in the West there are certain problems. The word is associated with physical gymnastics or mental gymnastics. This has complicated the job of the Yoga teacher. Even in India, if you know nothing else you can always teach Yoga
One is also asked to show your Yoga. A Yogi for some people means Svāmī, for others Siddhi, for others exercise teacher. Even the image of the Yogi is seen as important. However nowhere do the texts insist on dress or beard as part of the Yogi.
So let us look at ideas behind Yoga……”
– TKV Desikachar 1987
Having a meditation practice is one thing,
practicing meditation is something else.
Better not to confuse the two in terms of
the gap between intention and outcome.
Meditation is that which might or might not
arise out of our efforts at meditation practice.
The outcome depends on the extent of the intention.
– Reflections around Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 14
When using the Antar Kumbhaka to lengthen the breath,
always factor in its effect on the length of the exhale.
It should be able to stay the same length and quality.
If it is affected, change the length of the Kumbhaka,
rather than compromising the flow of the breath.
Mostly we are introduced to the teachings of the Yoga Sūtra through a group class situation, or by coming across a book. This is fine as a starting point, however longer term we need to engage a Sādhana that can facilitate its wisdom teachings radiating from the inside out rather than just permeating from the outside in.
A good starting point for initiating this psychic process is to learn how to chant as a practice in itself and then how to chant the Yoga Sūtra specifically. As well as offering a deepening of contact with those special Bhāvana that arise from chanting, this can also be extremely helpful for the memory processes involved.
These two steps in the embracing chant as a Sādhana ideally require a personal teacher, especially one who can listen and identify our individual nuances in how we repeat what we think we hear. From there they can offer a Vinyāsa Krama for cultivating our vocal potential and refining our skills in terms of self-listening and thus facilitating our abilities in terms of self-correction.
However accepting that for some this may not be a possibility at this point in time, three suggestions are offered below as progressive options for starting a self-learning process
Unlike other aspects of our personal Sādhana, when it comes to the practice of Jñāna Adhyayanam, or the chanting of the Yoga Sūtra, there is an unusual developmental process in that as we refine this aspect of practice it take less and less time.
Obviously the first step is to commit to learning to be able to chant the four chapters of the Yoga Sūtra, along with the relevant opening invocations and closing invocations. Once we have this basic accomplishment in place then taking our seat and chanting the whole text, within a Vinyāsa Krama by including the accompanying invocatory chants, will take around 35-40 minutes.
असतो मा सद्गमय |
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय |
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ‖
asato mā sad gamaya |
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya |
mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya ‖
Learning Support for Chanting the Pavamāna Mantra – Asato Mā Sadgamaya
From my personal library of recordings from my studies with TKV Desikachar
To Download or Listen to an MP3
To Download a PDF Chant Sheet with Romanised Saṃskṛta, Chant Notations and Translation
Though there are many different aspects to Krishnamacharya and Desikachar’s teachings on cultivating a formal ‘home’ practice, they fall into two general groups:
- Firstly Bāhya Aṅga Sādhana through Haṭha Yoga and the practice of Kriyā, Āsana, Mudrā, Bandha and Prāṇāyāma.
- Secondly Antar Aṅga Sādhana through Rāja Yoga and the practice of Dhāraṇā and Bhakti Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Veda, or Jñāna Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Yoga Sūtra.
In considering the relationship and intertwining of these multifarious practice elements we can use the analogy of raising a family. In other words how to accommodate the emerging issues we need to contend with, such as the impact on our time and energy, as we look to stream developmental priorities within these additional commitments.
Here I want to consider some of these issues just from the viewpoint of time. For example if we look at the issue of time within one aspect of practice, say Āsana,
Even these days, the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around Yoga are primarily known through his exacting teaching of Āsana. This has also been mainly experienced in the West with the developmental work of his early students, such as through the choreographical artistry in the work of Pattabhi Jois or through the geometrical precision in the work of BKS Iyengar.
However this area of Āsana teaching, though itself multifaceted and hugely influential, if disproportionately predominant within Yoga today, only reveals one aspect of the many dimensions of practice expressed within his teaching. This teaching evolved and refined over 70 years, from his return from his long stay around the borders of Nepal and Tibet in 1919, to his death in 1989.
A more all-inclusive insight into the many aspects of these other facets can be ascertained through exploring the multifarious approaches and priorities emphasised within the teaching work of other of Krishnamacharya’s students, such as TKV Desikachar, or S Ramaswami, or AG Mohan.
From exploring the teaching priorities of all these first generation students of Krishnamacharya, a more all-embracing perspective can arise encompassing both the breadth and depth of his mastery of both the teachings of Yoga and their context, place and application within the Indian perspectives on such as soteriology, philosophy and theology.
One example of this depth is Krishnamacharya’s lesser known work in the teaching of Mantra
The Multi-Topic Yoga Foundation Study Series Module One
– Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Mantra and Sūtra
A two day Foundation Course on Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Mantra and Sūtra is offered as a starting point for students wishing to explore Yoga Practice and Study but finding the range of options in the cYs Programme offering too many mono-topic themes. This Two Day Module draws together a number of the core practice and study strands that this approach specialises in into one composite multi-topic Course.
For more information on the background to the four topics that make up this Module read the Art of Yoga Foundation Study Series Modules One to Five Overview.
The Art of Yoga Foundation Study Series Module One is limited to a maximum of five students to allow for a personalised approach and in-depth transmission between teacher and student. It introduces the student, through a 2 day module, to the primary principles and teachings from T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar on the art of application of Yoga.
“Abhyāsa, when performed with reverence,
without interruption, over a long period of time, will result
in a healthy body, acute senses and extraordinary alertness.
This kind of Abhyāsa is a solid foundation that nothing can disturb.”
– T Krishnamacharya’s commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 14
“In this Sūtra Patañjali states that there are two ways
to discipline the five types of mental activity.
They are Abhyāsa and Vairāgya.
Abhyāsa is practice.
Vairāgya is to disconnect or sever the link
between the Citta and external objects.
These two, Abhyāsa and Vairāgya,
always go together as a pair.”
– T Krishnamacharya commentary on
Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 12