Srivatsa Ramaswami Retreat Review

This article was submitted by Ranju Roy who attended Ramaswami’s Vinyasa Krama Intensive Retreat at EarthSpirit Centre, Glastonbury, UK in February 2009.

I first heard of Srivatsa Ramaswami about twenty years ago when I read Basic Tenets of Patanjala Yoga, his booklet on the Yoga Sutras. It struck me that the author was quite traditional, but also extremely learned – he wrote with clarity and authority. Ramaswami, I discovered, was a long term student of Krishnamacharya, a contemporary of Desikachar’s and one of the 3 original trustees of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), along with Desikachar and Mr. Kuppuswamy, one of Desikachar’s classmate. Paul Harvey told me that he had spent some time studying with him when he was in India in the early 80s; he also mentioned that he was a very nice man!

Since then Ramaswami has written a few other books – Yoga for the Three Stages of Life (Inner Traditions 2000), The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga (Marlow and Company, 2004) and Yoga Beneath the Surface (with David Hurwitz, Marlow and Company, 2006). In all of these books, the impression remained: clear, traditional, sincere and vastly learned.

When my good friend Steve Brandon went to study with Ramaswami for a fortnight in the USA a couple of years ago, he sent me some very enthusiastic emails telling me what a joy the course was. I remember Steve commenting that whilst certain of the American Big Names of yoga were drawing audiences of 70 or 80 to their classes, Ramaswami sometimes worked with fewer than 10 people – and yet his knowledge of the subject was obviously far superior. Steve was so impressed that not long afterwards he spent another fortnight with Ramaswami – this time in Delhi – and he shared a room with Christopher Chapple the well known Sanskrit scholar.  Finally Steve decided to join a 5 week intensive with Ramaswami in the States, and, still enthused he invited Ramaswami to come to the UK for some retreats and workshops.

I was lucky enough to attend the 5 day retreat that Ramaswami conducted at the beautiful Earth Spirit Centre near Glastonbury. Steve had done a great job of organising the retreat and it ran very smoothly. It was a fairly small group – and a mixed group. There were some experienced Viniyoga graduates, others who came were much less experienced or had come from different traditions. Being on retreat with my old friends – Chris Priest, Dave Charlton and Gail Reeves, Sheila Baker and many more – made me quite nostalgic for the old days at Hawkwood where we often were on retreat together.

I confess that the prospect of 6 hours of strong asana a day was rather daunting – the timetable consisted of 3 hours of asana in the morning, 3 in the afternoon and an evening talk. Although the asana was strong – it was actually great fun, and you could stop whenever you needed to. We were talked through 10 primary vinyasas – each taking up to two and a half hours to complete fully. Thus, for example, we worked on the tadasana vinyasa, the asymmetrical seated asana vinyasa, shoulderstand vinyasa, lotus posture vinyasa, prone backward bend vinyasa and more. Ramaswami was presenting an encyclopaedia of asana and their application – many variations in each posture were explored as well as some modifications. Going through the sequences and understanding how they were applied and taught changed my perception of the Vinyasa Yoga book (which in truth, I had only previously glanced at). Now I was beginning to see the logic and application of the vinyasas.

The asana work was in fact entirely consistent with what Paul had taught on his 4 year Viniyoga Teacher Training Programme – particularly when he talked about siksana (uncompromised) application. However, we went rather quicker and deeper into strong postures than I’m used to – and we also stayed in a few postures for far longer than is usual in most Viniyoga classes (for example, 3-5 minutes in pascimuttanasana).  I ached rather after a couple of days, but by the end of the week I felt really good in my body: it was a great workout detox!  Although it was out of the usual parameters of Viniyoga; I’m really pleased to have actually explored those areas in some detail. One of the great strengths of Viniyoga is its accessibility – the approach to asana is safe, user-friendly and skilful. However, if one were to level a criticism (and I’ve certainly heard this by others), I think it is that the range of asana – and even sometimes the intensity, can be limited. So it was a great complement to the Viniyoga Training that we have been so fortunate to receive that during this retreat we were practicing asana that we’re not necessarily going to do everyday; but it was OK – we could understand it and have some first hand experience of more siksana asana practice as taught by Krishnamacharya.

The evening lectures were short but direct forays into the world of the Yoga Sutras. Very clearly and precisely, Ramaswami presented his understanding of the essential teachings of Patanjali, as he had received them from Krishnamacharya. Again, I was struck by the traditional approach – he was very to the point and said: this is how it is. There was certainly no evangelism – in fact I thought there was some similarity between his approach to asana and pranayama and his teaching of the Yoga Sutras – clear, direct and uncomplicated.  Take it or leave it! Although this may be challenging for a relative new comer to the Sutras (for example, he did use quite a few Sanskrit terms without necessarily explaining them in detail); for many of us who are more familiar it gave an added dimension and plenty of food for thought.

Ramaswami was essentially generous with his teaching – I really had the impression he wanted to pass on what he had learned from Krishnamacharya – with no agenda other than to share. However, to say that anybody truly represents Krishnamacharya is difficult, as Ramaswami pointed out. He said that Krishnamacharya’s learning and teaching was so vast and varied that we can only hope to reflect some small aspect of it. As one of the very few remaining long term students of Krishnamacharya, I’m sure he is a credit to his Teacher. After some years of feeling rather distanced from the Krishnamacharya tradition, Ramaswami very much re-connected me – his gratitude to Krishnamacharya was evident, and a couple of times he stopped and seemed briefly overcome with emotion for his Teacher. This was clearly a man teaching in a lineage, very much “close to the Source” – and it was very moving to see. Once again, the tremendous breadth of these teachings was evident: so much has evolved from the work of Krishnamacharya and we are very lucky to have the opportunity to work with so many great and inspiring Teachers in the lineage

Ramaswami’s demeanour throughout the teaching was very simple, humble and humorous. He struck me initially as slightly shy – perhaps a little reserved; but as the week went on he joked and interacted more; he was great to be with! There was a sweetness to his presence and if you get the chance – do go and work with him! He will be at the aYs Convention, as well as running various workshops and retreats in the UK in July 2010.

For further info about Ramaswami, see www.vinyasakrama.com
For further info about Ramaswami’s teachings  in the UK including teacher training, see Ramaswami section on this site.
For further info about yoga with Ranju www.yogamala.co.uk
For further info about training with Ranju www.sadhanamala.com

Ranju Roy
April 2009

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