Spanish Yoga Workshop and Interview

Blanca San Roman of Dhara Yoga in Madrid interviewed me earlier this year. The interview was published on the Yoga en red website. You can read the Spanish version here Yogaenred

Blanca has kindly invited me to teach a workshop at Dhara Yoga and this will be on June 9th & 10th 2018. Please contact Dhara Yoga if you would like to attend.

The English transcription follows:

-How was your first approach to Yoga?

I was first in a meditation community with an Indian Guru, Sri Chinmoy. We meditated, did selfless service and peace work. It was while a member of this group that I first read the Bhagavad Gita, The Mahabharata and other spiritual works. This began in about 1992. I began going to some asana classes with an Iyengar teacher in 1995. When I left the Sri Chinmoy group I meditated at a few Buddhist centres for a while and continued going to classes.

What event set you on the path of Krishnamacharya’s teachings? Can you tell us how this lineage has modeled your personal practice? 

I knew of Sri T Krishnamacharya as Iyengar mentioned him. But is was only later, in 1999, that I made a more direct link with the lineage. I borrowed a book from the library called Yoga for Body Breath and Mind by A.G Mohan who was a student of Krishnamacharya in Chennai. I thought this way of practising Yoga seemed very authentic and was rational and logical. After some research I found out that there was a group in the UK called Viniyoga Britain which was affiliated to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. I started personal lessons with Ranju Roy who is a teacher in that tradition. I went on to gain a practitioner certificate from Viniyoga Britain after seven years of training. During this time I went to a workshop with Sri Mohan and his wife Indra. Later I met Srivatsa Ramaswami and then Sri T.K. Sribhashyam. I have been very fortunate, I have received teachings from three direct long-term students of Sri Krishnamacaharya. My personal practice is entirely from what I have learnt from these Masters.

-And about your practice ?

At the Iyengar classes I first went to, it was in a group. With Viniyoga I began with personal lessons  from the start. Since then my practice has been at home on my own with supervision from my teachers. I never attend any group class apart from workshops with my teachers.

Practice has always been an integrated approach with asana, pranayama and meditation, never just asanas alone. Studying texts and chanting is also included.

All my teachers in this lineage have been careful to point out that asana must not be done without integrated breathing and must be supported by pranayama. I was taught that you cannot do asana alone. Pranayama you can do alone or with Mudras, but asana must always be supported by pranayama. In many contemporary classes this is not the case.

I practice for up to four hours a day. One long session in early morning and one or two shorter sessions according to my schedule that day.

I asked Ramaswami what I would need to do to attain the goal indicated in the Yoga Sutra as I was interested in that. He said first thing is that a practice of three and a half hours daily would be required. So I spent some time adjusting my life routines until I could do that. 

My practice has changed as I evolve and it will continue to do so.

What has Vinyasa Krama  and the studies with Srivatsa Ramaswami for more than ten years brought you? 

When I first met Srivatsa Ramaswami in Chicago in 2007, I felt like a thirsty man who had found a clear spring of water. We had classes on Vinyasa Krama in the day time and in the evenings we had lectures on the Yoga Sutra. I noticed even then that there was a lot more interest in asana than in Philosophy. After Ramaswami’s lectures I felt confident that a clear goal was there and that it was possible to achieve. I asked Ramaswami what is the most important thing about Yoga. He said that it is an Atma Vidya (Soul Knowledge).

I have learnt so much from Ramaswami in classes, and because I arranged visits for him to the UK,  out of classes too. 

In a nutshell, it has brought me clarity regarding Yoga, confidence to practice and teach and the opportunity to serve a teacher and learn from his example. I will always be grateful for these priceless gifts.

You´ve also studied Ayurveda, how do you apply that knowledge to your Yoga teachings? 

In Viniyoga we had to study Ayurveda, it is the Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga and is also aligned with its Spiritual orientation. I became interested in it on the Viniyoga course and went on to study further, taking a number of Diploma courses. 

I asked Sribhashyam how important it was for a Yoga teacher to know Ayurveda. His answer was that it was essential.

Viniyoga means individual application; what is suitable for a particular person. Ayurveda is the personal application of health practices and medicine on an individual basis. So in my sessions I include Ayurveda and the application of any Yoga technique is applied with the wisdom of Ayurveda. 

You cannot apply any of this in a group class. you can’t even get the room temperature to suit everyone.

If you want to make real progress in Yoga it must be a personal practice, guided by a competent teacher and informed by the knowledge of Ayurveda.

This approach to Yoga is not well known because you can’t brand it or mass market it. Also it takes years of study and you can’t earn a lot of money teaching one student at a time.

Do you think it is important for a teacher to live a life in accordance with the precepts contained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali? 

The student of Yoga must have these precepts as a foundation or they will not go far on the path. Ramaswami points out that Patanjali has only three verses on asana in the Yoga Sutras and many verses on Yama and Niyama. A reminder is made in the commentary that even at the higher stages these precepts must be maintained. Yoga is a physical, mental and moral discipline together.

Yama and Niyama, including dietary control, come first before asana. If you enter into the field of asana without their support, asana will lead you to more body identification and even increased sensuality. Then we are on the wrong path right from the beginning. We must have ujjayi breathing in the asana practice because it prevents the mind from reacting to sensations from the body that create aversion and craving in the mind. Asana practice like this makes the mind peaceful by pacifying the  ego and its tendency to like and dislike every occurrence. In the Yoga Sutras beginners Yoga is in Chapter Two. It says that we must pacify the klesa and orient the mind to Samadhi.

Ramaswami says that we should start by talking less and eating less. If we can’t control our tongue then it will be nigh on impossible to control the other senses. This is the beginning.

It is all in the Sastras and in our teacher’s writings. Unfortunately we think we can ignore these things and pick and chose what we like.

I was at a lecture once with A.G. Mohan and someone asked him why there were eight limbs of Yoga. He said it was because nine was too many and seven was not enough. 

All eight are required. 

For a teacher it is important to model these precepts to the students. The teachers role is to educate and also to protect the student. They should do nothing that would harm or degrade this relationship.

Ideally, the only thing that should pass between a teacher and student is the knowledge of Yoga.

You often see in the press that Yoga teachers have fallen short of these standards. A Yoga associate of mine recently mentioned the fall from grace of a well known Yoga personality. I asked him what happened. He said, Oh, just the usual, sex, power and money. The way the press is oriented now you are more likely to have the focus on badly behaved teachers than on the good ones. The news is more interested in humanities defilements than in its virtues. Thus the reputation of Yoga is degraded. We should be careful if we claim to represent any lineage, as our actions can be offences to our teachers.

As teachers’ we should make our best efforts in applying these principles.

I can assure you that if you regulate your diet they will become easier.

The fruits of applying Yama and Niyama are listed in the Yoga Sutra and they are wonderful things. Buddha said that if you practice the moral precepts you give the gift of freedom from fear to all living beings. The fruits of virtue and meditation are gifts that surpass any other gift that can be given or received.

Student or teacher we should give our attention to these things.

What do you think is the ultimate goal of yoga? 

It is clearly stated in the Yoga Sutras, it is Kaivalya. In the index of Swami Hariharananda’s book on Yoga Sutras it describes Kaivalya as Liberation of Purusa; Self-in-itself; final emancipation or beatitude.

There are a number of steps towards this goal and it can take some time, even a few lifetimes. So we need to be patient. Ramaswami’s book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life is very helpful to describe what is necessary. 

We have to ascertain, intellectually at first, the difference between the mortal body/mind complex and the immortal Purusa, the Pure consciousness. Then through meditation we have to realise this in a pure mind. Last of all the mind dissolves and we are free, including being free from practicing any more Yoga. It is the end of suffering, a very positive goal.

How can ordinary people approach that goal? Do you think that renunciation is necessary to reach the supreme goal of Yoga? 

Yes renunciation is necessary. But we cannot just go from here to Kaivalya in a moment, that is why there is a path in the Yoga teachings. Sometimes it is referred to as Krama – Mukti, the gradual ascent to the Absolute.

Our ignorance is what is to be renounced and Ashtanga Yoga is the Axe that will fell this ignorance tree. Ashtanga Yoga is not a set of asana sequences, it is all the limbs of Yoga applied in a balanced manner with the mind set on the goal of Kaivalya.

There is a big problem here because we are in too much of a hurry. Shankara mentions in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras that if we skip over any stage we will fall down later due to a weakness in our foundation.

So we must go carefully step by step.

Verses 12-16 of Chapter One of the Yoga Sutras give teachings on detachment or renunciation.

We have to start by weakening our attachment to the senses and V.15 describes a number of steps called Yatamana, Vyatireka and Ekendriya.

Ultimately we have to abandon attachment to all worldly objects and supermundane matters. This is Vasikara or complete detachment.

In the Katha Upanishad Nachiketa has death as his Guru. First death gives a test to Nachiketas by offering him all the objects of the universe in place of his request for real knowledge. When he refuses those things as objects that will all be devoured by death, then he is taught Yoga. In a way this Upanishad shows the state of the ideal student. One who can stare death in the face, knows the mortal nature of all things in Prakriti, and can renounce them all for knowledge.

Ordinary people can begin where they are. In the Bhagavad Gita Arjuna is a warrior not a Sanyasin. He is instructed that he cannot, and does not have to, run away from his duties to be a monk. He is taught that Samnyasa is to carry out duties without desire and to refrain from desire-prompted actions, and that Tyaga is the renunciation of the fruits of action.

Ramaswami taught us the Gita and said that we should complete our duties in this kind of mindset and it will free us from worry and bondage. He said to complete our duties and then apply ourselves to Yoga full-time. As your duties are coming to completion, don’t start something else.

Please read the Moksa-Sastras as recommended by Patanjali Y.S. 2:1. These are the Samhkya Karika, Yoga Sutras and then Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Ramaswami’s books and articles give further elucidation.

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