My Studies with Srivatsa Ramaswami
by Steve Brandon
I first heard of Srivatsa Ramaswami as a student on PP10 when I read his book ‘The Basic Tenets of Patanjala Yoga’. I have read this book many times and like its clear and direct presentation. Some years later I bought Ramaswami’s book ‘Yoga for the Three Stages of Life’ which has also been well used.
When Ramaswami’s new book ‘The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga’ was released I began practicing the sequences that he presented and enjoyed the challenge trying different postures, sequences and variations. Having an overview of Vinyasa Krama helped to clarify my understanding of the system. Here was another facet of Krishnamacharya’s legacy that I was keen to explore. I found some glowing reports on the internet by students that had studied with Ramaswami and I was hopeful of finding an opportunity to do so myself. I found that he offered some courses in the USA and The Chicago Yoga Centre was hosting a ‘Core Vinyasa Yoga’ teacher training programme so I booked the course, a flight and a hotel. On November 4th 2007 I arrived in Chicago and went to bed that night with eager anticipation about starting the course the next morning. The course was held at the conference room in Days Inn where I was staying.
I arrived for the first session and was greeted by Suddha Weixler, the director of CYC. He introduced me to Ramaswami and told him I had come from England. Ramaswami politely greeted me and I had an immediate feeling of joy and a sense of certainty that I had made the right decision in coming on the course.
Ramaswami began the first session with prayers and then a short talk. We then began practicing the tadasana sequence under his guidance. His calm, clear instructions lead us through the sequences. We completed many vinyasas and then took some rest. Ramaswami then took questions and gave some theory and insights into the practice. During the week we went through all the main sequences and postures that appear in his book with the exception of some advanced postures. During the sessions Ramaswami told delightful stories from the puranas and about his studies with Krishnamacharya. Sessions always ended with pratyahara, pranayama, meditation and a closing prayer.
In the evening we had lectures on the Yoga Sutra. Ramaswami presented this as a practical procedure that we could follow. I felt more confident and clear about my practice as a result. My faith in Yoga was renewed listening to Ramaswami’s inspired presentations.
It was funny that I had imagined one day meeting a Yoga master in a Himalayan location, but here I was practicing Yoga and listening to the sastras in Days Inn, Chicago!
It was a transformational week for me and I knew I wanted to study further with Ramaswami. He told me that there was a sadhana retreat organised for New Year at a location in New Dehli so I arranged to go on this. It was entitled ‘The Teachings of Krishnamacharya’ and was held at Purna Holistic, an Ayurvedic health centre and spiritual venue. It was my first visit to India and was all I could have hoped for. An authentic wonderful teacher, a beautiful venue where we were cared for with diligent attention, the company of lovely Yoga practitioners and hours a day immersed in Yoga study and practice. I was even sharing a bungalow with Christopher Chapple, the Yoga scholar, who had been instrumental in organising the event.
In the mornings we practiced asanas and then explored the therapeutic application of Yoga. After lunch we met for lectures on the Yoga Sutras. I loved every minute. Ramaswami taught with such clarity and enthusiasm that it made the subject practical, clear and achievable.
Back to the UK and I had decided to move from Yorkshire to Somerset to be with my partner Sally. I sold my house and took the opportunity to attend Ramaswami’s teacher training course at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. It was a five week intensive covering the whole spectrum of Krishnamacharya’s Yoga teachings. I could write a book on the whole experience so I will just give a couple of examples of how Ramaswami taught.
We had a two week programme on pranayama in which we met for two hours each day. Ramaswami taught us the theory for one hour using the pranayama chapter in the HYP as a guide. We then practiced some asanas and sat in pranayama. We began the first day with 10 pranayamas and over the fortnight built up to the 80 recommended in the text. It brought a sense of freedom, achievement and a definite ‘can do’ attitude to my practice. I understood the process and was confident that I could do it if I applied myself. A number of limitations and boundaries were dissolved during the course.
Ramaswami created a beautiful atmosphere in the class and harmony was maintained in the group for the duration of the course. Everyone felt they had been blessed by the experience. He would often recite passages from the Vedas, while we sat or rested in Savasana, and we felt purified and uplifted by the beautiful chanting.
I was keen to help share what Ramaswami has to offer with practitioners in the UK so arranged some programmes which ran in February 2009. It was wonderful to be with Ramaswami again and I was so happy that everyone had an inspiring and uplifting experience.
Ramaswami has all the qualities of a great teacher, he is wise, patient, generous and kind with an authentic humility that is rare to see. His devotion and gratitude to his Guru is obvious. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have been able to study with him.