Friday, 10 December 2010

Vinyasa Krama tool kit : Primary without the forward bends.

Primary without forward bends, huh, ' What's the point Stan' (Life of Brian).


Morale!


Primary on Friday is pretty sacred, despite all the experiments, the move into Vinyasa Krama, exploring of different Ashtanga series, I've managed to keep up my Friday Primary. However, as mentioned yesterday I have a problem with my back at the moment, going in and coming out of forward bends is painful and I'm trying to avoid that action, and as we know Primary is 99.999999ish% forward bends..... give or take 20%


The vinyasa krama tool kit yet again comes to the rescue. Last night I was thinking about this while replying to Micqui's comment (nice blog by the way, Ashtangi Angel). The Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric sequence has many of the same postures as the first half of Primary. The difference is that for each of the Primary poses there is a development of the pose, a couple of twists, counterposes etc. So how about I go through Primary as usual but skip the forward bend in Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, say, and do the twist and side lift from VK instead ( don't worry, video to come). For Janu Sirsasana A I do Maha mudra , which is pretty much the same thing but without bending forwards, big focus on breath and bandhas. I still do the Jump backs and through between postures, so the key postures are kind of the same ,the Vinyasa's are the same, it feels like Primary but with a slightly different focus.


Interestingly I found that Mari B was OK, it seems the bind gives me the support to lower forward and come back up strain free, same with Yoga Mudra. What is the muscle group that lifts you out of forward bends and lowers you slowly, what did I do with my anatomy books.


The Sury's were OK too because I included the squat from VK, from forward bend you squat on to your haunches and then push up through the legs thus avoiding any back strain. Side bends in standing where fine, it's only the forward bend I'm having problems with. Finishing was pretty much fine as I mentioned yesterday, bending the legs towards the chest in Inversions is curiously fine.

Here's a speeded up video of the whole asymmetric series you can jump about pretty much anywhere to see how the Ashtanga postures we find in primary are developed and extended

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Vinyasa Krama toolkit does it again, plus The Pandava, once a day,diet update

I tweaked my back sometime last week, when was that, one of the days we had snow. I was pushing my bike, slipped, managed to stop myself falling on my padasana, but then the bike slipped and while managing to stop the handlebars twisting out and both myself and bike toppling over I twisted/tweaked something in my back. Didn't seem like much, figured I'd stretch it out in the morning.

I don't know, perhaps I made it worse. I avoided 2nd series and the backbends and stuck with Primary, skipping UD and dropbacks, for a couple of days. Curiously, the tentative back stretches in the VK tadasana sequence I do at the beginning of my practice seemed OK, it was just the forward bends bothering me. Forward bends didn't seem to be helping so I switched from Primary to VK to cut back on them on a little. Still the gentle back stretches seemed OK, I tried urdhava danurasana after my shoulderstand and it was fine. Yesterday I decided to do second series and again no problem with the back bends, come the first LBH, eka pada sirsasana, and I felt the need to back off. I tried dropping back instead, no problems, it's a weird one. It seems to hurt most while coming back up from a forward bends. Oh and having one of those japanese heat pads stuck on my shirt seems to help.

So whats in the Vinyasa Krama toolbox? Inversions! For some reason inverted 'forward bends' are fine. Up in headstand bringing one leg into half lotus and lowering the straight leg so that the toe touches the floor is OK as is folding down the lotus. Anything like that, whether in shoulderstand or headstand. Legs towards the chest good, chest to the thighs bad.

But that's OK, lots to play with in the VK inversion and or Supine sequence until it settles back down again.




Actually it's not once a day yet, working up to that( this week and next will be more interesting). I started exploring this last Thursday so it's been a week today. This first week I dropped to two meals a day, Breakfast and Dinner and cut out any snacking in between. For some reason recently I'd been eating a lot of biscuits ( McVities Caramels) and the odd bar of chocolate, anything not tied down actually. Think I must have had a sugar rush when I had the tooth out and lived on trifle and ice cream for a couple of days and have been craving sugar ever since.

Anyway, the discipline of deciding to eat just twice a day seems to have cured that. I've been having a big bowl of porridge or Alpen with fruit on and that's set me up, pasta, risotto, Japanese curry etc in the evening. Was tempted a couple of times, several packs of biscuits open in the workshop and our customers keep binging us boxes of chocolate but so far I haven't caved. Felt a little hungry a couple of times but just enough to make me feel noble.

Today I moved into the next stage of the experiment, eating less in those two meals. The idea is to explore this from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda

'... fill the stomach until it is half full. After this leave a quarter of the stomach for water and the rest empty to allow movement of air'. then he (K ) writes something interesting, ' For example, one who normally has the capacity to eat 1/4 measure of food should eat 1/8'.

This morning I had half as much for breakfast as usual and got through the day well enough. Perhaps I feel a little hungrier but I'll probably get used to eating less over the next couple of days. Next week I'll drop to eating once a day, I'm thinking Lunch.

The irritating thing is that because of the back issue above I haven't been able to keep my practice regular so can't really tell if I'm eating enough to sustain the practice. It's seemed OK, but then I haven't been doing full primary or 2nd. A preview then, will need to explore this more thoroughly after Christmas/new Year is out of the way.

I know some of my readers are uncomfortable with this, my mistake was perhaps to refer to it as a diet. But I meant that, not in the sense of a fad but rather as a style of eating. I'm not looking to lose weight, I've been the same weight for a couple of years and feel comfortable at this weight (77, give or take a kilo).

Weight hasn't changed that much this week

Wednesday 78.4 (I'm usually around 76/77 , as I said too much Junk recently).

Thursday 77.7
Friday 76.8
Saturday 76.6
Sunday 76.6
Monday 76.9
Tuesday 76.5
Thursday 76.8

So pretty much my usual fluctuation

It's all inspired by two comments ' Eat enough to sustain your practice' and '...the Pandava's, like the Yogi's, ate once a day'. How much IS enough to sustain my practice? If the Yogi's of old ate once a day, is that enough to sustain my practice today? What's it like eating once a day? Obviously the meal I do eat will need to be as nutritious as I can make it and going by the Makaranda above, it can't be binging out. One small, nutritious meal a day, is that enough?

Just curious.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ramaswami's December 2010 newsletter; Standing postures and the Story of Durvasana


Warm Greetings from bright and sunny Chennai, Madras that was. It is
almost the fag end of the monsoon season here, a three month period
when the Northeast monsoon is very active and brings copious rains to
the south eastern part of India. It has been a vigorous monsoon this
year I hear. The reservoirs, village tanks and millions of wells are
quite full., In the city of Chennai, during the last few years,'rain
harvesting' has been resorted to to recharge the underground waters.
Most of the households, and buildings with a terrace, direct the
rainwater to deep holes (about 20 feet) filled with small rocks and
sand and rain water quickly drains into these and helps to raise the
underground waster level. Due to the city being with roads asphalted
and pathways concreted, the rainwater has less chance to seep through
and hence this rainwater harvesting has been found to be quite
helpful. In my own house now the well water is hardly three feet
below the ground level. Of course it will quickly recede when the rain
stops and the early summer starts. But still this is good for the
city's water supply position during the long hot summer months.

Thanks to the kind efforts of our friend Jyoti Chittur, I will be
doing a 5 day 20 hour full yoga sutra program at Long Island
University in New York. I am also likely to teach for the Teacher
Trainees at Ananda Asram in New York State. I hope to be able to do a
couple of other programs outside of USA during 2011.

Standing pose sequences
(I've added some links to sequences mentioned in Ramaswami's newsletter : Grimmly)

In Vinyasa krama yoga practice there are three major standing
sequences. Each one has its own charm and challenges. The tadasana
sequence is very comprehensive routine, working on the major joints
and muscles. There is a certain nicety about the sequence involving
simple to involved vinyasas and asanas. According to my Guru this
sequence helps to align the chakras in the body and is perhaps the
best sequence to start one's practice and it helps to first normalize
the body. The various arm movements actually help to open up the
chest. The trikonasana series with such asanas as Trikonasana,
Virabhadrasana etc affords using the major joints and muscles in a
very powerful and graceful manner. Prasiratapadottanasana and
samakonasana may be considered as extensions of this sequence.


I have written earlier about the poses requiring balancing on one leg,
which may be termed as Tapas poses. This sequence requires
considerable focus or ekagrata while practicing and does help to bring
a sense of balance not only to the body but also the mind. There are
quite a few poses and vinyasas and some of them are quite challenging.
It helps to develop attention and patience.

For more details please refer to my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa
Yoga”.


Story of Durvasa:

Siva means auspiciousness, peace. But one aspect of Siva is Rudra,
which name indicates extreme anger, rage. It is said that Sakti once
told Siva that it was getting impossible to live with Him because of
His anger and short tempered nature. Siva took the cue and shed a part
of his anger and created a sage called Durvasa, the name Durvasa
itslef would indicate one who is impossible to live with dus meaning
difficult vaasa meaning to live. In fact it is common to refer to
those who are short tempered as Durvasa. You often find a daughter, a
wife or a son or a subordinate showing great reluctance to deal with
'that durvasa'. But being Siva's amsa or aspect, he was a great
tapasvin and was revered for his knowledge and because of his short
tempered nature many would not come near him as they were afraid of
his nature and his curses which because of his tapas could come to
pass. At the same time if ever he would be pleased he would confer
unprecedented boons.

King Ambarisha was a great king, highly venerated and a great devotee
of Lord Vishnu. He faithfully followed the religious observances and
rituals which he did with great devotion and sincerity with his
wonderful wife. A just king he was revered by his subjects. He was
also very charitable by nature. He regularly observed fasting on every
Ekadasi and on the next day as per the religious practice would
take an early meal on the following dwadasi (12th day after moon days)
day. He would piously follow the procedures faithfully including vedic
chanting like the Taittiriya Upanishad. Once he and his wife after a
day of ekadasi fasting were about to break the fast the following
morning when sage Durvasa came with a large number of his disciples
and landed at the doorsteps of King Ambarisha's palace. He grandly
announced that he and his wards would be the athitis (guests without
notice or invitation). The King immediately fell at his feet and said
that he was honoured to have him and his men as guests on such an
auspicious day as dwadasi. The sage said that he would go to the
river, have his bath and come back for meals.

Once in the river he and his men took an enormous time to complete
their ritualistic bath. In the meantime the King was waiting for his
guests, but it is stipulated that one should have the meals on Dwadasi
day very early, it being the day after a day of complete fasting.
After a while the priests of the palace—including sage Vasishta-- said
that the sastras demand that he should not delay having the meal but
the King said that with the guests expected to come, one should not
have a meal without the guests. Either way he would be violating some
dharma or the other the priests opined and suggested to the King that
instead of a regular meal he could just take a basil leaf and break
the fast and it could be construed also as not having a meal. This via
media suggestion finally appealed to the reluctant Ambarisha. So he
took one small basil leaf and put it into his mouth with a spoonful of
water and just then Durvasa made a dramatic entry. He shouted at the
king and said that he had insulted a great sage and would have to bear
the brunt of his curse. Durvasa, using his enormour tapas power,
created a demon to destroy the King for insulting him. The pious King
with the head bowed prayed to Lord Vishnu for guidance. The Lord
immediately sent His weapon the chakra, called Sudharsana chakra or
wheel which came whirling and instantly destroyed the demon and
quickly went after the sage. It is said that the Lord may sometimes
tolerate any disrespect to Him but never any insult or harm done to
His devotees. So the chakra went after the sage and the sage started
running for his life. He first went to brahma the creator and one of
the trinities., but he politely said that he has no powers to go
against the just actions of the Lord. Then the sage ran to Siva and he
also said something very similar, but advised him to go to Lord Vishnu
whose weapon was threatening him So finally after almost a year
running helter and skelter, the sage finally fell at the feet of Lord
Vishnu and prayed for forgiveness. The Lord then said that the only
person who could save him was King Ambarisha with whom he had behaved
very badly, The sage came running to Ambarisha's palace. As Durvasa
was about to fall at the feet of the king, the king bowed to him
instead in great reverence and directed the Sudarsana chakra to return
to Lord Vishnu without causing any harm to the great sage. Then the
sage granted extraordinary boons to the king and left chastened.

A similar story about Durvasa appears in the epic Mahabharata. The
Pandavas were in the forest incognito as per the conditions of their
exile. The Pandavas with their mother Kunti were hiding in the forest
for a year. They prayed to lord Krishna for food as they were not
wanting to be seen openly in the forest looking for food. The Lord
gave them a vessel which had the ability to give one meal a day for
the family. Kunti used to feed her sons, the Pandavas everyday with
the limited food from the vessel. The cooking vessel would be washed
with water and thereafter they could get food only on the following
day. So the Pandavas like yogis were eating once a day.

It is said that sage Durvasa wanted to create problems for the
Pandavas. So one day he came to their place after they had had their
lunch from the magic vessel. Then it was washed and kept aside to be
used only the following day. In the olden days, any stranger asking
for food should be provided with food. It is considered a sin not to
give food. So the sage with his army of followers descended on the
hide out of the Pandavas and asked them to keep the lunch and they
would return after bath in the nearby river. There was no way they
could get food because the vessel would not give food once it is
washed and kept aside. So Kunti prayed to Lord Krishna to save them
from the predicament and the wrath of the short tempered sage. The
Lord appeared before them and took the vessel and found a minute
particle of spinach sticking to the cleaned vessel. Smilingly, he took
it in his finger and put it his mouth with mouthful of water. As he
swallowed the piece of spinach, Durvasa and his army who were taking a
river bath, suddenly felt that their stomachs were full and started
bloating. They felt as though they had eaten a sumptuous meal and had
no space for even a morsel of food. They decided discretion was
better than going for a lunch, and teaching a lesson for which they
did not have the stomach. They quickly disappeared into thin air
giving a sigh a of relief to the Pandavas who praised the Lord for His
divine help.

Of course there are a few episodes that show Durvasa in a better
light. But Durvasasana is an exquisite pose though a difficult one.
Another one legged pose that is awesome in the one leg up pose called
Trivikrama. This truly is a majestic pose. Trivikrama is actually an
avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu and story of the avatar of Vishnu
as Trivikrama is very absorbing. A few temples in South India have the
icon of Lord Trivikrama. It is also one of the 12 names of the Lord
used in daily prayers.

With best Wishes

Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

NB. The picture above is of Chris and I on Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama Summer TT course. Chris has his own blog, here. Grimmly

In Ramaswami's book 'The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga' , the pose Durvasana comes up in the 'On one leg' sequence. Grimmly

The hyperlinks that direct you to sequences mentioned in the letter were added by me, not Ramaswami. Grimmly

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Chanting

Just came across a post on Flying yogini's blog about chanting OM, surprised to find myself commenting on it and at length. The question was concerning our experience of AUM/OM and how we'd teach it.

I NEVER, not in a million years thought I'd end up chanting, too hippyish, too much of a new age cliche, complete lack of cultural reference..... I also refuse to sing (damn, here goes the cultural reference argument) if I'm forced to go to church (weddings, funerals etc) and even got fired once as a chef for refusing to come out and sing Happy Birthday to a guest, with the rest of the staff.

Curious thing though, while getting into Vinyasa Krama yoga I heard some mp3's of Ramaswami chanting. I downloaded them and would listened while cycling to work. Within a couple of days I'd catch myself humming the tunes throughout the day, by the end of the week I'd find myself chanting little snatches of them. I ended up learning the pranayama mantra and have chanted it in my head during pranayama ever since and sometimes, if stressed, I'll chant it secretly out loud, I find it curiously calming. I'll also chant the ganeseha and patanjali prayers out loud if I'm a little down, makes me smile every time, cheers me up no end, why is that?

On the Vinyasa Krama TT course this summer, I found myself, in a class, chanting a couple of hours a day ( needed a reality check on that one), we ended up chanting all of the Yoga Sutras together. I still felt a little awkward when we would do a line of a chant each but I think I secretly enjoyed it. Now I chant regularly at home and even did the 1008 gayatri's this year. If I were ever to teach a VK class I hope I'd have the nerve to start and finish my lesson with a chant just as Ramaswami would do with us.

Despite all that, I'm still a little uncomfortable with my OM. It was OK on the course when in the middle of the group and my OM can get lost in amongst everybody else. Still something about the OM on it's own, just feels.... awkward, kind of inauthentic when I do it, strangely a short mantra like, say, 'OM hrim nama shivaya' is fine, go figure. Oh and how do you make your OM longer, some people on the course kept it going for ages, always thought that would be good for playing long notes on my Sax, any tips?

Oh and If I were to teach it or use it in a class ( and I'd feel obliged to, because Ramaswami always finished his classes with three) then I would probably just get everyone humming MMMM together a couple of times and then add the O/AU kind of ease into it so it doesn't seem so awkward, sneak it up on them.






Here's my favourite prayers to chant and Ramaswami teaching them, The Ganesha prayer and the Patanjali prayer, part of which will sound familiar to the Ashtangi's. Ramaswami would tend to chant them together.

UPDATE: Thanks to Anon for an interesting Link, in a comment on this post, to do with ' the right note for AUM' and Brain science.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Vinyasa krama, my 3rd series.

Just came up with a nice way to square the circle re Vinyasa Krama and Ashtanga.

What if I think of Vinyasa Krama as my 3rd series. In Ashtanga, when moving on to 2nd, you still practice Primary on Friday and on moving to 3rd you practice Primary Friday, rest Saturday, practice 2nd on Sunday and then 3rd the rest of the week. Once a week is supposedly enough to keep the previous two series ticking along nicely, so how about I do the same but practice Vinyasa Krama the rest of the week in place of 3rd.

Feels like a neat, angst free solution (enough angst about the cricket).

So this morning I practiced Vinyasa Krama built around the Bow sequence. It's a backbend sequence so I emphasised those aspects in the tadasana sequence that started my practice and included dropbacks. I simplified Bow sequence a little but kept the Viparita Salabhasana and Garbha Bherundasana and extended the theme a little into Eka pada raja kapotasana, Ustrasana, Laghu and Kapo. I used the long five minute Paschimottanasana as a counter pose then went into the shoulderstand prep and long inversions with their variations ( Viparita andEka pada viparita dandasanas in Shoulderstand). Finished with Maha mudra, Badha konasana and Badha padmasana/Yoga mudra before 108 kapalbhati, twenty minutes of nadi shodana pranayama with the pranayama mantra on the inhaled retention, five minutes pratyahara (shanmukhi mudra) and three times round the mala for japa mantra meditation


Friday, 19 November 2010

Vinyasa Krama liberated

Really nice Vinyasa Krama practice this evening, it feels liberated.

Vinyasa Krama has a couple of core recommended daily postures, a long five to ten minute Paschimottanasana, Maha mudra, long Shoulderstands and Headstands, plus I like to practice the ten minute Tadasana sequence daily as well.

Practicing Ashtanga again in the morning I'm able to include all those postures, just making them a little longer than in a regular Ashtanga practice ( I squeeze Maha mudra in before Janu A) and I tend to do the tadasana sequence as soon as I get on the mat, before the Sury's.

With the Core asana out of the way in the morning, I'm able to explore a couple of different Vinyasa Krama subroutines in the evening, for twenty minutes or so, before moving on to Pranayama and meditation. This evening I built a mini sequence around Hanumanasana, Eka pada raja kapotasana and Natajarasana including some prep poses ( a variation of p223 in Ramaswami's book), it felt great.

Love the sense of play/improvisation, tis Jazz! Great way to burn off the days Raja's and I'm totally sold on the benefits of prefacing your meditation with a little asana and pranayama, much better than getting home and jumping straight on the cushion and spending twenty minutes trying to settle.

And this morning... (sat 20th)

Fifth Ashtanga practice of the week, seem to be slipping back into the routine nicely. Was looking forward to practice when I went to bed last night and only a slight hesitation when my alarm went off at 5:30 this morning. Practice was excellent, 2ND series, at one point I had to check my Sweeney to make sure I hadn't missed a pose or two, I hadn't. Kapo was fine not deep but stress free and comfortable, LBH's deeper, smoothly up and down in Karanda with less squish and a really nice long mayurasana. Wondering if my legs are getting stronger from the Kandasana work as coming up from dropbacks, kapo B and Laghu seemed effortless.


Oh and I forgot to mention, the new pose, Kandasana, I dreamt last night I was doing it over and over....

...and is it a moon day tomorrow? Typical, don't feel I want or need one now. looking forward to practice, tomorrow will make two, Ashtanga, six morning weeks in a row, finally getting into a routine now, sorry moon.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Srivatsa Ramaswami"s November 2010 Newsletter-Yajnyavalkya- also includes a response from Eddie Stern regarding 'Rest' days

Dear Friend;

Hope this finds you well.
I am going to India for about three months from late November. During
and Rishikesh organized by LMU, in LA. Please contact Alana Bray at
LMU at yoga@lmu.edu

********

A few years back I wrote an article about my Guru Yogacharya Sri T
Krishnamacharya which appeared in Namarupa magazine. It contains a few
exclusive pictures of him from my personal album. Here is the link.


Like stories? I wrote the “Story of Patanjali” in my book “Yoga for
the Three Stages of Life” published in 2000 by Inner Traditions. In
Google books I was able to access it (free) pages 21 to 29. It also
contains many nice hand drawn sketches to go with the story. I hope
you can find these pages here.


***********

In one of my earlier newsletters I had written about “anadhtyayana”
days as follows

Certain days in the month are considered “anadhyayana” days. Some
people ask if Yoga should not be done on these anadhyayana days.
During my studies with my teacher he did not specify any days when we
should not practice Yoga. Anadhyayana is usually associated with study
of the vedas and anadhyayana days are days one should not study the
vedas, presumably with the teacher. In short we may say that the veda
pathasala or veda schools would be closed on these days. I started
learning veda chanting (with my father) when I was about 10 years old
and I had a teacher who would come to our house at about 5 in the
morning
to teach vedic chanting. But he would not come on these
“anadhyayana” days. The smritis say that vedas should be chanted daily
(vedam nityam adhiyetaam). So we may say that the prohibition is with
respect to studying, perhaps new lessons but not chanting the portions
already learned (swadhyaya). On anadhyayana days like the new moon
day, one may refrain from learning with a teacher new vedic lessons,
but may chant what one has already learnt. It is a moot question if
this restriction applies to yogasana learning and certainly does not
appear to apply to home yogasana practice

Here is a response from Eddie Stern, a long time disciple of Sri
Pattabhi Jois
and also editor of Namarupa magazine

Dear Srivatsa Ramaswami,
Thank you once again for your latest newsletter, which is, as usual,
very informative and a delight to read.

I had one friendly comment to pass on about the 'anandhyanana' days:

It is possible that the student who asked you about any prohibition of
practicing yoga on the full or new moon days was doing so because of
the observances of Pattabhi Jois. Much has been made of this
observance, with all sorts of ideas about why he does this, and what
significance it may have. However, the matter is quite simple. As you
know, the Maharaja's Pathashala (Sankrit College) was closed each
month for classes on the moon days, and the day before and after.
Studies were continued by the students, but no new lessons taught. One
reason for this was that on amavasya and purnima, certain rituals had
to be performed by the teachers and students alike, who are all
brahmins - for example, the pitr tarpana which needs to be performed
on amavasya, and the ritual bathing the day after the moons - all
these things take time to be performed. As well, though I have never
been able to find the reference, Pattabhi Jois used to quote to us -
and I also heard this from my old Bhagavad Gita teacher in Mysore -
that if a teacher teaches new subjects on the moon days, his knowledge
will decline, and on the day before or after, the knowledge of the
student will decline! Perhaps you might know where this reference
comes from? When I spoke to Pattabhi Jois's astrologer while
interviewing him for the "Guruji" book, he concurred with the idea
that it has something to do with the idea of as above, so below: our
mind is the moon, and waxes, wanes, and retains information in a
similar cycle as the moon in the sky.
Since Pattabhi Jois was a student at the Maharaja's Pathashala, and
then was the Professor of Yoga there from 1937 to 1973, this became a
habit and observance for him. Since he held the view that yoga was a
practice of Vedic origin, and that the knowledge of the Upanishads was
to be accessed only through the doorway of asanas and pranayama, he
ascribed the same observances to teaching them as he did to teaching
Veda. He further used to say that on the full and new moon days, there
was a particular conjunction of nakshatras that made it easier to get
injured, and that the injury would take longer to heal. I have never
been able to verify this through jyotish; perhaps this is something
that he learned from his father, who was an accomplished jyotishi.
Pattabhi Jois knew quite a bit too - the name Jois is a South Indian
corruption of Jyotish, and astrology was in his family tradition.
I say all this to make the simple point that Pattabhi Jois had certain
habits from the time he was 14. Why he had these habits is
interesting, and though we may not be brahmins, or even Indian, as his
students it is good to understand why certain things were done by him,
and accept that if he felt them important enough to follow, that they
are applicable to us too. But we should not go making a big thing of
it and creating all sorts of fantastical ideas! Below is a funny story
to illustrate what happens when we (for example, Ashtanga Yoga
students!) do not take the time to investigate simple things in a
rational manner:
A saintly scholar used to give a class on Bhagavad Gita each evening
beneath a tree near a village. He had a pet cat, and this cat would
sometimes run through the crowd, making a disturbance. As a result the
sage began to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some
time the speaker shuffled off his mortal coil. One of his disciples
continued to give the Bhagavad Gita class under the tree, and
continued to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time
the cat passed away, and the disciple bought another cat. After three
generations a disciple wrote a paper on the sacred tradition of tying
a cat to the tree while giving a class on Bhagavad Gita.
So, all that being said, I think that the moon day/practice observance
should be followed by the Ashtanga Yoga students out of respect for
Pattabhi Jois and his methods. The purpose of following these things,
and submitting ourselves to a lineage, is to create humility and
thoughtfulness in the student. We will (most likely) not go to hell if
we practice on these days, but surrendering oneself to a lineage has
its own charm and effect on our character, so why should we not try
it? I do not believe that all yoga students should refrain from
practice on these days - they too should follow the observances of
their teachers, and hopefully by aligning our minds with higher
principles, will we all find happiness in our practices. On moon days
or not!
Thank you very much.
I hope that I did not go on for too long, or present any
misinformation.
Yours truly,
Eddie Stern
**********

YAJNYAVALKYA


Sage Yajnyavalkya sat down with his two wives, Katyayani and Maitreyi
to discuss something very important. Katyayani was the typical
obedient wife and would abide by everything her husband would tell
her. She had three children and was generally a very contented person.
Maitreyi was an intellectual and had married the sage due to his
brilliance. She adored him for his wisdom and enormous scholarship,
debating abilities and spiritual achievements. The sage said without
beating around the bush,”I have decided to take the fourth stage
(ashram) of life, viz., sanyasa or renunciation and live alone in the
forest. I will divide my property between you two equally.” Katyayani
said that she would abide by her husband's decision, as Yajnyavalkya
would do the right thing. Maitreyi thought for a moment. My husband,
this Yajnyavalkya is no ordinary man. He earned a huge amount of
wealth, with his scholarship and supported the family admirably. He
had a very large number of milch cows, landed property and even pots
of gold, perhaps he was the richest 'scholar' on earth. If he should
renounce all this which he had righteously earned and assiduously
nurtured, there should be something greater he was going after. It is
said that she asked him what was that he was going after which was
higher than the huge wealth he had earned. She asked him, “Will all
the wealth you give me make me immortal?'' “No, no!” said
Yajnyavalkya, it will only make you a mortal, a rich mortal. Wealth
can not give one immortality” In that case I am not interested in this
wealth, she said, please tell me about that which would give
immortality, that you are going after by this renunciation. Teach me
that which gives that wisdom. Yajnyavalkya was mighty pleased with his
beloved wife's earnest query. “Yes, I will tell that momentarily and
listen to me carefully”, he said. After you hear it, sit down and
think about it, ponder over it with a concentrated mind until it is
unambiguously clear to you. Then never deviate from It.

We all love several beings and objects outside of us. The reason why a
wife loves her husband is not for the sake of the husband per se, but
because basically the wife loves her Atman, herself. Likewise a
husband loves his wife not merely for the sake of the wife but
because he loves his own atman, his self. Yagnyavalkya gave a number
of examples in our daily lives. The implication is that we love beings
and objects like the spouse and wealth because they give us happiness
and comfort. Everyone basically loves oneself and subconsciously
works for one's own happiness. All our lives we act to bring
happiness to ourselves and remove unhappiness. However there are
differences among people as to what would give them happiness. Some
people, satwic people appear selfless and go out of the way to help
others. The reason they do it is because making others happy makes
them happy. There are a few others who may perhaps derive pleasure at
the misery of others and tend to even cause pain to others or
subjugate others to pain to get happiness for themselves. But
basically everyone looks for happiness as everyone loves oneself. Here
the purpose of this narration is not to merely talk about what one
should do to just change oneself so that one may get happiness due to
right conduct (dharma). What the sage wants his wife to know is that
since everyone is after one's own happiness, one should really
understand/ know what constitutes the real self for whose happiness
one strives hard all through the life. According to the scriptures
especially the Upanishad and Patanjali's Yoga, there is a complete
misunderstanding (avidya) about the nature of one's self and the
scriptures by several means or vidyas try to help lead the earnest
seeker to understand the true nature of one's self. Here the sage
tells his spouse to understand the nature of the self from the
scriptures (srotavya), then deeply analyze and contemplate upon it
(mantavya) and then remain completely established in it
(nidhidhyasitavya). Since the real self is established by these
scriptures as pure, non- changing or immutable consciousness, the
self is considered immortal. Inference and meditation of these sayings
through different vidyas help one to remain well established in the
Self itself.

The sastras that exhort the aspirants to go by this path are called
nivritti sastras and also known as adhyatma vidyas or the subject
dealing with the nature of the Self. Among the foremost of this group
of philosophies is Yoga, Raja Yoga. Others include the Upanishads,
Samkhya, etc. Even though there are differences among these sibling
philosophies, these are supposed to lead one to immortality as the
Self is immortal and knowing, identifying with the Self leads to
immortality, as the Upanishad says “Mrutyor ma amrutam gamaya” or lead
me from death to immortality. Sage Yajnyavalkya urged his wife
Maitreyi to follow the spiritual path. And that was his answer to her
regarding immortality. He also answered her further queries.

Sage Yajnyavalkya was a very revered person in the vedic lore. Brash,
brilliant and benevolent his incisive understanding of the vedic
wisdom brought him fame and some trouble. When young, he studied the
three different Vedas—rik, sama and atharva-- from three different
masters then finally settled down to study his own veda, the Yajur
veda under his maternal uncle Vaisampayana, who was then an authority
on Yajur veda.

Yajavalkya was just exceptional. The Uncle was pretty pleased with the
capacity of his nephew. He not only got the entire Yajur veda by heart
but also went into details of the philosophies and the minute details
of the various rites described in the Yajur veda. There were other
students in Vaisampayana's ashram, but none was comparable to him.
Slowly the young student started helping the uncle in the performance
of various religious rites. Initially everything was honky dory.
Slowly the young scholar started finding some infirmities in the way
the uncle was handling the teaching and using the vedas. He found that
in the branch of yajur veda Vaisampayana was teaching, there was
mixing up of the ritual portion and the mantra portion. The uncle was
slowly getting restless with the brilliance of his nephew, the
adoration was giving way to apathy and then anger and then jealousy.
There was a time when Vaisampayana was wanting to perform a particular
rite to expiate an adharmic action, but Yajnyavalkya who had studied
the other vedas opined that the proper propitiatory act was only in
another veda the atharva veda and what his uncle was contemplating
from yajur veda would not work. That was the last straw. Vaisampayana
shouted at his nephew to leave his ashram. As Yajnyavalkya was walking
towards the door, the uncle angrily said that since he had no respect
for what he taught he could as well return the knowledge. The young
man withdrew all the knowledge he learnt from the uncle and threw it
up, as it were. Vysampayana then directed his other disciples to
swallow it and they took the form of tittiri birds and swallowed what
was discarded by Yajnyavalkya. The tittiri birds got back the human
forms and chanted the whole veda which came to be known as taittiriya
branch of Yajur veda. This portion of yajur veda contains the famous
taittiriya upanishad which contains the panch kosa or five sheath
vidya, with which many yoga students are familiar.

Yajnyavalkya, a perfectionist, vowed he would never again go back to a
human Guru. As said in the sutra Ishwarapranidhana, he decided to
surrender to the Lord. He did intense tapas or penance to Surya or Sun
god, the Almighty manifest. Ultimately he reached the world of sun and
directly imbibed the yajur veda in its purest form. Upon his return he
wrote the entire yajur veda which because it was said to be pure, came
to be known as shukla or white/pure Yajur veda. In contrast the
vaisampayana's older version was known as krishna or black yajur veda
as it was contaminated. But in practice Krishna Yjur veda is the one
that is in vogue in most part of India especially South India. My Guru
and my family belong to the Krishna Yajur veda school. People who
follow the shukla yajur veda are not too many. But it is a beautiful
work. Unlike the krishna yajur veda which uses three notes or swaras,
this has two notes like the rhythmic notes of a horse trot. The two
outstanding upanishads of this veda are the Brihadaranyaka (the great
forest) and isavasya upanishad, both of which are highly venerated and
are part of the top ten upanishads. Yajnyavalkya also became one of
the foremost vedic scholars excelling in all aspects especially the
spiritual aspect of vedic knowledge. Yajnyavalkya means one who is
clad (valkya) in the yagna or the vedas. Yajnyavalkya=clad in vedas

The name Yajnyavalkya is found in several old texts, the smritis, the
vedas, upanishads, the puranas and other works. So, many conclude that
Yagnyavalkya became the name of a particular lineage and there were
many great personages with the same name. It is believed that one of
the oldest works on Hatayoga was authored by Sage Yajnyavalkya. It is
known as Yoga Yajyavalkya or Yoga Yajnyavalkya samhita and gives
detailed description of ashtanga yoga. This work can be considered as
one of the works which could be helpful for those who would like to
find material for therapeutic yoga. He says “That all internal
diseases and toxins are destroyed by the practice of asana, yama and
niyama” and that pranayama (breath practices) is said to destroy
diseases in all three doshas (psycho-physical body constitutions). It
describes the marmasthanas or vital points, the important nadis their
locations, and kandasthana, kundalini and other details. The detailed
descriptions of all the eight angas and a close affinity to vedanta
makes it an exceptional work on Yoga.

Traditional followers of Yajnyavalkya call him Yogeeswara
Yajnyavalkya. He defines Yoga as the union of the individual soul and
the supreme soul, following the vedantic school.. I studied both Yoga
Yajnyavalkya and several upanishad vidyas from Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad from my guru Sri Krishnamacharya.

It is said that Yajnyavalkya was also well versed in classical Indian
music and perhaps played an old string instrument called Veena, still
very popular . Veena is mentioned in the vedas. It is said that
playing the veena gives spiritual experience. As per an old sloka
attributed to the sage, one who plays the veena with the correct
knowledge of the instrument, well versed in swaras or notes (raga)
and rhythm or beats(tala), reaches the ultimate Brahman effortlessly
(veena vaadana tatwajah, swara sastr visaradah| talgnascha aprayatnena
parabrahmadhi gacchati.) Sri Krishnamacharya was able to play the
veena


*******

A few days ago I had gone to my son's house to spend time with my 3
year old grandsons (twins). They said that they were in preschool.
They were rattling on about what went on in the school and suddenly
one of them lay on the back on the floor, drew the feet close and
pressing the feet and back of the head and neck, lifted the hips.
Looking at me he said that he was doing ‘bridge’ and asked me, “Can
you do it thatha (grandpa)”?

******

Any comments or suggestions may be sent to
info@vinyasakrama.com

If you wish you may reproduce my letters and articles in your e mails
or webpage or blogs.

You may access the articles contained in the earlier newsletters---
click on newsletter tab in my website www.vinyasakrama.com
Thanking you,

With best wishes
Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

30 minute headstand inc. variations, pranayama and mantra japa


This too was interesting. Following on from yesterdays Primary with mantra I thought I'd explore chanting through the whole of this mornings Vinyasa Krama practice, again quite resonating, you'd think the mantra would overpower the breath somewhat but curiously it seems to make the breath more focused.

Come headstand I decided to try something a little different. I'd only done a twenty minute headstand before but this time I wanted to try thirty minute, the first ten doing some headstand variations before moving into ten minutes of pranyama with the pranayama mantra, inhaling to the first part holding for ten seconds through the middle section then exhaling to the final part, again for ten seconds, followed by five seconds bandhas. The final ten minutes I slipped into urdhva padmasana and did mantra japa just as if I was doing my usual meditation but the right way up.









Thirty minutes was fine, legs went to sleep through the final five minutes of urdhva padmasana which was a bit weird coming back down as I couldn't feel my toes touching the mat.













I don't seem to have a problem with long headstands. I think it comes from practicing near the wall, although I don't need it anymore it gives a degree of confidence that seems to allow you go straighter and thus even out the weight. On the TT course in LA I had to do my headstand away from the wall for the first time and ended up with more weight on my arms which made it hard work, struggled to hold it for five minutes let alone do variations.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Primary Mantra Japa : drishti for the mind

That was interesting, throughout Primary series tonight I (mentally) chanted my mantra, dividing it between the inhalation and exhalation. So, chanting the first part through the duration of the inhalation then chanting the second part in time with the exhalation.

Don't know what made me think to do it but it really focuses the mind, attaches it like a barnacle to the breath. Nice practice, how many times would I have chanted it I wonder 4-500 times (Just worked it out, close to 600 breathes in Primary)? Practice ended up taking around 90 minutes.

mantras that work well for this would include

Om namo narayanaya
(Inhalation) (exhalation)
Om hrim namassivaya

Looking forward to trying it on 2nd series

One amusing moment, actually not so amusing at the time. It's getting colder and I couldn't get a good sweat up, just that clammy sweat that's almost sticky. Only managed to get my arms half way through in garbha pindasana, managed to roll but when I came up for Kukkutasana I could only hold it for a breath before I toppled forward, arms were so stuck solid that I ended head first into the mat, just managed to get my forehead down, ouch. Now that's why you need a manduka.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Core Vinyasa Krama asana : 5 minute Shoulderstand





Ramaswami stresses the importance of including three postures daily in our Vinyasa Krama practice, all held for an extended period, Paschimattanasana (posterior forward bend), Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand).











On the Vinyasa Krama TT course he would recommend spending five to ten minutes in Sarvangasana, the first three minutes or so with the legs relaxed. In the video you can see I use a timer to keep me honest. VK employs sarvangasana as both a preparatory pose for Sirsasana as well as it's counter. On Ramaswami's advice I save the shoulderstand variations for the one after the headstand.









Ramaswami recommends

  • Some Shoulderstand preparation
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A backbend counter posture, I tend to do Urdhava Danurasana
  • A ten minute headstand. I do the first five minutes focusing on breath and bandhas and then do five minutes of variations.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture. I tend to go into the ashtanga finishing postures after the second shoulderstand, plough etc. so my backbend counter is Uttana Padasana
I do this sequence every morning as part of my VK practice.

Nice post here from certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues recommending the use of a pad under the shoulders and Ramaswami's article on the benefits of inversions here.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Core vinyasa krama asana : Five minute Paschimatanasana

' Yoga texts recommend vaseth, which means one should stay in this posture for for a long time. Even a stay of five minutes has a tonic effect on the posterior muscles, the abdominal muscles and the pelvic organs, because of the rectal and abdominal locks'.
Srivatsa Ramaswami Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga p 75


I've struggled with Paschimatanasana, it's only in the last few months that I've begun to feel comfortable in the posture. Whether that's because of the five to ten minute stays in the pose that Ramaswami recommends or the the lifting out of the pelvis in the Tadasana sequence I'm not sure, but something has certainly changed for the better. I searched my files for any old pictures of early or even recent attempts at the posture but couldn't find anything. I eventually found an early video of a jump back, taken on my phone, which included the posture, this is from Oct 08 about 18 months into my Ashtanga practice.

video

And here's a full five minute Paschimatanasana from last week. This really is the yogic equivalent of watching paint dry, if you thought the ten minute headstand posted a couple of days ago was dull then prepare yourself. And yet there is stuff going on, this from Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga

' You may stay in the vinyasa of paschimatanasana for a long time with short inhalations {three to five seconds), but very long exhalations (five to ten seconds). After you complete every exhalation you may do both the abdominal and rectal locks. During every inhalation relax your grip, but on every exhalation stretch forward and lower your trunk down slightly.' p75



I came across a nice tip from Dharma Mittra (I think it's on one of his videos) once your settled in Paschimmatanasana rather than trying to force your legs ever flatter, shuffle your sit bones back instead (:30 seconds in on the video above), I still tend to do this. Oh and CK mentioned recently in a comment, that engaging mula bandha helps protect the hamstrings, I'd never noticed but I think she's right.

In Vinyasa krama, we have of course several vinyasas of Paschimatanasana.



'According to my guru (Krishnamacharya)', writes Ramaswami, 'the main pose in this sequence, which is the posterior stretching pose (paschimatanasana) will not provide the intended benefits if it is attempted merely from a seated position without the movements facilitated by vinyasa krama'. p 71

The full Seated sequence, chapter three in Ramaswami's book, can be found here, many of the postures in this sequence also come up in Ashtnga Primary series, Paschimatanasana , of course, but also Kurmasana, Purvottanasana, Upavishta konasana, Navasana, Badha konasana and padmasana

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Core Vinyasa Krama asana :10 minute headstand




Relating to the earlier post on Inversions, this is the ten minute headstand subroutine I tend to do most mornings.


Entering from lotus, I tend to avoid doing any variations for the first five minutes, just focus on the breath and bandhas. This is akin to watching paint dry so you might want to FFW. For second half, I tend to do half and full lotus Vinyasa Krama variations in preparation for the long sit for pranayama and meditation






Monday, 11 October 2010

Looking at my morning Vinyasa Krama practice in more detail ( with bullet points )

As mentioned in yesterdays post, I seem to have settled down into a Vinyasa Krama in the morning and Ashtanga in the evening routine.

Ashtanga we know righ,t but perhaps a closer look at what I mean by a 'simple' and 'core' VK practice is called for.

There seem to be recommendations and suggestions (I'm taking recommendations as stronger here).

Following his teacher Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami recommends practicing daily



  • A long, five to ten minute Paschimotansana
  • A five minute Shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A five to ten minute Headstand.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture.
  • Maha Mudra ( like janu sirsasna A without the forward bend )

also in a suitable posture for meditation
  • Kapalabhati 108
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation

He also suggests



  • A short Tadasana sequence
  • Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
  • Backbend counter poses following the shoulderstands
  • Baddha Konasana

I tend to throw in a chanted Sury namaskara as well as a short Asymmetric subroutine

Put both the recommendations and suggestions and my additions together and you have my Simple core Vinyasa krama practice



  • A short Tadasana sequence
  • A short Asymmetric routine
  • A long Paschimottanasana
  • Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are with the legs relaxed
  • Backbend counter posture
  • 10 Minute headstand
  • Another Shoulderstand
  • followed by another backbend counter pose
  • Maha Mudra
  • Baddha Konasana
In Padmasana
  • Kapalabhati 108
  • Pranayama ( nadi shodana )
  • Japa ( mantra) meditation

Vinyasa Krama is a naturally flexible approach

I tend to do a basic ten minute tadasana routine but there are several other options within the full On your feet 'tadasana' sequence. You may wish, as I did earlier in the week, to substitute in a few more twisting movements or squats.

I tend to rotate daily the Asymmetric subroutine, one day maha mudra, another, the marichi or half lotus subroutine. Find them all the options here.

I tend to stay in straight paschimottanasana and work on my breath and bandhas but there are some options while in the pose.

Backbend counterpose options are here

Following Ramaswami's advice I keep the first shoulderstand simple, relaxed legs for the first three minutes, just working on breath and bandhas but for the second Shoulderstand there are all kinds of options (the link includes the shoulderstand prep). I tend to do standard ashtanga finishing, halasana etc out of habit.

Headstands too have many options ( the headstand comes up at 3:45 )

I manage to keep the practice down to an hour, nothing feels rushed, overall it has a highly meditative feel to it. For me, my morning asana practice is preparation for extended pranayama and meditation but, of course, if that's not your bag, you can add in another half hour of Subroutines, some Triangle or On one leg subroutines perhaps to bring it up to a 90 minute practice in line with a standard Ashtanga practice.


Friday, 8 October 2010

Inversions

Nice post from David Garrigues (Certified Ashtanga teacher) this week advocating the use of a 'pad' under the shoulders for shoulderstand. I found it interesting because I've noticed the difference between my shoulderstands in the morning and in the evenings over the last couple of days ( I'm practicing VK in the mornings, Ashtanga in the evening). I tried a blanket under my shoulder the other morning and my shoulderstand felt as comfortable as when I do it in the evening. David goes on to stress the importance of Shoulderstand and being able to remain in the posture for a considerable period.

This is something Ramaswami also stresses and he wrote an article in one of his newsletters that I've attached below, but first some videos.

In Vinyasa Krama we have many variations to explore while inverted, I remember Ramaswami telling a story about his teacher, Krishnamacharya. I think Krishnamacharya was in his 70's or 80's at the time, he mentioned to Ramaswami that there were 32 variations of headstand. Ramaswami, it seems looked skeptical enough for Krishnamacharya to get up and demonstrate them all (I'll try and hunt down the story. UPDATE: Madhu just added the actual story to the comments section, it was from Mohan not Ramaswami, my apologies to both).

Ramaswami recommends

  • Some Shoulderstand preparation
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A backbend counter posture, I tend to do Urdhava Danurasana
  • A ten minute headstand. I do the first five minutes focusing on breath and bandhas and then do five minutes of variations.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture. I tend to go into the ashtanga finishing postures after the second shoulderstand, plough etc. so my backbend counter is Uttana Padasana
I do this sequence every morning as part of my VK practice.

This video gives an idea of the shoulderstand prep, which you can simplify a little, and some of the Shoulderstand and Headstand variations available in Vinyasa Krama. Useful too perhaps if you have an injury and can't do your full Ashtanga practice for a while.


And here, as promised ramaswami's article on the benefits and importance of inversions from his Aug 2009 newsletter.

HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE ……
The two important inversion poses, Sirasasana and its better half
Sarvangasana, called the King and Queen of yogasanas are a unique
contribution of Yoga towards physical culture and physical therapy.
Several contemporary yogis have disputed the place of these poses and
have claimed that they perhaps are later day inventions. But in
Hatayoga they are considered as viparita karani mudras.
Hatayogapradipika refers to inversions as follows
“ There is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the
sun,( here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and
not from the books. If the position of the sun(stomach) is above and
the moon(the head) below (i.e., upside down) it is called
viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it from a Guru “
The pelvic area—kandasthana-, according to some yogis is a breeding
ground for many ailments. It is also the area from where 72.000 nadis
are said to emanate and also Kundalini. This area should be kept
clean. The dross should be burnt and blown away, figuratively
speaking. How does the Yogi do it?
We have an air principle in that area which is Apana Vayu. We have
also the fire principle in us in the abdominal area in the form of
gastric fire or Jataraagni. This flame is flowing upwards and in the
normal upright position the gastric fire is above the pelvic area,
flowing upward, sometimes when overactive, produces a burning
sensation in the esophagus producing the typical ‘heart burn”. The
Yogi by resorting to the inversions, as Headstand and Sarvangasana, is
able to place the pelvic area above the gastric area. Now the gastric
fire or jataragni,-- figuratively speaking—flows towards the pelvic
area and heats and purifies the Nadias and the Kandasthan, arouses the
Kundalini with the heat. The fire is further supposed to be fanned and
intensified by directing the air tatwa or apana by Mula bandh; it
draws the apana closer to the fire principle and thereby the apana air
also becomes hotter and in turn melts away the dross of the
kandasthana and arouses the sleeping kundalini. So headstand and
shoulderstand, the mulabandha and the intense gastric fire help to
cleanse the nadis and the rogasthana or the disease prone area is
cleaned and spruced up.
There is another interesting concept associated with the inversions of
which I may have referred to in one of the earlier letters/articles.
It is said that our head contains a liquid called amrita which may be
translated as nectar. This nectar gives us life and drips drop by drop
through the uvula into the stomach where it is consumed by the gastric
fire to provide the life energy to live. This reservoir of nectar is
slowly used up and with its total depletion comes the end of one’s
life. The Yogi tries to ration the flow of the nectar, by remaining in
inverted position for a length of time every day—say between half an
hour to an hour or so. During the period of time the yogi is in head
stand and shoulder stand, the amrita remains stored in the head
without dripping down.
The Hatayogapradika has this to say
The Hatayogapradipika explains the inversion mudra as follows. “The
cool nectar that flows from the moon (here the head) is swallowed by
the hot sun (the gastric fire). Hence one’s body becomes aged. There
is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the sun,
(here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and not
from the books. If the position of the sun is above and the moon below
(i.e., upside down) it is called viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it
from a Guru. Do abhyaa of this inverted pose and increase the duration
every day. One who practices this for a yaama (3 hrs) daily will
conquer death”. When I was young I came across a Yogi who was said to
be practising sirsasana for three hours every day. His face had a
unique bluish tinge. He also practised Mouna or silence.
So by this daily practice, the Yogi is able to increase, so to say,
his/her lifespan by 5%, or say between 3 to 5 years. Normally after
Headstand the yogi is supposed to spend equal time in shoulder stand
as well. In shoulder stand, amrita while still confined to the skull/
brain portion, now is allowed to flow to the entire head portion above
the neck and nourish all the sensitive sense organs, the two eyes, the
two ears, the mouth and the nose (shanmukha). This is also considered
necessary to maintain the acuity of the sense organs
as they are way up in the body and may not get the full nourishment .
Sarvangasana therefore is considered good for the sense organs whereas
the headstand is good for the brain.
The normal upright position and the chin up position in which we keep
our head, both result in a wasteful free flow of the limited amrita in
the head down the uvula to the gastric fire, like a free flowing tap.
The Yogis found it necessary to constantly control the flow of this
nectar and even temporarily stop it. They developed a simple technique
called Jalandhara bandha to temporarily stop and control the flow. The
term Jalandhara-bandha itself indicates the effect it is said to
produce. Jala means water and here it refers to the amrita or nectar
which is said to be in the liquid form. Dhara is to hold, here holding
the amrita in the head itself and bandha is the lock, the procedure
which helps to achieve the holding operation. So Jalandharabandha
means the lock that enables holding the nectar in the head. Of course
while we do asanas and pranayama we adjust the bandha in such a way
that we allow only a small and necessary amount of amrita to flow and
also maintain a good ujjayi control over the breath. That is why the
default position of the head in asana practice whether it is tadasana
or the seated Padmasana or Vajrasana is the head down position. One
could see the pictures of my Guru doing asanas and one could see his
head down position in most of them—even in asanas like urdhvamukha
svanasana or the well known upward facing dog pose. In the entire
vinyasakrama one would find the relaxed default head down position is
resorted to control the flow of amrita and the ujjayi breath.
Some contemporary yogis may read these metaphorical narrations with a
wry smile. However these inversions should be considered as unique
contributions of Yoga, for health. Within the first few minutes of
Sirsasana practice, the leg and thigh muscles, the gluteal muscles,
relax. The chest, back, shoulders and neck muscles also relax as all
these are not required to maintain the postural tone as in the upright
position. It has been found that due to the relaxation of the leg
muscles, the blood pressure in the legs drop to about 30mm.There is no
great rush of blood to the head among the adept yogis due to auto
regulation; yet the gravity helps to open up many capillaries in the
brain, head and face which may otherwise remain partially closed.
People with high blood pressure and retinal problems will have to be
careful. However persons with mild hypertension and under control with
diet, life style change and even medication could benefit from this
posture if they had learnt it from early life. It appears to increase
pressure on the shoulders which would result in the brain trying to
reduce the blood pressure. Therefore if one would practice Sirshasana
regularly for a sufficient duration, one’s pulse rate tends to reduce,
thereby reducing the strain on the heart. Gradually there is a
reduction in the blood pressure.
What is equally important is that Sirsasana helps improve circulation
of the cerebro spinal fluid, which is helpful to the brain and also
for the spinal nerve bundles—the chakras. Because of the increased
pressure in the brain due to this fluid, the pituitary secretions
increase helping the better functioning of the sympathetic nervous
system which will help in many ways including the dilatation of the
bronchial tubes giving great relief to asthmatics. There is draining
of the bronchial tubes, giving some welcome relief for those with
chronic chest congestion. Many feel increased memory power and
general better brain capacity. There are cases of even some correction
of the eyesight. The vinyasas like the twists, Akunchanasana, the
backbends like Viparitadandasana in Sirsasana and Uttanamayurasana in
Sarvangasana help the spine considerably, by not only maintaining the
flexibility of this structure but also nourish the nadis and chakras
or nerve fibers and nerve bundles in the spinal chord.
In the inversions, as mentioned in earlier articles, the internal
organs get positional correction. Pregnant yoginis may find the
inversions help relieve pelvic congestion, oedema of the legs,
conditions that are prevalent during pregnancy. Practising the
inverted poses with the variety of vinyasas gives a complete massage
to all the muscles, organs and considerably increases the blood
circulation. Perhaps equally important is the effect of the twin poses
on the major joints-- the ankles, the knees, the hips and the spine.
The intra-articular space within the joints improves and hence the
joint movements when one does the various vinyasas also will improve.
Dorsal and plantar flexions performed in the ankle joints while in
these asanas help the ankles significantly. Asanas like Akunchanasana
in inversions give good relief to the knees, while inversions help
to open the hips by dragging the big pelvic girdle down a bit and
giving more space for the femur to move and rotate nicely within the
hip socket(pl refer to Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga for headstand and
shoulder stand vinyasas). Perhaps the most benefit accrues to the
entire spine. The inter-vertebral space is enhanced and person who
practises these inversions and the vinyasas like akunchanasana and
backbends will find the spine stretching nicely and becoming more
flexible. The narrowing of the inter-vertebral space can be tackled
positively and the low back pain reduces significantly. I would say
that the inversions are the best yoga postures to alleviate low back
pain. Overall these inversions and the vinyasas in them help to keep
the spine supple and strong. It is said one is as old as the condition
of the spine. Further, because of the relaxation of the lower
extremities Sarvangasana is a good pose to help overcome insomnia.
These twin poses are very good for health.
Contemporary Yogis find the other important inversion, viz., the
Handstand or Vipritvrukshasna very popular. This is a great pose, with
a number of variations possible. However since the head is not fixed
in this group of poses, some of the finer aspects of the other two
head- fixed inversions (sarvangasana and sirshasana) may be missing.
One finds it more difficult to maintain balance and also stay for a
sufficiently long time in viparitavrikshasana or inverted tree pose
(Hand Stand) and other similar poses like scorpion pose etc. These two
regal poses stand ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest in conferring
health benefits to the yogabhyasis.

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