The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on Lulu.com ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Darn those latissimi dorsi, back off!

Perhaps this is akin to the Ashtanga complaint '"My arms are too short to jump back" but there's a voice nagging away at me, a whispering imp on my shoulder, "Your lats are getting too big for binding".

I sort of want to be the skinny, stringy, sinewy yogi, the guy with the fingernails at the top right of my blog perhaps, but it seems it's not to be, my genes have other plans. Was saying to another blogger yesterday, wouldn't mind a buddha belly but a 42" chest  doesn't fit the profile ( something like that). And the chest, it's growing, the pranayamam, Ashtanga, they both seem to be conspiring, 42" is with the tape pulled tight, I'm being generous.

The picture btw is from July last year (only good back shot I could find), just after getting back from the VKTT course when I was probably the lightest I've been in years, 75 kg (just checked, 76.5 currently), yet still the lats. 

I don't get it, I'm a veggie, I eat little, twice a day, I avoided the Arm balances from 3rd, changed my jump through to straight legs ( less work on the upper body), cut out fancy handstands, but still the lats, what do they live on ,what do they eat.

Of course the truth of the matter is, they don't seem to make a difference, can still bind at the wrist in the Marichi's, Purna M, Passasana and what have you, just as with the gnashing of teeth about our arms are  being too short, this is no doubt just another paranoia.

I'm reminded now of Touchdown Todd (?) the ex US football player on Larry's The Rocket II Video, now that boy had lat's mine are latte in comparison.

Anyway it's an Ashtanga rest day, always a little out of sorts on rest days. Some pranayama perhaps, a little VK is called for .

Friday, 29 April 2011

Pressing the pause button

Just about to start my practice, this will make two weeks of following along with Sharath, either the captured live stream, his CD or DVD. It's been fun and a good way to get back into straight Ashtanga but I'm starting to count the cost.

M. exclaimed last night that I look more.... muscly, I hadn't noticed but I suppose so, all those jump backs and through I guess (tend to do less in my VK practice). What I have noticed is a loss of flexibility, these five (quick) breath stays in postures are not the same as the long long stays in Paschimottanasana, badha konasana, mahamudra etc. that I was used to in Vinyasa Krama.

Also, following just Primary as if I'm in Mysore for a month, I feel my backbends slipping away, wonder if I can still do a half decent Kapo. I  pause Sharath after urdhva dhanurasana so I can do dropbacks, the first week I just did three and pressed play again, last couple of days I've been doing five to ten just to open my back a little more.

In fact I'm hitting the pause button more and more, at paschimottanasana to do the four hand variations instead of Sharath's two or three and longer slower breaths. At badha konasana, Sarvangasana at Sirsasna, longer stays, longer, slower inhalations and exhalation.

The Led is not ideal.

I'm thinking of making my own led cd/audio file, just for my own use, a slower count and/or perhaps one with an eight breath count. I think CK told me once that the first edition of Lino's book had an eight count. Plus I've been getting into the Sanskrit count, practicing that, would be fun to do.

Can't decide whether to switch off the cd/dvd altogether and go it alone, at my own pace or stick it out for the month, probably the latter as if nothing else it's an interesting experiment and it is tightening up my practice.

Thank god for end of practice pranayama, so greedy for it at the moment, a chance to really wallow in the breath.

... and my evening Vinyasa krama practice, switched from working through the book, to working maha mudra, Paschinmottanasana, Badha konasana/kandapindasana, crave them.

All you with a 2nd series practice who go to Mysore for a month, how does it affect your 2nd, I imagine it comes back soon enough. God, wonder if I can still lift my Karandavasana.

5:59 Sharath's about to start the chant, little later this morning as I have a day off, something or other going on in London, we're off to Southall, going to buy me the longest Bansuri flute I can find.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Jump back and through variations

Question.
Do people feel bandhas are best served through the straight leg or crossed leg jump though?

I'm still undecided, see yesterdays post and comments for context.

Below are some of the different variations I've tried, some with more success than others



Some better examples of the straight leg





and the crossed


Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Born again Straight leg jump though.

One of the things that threw me out the other week, when I was trying to practice along with Sharath's led primary, was my jump through. I've been using a Kino inspired, floaty, half handstand thing for a couple of years but couldn't seem to tie it into Sharath's count.  I've been following along with Sharath's led ever since, trying to tighten up my practice, my vinyasa ( here meaning jump back/through) was the first thing that needed thinking about.

I decided to go with the straight leg jump through only trouble is, I've never really mastered it. I had a go at it off and on a few times, even tried to learn it blindfolded and though I eventually managed it, I never really practiced it enough to really nail it. A month of primary is a lot of jump throughs so the perfect time to hammer away at it.

And with some success, it's coming. The first couple of days I was landing on my heels most of the time and a couple of times, when tired, only just managed to make it through. It's still not graceful or elegant but I get four or five nice ones a practice now, it's becoming more consistent.

The ones that work best are when I really lift up through my shoulders, keep my hips up and almost hold my backside back. Oh and Uddiyana, that seems to bring the thighs up and allow me to catch and hold it a second before lowering. I think I need to try and hold my backside back even longer and bring my thighs up higher to really catch it,  need to slow it down too (Will update this every time I notice something else that helps).

Still needs work but I'm hoping by the end of the month of led primary's I'll have it settled in.



Bit of a change this morning, instead of the Sharath led I went for the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Led primary from Yogaworks. I have both Primary and Intermediate, I got on OK with the Intermediate a few months back but struggled, again with the timing, with the primary. Much better this morning, he doesn't give you as much time as Sharath to get in and out of postures and jumping through etc, which is fine for me, but what he does do is give you a little more time to breathe, so ideal. There are a couple of quirks, only Badha Konasana A, no B and no Parivritta Parsva Konasana for some reason.

Having both the primary and Intermediate i was able to cut and splice and make a couple of extra practice videos.

1. Primary to Kapo
2. Primary to Karandavasana
3. Primary to Navasana then 2nd

After this month of Primary I thought I use the Primary to Kapo for a couple of weeks and then the Primary to Karandavasana and then see about the 3rd one or just split and practice the yogaworks Jois led 2nd.

BTW has anyone got or seen Lino's 2nd and 3rd series DVD, be interested to hear about it.

Here's a tase of the Yoga works DVD's ( clink on the info for a link for getting hold of a copy).



Monday, 25 April 2011

Born again Ashtangi II, Mysore (?) Becoming Authorised (!)

Into the second week of practicing along with Sharath's led primary, I've settled into the captured stream from Joisyoga. They seem to have stopped streaming this on a loop and though Sharath is now teaching in Encinitas there's nothing about streaming Friday's led from there. My Guess is that they'll turn the NYC stream into a DVD. I'd buy it if they do, I prefer it to Sharath's CD and DVD, it's quite a bit slower, room to breathe.

I noticed while trying to see if they were streaming from Encinitas that their 'boutique' is online now, us guys get a t-shirt, that's it. Seems Sharath has a new DVD out too, half Primary, didn't I hear somewhere that Kino is doing a half primary as well?

The born-again Ashtangi thing is going well, enjoying the led primary every morning but it's exhausting, did I really practice at that pace every morning? I'm sweating buckets and kind of feel as if I've hit a reset button or having An American werewolf in London transformation going on, but spread over a couple of weeks rather than two minutes. I seem to be getting leaner, feel longer, limbs lengthening, becoming stronger perhaps, fitter too.

Switched my eating around from a light breakfast and dinner to a light breakfast and lunch then nothing but a banana or two until breakfast, working well, feel much lighter or at least emptier during practice.

Playing a little bit by the rules, even have my chin to my knees rather than forehead, hell why not, got my drishti going and everything. I also took a rest day on Saturday, complete day off, not even pranayama. That was quite nice actually, felt it Sunday though, hard first practice back.

The plan is to do a month of this and then perhaps add 2nd up to kapo for a month, then up to Karanda and split the thrid month. Never really did it that way, just jumped into 2nd ( just checked, i kind of jumped in, worked through the series a few times on my day off then did some primary to kapo for a while then primary to Karanda before splitting, so if not adding poses then adding sections), so like the chance to explore. But for now keep this up for a month, following along with Sharath's led, just as if I was in Mysore. That reminds me, I was asked two questions...

1. Now I'm a born-again Ashtanga, do I have plans to go to Mysore?
2. If so would I be interested in becoming Authorised to teach?

Mysore....I don't know, I've thought about it recently, especially since I sold a Sax last week and could buy a ticket. I just can't think of a good enough reason. I don't even practice in a shala here let alone go over there. If I went I could only go for a month so would only be practicing primary and I can do that here, am doing that here and as intensely as if I was in that room. I drop back and come up here pretty deeply (stop the video to do a few of those then pick it back up at paschi) so don't need to go for that. There are a few bloggers it would be nice to have the chance to practice with but I'm the least social person I know so would mostly be keeping myself to myself. Be nice to spend some time in India but there are other areas I think I'd rather visit than just stay in Mysore for a month. Be nice to see where Krishnamacharya taught all those years ago though. I don't know, see how I feel a few months from now, when does the shala open again, when do people tend to go, end of the year?

The second question amused me, thanks for that P. Would I like to be authorised to teach Ashtanga? Again, I don't go to a shala and don't particularly agree with hands on adjustments, be a bit hypocritical of me to consider teaching in that way, although I hear there are some ashtanga teachers who rarely adjust physically. Then of course there's the integrity issues of planning to go out there, what, three of four times, with that intention and the feeling of selling out I'd have from keeping silent and toeing the party line when I've questioned so much in the past and still have questions or concerns. ( Not critical of other teachers here, it would just be an issue for me because of my... well documented, concerns regarding the practice) No, no, no plans on that score, don't think they'd have me anyway.

Besides, though I enjoy practicing Ashtanga I don't think it's for everyone, it works for me and I seem to kind of need this kind of practice, at least for another couple of years but If I was to recommend a yoga practice then it would be Vinyasa Krama. No plans to seek to teach that either at the moment although I guess I would if someone asked, would feel obliged to given that Ramaswami has shared so much.

Re Vinyasa Krama, I'm employing Arturo's approach in the evenings after work and working through the different sequences, picking up where I left off the day before. Twenty minutes of Asana before pranayama pratyahara and japa mantra meditation. Seems to be working out nicely thanks Arturo.

One thing that did strike me recently, followed a question from Claudia concerning whether I considered Sharath to be preserving the lineage of Krishnamacharya. My answer was that I thought he was preserving the lineage of later Jois, which is fine of course, but that perhaps Manju might better be considered to be preserving early Krishnamachary ( of the Yoga Makarnada and Mysore) through teaching more in a manner of early Jois ( which I assume to be closer to how he (Jois) was taught/guided by krishnamacharya). But I don't know just speculating.

If then I'm interested in continuing/preserving/promoting Krishnamacharya's teaching, both early and later periods, then I should probably try and attend Manju's workshops and possibly, one day his TT's.

Has everybody downloaded their copy of Krishnamacharya's yoga Makaranda?

Friday, 22 April 2011

Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda .....at last.

The Yoga Makaranda was Krishnamacharya's first book, it was written in 1932, supposedly over four days and published in the Kanada language in 1934 and later translated into Tamil. It was clearly a major influence on Krishanamacharya's student Sri K Patarbhi Jois's own book Yoga Mala and of the Ashtanga practice we know and love, as well as many of the current popular styles of Yoga.

Last Summer I was fortunate enough to study the text, line-by-line with Ramaswami, Krishnamacharya's student of over thirty years, on his 200 hour Vinyasa Krama TT course.

This book may well be considered the source, the holy grail and thanks to the generosity of Lakshmi & Nandini Ranganathan the text has now been made freely available such that we can decide for ourselves, enjoy.



'...I ask that you do not sell it but you are welcome to put it on a website for anybody to download, to email further, or to lend your manuscript to be copied by anybody. It does have typos (remember, we did this in 2006 and planned to do a final revision or new edition later) but I think it is actually otherwise reasonable (we would welcome corrections and comments). Most importantly, it will accomplish our goal that people read what Krishnamacarya had to say without interruption and without censorship. The book is powerful and wonderful and I hope any of you that reads it finds it as meaningful and relevant as we did.'
Nandini (Ranganathan).



Another version of the text has just been published by Media Garuda, I ordered a copy, which arrived this week, before I was aware of a dispute regarding their edition. The background to this dispute can be found HERE, I leave you to make up your own minds about it.

The Media Garudu edition is, it has to be said, a nicely produced book. The pictures are beautiful and it has a nice layout. At the back are a series of line drawings showing the vinyasas in and out of the postures as outlined in the text. It also has footnotes. My first impression of these were that they often seemed to seek to bring the 1930's text in line with a more recent conception of Yoga possibly held by the publishers that did not seem necessarily in keeping with the original text, but perhaps I'm being unfair.

In the next few days I'll be doing a parallel reading of the texts to see how they compare and get back to you.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

(Still ) Practicing with Sharath : Sharath's Primary series DVD review

See previous post if your wondering what's going on with the born again Ashtangi

This morning I practiced with Sharath's primary DVD (yesterday was his CD and Friday, Sunday and Monday the stream from JoisYoga).

Really nice practice this morning. Got up at 5:30 am chanted the yoga sutras for a bit then did the ten minute tadasana warm up routine I do from Vinyasa krama, before following along with Sharath's DVD (more on that later).

The DVD took just over an hour, I stayed in Savasana for ten minutes listening to Ramaswami's chanting (think I fell asleep again for a few minutes). Quickly put on something dry, threw a clean equa on the mat and did twenty minutes Pranayama ( nadi shodana with mantra )followed by fifteen minutes or so of mantra japa meditation.

Still finished my practice a little earlier than normal Something to be said for practicing at 'led' pace.

So the DVD, I practiced with it for a long time a couple of years back. Before I'd bought it I'd been doing a Swenson 40 minute short form before work, Sharath's DVD allowed me to do the whole practice every morning. Interesting coming back to it after a couple of years.

Here I was just listening to the audio but the video itself is excellent. Nice quality, just Sharath on a mat in a nice shala, couple of different camera angles. The thing I love most about Sharath's practice here is how unfussy it is. Economy of movement is the expression that always comes to mind, he has the most subtle jump thorough, love it.
video
As for the audio it's Sharath doing the count and little else. He says the name of the pose, occasionally something like left side, right side or grab toes but that's about all. But that's a good thing, the other "instructional 'DVD's are great, Kino, Swenson, Freeman etc. and you always pick up something new but I don't think you'd want to practice with them every time. I like that Sharath's is just the count.

And what of the count. It's a little slower than the CD. This is very much aimed at the beginner I think. There's plenty of space to get into the posture but once your in the breath count is OK, still too quick for my liking but OK. interestingly the count seems to be quicker in the nasties like Utthita eka padasana, Navasana and utpluthi. Didn't think I'd say this but a little too quick, this was the easiest of the three formats to practice with.

Not sure which one I want to stick with for the month, probably the Joisyoga stream, will try that one again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Practicing with Sharath ( Born again Ashtangi )

So last Friday's practice, with Sharath's led Primary from Jois yoga NYC, was a bit of a wake-up call. Shocked at how I struggled to match my practice to his count I decided to tidy my Primary up a bit and practice along with the stream for a couple of days.

Now I'm thinking more in terms of a month, working with either Sharath's stream, DVD or CD. Friday, Sunday and Monday was the stream ( look, I took a rest day Saturday, how born again ashtangi am I ) and this morning I practiced with the CD.

God, can't believe I used to practice at that pace every morning. When I first started Ashtanga I used the David Swenson 40 minute short form before work, but when I came across Sharath's DVD and CD I was able to squeeze the whole practice in. I must have practiced like that, Sury to Savasana in an hour, for a year or so. No wonder the long slow inhalation/exhalations and general pace of Vinyasa Krama had such a profound affect on me.

I actually thought my Ashtanga was still OK. I'd kept up Friday Primary all along and Saturday or Sunday straight 2nd as well. But I'd been tweaking it of course, Vinyasa Kramanising it, modifications here, extra postures there, longer and slower inhalations and exhalations, extreme bandha work and on top of that every fancy jump back and though under the sun. It was a delightful practice. I recently mentioned to Claudia that it felt like I was tending it (my Primary) like a bonsai tree that was, in turn, tending me.

But however nice a practice it was, it wasn't really Ashtanga anymore, that was brought home to me on Friday and again Sunday, on Monday too and doubly so this morning.

Claudia's just mentioned at her place that she doesn't think Ashtanga is hard ( please catch her post and comments for the context of that ). I disagree, Ashtanga IS hard. I've been practicing pretty much every morning for four years, I'm in good shape, but after just a year veering away from a straight practice, I'm really feeling it coming back. I can do the postures of course, I know the script, know what's coming but the sheer pace of it has me sweating buckets. Utthita hasta padangusthasana to utthita eka padasana, Navasana and utpluthi, they're killing me here.

And I'm absolutely loving it.

Ashtanga is a tapas practice and don't it just know it.

So a month of practicing with Sharath, probably his DVD. I worked out the difference in pace, from Sury to savasana....

JoisYoga Stream 85 minutes

DVD 65 minutes

CD 55 minutes

...give or take.

The main reason is just to tighten the whole thing up, make it clean, at that pace there's no time for fussing. Straight forward lift up and jump back and just the straight leg jump through too.

Keep It Simple Stupid.

Then we can see about doing the same with my 2nd.

As for Vinyasa Krama, I just want to stop blending them for now, keep them separate, Ashtanga and some pranayama in the morning and then an hour to an hour and a half of Vinyasa krama practice after work, twenty minutes of VK subroutines as preparation for Pranayama and Meditation.

I was going to post a little segment of the stream, DVD and Cd to compare them but while looking I came across this video. I'd only seen the Kapo and Karandavasana in colour before, this, if you haven't already, your gonna want to see.



Do I miss those fancy poses at the end with my new honest primary, not tempted to roll out the mat and try Kandasana nahh, not a bit... OK perhaps a bit.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mea Culpa

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa



I take it back, I take it all back! That Ashtanga, and Primary in particular,....don't mess with it, don't tweak it, don't fiddle with it, doctor or accommodate it, don't tease it, bother it, worry it, don't do as the Romans do....

it's just dandy as it is.

Just practiced with Sharath's led from Friday's Joisyoga stream again. Much much better this time, better prepared. Managed to fit my breathing to his count, to play in time. Worked out where I was screwing up the vinyasa, basically stuck with a straight leg jump through throughout. All flowed more smoothly, glorious practice. Thinking about it I haven't practiced like that since the stairwell on the Vinyasa Krama course at 5am before the 3 hour asana class.

Nothing kicks raja butt like Ashtanga and that's kind of the point isn't it.

I still have some issues with the breath.

If it's a breathing practice, then why no time to breathe?

But it was, of course, a led class. In a mysore solo practice I imagine everyone takes it a little more slowly no? But then that pace is important and while lengthening my breath in my own practice this last year I've lost something of the dynamism of Ashtanga, it's tapas aspect (?). I'd want to slow it down just a little, a smidgin, but not too much. It would be OK if you did a good Pranayama session afterwards, really hope that Sharath will encourage/reintroduce that soon.

So back to basics, Primary for a month with this Sharath led ( I captured the stream ), strip it back down, tighten it up and then think about doing the same to my 2nd.

And in the evening my Vinyasa Krama, twenty minutes of the odd VK subroutines, twenty minutes pranayama and twenty minutes meditation.

I might not want to mess with my primary at the moment but still think it's so important to have the VK tool chest if and when you need to ( injuries).

Vinyasa Krama still makes more sense to me as a practice, mainly because of the length of the breath and variety and range of asana, it's integration of Pranayama and meditation. Plus there's the flexibility and adaptability, Ashtanga's not going to be everyones cup of tea.

But for now, in the morning's at least, it's my Lapsang souchong.

Ashtanga, it is what it is and is all the better for it.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Practicing with Sharath's led Primary stream from Joisyoga NYC

Stream from Joisyoga is just about to start again, 2nd practice of the day (2nd series this morning) wasn't sure if they would run it continuously.

Oh here we go.......



UPDATE 20:30

That was tough..... but fun. Room was a lot hotter than I've had it recently (being afternoon rather than early morning) and Sharath is going a lot faster than I tend to take my own primary.
Struggled a bit with my timing, my breath tends to be longer and slower, found it hard to get into and then stay in sync with his count. Sweated buckets though and I think I might take my Friday Primary faster from now on. Jump throughs were awkward too, can't do the high slow Kino jump through I'm used to on his count, need to switch to the simpler ( not in a bad way) one or polish the straight leg jump through. I tend to mix them up a bit in my own practice but think I might settle on the straight leg.

That said his count wasn't fast enough for my liking in Utthita hasta Padangustasana, that hurt, think I've been cheating a little.

Navasana was the hardest though, haven't really done it since I had the back problem a couple of months ago, legs were shaking like crazy. At one point he said don't shake legs and I wanted to look over and see if he was looking at me.

Not used to having to race into the next pose, think I've slipped into bad habits need to tighten up my whole practice and brush it off a bit.

A month in Mysore might not be a bad thing, tempting, but when?

I took a video, didn't really set it up so it's a bit rough but I liked the idea of trying to catch practicing at home with the stream.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Wide angle jelly lens for smart phone and 5 rocks in Garba Pindasana

This from Claudia's blog
'The most dramatic (change) perhaps is that the rolling back and forward in garba pindasana is now done only 5 times. It used to be 9 which seemed very appropriate as the pose represents a child in the womb, but, changes happen.'

I don't know which it is, not too bothered about it, I'll try the five for a bit and decide which one I like best, I kind of liked nine though. Claudia's probably up to date as she's practicing with Sharath in NYC this week.

Started to wonder how many I do actually do, don't tend to count, did I learn nine in the beginning or did I just work my way around without any concern for how many. I found a video from last year and it looks like I come up on the ninth.

CK's done a post on this, there's a link in the comments but I'm putting another one here because there's a nice video of KPJ teaching it. Here's the link

Mainly this is an excuse to try out the Jelly wide angle stick on lens for the new Samsung galaxy S as well as it's black and white effect.

The first attempt is actually six rocks, the second go is five but I'm a little off the mat, but it's certainly doable. I center the shot a little better on the second, getting rid of some of the blurring around the edges. Right at the end I've cut in a shot without the lens so you can see the difference.

This is all a bit rough, first proper practice back using my hand after the screwdriver incident but you get the idea.



These are just a couple of quid on ebay, will fit on most phones and will allow you to film your practice indoors in limited space. It's kind of like that sticky stuff they make toys out of you throw at window. you stick it on and peel it off as many times as you like.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Derek Ireland

I've heard tales about Derek Ireland since I first started Ashtanga, I think he was mentioned as an influence and teacher in the first couple of Ashtanga books I worked with. I've seen pictures of him, one quite iconic of him standing on a cliff somewhere with this long hair of his blowing in the wind. I bought the John Scott DVD, too advanced for me at the time, probably still is, he was Derek's student and often mentions him. I never got managed to see any video's of his practice until Dom linked to this one on FB.

It's a beautiful, powerful practice ( check out the Utthita Eka Padasana, strewth) and yet there's something sad about the video, has that old home movie feel about it, he passed away in 1998.

It would be easy to dwell on the 80's European swimwear (especially in light of the recent shortsgate) but lets not, the video was uploaded by his family and it would be nice to respect that.


Independent.co.uk

Obituary

Peter Guttridge

Monday, 28 September 1998

IN 1988, Derek Ireland, the charismatic yoga practitioner who was largely responsible with Radha Warrell for introducing to Europe the "aerobic" yoga called astanga vinyasa, accidentally blew himself up with camping gas canisters on a Greek island. He was severely burnt on his legs and arms so a Greek doctor peeled the skin off. "He peeled my hand which really hurt because of all the nerve endings. My lateral ligament was sticking out like an onion ring," Ireland recalled later.

He was flown to London for skin grafts. On arrival the doctors wrapped the burns in netting and plastic bags and bandages then left him for a few days before starting on the grafts. Whilst waiting, Ireland did head and shoulder stands. "It was the Olympics so I turned the television upside- down and watched it for an hour at a time." Seven days later the doctors took the bandages off. The skin had healed. "No scars, nothing. But I felt tiny because I'd no prana left from healing this thing."

"Prana" in yoga is the breath of life - the life force - and it was the power of the breathing exercises ("pranayama") that first drew Derek Ireland, a former Brighton and Hove football apprentice, to yoga.

"I'm not into meditation," he said. "I don't believe in chakras or kundalini. I'm not a guru worshipper - I know they've grown wise but they're still only human and all they know is some southern Indian village. I got into astanga vinyasa yoga for the combination of breathing and movement."

Ireland was a walking testimonial to the health and fitness properties of the form. Tall, deeply tanned and muscular, he radiated vitality and energy. To see him demonstrate the yoga, accompanied by throbbing pop music, was an eye-popping experience. He combined grace and fluidity of movement with strength and remarkable gymnastic ability.

He clearly believed if you've got it flaunt it. He did the demonstrations in designer knickers and his own yoga practise six days a week wearing only a thong. On his daily run he generally wore nothing but trainers, the thong and a personal stereo.

He got away with such shameless exhibitionism by dint of his genial charm and a willingness to laugh at himself. A warm, caring man, he had a quick sense of humour and a ready laugh - a wonderful, deep, basso laugh that filled the "sweat box" at the Practice Place in Crete or the "yoga shack" on the beach in Goa where he was an inspiring, hands-on teacher to hundreds of students over the years.

"I like to work hands on - I look on my teaching as bodywork therapy," he said. One of his students had over 50 broken bones but was on the second series (the yoga has six levels or series, each one increasing in difficulty). It didn't matter to Derek how good you were, all that mattered was that you were willing to try.

Derek Ireland was born and raised in Brighton. A "ferociously competitive" athlete at school, he was apprenticed to Brighton and Hove Albion football team when a severe knee injury playing rugby ended his hopes of a professional sports career.

When punk came along he spent five years promoting the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Stranglers along the south coast and took fully to the rock and roll lifestyle. He started conventional yoga with his girlfriend Radha Warrell after "living off my memories of my sporting triumphs for ten years". Thereafter he did yoga almost every day.

In 1978 the couple moved to Los Angeles where Ireland was supposed to take a band on the road. "It was to be Foreigner, then the Tubes, then Ozzy Osbourne. In the end I didn't take anyone - I think because they thought I was wilder than the bands."

Two years later the couple went on a one-month teacher training course to a Shivananda yoga retreat in the Bahamas. They stayed six years to run the place. During that time a visiting Shivananda swami from New York introduced them to astanga vinyasa, a vigorous form of yoga that had been rediscovered in the Thirties by Patthabhi Jois in Mysore, who claimed it was the original yoga from which all other hatha yogas had developed.

In 1986 Derek Ireland moved to New York to teach it - in the absence of premises he ran big open-air classes in Central Park until the park authorities moved him on. The following year he and Radha spent six months with Jois in Mysore, then began to teach the form as he had passed it on to them all over the world.

In 1991 they opened the Practice Place, a centre devoted to astanga vinyasa, in a secluded bay in southern Crete. The Practice Place quickly established itself as one of the most important yoga centres in the world. Many of the numerous classes now available in Britain are run by Derek and Radha's former students. More and more people have taken up the yoga, including such celebrities as Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sting, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Demi Moore.

Ireland's ebullient manner and deliberately non-spiritual approach to yoga caused raised eyebrows in the yoga community over the years. "I usually do my practice to music - in England I do it to MTV," he said a couple of years ago. "I used to do it with weights on my wrists: that upset a few purists. I also had a weighted jacket but I got rid of that after I did a handstand and nearly killed myself - it slipped down and hit me on the back of the head."

Ireland had lots of injuries, which made his control of his body even more remarkable. He fell out of a tricky posture and severed a nerve once, losing control of his left arm for four years. In consequence, teaching ta'i chi he kept hitting himself in the eye.

In winter he ran courses in a "yoga shack" on a beach in Goa. He attracted students simply by doing his practice on the beach for passersby to watch. The practice would take two hours and within five minutes he would be surrounded by Indians who weren't familiar with this style of yoga. "Some would plonk babies on me for photographs. I tried to stay focused - I only got uptight if they actually walked on me!"

Derek Ireland had started a new phase of his life with Kristina Karitinou and their child Lumiere when testicular cancer was diagnosed and treated. They had another child, Liam, 18 months ago. Cancer recurred. Ireland continued to teach in Crete and Goa in the periods between his treatments with the same care as before. His warmth and ebullience never left him until the breath of life, the prana, did.

Derek Ireland, yoga practitioner and teacher: born Brighton, East Sussex 16 April 1949; married 1998 Kristina Karitinou (two sons); died Brighton 24 September 1998.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Practicing Ashtanga with one hand tied behind your back

Well not exactly but it made for a snappy title and reminded me of one of my older posts 'How to do a jump back blindfolded'. As mentioned in my previous post, I injured my hand shoving a screwdriver in it at work and assumed I'd be out of Ashtanga action for a couple of weeks. This was OK, a chance to explore Vinyasa Krama options. However, don't know what it is, something to do with the come rain come shine, six day a week practice that makes us stubborn perhaps but I ended up practicing Primary anyway, this morning.

The problem of course is that with said injured hand and not being able to put weight on it, how does one approach the Sury's and jump backs let alone some of the other postures that involve some form of arm balance.

One solution is using the forearms and that's what got me through this mornings practice, forearms in the Sury's, a forearm jump back ( little proud of that one ), and a forearm urdhva Danurasana. A forearm kukkutasana didn't work so well, some lift but not very elegant plus there was a forearm version of Bhuja pidasana which turned out more like a forearm tittbhasana. I couldn't think of anything for utpluthi but otherwise made it through the series OK, the one handed dropback was interesting.
















































All these pictures and videos are taken with my new Samsung galaxy S, loving the phone but will need to get something with a black and white option before the weather gets much hotter. Still, nice to have a little colour for a change, Spring and all that.













Saturday, 9 April 2011

A broken camera, a screwdriver and a fancy new phone



I think I mentioned that Tuesday I broke my Camera, I'd just recorded the Gandha B on the left, noticed that I'd gotten pretty deep and was tempted to try and take my feet to the floor next time around. While setting up the camera it fell, landed on the lens, and that was that. I took it as a bad omen so gave the 2nd Gandha a miss. Most of the videos and photo's on this and my Vinyasa Krama sister blog where taken on that camera, it's worked hard, I'm a little sad about it.


RIP Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 and thank-you.

The best thing about that camera was the wide angled lens that allowed me to shoot indoors in a tiny yoga room. The replacement will probably be another Panasonic but one that allows me to record for longer, a whole sequence/practice perhaps.

While thinking about which new camera to get I took the plunge and grabbed a new Samsung Galaxy S from Talk Mobile ( 18 quid, unlimited Internet. Bargain). Love this phone, Apple who? Couldn't wait to try out the camera, so this is without any warm up, thus the lackadaisical lotus but you get the idea.


I'm used to a wider angled lens so going to try one of those stick on 'Jelly wide lenses' from ebay. It should arrive in a couple of days and I'll add a comparison video when it does.

That's the broken camera and new phone, what about the screwdriver?

So at work this morning, while trying to take out a rusted in screw on an old clarinet I buried a long, thin screwdriver in my hand ( bet your feeling your mulla bandha about now). Quite dramatic, when I pulled it out a jet of very dark blood shot about a foot out of my hand, never seen anything like it ( hope nobody is having breakfast). Trip to the hospital but it's fine best of all I got to come home and play with my new phone.

First thing that went through my hand as Comrade Ivan was bandaging me up at work was, 'I won't be able to practice', *2nd thought was, 'That's OK lot's of pranayama and chanting'. By the time I got to hospital I was working out how I could construct a one-handed Vinyasa Krama practice.

Nonsense how we live our lives around this thing we do, most anything that happens, it's like, OK, what impact will this have on my practice.


* I say first and second thought but there may well have been a "May you be happy, screwdriver, may you be well rusted screw.....".

So one-handed practice, suggestions on a postcard to.....

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

...and practice?

It's been good, motivation up and down but managed to get on the mat, in fact I noticed Friday that I hadn't taken a rest day in over a month. I don't take the usual Ashtanga rest or moon days but do tend to take a couple of days off a month, usually a Monday but recently I've been doing a very light core Vinyasa Krama practice on Mondays and counting that as a rest.

So there was the Back thing and trying to work around it and then the gungho, cowboy-up and power through it with Ashtanga and painkillers month that that seemed to sort it out. This last month has just been a steady Ashtanga/Vinyasa Krama month relatively straight AshtangaPrimary on Friday, Intermediate on Saturday and then Vinyasa Krama practice the rest of the week.

My Vinyasa Krama practice tends to be built around either Primary or Intermediate series Ashtanga ( I tend to alternate) but with more freedom to explore. So I'll switch around some of the standing postures or add a couple, spend longer in some postures or work on extensions to postures. The practice built on Primary tends to get wrapped up in hip openers, moving from the Asymmetric Janu's to Leg behind head and from Dwi pada into Supta Kurmasana, some time in spread angle poses and then work on Badha konasana and Kandasana, yoga Dandasana, that kind of thing. Then I'll get back on track for finishing. I tend to cut back the jump backs from between each posture to between sides, so I'll do all the Janu's on one side, jump back and do the other side etc.

This morning was one of my most enjoyable practices in ages. Being my day off I practiced a little later and even put some music on, the bloomin' Ravi Shankar CD I can't seem to stop playing. Now I never usually play music during practice, I tried once but ended up getting as far as Sury B before I decided it irritated me and turned it off. The Ravi is OK though and I was half way through the third time around before I turned it off for pranayama ( longggggg practice this morning).

So this mornings Vinyasa Krama practice was built around 2nd series Ashtanga, bit longer than usual but pretty much what I've been doing. Standing but with some of the VK one leg squats thrown in, want to do a post on these as I think they are great prep for dropbacks, kapo andLaghu. Then after Pasasana ( standing VK approach) and Krounchasana I work through the Vinyasa Krama Bow sequence, lots of Salabhasana vinyasas. I spent a lot of time on these this morning really opening the back. The sequence finishes with Viparita Salabhasana and gandha Bherundasana, deep this morning, could see all my feet not just my toes in gandha B and was tempted to try and take my tiptoes to the floor. I was going to film it to see why it was feeling so different but the camera dropped and broke. I took that as a bad omen so moved on to the Kapo and it's prep section plus Eka pada raja kapotasana. Got my ankles in Kapo, a mellow EPRK then did dropbacks, again very deep, slow and controlled, loving these at the moment. Backbends are coming along really nicely, pleased with them.

Sometimes I'll call that a day do a long paschimottanasana and then move on to finishing or skip the LBH and jump to the last third of 2nd. This morning I worked through the LBH poses, nice to have them back again, and even felt comfortable enough for Buddhasana. Managed the right side but not quite the left. Hang on which is the right side, I mean right leg over but left leg over that, that's the right side, right? I used all the LBH's as prep for my BadhaKonasana/Kandasana work then picked 2nd up again from Tittibhasana skipping the seven deadlies for a ten minute headstand with vinyasas instead ( only tend to do the deadlies on Saturday in the straight 2nd).

And that was it, tried to practice pranayama with Ravi but found it distracting so turned it off. Pranayama, some mantra meditation and a 10 minute savasana with Ramaswami's chanting in my ears. As usual I fell asleep for a few minutes, woke up feeling grand.

A note about finishing, again it's a blend of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama. At the end of my practice I'll do a short shoulderstand prep sequence that Ramaswami recommends then go into the first 5 minute shoulderstand. Sometimes I'll have a folded manduka under my shoulders. I stay up there with my legs relaxed for the first three minutes then engage my legs for the last two. Coming down I'll do a counterpose, usually urdhava danurasana. I'll then do a ten minute headstand, the first five minutes just working on my breathing, lots of bandha work, but the second five using some vinyasas from the VK inverted sequence. Coming down from that I'll do the second 5 minute headstand. I start off with Eka pada viparita dandasana and then go through the usual ashtanga finishing sequence minus the headstand (which I'd already done of course).

When I reach Padmasana after Yoga Mudra I do 36 breaths of kapalabhati then utpluthi for the next 36 and either arms raised, fingers linked for the last 36 or with my elbows up hands on shoulders. From there I'll relax my lotus a little so i get a nice level base and do my pranayama, 20 minutes of nadi shodana. I inhale for five seconds, hold for twenty while chanting the pranayama mantra in my head, exhale for ten then engage bandhas deeply for five and then inhale again ( there's a separate page at the top of my blog that goes into my pranayama practice in more depth). Finally some japa mantra meditation, repeating my short mantra in my head while going around the 108 mala beads, once twice or three times depending how I'm doing for time.

I'll come back to this post soon and add links to all the postures and sequences mentioned. Seem to have settled into this approach to practice so might stick this on a page of it's own somewhere.

I should add that this is just one approach to Vinyasa Krama. I'm heavily influenced by Ashtanga so tend to use that as a frame work to hang everything else on.

Was tempted to go and get a Bansuri flute from Southall this afternoon but decided to wait a bit, M and I have been meaning to visit on a Sunday, this makes for a good excuse. Fooled around with my large Sakuhachi instead, close enough.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

I LOVE Indian music, well the Bansuri anyway

I take it all back, the previous post anyway

I ( now ) LOVE Indian music, well the sound of the Bansuri flute anyway.



I remember hearing it on that classic ashtanga video ( which pretty much made me want to practice Ashtanga in the first place), OK you've seen this a million times but listen to the flute










I heard it again on the Ravi Shankar CD yesterday, now my all time favourite CD in the world ever, well this week anyway.








I think it's Ronu Majumdar playing on the above Album here he is on Youtube.



The flute is the Bansuri, a side blowing single shaft bamboo flute. Excellent site here and another here from which I borrowed the picture left. tells you all about it and best of all how to beginning playing one. Supposedly there's a music shop in Southall that sells them. Clearly as a Woodwind repairer it is essential that I get my hands one, for purely professional reasons you understand.






But of course you can't play Le Jazz on a Bansuri.........can you?



Now I need to get on and practice rather than googling Bansuri all morning.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

So what's with all the chanting?

M. thinks I'm turning into Crush ( from Finding Nemo) what with all the chanting and feeling the love. This is the same M who on having to choose between studying in the UK or the US chose England because of Monty Python. I suspect she likes her Englishmen cynical, ironic and mired in existential angst. The Dude from Venice is not what she bargained for.


So what is it with all the chanting?

First off, let me state categorically that I'm not drawn to 'Curtain's' and can't bare the hurdy gurdy ( I know, I know, harmonium but it's as irritating as a hurdy gurdy), thank heavens I'm a woodwind repairer and not..... actually, come to think of it perhaps it is woodwind. Anyway, I blame the French for bringing it to India in the first place.

I don't like Indian music, traditional or popular so certainly don't like modern treatments of chant, I like my chanting plain and simple.

I NEVER expecting to get into chanting at all, was always turned off the idea, I probably put off visiting a shala for a year because I thought you HAD to do the opening chant.

I came around to it by accident.

After coming across Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga a couple of years ago and exploring it a little I arranged to spend a few days learning the sequences from Steve of Harmony yoga, who'd taken Ramaswami's TT course in LA. He has a yurt as you may remember from an earlier post, ( I think I may have told this story already). So, we're in the Yurt and have gone through a couple of the sequences and are about done for the day. Steve has me lay down in Savasana and then begins to chant. This is a little awkward, thinks I, but actually quite pleasant. At the end of the week I asked Steve for some of the chants that had accompanied the earlier edition of Ramaswami's book.

One of the tracks was "Learning the pranayama mantra' and as I was working on pranayama with an iphone app already I decided to try and learn it. I started to listen to it while cycling in to work in the morning and before long I'd catch myself half humming, half singing, the ruddy thing throughout the day. Once I had it memorised and was using it in my pranayama practice there was no stopping me. I'd chant it cycling in to work, in supermarket queues, walking around on my lunch break.... I'd chant it to myself if something irritated me or if I was stressed with some vintage sax repair at work, it was relaxing... calming.

Coming around to chanting was probably the deciding factor that convinced me to go ahead and register for Ramamswami's TT course, the chanting element had put me off before. However, it's one thing chanting to yourself on your bike or in your head and quite another finding yourself in a mantra class in LA. I have a recording of part of the chanting the sutras class, M. was teasing me about it as every now and again you can hear me out of time and tune with everyone else in the class, clearly feeling exposed. But it's OK your in a group and there are always strong or enthusiastic chanters you can hide behind....mostly.

I don't think I've ever been that comfortable with OM, how do people keep OMing for so long? Some competitive nature's coming out there at times I think, bad yogi's. I do OM in the bath though and try and hit that note that makes the whole bathroom vibrate, you too, right? Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

What really turned me on to chanting was Ramaswami's chants while we were in Savasana at the end of asana class. He would have us lay there in that cavernous dance studio for five, ten sometimes twenty minutes chanting away and I loved it. Recently I came across a recording I made on the itouch and use it every morning. Remember when I was so proud of my minute and a half savasana? Not anymore, ten minutes every morning listening to my teacher chant away. Most morning I think I drift off for a couple of minutes and waking up for the last bit, refreshed and set for the day.

Now I chant whenever I get the chance, mantras, slokas, The yoga sutra's and just recently I started working on the Gita. And when Shiva gets restless and starts tearing this world of ours to pieces, the chanting, it helps a little.

Is it the sound of the Sanskrit? Possibly, although my all time favourite chant is in Tamil (Ganesha prayer). It may well be the rhythm, it's often what I'm drawn to first but perhaps it's partly to do with it's otherness, though not a Catholic I have a soft spot for Church Latin too. Either way, as I said, I like my chanting, clear, simple and straight forward......

or at least I did.



I spent the last couple of hours trying to trace the Ravi and George version of the chant from Ramaswami's newsletter, now I can't get the CD out of my head and Ravi is now, finally, on my ipod.

Where will it end.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Maha Shanti or the Great Peace Invocation


'Most days I try to chant a portion of the vedas, different portions on
different days. One day in the morning I chanted the pravargya chapter
containing the ghosha santi mantra referred to in the beginning of
this write up. Soon thereafter I learnt about the earth quake in
Japan, then later on the horrendous tsunami and then the nerve racking
news about the nuclear plants. The pain one feels in such situations
is compounded by one's impotence. I could only think of chanting the
45 minute pravargya chapter almost daily thereafter which contains the
beautiful ghosha santi mantras

May the Earth function peacefully
May there be peace in outer Space
May there be peace in the Heavens.
Peace, may there be, in all Directions
In all the intermediate directions, may there be Peace
May the Fire function peacefully
May the Air function peacefully,
May the Sun warm us gently
May the moon shine peacefully,
So the stars function peacefully,
May the waters function in peace,
May there be peace in herbs
May the trees (and forests) be peaceful
May the milch cows be peaceful
So the goats be peaceful
And the horses be peaceful,
May human beings be peaceful.,
May the Lord be kind and peaceful,
May the scholars (brahmanas) be peaceful,
Let there be peace alone (no strife)
Let there be Peace alone in me.
May I be peaceful as the Universe becomes peaceful
May peace be instilled in me, in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace
By this universal peace may I remain peaceful
And I pledge to remain peaceful
And pledge to create peace in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace in me, Peace alone in me!!

This is also known as Maha Shanti or the great peace invocation. I had
included this chant on the cd that accompanied the first few prints of
my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”.'

Srivatsa Ramaswami
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I've been hunting around trying to find the Sanskrit to chant and found this

Taittirîya Aranyaka, 4th Prasna (Pravargya Mantras, 42nd Anuvaka)

Prthivee Shaantih
Antarikshan Shaantih
Dyaushshaantih
Dishashshaantih
Avaantaradishaashshaantih
Agnishshaantih
Vaayushshaantih
Aadityashshaantih
Vhandramaashshaantih
NakshatraaniShaantih
Aapashshaantih
Oshadhayashshaantih
Vanaspatayashshaantih
Gaushshaantih
AjaaShaantih
Ashvashshaantih
Purushashshaantih
Brahma Shaantih
Braahmanashshaantih
Shaantireva Shaantih
Shaantirme AstuShaantih.
Tayaaham Shaantyaa
Sarvashaantyaa
Mahyam Dvipade Chatushpade Cha Shaantim
Karom Shaantirme
Astu Shaantih
Om Shaanthi Shaantih Shsantih.

Let me know if anyone has a better translation and/or audio, can't seem to find Ramaswami's version.

Friday, 1 April 2011

April 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Mantra Cover

Ramaswami's April Newsletter, presented in full below, on the length of the inhale and exhale, his upcoming schedule, the recent tragedy in Japan, chanting mantra's as well as the different types of mantra and prayers, Krishnamacharya, the beautiful ghosha santi mantras and some additional notes and quotes.


Hello Friends:

Warm April 1st Greetings!

Barbara Templeton sent the following e mail in response to the article
“Breath of Yoga” contained in the previous Newsletter. See also the
response

Dear Ramaswami,

With regards to the recent discussion concerning the length of the
inhale and exhale I am particularly interested in any methods that you
would recommend for lengthening the inhale. Are there certain asanas
or pranayama practices one could practice with this goal in mind?

I thank you in advance for your time and attention to this question.
Barbara

Hello Barbara Templeton:

Thank u for your e mail. It will be a good practice to work with
Kapalabhati first. Then work with your exhalation, make it as long and
as complete as possible and try to wait for a second or two before
starting the next inhalation. Once your exhalation is good and you do
not feel rushed for breath, then you can slowly start your inhalation.
Usually the inhalation will improve if you do not rush with your
inhalation. Start with about 5 seconds of inhalation then hold breath
for a second and then exhale deeply. After a few breaths you can
increase the length of your inhalation. You may choose nadi sodhana,
ujjayi or sitali for your inhalation depending on what you are
comfortable with. The more relaxed and attentive one is the more
comfortable and longer will the inhalation be. Once you are happy with
your inhalation you may start holding the breath after your inhalation
for a few seconds say 5 seconds for a start. Sincerely Srivatsa
Ramaswami

******
In Ma,y I will be doing the following programs

1. At Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California I wil be doing a 26 hr
program on Hata Yoga and Raja Yoga Practicum, between May 8th and
13th. You may register and here is the link
http://webapp.esalen.org/workshops/9360

2. Between May 23 to May 27, I will be doing a 20 hr week-long program
on “The Yoga Sutras-An Intensive Study” at Long Island University's
C.W. Post Campus. It is a 20 hr program. Contact 516-299-2580

3. My 200 Hr, six-week Teacher Training Program in Vinyasakrama Yoga
is scheduled to start on June 6th at Loyola Marymount University, Los
Angeles, CA. The registration should start any time if not started
already. If interested please send your inquiry to yoga@lmu.edu


*******

Mantra Cover

Breathes there the man (or woman) with soul so dead that his/her heart
does not bleed at the intense pain of the stoic Japanese people
suffering from the triple tragedy inflicted by nature recently? Hope
and pray that the suffering is quickly contained and rehabilitation of
the victims who survived the ordeal comes about early. Our need for
energy that we tend to waste indiscriminately has led us to exploit
resources beyond what has been conventional. The abundance of natural
radiation from the sun and the other secondary sources of energy from
nature like wind and vegetation should be sufficient for our needs if
we can be a bit more frugal and careful with the use of energy. We
have gone on to tap the huge energy that nature has tightly held
within atoms. Science has found ways to control the radiation from the
nuclear resource,but they do not seen to be foolproof. An earthquake,
a war between peoples,sabotage could all trigger an uncontrolled
fallout of radiation. Though reactors have been designed and operated
safely, they appear to be potential disasters due to external
factors. The thought that in next coupe of decades the earth may be
dotted with hundreds of nuclear power plants is a bit worrying. Ok,
let us leave it to the collective wisdom of the experts in these
fields.

Pray, tell us, do prayers or mantra chants work? Do they prevent the
fury of nature and/or the sufferings one undergoes during these times?
Perhaps not, but probably yes. As the word 'mantra' indicates, it is
supposed to protect the one who meditates/chants the prayer mantra.
Mantanam trayata iti mantra, that which protects the one that chants
it is mantra...probably.

This following episode happened more than 40 years back but, I
remember it very vividly. One late summer afternoon, I went for my
class with my Guru. Unusually there was nobody else at home. When I
just entered his room, I saw him pacing up and down in the room,
chanting a portion from the Pravargya chapter of the Yajurveda. It
contains the famous Ghosha santi mantras. As soon as he completed the
chant, he looked at me and asked how I came, I said in my car.
Sometimes I used to walk from my home and sometimes by my bicycle. He
immediately asked me to take him to a particular hospital in the city.
As we were going in the car, he did not say a word to me but kept
chanting these mantras. On reaching the hospital he asked me to come
with him. One of his close relatives was admitted in the hospital. She
was having labor pains and the childbirth appeared to have become
suddenly complicated. I could see that my Guru was worried, concerned.
He spent some time with her talked breifly to a few relatives and
then aswe returned home he continued to chant the same mantras,
never saying a word to me. On reaching his home he asked me to leave
and I left.

I went to my next class a couple of days later, wondering about the
health of his close relative in the hospital. I was shocked to learn
that it resulted in a stillbirth. While I was very sorry for the
mishap, I could not stop wondering about the efficacy of the mantras
chanted by my Guru. Do these mantras work, especially when used by
such a stalwart like my guru? I thought for a moment that my guru's
faith in all these mantras also would have taken a beating. But no.
When I started expressing my condolences, he immediately and sternely
cut me short and started the class with the usual mantra prayer. At
the end of the class he chanted the end peace chant and I left the
class. In spite of his prayer not being answered his faith in these
mantras remained unshaken. I spent almost 1500 hrs studying and
chanting with him during my classes with him. His faith and commitment
could be discerned every time he would chant. It was a remarkable
experience listening to his chants, unhurried, involved and full of
commitment and absolutely charming.

The Ghosha santi mantra he chanted is a beautiful and profound piece.
It is part of the portion which starts like this
“ May the wind blow gently
May the sun shine warming us
Like a (cuddling)mother warms the infant
….

The ghosha santi mantras are meant to be chanted aloud (ghosha) in a
chorus praying to the various gods of nature to be kind to us, and not
harm us. According to vedic belief, God created the universe and
appointed intelligent/conscious entities/gods to control the natural
forces. In fact it is said that there are 330 million gods controlling
several million aspects of the universe. There is a god of fire, of
wind, of time, of life, of wealth, of knowledge, of earth, of love, of
speech etc. And the vedas contain mantras to propitiate these
intelligent gods. So when we say a prayer using the vedic mantras
addressed to these gods and propitiate them with offerings, they tend
to be helpful to human beings and individuals. However if we act
against the rules/laws of nature they get angry (prakopa) and show
their displeasure which we call acts of god. Human beings are unable
to predict or control these acts.

Prayers to natural forces may appear to be irrational but become
meaningful if one subscribes to the view that gods of nature are
intelligent entities. This belief led to a plethora of vedic and non
vedic mantras that are chanted by millions to appease the gods of
nature not only for their bounties but also as a cover or protection
against the vagaries and adverse effects of nature. The word mantra
means that sound which protects the one who thinks (chants) it. My
teacher would say that vedic mantras were designed in such a way that
they purify the various chakras of the body. Mantras are used to ward
off unhappiness of adhyatmika or of the body from the common cold to
cancer, and of the mind such as depression (soka), obsession/
worry(chinta) or anger(manyu). These are individual and specific in
nature. Mantras are also used to counter the problems created by adhi
bhoutika or the other beings like my neighbor, stray dogs, war etc.
Then there are mantras that help appease the devatas manning the
different aspects of nature and prevent disasters like water (flooding
and tsunami) of air (tornadoes), of mother earth (earthquakes) of fire
(forest fires and radiation). In fact there are mantras used by the
orthodox people for all the daily activities (nitya karma). A mantra
to the female aspects of the trinity of creation, sustenance and
destruction (Lakshmi, Saraswati and Gauri) is recited the moment you
open your eyes in the morning. Then as ones steps out of bed a mantra
prayer to mother earth asking for pardon to step on her. One prays
with mantras to several aspects of nature to make the day happy and
ward off evils that may come in the way all through the day. Then
there are mantras as one brushes the teeth with a neem twig, while
taking a bath, then to the food and the five pranas before taking
food. Mantras are chanted as you step out of the house so that the
journey may be uneventful. Then there are mantras so that one would
have a good night's sleep without those excruciating nightmares.
Prayer to Sun for health and removal of heart disease and eyesight
problems are well known. In fact apart from these daily mantras there
are mantra rituals done at different stages of life. Mantras are used
all through life, from the time of conception to the event of
consigning the mortal remains to the sacred fire, the last rites.
Mantras when a baby is started on solid food, mantras for starting
study, wedding vows, childbirth, etc. In addition to doing proper
karmas (punya) consistent with nature (will of gods), people used to
propitiate the gods with these beautiful, innocent but powerful
mantras. There was an attempt to live one's life trying to harmonize
it with nature and these mantras helped develop an empathy with
nature. One endeavors to go through life shrouded in peace with the
support of the mantras.

Then there are mantras and prayers used for specific situations.
Mantras to propitiate the sun and the god of rain in case of
drought(anavrishti). Mantras for getting married at the proper time
are still used with varying degrees of success. Some mantras are
considered to be efficacious in getting justice in court. Mantras are
used to climb out of a hole, out of desperate situations.

Last year I was talking to a friend in India about a common friend who
was in a dire situation. She was a surgeon. She had ended her first
marriage in a divorce, which is rather uncommon in India. She married
again and got a son, a brilliant charming boy. But things took a turn
for the worse. Her second husband died suddenly. Her demanding mother
became sick and it was a task taking care of a difficult sick mother
and it drained her energy and enthusiasm completely. She had to work
in a distant hospital to make both ends meet. It took a toll on her
and led to a nervous breakdown. She lost her job and this started
affecting the boy as well. Her behavior started getting bizarre. She
would wake her son up a few times during the night to see if he was ok
and alive. She complained of being stalked by strangers. My friend
said that she was concerned about her and thought she would need
immediate psychiatric care and it was impossible to convince her to go
and consult a doctor. I felt unhappy about her lot. Impulsively I took
the book of Sundarakanda from the Ramayana of Valmiki. This section
contains more than 2800 Sanskrit verses. It deals with the condition
of Sri Sita who was abducted by Ravana and incarcerated in Lanka. Her
husband Sri Rama had no clue about her whereabouts and sent emissaries
in different directions. The great devotee of Rama, Hanuman the monkey
god leapt over the Indian Ocean( a la Hanumanasana or Anjaneyasana)
and reached Lanka and ultimately found Sri Sita confined in a remote
forest. He managed to convince her that he was an emissary of Sri
Rama, exchanged a ring given by Rama for identification, received a
crest jewellery of Sita as proof of his meeting with Sita. He finally
returned to the mainland and reported to Sri Rama about the successful
completion of 'finding Sita Mission'. This portion of the Ramayana is
said to be very powerful and is used as a mantra portion. Sita was
desperate, had lost all hopes of returning to her beloved husband and
was about to commit suicide-- she saw no light at the end of the
tunnel (2800+ verses for this?). So this is chanted when people feel
'hope-less'. To chant this whole section takes about ten hours. Many
times people who can not do it by themselves because they can not read
Sanskrit or are not in a mental condition to read ask a priest or
someone else to recite/chant and sometimes they sit down and listen to
it. It is believed that chanting or listening to it will help the
subject to get out of the hole like Sri Sita who was able to get out
of Lanka and return to her husband after a successful mission of her
husband.

So I just chanted the whole section during the next three days at the
rate of about 3 hours per day. I felt a little peaceful afterwords.
After about 15 days I was talking to my friend in India again and she
had something interesting to say about our common friend. I was told
that she became worse, even became violent and suddenly one late
evening she impulsively rang up her first husband who was living in a
city about 400 miles away and poured her heart out about her desperate
situation. He listened to her carefully and calmly and he (himself a
medical doctor) asked her to come over to his city as he thought she
needed a change of place first. She quickly wound up her
establishment. Her first husband helped her find an apartment to stay
in, found admission for her son in a good school. He also used his
contacts and found her a job in a new teaching hospital in the
outskirts of the city, He also took personal interest in the adorable
and brilliant boy,-- as a godfather . When I met her during my recent
visit to India I found her absolutely fine. She even got a promotion
in the teaching hospital as an associate professor in Surgery. A
dramatic turnaround in a very short period of time.

Whenever I have problems the solutions for which are beyond my
control, I resort to chanting. Most often they do not seem to have any
effect, but they help me to calm down a bit and to view the situation
more realistically. Mantras seem to work if one chants for others,
most times. Mantras seem to work wonders sometimes. Mantras act as a
protective cover or a shield .Of course skeptics would say these are
coincidences.

There is a work called Tarka Sangraha. It is a treatise on ancient
vedic logic. It starts with a prayer to the Almighty for the
successful completion of the work, like we pray to Ganesha at the
beginning of Yoga class. In a commentary on this work, the commentator
poses the question (it being a work on logic and inference) whether it
is necessary to pray before starting any work like writing a book. He
quotes an instance of a book successfully completed without a prayer
in the beginning. He also quotes another literary work which remained
abandoned even with a beautiful prayer to start with. Then he goes on
to answer. Just because there is no written prayer at the beginning of
the book it does not mean that the author had not recited a prayer. He
might have done it silently without writing it. Or he could have
prayed sufficiently in his previous births. Regarding the unsuccessful
book, he says that mantras and prayers alone may not be sufficient if
the obstacles are insurmountable. I can not write a book on let us
say, “ Nuances of British Criminal Law” by just writing a prayer to
Lord Ganesha, nor a couch potato win a marathon after chanting a
mantra on Vishnu. If one's Karma is very negative, prayers may help to
mitigate the ill effects rather than in completely nullifying it. In a
desperate situation most people instinctively look up to the superior
force/being even if they do not pray routinely.

Most days I try to chant a portion of the vedas, different portions on
different days. One day in the morning I chanted the pravargya chapter
containing the ghosha santi mantra referred to in the beginning of
this write up. Soon thereafter I learnt about the earth quake in
Japan, then later on the horrendous tsunami and then the nerve racking
news about the nuclear plants. The pain one feels in such situations
is compounded by one's impotence. I could only think of chanting the
45 minute pravargya chapter almost daily thereafter which contains the
beautiful ghosha santi mantras

May the Earth function peacefully
May there be peace in outer Space
May there be peace in the Heavens.
Peace, may there be, in all Directions
In all the intermediate directions, may there be Peace
May the Fire function peacefully
May the Air function peacefully,
May the Sun warm us gently
May the moon shine peacefully,
So the stars function peacefully,
May the waters function in peace,
May there be peace in herbs
May the trees (and forests) be peaceful
May the milch cows be peaceful
So the goats be peaceful
And the horses be peaceful,
May human beings be peaceful.,
May the Lord be kind and peaceful,
May the scholars (brahmanas) be peaceful,
Let there be peace alone (no strife)
Let there be Peace alone in me.
May I be peaceful as the Universe becomes peaceful
May peace be instilled in me, in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace
By this universal peace may I remain peaceful
And I pledge to remain peaceful
And pledge to create peace in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace in me, Peace alone in me!!

This is also known as Maha Shanti or the great peace invocation. I had
included this chant on the cd that accompanied the first few prints of
my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. I had also recorded the
Sundara Kanda I referred to in this article a few years back and it is
still available in India as a two cd pack running for close to 10
hours. Many people chant “Hanuman Chalisa” an excellent prayer mantra
on Hanumanji and is considered to be equal to the lengthy Sundara
Kanda in its efficacy. You may also consider reading the chapter on
Mantra Yoga in my book “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”.

*******

***Kapalabhati is voluntary sneezing. Ujjayi is voluntary
wheezing. Bhastrika is voluntary coughing. Pranayama is voluntary/
mindful breathing. These simple yogic procedures help overcome the
underlying chronic respiratory problems

***According to my Guru the inversion twins Sirasasana and
Sarvangasana are like two eyes of yogasana regimen. They are also
compared to the head and the heart..they benefit respectively the
brain and the heart. Some call them as the King and Queen of asanas.

***Pranayama is one procedure that has a direct correlation to
longevity.

*** A sage (yogi) should use food as a medicine to treat a
disease called hunger. Minimal clothing-the loin cloth-- should be
used like a bandage to cover a wound.-- My Guru quoting an old
Sanskrit saying. (A recluse yogi ate three handfuls of food a day and
perhaps just wore a loincloth—no yoga wardrobe or yoga recipes /
kitchen, I guess )

*** The tongue (jihwa) has two tendencies/weaknesses (chapalya).
One is to taste (and eat) excess stimulating food. The other is to
talk in excess and without purpose. Tapas, a yogic niyama is to keep
the twin functions of the tongue under a leash by moderation is
speech(mita bhashana) and moderation in diet (mitaa ahaara)--From my
class notes on YS of my Guru

*** The initial goal of a Yoga is to transform one's mind (chitta)
into a predominantly Satwic state. The ultimate goal of a Yoga would
be to make the mind (chitta) transcend all the gunas, called nirodha
avasta (state of peaceful stillness) or saamya avasta ( state of
absolute equilibrium of the three gunas). How to achieve these? Ask
Patanjali Maharshi, he has all the answers.

*** I know what is right action(dharma),
but am disinclined to do what is right
I know what is wrong action (adharma)
but am unable to refrain from doing it
So, let me act the way, as directed
By whosoever divine being resides in my heart
-A Sanskrit morning prayer

Thank You and with best wishes
Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

P S You may access my earlier newsletters containing articles of
interest to Yoga practitioners, from my website
www.vinyasakrama.com
and clicking on the Newsletter tab
You may also consider sending your views, questions to
info@vinyasakrama.com

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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