The Westernisation of Yoga Āsana with its emphasis on structural focus……


The Westernisation/Modernisation of Yoga Āsana with its increasing emphasis on structural postural focus according to the latest postural trends or particular flavour of the teachers style are prominent within the modern diversity which sees Yoga taught as only a Postural Practice and extending into many varied fields of exercise ranging from Aqua Yoga to Zen Yoga.

However there are questions that increasingly need to be asked within these approaches, especially where the boundaries around what is now generically grouped Yoga Āsana, blur into more generalised concepts of Yoga as hot exercise, cool exercise, medicalised exercise, meditative exercise, etc.

Otherwise in this simplification or reductionism of Yoga into Āsana, into modern postural exercise, or the current increasing mis-identification of postural exercise with Yoga, or even more tragic, with Yoga itself; the deeper purposeful principles within the relationship of the physical body, within the energetic body, within the psychic body, disappear in the search for perfect posture, perfect performance, perfect structural integrity, safe postural practice, etc.

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Kriyā without a knowledge of the individuals Doṣa is certainly going to do more harm than good

uddiyana_bandha

In addition, the use of Kriyā, without a knowledge of the individuals Doṣa is certainly going to do more harm than good.

Doṣa, briefly, means the constitution of the individual; some are fat, some tend to get a lot of colds, some have acid problems, some are nervous.

So different beings show different predominances in the Doṣa, and Kriyā must be considered in relation to these varying constitutions.”

– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

He has very clear ideas on the Ṣat Kriyā and the Mudrā……

tadaka_mudra

T Krishnamacharya in Taḍāka Mudrā

“He has very clear ideas on the Ṣat Kriyā and the Mudrā.
He believes that if a person does Āsana properly, with breathing,
and has certain restraints regarding food, there is no need for these Kriyā.”

– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

Cale Vāte Calaṃ Cittam – As is the Breath so is the Psyche…….

Cale Vāte Calaṃ Cittam –
As is the breath so is the psyche.

The concept according to my teacher, oft quoted by Krishnamacharya, appears in the second verse of Chapter Two in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. It follows the opening verse which introduces Prāṇāyāma albeit with caveats around certain prerequisites.

Firstly establish an Āsana as a firm seat, not as simple as it seems given the predilection for action Āsana contrasting a difficulty in remaining seated, upright and still for half an hour.

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Prāṇāyāma within Rāja Yoga and Haṭha Yoga

 

According to the Yoga Kuṇḍalinī Upaniṣad verse 1 – the activity of Citta or psyche has two causes, the movement of Vāsana or latent impressions and the movement of Vāyu or Prāṇa. If one of them is active so is the other, equally if one of them is influenced so is the other.

These are the primary foci within the principles and practices of Rāja Yoga around Citta and Haṭha Yoga around Prāṇa. In terms of primary practices common to both we have Prāṇāyāma.

However as with Āsana within either Rāja Yoga and Haṭha Yoga (a topic for a future post), there are different priorities in the viniyoga (application) of this common primary tool.

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Mahā Mudrā, if practiced every day, prevents ill health……

maha_mudra

“Another thing that he made very simple, and practical, is the use of Mahā Mudrā.
This is a very well known posture now,
but when you start looking at the texts, nothing is clear there.
He has incorporated the Āsana part, the breathing part, and the Mudrā part,
and, he feels, Mahā Mudrā, if practiced every day, prevents ill health.”
– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

He also added the idea of Bhāvana in the practice of Prāṇāyāma……

jalandhara_bandha

“Further, he also added long ago, the idea of Bhāvana in the practice of Prāṇāyāma. Long, long ago, he said, the breathing, inhalation, exhalation and retentions have some sort of relationship with the highest force, Lord Nārāyaṇa.

Inhalation is like an inspiration from God himself.
Retention is some sort of meditation, because you are with Him.
Exhalation is some sort of movement towards God,
and retention after exhale is like a surrender to God.”

– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

One of the most complicated aspects of Yoga practice is the Bandha……

nadi_shodana

“One of the most complicated aspects of Yoga practice is the Bandha. He has been able to link correctly various ideas on the Bandha that appear in different texts, and is able to say that certain Bandha can only be done in certain parts of the Prāṇāyāma.
I may also say, that nobody is clearer about the Mūla Bandha than Krishnamacharya.”
– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

One of the greatest contributions of Krishnamacharya to Prāṇāyāma……

jalandhara_bandha

“And, in the Prāṇāyāma also, the different types, like Vaikharī,
the different Vṛtti, the different Krama, he put them all into practice.
One of the greatest contributions, I would say, of Krishnamacharya to Prāṇāyāma,
is the use of Bāhya Kumbhaka, and the importance of Recaka, or exhalation.”
– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

The beginning of Prāṇāyāma is in Āsana……

janu_sirsasana

“Because of the different uses of breathing,
he strongly believes that the beginning of Prāṇāyāma is in Āsana.
Āsana, and Āsana alone,
with proper breathing techniques,
leads you to the idea of Prāṇāyāma.”

– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.

At what age can one start practicing Yogāsana?

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Childrens Āsana Class with Desikachar Madras 1980

Question to T Krishnamacharya –
Q: At what age can one start practicing Yogāsana?
A: A person is fit to practice when they can eat by themselves.
– Śrī Krishnamacharya – The Pūrnācārya – published by the KYM in 1997

What must form an essential part of a person’s daily practice?

sam_mukha_mudra

Question to T Krishnamacharya –

Q: What must form an essential part of a person’s daily practice?
A: A minimum of ten minutes in Antaḥ TrāṭakamṢat Mukhī Mudrā
or Mahā Mudrā is essential.
– Śrī Krishnamacharya – The Pūrnācārya – published by the KYM in 1997

Whenever we look at an Āsana we must look at two sides……

halasana

“Whenever we look at an Āsana we must look at two sides:
1. What is involved in the Āsana
2. Who is doing the Āsana”
– TKV Desikachar France 1984

Kuṇḍalinī represents that which blocks access to the central energetic channel…..

Unknown

“The great yogin Yājñavalkhya said that the constant and intensive practice of Prāṇāyāma brought Prāṇa and Agni together,
and gradually the obstacle at the base of the Suṣumnā would be totally dissolved.
He gave this block the name ‘Kuṇḍali’ meaning coiled or ‘Kuṇḍalinī’ meaning ‘rolled up’ in other texts.
Kuṇḍalinī represents that which blocks access to the central energetic channel.
When this obstacle is eliminated, Prāṇa penetrates and begins to rise in the central channel.
This is the most precise description we have of the process.
This is also the most clear and coherent.”
– ‘Concerning the Cakra’ by TKV Desikachar

There is an increasing tendency in terms of Modern Therapeutic Yoga application strategies……

There is an increasing tendency in terms of Modern Therapeutic Yoga application strategies, especially when marketing Yoga therapy through group class situations, to create brand banding to identify ‘sufferers’.

Personally I feel it is not appropriate when considering Yoga practices for others to ‘lump’ people together as say back pain sufferers, or migraine sufferers, or insomnia sufferers, etc.

It is tempting, or even convenient, to propose a technique and then state that this technique will help this particular situation or problem.

However, my teacher taught me that Yoga is to be tailored to the needs and aspirations of each person rather than fitting the person to some ready made group standard technique.

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Āsana alone can be a support for our outer relationship with living……

Āsana_23a

Āsana alone can be a support for our outer relationship with living.
However can Āsana alone be the 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.”

This approach is known as the Yoga of Rejuvenation and Prevention……

Āsana_18a

3.Yoga as Therapeutic Healthcare

Now Yoga, as both a restorative and preventative, is applied as therapeutic healthcare to help people with problems or poor health. Here the approach needs to be very different for each person. One person’s potential to change their situation will be affected by their problem. Another person’s problem will be affected by their potential to change their situation.

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The concern of Yoga as Meditation is the mystery of life rather than the mastery of life…….

dhyanam

2.Yoga as Meditation

Now the concern is more with the mystery of life than the mastery of life.

Here Yoga is a means for meditation with self-inquiry as the primary focus.

“Who am I?” is the question that acts as a map for an inner journey into our psyche. It is a quest to touch and be touched by the “soulfull” quality of being that resides within.

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Yet ask any number of people what Yoga is and you are likely to get……

Āsana_12

The word Yoga is by now well known outside India. In fact over the last four decades we have seen it quietly and steadily taking root within our Western culture and language. Yet ask any number of people what Yoga is and you are likely to get many different responses.

These responses are often diverse, and sometimes contradictory. However, Yoga can generally be summarised into three possibilities or approaches:-

1. Yoga as Power

Firstly Yoga can be explained as a means to attain a degree of power or control over our body and mind.

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108 Prāṇāyāma Practice Pointers – 1 – The movement of the breath is a mirror

nadi_sodanaPrāṇāyāma Practice Pointer 1 – The movement of the breath is a mirror

The movement of the breath is a mirror to the movement of the mind.
Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Chapter Two verse 2

Link to Posts Series: 108 Prāṇāyāma Practice Pointers

Religiousness in Yoga Study Guide: Chapter Seven Practice

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House

‘Religiousness in Yoga: Lectures on Theory and Practice’ by the University Press of America,
a transcript of recordings of a one month Yoga Programme in Colgate University in 1976, published in 1980.

Unlike the later redacted edition, re-published in 1995 as the ‘Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’, it captures the evolution of the retreat with the days lectures and Q & A dialogues as they alternated between ‘lectures on the principles and purposes of Yoga and discussions related to the practice of Yoga with special reference to the postures and the breathing techniques’.

TKV Desikachar, in his forward to the original version wrote:

“These lectures and discussions, printed words put before persons I might never meet,
are but reflections of that deeper result that grew out of a living face-to-face encounter.
Coming to learn of Yoga only through reading leaves much to be desired.
Yet, something worthwhile about Yoga might be shared through the medium of the printed word.”

A chapter by chapter Study guide is offered below with added verse and word cross-references where possible to support a deeper linking with the teachings within these lectures and Q & A sessions.

Chapter Seven: Improvisation in Āsana – Pages 91-106

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The principle is we must bring action to the area of the body we wish to improve……

ardha_utkatasanavirabharasana

“Some standing postures develop the legs, such as Ardha Utkaṭāsana (half squat).
This posture is like weight lifting.
Other postures like Vīrabhadrāsana (standing,
bending backward with one knee bent) will also help.
The principle is we must bring action to the area of the body we wish to improve.”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Seven Page 106-7

We can only begin to improvise after we begin to understand the various postures……

supta_eka_padangusthasanasupta_eka_padangusthasana_2

“We can only begin to improvise after we begin to understand the various postures.
We do not suggest improvisation for the sake of improvisation.
We do it when we need help to develop or to sustain attention,
or as an aid to a particular physical need”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Seven Page 101

Thus we us improvisation to bring something new and useful into the practice of Āsana……

uttanasana_4uttanasana_3

“Thus we use improvisation to bring something new and useful into the practice of  Āsana.
Therefore, if one of you is asked to do an Āsana with the legs straight and another to do that same Āsana with the legs bent, please don’t think you are winning or losing a contest.
Since this is not dance, form is not important.
What is important when doing an Āsana is the experience that happens at the moment.”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Seven Page 98

If we are doing Āsana and the mind continues to wander……

janu sirsasana

“If we are doing Āsana and the mind continues to wander,
we are not doing the Āsana, only our bodies are doing them.”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Seven Page 91