‘The potential of Asana to hold the full spectrum of classical Yoga’

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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

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Documentary on Krishnamacharya’s life opens in English

A documentary on Krishnamacharya, which we noted back in its German form here, is showing — I think for the first time — this week in Scotland and England. It is set to come to North America this summer.

“The Breath of the Gods” runs 105 minutes. Here is more from the movie’s website:

Krishnamacharya’s life and teachings are seen through the eyes of the director Jan Schmidt-Garre on his search for authentic yoga. His journey leads him from the legendary students and relatives of Krishnamacharya’s to the source of modern yoga, at the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. From Pattabhi Jois Jan learns the “Sun salutation”, from Iyengar the “King of Asanas”, the headstand, and finally Sribhashyam reveals to him his father’s secret “Life Saving Yoga Session”.

And here is the movie’s upcoming scheduled showings/releases:

Fall 2013: DVD and download release (French version) with many bonus tracks

Summer 2013: DVD and download release (English/Italian/Greek version) with many bonus tracks

Summer 2013: Theatrical releases in France, Canada and in the US

23.4.2013: Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre, Dumfries, Scotland

22.2.2013: Theatrical release in the UK: ICA, London & Dukes @ Komedia, Brighton

The trailer, for those who missed it the first time:

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga as a remedy for our modern times

We all have heard some description of Ashtanga that highlights how it was developed specifically for householders — for those of us too busy with family and work to spend all our time in sadhana. This week, in his Tuesdays with Timji post, Tim Miller draws that familiar line from Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari through Kirshnamacharya to Pattabhi Jois.

And for all of us who would rather be off on a warm, sandy beach, alternating our time between surfing and yoga practice (I’m not alone, am I?), it’s a reminder that our time in the world is, most likely, the best for us. As Tim writes, “Guruji used to say that in modern times there are few who take the path of renunciation, and that, for most of us, the path of the householder is the best.”

Here’s a chicken vs. egg question: Did Ashtanga (and so much of the asana yoga that’s based on it) spread to the West to such an unprecedented degree because it finally had been adapted for the modern world or was it simply that the modern world opened up the spread of information so that people like Tim could get to India, stay for a while and study, and then return home?

I think part of the answer might be found in the last word of my question: “home.” Obviously, people have been traveling to India for centuries — you might pick a more critical word than “traveling” — but if they found a teacher or guru, the end result would have been renunciation. Even if they chose to return to their own country (which I’m guessing was rare), a sanyassin would have faced a mountain the size of the Himalayans to convince the Victorian English, for instance, to follow that path. Right?

And then along comes Krishnamacharya and Jois, who offered a form of yoga that works within the householding world. And soon after comes air travel, TV, the Internet, etc. to help spread that yoga.

Perhaps the “modern times” aren’t so bad, after all.

Tim also points out that there is a long tradition of not living as a renunciate and still attaining God. He tells the story of Priyavatra, the son of Manu, the progenitor of humanity:

The indriyas (senses) are never conquered until a man has lived in grihatasrama, as a husband and father, as a man who has faced and overcome his six enemies in open battle.” The six enemies are Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), and Matsarya (envy). Brahma continues, “Once they are subdued he can walk freely among other men, for then the Lord is his refuge and wisdom.” God’s great gift to the householder is to allow him to face these “six enemies” in open battle. With yoga we have a slim chance in this battle.

I wonder in which of those six enemies sitting in front of a computer falls? No doubt that the asana part of Ashtanga is a good remedy for that enemy of the modern era.

Posted by Steve

Happy birthday to Guruji’s Guru: T. Krishnamacharya

Today, Nov. 18, is Tirumalai Krishnamacharya’s birthday. The teacher of not only Pattabhi Jois, aka Guruji, and Iyengar, among others, was born in 1888 and died in 1989. Yes, he’s another who seems to prove that practice, practice, practice, and long life is coming.

Krishnamacharya, via kym.org

Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar, founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram to keep his father’s legacy alive. You can find more about it here.

Happy birthday to the man often called “the founder of modern yoga.” Without him, we’d all just be stretching.

Posted by Steve