Friday, 30 September 2011

SECOND EDITION of my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book now available for download

I've just uploaded the 2nd Edition of my Vinyasa Krama Practice book, this is the edition with all the sequences broken up into individual subroutines. It's a big file so I'm keeping the 1st edition with just the full sequences up there in case anyone wants to download that section only.

Links will live on the left of the blog under FREE TO DOWNLOAD

This is still very much a work in progress. It's taken forever to edit the subroutines so for the moment there's no accompanying notes although I have added some basic practice notes at the beginning of the book.

To stress again, this is NO substitute for Ramaswami's The complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga which goes into detail of breathing and transitions for each and every posture. This is just a 'mat book', a hopefully easier, quick viewing reminder of the sequences and subroutines.

For even more detail I highly recommend Ramaswami's other books, Yoga for the Three stages of Life and Yoga Beneath the Surface written with David Hurwitz.

I thought it would be a good idea to work through all the subroutines in my evening practice over the next month, couple of subroutines at a time then post them on the Vinyasa karma blog along with a couple of notes which I'll then add to the book at the end of the month. Gives an opportunity for questions and working out what would and wouldn't be so useful.

I also want to expand the pranayama and meditation sections, hopefully next month.

So what's New?

Here's the contents page to Part 2

Vinyasa Krama Subroutines
Videos at

On your feet subroutines
hasta vinyasas (arm movements)
parsva bhangis (side poses)
uttanasana (forward bend)
ardha utkatasana (half squat)
utkatasana (full squat)
malasana (golden belt) pasasana ( garland)
surya namaskara (sun salutation with mantra)

Triangle Subroutines
uttita trikonasana (simple side stretch)
parivritta trikonasana (twisting movements)
uttita parsvakonasana (side stretch)
parsva konasana (twisting movement)
virabhadrasana (warrior)
prasarita padottanasana (spread feet stretch)

On One leg Subroutines
bhagiratasana (named after sage)
vrikshasana (tree pose)
standing marichi 
uttita padangushtasana (stretched leg-arm)
virabharasana (warrior)
durvasasana (after sage)
natarajasana (dancing shiva)

Asymmetric Seated Subroutines
dandasana (staff pose)
marichyasana (after sage)
ardha padmasana (half lotus)
mahamudra (great seal)
akarnadhanurasana (archer) /krauchasana (heron)
ekapadasirsasana (leg behind head)
triyangmukha (bent back leg)
marichyasana (advanced)
bharadwajasana (sage) and Mahabandha (great lock)
matyendrasana (half and full)

Seated Posterior Subroutines
paschimatanasana (posterior stretch)
kurmasana (turtle and turtle in shell)
purvatanasana (anterior side stretch)
chatushpadapeetam (table pose)
navasana (boat) pashimpotasana (upward looking)
upavishta konasana (seated angle)
baddhakonasana and other seated postures

Bow Pose Subroutines
bow (lead in)
makrarasana (crocodile) and manduka (frog)
bhujangasana (cobra)
salabhasana (locust)
viparita salabhasana and bherundasana (sage)
dhanurasana (bow) and return sequence

Meditative Pose Subroutines
vajrasana (sage)
ushtrasana (camel) to kapotasana (pigeon)
virasana (hero's pose)
Camel walk

Supine Subroutines
lead sequence
tatakamudra (pond gesture)and belly twist
apanasana (pelvic floor pose )
dvipadapitam (desk pose)
madhyasetu and urdhvadhanurasana (bridge)
leg and arm lifts
supta padangushtasana (with reclining leg behind head)
jataraparivritti (stomach teist)
sarvangasana (shoulderstand) preparation sequence
sarvangasana (shoulderstand) lead sequence
akunchanasana (contraction)
halasana (plough)
urdhva konasana (upside down triangle)
urdhva padmasana (upsidedown lotus)
niralamba sarvangasana (unsupported shoulderstand)
halasana-uttana mayurasana (plough to peacock)
sarvangasana-mandala (circular ambulation in plough)
karnapidasana (closed ear pose)

Inverted Subroutines
headstand lead in 1 (bent legs)
headstand lead in 2 (straight legs)
sirsasana vinyasas (headstand variations)
sirsasana padmasana (headstand lotus)
viparita dandasana (crooked staff)
headstand arm variations

Lotus Subroutines
ardhapadmasana (half lotus)
padmasana (lotus)
baddha padmasana (bound lotus)
urdhwa mukha padmasana ( upward facing lotus)
urdhwa padmasana (lifted lotus)
simhasana (lion face)
bharawadjasana (sage) and utpluthi (lift)
garbhapindasana (fetus in womb)
padmasana arm balancing pose

misc. arm balances

Jumb back and through library
vinyasa krama jump back
Vinyasa karma jump through
crossed leg jump through and back
high crossed leg jump through
straight leg jump through
bent back leg jump through
half lotus jump through
full lotus jump back
full lotus jump back (from behind)
full lotus jump through
marichyasana jump back
dandasana lift and jump back
leg behind head jump back

Winding down
meditation and pranayama postures
hand mala for counting (version 1)
hand mala for counting (version 2)
pranayama -nadi shodana
pratyahara postures

Developing a practice
Ashtanga primary series broken down into VK subroutines

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The ' Vinyasa Krama' subroutines in Ashtanga Primary Series.

This morning I've been working on something ( see this post on the other blog) for my Vinyasa Karma Practice Book which will make up part of the 2nd edition that I hope to put online this week. The new edition will include most of the Vinyasa Krama subroutines, 80 or so. What I've been working on this morning is an attempt to show one way we can turn the subroutines into a full practice.

As we work through Ramaswami's book it can sometimes be hard to visualise how we can turn all this information, on all these postures, in these great long sequences, into a mornings practice. We can practice the full sequences as they stand and Ramaswami recommends this approach as a way to learn all the sequences and postures, the complete syllabus as it where. I found that approach useful too, you get to see the families of postures, how they relate to each other, leading up to and developing postures. Sooner or latter though we're probably going to want to work at a subroutine level.

Below is the popular Ashtanga Primary sequence. What I've done is divide the practice up into the different  Vinyasa karma sequences. Within those sequence boxes it should be easy to see there are one or more subroutines. The Ashtanga practice that ashtangi's run through every day is just a collection of subroutines.

After their Surynamaskaras, Ashtangi's move on to a Standing sequence that includes a short 'On your feet' sequence and the three 'Triangle' subroutines. Next up are a couple of 'On one leg' sequences before the Warrior sequence which is another 'Triangle' subroutine.

This is STILL my framework for all my asana practices in the morning. I add a short tadasana sequence at the beginning and I might add or change a subroutine but this is pretty much my warm up, It worked, it kept me safe.

The Ashtanga seated section in Primary begins with vinyasas in Paschimottanasana a Vinyasa Krama 'Seated' subroutine then after a counter pose moves on to , what, five simplified 'Asymmetric' subroutines. Four more simplified 'Seated' subroutines come next and then we're into, I count seven, 'Supine" subroutines'.

The series ends with a simple Inverted subroutine, a headstand,  and then a couple of 'Lotus' subroutines before Savasana.

The only things missing are 'Bow' and 'Meditative' subroutines. Some Ashtangi's who have been practicing for some time add on some of the Ashtanga 2nd series postures which include some cobra and locust postures, (these are from our Bow sequence) and Kapotasana (from Meditative).

Vinyasa Krama is different from Ashtanga, we don't use the jump back as much, we breath more slowly, repeat postures, take more breaths but most significantly perhaps, we're not tied to the same sequence of postures every day. However the Ashtanga series I'm so familiar with has helped me to develop a framework to hang my own Vinyasa Karma practice on.

So here's a suggestion.

Come up with a basic practice following Ramaswami's guidelines.

Start with some On your feet Tadasana hand/ arm variations.

Pick a Triangle and On one leg subroutine that you like.

Now pick an Asymmetric subroutine then one from Seated to go with your long Paschimottanasana.

Do the same with Bow and Meditative perhaps and then the Shoulderstand preparation postures.

Finish with  a couple of vinyasas in Shoulderstand ( Supine) and headstand (Inverted) and finally a short Lotus subroutine.

Now practice this for a few weeks until it's so familiar you don't have to think about it. this becomes you framework as Ashtanga has been mine.

The next step is to start switching and changing subroutines. Don't change everything over night, you'll only become lost again just change two or three subroutines at most. Keep doing this over the next couple of weeks keeping the same overall structure of your practice.

This approach might not work for everyone but it's worked for me.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Vinyasa karma practice book. Any suggestions for 2nd edition?

I'm working on the 2nd edition of my Vinyasa karma practice book.

The subroutines are all done, a little over 80 of them, just have to title them all now add a few practice notes. Also need to add some basic Vinyasa Krama practice guidelines at the beginning of the book then it should be ready to be put up on Google docs for download, probably in a couple of days.

The idea is to have, the practice guidelines followed by the full sequences, that'll make up Part 1. Part 2 will have all the subroutines from the sequences divided up like the one over on the left. I'm going to add hyperlinks that will link to the video's on the sister blog and probably include a couple of notes for each sequence, thinking a text box below the sequence, couple of bullet points.

Just added a bunch of jump back routines, from the standard Vinyasa karma jump through to the half and full lotus as well as the straight, bent leg and leg behind head jump throughs, there's also a page on arm balances.

As I've said this is no substitute for Ramaswami's book but rather a mat book, something to give us a quick visual reminder of the running order of the sequences/subroutines, a book of cheat sheets..

Was wondering if anyone has any other suggestions, anything else they'd like to see included before I upload it. Was hoping to add the Ashtanga Primary series and use that as an example of how sequences can be linked together as well as some my own approaches to linking sequences,that might have to wait for the 3rd edition though. Thinking too about including Pranayama, the way of counting the rounds on one hand, pranayama mantrsa etc.

If you don't want to put your suggestions in the comments you can email me grimmly2007 and that's at google (.com)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

My Vinyasa Krama Practice Book available for download UPDATED 2

A little while ago, when going on holiday, I took all the Vinyasa Krama practice sheets from my VK sequences and subroutines blog/site and turned them into a sort of pdf book that I could open in ibooks on my iPad.

I've tidied it up a little and uploaded it to Google docs making it freely downloadable. It's no substitute for Ramaswami's book but it kind of works as cheat sheets when you on the mat and/or still becoming familiar with the sequences and subroutines.

There are still a few errors here and there and I've had to miss out a couple of postures to fit them onto the sheets but it's something to be going on with.

I've called it Grimmly's Vinyasa Karma Practice Book and it'll live in the Free to Download box over on the right of the blog, with Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda and Ramaswami's volumes of Newsletters.

Feel free to download them if you think you'll find them useful and use them however you wish.

Just updated the book to include links to the appropriate sequence from the contents page. Thanks for the suggestion Steve.

Gone AWOL for a bit while I work on the subroutines section, the evening 20/20/20 practice on hold.
5 sequences down 5 more to go, hoping to have it finished around the weekend.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Yoga Meditation

'Meditating on Meditation from Ramaswami's Nov 2009 Newsletter

I was watching a live television program in India some 30 years back
when TV had just been introduced in India. It was a program in which
an elderly yogi was pitted against a leading cardiologist. It was
virtually a war. The yogi was trying to impress with some unusual
poses which were dubbed as potentially dangerous by the doctor. Almost
everything the yogi claimed was contested by the non-yogi and soon the
dialogue degenerated. The yogi stressed that headstand will increase
longevity by retaining the amrita in the sahasrara in the head and the
medical expert countered it by saying that there was no scientific
basis for such claims and dubbed it as a pose which was unnatural and
dangerous and will lead to a stroke. The Yogi replied by saying that
Yoga had stood the test of time for centuries; it had been in vogue
much before modern medicine became popular. Thank God it was a black
and white program; else you would have seen blood splashed all over
the screen.

Things have become more civil in these three decades. Now neti pot,
asanas, yogic breathing exercises and yogic meditation have all become
part of the medical vocabulary. There is a grudging appreciation of
yoga within the medical profession. Many times doctors suggest a few
yogic procedures, especially Meditation, in several conditions like
hypertension, anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic ailments.
Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side
we have enthusiastic hata yogis who specialize in asanas and the other
group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the

But how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up
after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit
or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among
meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into
the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps
while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate
preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for
meditation. The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as
preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen
earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an
inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But
another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting
as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under
control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old
Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of
Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He
along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama
makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.

Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.
There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole
system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects
of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further,
when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4
liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air
during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the
lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste
products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the
system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas.
Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm and
becomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.
What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on
cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/
soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail.
Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation
but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit
within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most
detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation

For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique
right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says
that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and
pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the
meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in
his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly
inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or
the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a
sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s
favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus
attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra
visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part
of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient
practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without
using the Pranayama Mantra.
(** Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic
Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40
pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in the
Sep/Oct 2008 issue).

What of the technique?
The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice
by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the
mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The
active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single
object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama)
called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make
the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras
or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for
meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a
short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third
one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage
which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon
brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the
“object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated
attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At
the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may
(may means must) take a short time to review the quality of
meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and
how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the
kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If
they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out
the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least
decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take
efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one

If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and
this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate
that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the
systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand
if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special
efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every
night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and
see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did
I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of
others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if
one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may
consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing
tamasic interactions, foods etc.

Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress
on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice
and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically
when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the
practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of
these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi
may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When
this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment
after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that
the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as
dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one
has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or
samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as
interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it
more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with
this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object
diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation
called Samadhi. In this state only the object remains occupying the
mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one
continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of
meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation
practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability
one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi-- and one may be able to
use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further
progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah).

The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a
name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself
(sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the
meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the
object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the
sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently
maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the
impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a
refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the
name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.

The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what
should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is
the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great
Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is
bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference
between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and
meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the
Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as
well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of
transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the
same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form
as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge
with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers
personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as
Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the
Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands
of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more
easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person,
which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made
the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and
divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various
methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and
religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of the
Lord made it possible for many to worship and meditate . Of course
many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to
the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form
worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.
Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at
one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate
priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s
own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is
meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as
Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators
define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on
each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the
bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation
to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and
meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).
Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory
of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a
means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure
consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the
technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be

Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on
each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex
of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of
oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis
would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind
transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to
reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.
The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other
Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the
self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being
are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to
liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a
disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then
one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana)
understand them and realize the nature of the self through several
step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the
sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study
and understand It from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa
vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five
koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure
consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta)
of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would
indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme
Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing
Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.
Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper
preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit
for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a
simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such
meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of
meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti,
samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or

* Ramaswami's Newsletters from 2009 and 2010 have been brought together in a couple of pdf files and are freely available for downloading. I came across the one above while revisiting his earlier newsletters.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bandhas, Breathing and the five minute Utkatasana

This evening/afternoon's 20/20/20 asana practice was the  Utkatasana subroutine from the On your feet sequence.

I've been practicing Supine sequence all week, after practice this morning I was checking something in the relevant chapter in Ramaswami's other book Yoga for the three stages of life when I came across something interesting.... and frightening.

I love this book, every time I open it I find something I've missed or rushed over. This is what I found today.

'Chapter 8 Supine postures 
Before discussing the supine postures, it may be good to introduce the band has, or locks.'

So that's where he's buried away the bandhas. It's good place, as he mentions, after going through Chapter 7's Standing postures the body becomes lighter, circulation improved, breathing longer, smoother more regular.

' Regular practice results in both more tranquility-and paradoxically- improved stamina, as revealed through one's capacity to do the postures more deliberately and with slow stretching, and in one's ability to stay in the final posture longer and for a greater number of breaths' p.126

So we're nicely prepared to take our practice a little further. The upcoming Supine sequence begins with Tatkamudra and this is an excellent posture to introduce the bandhas. First though Ramaswami has a few words to say about the breath.

'The four aspects of yogic breathing were also discussed in chapter 7. To repeat, the first is recaka, or long and smooth exhalation. the second is puraka, or long inhalation. It is possible to hold in the breath after inhalation which is known as internal holding, or antha-kumbhaka, and is the third aspect. Holding the breath out during the time interval between the completion of exhalation (recaka) and the beginning of inhalation (puraka) is bahya-kumbhaka, the fourth aspect'. p126

Ashtanga it seems recently stopped referring to the distinctive Darth Vader breath as Ujaii. The argument being that Ujaii is pranayama but pranayama employs retention. As there is no retention of the breath in Ashtanga it can't be called ujaii. It's now referred to as 'breath with sound', which isn't as catchy. 

In Vinyasa Krama, as we shall see, there is indeed Ujaii and Ramaswami used to prowl around the room, coming up behind you to make sure he could hear your breathing. We don't employ breath retention in every posture and in the postures that we do, perhaps not all the time. It's something that's available to us and in some postures more than others.

The same goes for the bandhas.

Jalandhara bandha

'There are three important band has. the first is jalandhara bandha, or locking the chin against the breastbone. This may be done during kumbhkas and whenever the the posture requires the chin to be locked, which is normally the case during forward bends and when keeping the back erect. In backbends and twisting postures it is not possible to do jalandhara bandha'. p127

Mula and Uddiyana bandha

'The other two bandhas, however, should be practiced in most of the asanas, especially after exhalation. The first is mula bandha, which means "constricting of the anus" It is done after a complete exhalation. After the exhalation is over, the abhyasi (yoga student) should anchor the body in the asana he or she is in and then slowly and deliberately close the anus and draw in the rectum by contracting the perineal and surrounding muscles of the pelvic floor. Then as if in a continuous movement, the abdomen, including the navel, is drawn in, pushing up the diaphragm into the now almost empty chest cavity, which is then called uddiyana bandha ( drawing in of the diaphragm)... This technique is one of the specialities of yogic breathing" p127

So now I'm expecting to move onto discussion of the bandhas in Supine sequence but here's where Ramaswami scared the living daylights out of me. Before mentioning the Supine postures he mentions the one standing posture where all three bandhas 'can be effectively practiced', Utkatasana. 

'When one is able to stay in the posture (utkatasana) for three to six breaths, then one should slowly increase the time to complete a stipulated number of breaths. Thereafter, one should remain in the posture for a predetermined number of breaths chosen by the practitioner or teacher, or for a fixed persiod, say three to five minutes. Then one's practice should be aimed at reducing the number of breaths while remaining in the posture for the same duration. for instance one may take a total of twenty breaths while in the posture. Later on, it may be possible to remain in the posture steadily and comfortably (sthira and sukha) for five minutes with perhaps only ten breaths. This is one method for attaining asana siddhi (perfection in posture) that one can test of oneself. Having achieved this level of comfort in the posture, one can then introduce the band has, which will increase the time taken for each breath. P 127

FIVE MINUTES!!!!!! in UTKATASANA? ouch., serious tapas.

So this evening Utkatasan it was. First the subroutine inculing the different hand variations. Here's the video from my Vinyasa Krama Sequences and subroutines site with the different variations.

And then this five minute Utkatasana with bandhas and antha-kumbhaka from this evening/afternoon which is frankly like watching paint dry, towards the end though you might be able to catch the sweat from my forehead changing from a drip to a flood.

Stiil a way to go before it's sthira and sukha

* All quotes from Yoga for the three stages of Life by Srivatsa Ramaswami

Friday, 9 September 2011

Supine Friday

Friday has always been Primary series Ashtanga. It's a thing, in Ashtanga, no matter what series you practice, Primary Intermediate or Advanced you still do Primary on Friday. It's nice, practicing at home knowing that people all over the country, all over Europe are practicing it with you, that a couple of time zones over they are just finishing and, depending where you are, as you get to finishing yourself you know that a couple of zones ahead they are just starting.

It's been quite a surprise then the last couple of weeks finding I've stopped practicing Primary on a Friday, Last week, this week, no big drama I just got on the mat and practiced Vinyasa Krama instead.

Ever since Ramaswami's Newsletter came out I've been practicing the spinal exercises outlined in  my last post. There's a lot of Supine in there and over the last week I've added a little more each day. This morning I ended up just practising Supine sequence after Standing ( tadasana, surys, some triangle and On one leg subroutines).

Supine was the hardest sequence to come around to coming from Ashtanga, the other VK sequences tend to have bits of Ashtanga in them, Asymmetric and Seated is close to primary, Bow and Meditative a little similar to Intermediate and we do large chunks of the Standing sequences at the start of ashtanga and always finish with Inversions and Lotus. But Supine, very little of that in the Ashtanga syllabus.... in fact flicking through my Mathew Sweeney Ashtanga as it is book I can't see a single Dwipadapitam (table pose ).

And that's odd because practicing this morning lifting my hips of the mat and sticking them out I thought it was excellent prep for kapootasana and drop backs, key to those postures is getting the hips forward. In fact if you look at one of the more advanced Dwipadapitam postures where your holding your ankles and then imagine rotating it 90 degrees you get a kind of Ustrasana but where your more able to work at shifting the hips further and further forward.

Another posture I'm loving at the moment is the leg raise in table pose, trying to get the leg higher and higher, straighter and straighter.

Other highlights in the series for me, Tatkamudra ( Pond gesture) of course, try it before any paschimottanasana if your feeling a little stiff ( see link to previous post on this.

And also the arms and legs lift which for some reason is excellent after deep backbends. After drop backs I tend to do the arm and leg lifts then tatkamudra and only the move into paschimottanasana.
Not the best screenshot that one, sorry.

So there you have it Supine Friday, may well become a fixture. here's the complete sequence speeded up. feel free to capture it from Youtube using Realplayer Download and use your media player to slow it back down.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Vinyasa Krama Spinal practice

Forgive me father for I have sinned, it's been ten days since my last Ashtanga practice.

Oops, Ashtanga police will be on my tail and it seems this week they're armed.

Despite picking my Vinyasa Karma practice back up in the mornings I'd intended to keep my Friday Primary and at least one Intermediate practice. I mean, I never miss Friday Primary, not unless I'm really sick and even then I force myself through it the Saturday.

For some reason that's not the case this week, skipped Primary on Friday, Intermediate on Saturday and not sure I'll practice them this weekend either. I wonder if that's one of the reasons I've struggled to let go of my Ashtanga practice, despite focusing on Vinyasa karma I've always kept that Friday Primary, kind of like staying 'best friends' with an exgirlfriend, bad idea (most of the time).

So Ramaswami's Newsletter came out this week, a nice, juicy asana one. Ramaswami outlines a whole bunch of spinal exercises which I preceded to turn into a practice the very morning the newsletter arrived. Might be a bad Ashtangi but I'm a good Kramite this week.

I liked it so much I've practiced it all week, tweaking a bit here a bit there, shifting first this bit around and then that. I don't think Ramaswami intended the exercises he mentioned as a stand alone practice but it works and it makes for a nice practice.

Basically I'm starting off with the short tadasana sequence as usual emphasising the lift out of the hips and the light backbend hand variations. After a couple of Sury namaskaras ( still the best all round warm up for my money) I do a little standing, some Triangle and On one leg vinyasas, these have changed a little every day.

For the main body of the practice I've settled on starting with the Supine postures, the Dwipadapitam (table) and Purvotanasana subroutines. I tend to neglect Supine sequence a little, I think that's why I've enjoyed revisiting it so much this week. I figured these were gentle backbends and led nicely into the more direct prone postures of the Bow sequence. Usually I'll go ahead and do Viparita salabhasana and Gandha Bherundasana before moving on to a kapotasana subroutine from Meditative sequence but for some reason I decided to keep it a light practice this week.

After Bow I used paschimotanasana and vajrasana vinyasa as counter postures. At first I started with Vajrasana but later in the week did a long paschimottanasana first and then part of the Vajrasana routine. There's less support for the back in the Vajrasana forward bend so it seemed to make sense to do paschi first.

Then it was on to finishing as usual, long inversions.

That was basically the practice although I'm including a little advanced hip opening work after the inversions. This is something extra, basically maha mudra, janu sirsasna C, Viranchyasana B then a deep deep badha konasana and some working towards kandapidasana, then gomukhasana as a kind of counterpose before slipping into Lotus for yoga Mudra and on into pranayama and meditation. I'm doing that routine in my evening 20/20/20 practice as well.

I made up a couple of sheets to illustrate Ramaswami's newsletter for the Ashtangi's on the other blog, who perhaps don't have access to his book. I thought I'd use them here to outline the running order of how I've been approaching practice this week. It just covers the main spinal exercises Ramaswami mentioned, you'll need to add in your own Standing postures and  then the inversions at the end.

....and so to practice. The plan this morning is pretty much the same as above but being my day off I can explore some of the other Supine vinyasas, a few more repeats and some longer stays perhaps.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Arguments for keeping the feet and knees together in Kapotasana and when dropping back

A couple of weeks ago, in THIS post, I looked at approaching the dropback and Kapotasana with the knees and feet together. This is something Ramaswami had mentioned in relation to Kapotasana back on the TT course and also seemed implied for the drop back in the 'On your feet' sequence in his book The complete book of Vinyasa yoga'.

I tried it, managed it but wondered what the reason might be behind it.

In Ramaswami's Newsletter this month, on Spinal exercise, he writes about performing backbends with the feet, knees and thighs together. He doesn't mention Kapotasana or the dropback back I wonder if the same reasoning applies.

The relevant section is below, the full newsletter can be found HERE and an illustrated version of the Spinal exercise article including the exercises HERE

'For the back bending exercises it is necessary to protect the lumbar
spine. Towards that, the flexibility and the strength of the sacro-
coccygeal region is to be necessarily cultivated. The pelvic push is
efficiently facilitated by a simple but effective asana called
dwipadapeetam (pages109-115) or desk pose . This posture which is
casually practiced with the feet apart and thighs spread out leaves
out the the spine in the pelvic region. Hence it is necessary to keep
the feet together, tighten the gluteal muscles, draw in the rectum and
gently push the tailbone/sacrum up and feel a healthy stretch at the
bottom of the spine. Any back bending done without fully involving the
sacro coccygial region is a less efficient back bend and tends to put
more strain on the lumbar spine. Again my Guru used this posture to
teach to almost anyone. This upward pelvic push is to be done on
inhalation generally but, it can be done while exhaling smoothly by
the elderly, the obese, the pregnant, the highly strung etc. Because
the feet and back of the head are well anchored it becomes easy to
control the back bend very well and one can improve the stretch step
by step. Other poses that are in this group would be catushpada peetam
or Table pose ( page79 ) and Purvatanasana or the anterior stretch
pose (pages78,79). The other back-bends in the prone poses such as
Bhujangasana, dhanurasana and salabhasana (pages 138-145) also may be
done with the thighs and feet together to keep the sacrum and tailbone
engaged and stretchered. To ensure this condition, the teacher may ask
the student to keep the feet and thighs together by placing a piece of
paper between the feet  and not let the paper drop to the floor while
raising the legs up in asana like Salabhasana. In these prone
exercises keeping the legs together enables to exercise all parts of
the spine, especially the oft neglected sacro-coccygeal area.'

from Ramaswami's September 2011 Newsletter

Here's the video once again of my feet together drop back attempt

It's harder, in that you have a less secure base but interesting to explore as your regular Kapo and drop back become more comfortable.

In the same newsletter Ramaswami also writes about the importance of engaging mulabandha when back bending,

'....all will be better if the mula is gripped firmly and engaged.'

See this post for his fishing rod analogy

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Spinal Exercise, the bottom of It. September 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami

Hello, warm greetings!

Between Sep 9th to 18th I will be at Suddha Weixler's Chicago Yoga
Center. There is a two hour program on Mantras on the 9th. There is a
ten hour program on the last two chapters of the Yoga Sutras on 10th
and 11th. Then during the weekdays a 25 hour certificate program on
Core Vinyasakrama asanas. On 17th and 18th a ten hour program on
Asana, pranayama and meditation.

Contact: Suddha Weixler
Phone: +1-773-327-3650

I have a few programs arranged for 2012. It is tentatively arranged
that the 200 hour Vinyasakrama TT program could start after July 4
holidays and run for 5 weeks at LMU.
I will also be teaching a week long program at Esalen Institute in

I may also probably do a few programs outside USA.

Krisztian Krutzler has prepared two downloadable files of my
newsletters of 2009 and 2010 and Anthony Hall has parked them in his
website. You may access them in his blogsite

Practicing Vinyasa Krama Yoga at Home: Ramaswami's Newsletter

Thank you Krisztian and Anthony


I have not been writing about Asanas for quite sometime. I have
covered a lot of ground in my Vinyasakrama book and also in the
earlier book, Yoga for Three Stages of Life. I thought though I could
write about asana again- of course, nothing entirely new but a
different angle.

It is said that one of the main aims of asana and pranayama practice
(Hata Yoga) is to maintain the health of the backbone. It is a common
refrain that one is as old as the condition of the backbone. And some
of the most charming postures of yoga involve the many positions of
the spine. Parsva Bhangi, Matsyendrasana, Akunchanasana, Kapotasana.
Paschimatanasana and a host of other poses bring out the majesty and
the versatility of one of God's marvelous engineering creations called
the spine.

The spine has been the center of attention of several systems, like
the chiropractics. Among Yogis, Kundalini Yoga and Hata Yoga can be
considered to be spine centric. The one bone assembly, the backbone is
not straight but one that is curved back(kyphosis) and forward
(lordosis) and the yogis try to make it straight at least during the
time they sit and meditate so that the Kundalini is aroused and moved
through the sushumna in the spinal column as per the Kundalini Yoga or
the integrated prana moves through the sushumna as the Hatayogis
explain hatayoga.

The spine can be divided into different sections for study and
practice. The bottom is the tailbone or coccyx which is curved and has
three to five tiny vertebrae. It stays beneath the pelvis. There is
some mobility in it but we do not pay much attention to it until one
falls on the butts. A few years back, already an old man, I tried to
carry a teapoy down the stairs in my house. I was wearing hard
slippers and as I overstepped a step I slipped (I had the slippers on,
you see) and fell heavily on my butts. The teapoy (tea table) broke
and we had to discard it. I was in great pain. My wife took me to a
hospital immediately for a precautionary X ray which did not reveal
any damage (not broken like the furniture). But the orthopedist warned
me that I may have some recurring pain in the coccyx region when I sit
for a long time. For a period of time whenever I did long travel, like
from NJ to Los Angeles, I used to feel a lot of pain sitting. So I
know where the tailbone is.

The backbone although it is one assembly has different sections each
having its own idiosyncrasy, so when exercising the backbone one has
to pay attention to each section. The tailbone/coccyx, sacrum, lumbar,
thoracic and cervical sections have their distinct characteristics.
The muladhara chakra is associated with coccyx, the svadhishtana
chakra is linked to the sacral region, the manipuraka with the lumbar
region, then we have anahata with the thoracic spine and the vishuddhi
chakra is in the cervical region. The spinal column descends from the
occipital region and we have the aajna chakra in that region and the
sahasrara is in the cranial region. The tailbone is the baby of the
assembly at the bottom and tucked nicely but is surrounded by heavy
muscles and tissues and protected well. It has some mobility. Since it
is the root of the spine it is also known among Yogis as the Mula.
Since both Hata Yoga and Kundalini Yoga are predominantly connected
with the spine the mula becomes an important aspect of yoga. When one
wants to work with the spine, it, the coccyx, should be firmly
anchored. Let us consider the example of the fishing rod (old times).
It has a flexible pole, a string and the bait. (sorry I could not
think of an ahimsa example). One holds the pole at the far end and
when the bait is taken, the pole bends. The fisherman will have to
hold the pole firmly so that the pole can bend to the extent required,
even though there will be some play or movement in the hand of the
holder. Further he has to hold at the farthest point, holding a bit
inside the pole reduces the leverage and the pole will not bend

The coccyx and sacrum (sacro-coccygeal section) are at the bottom of
the backbone. The coccyx is at the very end of the spine. It
represents a vestigial tail (hence the common term tailbone) and
consists of three to five very small bones fused together. There is
limited movement between these bones permitted by fibrous joints and
ligaments. The sacrum is a large triangular bone at the base of the
spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity and where it
is 'inserted' like a bone wedged between the two hip bones. Its upper
part  is connected to the last lumbar vertebra and the bottom part to
the coccyx. In children it consists normally of five unfused vertebrae
which begin fusing around 16 years and become completely fused around
26. It is kyphotic (curved, concavity facing forward). Even so, it is
now an established fact that the sacrum moves between the ilia by both
ambulatory and respiratory motions . It would therefore point to the
logic of the use of fuller breathing in vinyasa movements as in
Vinyasa Krama.

So the mula or the tail bone will have to be held firmly during the
spinal exercises. And the yogis used the well known technique called
mulabandha which is contracting a few groups of muscles surrounding
the tailbone:  the perineum, rectum and the gluteal muscles. All
spinal movements, the forward bend,the rounded back, the turn, the
back bend, the side bend, all will be better if the mula is gripped
firmly and engaged.

Now let us consider the different types of spinal movements. The
turning or twisting movement has to emanate from the mula and my Guru
had a couple of asana vinyasas to provide for this movement. The
Jataraparivrittis efficiently engage the tailbone and the next
immediate section sacrum. Please refer to my book The Complete book of
Vinyasa Yoga
(pages 105,106,119,121,122). Tatakamudra (page 105)
by anchoring the sacro-coccygial portion of the spine helps to
stretch it. These are some of the very early exercises my Guru used to
teach to almost all the students.

For the back bending exercises it is necessary to protect the lumbar
spine. Towards that, the flexibility and the strength of the sacro-
coccygeal region is to be necessarily cultivated. The pelvic push is
efficiently facilitated by a simple but effective asana called
dwipadapeetam (pages109-115) or desk pose. . This posture which is
casually practiced with the feet apart and thighs spread out leaves
out the the spine in the pelvic region. Hence it is necessary to keep
the feet together, tighten the gluteal muscles, draw in the rectum and
gently push the tailbone/sacrum up and feel a healthy stretch at the
bottom of the spine. Any back bending done without fully involving the
sacro coccygial region is a less efficient back bend and tends to put
more strain on the lumbar spine. Again my Guru used this posture to
teach to almost anyone. This upward pelvic push is to be done on
inhalation generally but, it can be done while exhaling smoothly by
the elderly, the obese, the pregnant, the highly strung etc. Because
the feet and back of the head are well anchored it becomes easy to
control the back bend very well and one can improve the stretch step
by step. Other poses that are in this group would be catushpada peetam
or Table pose ( page79 ) and Purvatanasana or the anterior stretch
pose (pages78,79). The other back-bends in the prone poses such as
Bhujangasana, dhanurasana and salabhasana (pages 138-145) also may be
done with the thighs and feet together to keep the sacrum and tailbone
engaged and stretchered. To ensure this condition, the teacher may ask
the student to keep the feet and thighs together by placing a piece of
paper between the feet  and not let the paper drop to the floor while
raising the legs up in asana like Salabhasana. In these prone
exercises keeping the legs together enables to exercise all parts of
the spine, especially the oft neglected sacro-coccygeal area.

The sacral/pelvic tilt also is an important movement in the context of
forward bending. This is achieved best in balasana or forward bend in
Vajrasana (page 179,180) first and then in paschimatanasana (page
75-77) or the posterior stretch pose. Those who are able to engage the
muscles surrounding the sacrum and coccyx are able to achieve a good
forward bend facilitated by the tilting or tipping of the pelvis. One
procedure that will be helpful is for the teacher or a friend to
support the sacrum with both the hands and push forward and down on
exhalation and allow the subject to return to dandasana on inhalation
while still maintaining the healthy pressure. It may be good to
maintain the pressure for a while in the posture pushing forward and
down on each long exhalation and then holding it on inhalation. Over a
period the practitioner would be able to use the group of muscles at
the base of the spine and stretch the muscles of the sacral region.

Then we have the important movement of lifting and holding the
tailbone/sacrum up, by pulling up the waist and hips. Here the muscles
of the hip joints are brought into play, This can be done in the
beginning of tadansana sequence itself. When the subject raises the
arms (page 4-5), he or she can get a partner to hold the pelvic girdle
below the hip joints and push the pelvis up. This helps to stretch the
pelvic and hip muscles up and along with that the sacrum and tail bone
also move up a little bit and it will be easy to stretch the
supporting musculature. One can do the movements a few times with the
helper holding the pelvis up a little while the arms are brought down
on exhalation and pulling the pelvis up when one raises the arms on
inhalation. Over a period of time the practitioner, while raising the
arms, will engage the hip muscles and gently pull the pelvis along
with the sacro coccygeal portion of the spine. Sri Krishnamacahra
would frequently exhort the student to pull up and hold the hips up in
several seated postures like parvatanasana ( page 196) and dandasana
(page 39). He would say in Tamil “iduppai thooki pidiyungo” or “Pull
up the waist/hips and hold it up”.

I think it is good to use these simple asana and vinyasa procedures to
prepare the bottom of the spine. These simple procedures help to
maintain a good flexibility and the tone of the supporting musculature
at the bottom end of the spine. My Guru taught many of these simple
and doable procedures almost to all levels of yoga abhyasis. He would
appropriately alter the breathing to langhanakriya so that some of the
overweight, older, tense and pregnant (except prone poses in
pregnancy)) abhyasis could do these procedures. These are good
preparatory exercises that will be helpful in getting a good control
over the sacro-coccygeal spine that will help in doing some of the
more difficult and charming spine-centric asanas like ushtrasana/
kapotasana, triyangmukha uttanasana (backbends), paschimatanasana
(forward bend), matsyendtasana (spinal twist), akunchanasana(rounding
the spine), parsva bhangi(side bend) and other spine centric asanas
and vinysasas.

The term Cakra is well known to Yogis. Cakra means a wheel in normal
usage. The Samkhyas refer to the potter's wheel as cakra while
describing the post kaivalya time of the yogi. The seven cakras are
usually represented as wheels. Brahmananda, the commentator of the
Hatayogapradeepika, refers to cakras as Nadicakra in the context of
nadis. He calls it a collection/group of nadis or nadi samooha.

Several contemporary yogis relate this concept of nadi samooha to
ganglia or plexus. A wheel also is an assembly of different parts,
like the hub, spokes, rim and a tyre. Since Nadis can also refer to
blood vessels, the heart itself is referred to as hrdaya cakra. The
Chaedogya Upanishad of Sama Veda mentions that there are 101 nadis
that emanate from the heart. It is possible then that cakra could mean
an organ in this context. The anahata cakra refers to a cakra that
produces a sound without being struck by another agent. The heart
produces the sound by itself. So anahata cakra could mean the heart
cakra or the heart. In the Suryanamaskara mantra of Yajurveda, there
is a mantra which refers to the human body as “ashta cakra, nava
dvaara” The nava or nine dvaaraas or openings are the two eyes, the
two ears, the two nostrils and the mouth in the face plus the other
two openings. While explaining the meaning of the eight cakras,
Sayana, the well known commentator of the vedas, refers to the cakras
as different arrangements of cells or different tissues (humors) in
the body as tvak (skin), carma (dermis), rakta (blood), mamsa
(muscle), medhas (fat), asti (bone), majja (marrow), sukla (seman)/
sonita (uterine secretions).

Thus the term cakra could indicate a group, collection, village of
some tissues or an assembly. It is also suggested by some scholars
that the cakra w.r.t the spinal column could refer to different parts
of the backbone itself, each section having its own unique
arrangements of bones: the coccyx, sacrum, lumbar, thoracic, cervical
and occipital. And the entire spine with the cranium looks like a
kundalini or a cobra with the beautiful wavy body curvatures.

Thank you

With best wishes


Srivatsa Ramaswami

P S comments or suggestions may be sent to

The earlier newsletters may be accessed from my website
and opening the newsletter tab.

NB. I ( grimmly) made up an illustrated version of the Spinal exercise article for the  Ashtangi's who perhaps don't have Ramaswami's book to hand, find it HERE