Questions, questions…

Image by mookieass on Flikr Creative Commons

Image by mookieass on Flikr Creative Commons

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

During recent teaching programs in Canada and the UK, a couple of questions repeatedly came up. Of course I have talked about these in other programs, written about them earlier and also dealt with them in my book. One of the questions was about Vinyasakrama methodology. How is it that the program I teach is somewhat different from the teachings of many well known teachers of the Krishnamacharya lineage? In fact this question bad been raised for several years now.

Many pointed out that the vinyasakrama movements are very slow. Most people who do yoga are used to brisk movements or vinyasas. Seldom does the organized regulated, synchronized conscious breathing take any part in modern yoga exercises. It is done with breath completely under autonomic nervous system unlike in vinyasakrama wherein the breathing is completely under voluntary control. This perhaps is the most important element of Sri Kriahnamacharya’s teaching of yoga as I learnt from him. Because people are used to rather brisk movements many felt that this is very slow. Further the number of vinyasas I had learnt from my Guru was over 700 in about 150 asanas and grouped into ten major sequences. So when I started teaching in the West more than a decade ago, I found that there were very few people interested in this system even though many people came to my programs out of curiosity and to know how one more of Krishnamacharya’s students taught yoga

So after some time, as I was getting older I realized that there may not be anyone interested in this system I learnt from Krishnamacharya. So I decided to write a book detailing all the ten major sequences , 150 asana subroutines and the 700+ vinyasas with instructions about the accompanying breathing. Fortunately a few of my old students and friends from Kalakshetra the famous Bharatanatyam dance school in Madras worked as models.

How is it that the system I teach is different from other schools of the same lineage? I started studying Yoga with Sri Krishnamacahraya when I was about 15 years old . I studied several asanas, vinyasas, pranayama and after several years he started teaching vedic chanting and the study of the texts like Yoga Sutras and the Upanishads. One day, after about 20 years of being his student, he said that I could teach Yoga if I wished. I had absolutely no such plan, but after a few days, I was asked by Sri Desikachar if I would be interested in teaching at Kalakshetra, an institution considered to be of national importance by the Government of India. I met the director, the well known dancer and administrator Smt Rukmini Devi. From then on I taught yoga to the students of Kalakshetra for about 20 years. When I started teaching I was asked to teach yoga for the first two years of the under graduate program. I was very enthusiastic and taught them whatever I had learnt from my Guru. Since they were young, very agile and talented, many of them could do asanas beautifully. You could feel that Yoga is really an art when you see them do asanas slowly, gracefully with the breath. In fact I have some videos of them doing yoga way back in the 1980s uploaded on my channel in YouTube.

Coming back to the story- I found that I had very little new to teach after about 6 months, so I approached my Guru and told him about my predicament. I told him that I had to teach the same students another 1 ½ years and I was stuck. He smiled and asked me if I had taught a few specific vinyasas. I said that I did not, because he had not taught those asanas and vinyasas. Then he taught me a few new asanas and vinyasas, which I practiced at home and taught in Kalakshetra. Then he taught more vinyasas and asked me in what sequence and with which asana I should teach. Slowly I saw a beautiful system emerge. When I finally completed the 2 year teaching I had a wonderful system of Vinyasakrama as taught to me by my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. He also instructed me in what order I could teach.

This is the story of the Vinyaskrama system I teach. It is a very comprehensive sikshana krama (teaching or learnig method) of yogasanas and vinyasas I learnt from Sri Krishnamacharya

There are questions asked about teaching of Yoga Sutras by my Guru. In India Yoga sutras are considered to be a very abstruse text and is a fertile field for scholars to play around. But Krishnamacharya used to call it an adhyatma vidya or a body of knowledge meant for the welfare every human being. It was not just a scholarly exercise but something very down to earth. His elucidation of the word Yoga, as derived from different roots, to indicate yoga as union or yoga as peace of mind or chittavritti nirodha, as Patanjali points out, was a revelation. He also explained that the Yoga sutras are written for three different levels of yogis. The first chapter, nirodha yoga, was for the born yogi who can get into samadhi effortlessly. He is called a samahita chitta. Then in the second chapter Patanjali talks about kriya yoga for the entry level yogis who are in a state of vikshepa—agitated and distracted. He would point out that Patanjali talks about a more involved yoga –  a more comprehensive system than Kriya yoga – called ashtanga yoga, made of eight parts for the lifelong committed yogi. This would make understanding of the YS easier. It was remarkable to know that these nivritti shastras, as samkhya yoga and vedanta, are developed for individual good. They may be treated not as scholarly exercises but systems for personal development and evolution

(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami.   www.

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