Tuesday, 1 November 2011

JOINTS : November 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami

November 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Yoga Joint

Warm greetings from bright and sunny Chennai (Madras) in India. Hope
this finds you well.

My friends Bo and Mark from Thailand have uploaded a video clip on
Vinyasakrama interviews from participants of the 2011 Vinyasakrama 200
hour Teacher Training program conducted at LMU in summer 2011. Here is
the link, I hope it works

For 2012, I intend to teach — God willing-- quite a few programs at
different places. The main program will be the 200 hour five week TT
program on Vinyasakrama Yoga in July/August at Loyola Marymount
University, Los Angeles, Californis. I will be doing a ten day program
at Suddha Weixler's Chicago yoga Center in Sep2012, as well as a week
long program in May at Esalen Institute, Big Sur. I am likely to go to
Mexico at the invitation of our friend Roxana. I will also be going to
Canada thanks to the sponsorship of Ryan Leier. I should be going to
Houston Texas for about 4 days, again thanks to a longtime student and
friend Pam Johnson. Then a couple of days program in Dallas Texas with
the help of Ricky Tran. I should also be going to  the UK in October
with the help of a long time friend Steve Brandon. Also, I may spend a
weekend at Yogashala, CT.

Hope to see some of you somewhere sometime.


Several years back I taught a class at a medical university in Chennai
for the medical students in which a few of the faculty members also
participated. This university I understand had a professional
arrangement with the Harvard Medical School. I thought the program
went well and at the end of the program there was a valedictory
function in which several of the participants demonstrated several
asanas and other yoga procedures. The dean of the University
participated in the entire program, running for about three hours. He
himself was a reputed orthopaedic surgeon and after seeing the several
asanas and vinyasas he suggested that I might consider a detailed
study of yoga asanas especially vinyasas and how they affect the
various joints, their health, their mobility. There are a few very
well illustrated books showing the anatomy of muscles in various yoga
postures. It may be good to have some work done in which one can see
the joints and bones or purely skeletal illustrations of asanas.

For me at that time Yoga was a hobby, a serious hobby though; but I
had to work to maintain a family so could not pursue any serious work
that would involve substantial time and effort. The hathayoga
pradeepika mentions the twin benefits of asanas as arogya and anga
laghava or general health and suppleness or dexterity. One of the
problems, similar to the internal organs, is the loss of space within
the joint if the intra-articular space gets reduced due to several
reasons the joints become less efficient and could become
dysfunctional as happens in arthritis. Yoga, especially vinyasakrama
yoga, tends to work with almost all the articulation of all the joints
especially the ankles, knees, hips, the spine and arms. Take the
asymmetric sequence, in which one leg is kept in one position and the
other leg kept in several positions, and in each subroutine several
movements are done. Take for instance Marichyasana, the hip joint is
kept in one position in which the inferior bone of the joint, the
femur, is kept in the fixed position of Marichyasana and all the
vinyasas are done by which the superior bone structure viz. the pelvis
is moved around and manipulated. In other words, the ball in the
socket is kept stationary and the socket is moved around. When you
move on to the next subroutine, mahamudra/janusirsasana, the femur
head within the socket takes a different stationary position and in
the vinyasas the pelvis is moved around. In the third subroutine, the
half lotus, the femur head position is again altered, but keeping it
stationary a number of movements are done in the subroutines—
akarnadhanurasana, kraunchasana, ekapadasirsasana, vajrasana,
matsyendrasana, bharadvajasana and any others-- in which the pelvis is
moved around. In fact in the series of vinyasas within those asanas,
all the possible movements of the marvelously engineered hip joint are
done in a short time giving a complete treatment for the hip joint.
The tendons and connecting tissues are stretched, sufficient blood
circulates (rakta sanchara) and exchange of oxygen also is facilitated
(prana sanchara).

The important joints are the ankles, the knees, the hips, the spine,
and the shoulders, elbows and wrists. The spine and the lower
extremities can be effectively taken care of by some of the inversions
like sarvangasana and especially sirsasana. One of the problems of
these joints is that, due to disuse and postural limitations, gravity,
reduction of tone etc., the intra articular space in these joints gets
reduced and this leads to congestion and pain. These are particularly
severe with the knees and the spine, especially the lumbar and the
cervical regions. By these inversions and doing considerable number of
movements slowly and steadily and with good breathing one can stretch
these joints effectively—the gravity helps now- maintaining the intra
articular space. This will help to reduce the incidence of arthritis
in the knees and hip joints. And with respect to the spine this will
help to maintain the inter vertebral space and thus reduce the
incidence of such debilitating conditions as low back pain. And
cervical spondylosis can be helped by several of the arm movements
(hasta vinyasas) and good deep inhalation stretching the upper
thoracic spine. All these vinyasas help to exercise and maintain the
strength, tone and stability of the supporting musculature.

The knee joint has two main movements , flexion and extension. Poses
like Dandasana and Paschimatanasana help to stretch the supporting
tissues like the hamstrings and also the connecting tissues inside the
joint. The effect can be enhanced by staying in inversions and
allowing some time to for gravity to act. Thereafter one can stretch
the joint gently and help to maintain circulation and also maintain
the intra capsular space. The flexion also can be effectively and
comfortably done in Akunchanasana in both headstand and shoulder
stand. I feel that the inversions give maximum benefits to the major
joints: ankles, knees, hips and the spine. They help to increase the
intra capsular space, reduce congestion, tone the connecting tissues.
All these will help one to stay in Vajrasana which requires a good
flexion of the knee joint. The knee joint also has some lateral
movements which can be done effectively in asanas like Vajrasana
(outward movement of the joint), Simhasana (inward) and also
Padmasana. Thus it is possible to maintain the health of the joints by
a judicious combination of asanas and vinyasas.

My Guru Sri Krishnamacharya used to refer to Yoga as Sarvangasadhana
as a practice for the whole system . He would, also include two other
disciplines as sarvanga sadhanas, viz., archery and wrestling.
Wrestlers have to be very fit and supple. They should be strong to pin
down a burly opponent but also should be supple to be able to wriggle
out of a stranglehold of the opponent. The archers have to be strong
to shoot the arrow to go long distances, but also accurate and should
be able to shoot from very awkward positions to aim at moving targets.
The Mahabharata the great Sanskrit epic contains two characters Bhima
and Arjuna. Bhima was a great wrestler and his kid brother Arjuna, the
Bhagavatgita fame was an outstanding archer. There are stories about
their exploits in Mahabharata. There is one incident that is
interesting There is a story (my version) about Arjuna. Once there was
a competition for archers. A totally transparent rotating yantra
(device) was set up at a great height which contained some water and a
small fish swimming in it. Below that was a pond full of water. The
archer was supposed to look at the reflection of the yantra in the
pond water and shoot at the small fish which itself would be moving
randomly in a rotating device. One has to assume a suitable body
position and shoot the arrow. Arjuna was the only one to succeed in
this test. Archers have to assume difficult different positions in
actual battlefield and have to be extremely supple to adapt to
different situations and need to concentrate well. Hence these two
martial arts were considered sarvanga sadhanas. But these two are used
for combat and hence Rajasic whereas Yoga is for self discipline and
hence is satwic.

Vinyasakrama is a unique Asana 'Joint'

With best wishes


Srivatsa Ramaswami


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