“It is a mistaken concept that certain Āsana are only postures for meditation.
If we look at the commentary of Vyāsa, we see that the postures
he elucidates are so complicated that we can’t be in Dhyāna.
We can feel these different postures and we can’t stay in them.
Two of these are Uṣṭrāsana and Krauñcāsana,
These are very difficult postures in which to remain.”
– TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Ten Page 133
“The ideal Dhyānam, which becomes easier with practice,
requires certain preparations to reduce the tendency of the mind to be distracted,
either by being jumpy and agitated, or dull and inert.
Chief among these preparations are proper diet and Prāṇāyāma.”
– T Krishnamacharya’s commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 2
śrī kṛṣṇavāgīśa yatīśvarābhyām saṃprāpta cakrāṅkaṇa bhyāṣyasāram |
śrī nūtnaraṅgendra yatau samarpitsvam śrī kṛṣṇamāryaṃ guruvaryamīḍe |
virodhe kārtike māse śatatārā kṛtodayam yogācāryaṃ kṛṣṇamāryaṃ guruvaryamahaṃ bhaje ||
“I offer praise to one who is disciplined, Guru Śrī Krishnamacharya, whose great teachers were
Śrī Kṛṣṇa who taught him mantra and initiated him into Cakrāṅkaṇam
(the ritual of prostrating and receiving Śaṅkha, right side and Cakra left side, on the shoulders).
Śrī Vāgīśa who taught him the essence of Śrī Bhyāṣyam (Vedānta) and
Śrī Raṅganātha (Raṅgendra) who initiated him into Bharaṇyāsam
(to place at the Lord’s feet or how to surrender to God).
Born in the year Virodha, during the month of Kṛtika, under the star Śatatāra,
this teacher of Yoga, Guru Krishnamacharya I salute.”
The convention is to speak about the guruparamparā and not describe or or speak about the teacher’s contributions.
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.
“However the body is only part of the problem,
you have to do something at a deeper level.
This comes back to the mind.”
– TKV Desikachar
“Prāṇāyāma must be properly instructed.
The posture used, seated erect for example, is also important.
The duration and regularity in terms of time is also as important as proper instructions.”
– T Krishnamacharya’s commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 34
“Yoga is stopping the mind,
from becoming involved,
in activities that distract,
one from a chosen direction.”
– TKV Desikachar commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 2
Question to T Krishnamacharya:
“Can you explain the concept of vinyāsa and pratikriyāsana?”
“The question asked relates to Yoga and not to vidyābhyasa. There is no āsana without vinyāsa. Yoga is an experience, āsana is the third of the eight limbs of Yoga and it is also important to pay attention to first two limbs, namely yama and niyama.
One who wishes to enquire into and understand vinyāsa should first know what is āsana. According to Patañjali Yoga Sūtra, āsana is defined as “sthira sukham āsanam”.
sthira – Namely firm and without disease and sukha – pleasant and comfortable. To be in sukha state, all parts of the body should be in perfect harmony. This is true for all, whether one is a man, woman, deaf, mute, blind or even for animals. Any action that disturbs this state of harmony should be followed by a pratikriyā to restore the harmony. One cannot but accept this principle.
Trying to hold onto the fleeting presence of awareness can be likened to a bird choosing to land in the open palm of your hand. We desire to hold onto it because of our attraction towards continuing to enjoy the experience of its delicacy, beauty and gift of presence.
Thus when the bird of awareness alights in your palm the temptation is to close the fingers around the experience, however gently, in order to hold on to it, albeit to protect it or to continue to experience this unique moment of relationship with something that is usually elusive, or out of sight or reach.
‘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 a deeper linking with the teachings within these lectures and Q & A sessions.
Chapter Eight Theory:
Yama, Niyama and Āsana – The First Three Aṅga of Yoga
– Pages 107-115
The heart of the breath is our home.
Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part One – Yoga as a View
Rāja Yoga – Yoga and Samādhi
Yoga as a Process
– The View, Path and Goal towards Samādhi as in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra
It is interesting these days that as a Yoga teacher the question I am more likely to be asked is ‘What kind of Yoga do you do?’ rather than ‘What is Yoga?’. It’s either that we think we already know what Yoga is or, more likely, that the view is becoming lost within the myriad of ways in which Yoga is offered.
These days there seems to be little apparent clarity around what Yoga is, or if there is a view, it is not very apparent.
This view may also be coloured by religious influences such as Hinduism, Sikhism or even bodywork paradigms such as physical culture, bodybuilding, gymnastics and even wrestling.
In the Yoga world of today in the West it seems as if many teachers are teaching without a clear ‘view’ of what Yoga is and how we might realize this view.
Look for example at how we appear not to even know or use the Yoga name for meditation. Here the most often used phrase is Āsana, Prāṇāyāma and Meditation.
Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part Three – Yoga as a Tool
The viniyoga of Yoga – Yoga and Sādhana
Yoga as a Tool
– The Art of viniyoga for developing a Personalized Practice
Yoga as a tool is more likely to be the starting point for most students these days in that we often choose a style or approach to Yoga as a starting point in our Yoga experience.
There are many, many choices these days, although the common denominator now appears to based around Yoga teachers rather than Yoga teachings.
For example we have Anusāra, Aṣṭāṅga, Bikram, Dru, Gītānada, Integral, Iyengar, Jīvamukti, Kripālu, Kuṇḍalinī, Sahaja, Scaravelli, Śivananda, Satyānanda, viniyoga of Yoga, etc.
Which is fine in itself. However the question that arises is how do the various methodologies relate to the principles of practice in order to realize the view of Yoga?
My own field of expertise lies within the teachings often referred to as the viniyoga (application) of Yoga, so I can only speak with experience from this perspective.
Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part Two – Yoga as a Practice
Haṭha Yoga – Yoga and Prāṇa
Yoga as Alchemy
– The Place and Purpose of Prāṇa Agni Doṣa Nādī & Cakra
A further irony in the emerging role and identity of Yoga in the West today is with regard to the term Haṭha Yoga. The term is mainly used generically these days to identify and group ‘physically’ based Yoga practices.
As a teacher I am often asked in connection with the question what kind of Yoga do you teach, is it Haṭha Yoga?
The irony is that when we look at what Haṭha Yoga really is we find that the physical elements are relatively limited with very few Āsana discussed.
Furthermore within the few discussed, the most important are concerned with sitting, in preparation for practice elements other than Āsana.
Primarily to facilitate a quality of being able to sit still and as if move beyond the physical body.
Here, the primary concern and field of activity for Haṭha Yoga practitioners is with regard to the energetic ‘Prāṇa’ body or Prāṇamaya and its role in helping to facilitate a quality of energetic ‘clarity’ and energetic ‘stillness’, ultimately as a ladder to support the practitioners exploration of meditational states of being in terms of Rāja Yoga or the Yoga of Samādhi.