“The Spirit of Viniyoga is starting
from where one finds oneself.
As everybody is different and
changes from time to time, there
can be no common starting point,
and ready-made answers are useless.
The present situation must be examined
and the habitually established
status must be re-examined.”
– TKV Desikachar
“The Spirit of Viniyoga is starting
YOGA AND THE 21st CENTURY
TKV Desikachar was in Narbonne, in the South of France, for a symposium on “Yoga and the XXIst Century” during May 1999. The purpose of the symposium was to consider the role of Yoga for the coming century in the three fields of Health, Psychology and Spirituality.
The following interview was an introductory presentation.
1. The relevance of Traditional Teaching.
Do you think that the teaching you received from your father is still relevant today, particularly in the West?
It looks like it because, wherever I speak, more and more people come, and from all sorts of different backgrounds. It is relevant, and it is going to be.
You studied the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali many times with your father. Could you say a few words about this text, and since it is about 2,000 years old, do you think its message is still valid today and for the future?
This text is very old, and it deals with the mind. Anything we do, or intend to do, involves this instrument, and all pains and pleasures are rooted here.
Patañjali was very prophetic, because he spoke not only of yesterday’s mind, but also of tomorrow’s. His message concerns clarity, and it will become more and more pertinent as time goes by, because people are now questioning much more than before.
Earlier there was belief, and so people did not have to question, or even to think. Now, we all want to have more responsibility in what happens to us. Therefore, we need to have a clearer mind, and this is why the Yoga Sūtra is still valid and will remain so.
I believe that, unless a new religious order comes to the world in which case belief will take over, this text will have a wider and wider impact in times to come.
“In the Indian tradition,
stress would be the situation where a person
exhibits the Udvega, attitudes or behaviour
which take over a person and control him.
The origin of the Udvega lies in the Ṣad Ūrmi,
the six enemies.
These six are:
– Kāma: desire
– Krodha: anger
– Lobha: possessiveness, greed
– Moha: darkness;
though not actually dark it is as if darkness exists
because the person is so sure of himself
and his opinions that he is unable to see.
– Mada: arrogance,
the refusal to accept or give in.
– Mātsarya: jealousy,
to resent the success of others
and to be happy at their failures.
Yoga and Modern Medicine
TKV Desikachar talks to Dr Uma Krishnaswamy – from ‘The Hindu’ June 1998
TKV Desikachar: Some doctors like you send your patients to us, though we have not been trained in the field of health and sickness. The patients too come to us and report back to you. So, I am sure you are not washing your hands of your patients! How is it that you are so confident about us, who are not technically competent in your field?
Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: Despite the fact that modern medicine has made such enormous strides as far as management of illness is concerned, there are certain areas where we are unable to proceed beyond a particular point. Consequently, we as practitioners of medicine and as impartial scientists honestly acknowledge that there are limitations to our system of healing.
We acknowledge the fact that we can go thus far and no further. On account of this, we tend to be always on the lookout to see how else we can help the patient. This may be in conjunction with what we have done or what we hope to do with the patient or it may take the patient completely away from our hands. Either way, it does not matter, as long as the patient benefits. Among the various alternative systems of healing, I feel comfortable with Yoga, because it is a system of healing which concentrates on physical movement very deeply.
Of course one is not blind to the fact that this concentration on the body is towards a spiritual end – but, that is a different dimension altogether. As Yoga teachers, you know more about the physicalities of the body and its requirements for health than most other systems of healing. For example, you know which particular Āsana or posture can relax a muscle or which can help joint mobility.
From my point of view, these are all very well defined and very precise areas of anatomy and physiology that you understand instinctively, by habit, by practice, by study or by tradition! You may not view anatomy or physiology the way we do. But I see that you are working on human anatomy and physiology, albeit in a different manner. This gives me confidence that Yoga has the potential to help some of my patients.
YOGA: SURGERY SANS INSTRUMENTS
Dr Uma Krishnaswamy talks to TKV Desikachar – from ‘The Hindu’ June 1998
Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: There is a tremendous current revival of interest in Yoga and also a public awareness about what Yoga can do. What has brought about this revival of interest?
TKV Desikachar: The revival of interest is essentially due to two factors, both of them related to the field of health. Though Yoga has an important philosophical aspect to it, it’s bearing upon health has an obvious appeal to the common man. Firstly eminent doctors, confronted by intractable problems like, say, asthma, have started recognising that western medicine, despite its unquestionable scientific basis, does not have all the answers. Secondly, they have started seeing the need for a more holistic view of human suffering in all its dimensions, such as are seen in other systems, especially Yoga.
Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: Yoga emphasises both the prevention of disease as well as treatment. What aspect of Yoga is of greater interest to the public? Is it the preventive aspect or the therapeutic health aspect?
TKV Desikachar: I think it is the second. Preventive health is a self-discipline and only a minority seeks Yoga as a preventive measure to prevent illness. Most people seem to seek Yoga only for therapy. But it must be remembered that the essence of Yoga is discipline. Essentially it is the discipline of the body, it is the discipline of the mind and it is also the discipline of the spirit. But prevention does not interest people even though it is of obvious importance. People get interested only when they are in trouble. So we now need to develop strategies using the salient principles of Yoga practice, so that it can be adapted to people with specific problems.
Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: When these individuals approach you, do they come because they are convinced that Yoga is going to help them or do they come because they are so desperate, that they will try any remedy?
TKV Desikachar: Desperate yes, but yet with some hope! Desperate, because as far as they are concerned, whatever they have tried has not produced the result they had expected. They perhaps wonder ‘so many experts have not been able to help me, how can some ancient system of Yoga, taught by someone who does not even know human anatomy, do any good?’ But, they are also hopeful because people would have told them: ‘I had the same problem, I went here and there, to this doctor and that doctor but without any results. Then I went to this place and got results. You must also definitely try it, it may help you.’ So you see, there is also hope.
But it must be remembered that the essence of Yoga is discipline.
Essentially it is the discipline of the body,
it is the discipline of the mind and
it is also the discipline of the spirit.
But prevention does not interest people
even though it is of obvious importance.
People get interested only when they are in trouble.
So we now need to develop strategies
using the salient principles of Yoga practice,
so that it can be adapted to people with specific problems.”
YOGA: SURGERY SANS INSTRUMENTS
– Interview with TKV Desikachar from ‘The Hindu’ 1998
“These are, in brief, some things about Krishnamacharya and his Yoga.
You must judge for yourself where he actually stands.”
“Let us look at his usual day.
Whether you believe it or not,
this old man gets up at one o’clock in the morning.
Anybody is welcome to wait on the verandah and
see that he gets up at one o’clock in the morning.
And one o’clock in the morning is something for us,
I mean it is like a terror to get up at one o’clock, and he is 93.
He prepares his own tea and then he practices.
I did not believe that, until I saw, because he is staying with me,
that he practices Yoga Āsana and Prāṇāyāma every day.
In fact more than once every day, including headstand and Padmāsana,
I am mentioning Padmāsana you see, because we are all sitting on chairs.
Headstand, Padmāsana, everything he does, and at 5 o’clock the bell rings
and we know that he has started his Pūjā.
And the bell is not one of those small bells like they have on dining room tables.
I am sure that bell must weigh 1½-2 kilos, because it is made of bronze.
It must meet certain specifications, and the bell must produce the tone of OM, so it is quite heavy.
I often wonder whether I could ever do this for five minutes, like he does.
He goes on waking God-come on, get up, get up, get up- also with some recitation,
and all the family at that time curses him because he is waking all of us.
At 6.30, when he has done all the chantings,
it is very interesting to watch him doing these, he makes his own breakfast.
Then I go to see him at 7 o’clock in the morning and we chant for one hour.
And then sometimes he has somebody at eight o’clock for chanting; somebody else at nine.
So he will be teaching this Vedic chanting for 3 hours, after one hour of Pūjā.
You must try to chant for fifteen minutes, it is so tiring, but he manages.
He has a great will.”
I feel Krishnamacharya’s accomplishments should not be defined just by his more well known characterisations, such as his remarkable philosophical background being applied to contextualising traditional Indian texts from within a Yoga viewpoint, or his unique access to Haṭha teachings and texts and innovating from these resources when choreographing modern postural Āsana synthesises for children and young adults.
“All of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s
life work focused on the training of students,
some of whom then went on to become teachers.”
However, what he is less well known for is his work with individual students, probably because it happened behind closed doors and students rarely had cause to speak about it to others. Nor would they have reason to want to teach it to others as it had been taught to them, as it was given at a particular moment in time, within a unique situation, with a specific purpose and within a private, rather than a public group setting.
TKV Desikachar talks on Śraddhā in the light of the Yoga Sūtra
at the KYM and responds to questions.
“Śraddhā is essential for progress,
whether in Yoga or any other endeavour.
It is a feeling that cannot be expressed or intellectually discussed.
It, however, is a feeling that is not always uncovered in every person.
When absent or weak,
it is evident through the lack of stability and focus in a person.
Where present and strong,
it is evident through the commitment, perseverance
and enthusiasm the person exhibits.
For such a person, life is meaningful.”
The means by which certain qualitative changes in the mind are brought about is called Sādhanā. There is also the possibility that certain individuals may develop such a mind without effort. That is, the qualities are inherent in that individual and mature on their own to manifest one day in the form of some extraordinary capacities. However, such persons are few. For the rest of us, the same changes are possible but it is a question of time and practice. The end result is the same, it is only the time taken to achieve it that will differ.
Question: What is the greatest obstacle to meditation?
“The biggest obstacle to obstacle is Vikalpa,
the ability of the mind to fabricate in spite of reality.
Through Vikalpa, the mind fabricates thoughts of no essence,
no substance; and since meditation is, for most of us,
the play of the mind, Vikalpa is the greatest obstacle.”
– TKV Desikachar Madras December 19th 1988
“In the West,
whilst they don’t accept authority,
they would like to be the authority.”
– TKV Desikachar Madras 1998
“What is the role of Dharma
in the face of survival?”
– TKV Desikachar speaking with his
senior Western students London 1998
YOGA SŪTRA ON STRESS
– An Interview with TKV Desikachar by AV Balasubramanian and Paul Harvey
The Yoga Sūtra presents the potentials of the human mind, the means to its refinement, control and clarity and the obstacles that can come in the way of one’s progress. An understanding of stress in the light of the Yoga Sūtra is presented in the interview below.
In addition to covering the many techniques in Yoga to help persons under stress, TKV Desikachar constantly emphasises the importance of the attitude to our actions. He singles out the cultivation of the twin qualities of Śraddhā and Īśvara Praṇidhānā as the only sure means for being free from stress permanently.
What is the Indian tradition’s view on stress?
In the Indian tradition, stress would be the situation where a person exhibits the Udvega, attitudes or behavior which take over a person and control him. The origin of the Udvega lies in the Ṣad Ūrmi, the six enemies. These six are:
- Kāma: desire
- Krodha: anger
- Lobha: possessiveness, greed
- Moha: darkness; though not actually dark it is as if darkness exists because the person is so sure of himself and his opinions that he is unable to see.
- Mada: arrogance, the refusal to accept or give in.
- Mātsarya: jealousy, to resent the success of others and to be happy at their failures.
“I think, that all those who want to practise
Vedic Chanting must be able to do so,
provided there is no confusion
with Patañjali’s Yoga.”
– Extract from an interview with TKV Desikachar on Vedic Chanting
“Even with my students they teach a posture
because it has been taught to them.
Like a rubber stamp.
This is not Viniyoga.
People have rigid ideas.
For example, why Cakravākāsana for this lady
after Śīrṣāsana, whereas something else,
say Mahāmudrā for somebody else.
So it does not follow what is good for me
is good for everybody.”
– TKV Desikachar France 1983
“There are simple postures for Prāṇāyāma and Dhyāna,
so that we can relax in the body and not be distracted by it.
There are challenging postures,
to enable us to master our bodies and for young people who
will be engaged by the performance aspect of the posture.
There are also corrective postures.”
– TKV Desikachar England 1992