If you’ve got about two hours, a talk on Krishnamacharya

Right up front: I have not listened to all of this, so I’m only about to say, “Hey, this popped up on the Internet, if you’re interested.” I can’t say: It’s great; it’s insightful, it has this surprise.

It does, unfortunately, seem to be all audio; maybe there’s a way to just turn it into a podcast. I’m just part way through my first cup of coffee and about to practice, so I certainly can’t figure that out:

I can point you to Eric Shaw’s website for more info. Anyone know more about him?

Posted by Steve

The science of Ashtanga in the Kali Yuga

It’s been a while — nearly a year — but Guy Donahaye is back with a new blog post: Vijnana – The Science of Ashtanga Yoga in the Kali Yuga. It touches on Krishnamacharya, Guruji and Patanjali. A few excerpts to get you to check it out:

Krishnamacharya was a highly religious man, a member of the vaisnavara faith. He believed that in this age of Kali Yuga, the way to realization was only accessible through bhakti – religious devotion. He did not believe that people today were suited to the stages of non-attachment required for the higher levels of Patanjali Yoga.

This perspective, though maybe based on an accurate perception of early 20th century Indian society, was also heavily colored by his Vaishnavara faith. Krishnamacharya was many things but his primary interest was his devotion to god.


Contrary to what Krishnamcharya believed, I think Guruji had great faith in the yoga system as a means to emancipation – at least that is what he taught. He drew on all available scriptural sources including those of Advaita Vedanta and believed that all the scriptures which speak about yoga constitute an integral whole.

Guruji was also religious, but the lineage of Shankaracharya to which he belongs is not quite so passionate in its religious devotion. While Krishnamacharya was an expert in quite a few different fields, Guruji was more exclusively concentrated on the yoga darshana and advaita vedanta.


I believe it was one of Krishnamacharya’s great achievements to re-integrate two paths of yoga which had apparently split off from each other –  Patanjali Yoga and Hatha Yoga. But beyond this, the father of modern yoga leaves us with a meagre philosophical or spiritual legacy. Neither he nor his disciples – Guruji and BKS Iyengar put yoga on the map beyond its expression as asana and pranayama.

As a result there is a lot of unclarity about the path of yoga beyond these physical practices. Indeed, there is almost a fanaticism or obsession with the minutiae of these physical practices which is perhaps what causes blindness to anything beyond them. Today yoga has spread to millions of people around the world but where is the clear enunciation of its deeper meaning as a spiritual practice?

Must we just practice with faith and devotion or is there a guiding light which can help us find the way?

Guy’s thoughts on why asana came to dominate Guruji’s teachings are, in a word, really interesting. OK, in two words.

Check it all out.

Posted by Steve

Iyengar: ‘Krishnamacharya was the only person who gave Ashtanga yoga’

I think I got that quote right, from about the 45-second part of this short video of BKS Iyengar talking to a group of students. He seems to describe it as the “same as I’m teaching.”

For all you history buffs:

Sort of a throwback Thursday. Maybe other quotes jump out at you?

Posted by Steve

Stern on yoga as religion, Iggy Pop and the fallacies of Dowd

I’ve been seeing some photos on Facebook purporting to be work going on at the Ashtanga Yoga New York studio. I wasn’t sure I was making proper sense of them.

Seemingly, I was. There’s work a plenty going on there, and that has Eddie Stern behind on his news. But he catches up on Tuesday (a Moon Day… any coincidence?).

His latest is here and includes more on Iggy Pop’s backbend and two New York Times stories we highlighted over the weekend. I’m sure I’m being sensationalistic when I say he takes them both down. Two excerpts:

In Mary Billard’s October 7th article in the New York Times, titled “In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual”, the issue of whether yoga is a religion, or part of a religion, is further confused by equating spirituality with religion.


Further, we should not confuse the use of a foreign language, like Sanksrit, with religion and thereby exclude it from schools. That would be like not teaching Latin because it is used by the Pope.

He goes on to dive more deeply into something Krishnamacharya and adds this: “What was left out of Billard’s article was that Bent On Learning teaches from the very first class that yoga is a practice of kindness – for oneself, one’s neighbor, and the space that one inhabits. This is the essence of yoga, made approachable for the needs of the kids in the public school system – teachers and administration, too.”

That seems a pretty solid “definition” of yoga to me.

Stern’s reaction to Maureen Dowd’s piece on an upcoming book on yoga perhaps is best summed up in the “headline” he gives it: “Oh, Maureen, Why?”

Maureen Dowd’s October 8th op-ed piece, titled “How Gardo Learned to Stand on Her Head“, was made all the more annoying by the fact that the book she is writing about, William Broad’s “The Science of Yoga”, is not due out till February, 2012. So we can’t even read it to check to see if he provides any solid science for some of the silly things Ms Dowd attributes to him.


For Ms Dowd to flippantly pull such quotes from a book that cannot yet be referenced seems, to me, irresponsible towards the field and study of yoga.

There you have it. I guess we can assume Dowd doesn’t practice at AYNY.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga briefly in the news: A primer from Canada

A Tantric diagram of five-faced Hanuman. Via exoticindiaart.com

If this keeps up, I may have to take back my pronouncement that Ashtanga doesn’t get much news coverage.

Another — albiet brief — mention of our branch of the yoga line today in a quick, down-and-dirty “history of yoga” piece in the Vancouver Sun. The reason forthe story seems to be the Indian Summer festival, which just finished there. It looks like it still is offering yoga classes, though, so I think that’s the “hook.”

Ashtanga, and Guruji, get a mention as the story traces the “history” of yoga from those measureless moments in history to the present day:

Yoga returned to the classical philosophy with the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya who brought it back to the public in the early 20th century.

Krishnamacharya studied yoga from the monks living ascetic lives in caves in the Himalayas. When he returned to his home in Mysore, he started working for the royal family many of whom were ill. He taught them yoga and when they experienced the benefits, they decided to start a school and supported spreading the teachings.

“Most of the lineages of yoga today come from Krishnamacharya,” says Luce adding that Krishnamacharya had three disciples; B.K.S. Iyengar of Iyengar yoga, Pattabhi Jois, who developed Ashtanga yoga and Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar who developed a lineage called Viniyoga.

There’s not too much there, I’ll grant you. But the story does end on a teasing note; this is probably what the story should be, although I guess it is a better topic for a yoga-focused publication:

Luce says there is a debate raging in the yoga community now between classical thinking and tantric ideas. Most of Western yoga, like Hatha, Kundalini or Ashtang [sic], adheres to the classical approach in which the goal is to transcend the body.

But newer lineages have emerged in the last 20 years such as Anusara, which takes a tantric approach embracing the body as part of the sacred whole.

“It is coming to the surface, the texts are being understood and there is a new take on it now,” says Luce.

Ah, Anusara. When I was at Tim Miller’s Tulum retreat earlier this year, the resort was filled mostly with an Anusara training group. From what I heard, they thought all of us Ashtangis were up-tight and humorless. From my perspective, I thought their slow, precise meditative walking on the beach was a little silly. And their cheering and clapping from the bigger of the two yoga studios was in sharp contrast to the vibe with Timji.  (That’s just me, though, and I admit up front I don’t know much about Anusara.)

All that said, I’d love to see some of these newly translated Tantric books. Richard Freeman’s Mirror of Yoga does a great job of describing Tantra, and it certainly piqued my interest.