The pursuit of ‘Yoga bliss’ can be so demanding or intense that it can drive us as students to search for it through moving experientially from one Yoga seminar, workshop or retreat, or live or online Yoga class, or the latest Yoga hybrid or crossover style, to another.
The primary purpose for Āsana is to take us towards Yoga,
rather than just taking us towards more and more Āsana.
One irony from this pursuit is that any experience will not be exactly the same next time we reach for it, once we have been through that ‘first time taste’. This is the nature of Avidyā and its illusory mimicry, as lived through its child Rāga.
“Attraction is the consequence of happiness.”
– Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 7
Know your breath and
its unique characteristics within Āsana
and you will have an initial template
for working with your breath in Prāṇāyāma.
Modern Postural Yoga talks a lot about individual patterning from our genetic past, along with upbringing and lifestyle conditioning, determining what body patterns we inherently carry from life to death. From this, how we need to consider what body we bring to Āsana practice and how we need to be intelligent in our choice of Āsana for our body and mind and the developmental direction of our body in Āsana practice.
Less talked about is that exactly the same can be said for our breath and the individual patterning from our genetic past, along with upbringing and lifestyle conditioning, determining what breathing patterns we inherently carry from life to death. From this, we also need to consider what breath we bring to Āsana practice and how we need to be intelligent in our choice of breathing patterns in Āsana for our body and mind and the developmental direction of our breath in Āsana practice.
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.
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.
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.
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,
“Cultivating a home Yoga practice is an odyssey through a relationship. However, this odyssey not only requires patience and perseverance, but also enthusiasm and care. In this respect, as in any relationship, it is necessary to consider establishing priorities.
“Only through Yoga Yoga is known.
Only through Yoga Yoga arises.
One who is diligent with Yoga,
Enjoys Yoga for a long time.”
Vyāsa Commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter Three verse 6
To students interested in forming a relationship with a home practice with its attendant fruits, two initial suggestions are offered: First, think of a personal Yoga practice as if acquiring a new book. However before you try to fit this book into what is probably the already overcrowded bookshelf of life, take a decision to remove an existing book to make room for the new one.
What are the concepts of Sṛṣṭi Krama, Sthiti Krama and Antya Krama and what is their significance in relationship to the practice of Āsana, Prāṇāyāma and Dhyānam?
We can approach these three concepts and the question of their relationship with practice from a chronological and within that, a psychological viewpoint. According to the Yoga teachings from T Krishnamacharya there are three chronological and accompanying psychological stages of life, or Tri Krama.
1. The first Krama is the stage of growth and expansion known as Sṛṣṭi Krama. Here, chronologically, the starting point is the age from which people traditionally began the Āsana aspect of Yoga practice.
I was taught by Desikachar that we need to at least have some sort of working relationship with an Āsana practice as a prerequisite to exploring how to integrate Prāṇāyāma into our practice Sādhana.
Also in the approach of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar to Yoga practice this idea is even more relevant as important information, that guides our initial and subsequent steps into Prāṇāyāma, is gleaned from certain factors only apparent from observation of how our respiratory system performs during Āsana practice.
In exploring the principles that underpin the practice of Āsana the first idea to consider is that our practice is not just another form of exercise. Yoga Āsana are more than just physical postures or exercises to stretch and tone the body, or enhance our sense of personalised well-being. From within its Haṭha roots the concern of Yoga is our relationship with the force which is behind our movements and its source that initiates our every action.
Further the different practice elements that constitute a mature Yoga practice are not separate compartments. They are linked through the principles underpinning them. For example a respiratory competence learnt through the practice of Āsana facilitates progress within the seated practice of Prāṇāyāma. An enduring stable posture learnt through the practice of Prāṇāyāma supports the cultivation the meditative attitude inherent in progress towards Dhyāna or meditation.
Bṛṃhaṇa Kriyā and Laṅghana Kriyā as expansive and contractive activities are two potentials actualised through the Breath and Āsana.
Within the practice of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma they are actualised through an understanding of the primary principles that inform Haṭha Yoga and Āyurveda.
The alchemical process underpinning this understanding is the relationship between the two primary principles of Prāṇa and Agni in order to influence Haṭha Yoga concepts such as Prāṇa, Apāna, Nāḍī, Cakra, Agni and Kuṇḍalinī.
In terms of Bṛṃhaṇa Kriyā and Laṅghana Kriyā, the viniyoga of Bṛṃhaṇa affects a dispersion of Agni from the core to the periphery and the viniyoga of Laṅghana affects a withdrawal of Agni from the periphery to the core.
Understanding the application of this particular process facilitates access, through the Merudaṇḍa (spine), Prāṇa and Agni, to energising, cleansing and aligning potentials in the practice of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma.
These days, in certain situations, when asked what I do I sometimes say I write technical manuals and that usually moves the conversation quickly onto something like the British weather.
Why don’t I mention Yoga? Am I embarrassed about my relationship with Yoga? Not at all, its more about people’s reaction when asked and saying I am a Yoga teacher, a response somewhere as if an amalgam of being a fitness trainer, dentist and priest.
Also these feelings are often wrapped up in the response that I must do that or diverted into a projection around how I am seen in terms of say flexibility because I ‘do’ Yoga.
There are even folks I have been meeting occasionally for years and each time we meet I get the ‘I must do that’. Aside from the wry amusement at observing folks slight uncomfortableness as the word Yoga appears to represent something that at some level they feel they must need in their lives as if a commodity, there is for me a more important aspect that touches me.
This is around the difference between having to do something and wanting to do something.
According to such as the Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā, Aśvinī Mudrā and Mūla Bandha
are seen as very different forms in terms of definition and application.
Regarding application, only Aśvinī Mudrā is focussed around
the repeated contraction of the anal sphincter muscles.
My understanding from my discussions over the years with TKV Desikachar regarding the context and content of Yoga Makaranda, is that when teaching youngsters the length of the breath was minimised to a relatively short fixed length and use of Kumbhaka was limited to a few seconds Antar Kumbhaka and Bahya Kumbhaka.
In looking at how to deepen (rather than broaden) our personal practice choosing to focus on exploring the breath can be a key to unlocking the mystery of the relationship between body, breath, mind and beyond.
Here we can think of the deepening into our practice arising through progressively slowing the patterning of our breathing. To do this we have to reconsider our practice, not in terms of what we do with our body but what we do with the breath within our body.
This means firstly knowing what is our basic practice breath rate per minute and then progressively slowing that rate as we progress from Āsana, through to Mudrā and then to Prāṇāyāma.
For example when working with Āsana we can start with four breaths per minute, then with Mudrā slow it to three breaths per minute and finally with Prāṇāyāma, slow it again to two breaths per minute.
The viniyoga of Yoga is the application of the principles that link together to offer possibilities to enhance your relationship with yourself through your practice. This opens the possibility that a deepening of your practice comes not from adding more difficult postures, but from refining your relationship with what you already have.
Life is already full of pressures to go for the newest model, to bring more in from the outside rather than concentrating on bringing more out from the inside. So we need to take care that we do not become an avid consumer of a new posture or new technique purely for the sake of it.
Yoga is a relationship within which you commit yourself to depth of involvement rather than breadth of involvement. In that sense, Yoga is no different from how any relationship with someone or something we care for and wish to spend time with should be.
From this relationship we can eventually start to experience the fruits that arise from the time, care, effort and attention. Perhaps keeping the following words of a teacher from long ago in our mind as we adapt Yoga to suit our particular needs:
“Only through Yoga Yoga is known,
Only through Yoga Yoga changes.
One who is patient at Yoga,
enjoys the fruits over a long time.”
(View or download this post as a PDF with chant notations.)
Extract first published in 1996 in ‘The Guide to Natural Therapies’.
The Press tells us that over 20 million Americans ‘practice’ Yoga (and in the process spend 10.3 billion $ annually!). I wonder what that statistic, oft promoted as a success statement for Yoga, really means?