‘Āsana brings steadiness, health and lightness of limb.’
For me, still to this day, one of the finest, simplest, direct and most succinct definitions on the purpose of Āsana within the processes and practices of Haṭha Yoga, is the definition offered in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 1 verse 17. It is a definition valid for any situation, or presentation, or as a response to questions from any background or level of interest around why we practice Āsana.
It can also be a springboard to discussing physiological qualities such as the relationship of Agni to the energetic qualities of health and lightness of limb. Or it can be a springboard to discussing psychological qualities such as the relationship of the Guṇa Rajas, to mental qualities, such as steadiness.
– Paul’s Short & Longer Yoga Practice Theory Articles – Collected & Collated
There are currently some 100 short and longer articles I have written around Yoga Practice and Yoga Practice Theory. So I felt it could be worthwhile to set up a webpage where they are all collected together onto a single page, as well as being collated into topics according to content.
So, below you can find an outline of the primary Yoga practice topics and where relevant, practice sub-topics. Live links are shown to take you to the page itself and directly to the topic in question.
As well as aiming to help the reader by offering resources from my studies with Desikachar around Āsana, Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma, Dhāraṇā and Chant Practice, it also highlights that there are some topics that I could offer more articles around. So over the next months I will post around themes such as the application of Dynamic and Static Form or understanding the differences in the Variation or Modification of Āsana.
The Viniyoga of Āsana Modular Workshop and Courses
– Empower your Practice Exploring how to Customise your Personal Āsana Practice
This Post introduces the Art of the Application of Āsana Modular Workshop and Courses Student Study Programme. As the student progresses through the interlinked and developmental Modules they will experience an in-depth learning in all areas of Āsana practice techniques and Āsana study theory.
Together these Modules will initiate and empower the student into the arts of learning to skilfully work with the principles that underpin creating and sustaining a personalised Āsana practice. The outcome will be the ability, through skilful practice planning, to independently and intelligently choose, adapt and ultimately self-develop and self-refine our personal Āsana Sādhana.
“Another important aspect is that the masters taught us to move from a deeper source,
not just from muscles and joints.”
– TKV Desikachar
The Viniyoga of Āsana Modular Programme is offered as a:
One of the essences in Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s teaching focused on the developmental and progressive integration of the different aspects of Āsana, Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma and Dhyānam into a single constantly evolving organism.
Thus in honouring the Paramparā it is not possible for me to separate these four practice components into four completely disconnected study topics to be learnt in any random order.
The way I was taught was that a knowledge of the practice and planning principles within Āsana are necessary to appreciate the practice and planning principles within Mudrā.
This day, for so long TKV Desikachar‘s birthday, is the third since his passing in August 2016.
In memoriam, as an offering of respect and fond remembrance, is a chant he composed for Western students as a condensed highlighting of the key concepts within the inquiry into the Pañca Maya, contained within Chapter Three of Taittirīya Upaniṣad known as the Bhṛguvallī.
Listed below are the links to both a text file and a sound file from my personal library of recordings with TKV Desikachar. This particular one is recorded with one of his senior chant students, Sujaya Sridhar.
View or Download the Long Version of Mā Aham as a PDF with notations
Listen or Download the Long Version of Mā Aham as an MP3 Sound File
The seeds from Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s teachings on Haṭha Yoga are best rooted through a personal home practice by:
By prioritising the twin aspects within a joint commitment to learn both Haṭha Yoga practice techniques and Haṭha Yoga practice theory. The intended outcome of this two pronged approach is engaging in learning how to practice, rather than just learning what to practice.
“Yoga must be adapted to an individuals needs,
expectations and possibilities,
rather than adapting an individuals needs,
expectations and possibilities to Yoga.”
This means learning to engage with the process of what it means to have a personal Yoga practice alongside engaging learning to study the theory of the component principles that underpin what constitutes creating and sustaining a personalised Yoga practice.
“Some are satisfied with what Āsana brings them.
Others are curious as to where Āsana can take them.”
These twin aspects of the arts of Yoga practice techniques and Yoga practice theory support our being able to independently and intelligently choose, adapt and ultimately self-develop and self-refine our personal Yoga Sādhana.
One aspect of Yoga Sādhana is that it is ultimately about a maturing of our relationship with all aspects of on the mat (and seat) Yoga practice, rather than just a maturing of our Āsana practice.
“Are we confusing the maturation of our Āsana practice
with the maturation of our Yoga practice?”
This is especially relevant if we consider these various aspects as existing within a holarchy. This implies that one “level”, here Āsana; whilst being the foundation, technical reference point, verification and ladder for the next “level”, here Prāṇāyāma; also remains interdependent with it. Thus Āsana is correspondingly influenced by the insights that arise from Prāṇāyāma as we work towards a transition from Bāhya Aṅga Sādhana towards Antar Aṅga Sādhana.
“Āsana is the primary choice to work the breath.
Prāṇāyāma is the primary choice to refine the breath.”
For example, fully embracing Prāṇāyāma as a Sādhana is initially founded on the core principles that underpin an intelligent relationship with Āsana. This foundation helps to seed insights that are unique to Prāṇāyāma practice. These insights in turn both deepen our relationship with Prāṇāyāma as well as refreshing and further deepening our relationship with Āsana.
General perceptions in Yoga are that performance progressions in any Āsana are usually around improvement or refinement in the choreography of the entry or exit, or in the extremity of the final form.
For example if we were to compare the performance of students in say Uttānasana, evaluations would tend to be made concerning how far one bends forward, or how near the head is towards the knees, or how straight the legs are, or how close to the ground the hands are, et cetera.
“The Āsana are presented in Vinyāsa Krama,
the way it was taught to children in the Yogasāla.
This should not create the impression that
T Krishnamacharya taught in this manner to everyone.”
– TKV Desikachar Introduction to Yoga Makaranda
However from the viewpoint of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, in terms of Āsana practice for adults, the breath has its own developmental path within the performance of any Āsana.
“Ultimately our experience of the Āsana is refined
through the mystery of the breath,
rather than the mastery of the form.”
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?
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:
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
I was asked in 2011 to provide ‘expert quotes’ in response to three questions for a media article by a freelance journalist on a Yoga related topic. These were my reflections that I am reposting unedited, especially given the surge in these past 7 years in what has become labelled as ‘Yoga Therapy’:
Q1. What are some examples of illnesses or ailments that can improve or be cured with the use of Yoga?
“It is not possible to give examples of illnesses or ailments that can be improved as it all depends on the matrix of the person who may also have certain combinations of problems. A student with cancer may improve or a student with a history of colds may experience little change.
The viewpoint of Yoga is to look at people as individuals and work from there rather than the more usual view of making lists of problems with flash card like answers to a specific problem. e.g. Sciatica, High Blood Pressure, Insomnia, Osteo-arthrosis, Chrohn’s Disease, etc.
“We cannot say that this Āsana or this Prāṇāyāma
can be given for this disease.”
– T Krishnamacharya 1984
Prāṇāyāma, as with Āsana and Dhyānam, was taught according
to the principles of Cikitsā, Rakṣaṇa and Śikṣaṇa Krama.
Thus we have breathing practices ranging from Cikitsā,
using simple ratio to settle an irregular breath, to Rakṣaṇa,
with competence and fluidity with various basic techniques and mild ratios,
to Śikṣaṇa and mastery of all techniques, and ratios and especially,
the Kumbhaka with long holds both after the inhale and the exhale.
The Vinyāsa Krama or steps in the evolution of practice are measured
by our practice abilities and consistency and potential within our life situation.
The longer term measure of our Prāṇāyāma potential is determined by
our skilful efforts with all four components of the breath in Āsana.
For example can we maintain 184.108.40.206. in Parśva Uttānāsana or 220.127.116.11 in Mahāmudrā?
These days though, it seems that there is not much place for or interest in the use of Kumbhaka
within breathing practices, if used at all it appears to be mainly Cikitsā or about recovery,
or at best Rakṣaṇa or constitutional, rather than Śikṣaṇa and developmental.
Download or View the Post as a PDF
A short end of morning study 25′ pre-lunch practice from the second day of three day Practitioner Training Programme Module first year group some years ago. Here the primary Bhāvana or theme was to offer a concise practice to experientially explore previous theoretical teachings around Bandha and the form of Taḍāka Mudrā, with added examples for the introductory application of Uḍḍīyana Bandha within Āsana.
Here the practice began with work in Supta Samasthiti in order to lengthen the breath using Ujjāyī as a base to using Supta Tāḍāsana to introduce the Bāhya Kumbhaka as a preliminary for Uḍḍīyana Bandha. Then Taḍāka Mudrā is introduced, firstly in a dynamic form with a return to base Vinyāsa and then intensified with the static form incorporating successive Uḍḍīyana Bandha. Here it might be helpful to emphasise that according to Krishnamacharya, Uḍḍīyana Bandha is applied within the Bāhya Kumbhaka.
Freedom of or in movement is obviously an asset and of course a useful pursuit in the world of homo-sedens that abounds these days. However movement according to the principles inherent in Haṭha Yoga has a further role other than mere freedom of movement as an end in itself. Thus in Haṭha Yoga the role of freedom in movement, albeit embedded with useful anatomical insights, is not the priority that appears to dominate the forms of Āsana utilised within many popular Yoga classes.
Of course freedom in movement is obviously a support in allowing us to apply the principles of Haṭha Āsana practice, but it is not the end in itself it seems to have become under the guise of calling it all Yoga. For example it can help with facilitating an exploration of the energetic processes that ultimately define, guide and differentiate Haṭha Yoga from movement forms such as exercise, fitness, dance, etc.
Yet these days it increasingly seems to be that, on the journey towards the deeper purpose inherent in Haṭha Yoga and its relationship to Rāja Yoga, we are more and more being sidetracked by the goals within the myriad of movement forms that proliferate or even ‘pose’ as Āsana practice today.
This is an example of a Vinyāsa Krama for the Catur or four Bandha when staying in Mahāmudrā as a Haṭha Yoga technique for working with the important Haṭha trilogy of Prāṇa, Apāṇa and Agni.
Here I am choosing not to focus on the Pūrva Aṅga, the ascending or preparatory phase, nor on the Uttara Aṅga, the descending or compensatory phase of the Āsana used in the Vinyāsa Krama for the whole practice.
It also does not include the building in of additional techniques such as Prāṇāyāma, nor exploring the different roles Prāṇāyāma may have in relation to the whole practice, especially one that has incorporated additional techniques such as the Catur Bandha.
Instead this extract is an example of the Pradhāna Aṅga or crown of this particular practice. It is centered around a stay in Mahāmudrā of around 10 minutes each side progressively incorporating and building in intensity, within the Vinyāsa Krama for Mahāmudrā, with the additional techniques of the Catur Bandha.
Each step of the Vinyāsa will intensify with the building in of an additional Bandha and also in one of the steps, the intensifying of the breath length and ratio. This example is as taught to me by Desikachar within my 121 lessons, at this particular juncture around the application or Viniyoga of the Catur Bandha, all from the teachings of Krishnamacharya.