Thus Spake Sri T Krishnamacharya

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is  reproduced here with his kind permission.

For most people January is a very busy month. They work hard to put in
place a schedule to implement their New Year Resolutions. Admissions
to Yogic schools, Music schools, gyms show increased activity before
stabilizing at more realistic levels in later months. For me this
January was very sedate. I was forced to cool my heels, awaiting an
elusive appearance in a local court in Chennai, India. But I used this
enforced idleness to rummage through my old small book almirah here in
Chennai, which contains a few notebooks of the notes I had taken
during my studies with Sri Krishnamacharya. Some of them were as old
as the 1960 and as late as 1980s. I also was able to lay my hands on
old copies of the Tamizh version of Yoga Makaranda, the Kannada book
titled Yogasanagalu and two tiny albums of my Guru doing asanas, I
think in his 80s which he had given to me. It was refreshing visiting
those notes again. Some of them were in the form of dictated articles
by him. Some are not very linear but still informative. I thought I
could translate one of them—it deals with two topics. It is as
follows, which was dictated to me during December 1967.

Thus spake Sri T Krishnamacharya

Several acharyas from the South of India have written about Ashtanga
Yoga under difficult circumstances. However, many of the highly
practical works of these acharyas were destroyed by people not
belonging to the orthodox vedic disposition.

Adi Sankara wrote three texts on Yoga. He wrote a text called “Yoga
Bashya Vivarana” as a commentary to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. When
he was busy writing these outstanding works and teaching/preaching, he
faced many obstacles, like being set fire to his hands, by his
detractors. But just 30 years old, he created a divine work called,
“karavalamba stotra”, a prayer to Lord Lakshmi Narasimha and got his
hands restored and thereafter wrote some works on sushumna nadi. Then
when he was barely 32, he decided that he need not live in this world
any longer and became a complete recluse (vairagya). He also taught
the right path (sanmarga) to 500 of his students. Then due to his
enormous yogic powers, he effortlessly left his mortal body and
attained his true swarupa or form/status. Before that he called five
of his important students and taught his work, called  “dasa avatara
stotra (work on ten avataras of the Lord) , on Paravasudeva. Then he
told them that only the worship of the Lord will help them get
released from samsara bandha (bondage of repeated births).

It is found that many successive great heads of Sankara Mutts
established by Sankara have not shown much earnestness in the matter
of Ashtanga yoga. But, due to the grace of God, the Advaita Ashram
that was dear to Adisankara  and also quite well known viz., the
Sringeri Mutt had Sri Narasimha Bharati as the head. His leadership at
the Mutt was helpful in the propagation of Yoga. His disciple and
successor,  the well known Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati was my dear
friend. We practiced Yoga together in Bangalore Sankara Mutt for some

Now let me explain  the works and observances of  (Vaishnava) Yogis
like Parankucha Muni, Nathamuni and Vyamana Muni.

Parankusamuni, Satakopa, Nammalwar are the different names of the same
Yogi. The work that he did on Yoga was “Yoga Tatwa”. His propagation
of Yoga under the patronage of the Chola king was important. “By this
Yoga, the cool grace of Lord Sriman Narayana will become a protective
shield to your dynasty” said the sage. “ However if you violate the
dharma (apachara), the same power of yoga will prove to be a killer
sword for your dynasty” warned the sage. It is known that subsequently
the Chola dynasty lost a lot of its lustre due to certain adharmic
activities of the ruling class.

There are twelve topics covered in “YogaTatwa”. Why did the
compassionate Lord create the world that tends towards sin
(papa).Having created it, why did the Lord create groups that force
people to follow the path of adharma? He is the Lord of everyone, but
why does He create opportunities for some to follow the path of
adhrma? Is it proper?  As the text discusses these immensely weighty
issues and also solutions to them, it is called “Yoga Tatwa”. It is
our duty to explain and propagate these great secrets for the benefit
of the world. Sri Satakopa Muni for the benefit of the great souls
along the Tamraparani river wrote the first chapter himself.

The famous three munis wrote nine works. Once, Sri Nathamuni  while
resting in a state of Samadhi had the vision of Parankusa Muni in his
dream. In that state he learnt many secrets of Yoga from Parankusa.
The essence of that teaching was the famous Nathamuni’sYoga Rahasya.
In this text, not only the routine Yoga principles are discussed but
also methods  treatment of diseases or Yoga chikitsakramas.

The third of the trio was Yamunacharya. He wrote several works, but
four were famous. viz.,
Agamapramanam, Iswarasiddhi, Sampathsiddhi and Yoga chulakam. They
give instructions for easy practice of Yoga. The source books for the
works of these great sages were the Bhagavat Gita, the eleventh skanda
(section) of the Srimad Bhagavata, Uddava-Sri Krishna Dialogues,
several Upanishads, Yoga Yagnyavalkya Samhita, Sri Rahasya, Yogasana
Mahodadhi and many others. For Sri Nathamuni his parents and
grandparents the most important and dear Yoga text appears to be Yoga
Yagnyavalkya Samhita and also the Gita and the 11th section of the
Bhagavata. Discussing about the wonders of God’s will, he talks about
issues like  should lay people be taught to practice yoga and similar
issues in considerable detail. Many yogis of the present time, with
high ahanta(ego), I should say without any fear, have not had the good
fortune of reading  Sri Nathamuni’s yoga works and other supporting

Now let me give a comprehensive treatment of practice krama of yoga.

There are several essential factors that should be kept in view by
both the yogabhyasi and the teacher. The student, as instructed by the
teacher should check the quality of recaka and puraka (exhalation and
inhalation). Are there any obstructions in the airways? It is mainly
because asanas unaided or synchronized with breathing is of no use.
For instance, the teacher and the student should check the number of
matras (measure of time) the breath takes while inhaling, exhaling. If
there is considerable difference in these durations, the teacher
should first ask the abhyasi to practice controlled rechaka-puraka
even prior to the practice of asanas.

Then one should start practicing asanas as per instructions. There are
many asanas–sitting, standing, supine, prone, lying on the sides—
there are thus many starting positions. Further there are upside down
positions, like Sarvangasana. If the students has good well
proportioned body the teacher can teach the inversions, Sarvangasana
and Sirsasana even in the beginning of study.  And such a person
should also possess very long and  smooth inhalations and exhalations.
Further he should learn to maintain the inhalations and exhalations of
even duration. If one does 8 to 10 recaka-purakas in sirsasana, then
one should practice sarvangasana for the same number of recaka-puraka
and of the same duration. Sarvangasana and sirsasana are like the two
eyes of yogabhyasa. These help to maintain “bodily freedom” (sariraswatantriyam). The various vinyasas of these poses also have similar effects. Only by these two poses the acuity of the senses and capacity of the lungs increase. Even as Sarvangasana is an essential pose for persons with heart ailment, it should be done with
the help and involvement of the teacher/trainer. While teaching
Sarvangasana to such persons, the teacher should stand behind the
trainee and at the end of each exhalation should gently nudge the
trainee’s back a little forward and hold for a second. After about a
month’s such practice, the trainer should check the strength of
recaka, the general health or growth of the body the duration of
recaka-puraka and then if they are good should help the trainee stay
for about a minute or so. Thereafter the abhyasi should be given rest.
If one has some ailment the posture should be repeated two or three
times. For instance to an asthmatic doing even half a dozen breaths in
Sarvangasana will be difficult. So the trainee should make the abhyasi
practice atleast 12 breaths over a number of tries. Trying to do many
breaths in one go could create some chest pain and discomfort. So,
with a relaxed approach in four or six tries one should do the
required number of breaths. One should return to the lying down
position slowly. The same will apply to obese people while learning
sarvangasana, they should be taught the asanas with a lot of care. In
this manner the teacher and taught should learn to remain in an asana
for several minutes without any doubts about the pose. With
sarvangasana and sirsasana other asanas like paschimatanasana,
purvatanasana, chatushpada peetam; Parvatasana, vajrasana,
Bhujangasana etc can also br practiced.

When one starts to learn Yoga, in the beginning the duration of
practice can be as little as 15 to 20 minutes. One can gradually
increase the duration. The teacher should check the breath every day
and then increase the duration of practice. Whatever be the posture,
if one could stay for a long time without the limbs going to sleep (or
numb) or any pain or discomfort then such a practitioner is known as
jitasana (the conqueror/master of an asana.) While staying in an asana
one should not unnecessarily shake the body, bend or contort or move
and if one can stay for hours then such a yogi is a jitasana. We learn
from the works and sayings of yogis that in the olden days the rishis,
every day would remain in any one asana for three hours and do
pranayama and meditation. Then if the yogi is able to remain doing
long inhalation, exhalation and kumbhaka without feeling any kind of
fatigue and for a long period of time such a person would be called
“Jitaprana” or Jitaswasa, or one who has conquered the breath.

Remaining in a posture and gazing at one’s favorite (ishta) icon and
experiencing a feeling of bliss is called “trataka”. It is of two
types, anta and bahi. To gaze at an outside object like an icon is
external trataka. Closing one’s eyes and ‘imaging’ the object
internally and continually focusing attention  in between the eyebrows
is the antah(r)trataka or internal gazing. One can practice this
between one to ten minutes.

In the yogasana practice it is good to include a Mudra as well
everyday. Mahamudra and Shanmukhi mudra may be done. Further one
should do a kriya called plavana (jumping/stretching). For instance,
remaining in the same place after a particular asana practice, one may
place the palms on the floor, lift the body  and then stretch the legs
one by one . Then in recaka one should bend the leg and in puraka
return to the floor If one stays in an asana for a long time, the
muscles could slightly cramp and the plavana would help restore the
muscles attain normal tone. The yogabhyasi should practice asana,
pranayama, mudra and kriya together even from the beginning. Only then
all the benefits mentioned for the varied asanas will accrue. Likewise
if one by Pranayama becomes known as Jitaswasa, and then by meditation
is able to conquer the mind such a yogi is known as jitamanaska. All
the three are necessary. One should practice the same duration for
both asana and pranayama and then twice the duration for dhyana or
meditation. In the olden days the sages did yoga on three occasions
everyday, at dawn, noon and dusk. The time and regulation in Kumbhaka
are essential. With regulated time, one should practice all aspects of
yoga, like asana, kriyas, pranayama and mudra. One should do a few
asanas that one enjoys doing for about 15 mts and then do the
pratikriyas or counter poses.  For instancee one may do 15 mts of
sirsasana followed by 15 mts of sarvangasana,. Or perhaps 15 mts of
viparita dandasana followed by 15 mts of uttana mayurasana.

Asanas like sirasasana done while the body trembles or unsteady will
not be beneficial. Done correctly, it helps to maintain prana in
sushuna. Without proper practice one will not get faith in Yoga, nor
will one get the benefits mentioned in the sastras. One should know
the kriyas (like plavana) and there is a relationship bertween asanas
and plavana(jumping/stretching) kriya. As mentioned earlier, one
should bring under control the body by asana, with recaka kumbhaka the
prana and by meditation or dhyana the mind. For dhyana it may be
useful to choose a charming icon.

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