Nāma, Rūpa, Lakṣana – The Name, Form and Characteristics of Āsana

The Aṣṭāṅga Āsana or the eight limbs of Āsana Planning and Practice are the formula for constructing a skilful and place, time and lifestyle appropriate Āsana practice. These eight limbs fall into eight categories, that of:

  • The definition, meaning and context of Āsana
    – Core concept – Nāma Rūpa Lakṣana – name, form and characteristics
  • How Āsana are arranged into groups and categories
    – Core concept – Vinyāsa Krama – collecting postures together
  • How counterpostures or Pratikriyāsana are integrated
    – Core concept – Pratikriyāsana– maintaining the balance
  • The value and purpose of the breath in Āsana
    – Core concept – PrāṇaApāna Dhāraṇā – where the focus is
  • How movement or stay are used in Āsana 
    Core concept – Circulation and Purification – dynamic and static
  • The adaptation of Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Variation and Modification – change and necessity
  • Intelligently planning and Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Bṛṃhaṇa and Laṅghana Kriyā – connecting postures together
  • Observation within Āsana practice
    – Core concept – Spine, Breath and Attention – learning to look

In my last post on Aṣṭāṅgāsana I talked about introducing each of these eight topics to help the reader to appreciate more about what is inherent in the depth and breadth of this approach in terms of Āsana planning having a precise and comprehensive formula.

Āsana practice starts with a need to know something about the Āsana we are going to work with as we introduce, persevere and develop and especially personalise our practice. Hence we have to both practice but also have some theoretical background in order to context an Āsana in itself and in relationship to other Āsana.

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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 6 of 15 – Planning an Appropriate Āsana Practice

6. Planning an Appropriate Āsana Practice

In this post we will consider questions around the planning of an appropriate Āsana practice.

For example how would we consider the following situation:

  • Rising at 6.30am
  • Stiff neck
  • Stiff legs
  • Nostrils blocked
  • Stomach pain
  • Head heavy
  • Work meeting at 8.30am (15′ walk)

We can find out how much time is available, say 30′. So now we can prepare a practice. Though, whatever principles you use there are certain things that must happen.

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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 5 of 15 – Common Points within the Variables in Āsana Practice

5. What are the Common Points within the Variables in Āsana Practice

If we look at all the variables around Āsana practice we can find some similarities between various individuals.

For example:

  • The variable must accept and include a persons previous training
  • We must respect where a person is coming or starting from
  • It is better to consider the immediate situation rather than the long term
  • We must respect the after effect of the Āsana practice
  • We must respect the after action to come
  • We must respect the travel from A to Z or Upāya
  • Z seems to vary much more than A, i.e.
    Practice in the morning – generally less variables
    Practice in the evening – more subject to the days effects and different lifestyles
  • We must respect age, condition, gender, work, lifestyle, etc
  • It is also necessary to consider some technical priorities
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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 4 of 15 – Considerations around the Direction of Āsana Practice

4. Considerations around the Direction of Āsana Practice

As well as considering what is acceptable to each and everybody as basic principles of Āsana practice, we must consider the direction of one’s Āsana practice.

For example:

  • Where are we starting from in terms of practice as a process?
  • Where are we going to in terms of practice as a process?
  • Is this process of potential change working with Immediate needs in mind?
  • Is this process of potential change working with long term needs in mind?
  • Is this process of potential change trying to integrate both Immediate needs and long term needs?

So what is Yoga practice as a process? Practice as a process is consideration of all the factors that surround the establishing of a home practice. For example this can be:

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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 3 of 15 – The Principles used in Constructing an Āsana Practice

3. The Principles used in Constructing an Āsana Practice

So how have the various schools of Yoga come to ideas of using rest, preparation, counterpose, etc as planning principles in the practice of Āsana?

Also if we have certain principles underpinning how we work, how do we apply them to students already set in a particular mode of Āsana practice?

For example:

  • Perhaps if they have a physical problem then you have something to work with. However you need to be tactful about pointing such things out, maybe waiting.
  • Otherwise you can try to meet them halfway i.e. adding a couple of things to their practice they know and a couple they don’t.
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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 2 of 15 – There are Many Approaches to Āsana Practice

2. There are Many Approaches to Āsana Practice

To consider this aspect we need to look at different approaches to Āsana practice using as examples the viewpoints of different schools of practice to what are seen by many as the two primary ‘classical’ Āsana.

For example:

From these examples we are led to the belief that we must respect that there are various schools of thought around the principles of practice of Āsana.

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The Viniyoga of Āsana Part 1 of 15 – Āsana according to Haṭha and Rāja

1. The Definition of Āsana according to Haṭha and Rāja Yoga

HAṬHA PRADĪPIKĀ Chapter One verse 17

haṭhasya prathama-aṅgatvād-āsanaṁ pūrvam-ucyate |
kuryāt-tad-āsanaṃ sthairyam-ārogyaṃ cāṅga-lāghvam ||

Āsana, being the initial limb of Haṭha, is spoken of first.
Āsana brings about steadiness, improved health and lightness of limb.

For me, still to this day, one of the 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 Pradīpikā Chapter One verse 17.

It is a definition valid for any situation, discussion or presentation, or as a response to questions from any background, or level of interest around why we practice Āsana.

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Āsana brings steadiness, improved health and lightness of limb……

Āsana, being the initial limb of Haṭha, is spoken of first.
Āsana brings about steadiness, improved health and lightness of limb.

“For me, still to this day, one of the 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 Pradīpikā Chapter One verse 17.

It is a definition valid for any situation, discussion 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 linking physiological qualities, such as the relationship of Agni, to the energetic qualities of health and lightness of limb. Or investigation of the commentary by Brahmānada, as that explores psychological qualities such as the relationship of the GuṇaRajas, to mental qualities such as steadiness.”

Paul’s Short & Longer Yoga Practice Theory Articles – Collected & Collated

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.

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Longer term Vinyāsa Krama within the Viniyoga of the breath in 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.”

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Haṭha Yoga has another role other than mere freedom of movement……

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.

It appears that one can often talk about the effects of Yoga Āsana on the spine in Yoga yet……

It appears that one can often talk about the effects of Yoga Āsana on the spine in Yoga, yet the reality is more based on the effects of Yoga Āsana on the external aspects of the structural form. It has also been an observation over some four decades of teaching Yoga that the two can get confused in terms of assessing developmental progress within the practice of Yoga Āsana.

Furthermore it appears that it is possible to work the body into ‘advanced’ Yoga Āsana yet observe that the spine is not deeply influenced, for example with the hips and shoulders or lax joint ligaments facilitating the impression of the form. Hence the application of Yoga from this perspective is to start with the spine as the primary priority with the limbs the secondary priority.

Thus the principles of modification of Yoga Āsana are from the perspective of allowing adjustments to the limbs in order to facilitate a deeper more profound impact on the spine.

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When considering what to practice, it can be helpful to consider our starting point……

When considering what to practice, it can be helpful to consider our starting point. For example are we looking for the role of an Āsana practice to help in recovering from a situation where we are as if personally overdrawn. Also what is the nature of our ‘overdraft’?

Is its impact or origin physical, energetic, psychological or emotional, or even a combination of more than one. Here the concepts of too little, too much or wrong can also be helpful as a reference in that, as well as considering the nature of the ‘overdraft’ we need to consider the means we undertake to remedy this aspect of the situation. In other words our first priority is to reduce the negative aspect at least.

However sometimes we can try something that is as if a short term loan and at a high rate of interest in terms of time, effort, energy and committment. Thus whilst finding our situation temporarily improving a further depletion can possibly arise as we find ourselves unable to as if ‘keep up with the extra payments’ given the nature of the original depletion and its current impact on our potentials.

So having a clear reference point in terms of identifying the nature of the starting point and the short term or longer term potentials of our choice of an appropriate remedy is as important as the personal determination to clear the deficit we have created within us. Here a personal teacher can be helpful.

We can learn how we can fine tune our practice according to our basic nature…


One of the potentials in the Haṭha Yoga teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar is the understanding around the viniyoga or application of Bṛṃhaṇa Kriyā and Laṅghana Kriyā in terms of their potential to enhance sensory stimulation or to diminish sensory stimulation.

Both approaches can be used where appropriate to impact on how we are stimulated by the world through the senses and thus be more drawn to interact with it in a more extravert way, or how our sensory stimulation is quietened and thus we are more easily able to withdraw from the activities of the senses.

Both approaches are valid and applied according to our changing age, life situation and life stage. Here the role of a teacher is helpful in learning the skills of self application within our daily practice. We can learn how we can fine tune our practice according to our basic nature and where it needs to be within day to day living and its demands.

This alchemical process would also be difficult to explore other than in some very generalised way within a weekly group class given the mix of the age, gender, interests, needs, potentials and core physiological, energetic and psychological natures of the students.

Let alone where they are in their life circumstances, external demands, work roles and life stage or even the teacher having time and situation to explore each student personally to gain some insight into what is happening at that life moment within the small window offered by time and group size.

Hence throughout Krishnamacharya and Desikachar’s teaching life, apart from group classes for children and young adults, they taught only personal lessons.

Vinyāsa Krama is pronounced according to its meaning as……


Vinyāsa Krama is pronounced according to its meaning as Vi-Nyāsa Krama or special placing in a sequence of steps. It is the arranging of the various postures or breathing patterns in an intelligent sequence, respecting the variables in the student and the purpose of the practice.

What might be helpful to consider is one of the ways Desikachar presented this teaching to me within our lessons in that the viniyoga of Vinyāsa Krama is comparable to the notion of climbing steps. Here intelligent application means to climb each step by bringing both feet onto the same step before taking the next one. In other words ensure we are grounded and stable before we take another step.

It also has the benefit of allowing a steady view of what is involved in taking the next step as well as reducing the risk of losing what we already have. However this way of approaching the developmental aspects of our practice may be at variance with our more usual way of climbing steps, such as one step at a time.

How do we know that? Here a teacher who knows you as an individual rather than a member of a group can be very helpful. For example we all have different modes of being, some climb steps slowly, some quickly, some two at a time, all according to our innate tendencies. This is an attitude to life that can reflect in the way we practice, or in the choice of the style of practice, or how we approach ‘progressing’ our practice, or even in the teacher we ‘choose’.

Add to this the notion that in its essential role Yoga was seen as a means to destabilise our perception of self in order to ‘break up’ the notion of what we see as the ‘I’. Perhaps comparing this against the modern approach where folks come to classes seeking stability as a counterpose to the destabilising effects of our worldly involvements, then the notion of Vinyāsa Krama as presented here can have even more relevance.

Reflections on Pratikriyāsana or the role of Opposite Action Postures

pka

When considering the viniyoga or application of Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures within a students personal practice, it may help to look at the integration of their intended role from three perspectives.

– Firstly their intended role as a counterposture, thus more from a physiological perspective.
– Secondly their intended role as a compensation, thus more from a psychological perspective.
– Thirdly their intended role as a transition, thus more from sequential perspective.

Appropriate integration of these three principles constitute an essential component in the Vinyāsa Krama or intelligent steps utilised within practice planning.

Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s…..

Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s I commented on an observation formed from discussions with my students within a study group I had brought to Madras (Chennai) for a two week programme at the KYM during my personal study stay that year.

As a part of this particular study group visit to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram some of the students took up the option of 121 lessons with teachers at the KYM. Sharing the content of the practices with me revealed the introduction of a sequence that I had not come across before within, at that time, my nearly 20 years of studies within the work of T Krishnamacharya.

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Finding your starting point within an Āsana to set a direction and goal

“In order to know where we are going to,
we must first know where we are coming from.”

Often in the Āsana aspect of Yoga practice, whether within our personal practice or a group class environment, the student is directed towards a goal.

This may be to do with a physical or structural foci such as the:

  • Basic Performance of the Āsana
  • Continuing Improvement of the Āsana
  • Specific Intensification of the Āsana
  • Introducing Stay into the Āsana

However the common factor within all of these options is that they are goal based.

This is fine as a general principle however as in any area of our lives, setting off towards any goal requires that we also have a clear idea of our starting point. For example, if I am wanting to travel to London I need to know whether I am starting from Birmingham or Brighton in order to set a direction and distance to navigate from. So it is with Āsana.

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The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa……


My extensive study of Āsana with TKV Desikachar was shaped around forming a deep appreciation of specific core principles that underpin the planning and practice of Āsana and their application to the individual student’s constitution, psychology and need.

Amongst these dozen or so core principles, the first group I studied when looking at any Āsana in depth, were the concepts of Nāma, Rūpa and Lakṣaṇa, or the name, the form and the characteristics of that particular Āsana.

Obviously the Nāma is a useful tag point for identification and the Rūpa is vital as a reference point for the Sat Viniyoga or appropriate application of the Āsana within overall considerations around direction and outcome such as the Śikṣaṇa Krama, Rakṣaṇa Krama or Cikitsā Krama application of the forms used.

However I do feel these days that our understanding in Āsana practice is dominated by the Nāma and the Rūpa with little emphasis on the Lakṣaṇa or inherent characteristics of the Āsana and how understanding this aspect can have a profound effect on the approach, application and outcome of the overall or accumulative impact of the Āsana within the student’s practice.

The teaching of Krishnamacharya around Āsana included an in-depth appreciation of the Lakṣaṇa, especially around the thirty or so primary support Āsana such as Jaṭhara Parivṛtti, Bhujaṅgāsana or Januśīrṣāsana.

If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?


Question by Desikachar during my 121 lessons 1980:
“If we appreciate the role of breathing in Āsana how can we make it longer?”

From my notes from his response:

1. By using a valve, such as the throat (Ujjāyī) we can:

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Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures have counterpostural, compensational and transitional roles

PKA_2015

Pratikriyāsana or opposite action postures have counterpostural, compensational and transitional roles and are applied at specific points in the practice in order to maintain a sound physiological and psychological base.

This principle has an important role in how we link the different aspects of the Āsana practice, how we close the practice or how we integrate the Āsana element of the practice into other aspects of our Yoga practice.

There are specific guidelines around how they can be integrated into the practice, the first of which is that the counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted.

This principle is especially important when attempting to integrate more complex Āsana such as Bhujaṅgāsana or Sarvāṅgāsana into our practice.

On this point you may wish to refer back to a previous post around the question, how do we know that a student is ready to attempt a more progressive posture such as Sarvāṅgāsana?

Links to Related Posts:

The counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted

The counter posture needs to be mastered before a particular Āsana is attempted

How do we know that a student is ready to attempt a more progressive posture such as Sarvāṅgāsana?

From following the core principle in the teachings of Vinyāsa Krama. In that the Pratikriyā Āsana or opposite action posture for a particular Āsana needs to be mastered before that particular Āsana is attempted.

For example if we want to teach Sarvāṅgāsana or shoulder stand, because it will have a specific potential for the particular student, then we teach the Pratikriyā Āsana Bhujaṅgāsana first.

So the student first works around Bhujaṅgāsana within their personal practice and the information that arises guides the teacher as to their readiness for, in this case, Sarvāṅgāsana.

“Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you,
but as it applies to the student.”

– T Krishnamacharya

The information arising from observing how the student practices Bhujaṅgāsana guides the teacher as to the appropriateness of Sarvāṅgāsana. The information that feeds back may be on the level of Annamaya, Prāṇamaya, Manomaya or beyond. Obviously this implies that we are observing the students practice directly.

Once the student shows an adequate performance of Bhujaṅgāsana and it can be integrated into their existing personal practice, then we can be more secure that the student is ready to approach integrating Sarvāṅgāsana into their regular practice.

Paul’s Short & Longer Yoga Practice Theory Articles – Collected & Collated

A fundamental facet in the principles of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice……

slibss_web

A fundamental facet in the principles of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice, in the teachings of Krishnamacharya through Desikachar, is the ordering of Āsana according to the acronym SLIBSS.

It is the practice arrangement or Vinyāsa Krama in the following order:

  • Standing Āsana
  • Supine Lying Āsana
  • Inverted Āsana
  • Prone Backbend Āsana
  • Sitting Āsana
  • Seated Āsana

This is referred to in Religiousness in Yoga page 23-27.

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