What is essential in the practice of yoga is the breath because each pose, each movement, originates from there. This balanced union brings harmony and order to our bodies and minds.
The Life and Yoga of Sri T. Krishnamacharya
On studying yoga, attend to your uniqueness as an individual.
Start where you are.
Start on what you need.
Your approach will be and should be different from that of others.
The yoga practice must be tailored to fit each person.
You must find your own structure.
Yoga serves the individual through inviting transformation rather than by giving information.
Important questions to ask in beginning a practice:
- Who should teach whom?
- How can the power of the breath be utilized? (most important)
Before you begin, be clear about the various aspects of the asana you wish to practice.
Prepare to reduce or negate undesired effects.
Work towards your goal step by step.
Yoga is not just a physical practice.
Yoga is about reaching God.
Yoga is about taking steps that would lead to God in order to become one with God.
A strong will, trust, and ability to keep up one’s efforts constantly is needed.
Illness can distract the attention towards this goal.
Be devoted to God not to our physical pains.
The body is not the centre of all activities.
Yoga is primarily a practice intended to make someone wiser, more able to understand things than they were before.
The goal is always bhakti or to approach the highest intelligence, namely, God.
Books on Yoga
- Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
- Nathamuni’s Yoga Rahasya
- Bhagavad Gita
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Understanding the Yoga Sutra is a lifelong task. Each time you read it you can see something more, something different.
- Give yourself totally to a higher power, to God.
- To lay all that you do at the feet of your teacher or God.
Involve yourself in life while doing yoga. No need for seclusion.
Studying texts provide the content of your practice and make what you are doing comprehensible.
Work in your own environment and then meet with a teacher from time to time.
There has to be a relationship with a teacher based on trust.
- a- and dvaita
- Advaita = nondualism
- Dvaita = dualism
- To realize advaita, one must first realize dvaita.
- To realize nondualism, one must first realize dualism.
- We must start with the reality of our situation.
- Accept duality. Start from duality.
- Yoga links dualism and nondualism.
- Yoga is the step toward advaita.
- Dvaita → Yoga → Advaita.
- Dvaita and advaita must be recognised then brought together.
- Your goal is nondualism and use yoga to achieve that.
Yoga is not fixed. It’s okay if different people have different perspectives on yoga.
The purpose of yoga is to bring some change.
The teacher is the reference point.
Yoga is intimate.
Yoga is between two - the teacher and the student.
There has to be an intimate relationship between you and your teacher.
Do yoga step by step and you will not have problems.
Enjoy each step.
Do not try to leap many steps at once.
You cannot practice every kind of yoga.
Practice the yoga that is right for you.
Meet with your teacher and decide on a program that suits you.
Your guru simply shows you the way.
But you go your own way.
You do not need to follow your guru’s destination.
Following your guru’s destination is a way of loosing yourself.
Svadharma - “your own dharma” or “your own way”
If you try to do somebody else’s dharma, trouble happens.
As a wise person, you don’t need to say “I am clear. I am wise.”
Humility is one of the qualities of a clear person.
There is nothing to prove to anybody.
Chapter 1 - Yoga: Concept and Meaning
- Six fundamental systems of Indian thought.
- Lit. means sight, view, point of view, or certain way of seeing.
- A mirror which we can look inside ourselves
Yoga is yoking.
- To come together.
- To unite.
- To tie the strands of mind together.
- Before you begin physical work, you must first form an intention.
- Direct your thoughts toward the yoga session before beginning the practice.
Yoga is movement and change.
- To attain what was previously unattainable.
- Bringing desire into action to do something we are unable to do.
- Change: every change is yoga.
- Reaching a point where we’ve never been before.
- Movements and changes.
Yoga is mindfulness.
- Acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged.
- Attempts to create a state in which we are always present - really present - in every action, in every moment.
- Performing activities with quality of action.
- Not being prisoners of “habits.”
- Consider actions fresh.
- Avoid thoughtless repetition.
Yoga means uniting with the Divine.
- To be one with the divine.
- Being closer to a higher power.
- Being in harmony with that higher power.
- Yoga is about making changes we desire in our lives.
- Yoga is about acting and being attentive to our actions.
Different ways to start a yoga practice
- Studying the Yoga Sutra.
- Practicing asanas (understanding yoga through the experience of the body).
- Pranayama (feeling the breath as the movement of our inner being).
Begin where you are.
Begin at any starting point.
Your goal is to incorporate every aspects of yourself, step by step.
Chapter 2 - The Foundations of Yoga Practice
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind without distraction or interruption.
Learn how we create our own problems so we can free ourselves from them.
Misperception is the caused of our problems.
Avidya: “incorrect comprehension.”
Vidya: “correcti understanding”
Avidya is the accumulated results of unconscious actions and perceptions that have already become habits (samskara)
Samskara cover the mind with avidya and consciousness is obscured.
2 levels of perception
- Deep within us, free from avidya
- Superficial and obscured with avidya.
The goal of yoga is to reduce the film of avidya in order to act correctly.
Avidya is hidden from us.
Its branches are easier to identify.
4 Branches of Avidya
- Ego (Asmita)
- Raga - making demands. Wanting things we do not have. What we have is not enough. We want more. We want to keep things we are asked to give away.
- Dvesa - opposite of Raga. Rejecting things. Rejecting people, thoughts, and settings related to a past difficult experience. Rejecting unfamiliar things.
- Abhinivesa - fear. Most secret. Found in many levels of every day life. Uncertainty. Doubts.
These 4 branches cloud our perceptions.
They result to a feeling of dissatisfaction.
Comparison leads to satisfaction based on a sense of superiority or dissatisfaction based on a sense of inferiority.
Yoga decreases the effects of avidya so that true understanding can take place.
What does it feel like when avidya is absent?
- Profound peace inside us.
- No tension.
- No unrest.
- No agitation.
- Quietness and calmness deep within us.
Everything we see, experience, and feel is not illusion.
Everything is real (dreams, ideas, fantasies, avidya).
All form and content are in a constant state of flux.
We do not need to be discouraged with the presence of avidya.
Bad can be better (or worse).
We never know what will happen in life so we must be attentive.
We must practice yoga regularly so we can stay present and attentive.
Purusa or Drastr
Lit. means “that which sees” or “that which can see correctly”
Deep within us is something that is very real.
It is not subject to change.
The power within us that enables us to perceive with accuracy.
Recognising our mind’s shift from cloudiness to clarity is a good way to measure our progress.
Is it an expression of asmita (the ego) when someone begins yoga because he or she wants to be better?
Wanting to be better is based on asmita (the ego).
But it is still a right step because it brings us to yoga.
Self-improvement may be our initial goal but it is not a permanent goal.
The recognition and conquest of avidya is the only ladder by which we can climb upward.
By practicing yoga we improve:
- our ability to concentrate
- our ability to be independent
- our health
- our relationships
- everything we do
How can we climb the ladder?
Kriya Yoga (The Yoga of Action)
- Kr = “to do”
- The means by which we achieve yoga as a state of being.
- The practical branch of yoga.
- Leads to change for the better in all aspects of our life.
- Three parts: health, inquiry, and quality of action
- To heat or cleanse
- A means by which we can keep ourselves healthy and cleanse ourselves inwardly
- Penance, mortification, and strict diet
- The practice of asanas (physical) and pranayama (breathing) exercises of yoga.
- These practices get rid of blocks and impurities in our system.
- Heating gold to purify it.
- Sva = self
- Adhyaya = study or investigation
- Knowing ourselves
- Who are we? What are we? What is our relationship to the world?
- We should know who we are and how we relate to other people.
- Read and study certain texts. Discuss them. Reflect on them.
Isvarapranidhana (Quality of Action)
- “Love of God”
- Quality of action
- Detachment from expectations and focusing on actions themselves
Chapter 3 - The Principles of Asana Practice
The purpose of yoga is to unify:
- Mind (including sense)
More important than outer manifestations is the way we feel the postures and the breath.
- to stay, to be, to sit, to be established in a particular position
2 qualities of Asana
- Sthira - steadiness and alertness.
- Sukha - ability to remain comfortable in a posture.
Both should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture.
Without both these qualities there is no asana.
Practice a particular asana until you feel alert and unstressed as you do it.
How to achieve Sthira and Sukha?
Begin from where you are
- Practice something easier, something we can do at this point in time.
- Accept ourselves as who we are.
- Recognise our starting point and accept it.
Join breath with movement
- The quality of breath expresses our inner feelings.
- The breath is the link between the inner and outer body.
- Bring body, breath, and mind into unison.
- Explore the breath: make the inhalation as long as possible.
- Explore the body: raise arms on and inhale and lower arms on an exhale.
- First step of yoga practice: consciously link breath and body.
- Allow every movement to be led by the breath as we practice asanas.
- For breath and movement to be coordinated, our mind must attentively follow their union.
- Inhalation and exhalation become a conscious process (rather than automatic).
- Determine whether it is the inhalation or the exhalation that is amplified or made easier by a certain movement. Combine that breathe to the movement we are focusing.
- Be fully involved with our actions.
- The consciously directed breath supports and strengthen the natural coordination of breath and movement.
- Contract body = exhale
- Expand body = inhale
- Let the breathing initiate the movement
- The length of the breath determines the speed of the movement
- Avoid mindless repetition
- Avoid mechanical practice
- How? Introduce a short pause at the end of every movement.
The Fullness of Breath
- Aim to make both inhalation and exhalation fuller and deeper than it normally is.
- Technique: consciously expand the chest and abdomen on inhalation and consciously contract the abdomen on exhalation.
- Technique + Breath + Movement = Deep Yoga Practice
- Inhale = fill the chest and then fill the abdomen. Exhale = release the abdomen then finally empty the upper lobes of the lungs in the chest region.
- This stretches the spine and straightens the back.
- Aim for breathing that assists the movements of the body and does not hinder the extension of the spine.
The Breath is the Intelligence of the Body
- When practicing an asana, our attention should be directed toward the central point of the movement of breath.
- Inhale = upper chest to the navel; Exhale = abdomen
- Consciously following the breath is a form of meditation in which we try to become completely one with the movement.
- Narrow the flow of breath in the throat
- Produce a gentle breathing sound
- Gentle, should not require any effort or create tension
- Hear and feel the breath deeper and longer
- If you do not succeed in maintaining a gentle, even, quiet sound, then you have gone beyond the limits of your practice.
- The quality of breath is the clearest indication of the quality of an asana practice.
Lengthen the natural pause between exhalation and inhalation and vice versa.
- Breathe out → Hold breath + Stop moving → Breathe in
- Breathe in → Hold breath + Stop moving → Breathe out
- Holding the breath should not disturb the inhalation and exhalation
- Be certain you are ready for this technique before using it.
- Breathe comfortably for 5 secs.
- Breathe our for 5 secs.
- Hold breath for 5 secs.
- Observe if you need to draw the breath in more rapidly than before.
- experienced inside
- not external
- be attentive to everything we do
- we do yoga for ourselves not for other people
- we are both observer and observed
Asanas to Practice
- Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
- Variation of Cakravakasana (cat pose)
- Beginning matsyendrasana (half spinal twist)
- Dvipada pitham (table pose)
- Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
Chapter 4 - The Careful Construction of a Yoga Practice
- Develop gentleness and steadiness.
- Exert progressively less effort in developing them.
Practice has to be sensible and well structured.
Starting point - condition of our entire being at that present moment.
Know as much as possible about our constitution.
Practice according with our abilities.
- Krama = step
- Nyasa = to place
- Vi = in a special way
- To place a step in a special way
- It is not enough to simply take a step. That step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way.
- Correctly organised yoga practice.
- Construct a gradual and intelligent course for your practice (asana, pranayama, or other aspect of yoga).
- Start where you are.
- Look toward a certain goal.
- Choose the steps that will lead you toward realising that goal.
- Choose the steps that will gradually bring you back into your everyday life.
- Apply vinyasa krama in every day life.
- Gain an understanding of the steps necessary for preparing your body, your breath, and your attention for the asana you have chosen to practice.
- Consider immediate or long-term danger of problems arising from the practice of this asana.
- Determine the poses necessary to bring balance to the breath and body.
- Every action has two effects: negative and positive.
- Be attentive to our actions.
- Identify which are positive and which are negative.
- Emphasise the positive.
- Neutralise the negative.
- Use neutralizing postures or counterposes (pratikriyasana) to balance the possibly negative effects of certain strenuous asanas.
- Prati = against; counter
- Kr = to do
Proper asana practice is not just a matter of advancing step by step to a certain goal; we also have to come back into a position from which we can comfortably resume our everyday activities without experiencing any harmful effects from our practice.
It is not enough to climb the tree; we must be able to get down too.
Whenever we feel excessive tension in any area of the body after a posture, we must try to alleviate it with a counterpose; that is, the simplest asana that relieves the tension.
Bring vinyasa krama into your asana practice by observing the principle of dual effects in determining the sequence of asanas in your session.
In practicing your asana, be aware of vinyasa krama every step of the way.
Examples of Counterposes
- Headstand (sirsasana) = shoulderstand (sarvangasana)
- Powerful forward bend = gentle back bend
- Powerful back bend = simple forward bend
How to Design a Session
The way we develop our session will depend on:
- our immediate needs
- our long-term goals
- what activities are going to follow our practice
It is entirely up to the student, in light of both his lifestyles and goals, to determine whether it makes sense to practice many or only a few asanas and to determine which ones are worthwhile.
Find a direction for your practice.
Draw up a sequence of asanas that meets your needs.
Consider the qualities that are to be found in the asana.
A teacher is an important resource in helping you make these choices.
Our point of departure for practice will be different every day.
Practice observing yourself so you can find your own starting point each time.
The situation from which you begin your practice is constantly changing.
Examine your condition before starting and continually throughout our practice.
Before doing an asana be sure that the body is ready for it.
Do gentle warm-up exercises.
Begin your practice with the simplest poses.
Bend the body forward naturally.
Raise your arms or legs.
Begin with the simplest postures.
Gradually progress toward more difficult ones.
Asanas to Begin a Practice
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Uttanasana (Forward Bend)
- Apanasana (Wind-relieving Pose)
- Raised Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)
Asanas to Avoid when Just Beginning
- Sirsasana (Headstand)
- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
- Halasana (Plow Pose)
2 Ways of Practicing an Asana
- Repeat movement in the asana.
- Out again in rhythm with the breath.
- Continual movement with the breath.
- Allows the body to get used to the position gradually and gently.
- Start with dynamic practice first.
- Prepares us for difficult static postures.
- Brings breath to body parts and heightens the intensity of the effect.
- Must always be part of a yoga session.
- Similar to dynamic. Move in and out of the pose.
- Hold the pose for a certain number of breath cycles.
- Direct attention to breath, to a body part, or both.
Explore the possibilities of the asana instead of focusing on fixing the posture.
Asanas to Practice (dynamically)
- Pascimatanasana (seated forward bend)
- Parsva Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
Stop repetitions when:
- Tiredness is felt.
- Muscle strain.
The moment we have to draw a rapid breath through the nose or mouth without maintaining the gentle, even sound in the throat, we must stop practicing the sequence.
Gradually build stamina.
Practice dynamic variations of a particular long-term asana goal.
Practice counterposes dynamically.
Create and practice sequences in which poses and counterposes follow each other.
Counterposes for Headstand
- Apanasana (Wind-relieving Pose) - for sway back
- Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) - relieves pressure on the neck. Counterpose it with Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).
Counterposes for Uttanasana
- Utkatasana (Squatting Pose) - tension on legs after uttanasana.
- Cakravakasana (Cat Pose) - sore back after uttanasana.
- Savasana (Corpse Pose) - rest back
Principles of a Good Yoga Practice
- Begin where you are
- Warm up and loosen the whole body at the start of a session
- Before you perform an asana, make sure you know and can perform an appropriate counterpose
- Practice an asana dynamically before holding it
- Practice the counterpose immediately following the main asana
- Make sure the counterpose is simpler than the main asana
- The inhalation
- The exhalation
- The retention after inhalation
- The retention after exhalation
Breath retention intensify the effects of a posture.
1. Langhana (meaning to fast or to reduce)
- Long exhalation + holding the breath after exhalation = intensified effects of posture in abdominal area
- Supports the elimination process
- Cleansing effect on the body
- Enlivens the organs especially in the abdominal region
2. Brmhana (meaning to expand)
- Long inhalation + holding the breath after inhalation = intensified effects of posture on chest area
- Energizes and heats the body
- Good for someone who lacks energy
- Langhana should be achieved first before Brmhana
- Too much fire without elimination can create disturbing patterns of energy
- To receive that which is new (fresh energy), we must first release what is old and no longer benefits us
Asanas to Practice
1. Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose)
- Works with Brmhana way
- Practice with a long inhalation
- Followed by short breath retention
2. Seated Forward Bend
- Works with Langhana
- Practice with a seliberate and slow exhalation
- Followed by holding the breath
If holding the breath reduces the duration of your next inhale or exhale, stop.
You are not ready for this practice.
Work up to it instead.
The breath should never be held if there is a sudden increase in the pulse rate.
If the breathing is poor, the pulse increases.
Holding the breath should never make us uneasy.
We should be able to quietly observe the quality of our breathing.
Rest between asanas.
Rest when we become out of breath.
Rest when we are no longer able to control our breath.
Certain parts of the body may become tired or sore and we must rest them.
If we need rest, we take one.
Rest to make a transition between one kind of asana and another.
We must rest even if we don not feel the need for it.
Rest gives us the opportunity to feel the effects of the posture.
Rest allows the muscles time to return to their balanced tone.
Rest and observe the reaction of our muscles and whole body.
Rest is needed when practicing pranayama.
Asana → body
Pranayama → breath
Rest after Asana and before Pranayama
15 mins. asanas = 2-3 minutes rest → Pranayama
1+ hour asanas = 5 minutes rest → Pranayama
Seek Teacher Advice
Yoga = practice of self-examination
Asanas + Pranayama = self-discovery
- We cannot always trust our own perceptions.
- Our habitual way of seeing limits our self-understanding
A teacher is not limited by our unique conditioning.
He can see what capacities lie hidden in us.
A good teacher is important for finding out which postures are most useful, and on which ones the student needs guidance.
General Asana Sequence
- Standing exercises to warm up with - (5-10 minutes) Experience and observe the state of our body and breath. Find out about our physical and mental states.
- Exercises lying on the back - Preparation for inverted postures.
- Inverted postures - Allow us to discover new previously unknown aspects of ourselves.
- Exercises lying on the belly - All back bends.
- Exercises in a sitting or kneeling position
- Rest lying on the back
- Breathing exercises
Minimum Pranayama Preparation Sequence
- Uttanasana - forward bend for warm up
- Dvipada pitham - table pose, prepare the back and neck + experience the quality of our breath
- Cakravakasana - cat pose, opens the chest and back
- Savasana - corpse pose, rest lying on the back - concludes asana practice
- Sukhasana - cross-legged position to practice pranayama.
- Sit on a chair
Time and Day of Practice
Wait 2 or 3 hours following a meal to begin yoga practice.
Practice on an empty stomach.
Best time for practice is before breakfast.
Session should always be made up of a balanced group of exercises.
Plan short asana sequences for days with little time.
Always adhere to the principle of vinyasa krama.
Construct a gradual and intelligent course for your yoga practice that helps you meet your goals.
Chapter 5 - Asana Variations
Reasons why asanas should be practiced in various ways
- To extend our physical capabilities.
- To encourage attentiveness by breaking routine.
Ways of varying an asana
- Alter its form.
- Vary the breath.
- Vary the rhythm.
- Vary the preparation.
- Vary the sphere of attention.
In every yoga posture lies a principle.
Understand the principle to perform the asana or variation of it in the proper way.
What does this asana mean?
What is its purpose?
What does it demand of us?
“The feeling of the breath” = feeling of energy or prank moving in the body.
Maintain the link between breath and body.
Breath - be with the whole body + observe the asana.
Monitor the asana with the number of breaths and the breath ratio (inhale-pause-exhale-pause) that is appropriate for us.
Breath must be smooth and has continuity.
Breath and body = one movement, one process → powerful yoga
The breath is one of the best means for observing yourself in your yoga practice.
How does the body respond to the breath, and how does the breath respond to the movement of the body?