I just finished reading A.G. Mohan's book Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings. Mohan was a longtime student of Krishnamacharya and his book benefits from first-hand stories and a deep understanding of yoga. It is by far the best book I have read about Krishnamacharya. Here are some of my favorite parts:
"The purity of truth is often lost in unnecessary speech. To speak the truth, we would be wise to begin by practicing moderation in speech: to speak less and, when we speak, to do so clearly."
"He would say, 'What is this "boring" you all say? Nowadays even children say everything is "boring"! Nothing is "boring." None of you have control over your senses and so your mind becomes restless. Now some activity seems pleasing to the senses, and a little while later, another activity seems more pleasing. Because your mind is not able to stay steady and the senses pull the mind to different things, you want to keep on changing what you are doing. If you have sense control, there is never any question of "boring."'"
"In an interview, Krishnamacharya once said...'Group teaching is not good. When teaching asana we have to take into account the individual bodies since each body is different. One person may easily practice uttanasana while another cannot.'"
"Krishnamacharya used these broad categories to define purposes for the practice of yoga:
1. siksha: fitness - yoga for people who are healthy, to maintain their health or increase their wellness
2. cikitsa: treatment - yoga as therapy
3. upasana: spiritual practice or discipline - yoga for personal transformation
All quotes are from Mohan's book Krishnamacharya. Mohan's website is here.
For a couple of weeks I have been at 21 counts in my Samavrtti Pranayama,the even-counted breath. Unlike all the previous counts it has been pretty effortless from day 1. I continued at 21 counts for several days to allow my body and mind adjust instead of just moving forward right away. In doing so I learned a little bit about the state of my mind and body.
This has been the first count that was long enough to challenge my mind, at least for the first few minutes of each session. My mind expected to breathe faster and shorter. I had to consciously slow it and extend the inhales and exhales. This was the first time it felt like territory beyond "breathing deeply and slowly." I expect this challenge to continue for a few more weeks or months - my mind will be uncomfortable with the slowing of the breath. But eventually I expect it to settle and even crave the slow controlled breathing of Pranayama practice.
Because the count is starting to get long my lung capacity is being challenged, a big reason to progress slowly and patiently. I want to allow the lungs time to develop. I notice my upper lungs starting to come into play, a whole new world of breath capacity that is yet untapped. Along with this is muscular control of my upper ribcage to expand and draw air into the upper lungs. Occasionally it happens spontaneously to accommodate a huge breath, but I need to develop more consistency and control.
Tomorrow I will increase the count to 22.
When walking down the streets of Kolkata, there are 7 smells that are ever-present, battling each other for domination in the nostrils.
3. Car Exhaust
4. Food from street vendors
5. Burning charcoal from street vendors
6. Excrement, human and animal
7. Burning garbage
Ida's new blog entry on the Huffington Post about our time in Kolkata: India and the American Dream.
Today I figured out how to focus on the sound of my breath during Pranayama practice. My complete attention became directed to to the thin, quiet evenness of the air coming in then going out. The count became easy, my lungs became full and then empty and my mind was still. I think I may be on to something.
Our train arrives at the Howrah station at 7am. It is across the Ganges from Kolkata. We briefly try to catch a taxi but the line is incredibly long and confusing. We decide to walk outside of the train station to try our luck but end up walking all the way across the Howrah bridge and into Kolkata. We cross the Ganges and pass the garland district where dozens of piles of flower garlands are stacked for sale. Bright orange on the left, bright yellow on the right.
Once in Kolkata, we catch a taxi and return to the hotel to bathe and eat. This afternoon is our one time to be tourists. We go all around the city just looking at the shops and taking it in. Jerome gets gifts for his family, I get a couple Indian cotton shirts, and we all get some tea from Dolly's Tea Shop. Arup tells us a bit about tea, its history and quality. He tells us about the first crop of the season after the winter called the First Flush, that is the most flavorful and the most valuable of the tea crops of the year.
We go into a shop full of Kashmiri goods. They have some Cashmere, very nice stuff. But there is an even better quality wool product that I have never heard of. I can't even remember the name of it to write here. They have scarves and shawls made of this very fine wool. It is beautiful, soft and supposedly very warm in the winter, though I doubt it would suffice here in the Midwest in February. Kashmir is also known for it Papier Mache that they lacquer and hand paint in intricate designs. There are ornaments, boxes and all sorts of items.
After being tourists we go to Chitralekha's (Bose's daughter in law, mother of Pavitra) home for dinner. We eat around 7 which is apparently very early for Indians who eat around 10. So they feed us but don't eat. A strange feeling. The best part of the evening is the conversation.
She shows us old pictures of her family and tells us many stories. She is modest so I won't divulge any revealing stories here, but she is full of knowledge and insight about yoga, physical culture, Calcutta, Bishnu Ghosh, Buddha Bose and even Bikram. I am more than happy to soak it in. To simply listen to her stories and follow whatever narrative whims she may have. Jerome is a little more pointed, chiming in from time to time with historical queries and factual questions.
They feed us lots of food. I thought that Americans were generous hosts, but they rivaled any I have met. I was the only one of the three of us adventurous enough to try paan, a digestive that is a leaf wrapped around some fennel seeds, other seeds that I don't recognize and a red paste. At first it is pleasant, after awhile it is very bitter. Not bad.
I has been a relaxing day. A lot of walking, a bit of culture and some good conversation. All in all, very human.
This is quoted from Gregor Maehle's site Chintamani Yoga. A great site.
"There is a widespread misconception that postures should be painful. As a rule of thumb, postures should not be painful, which is something that even the ancient masters pointed out. Patanjali states in Yoga Sutra, “heyam duhkham anagatam,” which means that new suffering needs to be avoided (Yoga Sutra II.16). The reasoning behind this injunction is simple. Every experience you have forms a subconscious imprint (samskara). Every subconscious imprint, whatever its content, calls for its own repetition."
"Practitioners should analyze the postures and continually correct their performance of them until awareness is spread all over the body. When that happens, the body is hardly felt anymore. This sounds paradoxical, but you feel the body mainly when something is wrong. The absence of negative feedback means that everything is okay. When the body is correctly aligned, a feeling of stillness and firmness yet vibrant lightness arises. The mind becomes luminous, still, and free from ambition and egoic tendencies. This is the state that you are looking for. It is conducive to meditation. When this quality is achieved in a posture, that posture is fit as a platform for the higher limbs of yoga."
Read the whole article here.
For the past few weeks I have been at 20 counts in my Samavrtti Pranayama, the even-counted breath. It has gradually gotten more effortless, though some days are better than others. Today I found myself wanting to take longer inhales and exhales, so tomorrow I will increase the count to 21.
During the past few weeks at 20 counts I have learned to focus on the evenness and smoothness of the breath alone. Not to try to spread the breath as long as possible or worry about getting the lungs completely full or empty. Those things end up taking care of themselves. This goes along with what Patanjali says about Pranayama, that the goal is smoothness.
The overnight train is brutal. It is cold and windy and we are unprepared. We brought no blankets, so I spend the entire ride curled tightly with my hands tucked in my armpits, head against a backpack, in and out of a restless sleep. We are jolted awake at 4:30am by the cry of "Chai pijiay! Chai chai chai!" from the vendors wandering from car to car.
We arrive at Yogananda's ashram in the middle of the morning "Energization Exercises." These are exercises designed to awaken the flow of energy in the body and prepare it for the coming meditation. It is all very friendly, so we jump right in to the exercises with curiosity and relief to be moving our bodies after a long night on the train. After a few minutes we head inside the Meditation Temple to sit for a meditation of about 40 minutes. It is lovely and refreshing. The energy of this place is at once strong and peaceful.
The grounds are immaculately kept, with flower beds, swept paths, alcoves for meditation, and a few monuments of incredible beauty. We spend an uneventful day on the lawn, surrounded by devotees walking and meditating in the gardens. We doze, discuss the developments of the book and start developing a handful of asana series for later use.
We join the devotees for tea and the evening exercises and meditation which is about an hour and a half long. I focus my eyes firmly on the candle at the front of the temple, choosing to practice Concentration (Dharana) instead Meditation (Dhyana). I actually have a hard time staying awake during he 2nd half. I am exhausted from missing last night's sleep.
We catch the 9:30pm train back to Kolkata. We have blankets this time. I sleep deeply the whole way.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga