Haṭha Yoga has another role other than mere freedom of movement……

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.

Yesterday was the second commemoration of TKV Desikachar’s passing……

Desikachar and Paul Chanting in 1999

This is a post about not posting……

As some of you may have noticed yesterday was the second commemoration of TKV Desikachar’s passing. As a remembrance of this day last year I offered a post with him being asked questions as a student around his father. This year I was proposing to post, as a tribute, around my work with him as his student in the development and refinement of my personal practice.

However as the day emerged I realised that my attention for this time needed to turn more towards an inner reflection rather than an outward expression of my relationship with him. So I chose this day off from media or any outer contact in order to have a personal space to be more fully with my memories and experiences from our time together. 

These memories of studying with him for over twenty years, mostly in Madras sitting in his teaching room around the table, or with me on the practice mat with him observing, or sharing the mat chanting together, remind me of how private our relationship was. Looking back I feel that was a unique situation that would be very difficult to emulate in the environment within which Yoga sits these days, let alone find a teacher who only taught adults one to one and never ran or even wanted to run a teacher training course.

Of course this unique situation was not without its inner and outer demands and my memories and experiences contain both good, challenging and difficult moments. However within all of these moments the quality of our relationship as teacher and student endured and I remain eternally indebted for the transmission that became the fruit of our time being alone together.

As to my post originally planned for yesterday, it will appear over the next few days.

Śrī Gurubhyo Namaḥ

Yoga teaching as an extension of Yoga practice rather than……

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.

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Cultivating a home Yoga practice is an odyssey through a relationship……

“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.

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I find myself reflecting on the notion of ‘authentic lineage’……

I find myself reflecting on the notion of ‘authentic lineage’, often taught within the statement of Paramparā or ‘from one to another’ as in a succession from teacher to student et al. Both from questions asked of me and questions I have around what I see, generally within the world of ‘Modern’ Yoga and more specifically emerging around the claims on facets in the evolution of TKV Desikachar’s teaching over four decades.

Currently I see various representational phrases being used in modern organisational setups around pupils or students of TKV Desikachar such as ‘Influenced by the Teaching of…..’ or ‘The Living Tradition of…..’ or ‘The Lineage of……’ as if a provenance of authority alluding to authenticity, studentship and tradition.

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What are the concepts of Sṛṣṭi Krama, Sthiti Krama and Anta Krama?

 

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.

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The continued effort of the Breath is that which gives life……

Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 47
prayatna-śaithilya-ananta-samāpattibhyām |
Both relaxation of continued effort and unity in infinity.”

When working with the Breath in Āsana its perhaps less appealing initially,
but ultimately more attractive, satisfactory and effective,
to integrate  a focus of Samāpatti (Unity) of
Śaithilya (Relaxation) in Ananta (the Infinite),
through a developmental Sādhana (Means to Accomplish)
on the Siddhi (accomplishment) of Dīrgha or Length,
supported by Sūkṣma or Subtlety.

From Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 47 T Krishnamacharya taught that:
– the common denominator for successfully uniting (Samāpatti)
both (Bhyām) aspects of relaxation (Śaithilya) and the infinite (Ananta)
within the practice of Āsana is the Breath.
He saw it as Prayatna (continued effort)
and synonymous with Jīvana (giving life).
The continued effort of the Breath is that which gives life.

Our continued efforts with the Breath in Āsana
is that which helps enliven our various levels of interaction with
our inner and outer worlds as expressed through the Pañca Maya.

Yoga Mālā – Introducing a Thread of Pearls on Yoga from Patañjali

Patanjali Yoga Sutra

 This post introduces a verse by verse interpretation of Chapter One of the Yoga Sūtra.

I see this presentation as a Yoga Mālā or a thread of pearls on Yoga from Patañjali’s Sūtra eventually arranged over four chapters. I am endeavouring to stay close to my studies, but allow a little more freedom of expression in terms of choice of rendering to facilitate a more cohesive teachings thread for the reader.

For a fuller word by word Saṃskṛta study of the Yoga Sūtra readers are advised to follow the full online edition of the Yoga Sūtra wherein every word is translated and cross-linked along with a verse translation. This online Yoga Sūtra resource is also gradually accumulating commentaries from Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, Ramaswami from my own study notes along with personal reflections.

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We have lost a fine teacher and a Yoga master……

kym_teachers_1979

This picture, taken 1979, with fond memories of early days with
TKV Desikachar and the KYM with co-founder AG Mohan and the faculty.

“Many years ago and not knowing my connection, a Yoga student commented around me “Don’t go to Desikachar, he has no charisma”. At the time, though saying nothing, I was reminded that this was for me an important facet around my appreciation of him, in that it was his ordinariness that I found engaging.

Furthermore, this quality was reflected throughout his life in terms of its simplicity in that it didn’t actually change over the decades that I visited and studied within lessons or spent personal time or travelled with him privately.

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As I sit within this time of passing and remembrance……

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TKV Desikachar 1938-2016

As I sit within this time of passing and remembrance it occurred to me that August 2016 exactly marks the 40th anniversary from the first time I met and worked with Desikachar in August 1976.

The setting was a small group of students, especially by todays seminar norms, amidst the august settings of Cambridge University at a week organised by a student of Desikachar from that era, Ian Rawlinson.

I remember the first moments of Desikachar coming onto a small platform in the room, a shy somewhat reticent person and asking us to show to him our personal Yoga practice, already not what we were expecting at our first meeting.

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TKV Desikachar has passed away from this life……..

TKV Desikachar

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

It is with profound sadness and a great personal sense of loss,
that I offer the news that TKV Desikachar has died this Sunday evening at 9.15pm London time on Sunday August 7th or 2.45am Monday August 8th Madras time.
With my prayers and deep condolences to his wife Menaka and family for the loss of the light and clarity he offered to all who had the privilege to have contact with him and his teachings.

Reflections by Paul around TKV Desikachar following his passing on August 8th 2016……..
As I sit within this time of passing and remembrance……
We have lost a fine teacher and a Yoga master……

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Musings on the Student’s Relationship with the Teacher

Memories from my early days, over 40 years ago now, of going to teachers to teach me Yoga were generally around the notion, replete with conscious and unconscious expectations, that the teacher was there to bring out the best in me.

For example I feel that many of us if group class teachers are used to working with the Lazarus factor (raising folks from the dead each week). Here we can get caught or even need the expectation, both in you and/or in the student, that you will be or are ‘the one’ to revitalise the students tired and/or wired bodies as well as restoring confident dispositions.

However my experiences arising from working with TKV Desikachar stood that notion on its head. This was not through anything he said or did but from my own slowly acquired realisation that my way of looking at the relationship was confused.

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Chatting with TKV Desikachar during a lesson in the early 1990’s…..

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.

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Learning from Life – The Wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra Part 1 of 2

The Wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra in guiding the journey of the psyche.

Buried within the rich traditions of “on the mat” Yoga practice are many teachings with advice and reflections on how to live more creatively whilst off the mat so to speak.

According to the teachings of Yoga, the postural practices of Āsana, the seated breathing practices of Prāṇāyāma, and other seated practices of meditation, or Dhyānam on such as reflecting on subtle aspects of attitudes or natural phenomena, or seated practices such as Chanting, or Japam or repetition of Mantra, all sit within a framework of daily living and its constant dynamic of helpful choices and positive responses or unhelpful choices and negative re-actions.

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The Krishnamacharya methodology of melding the Application of Āyurveda with that of Yoga

nadi_pariksa

One other study area that I was privileged to be able to experience alongside my many visits to study Yoga Practice Techniques and Associated texts in Chennai with my teacher TKV Desikachar, within the intimacy and vitality of private lessons, was that of Āyurveda and its application within Yoga.

“In Āyurveda, it gives certain behaviour by which we can stay well.
If a person follows the following he will freer of sickness.
Regularly, systematically he eats, rests and exercises adequately.
Both in amount and quality. Food or Ahāra,
along with Vihāra – recreation, rest, exercise, other activities.”
– TKV Desikachar 

Thus during my many visits to India, between 1979 and 2002, my work in Yoga was complemented by the study of Āyurveda constitutional diagnosis and prognosis, along with Nādī Parīkṣā or pulse diagnosis and the application skills of Āyurveda, into Yoga practice and lifestyle, according to the teachings of T Krishnmacharya within Yoga Rakṣaṇa (lifestyle support) or Yoga Cikitsā (therapeutic recovery) situations.

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Yoga as Exercise, Exercise as Yoga……

WLofHandB

These past ten years have found me increasingly re-evaluating my work as a Yoga Teacher Trainer, within an ever widening proliferation and saturation of Yoga teacher training options, amidst accompanying concerns of competitive bar-lowering in teacher training programme course lengths and entry criteria.

This on-going re-evaluation has also sat within the ever widening debates, around the dilution/merging/hijacking/branding/re-labelling of Yoga and amidst multifarious claims as to the ‘origins’ within the oft used generic of Modern Postural Yoga. These debates and origin/ownership source arguments now exist not only within the West but even within its original home in the Indian sub-continent.

Adapting the form of Yoga is one thing.
Adapting the roots of Yoga another.
Better not to confuse the two when choosing.

Aside from this, at the heart of my concerns, amidst the backdrop of the increasing compromises I experienced in trying to ‘fit’ the methodology and process I learnt in India into the Western educational large group learning paradigms, was a wish to reflect even more studiously the 121 and small group teaching mediums that were the lifelong foundations of  T Krishnamacharya‘s and TKV Desikachar‘s work in Chennai.

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Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life.

Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life.

Yoga Practice is about a re-turning towards our inner life. However, even without outer obstacles, we can encounter inner feelings that arise and manifest as obstacles to that re-turning.

Here it might be helpful to reflect on the four pillars of Maitrī, Karuṇā, Muditā and Upekṣā and the role they can have in helping to transform the unhelpful aspects of these inner feelings.

Bhāvana is a beneficial attitude that is consciously cultivated despite tendencies to the contrary”
– T Krishnamacharya commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 33

With the spirit of Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 33 in mind, the cultivation of the four pillars is a practice that can support a stepping, rather than stalling, onto our mat or seat through:

  1. Maitrī
    Cultivating a feeling of friendliness towards our own attempts,
    let alone other’s demands, to distract ourselves.
  2. Karuṇā
    Cultivating a feeling of compassion towards our bodies and minds,
    whatever state we find them in.
  3. Muditā
    Cultivating a feeling of looking for the positive spot in ourselves
    and what we can do well and now, rather than what we can’t do well or now.
  4. Upekṣā
    Cultivating a feeling of keeping distance from the self-deprecation that can so often accompany our attempts to improve the quality of our inner life and old responses to inner tensions and memories.

– Personal commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 33

Who needs just Yoga as just Yoga anymore?

Āsana_5_web

“Has the original and ancient Yoga gene now become merely a non-genetic Yoga meme
and thus is only capable of being imitated rather than propagated?”

Noted amidst a flurry of competing exercise/mind and body workout adverts in my local village newsletter:

  • Booty Barre fuses legendary fitness techniques from Pilates, Dance, Callisthenics and Yoga creating balance, posture and body awareness.
  • Pilates Fusion Flow is a mix of Yoga, Pilates and Dance Movements which will strengthen the body and calm the mind.

So on top of Yoga being reduced down to postural exercise with added stress reduction and/or autogenic relaxation techniques, we now encounter a further dissipation of even that element in terms of it being a name or technique that can be bolted on or blended in to other exercise entertainment offerings.

Plus they are all competing for the one stop shop marketplace cakeshare in terms of offering a fitness building and stress reducing marriage.

Who needs just Yoga as just Yoga anymore?

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Reflecting on the relationship between Svadharma and Dharma

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

“Once I am very clear about what is to be known – Svadharma,
then I can be clear about what is universal Dharma.”

Reflecting on this quote  from TKV Desikachar posted on February 15th 2014 on the relationship between Svadharma and DharmaI feel we first need to understand our personal place within our inner world, only from there can we understand our universal place within our outer world.

This is a concept that can appear to be contrary to the more usual expectations within the Yoga world whereby we are often given a set of universal standardised principles which we are told to constantly aspire to and strive towards realising.

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Even these days the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings……

krishnamacharya3

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Even these days, the influence of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around Yoga are primarily known through his exacting teaching of Āsana. This has also been mainly experienced in the West with the developmental work of his early students, such as through the choreographical artistry in the work of Pattabhi Jois or through the geometrical precision in the work of BKS Iyengar.

However this area of Āsana teaching, though itself multifaceted and hugely influential, if disproportionately predominant within Yoga today, only reveals one aspect of the many dimensions of practice expressed within his teaching. This teaching evolved and refined over 70 years, from his return from his long stay around the borders of Nepal and Tibet in 1919, to his death in 1989

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Śānti Pataḥ – Saha Nāvavatu with Translation

Desikachar and Paul Chanting in 1999

Śānti Pataḥ – Saha Nāvavatu with Translation

I have been teaching a Practitioner Training Group this weekend with a textual focus around the teachings of the Upaniṣat, especially the Taittirīya Upaniṣat Chapters 2 and 3.

Traditionally textual study or chanting practice was preceded and ended with a Śānti Pataḥ or invocatory passage to help forge a link between the chanters, what is chanted and its purport, as well as setting a context for textual study.

So it felt appropriate to include Saha Nāvavatu for our study together, as it is the opening invocation for the Taittirīya Upaniṣat Chapters 2 and 3, as well as for other Upaniṣat such as the Kaṭha and the Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣat.

This chant is where the teacher and the pupil chant together asking for harmonious co-operation within a context of keen and vigorous exploration of what is and especially what isn’t the self and the non-self. A topic fraught with potential resistances and self-illusion.

saha nāvavatu |
Together may we be protected

saha nau bhunaktu |
Together may we enjoy our studies

saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai |
Together may we work vigorously

tejasvi nāvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai ||
Let our study together be fiery (to illuminate) and
(because of this) may we not hate (each other).

om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||

View or download this post with a translation plus Chant Notations in Devanāgarī and Romanised Saṃskṛta.

To Download or Listen to a recording
From my personal library of recordings from my studies with my teacher TKV Desikachar recorded by one of his senior chant students Sujaya Sridhar.

Medicine, Mastery and Mystery within the field of Yoga.

paul3a

Paul Teaching in Zinal, Switzerland in 1999

Medicine, Mastery and Mystery

An Interview with Paul Harvey by Joseph Le Page. Joseph is the founder and director of Integrative Yoga Therapy. This interview took place while Paul was teaching at Zinal for UENFY in 1999.

JL: How do you adapt Yoga to the individual?

PH: I can approach that in two ways, the chronological and the psychological. Chronologically, the starting point is the age at which people begin Yoga studies.

There are three stages of life, or Trikrama. The first is the stage of growth and expansion (Sṛṣṭi).

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Yoga Learning without Teacher Training and within Group Classes

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

I have just come across a post on the “Pros and Cons of Yoga Teacher Training” by J Brown from July which rolled up yesterday in my Facebook newsfeed via YogaDork.

He raises some good points in his blog such as the observation that running Yoga Teacher Training Courses have become a de rigueur for Yoga Teachers and, I would add, especially Yoga Studios, to the point that as a new studio opens its doors, such offerings are part of its programme from day one.

As I observed in a post from March 2012 on:

Further musings on Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher Trainings……

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Eight steps in the process of learning the teachings……

eight_processes_of_learning

Desikachar taught me that there were eight steps in the process of learning the teachings.

  • Upadeśa – To come near to the teachings and remain
  • Śravaṇa – To listen to the teachings with an open ear
  • Grahaṇa – To seize hold of or grasp onto the teachings
  • Dhāraṇā – To concentrate on memorising the teachings
  • Manana – To carefully reflect on the teachings
  • Anuṣṭhāna – To live with and put the teachings into practice
  • Anubhāvana – To have some experiences from following the teachings
  • Pracāra – To share and apply the teachings with others

Namely the process of coming near to, listening to, grasping, memorizing, reflecting, applying, experiencing and sharing the teachings.

Trumperies and Tactics for the Discerning Gardener……

TS_Nursery_1984_web

I agree it is not easy to work on ourselves and we might compare it to being a bit like encountering a garden that has been left to become overgrown and entangled over years of neglect.

Here the first stage is to look at how we might begin:

We might begin by clearing away the old rubbish that lays all around on the surface of our lives and hampers, distracts or confuses our view of what’s really underneath.

Of course this also means that we are able to discern between the nuances around what we perceive as useful to keep, what is rubbish to clear and especially what we see as precious is in reality useful, or is in fact actually dross we need to cling onto under the illusion (Avidyā) of it being essential for our journey.

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