there’s something happening here

Getting ready for a trip to India always gets my energetic body all jacked up.   I’m buzzing and it feels like when I used to take speed back in the day (hey, I was a hippie, OK?)  Now it’s a natural high.

I leave on Sunday for my 7th trip, beginning with continuing my yoga therapy training with Ganesh Mohan, traveling for the first time to Varanasi and Sarnath, then leading my group of 7 intrepid first-time India travelers and global yogis for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, then my yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala.  When they go home I’m off to Goa and Mumbai, each for the first time.

To say that this trip is different is an understatement.  I was more involved with learning different energy healing modalities last year (which by their very nature cranks up your energy body) and this week I received some energy work, so to say that I’ve shifted is also an understatement.  My gut is screaming at me that something is happening.  Can’t put my finger on it but in the words of Sly Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on.

The latest is that Kausthub Desikachar has broken his silence.  Coincidentally I received an email today from “Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga.”  It came to my old email address that KYM has.  The website is sky-yoga.net but when I searched for that site, nothing came up.  There is no name attached to the email, it came from “courses@sky-yoga.net.”

After explaining the Krishnamacharya tradition, it goes on:

The Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY) is founded by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar.  It will be the medium through which the whole range of the teachings of T Krishnamacharya will be extended into the current century in a traditional manner, yet relevant to the modern era.

The objectives of Sannidhi of Krishnamcharya Yoga (SKY) include

  • Increasing awareness of Yoga and its many applications especially in the domains of Health, Healing and Spiritual Transformation.
  • Promoting and sharing Yoga as a complimentary therapeutic approach both in one to one settings, as well as in specialized focused groups.
  • Offering Training programs of the highest standards in Yoga and Yoga therapy.
  • Collaborating with other modalities of healing to facilitate integrative paradigms in healing.
  • Creating and sharing educational resources that support the understanding and study of Yoga.
  • Supporting the network of Yoga teachers and therapist through continuing education. Initiating Research studies to evaluate the role of Yoga in contemporary health care.

…A choice of exciting programs are being conceptualised SKY for the year 2013. These will be conducted by experienced and senior faculty trained in the tradition of Krishnamacharya. Details of these will be made available soon.

Interesting.  Someone subscribed me to this E newsletter since they have my old email address.  The email listed their courses for 2013.   Their address is 6 (Old# 5) Stone Link Avenue in R A Puram, near the neighborhood that KYM is in.   The Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation (KHYF) that Kausthub headed and was subsequently dismissed from (rumors are that he still pulls the strings behind the scenes) is in the near area.

Call me suspicious but I doubt very much that Sri Desikachar and his wife would start a new yoga school, not given their ages and Sri Desikachar’s condition.   But did Kausthub start a new school a la John Friend?  Did he name his parents as founders of this new school as they were named the heads of KHYF when Kausthub was forced to step down?

My intuition says yes.

Curiouser and curiouser.

As is my local yoga scene.  In the last few weeks I’ve heard stories that make me shake my head and put my hands to my ears saying “lalalalalalala……”  Then I was handed some foolish online nonsense by a local teacher that it all makes me wonder what the frack is in the air.  The energy workers I know all speak about a shift that is accelerating and you’d better lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

I’m out of here.

Enjoy my silence.

Enjoy_the_Silence_by_WickedNox

“Transformation in Yoga Philosophy” – a lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/7/12

Krishnamacharya

This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March.  I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career.  Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn.  I will never call myself an expert.  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.  I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.

For those who don’t know, Kausthub is the son of T.K.V.  Desikachar, who is the son of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga.

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Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga.  Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep.  He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages.   In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.

It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.)   He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana.  This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical.  Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.

The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body.  Our perception become very sensitive.  Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36.  Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.

At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm.  Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs.  However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.

At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis.  We start feeling like crap.  Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years.  Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.

This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting.  This is the time to especially sustain the practice.  Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in.  The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE.  Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same.  Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building.  This is progress.

The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built.  Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp.  It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.

The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach.  It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.

There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation.  That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now.   In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference.  There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.

Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga.  Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead.  As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute.  Every mind, every body, every day is different.

  The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced.  He gave an example of child’s pose:  it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do.  Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement.  But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.

Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you.  When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student.  Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”

Referencing current problems in modern  yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays.  Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability.  Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation.  A serious question to ask is:  if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet?  In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga.  Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays!  Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings.  That is what makes a great teacher.  Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties.  If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain.   The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.

who’s afraid of the big bad guru?

It has always struck me how Western yoga peeps are afraid of the word “guru.”  I’ve gotten into it with a well-known yoga blogger about the use of the word guru, her argument being that somehow there is something inherently bad or negative about the word.   We give words their power.   There are different definitions for guru:  venerable, weighty, teacher, dispeller of darkness.  In Buddhism a guru is seen as a teacher or a spiritual friend.  So many connotations on such a simple word yet so many problems associated with it.  That’s what happens when we look outside ourselves for our identity.  We become lost and confused.

I was happy to be in India when the John Friend scandal broke.  Yawn.  That’s when the discussions of guru began.   I have no problem with so many seemingly intelligent people calling him a guru.  But I think the entire debacle raises questions on WHY so many people got hood-winked.  What does that say about them?  What were THEY lacking in their lives that they entrusted their identities, indeed their yoga souls, to someone like Friend?  People can argue that we all have the need to belong to a group, we all need to feel wanted, praised, loved, but at what price?  Just because the Kula Kids gave up their identities to a charismatic charletan, does not make the concept of guru bad.

I have been called a guru, albeit in India, and I don’t have an entourage like Friend.  When I am in India and people find out I am a yoga teacher they automatically ask “who is your guru?”  People have touched my feet in India, especially at the Kumbh Mela.  I know that would shock people here and the first time it happened I was taken aback, but I realized, that’s what people do.  I did not automatically think that I am any more special or more important than they are.

Kausthub Desikachar spoke to us twice during my training this month and he spoke about the teacher-student relationship.  He said yoga students should look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but to focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  He told us that people would always tell him how wonderful it is to have Desikachar as a father, how wonderful it must have been to have Krishnamacharya for a grandfather, that they must have been the perfect teachers.  He told us, no, they were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they were passionate about the teachings, that the teachings of yoga are much more important than Krishnamacharya or Desikachar.  Kausthub said that if one reads the Sutra-s carefully, Patanjali did not say if we practice authentic yoga that we will not have any problems, we will only have less klesas.   Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

I read on a yoga teacher’s website the other day that she is an “expert in all things yoga.”  Wow.  Does that make her a guru?  Instead of wanting to learn more about her, that makes me run like hell.  I have never heard the teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram say they were experts in anything.  In fact, in spite of some of them studying with Desikachar for 10 or more years, during my training they said they are still learning from him, from each other, and from us, the students who come to sit at their feet.   Humility bespeaks a true yogi.

So put down that smartphone, look someone in the eye, and listen mindfully next time they speak to you.  That person might be your next guru.  Not the rock star yoga teacher you idolize at the yoga conference, not the yoga teacher you pay thousands of dollars to for a teacher training, but your next door neighbor.  Or a homeless person.  Or a domestic violence survivor.

I am blessed with serendipitious meetings when I am India and one of them was during my last weekend in India.  In a land where even the beggars have cell phones, this man does not have one.  He does not do email and he did not know what Wikipedia was until I told him.  He is a wealthy man, a movie distributor whose father was a famous film director in 1950s Bollywood and whose mother was a well-known musician who played at Woodstock.  Yet, one of the most unassuming men I have ever met.  We talked about the cell phone phenomena, about how people feel lost without them, AS IF constantly checking emails and Facebook and Twitter gives them their identity.  He said, “I see people all the time in restaurants, they are out together but not talking, they’re always checking their phones.  Nincompoops.”  He said they were missing life, missing connecting with someone who could be their teacher.  A guru.

My friend said he does not allow people to make or receive calls when they are in his flat, only in emergencies, only if it is an absolute necessity.  He makes them go outside because he finds it rude and distracting.  This, in a country where there are more cell phones than toilets.  I’ve decided that next time I am talking with someone who is more interested in swiping their smartphone or checking Google Maps, I’m going to stop talking and wait for them to practice mindful listening.

We spent 17 hours together during my last weekend in India.  No computers, no phones — only walking, talking, drinking tea.  And always mindfully listening to each other’s guru.

Because you never know who that might be.

Krishnamarcharya and those British gymnastics

“Sir” and his father, KYM, 2005

2010 has been the year of scholarly yoga books such as Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture and Stefanie Syman’s The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. Both authors have written that Krishnamacharya’s yoga was derived in part from British gymnastics and military training exercises.

Even the eminent yoga scholar Georg Feurstein recently wrote that:

“The Hatha-Yoga tradition espoused by Sri Krishnamacharya, who taught at the Mysore Palace for many years, derived many of its yogic postures from gymnastics. This has recently been highlighted by a number of authors inquiring into the beginning of modern Yoga. See, for instance, Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (2010). He and other researchers have shown that what we in the West consider as Hatha-Yoga is chiefly a nineteenth-century invention, which was once closely associated with nationalism: Foster healthy people for the country’s defence or, in the case, of some nations for their military expansion. We know that in Europe and North America the same attitude has led to gymnastics and body-building and then the modern body cult.”

I don’t know if Mr. Feurstein has ever spoken with Srivatsa Ramaswami about his guru Sri Krishnmacharya, but I do know that there is not one mention of Ramaswamiji in either of the above-mentioned books (I looked.) Neither is he mentioned in Feurstein’s book, The Yoga Tradition, first published in 2001.

Those of you who know me know that I am an ongoing student of Ramaswamiji, having studied with him now for about 7 years. Ramaswamiji studied with Sri Krishnamacharya for 30+ years, longer than his own son Desikachar, and longer than Jois and Iyengar ever did.

So I was glad to see Ramaswamiji address the question of his guru deriving his yoga from gymnastic exercises. If anyone would know, I would think it would be someone who studied with Sri Krishnamacharya for 30 years.

Knowledge from a book is valuable of course, but it can not replace wisdom from an ongoing relationship with a teacher. That is one yoga jewel that has stayed with me from my first training at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram: the teachers said that personal transformation can only begin in a group class; it is achieved by working one on one consistently with a teacher over a period of time. I truly believe this as I have seen the differences with private students v. group classes.

The following is from Ramaswamiji’s newsletter, unedited but for the the addition of paragraphs and an [emphasis supplied.]

Maybe this will answer the scholars’ questions.

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Yoga Gymnastique — Srivatsa Ramaswami

Some eight years back I wangled a presenter assignment at a Yoga Conference in Texas. I was never invited again because, among all the presenters, I had the dubious distinction of attracting the least number of participants for every one of my presentations.

During one of the breaks a well known yoga teacher in US came and sat by my side and inquired about me, about where I was from, etc. I mentioned that I was a student of Pandit Krishnamcharya for three decades. With a quizzical look he asked, “What were you doing for 30 years with him?’, and with a wry smile he said, “Oh, you must have been doing your daily practice at his school”. He left before I could start my long answer. “How can anyone study Yoga for such a long period when there are just a half a dozen sequences or just a little over a score of asanas?,” he must have wondered.

Krishnamacharya as I have mentioned earlier was like a many splendoured diamond each facet brilliant in its own way. He taught yogasanas following the Vinyasakrama, the art form. He also used yogasanas, pranayama and meditation for chikitsa or therapeutic applications. He taught a vast range of Sanskrit chants from the Vedas and also from smritis. He taught several traditional texts like the Yoga Sutras and the sibling philosophies including the several Upanishads, following mainly the Visishtadwaita approach. He taught Vaishnava religious texts as well to a number of his Vaishnava followers. He was a well rounded Yogi and he could make every class absorbing. There would always be something new and insightful. One could never get bored in his classes whether it be the asanas, chanting or textual studies. I wanted to explain these to my celebrity friend but he was too busy to stay and listen.

Some research scholars have mentioned that Krishnamacharya’s vinyasa approach to yoga has a considerable dose of physical exercise systems prevalent at that time in India like the drills and also gymnastics imported into it. But my experience with Krishnamacharya’s asana practice is somewhat different.

It is true that some of the vinyasas and vinyasa sequences like part of Surya Namaskra, the handstands, the jump throughs, jump arounds, push ups (utplutis) may appear to mimic floor exercises in gymnastics. Perhaps there are some asanas and vinyasas Sri Krishnamacharya taught that had some resemblance to drills or gymnastics. But he taught to me almost 1000 vinyasas making up close to 150 asana subroutines. The head stand, the sarvangasana, padmasana are distinctly different from gymnastics and each one of them has scores of vinyasas that are uniquely yogic and no other system seems to have anything like that.

Further, yoga as a physical culture is very old. We may not have records because in ancient times most of instructions were oral and the transmission of knowledge was from teacher to student and the only way to learn was to go to a teacher and learn, practice and internalize. Later on a few texts were written as scripts were developed but they were written in easily perishable palm leaves — like the Yoga Kuranta — and barely one manuscript, no xerox copies, no electronic books were available. So in these matters we have to rely upon authorities/tradition or as the Vedas would call it “aitihya” or firmly held belief.

Even from the available texts like the Puranas one can glean a lot of reference to yoga practice including asana practice. The Brahma Sutras mention that a seated asana is a necessity for meditation. Works written hundreds or even a thousand years back contain sections on Yoga including asanas. Thirumular, a yogi said to have lived 3000 years back wrote about several asanas in his Tamil classic Thirumandiram. Puranas, smritis and several later day Upanishads have sections on asana practice.

There is a dhyanasloka pertaining to the Ramayana which mentions that Sri Rama was in Vajrasana while seated in his flowered bedecked, jeweled throne. In fact from time immemorial many people in India, as a religious practice, have been doing sandhya or morning worship of the sun with specific sun worship mantras and physical movements and gestures. It includes mantras like the Gayatri, pranayama and many postures like tadasana, uttanasana, utkatakaasana, and danda namaskara and utakatasana are specifically mentioned in the smritis.

So in a way we may say that suryanamaskara with mantras and the physical exercise has been a very old practice. The word Yoga is indeed a vedic word. You may check with my book “The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga” (here no commercial intended) based on my studies with my guru and I do not think it in any way resembles a book of gymnastics. Yogasanas have their own distinct nicety. Gymnastics of course has its own charm. Gymnastics was one my favourite programs while watching the Olympics. I do not know if I would enjoy Yoga Olympiad.

My guru had mentioned on a couple of occasions that physical yoga had been the core system of physical exercises in India. It had technically influenced several ancient systems like wrestling, archery, fencing etc., very physically demanding disciplines, requiring a high degree of strength, dexterity and focus. Yoga is called a sarvanga sadhana as it is helpful for all parts of the body, including the internal organs. There were other indigenous circus-like practices such as malcam, kazhakkoothu where they use ropes or poles and do routines very similar to asanas. He had also mentioned that almost all the physical systems of the world, including gymnastics, had borrowed heavily from Yoga, because the asana portion of Yoga was the most ancient and developed physical culture system. Therefore it could be that there were a few similarities between asanas and some obscure gymnastic systems in different parts of the world at different times. Then one has to investigate the origin of those obscure systems, whether they were older than Yoga, or if they themselves borrowed from ancient yoga practices.

My Guru himself was a passionate researcher. He would always be looking for works on yoga and other systems. He even would advise us to go to different agraharams (small cluster of homes of scholars in certain villages) and look for works on Yoga available with such scholars. He would say that we should visit the hundreds of temples in India, especially South India, and observe the sculptures and idols all over the temples for study of yoga postures. And because of the oral tradition and relying on degradable palm leaves, Yoga itself had a checkered progression, in the limelight during some time in history and obscure at some other times. It then becomes a futile exercise to try to determine which among the physical exercise regimens came first, the seed or the tree or the better known example of the chicken and the egg.

There are distinct differences between the yoga I learned from Sri Krishnamacharya for a long period of time and some of the aerobic exercises like gymnastics. In the vinyasa krama asana practice, the breathing is synchronized with the movements at the rate of anywhere between 5 to 10 seconds for inhalation and exhalation thereby reducing the breath rate to about 3 to 5 per minute, whereas in contemporary aerobic exercises including gymnastics and gym workouts, the breath rate increases to much beyond the normal breathing rate of about 15 or so. This alone makes yoga practice of Sri Krishnamacharya distinctly different from other drills.

The variety of movements in Vinyasa asana practice is said to be designed to exercise all parts of the body including the internal organs. We do not find deep movement, synchronized breathing, and the significantly profound exercises like the bandhas — which are an integral part of Sri Krishnamacharya’s asana practice — in other forms of physical exercises, especially gymnastics. Look at the 1930’s videos, the bandhas of my Guru, they are not a gymnast’s cup of chai.

When I was young, some exercises were very popular. They were outside the pale of yogasanas. One was known as “dandal”, which would look very much like a repetitive movement between caturanga dandasana and the plank or a simpler version of urdhwa mukha swanasana. The other was known as, if I remember right, ‘bhaski’. It involved standing up and doing repeated squats. The first one, ‘dandal’ looks very similar to part of Surya namaskara. Baski resembles a very popular ritual that is done by thousands even today and is known as “toppukaranam” in Tamil and “dorbhyam karanam” in Sanskrit. One holds the lobes of the opposite ears with one’s hands and squats usually in front of the idol of Lord Ganesha. It could be 12 times or 108 times. It is both a good physical exercise and a loving devotional practice to the charming Lord Ganesha.

Are these physical drills, yoga exercises, or devotional practices? Which came first? God knows, Lord Ganesa knows.

Then there is the question of whether Suryanamaskara is old, from the Vedic times. The Surya namaskara can be considered from two views; one is the mantra portion the other is vyayama or the physical part. Certainly Suryanamaskara mantras are from the Vedas. In fact, there is a complete chapter of Suryanamaskra mantras from the Veda which takes about an hour to chant. Again, the other important Surya mantra, Gayatri, is also a Vedic mantra. The Vedas exhort using Gayatri as a mantra to worship the sun daily.

Worship of the sun is considered a daily obligatory duty for the orthodox in India. We have a procedure called Sandhya vandana which is supposed to be done thrice a day, but definitely once a day. This Sandhya procedure is a kind of a worship ritual, towards the end of which one prostrates towards the Sun. While the Gayatri japa portion is done sitting in a yogic posture after required number of pranayama, the upasthana or the second part is done standing. Towards the conclusion the worshipper of the sun has to do a namaskara, a prostration. So from the standing position, usually one bends forward, half squats, places the palms on the floor, takes the legs back by jumping or taking one leg after the other and does an saashtanga namaskara or the danda namaskara prostration). One has to go through these steps (from standing to prostration) and if the steps are properly organized we get the surya namaskara vyayama, a sequence, a vinyasakrama. So, since one has to do sandhya daily and has to do the namaskara startig from standing and since the sandhya is mentioned as an obligatory duty, it will be correct to say that suryanamaskara, both the mantra portion and physical namaskara portion, are from the Vedic times. The actual steps may vary but the physical namaskara to the sun is a procedure practiced from ancient Vedic times.

Further, in India you can see many people who do not practice yoga or the formal ritualistic sandhyavandana, standing on the terrace or on the beach, facing East early in the morning, and doing prostrations a few times, returning to the standing position every time. They do not call it Yoga but suryanamaskara. Some of the present day yoga enthusiasts however do the suryanamaskara, probably at night, in any direction or directionless, do not use the mantras or the devotional bhavana associated with it, but as a mere workout.

I had chanted the suyanamaskara mantra almost on every Sunday with my guru for several years. Namarupa also published my article on Sandhya vandana with pictures of the steps some time back. I also have the one hour long Suryanamaskara mantra chant from the Yajur Veda (which I learned from Sri Krishnamacharya) recorded in mid ’80s and the CDs are still made available in India.

Sri Krishnamacharya’s range of teaching was sweeping. I have mentioned about the asana teaching, his chikitsa krama and vinyasa krama. His chanting of vedas was beautiful and very engaging. I do not know of any yoga teacher during his times who could chant as well as he could from memory. He earned the title “Veda Kesari” or Lion of Vedas. He was a Sanskrit scholar, a Sanskrit Pandit. He taught the vedanta philosophy, the prastana trayas, the Upanishads, the Brahma sutra and the Bhagavad Gita in the visishtadvaita tradition. He was given the title “Vedanta Vageesa”. He was also quite familiar with the advaitic interpretation. He once said while doing the sutra on Anandamaya “Anandamaya abhyasat” in which the two interpretations, advaita and visistadwaita differ from each other, “If you want I can teach you the advaitic interpretation, but advaita may be intellectually challenging but does not give the emotional satisfaction one gets from the visishtadvaitic approach”. He also taught us several important Upanishads. I studied with him several Upanishad vidyas from the major Upanishads, like Brahadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Kaushitaki and others. Some of the vidyas he taught include Pancha kosa Vidya, panchagni, pranava, madhu, Sandilya, Dahara Pratardana and many others.

Once I asked him why if the goal is the same, understanding Brahman the ultimate Reality, then there are so many Upanishads, why so many vidyas. He would say that pupils have different questions about the ultimate reality and these vidyas take you from the known to the unknown.

Supposing fifty people, strangers from different places, go to an unknown country, Pineland, and take a picture with the leader of the country, Mr Pineman. Every one sends home a copy of the picture by email. The way they would point to the unknown leader, Mr Pineman, to those back home would be to start from the known. The known entity in the picture will be the one who sends the picture. He may tell his son/daughter, ”the leader is three rows in front and eight to the right of me.” Another person would start first by asking his kid to identify him/her first in the picture and may say the leader is three rows behind and five seats to the left. Likewise, all the various vidyas of the Upanishads try to help the aspirants to realize the ultimate truth, starting from a known tatwa. I had the privilege of studying several Upanishd vidyas from my guru Sri Krishnamacharya.

He also taught many of the sibling philosophies so that one’s understanding of Yoga and Vedanta will be on firm grounds. He taught Samkhya philosophy by explaining the Samkhya karika with the commentary of Gaudapada. He also taught Yoga Sutra in considerable detail. He had obtained the titles “Yogacharya” and “Samkhya Siromani”. He also was an expert in another profound philosophy called Nyaya and had been conferred the title “Nyayacharya”. He also taught smaller or easier works like Tarka Sangraha to introduce the difficult Nyaya philosophy.

His religious studies were outstanding. He was such an expert in the Vaishnava philosophy, that he was in consideration to head a well known Vaishnava Mutt. He was truly a devotional person. As he practiced yoga he performed his daily puja with great devotion. He had several students who studied the Vaishnava religion in considerable detail. He could quote from the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharata and several other puranas like Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, etc.

I do not know of any person who was so well versed in the sastras and also at the same time an outstanding practising Yogi. Sri Krishnamacharya is well known, it is almost exclusively due to his yogasana teachings. But his scholarship and teachings were enormous. I feel a bit sad when he is portrayed as a hatha yoga teacher who plagiarized some exercises from gymnastics and called it yoga to make a living, and nothing more. [emphasis supplied.]

Maybe there is some common ground between these two different physical disciplines. I continue to remain in awe of his enormous scholarship, practice and teachings and kindness towards his students. He was a teacher who would uplift you, a true Acharya. When you study with him, you get an unmistakable feeling that his only goal in life was to transmit the traditional knowledge and make it accessible to the student. He was a unique Yogi, a unique teacher, a unique individual. Twenty years after his passing away, I remember him everyday, while practicing, studying or teaching, sometimes in dreams — fondly.”

If you want to study with a true yogi, a true yoga scholar, and a vedic chant master, Ramaswamiji will teach at the Chicago Yoga Center September 17-26.

Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, Indra Devi

Here is an amazing video of Krishnamacharya, his son Desikachar, and Indra Devi from 1988. Sri Krishnamacharya was 100 years old in this video.

When I am at the Mandiram I love listening to Desikachar’s stories about his father’s students. Desikachar told us a story about how perturbed he was when he saw his father hugging a western woman, on the street no less. If you know anything about South Indian culture, especially Brahmin culture, that is absolutely not done! Then his father told him it was Indra Devi, his student.

Desikachar told us how when he was growing up he was not interested in learning yoga. He was not like Jois or Iyengar who started their studies when they were young. Desikachar was an engineer, he wanted to make money. Then one day he saw his father stop his pulse for two minutes, he had such control over his body. He told us when that happened he fell to his knees and asked his father to teach him everything he knew about yoga. The rest is history.

I am honored and blessed to have such a close connection to the source, to the heart of yoga.

Sixty-four more days and I am back in Ma India’s arms. My friends keep asking me if I am going to come back. Studying yoga at the source, climbing Mt. Arunachala, Kali temples in Kolkata, the Temple of the 64 Yoginis in Bhubaneswar, culminating my India trip at the largest spiritual gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela….

A few years ago an akashic record reader told me (before the Mela was even a thought in my mind) that what I experience on one of my India trips will be so profound that I will have to go to a “place with palm trees” to recoup.

I am. Zanzibar has palm trees.

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interview with Desikachar

(photo original Chennai Online upload)

Chennai Online Interview with Desikachar

“Intro: Where is the delusion when truth is known? Where is the disease when the mind is clear? Where is death when the Breath is controlled? Therefore surrender to Yoga – T Krishnamacharya in Yoganjalisaram.

Yoga was in the family. Krishnamacharya was born in Karnataka in 1888 and belonged to a family of distinguished ancestry. Among his forebears was the 9th century teacher and sage Nathamuni, who was a great Teacher who created remarkable works….In his youth, Shri Krishnamacharya experienced insights around some of these teachings in a mystic dream whilst on a pilgrimage….

His son, TKV Desikachar, had the privilege of living and studying with his father. For over 45 years, TKV Desikachar has devoted himself to teaching yoga and making it relevant to people from all walks of life and with all kinds of abilities. His teaching method is based on Krishnamacharya’s fundamental principle that yoga must always be adapted to an individual’s changing needs in order to derive the maximum therapeutic benefit.”

Chennai Online link to Google video of Desikachar speaking about his father.

I have studied three times at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India and I am transformed a bit more each time. It was during my first trip three years ago during the month long “Universal Yet Personal” intensive that I heard a teacher say that personal transformation in yoga can only begin in a group class but is accomplished in working one on one with a teacher, in the old way, the traditional way.

The longer I teach, the more I know this to be true.

I bow in gratitude to the teacher of teachers, Sri Krishnamacharya. I am honored and humbled that I am able to study with one of his long-time students (30+ years) Srivatsa Ramaswami, with whom I will spend a week in a teacher training next month. I touch his feet and thank him for showing me what pure yoga is and for inspiring me to go to India…to go home, to the heart of yoga.

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getting back to yoga, part 2: sraddha

Yoga Sutra-s I.20:

sraddhaviryasmrtisamadhiprajnapurvaka itaresam

“Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.”

(Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanajali, TKV Desikachar)

Some of you might be incredulous at Dr. NC’s statement that my spine will become realigned in three months if I do my yoga therapy practice every day, but I am not. That’s because I have sraddha which is Sanskrit for “faith.”

Sraddha is not religious faith but a “strong belief.” In his translation of the Sutra-s, Desikachar writes: “Faith is the unshakable conviction that we can arrive at a goal. We must not be complacent about success or discouraged by failure. We must work hard and steadily inspite (sic) of all distractions, whether good or bad.”

When I first attended KYM in 2005 I was struck by a teacher’s words when she said that personal transformation in yoga can begin in a group class, but is only accomplished by working one on one, the teacher with the student, in the traditional way, the old school way. THAT is sraddha and that is the difference as I see it between Americanized yoga and the yoga that I study in India.

The “goal” of yoga as propounded by Patanjali in his Sutra-s is freedom from suffering. nothing more, nothing less. How many doing yoga right now in the west have that sraddha, that belief? How many want to relieve their suffering — and we all suffer whether you want to admit it or not — or just merely go through the physical motions of the asana practice not being fully present, aware, and awake in the present moment? How many treat their asana practice as a performance or have been in a group class and felt that the teacher is on stage?

How can there possibly be personal transformation if there is no sraddha?

As I did my asana class every day with Usha, I felt myself softening, for lack of a better word. She knew I taught yoga and she asked me if I minded her “corrections.” I told her that I absolutely did not mind her corrections, that I am a yoga student first, and then a teacher, and that I am at KYM to learn.

So she began to point out the “hardness” in my body as I moved. For example, the hardness of my outstretched foot in janu sirsana, the foot tightly flexed, the ballmount pushing out, toes spread, that “energized” foot as we are so often told in a group class. Or my hands above my head in uttanasana, tight, flexed, palms facing each other, instead of the palms turned outward, fingers soft.

I then began to realize how “hard” American yoga is compared to the yoga I do in india, soft, yielding, receptive, nurturing, and I have to question why.

While Usha was correcting me, I told her yes, this is the way my teacher Ramaswami holds his hands when he shows us uttanasana (Ramaswami was an original trustee of KYM, an old friend of Desikachar), how could I forget this? It was good to be brought back home and removed from my “performance”, my need to show the perfection of my alignment, the hardness of my body, because it’s not about that at all. It’s about healing first and foremost, and having the sraddha to believe in that healing.

That is what I think in many cases American yogis need to realize, that yoga is about healing first, the other benefits are secondary. That our bodies and minds are laboratories for the exploration of the deeper aspects of yoga. That instead of performing on the mat, we need to dive into that yogic stew of the tools that Patanjali gave us in his Sutra-s and marinate and cook ourselves into a brand new, or at least, an improved, tastier dish.

Yoga Journal was waiting for me when I returned from India. If I did not get it for free through my yoga insurance I would never subscribe to it. I paged through it for about ten minutes and threw it in the recycling bin. It has become nothing more than one huge advertisement for yoga clothes and other yoga tchotkes that we supposedly need and one show biz yogi’s or another’s teacher training program. One huge advertisement for yoga stuff mixed in with articles on non-attachment. What a disconnect.

It’s all about the marketing, but after all, that’s so American. We’re always running after the next best thing whether it’s the latest cell phone or the latest yoga gimmick. I returned from india realizing (yet again) that I am tired of the mass-marketing, the dumbing down of this ancient holistic science. Years ago in the pre-Yoga Journal days, people went to classes that were just called “yoga” or “hatha yoga.” When people ask me what style of yoga I teach, I tell them honestly, “my style — come check it out and if it resonates with you, fine, if not, that’s fine, too.” I’m not going to label my yoga or give it a brand name to sex it up just to attract students. I am certainly not going to put my own name on it and trademark it, which I of course could do just like any number of well-known yogis have done. Yoga is yoga.

I will not give the name of the blog where I read this, but underneath a photo of a young, skinny, cellulite-free woman in tree pose, a reader wrote that if she were “that skinny” she could be a yoga teacher.

Sigh.

have a little sraddha, baby.