Monday, 30 June 2014

Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga vinyasa yoga (at home) in Rethymno

Two months practice in Rethymno at Kristina's shala, thought I'd start in the morning but it seems there's an evening Mysore tonight (groan)











Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Talk on Krishnamacharya from Yoga Rainbow Festival with Russian translation

While on the Yoga Rainbow Festival I was asked to give a two hour talk on Krishnamacharya.

 I only managed to record the first forty minutes of audio ( if anyone recorded the full two hours perhaps you could  share it with me through dropbox grimmly2007 at googlemail dot com).

At the beginning of this talk I stress that  I'm just a blogger. I'm not an historian, I don't have their tools and skills, I'm an enthusiastic amateur only. But then come to think of it some of the theories the  historians and biographers come up with move very swiftly from facts to speculation. We have to sift through the stories, the reminiscing, the self interest, which aspects of a life some wish to stress and others play down. We only have to look at the different timelines in the various biographies of Krishnamacharya to be aware of how little we actually know about this fascinating man

On the practice side of things I feel on slightly safer ground having read Krishnamacharya's early works over and over and practicing along to his instructions daily for the last year or more but even here it's pretty much archeology, not an exact science.  We also have to ask what was the intention behind the works Krishnamacharya produced, was this how he actually taught or perhaps how he would have liked to have taught.

The translation is by the wonderful Maria Vorobyeva, thank you yet again Maria.



Why didn't Krishnamacharya seem to teach sun salutation's

On the way up to Stonemonkey in Leamington Spa for my workshop (which was great fun by the way, thank you everyone for coming, Digby, Maddy, Paula, for making it happen) I had a little time to kill and was undecided whether to pull out my own Krishnamacharya book to prepare or Yoga Makaranda, went for the original and had a minor epiphany on page one, how have I never connected the dots on this in all the other times I've opened Yoga Makaranda. I tried to upload a post on the Ipad while traveling up but it let me down. here it is finally.


At the time of writing Yoga Makaranda (1934), the practice of tens, even hundreds of sun salutations had been in vogue as a health and fitness fad. Krishnamacharya seems to have felt this trivialised the surynamaskara. Krishnamacharya would still teach the stages of the sun salutalutation but as individual asana with long stays. He would occasionally teach the surynamaskara with mantras as we do in Vinyasa Krama. 

In ashtanga vinyasa of course we only practice 5 A's and 5 B's. which is hardly excessive .


"One cannot have such a trivial attitude as expecting immediate benefits in auspicious matters like yogabhyasa, worship, sandhya vandanam (salutation to the sun) or chanting of mantras as though one were a laborer who does one hour of work and expects immediate payment. They should not lament that they have not received even one paisa for all the time spent on this. When this pattern of thinking begins, we enter a phase of deterioration day by day."

 Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda (1934) page 1.


I just came across a video I posted at the beginning of the year,  I'd completely forgotten about it, it was an attempt to reconstruct a sun salutation from the descriptions Krishnamacharya gives for the different stages, treated as asana, in Yoga Makaranda. On reflection now I'm not sure how I feel about it, Krishnamacharya seems to have gone out of his way to avoid presenting a sun salutation and here I am constructing one from his writings. I guess watching and perhaps practicing the sequence below you'll have to decide for yourself if it's merely an exercise routine or if it's value lies elsewhere. Krishnamachrya said that we seek god ( read whatever you wish into that term) in the kumbhaka, the approach to asana that Krishnamacharya offers us in Yoga  Makaranda has a kumbhaka on almost every breath.

On the question of kumbhaka and God

Question: What does the bhakti mean to a person who has no belief in Isvara?

Krishnamacharya: Love is bhakti for them

Here's a link to my presentation of how Krishnamacharya and Ramaswami would teach the sun salutation with mantra

http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/srivatsa-ramaswamis-complete-book-of.html

and here's a link to the Surnamaskara for health in vogue at the time of Krishnamacharya writing Yoga makaranda.



http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/balasahibs-original-1928-suya-namaskar.html

And Thank you to Gabor for sending me this link to the Sandhya Vandam (salutation to the sun ritual)

http://www.ibiblio.org/sripedia/ebooks/sandhya/index.html

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The call of practice

Sometimes it seems to take a blog post forever to say what you really want to say and unfortunately ipad doesn't really allow you to edit longer posts

Old Selfie

I wanted to title this post The call of Mysore but didn't want to confuse it with this blog post by Aliya Weise.

The call to Mysore

I shared it on fb this week here's what I had to say about it.
The call to Mysore, to Sharath, Saraswati, BNS perhaps, Vijay/Vinay, others....or the call to Crete, to Kristina, Manju, a sangha, a space, perhaps it's all a question of love.... Love for teachers, for our practice for that which it occasionally, on a good day, gives us a glimpse of......possibilities. Really nice post  from Aliya Weise.
A good blog post has legs, it floats around your head, goes away comes back, merges with other ideas or brings them into clearing.
***
This coming Sunday I'm teaching a workshop on Krishnamacharya 's early, original, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama up at Stonemonkey in Leamington Spa. I have to say I feel a bit of a fraud. I'm aware some are coming to the workshop because they know my blog and I know from comments that there is some respect for my practice, that I have maintained a home practice twice a day for the last seven years. And yet that practice has suffered somewhat over the last few months, come under threat.
Those of us who have begun to notice our practice slipping away from us no doubt try to work out when it  started to happen. For me I can trace it back to my last experience of Kidney stones a year or so ago. That's convenient, I can blame it on a medical condition. I had to modify my practice for some time and then when  it passed I was paranoid about too sweaty a practice ( Kidney stone sufferers need the water they take on to pass through the whole system, sweating doesn't count) It was a good opportunity to explore Krishnamacharya's original  Ashtanga, with it's long slow breathing, it's use of kumbhaka and longer stays, you can sweat a lot less. 
And then the workshops began to come in , first Leon and then Valencia, Ulm, Valencia again for a week long retreat and then the Yoga Rainbow festival in Turkey..... I don't know how Kino does it, how she maintains her schedule of workshops and yet not only maintains her practice but extends it. For me each workshop is a disruption to my practice. Leading up to the workshop I can't practice without wondering at some point how I would communicate some aspect of practice and then there's the the travel there and back , the socializing with whoever is organizing the workshop, the travel back and exhaustion.... There's running joke from my colleague Abi at work that every time a workshop is coming up I'm asking why ever did I agree to do it and yet when I come back I'm on such a high, saying how wonderful the experience was, how great it was to work with those who attended and discuss yoga with those who set it up. I love doing these workshops but I do find them disruptive. 
Another good excuse is that M. and I are moving back to Japan, she's gone on ahead and has been away for over three months now, my routine is all messed up. I thought I would have all this time for practice and yet I seem to practice less, I'm uneasy, restless, I practice less, eat more.

Finally I'm heading off myself and there's the closing down of the house, the shipping to  Japan, throwing things out, giving stuff away, selling this, selling that, packing, more and more disruption .
No wonder my practice has suffered, slipped.
It's not my fault, it was my health, others, circumstance, it's just slipped through my fingers.
When did practice begin to slip away from me?
It's the wrong question of course, better would be....
Why didn't I stop it?
How do you stop it happening?
The call of Mysore.
I remember reading a conference report where Sharath was seeming to criticize 10 day meditation retreats and yet isn't Mysore a retreat of sorts, it's longer, a month perhaps three but a retreat all the same.  It's an opportunity to reground our practice , to step away from our daily lives and focus on practice, not just the asana, Ashtanga has never been about the asana but rather the attitude we bring to our practice of asana, the asana , the vinyasa, is the vehicle, we call it practice.
Visiting Mysore is a call to practice.
But we don't have to go to India, for those of us who practice at home visiting a Mysore room on a Sunday or perhaps a workshop with a strong Mysore element to it or Sharath's world tours, these too  are  retreats of sorts, even if it's just one morning  a week, a month, every few months.
Visiting a Mysore room is a call to practice
And isn't our regular morning Mysore practice at home or in our home shala a retreat, that precious part of the day, that seems to exist in a world of it's own. I've been blessed with a practice partner these last few weeks and I wonder sometimes if I could have maintained my own practice  at all without the comfort and support of their breath on the mat beside me.
In two weeks I fly to Crete and to Kristina Ireland's shala in Rethymno. I visited there last year for Manju's teacher training. I've considered it my 'home shala' ever since even though I was only there a week and it's pretty much the only shala I've visited ( there was AYL for a couple of sunday's five years ago). Two months, a retreat of sorts, an opportunity to refocus my  practice, to rebuild my second series such that I can explore Krishnamacharya's use of kumbhaka in intermediate asana.
A friend mentioned that for what two months in Crete will cost me I could visit Mysore itself, practice in 'The room' . Once a year I tend to consider it, one feels one should but honestly it's only really the feeling that it would be nice to visit the place where Krishnamachayra lived and taught that tempts me. Of course if I'm turned off by the size of 'The room', the numbers practicing, then there are several excellent Ashtanga teachers in Mysore, Vinay and Vijay Kumar to name but two that have come highly recommended to me.
No, Crete will suit me fine, it's a shala I love, in Kristina a teacher I love and respect and then there's Manju, how wonderful to spend another week with him. So many on his TT last year seem to come back again and again, I feel the same draw. Is it partly a connection to lineage a going back to basics, to fundamentals, a stripping away,.... good common sense ashtanga. 
Manju stresses pranayama, chanting , practicing with him along with my studies of Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga as found in his early books Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu allowed me to see the vinyasa krama in Ashtanga, the Ashtanga in Vinyasa Krama, I no longer see any conflict between them they compliment each other. In Crete I'll explore meditation before  practicing Ashtanga ( Kristina puts it, " moving from inside out') continue with pranayama and quietly chant under my breath. In the afternoon I'll study at the beach and then do my integrated Vinyasa Krama practice, it's exciting.
But of course we have to come back from retreats, whether it's Mysore, a workshop, A sunday Mysore class, our morning practice. How do we maintain our practice when the retreats begin to wear off, when the morning's practice begins to wear off.
There is the idea in Ashtanga circles that the Yamas and Niyamas will  follow practice, first we do our asana and then eventually we will turn to the Yamas and Niyamas, Sharath has said as much in conference, Pattabhi Jois too in an interview I seem to remember. I think I suggested as much in an early blog post that as we find such joy in our practice in something that requires only a rubber mat, if that, we start to simplify our lives, we begin to focus on what is really important. Another idea I find a little frustrating is that we might one day discover the yama niyamas, the moral code as if we don't all have pretty much the same moral code, whatever culture we're from with a few additions or substitutions. It's just a question of how much we focus on them, reflect on them.
Krishnamacharya argued that we begin with the yamas and niyamas and I want to argue that there is a sense where the Yamas and Niyamas are a retreat, wherever we are we have them to fall back on, I would argue that they are the practice, they are the attitude we bring to our asana, that we explore and develop and it's that aspect that we take forward through the rest of our day, that we seek, however unconsciously, to take from the mat. essentially they are perhaps the only aspect of practice that really matters,
All those who comment on Ashtanga disparagingly , all they see are the asana, they don't seem to notice what we're really working on, working towards even if we haven't perhaps realized it ourselves. I suspect we get a little closer with each SELFie we take rather than move further away.
The Yamas and  Niyamas are a retreat and a refuge, if your life seems chaotic, disrupted then take refuge in the yamas and niyamas, find some peace there. Like asana practice we begin again each morning without judgement aiming to do a little better each time., understand how to approach them more sincerely. Ramaswami recommends that each night before going to sleep we take a few minutes to reflect on our day in relation to them.
That too is a call to practice..
If my Ashtanga practice has slipped somewhat then it's no doubt because I've allowed it to slip, made excuses, looked the other way,  allowed myself to slide somewhat, my discipline, my focus, my attention
Krishnamacharya lists 10, we need to read them several times, reflect on them, play with them, turn them around and around find ways to connect with them and how to find them relevant to us and to our own  moral and ethical understanding. We can reflect too on how we relate to them, is it on the emotional level, the intellectual, spiritual (whatever that means to us), aesthetic perhaps in the sense of truth.
See this Post for a list of Krishnamacharya's presentation of the Yamas and NIyamas, including some handy pdfs




The Yamans and Niyamas thought of as pratyahara lead us perhaps to the internal limbs






Sunday, 15 June 2014

Next Sunday, My Krishnamacharya early Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama workshop

Next Sunday, last workshop before leaving the UK, two months in Rethymno, Crete with Kristina and  Manju before moving permanently to Japan.

Seems we now have a bigger room so places some places should still be available if you'd like to come along.

Krishnamachary's slower pace  (long slow breathing, like the pouring of oil) should make  this a good introduction to Ashtanga, the use of kumbhaka and the historical element perhaps of interest to those with an Ashtanga background. The afternoon's Vinyasa Krama can be seen as a tool chest of preparatory postures, variations and  extensions for making back bending more approachable or for modifying practice. The afternoon session is an integrated practice progressing from asana to pranayama, pratyahara and meditation.


I didn't choose the pictures, not sure I can still do either of those, maybe

The thought of offering  my Krishnamacharya workshop in the UK was too big a temptation, so I'm out of retirement already, that was quick..... quite excited about it actually.

My friend Digby up at Stone Monkey in the beautiful town of Royal Leamington Spa (an hour and a half from London on the train) has invited me up for a one day Sunday workshop 22 June 2014.



How great are one day workshops, I get to squeeze in as much as possible with minimal disruption to our regular practice, it's perfect I'd give this workshop every week if I could.

I've made it a longer day than usual, 10-6 this allows for a half hour Intro to Krishnamacharya talk, a Led practice of Krishnamacharya's Original Ashtanga Primary looking at Vinyasa Count, the longer, slower breathing that we are often used to, kumbhaka (as well as a discussion of possible health benefits), bandhas, a look at jumping through, etc.

I Loved presenting this on the Yoga Rainbow Festival the other week, looking forward to offering it again.

After lunch  there will be another short intro then a Vinyasa Krama class employing the key asana Krishnamacharya suggested we practice everyday giving a framework for practice. We'll practice the the Bow and Mediative sequences which allows us to explore back bending ( most of the first part of Ashtanga 2nd series comes into  these sequences but with  a more gentle approach and build up). Vinyasa Krama is an integrated practice so there will also be some pranayama, pratyahara and 'meditation'.

The last hour ( longer if there are still questions) will be Q and A, on Krishnamacharya and developing and maintaining a home practice.

If anyone is thinking about coming up from London (timetable below), it may be a bit of an ask to get to Leamington Spa, let alone the studio for dead on 10am, that's OK and to be expected, no bad karma accrued by anyone coming late, we'll know how many are coming so will have mat space all ready for you. Also the first half an hour will be talk, an introduction. If your a reader of this blog then it won't be anything that new. The led practice will start with Krishnamacharya's approach to the postures of the surynamaskara ( Krsihnamacharya practiced them as individual asana), again familiar and the important points will come up again and again through the practice so not a disaster if you end up missing the first hour or so and it's a long day anyway. If you have to leave early to catch your train back, again not a problem as the last hour will be Q and A, roll up your mat and leave quietly whenever you need to I won't take it personally. Plus I'll be doing a follow of post here and the blog and you'll be free to ask me any questions about the day either here on the blog or via email.

Here are some details about stone monkey


http://www.stonemonkey-yoga.co.uk
Contact

digby@stonemonkey-yoga.co.uk      about reserving a place, hope to see you there


Stonemonkey Yoga from Mark Ellis on Vimeo.
****



Trains from London to Leamington Spa



Friday, 13 June 2014

GUEST POST: Even Art has a "Mysore style"

My friend Michelle has allowed me to reproduce her post over at her blog Ashtanga Angel here, recently she's been posting work in progress pictures of many of the pictures below, have been on at her to turn them into a post so I could share them here.

Comments are turned of here because I'm traveling but you can reach Michelle through her blog and this post especially, her work is for sale and i think she also takes commissions.

http://ashtangiangel.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/even-art-has-mysore-style.html

She's also just set up an FB page where hopefully she'll we'll get to see more of her work in progress

Yogic Art

I think one of the painting isn't showing up, one of the problems of trying to blog on the ipad, almost impossible to edit, head over to Ashtanga Angel (link above) and see it there.

Even Art has a "Mysore Style"!!


During my stay in Mysore, 'after the yoga', I was fortunate enough to spend my afternoons learning how to paint 'Mysore' style. My teacher was a beautiful man called M.S.Anand whose studio was on the 3rd floor on a traditional Mysore apartment block. He lives there with his wife, his gorgeous son and his Great Dane, 'Rocky'! You might think it a bit cruel to keep such a big dog on the 3rd floor of an apartment block, but Rocky loved it, loved the visitors and used to keep us company…by lying across the entrance the studio! But unfortunately Rocky's residence on the 3rd floor was not without incident! Because Rocky loved birds, loved to chase them that is, but despite great efforts on Anand's part to teach Rocky the pitfalls of chasing birds on a 3rd floor balcony, Rocky fell off said balcony no less than 3 times! Breaking his little legs on a couple of occasions, but mercifully surviving! Apparently Rocky used to be a canine model…however I think his modelling days are unfortunately up.. :)

But enough about Rocky. I was lucky enough to be taught by Anand in the beautiful Mysore style of painting in the typical 'Mysore' tradition. Watch and repeat. Watch Anand draw something and then attempt to repeat it until I had perfected it. I had pages and pages of hands in mudras, hands holding lotuses, feet decorated in anklets, until I perfected every possible combination of hand/mudra/symbol combinations! 

Anand has his latest masterpiece displayed in the departure lounge at Bangalore Airport. Here's a link to a piece on Anand in the Hindu Times:
http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/traditional-and-modern-in-a-blend/article5087497.ece

So what makes Mysore painting so special? Apart from its vibrant colours, Mysore paintings are known for their elegance, muted colours, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu gods and goddesses and scenes from Hindhu mythology such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

What Wikipedia says about Mysore painting: (Kannada: ಮೈಸೂರು ಚಿತ್ರಕಲೆ) is an important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in and around the town of Mysore in Karnataka encouraged and nurtured by the Mysore rulers. Painting in Karnataka has a long and illustrious history, tracing its origins back to the Ajanta times (2nd century B.C. to 7th century A.D.) The distinct school of Mysore painting evolved from the paintings of Vijayanagar times during the reign of the Vijayanagar Kings (1336-1565 AD) The rulers of Vijayanagar and their feudatories encouraged literature, art, architecture, religious and philosophical discussions. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire after the Battle of Talikota the artists who were till then under royal patronage migrated to various other places like Mysore, Tanjore, Surpur, etc. Absorbing the local artistic traditions and customs, the  Vijayanagar School of Painting gradually evolved into the many styles of painting in South India, including the Mysore and Tanjore schools of painting.

Techniques: The ancient painters in Mysore prepared their own materials. The colours were from natural sources and were of vegetable, mineral or even organic origin such as leaves, stones and flowers. Brushes were made with squirrel hairs for delicate work but for drawing superfine lines a brush made of pointed blades of a special variety of grass had to be used. Due to the long-lasting quality of the earth and vegetable colours used, the original Mysore paintings still retain their freshness and lustre even today. 

Devotion: Mysore Paintings are characterized by delicate lines, intricate brush strokes, graceful delineation of figures and the discreet use of bright vegetable colours and lustrous gold leaf. More than mere decorative pieces, the paintings are designed to inspire feelings of devotion and humility in the viewer. The painter’s individual skill in giving expression to various emotions is therefore of paramount importance to this style of painting. 

Embossing: Gesso work was the hallmark of all traditional paintings of Karnataka. Gesso refers to the paste mixture of white lead powder, gambose and glue which is used as an embossing material and covered with gold foil. The gesso work in Mysore paintings is low in relief and intricate as compared to the thick gold relief work of the Tanjore School. Gesso was used in Mysore painting for depicting intricate designs of clothes, jewellery and architectural details on pillars and arches that usually framed the deities. The work was taken up in the morning when the base of the gold work on the painting was still moist so as to hold the gold foil firmly. After allowing the painting to dry, glazing was carried out by covering the painting with thin paper and rubbing over it with a soft glazing stone known as kaslupada kallu. When the thin paper was removed the painting shone brightly and looked resplendent with the combination of gold and a variety of colours.

Finally following weeks of repetition and perfection, I chose a painting to begin my own Mysore style masterpiece. As a die-hard ashtangi I inevitably chose Patanjali, the beautiful depiction of half man, half snake depicted holding the conch and chakra. Here he is below…

I gave the original to my teacher Vijay Kumar in Mysore, didn't know any other way to thank him... It's now proudly up in his shala next to Krishnamacharya :) 

Since I have been back in the UK I have continued to practice the teachings of Anand, experimenting with more modern techniques of embossing, utilisation of gold leaf, form and composition. I think I may possibly be the only artist in the UK offering Mysore style paintings, taught by the master himself M.S.Anand. So far I have been fortunate enough to paint pieces for a number of yoga studios in the UK and India. Should you have any ideas for paintings to adorn your home practice space, puja room or shala, I currently take commissions, you can choose the God, the background, the iconography you want depicted and I will design something one-off especially for you!

Peacock Greetings Card

Ganesha Greetings Card

Hanuman

Seated Buddha

Shiva Nataraja

Lord Krishna

Durga Maa (work in progress)






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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ashtanga Yoga Meditation Manual - How should one meditate

"Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills". Ramaswami Nov. 2009

A couple of years ago I put together what I like to think of as a short Yoga Meditation Manual for my own personal use ( I don't think I ever posted it and can't find my original), it's based on Ramaswami's  November 2009 newsletter  Meditating on Meditation (below), it's pretty much a numbering of the sentences outlining practice in the newsletter. I'd wondered why it was that we turn to the yoga tradition for asana and perhaps pranayama but when it comes to meditation often follow other traditions, Zen, Vippasana...... This then was an attempt to make yoga meditation a little more accessible.

There is of course a more in depth yoga meditation manual,  Patanjali's Yoga Sutras,

Here is my own personal copy, the original file is on my Mac currently on a cargo ship to Japan but this seemed like a good week to post it.







Meditating on Meditation by Srivatsa Ramaswami 

Newsletter Nov 2009

I was watching a live television program in India some 30 years back when TV had just been introduced in India. It was a program in which an elderly yogi was pitted against a leading cardiologist. It was virtually a war. The yogi was trying to impress with some unusualposes which were dubbed as potentially dangerous by the doctor. Almost everything the yogi claimed was contested by the non-yogi and soon the dialogue degenerated. The yogi stressed that headstand will increase longevity by retaining the amrita in the sahasrara in the head and the medical expert countered it by saying that there was no scientific basis for such claims and dubbed it as a pose which was unnatural and dangerous and will lead to a stroke. The Yogi replied by saying that Yoga had stood the test of time for centuries; it had been in voguemuch before modern medicine became popular. Thank God it was a black and white program; else you would have seen blood splashed all over the screen.
Things have become more civil in these three decades. Now neti pot, asanas, yogic breathing exercises and yogic meditation have all become part of the medical vocabulary. There is a grudging appreciation of yoga within the medical profession. Many times doctors suggest a few yogic procedures, especially Meditation, in several conditions like hypertension, anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic ailments.
Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills.
But how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for meditation.
The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.
Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further, when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4 liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas. Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm andbecomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.
What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail. Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras. Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation
For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without using the Pranayama Mantra.
 (** Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40 pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in theSep/Oct 2008 issue).
What of the technique? The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama) called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the “object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may (may means must) take a short time to review the quality of meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one meditates.
If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing tamasic interactions, foods etc.
Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation called Samadhi.
In this state only the object remains occupying the mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi– and one may be able to use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah)
The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself (sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.
The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person, which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of theLord made it possible for many to worship and meditate .
Of course many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.
Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).
Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be liberated. Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.
The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana) understand them and realize the nature of the self through several step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study and understand it from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta) of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.
Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti, samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or whatever.
- See more at: http://www.harmonyyoga.co.uk/2009/11/13/meditating-on-meditation/#sthash.ZzcXscOV.dpuf

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Is seated meditation necessary in Ashtanga? Stillness in movement, perfection in asana

A provocative post from David Garrigues This morning, What about the other 7 limbs, I think we need to read it a couple of times and reflect on what he actually is and perhaps more importantly not saying.

He seems to be concerned that some feel that we progress from asana to pranayama to meditation, leaving asana behind in the process, I've come across that idea before in some of the comments on my posts here and yet I doubt those same commentators would argue that one would leave behind Yama niyama on progressing to meditation practice.

If I see another post or comment on what Yoga is or isn't, I swear I'll....... Let's leave the ontic questions to one side shall we, just for a little while.

Our practice then becomes more sophisticated, more subtle perhaps... as we become more 'proficient'  ( Jois seems to have used 'perfect' but I prefer Krishnamacharya's 'proficient'), the limbs reflecting back on each other like a hall of mirrors.

David does appear to be suggesting that a seated meditation practice is not necessary even going so far as to suggest seated meditation is not part of our Jois Ashtanga lineage but rather we should seek the meditative quality in/of our asana and pranayama practice,

"The source of this idea that there is something else besides the daily practice did not come from within the lineage, because according to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the practice is IT, there is not another set of techniques that join or replace what you already do (other than the eventual addition of pranayama) And thus there ought not to be a need, among the circle of serious ashtanga students and teachers, to defend the central premise of the method that says the best means to Self knowledge is through performing your asana’s daily as your life long sadhana (discipline)."

but I'm not convinced that is his intention in this article, he closes with this

"The asana vs meditation question perfectly illustrates that there is a collective need among us to allow for a wider interpretation of what constitutes practice. The system ought to encourage you to decide for yourself what aspect or technique to emphasize. Exercising freedom and independence becomes increasingly important as you log in the years of practice and gather knowledge and maturity in the system. And thus it is one thing to decide that you want to allot a portion of your practice to a seated meditation practice from a different tradition. But it is another thing to decide that asana or the system is deficit in itself. To find fault or shortcoming in the technique of asana is simply to misunderstand the depth of technique and the creativity that is required to develop your asanas to full maturity".

A while back many were saying a pranayama practice was not necessary as Ashtanga is a breathing practice David however stresses the importance of an ongoing pranayama practice. Surely an ongoing seated meditation practice is as important as deepening our asana practice, our approach to our asana practice whatever series or whatever form our asana practice takes.

 I would argue that however profound the meditative quality we find in our asana practice ( and I do find my Ashtanga meditative, my vinyasa Krama profound) surely it is not, nor will it ever be a substitute for seated meditation where 'nothing else is going on' but just sitting and focussing on one point, one object and then on no object, that's the Yoga sutras right there and David Gordon White or not, the Yoga Sutras certainly are a stressed aspect of the Jois Ashtanga lineage.

I'd like to ask Richard Freeman  about this he has both a proficient seated meditation practice and asana practice, would he say one is a substitute for the other?

Or perhaps my friend Hyon Gak Sunim who is both a Korean Zen Monk and an Ashtanga practitioner http://vimeo.com/73936096


Mirror of Zen /// A Day in the Moment of a Modern Zen Monk from Christine Schmitthenner on Vimeo.

Below though is David on 'stillness in movement' read this perhaps before this morning article,  What about the other 7 limbs to give it some context.

Perfect that Single Asana!
The theme or premise is that asana practice is based on a single asana created by breath. That posture could have several names including
Shavasana, Sarvangasana,
Hanumanasana, Samasthiti
Tadasana, Bhairavasana
Mula Bandhasana
Generally speaking in our daily practice we can get sucked in by the lure of our fantasy about the forms of the asanas in sequences. Each asana in the sequence could be thought of as an excursion towards and/or away from that one single asana that is the essence of all asana. In our fantasy of what we will look like and how good it will feel we overextend ourselves in our efforts to achieve what we consider to be the end goal or final pose. Our excursions take us too far away from the center where the skeletal support is, where our breath really does lead the way-- where we make optimal use of our muscles and organs and where our brains are situated properly to minimize reality obscuring ego striving.
For example, to go for a drop back and be unheeding of the position of the skeleton in order to get your hands to the floor is a long term mistake. In the short term there might be a thrill, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of maximizing progress. a feeling like you are working at the edge so you will improve and be an intense student--- (like yoga sutra 1-21 for the intense student--- yoga--nirodah is near). How strict are you going to be? How close to center are you going to stay? How many props (please note: only if necessary and desired and under certain, specific conditions) are you willing to use to remain close to center, close to principles?---We want to explore the foundational principles of the positions and see how those principles will always lead back to that central asana that has so many important names---but actually is unnameable---
--- this is precisely why asana is limb 3 and Samadhi is limb 8--- samadhi is more based around the center, where movement is subtle and stillness reigns---
you have to be sure you are not sacrificing your body to your ego. That you are not going too far in order to compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness--- you don't need to use your asana practice to 'prove' you are good and worthy.
and yet don't underestimate the amount of shakti, energy, both physical and mental, that it takes to strike a pose and remain utterly centered in dynamic absorption.
It is ironic that the more gymnastic posture appears to be more difficult---But from an energetic and emotional place, sitting, working with breathing, can be more challenging, require more energy--- because of what will be revealed about you, because of what you will experience about yourself."
          
                                                                          *******
Update
Just noticed this video from David posted 'one day ago' 
Take a look perhaps at my previous post, an interview with Pattabhi Jois where he discusses Seated meditation.
"What about the other limbs of ashtanga yoga?
Do you teach a method of meditation?


K Pattabhi Jois: Meditation is Dhyana, the seventh step in the Ashtanga system. After one step is perfect, then you take the next step. For dhyana, you must sit with a straight back with your eyes closed and focus on the bridge of the nostrils. If you don't do this, you're not centered. If the eyes open and close, so does the mind.
Yoga is 95 percent practical. Only 5 percent is theory. Without practice, it doesn't work; there is no benefit. So you have to practice, following the right method, following the steps one by one. Then it's possible. "

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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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