Our good (albeit virtual) friend Robbie Norris just pointed us in the direction of a really thoughtful and wonderful piece on yoga and asana. It’s by his friend, and now teacher at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop, Ty Landrum. Here’s a link to Ty’s piece and some excerpts to queue up your interest:
Modern Yoga is obsessed with Asana, the practice of postural forms. Traditionalists often complain that what we now call “Yoga” is just another trend in physical culture, barren of spiritual substance. It reflects an obsession with the body, and it shackles the mind to a lower plane of existence. In light of the Asana studios springing up on every corner, with their loud music and expensive boutiques, the critics seem to have a point. What they fail to appreciate, however, is the potential of Asana to hold the full spectrum of classical Yoga within its scope.
In the Krishnamacharya lineage (which includes the contemporary Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Svasta Yoga styles), Asana is practiced according to an art of sequencing called Vinyasa Krama. The origin of this art is uncertain, and Krishnamacharya gave mixed reports. When asked where he learned his sequencing principles, he sometimes cited Brahmachari, while at other times, he cited the Yoga Korunta, a medieval Hatha text that he discovered in the library at the University of Calcutta. This text was written on banana leaves and, to Krishnamacharya’s dismay, was being eaten by ants. He was able to read the text, but he was not able to restore it, and although he made a transcription, it was misplaced. Some biographers have speculated that while the Yoga Korunta was an important influence on Krishnamacharya, the art of Vinyasa Krama was his own innovation. He cited other sources, however, because he refused credit for yogic knowledge on principle. He held that yogic knowledge has a divine origin, and yogic sages are but media of this knowledge.
Whatever the origin of Vinyasa Krama may be, there can be no doubt that it represents an important development in the history of Yoga, and that its transmission to the modern world owes nearly everything to Krishnamacharya and Bramachari. To place this development in relation to the classical Yoga tradition, we must look closely at the Ashtanga system described in the Yoga Sutras by the Patanjali. Then we can see how the art of Vinyasa Krama relates to the experiences of absolute reality that classical Yoga is designed to induce.
The eight practices of Ashtanga Yoga can be thought of as successive stages in the refinement of awareness. They make our awareness more subtle by extracting it from its cruder forms, and dropping it into more subtle layers of being. The deeper it runs, the more subtle it becomes, and once thoroughly refined, it becomes subtle enough to permeate the entire psychophysical beings. When saturated with awareness, the mind becomes transparent. The light of awareness illumines its entire sphere and the Seer thus bathes in its own light, realizing its sovereignty over the mind and, indeed, over all conditioned existence. This is how the classical Ashtanga system induces Samadhi or Raja Yoga.
The Vinyasa Krama system integrates posture, breath and gaze. It therefore appears to combine the three techniques of classical Ashtanga that stabilize the biological body, thus Asana (posture), Pranayama (expansion of breath) and Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses). These are the third, fourth and fifth limbs, respectively, of the Ashtanga system. They stand above the two lower limbs of Yama (ethical restraints) and Niyama (ethical observances), and under the three higher limbs of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi. It may seem, therefore, particularly to the unwary and unimaginative, that the practice of Vinyasa Krama is simply an intermediary or bridge practice, covering the space between the lower and higher limbs.
By the way, here’s a little bit of background on Landrum via Robbie:
About six years ago I met Ty Landrum at a Tim Miller workshop at Jennifer Elliott’s “Barn” in Charlottesville. Ty had been practicing yoga for only a year or so, but already his practice was remarkably strong, fluid, precise and imbued with a beautiful meditative quality. Subsequently, we became acquainted in a friendly way, seeing each other at workshops in Charlottesville and Richmond. Ty has been encouraging of my work with inmates, and became interested in visiting the Richmond City Jail yoga class, but it hasn’t happened yet due to conflicting commitments. He’s had a full schedule: teaching yoga in Charlottesville; maintaining a steadfast commitment to daily practice; attending lots of workshops that often entail travel; and, completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at UVA in 2011, his research focusing on human worth, individuality, love, and virtue.
I’ll admit that I don’t have time right now to give Landrum’s piece the full attention it deserves. But a resting Saturday seems a perfect time to sit back and reflect. Thoughts? Feel free to put them below!
Posted by Steve