TKV Desikachar did not teach different people different things.
Nor did he just teach the same thing to different people.
He taught different people the same thing in different ways.
The same could be said of T Krishnamacharya’s teaching.
Hence the context of the phrase the viniyoga of Yoga.
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 18.104.22.168. in Parśva Uttānāsana or 22.214.171.124 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.
“Āsana alone can be a support for our outer relationship with living.
However can Āsana alone be a support for our inner relationship with dying?
Especially as our conception of death is buried deep within our psyche.
This is why Yoga offers vehicles beyond Āsana for the inner and especially final journey.”
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.
Prāṇāyāma is common to both Haṭha and Rāja Sādhana,
whether working with the Prāṇa Śodhana of Haṭha Yoga,
where you were taught to practice it at each
of four transitional points through the day,
or with the Citta Śodhana of Patañjali,
where it is the pivotal Bahya Aṅga,
Prāṇāyāma is seen as the primary means to engage
the Élan Vital, the vital force or creative principle.
One of the major tools in bringing or refining
the level of observation to the subtler aspects
of our physical, energetic, mental and emotional
patterns is Prāṇāyāma.
Reflecting on Desikachar’s comment, quoted below from yesterday, I am reminded of its depth in terms of its observation around its message exorting us to consider the relationship between the need to practice more, the more we teach.
“The more you teach,
the more you must practice.”
Within this message is also the need to take steps to ensure our Yoga practice avoids being an extension of our Yoga teaching. In other words ensuring our Yoga teaching is an extension of our Yoga practice.
Our Yoga Teaching needs to be an accessory to our Yoga Practice.
Rather than our Yoga Practice being an accessory to our Yoga Teaching.
Hence the need to hold our personal practice on a separate trajectory to our teaching practice. Within this there are further considerations that may be helpful such as the need to ensure that our personal Yoga Practice doesn’t become a repetition of, or rehearsal for, our Yoga Teaching plans. Or not using teaching time as a way to ‘clock up’ practice hours through demonstrating, or leading the class through ‘follow me’ choreographies.
One hallmark within TKV Desikachar’s teaching on Āsana,
was not to confuse ‘appropriate’ alignment techniques,
with ‘proper’ alignment techniques.
The former implies a personalised starting point,
whilst the latter implies a developmental potential.
However both need to be related to 3 questions:
Where am I coming from?
Why am I practicing Āsana?
Where am I going to?
Cultivating a home Yoga practice
presents a solution to an obstacle.
Maintaining a home Yoga practice
presents an obstacle to a solution.
“I wonder if Modern Postural Yoga is confusing,
experiencing a supple body,
with experiencing a subtle body?”
At times getting to the practice mat
is more about exercising Mind over Matter.
In other words getting there because of the Mind.
At other times getting to the practice mat
is more about exercising Matter over Mind.
In other words getting there in spite of the Mind.
When less Āsana time than you would like,
better to reduce the number of Āsana,
or the number of repetitions,
or the length of the stays,
rather than, reducing the length of the breath.
Or….. even considering lengthening the breath,
thus even fewer Āsana, all with a longer breath than usual.
Here the Bhāvana could be to observe the effect
of a more spacious than usual Āsana breathing
on a more cramped than usual daily mindset.
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.
In the novice phase of our relationship with personal practice,
Yoga is not so much about what we bring to the practice mat,
it’s more about what we take away from the practice mat.
A sign of a maturing in our relationship with personal practice,
is that we accept more responsibility for what we bring to the practice mat
being a determining factor in what we take away from the practice mat.
As a Yoga Teacher we need to ensure that our personal Yoga Practice
doesn’t become a repetition of, or rehearsal for, our Yoga Teaching plans.
Our Yoga Teaching needs to be an appurtenance to our Yoga Practice.
Rather than our Yoga Practice being an appurtenance to our Yoga Teaching.
Our Yoga practice needs to evolve,
amongst other longer term unfoldings,
towards a live-in personalised relationship,
rather than just a go-out group class affair.
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.
“Contemplate the Source of the Breath.”
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.
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.