Thursday, 1 December 2011

December 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami-- Chants, Also Pranayama question

December 2011 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami-- Chants

I have been requesting friends to come out with videos on
Vinyasakrama. My friend Debbie Mills has uploaded a few subroutines on
the YouTube. They are deliberate, breath oriented and nice Thank you
Debbie. Here is the link.

On the last  Sunday in  November, I gave an introductory talk  on
yoga  sutra in Chennai, India. It was organized by the Vishnumohan
Foundation. I will be speaking on Vishnusahasranama Mantras next
Sunday at the same place.

I managed to locate a video cassette of a series of programs I had
done on Yoga with my students in Kalakshetra some thirty years back
in  Tamil. It contains some asana vinyasas of my students and
interviews with me. I was still a student with my Guru at that time
learning more asanas and vinyasas. The video however has deteriorated
very much. But still I took it to Konica labs to see if they could
salvage something out of it. They said that they would try to transfer
as much as they can salvage into a DVD. Let me see how it comes. There
were eight short duration programs I had done for the Madras
Doordarshan the national TV station at that time. I also was able to
locate another video cassette which I had made some 15 years back so
that I could use it to introduce Vinyasakrama. The quality is again
not good but still I am trying to make something out of it. If they
come out ok, I may start thinking of adding  English subtitles, if it
is technically feasible.

Most of my 2012 programs are now in my website.


Sani or Saturn, according to some Indian Almanacs, is said to transit
to Libra from November 15th 2011. According to some other almanacs, it
is said to transit late December. Sani according to Indian astrologers
takes about 30 years to complete its orbit spending approximately
about 2 ½ years in every house or Zodiac sign. Sani is considered to
be slow moving (sanaischara) and is considered a malefic by the
general populace. Considered from the moon sign if the Saturn is in
the 12th, 1st and 2nd houses it is said to cause enormous
difficulties. Additionally its transit through the 4th and the 8th
signs are also considered highly unfavorable. Actually according to
some Saturn is trouble in all the houses except when it transits
through the 3rd and and the 6th houses or signs. That means that one
can enjoy a certain amount of peace only during a sixth of one's
lifetime. This squares with a brief episode in Yoga Vasishta. Two
siddhas meet and one of them has the Siddhi of moving back and forth
in space (akasa) and time (avakasa). During their conversation the
elder Siddha yogi said that he had traveled in time and has gone deep
into the past and well into the future of human lives and has found
that on an average human beings are happy only 1/6 th of the lifetime.
Of course the other planets like Jupiter and others benifics will
mitigate Saturn's ill effects, but per se, Saturn is dreaded. But
there are a few who look at Saturn's effects on individuals life as
sobering and transformative. It is like a governor in a vehicle, so
that people do not run amuck in their lives. It is considered to be a
great teacher of life but a strict disciplinarian, one who does not
spare the rod.

Many in India tend to propitiate Sani by observing some tapas on
Saturdays, worship sanaischara and so on, so that the difficulties
become more bearable. One of the methods is to worship Hanuman or
Anjaneya . Many yogabhyasis are familiar with anjaneyasana or the
leaping anjaneya pose--the pride of some and most others' envy. How is
Anjaneya worshiped? There is a portion of the Ramayana which depicts
the heroic efforts of Anjaneya in finding the whereabouts of the
abducted Sita, Sri Rama's wife, by leaping across the sea between the
southern tip of India and Lanka. Reading this portion of the Ramayana
one tends to love and respect Anjaneya, it is a beautiful portion of
the Ramayana, as the title of this section “Sundara Kanda”, indicates.
I have already written briefly about it. It usually takes about 10
hours to recite this portion of Valmiki Ramayana. It is recited
usually at the rate of about 90 minutes everyday spread over one week.
This is done once in a while. Some attempt to do it in three days.
Occasionally one may try to do it in one day. Recently just about the
time of Sani's transit into Libra I chanted it in one 24 hour period.
Because it is long and arduous and many are not familiar with the
text, many more propitiate Anjaneya by chanting the famous Hanuman
Chalisa which takes about 20 minutes. I think this chant is popular
among Yogis also. It is not in Sanskrit but it is said to be very
There is also a Sahasranama or one thousand names of Anjaneya. Some 20
years ago a recording company got this recording of mine. A few days
back in Chennai, I saw on the TV one of the channels broadcasting the
Puja of Anjaneya Ritual. And the mantra used in the puja was this
Sahasranama of my chanting. I understand that this channel telecasts
this video once almost every month. The channel is called Sankara

How does worship of Anjaneya help? How does it help mitigate the ill
effects of Sani's hold on one's life? It is said that Sani does not
spare anyone, even Lord Siva had to undergo trouble and tribulations
for a short period of time due to Sani/Saturn. Well how does Anjaneya
worship help? Here is a short story.

After Anjaneya finds out the whereabouts of the abducted Sita, he
returns to the mainland and informs Rama of the discovery, and Rama
decides to invade Lanka to liberate Site from the clutches of Ravana.
He needs a large Army. Sugriva the monkey chieftain agrees to lend his
army and they decide to build a road bridge over the ocean dividing
India and Lanka. The sea quiets due to the request first and then an
ultimatum from Rama and the building of the bridge (sethu) commences.
(Rama also is known as Sethurama because he built the bridge or Sethu.
Sethurama is a very popular first name in South India). Well a huge
army of workers were engaged in the construction. They bring huge
rocks from the surroundings. And Anjaneya was also busy in the task
carrying large boulders to the bridge site.

It was time for Sani to afflict Anjaneya. Slowly Sani comes near
Anjaneya and says that it was time for Anjaneya to suffer the ill
effects of Sani (sani pida). No, not now shouted Anjaneya at Sani. “I
am now engaged in the sacred work of building the bridge to go to
Lanka and liberate Sita”. But Sani said that Sani never waits but
afflicts everyone at the allotted time. He has to submit to this. Then
Sani offered a concession. ”I will get into your legs and afflict your
legs alone say with arthritis. Anjaneya said that he needs strong legs
to move around to do the arduous manual work of carrying the rocks.
“No way,” Sani said. Sani then suggested that he could creep into his
arms and Anjaneya promptly rejected it saying that he needed the arms
for lifting and dropping off the rocks. Anjaneya realized that even
before Sani got into his system his effects were beginning to show by
this persistent pestering. He felt that  sani was already under his
skin.Finally Anjaneya agreed to let Sani get into his head, because he
said he need not do any thinking while doing this repetitive work of
carrying the rocks on his head. Sani crawled into Anjaneya's head.

Some of you may have seen some paintings of Anjaneya carrying the
Sanjivini mountain from the  Himalayan range and leaping across the
Indian subcontinent, during the war between Rama and Ravana; yes
Anjaneya  was very strong and could carry lot of weight.

After Sani got into his head, Anjaneya is  said to have lifted a huge
boulder and kept it on his head and started walking towards the dam
site. The pressure of the rock became unbearable for Sani who was
inside Anjaneya's head. Anjaneya reminded Sani that that was how
everyone felt when Sani would severely affect other beings, unable to
bear the pain. Sani whispered to him that he would do anything for
Anjaneya to get out of the predicament. He then promised Anjaneya that
he would never afflict those who worship Anjaneya. The smiling
Anjaneya threw the rock at the appropriate place in the dam site and
Sani tumbled out of Anjaneya's head and ran away without turning back.
So one of the reasons for many to worship the loveable Anjaneya is
that it is generally believed that Sani's ill effects will be
mitigated by worshiping Anjaneya. What better way to worship him than
reading the Sundara Kanda of Ramayana which is a beautiful narration
of Anjaneya's greatness in all aspects, valor, scholarship,
intelligence, ambassadorship, dharma, humility, loyalty, sense of
humor,sagacity  and what not.

Sri Krishnamacharya gave considerable importance to chanting-both
vedic and other (laukika) chants. It is said that originally there
were only vedic chants and they were practiced only by those who were
initiated into vedic studies, but they were only a few. It is said
that Valmiki, an illiterate hunter, due to the grace of Lord became a
poet and wrote the Ramayana in Anushtup meter, the meter found
commonly in the vedas. Thereafter Sanskrit works on divinity
proliferated and Mahabharata and several other puranas were written.
These could be studied by anyone and several of them contained
virtually everything that was found in the vedas, like works on
divinity, philosophy, rituals and others. They became accessible to
everyone. The concepts were made user friendly like for instance the
Bhagavat Gita which explains the terse concepts of the Upanishadic
philosophies to ordinary people represented by Arjuna.

One should learn Hatayoga from Krishnamacharya. One should study Yoga
Sutras and sibling philosophies from Krishnamacharya. One should learn
devotional works from Krishnamacharya. One should learn chanting from
Krishnamacharya. Yes, it is a great blessing to have studied with
Sri  Krishnamacharya. He had a booming voice and an immaculate
Sanskrit diction. I learnt from and chanted Vedic chants with
Krishnamacharya for hundreds of hours. Learning from and chanting with
him has been an exceptional experience. The vedic chants are very
powerful and have profound import. The Suryanamaskara chant running
for about an hour contains the Gayatri mantra and is said to confer
health and longevity. A chapter called svadhyaya, which runs for about
40 minutes, extols the virtues of vedic chanting and eulogizes the
great gayatri mantra. In this chapter there is an advice to chant
aloud during the day and that one need not do the rituals, but mere
chanting will confer all the benefits. There are two chapters called
pravargya which again are used while boiling milk which is said to
tranform the milk into nectar. These two chapters running for about
two hours are exceptionally charming. Sri Krishnamacharya also taught
the Kataka portion of the vedas and then the Upanishad portion of the
taittiriya branch of the vedas. Chanting is uplifting. It has got
physiological and psychological benefits. Long chanting works with
different chakra centers of the body and also improves the efficacy of
breathing. It has got a calming effect on the mind. The traditional
meaning of svadhyaya, an integral part of yoga, is chanting.

The other non vedic chants that are commonly used include the various
Sahasranamas like Vishnu, Lalita, etc. And many of these chants and
recitations are said to confer specific benefits. In the form of
phalasruti the texts themselves tell us the benefits that one can
expect will accrue on chanting these.

For more on mantras please refer to the Mantra Yoga chapter in my
book, “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”.


My friends Bo and Mark from Bangkok have sent the following letter

Dear Mr Ramaswami
I trust this mail finds you well. Bo and I have continuously been
practicing VK and are very much enjoying it. We have also been trying
to read up more on Shri Krishnamacharya’s works and that of his other
students as well – in that respect, I wanted to ask you a question.
We recently read in a  book that breathing should be as follows:
Exhale from lower abdominals, then middle abdominals, and finally
towards the end of the exhalation, allow your chest to sink slightly
(to expel final air). And to inhale, start breathing from expanding
the chest (while maintaining slight contraction in the abdominals),
and towards the end only allow the abdominals to bulge forward only
slightly. Logic is that yoga/pranayama should be spine-centric, and as
the exhalation adds rounding curvature to the upper back; therefore we
try to minimize the rounding curvature by breathing out from the lower
abdominals/lower back first; similarly the inhalation adds curvature
to the lower back, hence we try to protect the lower back by first
breathing into the chest/upper area while maintaining a straight lower
We have also taken much more interest in Pranayama after our studies
with you in LMU, reading up more on Pranayama and its various
techniques/styles. Recently, we ventured on the pranayama teachings of
another school . The school teaches to exhale starting first from the
chest (and not the lower abdominals), then the middle abdomen, and
then only towards the end to draw in/contract the lower abdominals.
(The inhalation is quite similar to the book mentioned earlier wherein
we breathe in while expanding the chest and slight contracting the
My question to you is:
1) Is it right to assume that the exhalation process outlined in the
book is the same as taught to you by Shri Krishnamacharya? (if you
were taught differently, please explain what you were taught to us)
2) Which of the two mentioned above exhalation types (starting with
lower abdominals vs staring with chest exhalation) would you recommend
for us in practicing pranayama? I find that the first book’s method
allows for greater contraction in the abdominals (and preparing for
Uddiyana Bandha on hold after exhalation), but at the same time
because the abdominals are contracted first (prior to chest
exhalation), it has to stay contracted for a longer period to wait for
the end process of exhalation, thereby making the abdominals muscles
harden after some time in the practice.
3) AAs we learned from you, in Pranayama, Shri Krishnamacharya
insisted on keeping Jalandra Bandha throughout – however during
inhalation and exhalation, is there a slight release of the Bandha to
allow ease of air passage?
4) What is the reason for maintaining Jalandra Bandha throughout the
Pranayama and not only during Kumbhaka (when we are trying to hold
breathe from flowing out)?
Thank you so much for your answers. We look forward to studying with
you again.
Bo and Mark
  I wrote back

Dear Bo and Mark:

It is nice to hear from you.

I am glad that you are getting deeper into the study and practice of
To the best of my recollection, my Guru did not compartmentalize
pranayama as the modern yoga teachers seem to do. He used to show how
to do praanayama and each one drew one's own conclusions from that.
Sri krishnamacharya's pranayama was very deep, the chest would expend
substantially in inhalation and in exhalation he used the abdominal
muscles significantly. In normal breathing, two sets of muscles come
into play the-- intercostal muscles that help to expand the chest and
then the diaphragm by distension it allows more air to go in and in
exhalation the diaphragm returns to the original position. In
Pranayama we try to stretch the intercostal muscles to the maximum and
on exhalation we tend to push the diaphragm into the chest cavity as
much as possible so that maximum residual air is squeezed out and the
next inhalation you can draw in more fresh air. Naturally the spine
and posture also become important so that we do not cramp the chest
cavity by curving the back and other postural defects. That is why a
proper upright posture is needed.

My understanding is that both the chest breathing and abdominal
movement take place simultaneously , but in Pranayama, we extend the
exhalation by continuing to contract the abdominal muscles inward and
and upward to push the diaphragm further in. So the abdominal
movements take longer time than the chest movement but the way I
understand and practice is that both the chest and abdominal movemets
are somewhat simultaneous with the abdominal breathing movement taking
longer time to complete.

There are some reasons why Jalandhara bandha is helpful in Pranayama.
Of course you slightly release the bandha to allow air to go in and
out, but the J Bandha helps firstly to keep the back straight
throughout the procedure. As much as proper posture is important the
erect spine also is important in Pranayama which is facilitated by J
bandha. It is believed and can also be verified that J Bandha helps
with the mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha which are helpful in deeper
exhalation. J Bandha also helps to maintain body balance. You can
release the bandha a little bit during the inhalation and exhalation
phases and maintain the J bandha tight during both the  Kumbhakas.

Thank you very much for writing and I wish you both well

With best wishes
Srivatsa Ramaswami

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