What is VK?

What are the essentials of Vinyasa Krama that we teach?
1) Do asanas with a number of vinyasas, or variations, in succession. It is the art form of yoga practice. Vinyasa means art, and it involves aesthetic variation within the specified parameters.
2) The basic parameters used in Vinyasa Krama are steadiness of the posture, a calm mind, synchronizing the breath with slow movement of the limbs, and while in the postures, having the mind closely following the breath.

Why practice Vinyasa Krama yoga?

To quote Sri Ramaswami: "Vinyasa Krama Yoga is an ancient practice of physical and spiritual development. It is a systematic method to study, practice, teach and adapt yoga. This Vinyasa Krama (movement and sequence methodology) approach to yogasana (yoga posture) practice is unique in all of yoga. By integrating the functions of mind, body and breath in the same time frame, a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. Each of the important postures (asanas) is practiced with many elaborate vinyasas (variations and movements). Each variation is linked to the next one by a succession of specific transitional movements, synchronized with the breath. the mind closely follows the slow, smooth, deliberate ujjayi yogic breathing; and the yoking of mind and body takes place with the breath acting as the harness."

What is Kaivalya?

Kaivalya = Absolute freedom from the bondage of matter. The ultimate goal of the Yogi.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ayurveda: A Historical Perspective

Ayurveda: A Historical Perspective
- Sri T.K.Sribhashyam

O Rudra, may we not make your furious!
You are indeed generous!
We hear that you are the best among physicians;
And, may our children grow up with your remedies!
----- Rig Veda 2.33.4
The word ‘Ayurveda’ is composed of two Sanskrit terms, viz., ‘Ayus’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘Veda’ meaning the ‘knowledge’.  Taken together, it means the Science of Life.  However in a limited sense, it is always used to imply ‘the Science of Medicine’.  Ayurveda is a science through the help of which one can obtain knowledge about: the useful and the harmful types of life, happy and miserable types of life, things which are useful and harmful for such types of life, the span of life as well as the very nature of life.  Ayurveda is thus not only an individual medicine but also a social one dating back to 2500 years.
Ayurveda does not deal exclusively with the treatment of human beings.  It also deals with the treatment of diseases of animals and plants.  It provides rational means for the treatment of many internal diseases which are considered to be obstinate and incurable.  Simultaneously, it lays a great deal of emphasis upon the maintenance of positive health of a normal or healthy person.  
Indian medicine has come down to us in several strands: The first strand is composed of professional physicians, called Vaidya.  The second consists of wandering peddlers who collect herbs and drugs from forests and mountains and sell them in villages.  The third group comprises temple priests mostly belonging to Vaikhanasa School who are also required to function as physicians.  The fourth strand is the family knowledge transmitted by the elderly lady of the house.
Health was one of the major preoccupations of Indians.  Their concern with health is as old as life on earth.  That the body should function efficiently was as much of a necessity as it is now.  Added to this was the fear of the unknown.
One of the early medical authorities, Charaka, has been credited with two statements that are apparently conflicting.  One of them is that as long as man lived a natural life, he was altogether free from ailments.  A time came when man’s life was not longer natural, and then the ailments broke out.  The second statement is that diseases and mankind have been co-existent all along.  In other words, ailments and medicines have always existed.  Health has been a continuing concern of man.
Professional medicine in India has four major lines of development, all of which go back in their origin to a very remote past.  Two of them, one represented by the physician Charaka and the other by the surgeon Sushrutha are collectively designated Ayurveda (or the Science of Life).  They constitute but one tradition.  The third line of development is the system of therapeutical alchemy known as Rasavaidya (or the Rasayana School) in which the use of metals and mercury is extensive.  The fourth line of development is the Siddha (the adept) system, the origin of which is attributed to South India, especially Tamil Nadu.
The fear of death which has always haunted man has been the most potent motivation for the development and discovery of techniques to prolong life.  If death generates a strong sense of fear, disease is likewise a major source of concern.  Death is inescapable, but diseases could be prevented and cured.
Ayurveda has made marvellous progress in its diagnostic methods.  To cite some: therapeutic procedures, employment of a large number of articles, discovery of the excellent medicinal properties of herbs, plants, trees and spices and the determination of the dosage and the manner of taking medicines were codified and systematised.
Ayurveda has also developed a neat and consistent philosophy.  This philosophy is free from the magical practices. 
The two lines of development of medicine in India represented by Charaka (2nd century BC) and Sushrutha (6th Century BC) are together known as Ayurveda.  It is also regarded as the fifth Veda[1].
The characteristically Ayurvedic ideas like the circulation of multiple breaths (Prana) inside the body, or the three pathogenic factors (Tridosha), or the medical properties of the herbs and plants (Oshadhi) in the Vedic literature are frequently found in the Vedic literature also.
Rudra was considered the first Vedic Physician[2].  Ashvins, the twin-Vedic deities are also considered the first physicians.
For the Ayurvedic physicians, health was of the highest consideration.  Clean life, good food, normal pleasures and vigorous health constituted the major part of Ayurvedic Ethics: deprivation and over-indulgence were equally wrong in this outlook.  Austerity was prescribed in consideration of health and not because of religious reasons.  A physician was expected to understand human constitution and human nature and secure efficiency of the physical apparatus (called the body).
There are two kinds of diseases, one caused by eating unwholesome food, and the other caused by evil spirits.  Ayurveda treats the former, while the latter are dealt with in Atharvana Veda.  Diseases caused by unnatural conditions and beyond precise diagnosis were generally ascribed to the anger of spirits, infection of unwholesome elements, influence of evil forces, effect of magic.  The treatment of such ailments include magical spells (Mantra), wearing of amulets or precious stones, expiation, magical potions, purificatory rites, fasting and pilgrimage.  One of the eight branches of classical Ayurveda is the treatment of ailments caused by supernatural agencies (Bhuta Vidya).  The other branches of Ayurveda are: Toxicology (Agada Tantra), Rejuvenation (Vajikarana), general therapeutics (Kaya Chikitsa), Surgery (Shalya Tantra), Diseases of Ear Nose and Throat (Shalakya Tantra) and Pediatry (Kaumarya Bhrutya)
It is customary to recognise two major lines of development in Ayurveda, one specialising in general therapeutics (Kaya Chikitsa) and the other in favour of surgery (Shalya Tantra).  The two branches have much in common and the basic theoretical framework is the same in both.  The former is attributed to a great work called Sushruta Samhita where as the latter is ascribed to Charaka Samhita.
It is unfortunate that much of the medical treatises have been lost.  Apart for the above mentioned texts, Ashtanga Hrudaya by Vagbhata (7th c AD) which incorporates the view of both Charaka and Sushruta.  Similarly, Ayurveda today possess an excellent work on diagnostic known as Madhava Nidana.  Like wise, we have Harita Samhita that deals with the pathogenesis of our daily food.
Ayurveda continued to grow vigorously till about the thirteenth century.  Ayurveda as a growing discipline appears to have lost its vitality about this period.
During the foreign invasions and internal frictions many oiginal works were destroyed.  Whatever remained had to be preserved and explained to people through commentaries.  It is in the late nineteenth century that the people of India started thinking afresh about the development of Ayurveda.  Yet, with the introduction of Allopathic Medicine, Ayurveda started losing its identity.  In spite of long and hazardous study of Ayurveda, its recognition was degraded while the recognition of Allopathic Practices gained importance.
Constant and sustained patient effort by Ayurvedic practitioners helped this ancient medicine to revive even if it did not win back its formal status.  Now, Ayurveda is slowly picking up its lost ground.  The growing interest that the western countries are showing both in the medical and the non-medical circles has also contributed to the revival of this science in India.  Both the East and the West are trying hard to bring out the little available materials of Ayurveda.
Western medical science can use to its own benefit some of the particularities of Ayurveda like: the diagnostical methods, the pharmacological studies on plants, roots etc.; its logical prognosis etc.,  At the same time, Ayurvedic concept on food can be complimented to our classical treatment.  The Ayurvedic medical preparation may not be applicable here.  Yet, already some enterprise has been underway to introduce Ayurvedic medicines in dry form of tablets or powders.
For a common man, Ayurveda provides ample information on the hygiene of life, on the properties of food (whether vegetarian or not), and drinks, the modifications according to the seasons and such other important matters without affecting the daily life.
For a Yoga teacher, knowledge of Ayurveda is a necessity, since all the physiological concepts of Yoga are based on Ayurveda.  Moreover, it helps the teacher to understand the intricacies of Asana and Pranayama and other parts of Yoga.


[1] Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda are the four Vedas
[2] Refer to the invocation at the beginning of the article.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Steps Toward Inner Peace" By Peace Pilgrim

Steps Toward Inner Peace

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Steps Toward Inner Peace
by Peace Pilgrim

IN MY EARLY LIFE I made two very important discoveries. In the first place I discovered that making money was easy. And in the second place I discovered that making money and spending it foolishly was completely meaningless. I knew that this was not what I was here for, but at that time (this was many years ago), I didn't know exactly what I was here for. It was out of a very deep seeking for a meaningful way of life, and after having walked all one night through the woods, that I came to what I now know to be a very important psychological hump. I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life, to dedicate my life to service. I tell you, it is a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living.
And so I went into the second phase of my life. I began to live to give what I could, instead of get what I could, and I entered a new and wonderful world. My life began to become meaningful. I attained the great blessing of good health; I haven't had a cold or headache since. (Most illness is psychologically induced.) From that time on, I have known that my life-work would be work for peace; that it would cover the entire peace picture - peace among nations, peace among groups, peace among individuals, and the very, very important inner peace. However, there's a great deal of difference between being willing to give your life, and actually giving your life, and for me, 15 years of preparation and of inner seeking lay between.
During this time I became acquainted with what Psychologists refer to as Ego and Conscience. I began to realize that it's as though we have two selves or two natures or two wills with two different viewpoints. Because the viewpoints were so different, I felt a struggle in my life at this period between the two selves with the two viewpoints. So there were hills and valleys - lots of hills and valleys. Then in the midst of the struggle there came a wonderful mountain-top experience, and for the first time I knew what inner peace was like. I felt a oneness - oneness with all my fellow human beings, oneness with all of creation. I have never felt really separate since. I could return again and again to this wonderful mountaintop, and then I could stay there for longer and longer periods of time, and just slip out occasionally. Then came a wonderful morning when I woke up and knew that I would never have to descend again into the valley. I knew that for me the struggle was over, that finally I had succeeded in giving my life, or finding inner peace. Again this is a point of no return. you can never go back into the struggle. The struggle is over now because you will do the right thing, and you don't need to be pushed into it.
However progress is not over. Great progress has taken place in this third phase of my life, but it's as though the central figure of the jigsaw puzzle of your life is complete and clear and unchanging, and around the edges other pieces keep fitting in. There is always a growing edge, but the progress is harmonious. There is a feeling of always being surrounded by all of the good things, like love and peace and joy. It seems like a protective surrounding, and there is an unshakeableness within which takes you through any situation you may need to face.
The world may look at you and believe that you are facing great problems, but always there are the inner resources to easily overcome these problems. Nothing seems difficult. There is a calmness and a serenity and unhurriedness - no more striving or straining about anything. Life is full and life is good, but life is nevermore overcrowded. That's a very important thing I've learned: If your life is in harmony with your part in the Life Pattern, and if you are obedient to the laws which govern this universe, then your life is full and good but not overcrowded. If it is overcrowded, you are doing more than is right for you to do, more than is your job to do in the total scheme of things.
Now there is a living to give instead of to get. As you concentrate on the giving, you discover that just as you cannot receive without giving, so neither can you give without receiving - even the most wonderful things like health and happiness and inner peace. There is a feeling of endless energy - it just never runs out; it seems to be as endless as air. You just seem to be plugged into the source of universal energy.
You are now in control of your life. You see, the ego is never in control. The ego is controlled by wishes for comfort and convenience on the part of the body, by demands of the mind, and by outbursts of the emotions. But the higher nature controls the body and the mind and the emotions. I can say to my body, "Lie down there on that cement floor and go to sleep," and it obeys. I can say to my mind, "Shut out everything else and concentrate on this job before you," and it's obedient. I can say to the emotions, "Be still, even in the face of this terrible situation," and they are still. It's a different way of living. The philosopher Thoreau wrote: If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps he hears a different drummer. And now you are following a different drummer - the higher nature instead of the lower.

READ MORE AT: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Steps_Toward_Inner_Peace


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training with Srivatsa Ramaswami

Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training with Srivatsa Ramaswami

By Pam Hoxsey
In August 2006, the Chicago Yoga Center (and Suddha Weixler) hosted Srivatsa Ramaswami to teach a one-week Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training certification program. The vinyasa krama method was taught to Ramaswami over many, many years of study with his teacher, Sri T. Krishnamacharya. It is important to realize that for over 30 years, Krishnamacharya continued to impart the wisdom of all the vast, essential aspects of yoga to Ramaswami, including Sanskrit chanting, the important yogic texts and the many elements and practices contained in the components of the eight limbs (astanga) of yoga (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi).
Ramaswami began each of our classes with a Tamil chant to Ganesha (an elephant-headed deity) and a Sanskrit chant to Patanjali, which set a peaceful yet serious tone for the class. He sometimes ended our class with ten minutes of Vedic chanting, often from his Mantra Puspam (pronounced “push-pum”; the word means “flower,” but it is a book of Vedic chants and mantras). He told us that he chanted many times with Krishnamacharya, even in the last year or so of his life when his teacher was unable to get out of bed. Krishnamacharya, he said, would always chant from memory, while Ramaswami himself would read from his Mantra Puspam.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to relate the depth and breadth of what we learned during the week of training with Ramaswami, so what follows is a brief summary of the highlights:
Kaivalya (freedom) is the ultimate goal of yoga
According to Patanjali’s yoga sutra I-2, the goal of yoga is freedom. In the teacher training, Ramaswami created a tapestry of yoga practices for the participants. By using Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and other ancient texts, Ramaswami gently and thoughtfully brought each thread back to the main goal. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), meditation, mantras, etc., were all discussed with kaivalya in mind.
When kaivalya has been reached, the three gunas, or qualities of nature, that constitute the mind (citta), fall into a state of equilibrium and become quiescent. (The three gunas are tamas [inertia, heaviness of mind], rajas [action, fickleness of mind] and sattva [lightness, clarity of mind]. Even the sattvic state of mind must eventually be overcome.
Your guru is your own mind
This is the translation of a saying in Tamil (a South Indian language), which is Ramaswami’s native tongue. He learned this saying at a young age. This concept can be applied throughout a yoga practice to assess one’s own progress. How jumpy is the mind? How many times was it distracted? Are you feeling relaxed and comfortable in a posture?
And so forth.
Vinyasa krama is the art of sequential variations within prescribed parameters
The Sanskrit syllables for vinyasa krama are defined in this way: vi – variation, nyasa – within prescribed parameters, and krama – sequence.
There are four parameters in vinyasa krama: sthira (steadiness), suhka ( comfort), prayatna (effort of life, which is breathing), and saithilya (smooth and long breathing). They are set out in these two yoga sutras: II-46 “steadiness and comfort characterize the yogic posture (asana)”; and, II-47 “by making the breath smooth (and long), and focusing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.” (Ramaswami pointed out that Krishnamacharya interpreted sutra II-47 as focusing the mind on the breath and not on the asana or posture, as some teachers might suggest.)
When we practice asana with steadiness and comfort, as recommended in sutra II-46, we will be able to sit comfortably in a posture for a long time, do pranayama for one hour and then meditate.
There are ten main vinyasa sequences and several minor ones
The sequences have beautifully flowing variations and movements arising out of one main posture. There are dozens and dozens of variations within each sequence. They are taught in a precise order. Ramaswami introduced us to the ten main sequences, which are: the standing series (tadasana); the one-leg seated postures; posterior stretch (paschimatanasana); one-leg standing postures; supine postures; prone postures (dhanurasana, or bow pose); triangle (trikonasana); “topsy-turvy” poses (as Ramaswami calls them), which are also known as viparita karani, or inverted postures; meditation (vajrasana); and the lotus pose series (padmasana). He also taught us some of the minor sequences, including the sun salutation (surya namaskara) with chanting, which is traditionally done on Sundays, the salutation to all directions (ding namaskara) with chanting, and a few others. These sequences and their variations, as well as the Sanskrit prayers for surya namaskara and ding namaskara, are set out in generous detail in Ramaswami’s book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga.
During the practice of yoga asana, the breathing rate should come down
If the breathing rate does not slow down over the course of one’s asana practice, one is not doing yoga, but ordinary exercise.
Ujjayi breathing helps the abhyasi (yoga practitioner) hear the breath and keep the mind focused. It is to be done during both the asana and the pranayama practices. Ujjayi breathing requires a slight constriction of the throat, which creates a quiet hissing sound. The mouth is closed during both the inhalation and the exhalation.
Repeat kapalabhati (a bellow-like breathing technique) a total of 108 times after your asana practice and before your pranayama practice. (Kapalabhati means that which makes the skull shine.)
This is the way Ramaswami taught us to practice kapalabhati: First, sitting in a comfortable position with our heads down, our chins in jalandhara bandha (the chin lock) and our hands resting on our knees, we repeated kapalabhati 36 times. Then, after we rested for a moment, we raised our arms above our heads on an inhale, interlocked our fingers, reached our palms toward the sky, and did 36 more kapalabhati. Then we rested again. Finally, with our elbows bent and our hands resting on the opposite shoulder blades behind our heads, we repeated kapalabhati for a third round of 36 times. This made a total of 108 times, which is the number of repetitions Ramaswami recommends.
Practice asana to bring down rajas; practice pranayama to bring down tamas
This (along with proper diet) helps the yogi achieve a more sattvic state (which manifests as a light feeling in the body and a clear mind).
After our asana and kapalabhati practices, Ramaswami had us practice pranayama. We did this twice a day. Ramaswami introduced a new element or a different type of pranayama each time. The ratio we practiced was 5:5:10:5. He asked us to inhale for a count of 5, hold after inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 10, hold the breath out after exhale for a count of 5. For those of us who were used to practicing the bandhas (or locks), we were asked to do them in the hold after exhale. (Less than a count of 5 in pranayama practice is not recommended.) Ujjayi breathing was used for all of the pranayama practices (except the inhalation in sitali, which is done through a curled tongue and open mouth). Some of the pranayama practices Ramaswami introduced us to were: ujjayi, nadi sodhana, viloma, anuloma, sitali.
For pratyahara practice, do shanmukhi mudra (sealing the six senses) for at least five minutes after every pranayama practice
Krishnamacharya had Ramaswami do shanmukhi mudra each time after his pranayama practice. Sanmukhi mudra helps to quiet the senses and allows us to observe the state of calmness or distraction in our minds. In shanmukhi mudra, our thumbs close our ears, our little fingers rest at the corners of our mouths, our ring fingers slightly close the nostrils, the second fingers rest lightly on the lower eyelids (with our eyes closed), while our first fingers rest lightly on the upper portion of the eyelids. We may keep our minds focused either on the breath or on the silent repetition of the mantra “OM.” (A mantra is a sound that protects the thinker, whether it is said silently or aloud.) Ramaswami said that once we make the choice of either the breath or the mantra “OM,” we should stick with it for the full five minutes. If our arms began to tire, we may lower them for a few moments, then return them to the main position, in which the elbows and arms are raised to shoulder level.
The three important aspects of meditation (samyama) are dharana, dhyana and samadhi
Ramaswami defined dharana as the ability of the mind to focus on one object (a space, an object, the breath, the mind itself, etc.); dhyana as the state in which the mind can easily focus on one object moment after moment, eventually in a continuous, habitual way; and samadhi as the state in which one completely forgets the self, and only the object remains.

For a deeper understanding of yoga, Ramaswami advised us to take some time to read and study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the main text on yoga philosophy
One final note: Ramaswami related to us that his teacher, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, always stressed the importance of a balanced practice. By that, he meant that a yoga practitioner should practice all of the eight limbs of yoga, and not focus on only one limb. The emphasis on asanas, for example, will change according to the age of the practitioner. For children and young adults, there is a greater emphasis on asana practice. For older people, greater attention is given to pranayama and meditation. And for those in the middle years, a balance of asana, pranayama and meditation is suggested. During the middle years, Krishnamacharya recommended doing asanas for only about 60% of one’s practice time, the other 40% being devoted to pranayama, pratyahara and/or chanting.
This article has touched briefly on some of the very rich details Srivatsa Ramaswami presented to us. If you would like to learn more about Ramaswami’s approach to yoga, I would highly recommend his books: Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga and Yoga Beneath the Surface (co-authored by David Hurwitz).

Pam Hoxsey has been practicing and studying yoga for 35 years. She has studied asana, chanting and the Yoga Sutras with Ramaswami. She is the author of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Based on the Teaching of Srivatsa Ramaswami, which is a record of her one-on-one study with the vinyasa yoga master.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A poem by Sri T. Krishnamacharya from 'Yoganjalisaram'

"O! sluggish mind, praise the Lord Gopala and the Lord Hayagriva, after your prayers to the Guru! To what purpose are the ways of this age if the body be weakened and the blood made impure?

When the truth is known ignorance cannot be, when the mind is pure there is no disease, when the breath is mastered there is no death, therefore, surrender to Yoga.

In the practice of Yoga one can emphasize the body, the mind or the self and hence the effort can never be fruitless.

Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.

Thus speaks Yogi Tirumala Krishna"

"Memories of a Master" By A. G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan

Memories of a Master

Sri T. Krishnamacharya brought enormous wisdom and devotion to the discipline of yoga. Here we get a glimpse into his life and teachings.

By A. G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan

Often described as the father of modern yoga, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is today best known among contemporary American yogis as the teacher of such yoga legends as B. K. S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, and K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. Krishnamacharya taught many people who went on to propagate and influence the practice in the West, including his son T. K. V. Desikachar, Indra Devi, and others. But while he laid a beautiful foundation for our practice, few of us know much about him.

A scholar of the Vedas, Sanskrit, yoga philosophy, Ayurveda, and more, Krishnamacharya spent seven years studying yoga with a Tibetan master whose ashram was but a small cave. Upon returning to India, Krishnamacharya honored the promise he'd made to his teacher to spread the knowledge he had received, and began to teach. He never wrote a definitive manual, but he spent his life offering something so profound that it continues to be embraced by people around the globe.

Here, A. G. Mohan, a student of Krishnamacharya's for 18 years, shares his memories of this humble but exacting teacher, so that we might better understand who he was and the essence of what he taught. 

-The Editors


Krishnamacharya would usually sit in his chair while I practiced. Sometimes he stood to observe me more clearly. There was little space in the room; only one person could practice comfortably. The limited space wasn't an issue, though, because all asana lessons I had with Krishnamacharya were one on one. In the years I studied with him, I never saw him teach asanas to a group of students. One reason could have been that he was not running a yoga school and therefore did not have a group of students to teach. But more pertinently, most students who came to him to learn yoga were motivated by ill health and could not be taught yoga effectively in a group.

Usually, Krishnamacharya did not demonstrate asanas to me. As a rare exception, I recall a class in which Krishnamacharya mentioned that there were 32 variations of Headstand. This seemed excessive to me, and I must have looked a little doubtful. He considered my expression for a few moments. Then he said, "What? It looks like you don't believe me?"

Krishnamacharya gestured toward the middle of the room. "Fold the carpet and place it here," he said. Then he proceeded to demonstrate all 32 Headstand variations! At that time, he was about 85 years old. As I observed over the years as his student, it was in his nature to rise to the occasion when faced with a question—that is, if it was a meaningful question from a serious student.

Anjali Mudra

Some photos of Krishnamacharya show him placing his palms together in a gesture known as the Anjali Mudra. This gesture looks like the Indian form of greeting, in which people bring their palms together and say "Namaste," which means "salutations to you." These gestures are not the same, though. In Anjali Mudra, the palms are not flat against each other; the knuckles at the base of the fingers are bent a little, creating a space between the palms and fingers of the two hands. When done properly, the shape of the Anjali Mudra resembles a flower bud that is yet to open, symbolizing the opening of our heart. This signifies the potential for and intention to progress toward greater spiritual awakening.

We can use the Anjali Mudra in most asanas where our hands are outstretched and parallel to each other. Instead of keeping our hands apart, we can bring them together in the Anjali Mudra. This helps to set a peaceful inner attitude during the practice of asanas.

Additions like Anjali Mudra help ensure that asanas bring us humility rather than an ego boost from achieving the form of the asanas. Krishnamacharya greatly valued humility. The following anecdote illustrates this. A famous singer of South Indian classical music (Carnatic music) once came to Krishnamacharya complaining of weakness in his voice. The singer was very worried that he might lose the ability to perform in concerts.

Krishnamacharya prescribed some herbs and taught the singer some simple asanas and breathing. In a few months, the singer's voice improved significantly and he was able to perform again. He returned to Krishnamacharya to thank him. Evidently proud of his recovered abilities, the singer said, boastfully, "My voice has been restored—listen!" He was about to show off his prowess when Krishnamacharya stopped him. "I know you are a renowned singer," said Krishnamacharya. "But you will remember, I taught you Jalandhara Bandha [in which the head is bowed so that, classically, the chin touches the sternum]. God has gifted you with a wonderful voice, but keep the bandha in mind. We must keep the head bowed and live with humility."

What's in a Name?

Yoga poses are named in various ways. Some are named after animals and birds, some describe the body position of an asana, and some are named after mythological figures. Some asanas are named after ancient sages or derive from mythology, with uplifting stories behind them. For instance, Bharadvajaasana is named after the sage Bharadvaja; Visvamitraasana is named after the sage Visvamitra. Bhagirataasana is another.

Bhagiratasana? I can hear yoga teachers searching their memories for this unfamiliar name. This isn't a new asana. It is widely known as the "Tree Pose" (Vrksasana), a balancing asana in which you stand on one leg with the arms overhead and the other leg raised off the floor, bent fully at the knee and rotated outward at the hip, with the foot planted on the opposite thigh below the groin. Bhagiratasana was Krishnamacharya's name for the Tree Pose.

Bhagirata was a famous king in Vedic mythology. His forefathers were performing a ritual known as the asvamedha, in which a horse (asva) played an integral part. By a turn of events, the horse mistakenly ended up at the hermitage of a sage. The forefathers caused much disturbance to the sage in retrieving the horse, so he cursed them, reducing them to ashes.

To revive the forefathers, the river Ganges, which was in the heavens, would have to be brought to the earth to flow on their ashes. Bhagirata's grandfather and father were unable to undertake this task, so Bhagirata took on the responsibility, leaving the management of the kingdom to his ministers. Forsaking all the comforts that went with his royal station, Bhagirata retired to the forest, leading an austere life and practicing deep meditation, seeking the grace of Brahma, the Creator. Brahma told Bhagirata that he had no objection to the Ganges' flowing down to earth but that Bhagirata would have to request this of the Ganges.

So, Bhagirata returned to his meditation again, praying to the Ganges, who appeared before him and agreed to flow down to earth. But, she said, the earth would not be able to bear the force of her descent, so Bhagirata must first find someone to bear the force.

Bhagirata next did meditation on Shiva, asking him to bear the force of the Ganges. Shiva appeared before Bhagirata and agreed. Finally, the Ganges descended to earth, but in the midst of doing so, she was overcome with pride in her own power and thought to display her might by washing Shiva away by landing on his head.

Knowing what the Ganges was thinking, Shiva imprisoned her in a lock of his hair and would not release her to earth. Bhagirata undertook meditation once more, requesting Shiva to release the Ganges. Shiva appeared before him again and agreed to release the Ganges, which then flowed along the earth. Again, reveling in her might, the Ganges swept past the hermitage of the great sage Agastya, causing havoc in the surrounding area. Seeing that his disciples and other living beings were distressed, Agastya drank the entire Ganges in one sip, as he would do with a handful of water in his daily ritual. Yet again, Bhagirata meditated and prayed, requesting Agastya to release the Ganges. Agastya granted his wish. At last, the Ganges flowed over the ashes of Bhagirata's forefathers. In all, Bhagirata spent thousands of years in austerities and meditation with unwavering concentration, never discouraged by the numerous obstacles he faced.

What does this story have to do with Bhagiratasana? Bhagirata was supposed to have meditated for all those years standing on one leg!

Krishnamacharya called the Tree Pose Bhagiratasana because of the values in this story. He said, "When doing Bhagiratasana, keep the great Bhagirata in mind. Bring tireless perseverance and steadfast concentration to your practice."

Once, Krishnamacharya asked me, half seriously, "Do you know Dhruvasana?" The story of Dhruva is well known in Vedic mythology—that of a young prince who undertakes rigorous meditation—but I had never heard of the pose. He smiled and continued, "It is like Bhagiratasana, but you must not stand on the whole foot—you must stand only on the great toe!"

Non-acquisitiveness and Contentment

In the effort of accumulating material possessions and wealth, in protecting the acquired, in their decline, in the latent impressions they leave on the mind, and in the unavoidable harm caused to other living beings—in all these there lies unhappiness. Thus the yogi practices non-acquisitiveness.

Krishnamacharya never accumulated much money. In class, many a time he would say, "Why do we need money beyond a point? If we are free of ill health, enmity, and debt, is that not enough for a fulfilled life? In searching for money, we lose our health. And if we are unwell, how can we be peaceful? Similarly, a person with enemies will never sleep easy, nor will a person in debt. Be free of these and you will be at ease. Too much money only leads to less peace."

I remember an instance in the later 1980s when I lost my watch. I was attending Krishnamacharya's classes as usual but without a watch on my wrist. Krishnamacharya had taken note of it over one or two weeks. One day, he brought out a watch and offered it to me. When I demurred, he said, "You are doing a lot for me. One should never be indebted. Take it."

I felt that, compared with the teachings I had been receiving from him for years, what I did for him was nothing. But to receive a gift from him meant a lot to me. I had the watch for years, until it stopped working. It was not only because I did not have a watch that he wanted me to take it. It was also because of his principle that he should be without obligation to anyone as much as possible. He never wanted to feel that someone had done something for him and that he had not reciprocated.

He often quoted, from the Mahabharata: "In chasing wealth there is unhappiness, as in protecting wealth earned. Again if the guarded wealth declines, there is unhappiness. Indeed, all wealth is but unhappiness!"

Devotion and Rituals

Nowadays people speak of "love, love." What is it? True love is devotion to the Divine. Such devotion is when we have such longing and care for the Divine as we have for our own body.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the most authoritative text on yoga, defines yoga as complete stillness of the mind. In such a state of mind, there is no unhappiness at all, ever. This state can be reached by practicing the eight limbs of yoga. Among the various practices, devotion to the Divine is offered as one. Being inculcated into the tradition of Vaishnavism [a form of Hinduism in which God is worshipped as Lord Vishnu], which is rooted in devotion, Krishnamacharya preferred to follow his path of yoga by linking it with the Divine.

The practice of devotion is optional in the practice of yoga, but it is not brushed aside, or even relegated to second place in the Yoga Sutra. If there is such a thing as a shortcut in the sutras, it is not kundalini arousal or any other esoteric practice. It is devotion. In Sutra II.45, the commentary of Vyasa states, "Through the practice of devotion, samadhi [the focus of mind that is the goal of yoga] is closest." The unemotional and precise work of Patanjali, with its equally precise commentaries, leaves no space for exaggeration or misstatement. The statement means what it says.

Devotion is one of the best ways to help keep the mind focused and peaceful. It can be a powerful support to meditation and to a steady life. But it must be done with a suitable conception of the Divine. As a caution, we must be aware that devotion practiced with a psychologically incorrect relationship to or image of the Divine can only lead to mental disturbance, not mental steadiness. We must understand the purpose and nature of devotion and how an appropriate attitude toward the Divine should be fashioned before entering into such practice.

Devotion is an internal attitude of trust and love for the Divine. All the other practices of yoga—for example, asana, pranayama, and control over the senses—are essential to bringing the mind under control. They support devotion and are supported by it. By external worship and ritual we reinforce our internal attachment to the Divine. Krishnamacharya followed the traditional Vaishnavite lifestyle, which included rituals and worship, throughout his life. After his early morning asana practice and bath, he would perform his rituals, which included pranayama. Then he would do the pug (worship), directed at Vishnu's avatar, Hayagriva. As part of the puja, he would ring a bell that weighed a kilogram or two, sometimes waking his family members!

Krishnamacharya sometimes expressed sadness over the decline of ancient practices and authentic dedication to the deeper practices of yoga. "So much of the traditional knowledge we had, even what I have seen in my early days, is now gone, lost...."

In one class, when discussing the Yoga Sutra, Krishnamacharya noted that punaranveshana (literally, "to re-search," or "to search once more") was needed now. He felt the ancient practices that had declined over time needed to be explored once more and their value brought out.

"Subjects are of two categories," he said. "One category can be learned merely through words, by listening and understanding—these are theoretical subjects, like the rules and analysis of grammar. The other category needs to be practiced, like music, cooking, martial arts, and yoga as well. Nowadays, the practice of yoga stops with just asanas. Very few even attempt dharana and dhyana [deeper meditation] with seriousness. There is a need to search once more and reestablish the practice and value of yoga in modern times."

Excerpted from From Here Flows the River: The Life and Teachings of Krishnamacharya, by A. G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan (published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, 2010; shambhala.com).

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God."

Sri Muchukunte T. Krishnamacharya

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Bliss, Essential Nature of Man" by Sri Krishnamacharya's son Sri T.K. Sribhashyam

Bliss, Essential Nature of Man

We accept joys and sorrows as facts of worldly life yet we search for means to be free from our sorrow. But we do not realise that our true nature is blissful. Joy is the intrinsic nature of the Soul (Atman) and it is sorrow which is alien to it and comes from outside the Soul. So the main object of spiritual endeavour is to gain the knowledge of the soul as a result of which sufferings of the material world will not afflict us anymore and the inner joy expresses freely.

Self-knowledge and bliss are interdependent and are the two sides of the same coin – that is, the reality of our existence. Most of our problems arise due to the transient nature of the source of our happiness. Even the knowledge of a state in which it is possible to experience eternal joy gives a sense of peace within when one embarks on the spiritual quest.

It is essential to understand the difference between Self-knowledge which is eternal and objective knowledge which pertains to the material world which is not so. How do we acquire knowledge? The senses bring a lot of innumerable sensory data to the mind but they do not by themselves result in knowledge and it is the mind which provides us the knowledge.

When the Sun arises everyone wakes up and goes about their activities; so also, in the presence of the mind the sensations result in knowledge. Empirical knowledge lasts as long as the sense impressions stay in the mind or till the mind retains them in memory. So it cannot be eternal and does not pertain to the Self.

The knowledge of the soul is acquired when the mind is freed from the sense data. Meditation wherein the object is divine and not secular is one of the means to separate the mind from the external sense data. This separation lets the bliss shine in our heart and soul, because the very nature of the soul is bliss.

The common mistake one makes while undertaking spiritual quest is to seek the knowledge of the soul as any other secular knowledge since the familiar process of acquiring knowledge is related to objects in the world.

But spiritual knowledge is that of the soul, and it is not material.

Another mistake one makes is the fear that the acquisition of the knowledge of the soul and the resultant bliss would exterminate all our sense activities thereby losing all our life experience of the past and the future.

Meditate without fear and live the life of bliss – even if it be for few moments of our daily life.


"On Patanjali" By Srivatsa Ramaswami

On Patanjali

By Srivatsa Ramaswami

Patanjali is a name that generates awe, veneration and inspiration among experts of disciplines like Yoga. That his work “Yoga Sutra” is considered to be the most authentic work on Yoga by conventional Yogis is well known. But he is also considered to be one of the greatest original contributors towards the development of the classical language Sanskrit. Then there are many practitioners of ancient medical system, the Ayur Veda who consider him as ‘Caraka’, the author of one of the earliest texts on Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita. There are many experts of Indian traditional dance who consider Patanjali as an exceptional exponent of Indian Dancing system.

How is it possible for one person to excel in many disparate and original disciplines, as the old timers believe? Is it possible that there were different Patanjalis who lived at different places at different times who wrote different texts under the name of Patanjali, as some of the modern historians would aver?

A brief of account of Patanjali’s story may be in order. One of the popular stories refers to Patanjali as an incarnation of Adisesha, the serpent king, who acts as the couch of Lord Vishnu. Once, Lord Vishnu after He came out of His divine slumber narrated the vision of Siva’s cosmic dance which He experienced in the divine dream. He also said that Lord Siva wanted Adisesha to take a human birth and prepare an authentic work on Sanskrit grammar, as the human race was going through a crisis without a proper structured language. Lord Siva had earlier created the original basis for Sanskrit grammar through 14 sutras (aphorisms), called Maheswara Sutras, said to have emanated from the sounds of the hand drum (damaru) of the Lord during the Cosmic Dance. Panini who witnessed the dance wrote an elaborate text in 8 chapters the entire work of grammar, based on Siva’s 14 Sutras, but because they were terse and ambiguous, could not take roots among the people. Now the Lord wanted Patanjali to write a detailed commentary on Panini’s works so that Sanskrit would become accessible to mankind.

Adisesha in due course took a human form, born/adopted to/by a great soul, Gonika and therefore also known as Gonikaputra. He was known as Patanjali, as he is said to have descended or fallen (pat) from heaven, answering to the prayers (anjali) for a worthy son by Gonika. After leading an ascetic, yogic life, Patanjali felt ready to start his life’s mission. He traveled to Chidambaram, in South India, which boasts of the famous dancing Siva temple. There were other great souls, divine beings, sages and yogis all ready to watch the cosmic dance. Siva directed Patanjali to watch the dance carefully so that he could completely understand the Maheswara aphorisms and write a proper commentary to Panini’s work.

Patanjali went into yogic Samadhi, so that the divine dance could be experienced, so did the other yogis gathered around there. He watched the dance minutely grasping the nuances of the Siva Sutras as the sounds emanated from the drum (damaru) of the dancing Nataraja. And when the dance reached a crescendo, everyone in yogic trance was swaying with the dance of the Lord and in raptures. When the dance stopped, they experienced oneness with the Lord, the supreme consciousness, the ultimate reality. This they realized was the advaitic oneness of the Vedantins or Nirodha Samadhi of the Yogis.

Patanjali then left the place and very carefully wrote a great commentary (Maha Bhashya) on the Panini’s wok after getting all the clarifications by minutely watching the dance of Siva. To cut the story short, Patanjali had to really work hard to propagate his work. Since he was the sole repository of the knowledge at that time, he had to teach as many people as possible. An interesting episode is mentioned about how Patanjali reached a larger student population. He stood behind a curtain separating him from the large student population sitting in front of him. He assumed his original form of a thousand headed (hooded) cobra, and taught each of the students, one on one. It helped him teach and answer questions individually. He was a thousand teachers at the same time. Without closed circuit TV, Internet and the print facility, it was the best possible solution at that time!

Then he also wrote the Yoga Sutras, meant to clean the mind and weaken the influence of Rajas and Tamas, and become very Satwic and ultimately transcend all the three gunas and attain stage of Kaivalya or spiritual freedom. He is also credited with another important work on Ayur Veda, the ancient medical system.

Let us get back to the original question. How can one individual get the expertise needed to write three authoritative and original texts so important to humanity? The answer is that he got all the knowledge from Lord Siva the Iswara. In fact Patanjali says in Yoga Sutras that Iswara is the ultimate repository of all knowledge, and by meditating on Him all knowledge can be obtained. And as mentioned earlier, the basic informations or cues of Vyakarana or grammar came from the dancing Siva’s drum. It is also believed by musicologists that the basic seven musical notes also came from the Lord’s drum. Patanjali, after watching the dance of Siva became a great dancer himself, and again classical dancers in India revere Patanjali as a great dancer. There is a beautiful onomatopoeic poetic work in Sanskrit attributed to Patanjali, called ‘Siva Tandava Stotra’.

When Patanjali went into Samadhi, not only was he able to witness the Cosmic Dance, but also got to experience the ultimate state of Yoga, the Nirvikalpa or Nirodha Samadhi. With that experience and the grace of the Iswara he was able to write an authentic text on Yoga. Lord Siva is also known as Yogiswara, the Lord of all Yogis. He is also known as Bhaishajya or one who has the wisdom of Curing. And Patanjali could get the necessary expertise on Ayurveda also from Siva and thus wrote a medical text par excellence.

A civilization is said to be at its best when the people enjoy good health, express themselves clearly and profoundly, through a perfect language and have clear and pious minds. Bhartruhari, a great scholar and grammarian emphasizes the purity of the three basic human activities, of mind, body and spech, called the tri-karanas. And Maharshi Patanjali is believed to have written three great texts and evidence in terms of a eulogy is to be found in the ancient prayer said by thousands of yogis all over the world, daily, as they start the yoga sadhana.

yogena cittasya padena vācām
malaṁ śarīrasya ca vaidyakena
yopākarottaṁ pravaraṁ munīnāṁ
pataṁjaliṁ prāṁjalirānatosmi|

Through Yoga, of the mind, by grammar, of language
Through medical science of the body,the drosses,
The one who eradicated, to Him of the lineage of sages,
To Patanjali, I remain offering my salutation