“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.
Compare Paścimatānāsana, Januśīrṣāsana, Upaviṣṭa Koṇāsana and Baddha Koṇāsana
With regard to:
1. Differences between them in terms of stress on the knees.
2. Differences between them in terms of stress on the lower back.
3. Differences between them in terms of effect on high blood pressure.
4. Differences between them as a preparation for runners.
5. Differences between them as a counterpose for runners.
6. Differences between them for a person with sciatica.
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.
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.
Compare Dvipāda Pīṭham and Śalabhāsana in relation to their potential within the following situations:
1. In strengthening the leg muscles.
2. Potential stress on the sacroiliac joint.
3. Influencing the circulation.
4. Potential risk on the knees.
5. As a preparation for Dhanurāsana.
6. In helping with flat feet.
7. In improving the inhalation.
8. In decreasing lower back pain.
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.
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.
1. Who is going to practice it?
2. Why do they wish to use it?
3. When are they going to practice it?
4. How are they going to get in and out of it?
5. What do they need to have done to verify their capability?
Practice Study Question around Āsana Planning Theory:
Identify a minimum of two modifications of preparatory Āsana
which can be used to make Adho Mukha Śvānāsana more effective.
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.
Following on from yesterdays post on Bṛṃhaṇa Kriyā and Laṅghana Kriyā as expansive and contractive activities I felt it could be helpful to republish a post from last year developing the concept and application of Laṅghana Kriyā. There is little published information available on these important concepts that Krishnamacharya drew from Āyurveda and applied through his Yoga teaching. For more on this teaching relationship of Yoga and Āyurveda view ‘The Krishnamacharya methodology of melding the viniyoga of Āyurveda with that of Yoga‘.
Whilst reposting this piece on Laṅghana Kriyā and its application within the teaching concepts of Śamanam Kriyā and Śodhanam Kriyā, I have also added links so the reader can further reference the Saṃskṛta Words Compendium, with its now 750 Saṃskṛta word database cross linking concepts and texts.
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 Vīna Daṇḍa (spine), Prāṇa and Agni, to energising, cleansing and aligning potentials in the practice of Āsana, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma.
The extent of its use and length of rest at each stage, when transiting from one category to another within our Āsana practice journey, was dependent on the facility of the practitioner and the intensity of the practice.
“Cale Vāte Calaṃ Cittam
As is the breath so is the mind.”
Within this individualised variance is the guiding principle that the role of Śavāsana is to facilitate a smooth transition for the flow of the breath and also the pulse through and beyond the Āsana practice as a marker for the practitioners state of mind.
However according to Desikachar the viniyoga of Śavāsana was seen in terms of recovery from the fatigue of the preceding aspect of the practice rather, than say recovery from the preceding aspects of ones life.
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.
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.
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.
“But it is still unclear how much Yoga someone has to do to get the benefits found and
how cost-effective it is relative to undertaking other forms of exercise or taking drugs.”
– Prof Myriam Hunink
Erasmus University medical centre in Rotterdam and Harvard school of public health in Boston
Are we in danger of the teaching of Yoga Āsana (and consequently Yoga ‘Therapy’ Teacher Training Courses) being increasingly shaped towards the health and therapeutic healthcare ‘Yoga For’ needs to meet the demands and standardisations of the medical and/or insurance health authorities in terms of:
1. Choice – Which Yoga posture works for what problem?
2. Duration – How long must I stay in a particular posture in order to have a specific effect/result?
3. Frequency – How often must I practice this posture to effect a result?
4. Timescale – Over what period of time must I practice this posture to effect a result?
5. Comparable Applications – What will be the effect of Yoga postures compared to other forms of physical exercise?
6. Relative Costs – What will be the cost of Yoga compared to other forms of exercise?
7. Treatment Budgets – What will be the cost of Yoga as a form of treatment relative to taking drugs?
Complex implications to evaluate and they leave us with more questions around what is healthy for the heart of Yoga rather than what is healthy for the heart of the person!