Yoga Korunta? I’m still a skeptic

James Russell has posted a lengthy piece investigating one of Ashtanga’s great myths / stories / what-have-yous: the Yoga Korunta.

I think I’m on record as a skeptic. It sounds like something that could have been mentioned as a way to add authority to the sequence and system. Maybe a fairly off-handed remark, as something Pattabhi Jois said to a (perhaps annoying) student to get that student to simmer down.

That’s just my guess and sense of things. Or my sense of people.

I do know that I agree with Russell that I don’t think, ultimately, it matters if there was a Korunta. I’m not at all sure if anything matters other than the yoga you just did or are doing.

You can read his investigations and conclusions right here.

Posted by Steve

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Just where did the Ashtanga police come from?

Over the weekend — and probably on the Facebook, which I am trying to frequent less and less (and not for any spying reasons) — I saw a couple, maybe three, references to everyone’s favorite authority figure: the Ashtanga police. If memory serves (and it rarely does), someone had practiced on Saturday. Maybe with music.

And so it was a lock that the Ashtanga police would be paying a visit.

It feels like this jokey — some don’t think it so funny — meme of ours is nearly as ingrained in the Ashtanga “system” as the Yoga Korunta and Patanjali, himself.

And like both of them, I wonder if we have any idea of the police’s origin. The interwebs don’t seem to want to supply an answer. Was it something said, offhand, some morning in Mysore? Did it come from the mouth of an anti-Ashtangi? Maybe there are multiple sources?

Anyone know? Anyone want to hazard a guess?

Posted by Steve

 

‘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

Conclusion: Pattabhi Jois created the Ashtanga sequence

Following up his notice on Monday that the great Guruji book is now out in paperback, Guy Donahaye also has posted another behind-the-scenes look at how and why the book was put together.

For Ashtangis, I think it includes several key conclusions on Donahaye’s part. The first:

I think, through the interviews and my own conversations with Guruji,  a picture emerges that the Yoga Korunta contained  asanas and vinyasas grouped according to their therapeutic benefits but that the actual sequences we practice were created by Guruji under Krishnamacharya’s supervision based on Chikitsa, Shodhona and so on.

It seems that Guruji did much of the work in organizing the sequences as well as in modifying the vinyasas. If you look at Yoga Makaranda – Krishnamacharya’s book of 1934 – you can see how he sequences the asanas and structures the vinyasas quite differently. Shammie said he invented, or discovered the surya namaskar – I believe this is true – at least in the form that he taught.

And then this:

Guruji felt very strongly that yoga is a spiritual practice. It is perhaps ironic that someone who believed this so deeply, is sometimes seen as propagating a purely physical practice. Too many of my fellow practitioners in the early ’90s tended to think this way, and maybe this is something which motivated me to initiate this project. For Guruji, the purpose of yoga was to make one fit for realization – that was his main interest – I think this is emphasized in the book.

The latter of these conclusions is not especially “mind-blowing” for us at the Confluence Countdown; Tim Miller presents Ashtanga in this way. And I think much of the discussion at the first Confluence, itself, emphasized the spiritual side of the practice as Guruji taught it.

The first conclusion about the Yoga Korunta is a bit fresher. The story — as I understand it — is that this was a bug-eaten book found in a library and that it quickly “disintegrated.” In other words, the “evidence” for the ancient sequence conveniently disappeared — because there likely was no such book. I think most of the Ashtanga circles I run in don’t put a lot of stock in there being one root text. (Maybe I’m wrong.) Donahaye seems to fall somewhere in the middle: There was a text, but it didn’t include Ashtanga as we now know it. It makes the Yoga Korunta sound a bit more like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a variation of it, of sorts.

That’s more believable, to me. Although I have to admit I want to make the leap to there being several source texts for the asana postures (including, perhaps, some not ancient ones that featured more of the European gymnastics that seems to have worked its way in) that, for ease’s sake, all just got grouped together into one, now-non existent, book. That just seems like the logical way it would have gone down, the easy way, the Occam’s Razor way.

I’ll also admit to not caring a lot about this. If it’s ancient or not, the key question is whether it works.

Update (about 30 minutes after posting): Guy Donahaye has pointed me to this passage from this link for a bit more on the Korunta, here called the Gurandam. This is Krishnamacharya speaking:

“Rama Mohana made me memorize the whole of the Yoga Gurandam in the Gurkha language. The various stages of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra are dealt with in that book ina very precise but extensive commentary. That is necessary because Sutras are by definition very concise. In the Yoga Gurandam, the various kinds of Yoga poses and movements are described with great clarity. Only after studying this book can one understand the inner meaning and science of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.”

Posted by Steve

Is Ashtanga the wrong name for Guruji’s asana practice?

Guruji famously described Ashtanga as follows: “Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali yoga.”

I saw the following floating around the Internet (Facebook, to be precise). I don’t know the origin or anything behind the intent.

“Namaste,

I am writing this to anyone who is involved with Ashtanga Yoga which was created by Mr. P. Jois. I am a yoga instructor and myself and others feel that this name confuses students of yoga.

This message is for anyone involved in the system of Mr. P. Jois, this is not proper.
This name should be given up. It serves to confuse yoga aspirants. Well, if you do not understand just pass this on to other practitioners of the systems set up my Mr. P. Jois. Choose another name! This confuses students of yoga.

Astanga Yoga was given by The Supreme Lord to Maharishi Patanjali and all yoga systems taught in the world today are based on this 8 stepped system. When Mr. P. Jois chose this name he took a name which belonged to the Great Sage Patanjali. This is not correct it lacks integrity, so I am requesting that this name be renounced. All yoga is based on this system. Mr. P. Jois should have chosen another name! + Why don’t you call it the Jois System of Yoga
This would make more sense. It is not proper to take the Great Sage Patanjali’s System. This is not proper.

Namaste,
Chandresh Binduprasad”

My initial reaction was: How silly. No one is going to be confused by this, and I don’t think Patanjali is going to make a claim at this point (even taking reincarnation into consideration).

Plus, I’ve always liked the Guruji didn’t put his name to the yoga, ala Iyengar or Bikram. (You can probably make the leap that I’m not a big fan of the name “Jois Yoga” on the studios that are popping up.) And there’s the notion — however much you want to give it credence — that Guruji didn’t “create” Ashtanga but found it in the Yoga Korunta.

But I do sort of get the idea behind it: If you look at it narrowly, Ashtanga is just asana — just one of the eight limbs. (I think we all know it’s more, unlike a flow class or similar, right?)

My own sense, though, is that Guruji saw this asana practice as fitting into the “yoga” as taught by Patanjali — and we all know that Patanjali barely mentions asanas.

In short, no harm, no foul. But that’s me.

Posted by Steve