Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Notice how, for Ashtangi's...

An Ashtangi friend who has attended one of Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama workshops finds himself confused perhaps at how now to proceed,  Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama seem So far removed from each other....

Part of the problem perhaps is our perception of both. Ramaswami presents the 'Vinyasa Krama' asana in around ten medium to long sequences. Although he will stress that this is for pedagogic purposes and that we need to choose the asana we will practice each day it's hard not to fixate on the sequences, especially if you're an Ashtangi with the view that Ashtanga itself fixates on fixed sequences.

Our view of Ashtanga is often of a fast practiced, dynamic, cardio workout, it can be practiced like that perhaps but it's not the only way to practice and I would suggest not the approach to practice most Ashtangi's settle on over time.

Here however are some things to notice about Ashtanga that may allow us to see that Vinyasa Krama and Ashtanga are perhaps not so far removed from each other, if not essentially the same.


Notice how, for Ashtangi's...



- Notice how calm and focussed the practice of Ashtanga becomes as practitioners become more experienced.

- Notice how smooth and steady the breath

- Notice the longer stays in the same key asana as Vinyasa Krama,  Paschimattanasana, Janu Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Sirsasana as well as in others.

- Notice that however Ashtangi's may approach the series they are working on, the finishing sequence might well be something else altogether, practiced more slowly, with more focus and with the longer stays indicated.

- Notice the variations of asana in the likes of prasarita series, paschimattanasana, Janu Sirsasana, Marichiyasana etc.

- Notice the variations in sarvangasana.

- Notice that many Ashtnagi's DO modify their practice.

- Notice that many Ashtangi's will emphasis certain asana on different days, depending on thier perceived needs of the day, passing quickly through some asana, staying longer in others.

- Notice how many Ashtangi's will often repeat an asana, two or three times.

- Notice that many Ashtangi's do begin to integrate pranayama

- Notice that many Ashtangi's do have a separate seated practice

- Notice that though many don't have a 'sitting' practice more often than not they include a long focussed savasana.

- Notice that many Ashtangi's study Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as well as other texts or at least have a passing awareness of the basics of yoga philosophy.

- notice that many Ashtangi seek to integrate the Yama and niyama in their lives.

- Notice that most Ashtangi's begin their practice with a chant and many follow their practice with a chant or chanting also.

- Notice that many teachers DO modify their students practice.

- Notice how an experienced practitioner will often slow down their practice over time.

- Notice how many experienced and proficient Ashtanga practitioners will, at some point, let go of the intermediate and advanced series and come back to Primary asana and seek to practice them more deeply.

- Notice how the majority of Ashtanga teachers share the practice with humility in shalas that barely make a profit, as service.

-  Notice how teacher maintain their own practice

- Notice how experienced practitioners whether teachers or not are constantly seeking to deepen the understanding of their practice and how it relates to their practice of yoga as a whole.

- Notice how many teachers maintain a connection with their own teachers.

- Notice how Ashtangi's where possible eventually develop a daily practice

- Notice how Ashtang's bring focus, discipline and service into their lives through their practice

- Notice how at some point most practitioners always seem come back to the breath, for all the advanced asana they may explore, being present with the breath is the beginning, middle and end of their asana practice.


Monday, 12 September 2016

The Emergence of Yoga - A seminar with Sri TK Sribhashyam, T. Krishnamacharya's third son. (GUEST POST)

My friend Chiara recently attended Sri TK Sribhashyam's workshop at Harmony Yoga organised by Steve Brandon, (I'm now living in Japan and unfortunately was unable to attend), Chiara kindly agreed to share the guest post below.

My own practice has been strongly influenced by Krishnamacharya's third son Sri TK Sribhashyam's teaching (more on this as well links to my earlier posts in the notes at the end of Chiara's guest post.) 

Krishnamacharya's third son Sri TK Sribashyam's replicated part of the 'acroyoga' scene from the 1934 Krishnamacharya documentary footage in the movie Breath of gods (see end of blog)



The Emergence of Yoga - A seminar with Sri TK Sribhashyam 
by Chiara (blog http://www.theyogicat.com/about/ - Post in Italian HERE).


Last July I attended a seminar with Sri TK Sribhashyam, one of the sons of Sri T Krishnamacharya. The topic of the seminar was an in depth coverage of his book on Yoga, which has already been published in several languages.

The Emergence of Yoga is an excellent and detailed book, offering a perspective more related to the Vedic tradition, excellent explanation sheets of asana and pranayama, as well as a large number of practice examples, including some of Sri T Krishnamacharya's personal practices.

Link to Amazon
available in several languages

In the book, almost against the flow, Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras are practically non referenced. Reference is made instead mostly to the Vedas and the teachings of Yajnavalkya, whose treatise was regarded as a very important text for Krishnamacharya.

I am very interested in studying with direct students of Sri T Krishnamacharya, because as his teachings *appear* to be reported in a different manner by each of his different students, this man is for me still a mystery.

In fact, as I practice and study, I realize that at the basis of the different interpretations there is a great consistency; the importance of letting conscious breathing guide the practice, be it designed for supple kids or shriveled adults; the respect for different human possibilities at the basis of the method; the practice designed in a way that it becomes a ritual leading towards deep meditative states.

But as teachings always tend to be coloured by the experience and personality of the students, whatever they say or want to admit, each student will re-enact them in a different way.

So the opportunity, created with typical dedication by Steve Brandon at Harmony Yoga, to sit by another important student of Krishnamacharya and practice under his leadership, was too great for me to ignore. Therefore I decided to exceed my budget for the year and enroll in the seminar of Sri TK Sribhashyam. I booked flights and accommodation and I waited expectantly the moment, re-reading the book and preparing some questions.

I was also expectant because I knew that I was going to face a different experience than what more 'secular' workshops tend to offer. A thorough reading of The Emergence of Yoga and my attempts to follow the rest of Sribhashyam's books on the Bhakti path, had me confront my instinctive rejection of all that contains the word 'God' and 'Devotion'. But Sri TK Sribhashyam's approach is firmly in the Vedic tradition, as was Sri T Krishnamacharya's even though we often do not think of this.
So I knew that somehow my participation in this seminar would be a challenge, a test of aspects that - if scaring me so much - have to be extremely important for me, I think.

I admit that I find it hard to swallow the concept of iśvarapranidhāna unless intended as deep commitment in the activities undertaken, going beyond one's personal interests. To this I adhere completely. It is the next step which I feel uncertain of .. But we'll come back to the iśvara problem.

That Sri K Sribhashyam is a traditional teacher was soon realized, when he asked to receive the questions we wanted to ask in advance to the seminar, reserving judgment on whether or not to give an answer. That he is a serious and committed teacher was also soon made clear, as we received a document before the seminar, containing many answers to our questions and the commitment to expand some of the explanations during the seminar.

The seminar was organized with theoretical sessions, practices and slots for expanded answers to the previously submitted questions and new questions about the practices carried out in the day. Some of his longtime students were also attending the seminar and the most gentle Brigitte Khan demonstrated the practical sessions under the guidance of Sribhashyam. Many of the participants were teachers, or students from other schools.

Sribhashyam promptly asked us to listen, set our previous knowledge on one side, let what we were learning settle, feel complete freedom to evaluate the usefulness of continuing to practice what we had learned or not, but only after the experience of the workshop would be over.
This silenced many questions related to comparisons with previous experience, possibly it silenced many questions altogether, and reminded me of what Ramaswami once said, with regard to the reading of texts: first read what the author has to say, emptying your mind from pre-existing thoughts, then re-read in the light of your thinking.
Difficult, already a meditation exercise in itself.

The practical sessions were based on the ones in the book; Sribhashyam did not make corrections to our practice, except for some fundamental aspects: that the standing posture was correct, that our backs were well straight in sitting positions and that our Sitali was practiced correctly. I admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I passed the 'test' of Sitali.

Sribhashyam asked us explicitly to: receive instruction, do not think about why we were being corrected, do not make comparisons with what we had learned before, do not let our mind be affected by the corrections. See above!

The practices begin and end with a pranayama and present a very important aspect, resting on the floor after each āsana or prānāyāma. Sribhashyam was quite clear that this lying down was not to be Savasana, but an attentive posture with legs together - although kept relaxed - arms alongside the body, what we know as urdhva mukha samasthiti, maintaining and observing the state of mind acquired. Until today I had rested after āsanas series, or in the case of tiring vinyāsas. A quiet moment before the next part of the practice session has always been important but I never used to observe it lying down, after each single exercise.
The initial feeling is of interruption, especially through a standing sequence, but the usefulness of this approach appears soon enough. We will see later that this 'stop' is crucial in the design and scope of practice. This lying on the floor makes it easier to observe mental state changes occurring during the practice, to evaluate the effect of āsana after having practiced it and not just during its performance.

Despite the fact that all practices (obviously?!) used vinyāsa to enter and exit from āsana, and that some āsanas were only performed dynamically; despite the fact that the number of breaths in the āsana were often no more than three, the overall experience was of a very steady, stable, still, practice. I must say that I have been feeling the need to 'be still' for a while now and as often happens, Sribhashyam arrived at the right time.

I also found very interesting, from a practical aspect, that the number of repetitions or breaths in the prone āsanas did not exceed the number of three. In fact, these are intense postures with a strong effect, they 'warm up' more than others and may disrupt the total effect of the practice.
Sribhashyam briefly introduced the Ayurvedic concept of shitha, ushna and shithoshna, which reminded me of langhana and brhamana concepts learned previously (here comes the mind, seeking footholds and comparisons with what you have learned before and do not allow the New to freely enter!!).
A good practice will bring about a perfect balance between shitha (soothing, refreshing) and ushna (stimulants, heating) actions in order not to create imbalances.
In the design of a practice according to the teachings of Sribhashyam, the number of āsanas, and in particular of certain specific āsanas, is dictated by the number of breaths performed in prānāyāma. Claude Maréchal also always reports the total number of breaths at the side of the practice sheet, summing up the number of breaths of each individual exercises, to help judge the overall balance of the practice session.

We worked a lot on dhārana, which we can translate as concentration, and the approach offered by Sribhashyam was based on moving the gaze (with closed eyes) along selected vital points along the body. These points are very similar to those described in the Yoga Yajnavalkya but with some differences, the choice perhaps linked to Krishnamacharya sensitivity in his personal exploration of the practice?

With your eyes closed, the gaze moves during the inhale, from the toes along the body, lingering on vital points along the legs, torso, throat, on the way up to the nose, forehead and top of the head. This is not an anatomical visualisation, nor does it run inside the body, but follows an imaginary line that connects the big toe to the tip of nose, as a projection of the point from the body to the line. It is not imagination but a real physical gaze operated with closed eyes.
During exhalation the eye movement stops, keeping the focus on some points of the torso or the head, Mula, Hrdaya, Nāsāgra, Bhrumadhya depending on the practice.
According to Krishnamacharya the points located between Mula and Śīrśa have greater spiritual value. The lowest points, such as the toes, are related to sensory experience, so we scan them, but we do not dwell there, since the practice compels us 'beyond'.

Compared to the Yoga Yajnavalkya, Krishnamacharya / Sribhasyam's practice involves a larger number of higher vital points. We try to disengage from the physical sensations of the body, which are connected to lower vital points in the body.
So when in paschimottanasana we desperately try to bring the nose on our lap at all costs, curving the back, we do nothing but obey the call of sensorial experience. But as these positions are called uttana, we must stretch, straighten, Mula to Sirsa, the back should be straight and extended.

Or, the gaze can stop at the infinite point of the horizon, Tāraka. And this focus is the prelude to the meditative state. Tāraka is the point at which we invoke the Divine.

Here I had a moment of discomfort, at the vigorous assertion that Dhyāna can only be possible when we let our mind fill with the Divine. In Dhārana we fill our mind with an object of attention, leaving a small space where Dhyāna can then grow, as the entire space is filled by the Divine.

What if we do not have a Divine? Well, if I got it right, according to Sribhashyam, Dhyana is not really possible at least in a practice linked to the Vedic tradition. Sribhashyam suggested the evocation of the Sun Disk, since the Sun represents for most of us the possibility of Life, for those who do not have a faith to follow.

But as a friend of mine remarked, millions of Buddhists in the last couple of thousand years could disagree... surely a meditative state which is not linked to the evocation of the Divine must be possible!?

Ultimately I found out that it is a word that scares me. Because if I substitute the word Divine with Reality, I feel much more at ease. Silly? To think that a word can define our mental state. And yet that is exactly what Patanjali means I think, when he says that objects shape our mind shape. And words are objects after all.

So in this seminar I had further evidence of how strong an impact can cultural influences have on the mind, sometimes all is needed is a little swap of cards on the table to change the game and let the mind open.

Sribhashyam spoke at length of the Movement / Non-movement concept, the pause in the breath, the pause between words in a speech, the pause before the choice between two foods.
He spoke of our attachment to movement and sensory perceptions, which reassure us of our existence. Of our fear to stop, to get into that suspension where reality with a capital R waits, which is not the reality of the daily grind, the constant search of sensations and emotions.
Only when we abandon feelings and emotions we can enter the Non-movement of the non-breathing and of meditation.

Because in the practice of Yoga, we should not seek physical sensations, but go further. The perception of the body, as interesting and rewarding it can be, is just another form of motion. Even when the body is still, if we focus on sensations, we are in full mental swing.

For this reason, the work on breath so important. Learning to voluntarily extend the breath, to equalize inhalation and exhalation, we also change our unconscious breath and prepare ourselves, so to speak, for the spontaneous suspension to occur. Because Reality with a capital R is not in Jacques Mayol's free-diving apnea, but in the spontaneous suspension of breath.

An effective practice must therefore take us to non/movement, as we find it in meditation or in the spontaneous pauses of breath. We move from the physical to the emotional, from the emotional to the spiritual. We use āsanas to reduce those unneeded movements of the body, so it is not important how many āsanas we perform but the total number of breaths we spend in them, which is in turn dictated by the total number of breaths in prānāyāma.
We use mudras to master emotions. For this reason are sarvangāsana and sirsāsana theoretically unavoidable (though the book offers alternatives).
We use prānāyāma to master physical impulses, beginning to prepare ourselves for the spiritual practice. For this reason prānāyāma is essential and Nadi Shodana sits above all prānāyāmas.  It can be a meditation in itself, especially if we apply the lightest possible breath, almost without touching the nostrils, without feeling the air flow.
And it is for the same reason that a practice beginning with prānāyāma put us in the right direction from the start; Krishnamacharya always started his practices with prānāyāma.

A practice built in this way becomes a ritual, a way to create a spiritual discipline. I have already written about the importance of ritual, of how we find it, subtle but strong, in the teachings of TKV Desikachar.
A ritual is - especially for Indians, whom Krishnamacharya primarily addressed, Sribhashyam said  - an order that can not be ignored nor altered.
Once a practice, a ritual, is assigned, changing it means operating a choice and letting our emotional side come into play, just the opposite of what we want in a practice that must lead to stillness.

It was a very important seminar for me, these notes are just a fraction of the insights I am still ruminating upon, maybe they also describe the most obvious part, certainly the easiest to transcribe; I could write pages and pages but I think you'd get bored, a stage comes where reading notes written by someone else, without having experienced, is pointless. Perhaps what I wrote above is trivial, I do not know.

Let's say that I found, in the words and practices offered by Sri TK Sribhashyam, what I think is the original Krishnamacharya, I believe what Sri TK Sribhashyam says is true, this was the way his father practiced, not necessarily what he taught others. Thinking also about Yoga Makaranda, what I heard and experienced resonates authentic and personal.

The almost absent references to Patanjali initially surprised me, considering the importance of the Yoga Sutras in the teachings of Krishnamacharya's other students. Perhaps this text did not initially hold for Krishnamacharya the relevance it acquired later, when student less tied to Veda increased in number.

It was a very important experience, which put me in front of some issues that I need to confront on this path, an experience which gave me some useful tools for teaching, but above all for my personal research.

I'm glad to have been invited.

The school's website: http://www.yogakshemam.net/English/homepage.html





*

Thank you again to Chiara for sharing a taste of her experience this worksop with us.


NOTES

My previous post on T.K. Sribashyam, Breath of Gods (video) 
and the Emergance of Yoga (book).










The influence of Sri TK Sribhashayam on my own practice


I practice a reasonably standard although very slow breathing Ashtanga Suryanamaskara and Standing sequence as a 'warm up' (with some longer stays following Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and Iyengar's research) and for general fitness ( Krishnamacharya may have practiced less asana in his own practice but he was still practicing a full range of asana along with his students). 


Below: Krishnamacharya practicing along with his students

French article by Krishnamacharya's student Yvonne Millerand translated on this post
http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2012/10/yvonne-millerand-student-of.html




Once I get to Paschimattasana  however, Sribhashyam's influence becomes more apparent perhaps. A mudra like approach to the few asana I include in my practice (which still tend to follow a rough Krishnamacharya/Jois Ashtanga framework), employment of focal points, exhalations twice as long as inhalation, kumbhaka's. 

My pranayama before and after asana/mudra follows the outline Sribhashyam presents in THIS article on Pranayama (see also the pranayama practice in the insights into my father's practice in Emergence of Yoga). 

If I have less time to practice I will tend to practice a couple of sauryanamaskara, skip the standing sequence and move directly to asana/mudra rather than sacrifice my pranayama for asana. I may however cut pranayama cycles from six to three,  making it up perhaps in a second evening practice.

From Emergence of Yoga. I tend to include the Ujjayi Anuloma before my asana/mudra practice as well as afterwards and rather than including the Vishnu Gayatri mantra in the final Nadi Sodhana I practice it with Bhya kumbhaka.

If I depart from Sribhashyam's book/guidelines then it's in the longer stays I carry over from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu. 

I see Sribhashyam's teaching as very much consistent with Ramaswami's presentation of Vinyasa Krama. Ramaswami presents long sequences of related asana as a pedagogic tool in his books and workshop, the question has always been how to then move from those long sequences into daily practice, Sri TK Sribhashyam's 'Emergence of Yoga' can give a helpful framework in this, the key asana Ramaswami mentions tend to be included in most of the practices outlined albeit with shorter stays and perhaps less variations.




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Below Krishnamacharya and one of his daughters presenting a little 'acroyoga' in a scene from the 1934 film footage


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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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