In Mahayana Buddhism there is the tradition of the “root guru”, someone from whom we receive the teachings directly. My root guru in Mahayana Buddhism is Gelek Rimpoche. I will always consider Srivatsa Ramaswami my root guru in vinyasa krama yoga.
I first met Ramaswamiji in 2003 or 2004 at the Chicago studio where I certified as a teacher. I was a very newbie teacher and he was teaching a weekend workshop, his first time in Chicago. The Friday night was the “Yoga of Sound” and it was advertised that over the weekend he would teach special vinyasa sequences that had not been taught in America. I was intrigued because even that early in my teaching I had started to research places to study yoga in India.
Ramaswamiji is considered a chant master in India and the Friday night Yoga of Sound was all about chanting. It was the first time I heard vedic chants sung in the traditional way and it cracked open my heart in a way that Krishna Das or Jai Uttal could never do, and still don’t. I drove home weeping all the way. I knew I had found my teacher and Ramaswamiji put me on the path to study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Madiram. When I saw my name in the Acknowledgement of his book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga I cried again because I did not even think he knew my name,
For me, Ramaswamiji is a true yogi, nothing more needs to be said. In 2011 he is much more well known than he was when I first met him when barely anyone knew the name of the student who studied the longest with Krishnamacharya. He now teaches a 200 hour teacher training at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and the video below is about the training. In the beginning you will hear his wonderful chanting and there is a short interview with him. The rest of the video consists of students giving their impressions of Ramaswami and the training.
I thought it interesting towards the end of the video when a student said that she had been doing yoga for a few years but had never done yoga that had such a complete emphasis on the breath. When a new student comes to me that is also usually the first thing they say to me after the first class, how emphasis on the breath totally changed their practice. I have studied in this lineage for a long time so comments like that always make me go hmmmmmmm…….because what exactly is being taught in teacher trainings nowadays? Is emphasis on the breath considered an “advanced” practice to be taught in a 300 hour training because if that is the case I have to wonder about that. Breathing is basic, from Class #1, as soon as you step on the mat. Every movement is initiated with an inhale or an exhale, mindfully, I don’t know any other way to teach. Conscious breathing IS pranayama. When I hear comments like that student’s it confirms my belief that yoga in American IS different compared to where I study in India.
Maybe I should try teaching my “Yoga of Krishnamacharya” workshop again. Years ago when I taught at a studio I offered it for yoga teachers and well-seasoned practitioners only. I was going to talk about the vinyasa krama method and offer a practice for shoulderstand. I thought at least teachers would be interested in learning about the Source Scholar of Yoga, the teacher of Iyengar, Jois, and Desikachar. No one signed up.
Just call me old-school.
“Asanas are yogic postures – stable and comfortable. Vinyasas are aesthetic breath oriented movements within those exquisite yoga poses.” — Srivatsa Ramaswami
“Asana will make the body light.
Pranayama strengthens prana.
Dharana purifies the intellect.
Meditation purifies the mind.” — Sri T. Krishnamacharya
“Nowadays, the practice of yoga stops with just asanas. Very few even attempt dharana and dhyana [deeper meditation] with seriousness. There is a need to search once more and reestablish the practice and value of yoga in modern times.” — Sri T. Krishnamacharya (excerpt from “Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings” by A. G. Mohan)