“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 teaching 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.
This notion of establishing the starting point in terms of setting goals and establishing the number of steps, as in Vinyāsa Krama, was one of the fundamental principles within any aspect of practice taught to me by Desikachar. It is also an inherent factor within the notion of the Viniyoga or application of Āsana, in that how can we make and apply an intelligent arrangement without knowing both where the student is starting from as well as going towards.
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:
This is referred to in Religiousness in Yoga page 23-27.
It is the foundational structure on which all the other variants of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma practice arise from or are goals towards.
The Viniyoga of Inversion as an Āsana or as a Mudrā……
There are some forms within the postural resources developed by Krishnamacharya that can function as either an Āsana or as a Mudrā, depending on how they are approached and utilised. This choice of direction and outcome can be realised according to the specific Bhāvana associated with the intention of the practitioner and the style of performance.
This distinction in characteristics can be generalised around whether the practitioner focuses on a dynamic form with the developmental priority around the variations of and in the posture, or on a static form with the focus on the developmental priority on the lengthening and refinement of the breath.
In other words, as to whether the focus is on the development of the various Vinyāsa Krama within the dynamic form through a specific competence within a number of physical variations. Or, the focus is on the development within the static form, of a specific competence within a number of respiratory ratios.
Vīrabhadrāsana or warrior pose is an Āsana where the postural focus at the level of Annamaya or the structural aspect, involves the skill of holding seemingly opposite points of attention at the same time.
Front Leg Focus on Toes Down
Rear Leg Focus on Heel Down
For example, if we start by considering the attention on the feet using the above illustration, the front left foot focus is on the rooting of toes, whereas the focus on the rear right foot is on the rooting of the heel.
Thus, here we have an example of a Pratikriyā Bhāvana, or opposite action conception, where we need to direct our attention with a contrasting dynamic in two places simultaneously. In this example on both the front left or rear right foot at the same time, but each with different points of attention.
When studying the many aspects of Āsana, my teacher taught me not just the final form of the Āsana, but also that there was a learning around the context and especially the Vinyāsa Krama of each Āsana and the ‘family’ to which they belonged.
For example when studying Āsana such as Bakāsana, I was taught that there are certain protective and selective criteria that need to be considered as part of both the dynamic of the form and the prerequisite steps. These also help in determining the readiness of the practitioner to engage in the dynamic that Āsana, such as this one, sit within.
These considerations include a specific Vinyāsa Krama or steps into and out of the Āsana. These steps in themselves offer a sort of check list to determine if the student is adequately prepared and thus ready to engage in the process of which the final form is but a still frame within a movie.
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.”
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.
Part Four – Building our Support with Utkaṭāsana
This is the fourth in a series of articles presenting the core principles for Āsana practice as taught to me through many years of personal lessons in India with my teacher TKV Desikachar.
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.
Part Three – Moving from our Spine with Uttānāsana
This is the third in a series of articles presenting the core principles for Āsana practice as taught to me through many years of personal lessons in India with my teacher TKV Desikachar.
The emphasis in the previous article was on “Growing from our Roots” and looked at Tāḍāsana, the second Āsana in the series within a general practice.
The first article “Moving into our Bodies” looked at the starting Āsana in the series, Samasthiti, as a pose that offered a means to bring our mind and through it, our deeper awareness to a focussed attention.
Part Two – Growing from our Roots with Tāḍāsana
This is the second in a series of articles presenting the core principles for āsana practice as taught to me through many years of personal lessons in India with my teacher TKV Desikachar.
Part One – Moving into our Bodies with Samasthiti.
This is the first in a series of articles presenting the core principles for Āsana practice as taught to me over many years of personal lessons in India with TKV Desikachar.
The emphasis on the combination of a practice skilfully adapted to my background and attitude whilst improvised according to my life and situation, is one eminently suited to the starting point for many Western practitioners today.
Unlike the more traditional Indian starting points of my teachers where Āsana were taught from childhood, we begin Yoga practice at different ages and certainly with different needs. We may begin from an urge to exercise, or an interest in meditation, or be driven by the need to recover from ill-health or to reduce stress.