How can we understand Brahmacarya in the modern context?

A very important question that many Yoga teachers today ask is, “what is the real meaning of Brahmacarya”? The word brahmacarya  comes from the idea of moving towards Brahma or moving from Brahma which means from the divine.

In the traditional times when people practiced yoga they were often very young students. Parents would send the students to teachers already at the age of eight  and from the age of eight approximately they would stay till about the age of 20 or 25 years, studying with the teachers at the Gurukula and then they would become the teachers or practitioners of their own right. 

When you look at the age between eight and twenty five it is not only the significant time of learning but also very significant time of changes in the body. The hormones in the body changes and various desires are created. So in this context, the yogis said brahmacarya meant celibacy because the Brahma and this stage was focused on the learning and expansion of knowledge and the expansion of the potentials.  So when a person is very young, they said that brahmacarya meant celibacy. That means the connection between a person and the human being is not necessarily sexual in this time. It is a collegial student like environment under the Gurukula. 

In the modern context, this takes a different meaning because msot people come to yoga when they are adults. They already have a family or they are looking for a family.  In this time, in the second stage of life what brahmacarya was meant was a fiddle relationship with the partner. So here we can say it is a monotonous relationship between the partners or the relationship if it is open to all those concerned. There is no hiding, there is no secrets so there is expansion and the relationship is based on honesty, respect and trust. So in the modern context, when we interpret brahmacarya to Yoga students who are already coming to Yoga as adults. 

What we need to remember is that there is respect and dignity in their relationship with their partners. That is what is brahmacarya my friends, which is the basis of a healthy sexuality because sexuality is the very important and intimate part of relationship and it has to be based on respect and honesty. That is brahmacarya in today’s times my friends. 

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar – Viniyoga® Teacher

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, a grandson of Acarya T Krishnamacharya and son of TKV Desikachar, is the CEO of Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation, The World Wide Headquarters of Viniyoga® Tradition

Should Yoga Therapy align itself with the medical field?

Namaste my friends!

Yoga as a Therapeutic system is becoming popular and many Yoga institutions are scrambling to legitimize its practice. One part of this legitimization process is that these Yoga institutions are running to align themselves with the medical community. This is not really necessary because Yoga as a practice of Therapy has been in existence for more than 2000 years and that itself is its testimony to its validity as a Therapeutic school.

It doesn’t mean that the medical community has to be rejected. Yoga can function hand in hand with the medical practice and there can be areas where it can support each other and there can be areas where there can be some differences in the way things are seen and applied. That is the beauty that we have in this world today that we have a choice of more than one practice health paradigm to help us in healing process.

There are certain obstacles for medical science to understand Yoga because medical science is first of all reductionist in its approach, whereas Yoga is a very holistic system. In medicine we divide the body into smaller parts and we try to take this approach of finding the cause in minute details. Whereas in Yoga everything is looked at in a holistic way where everything is a part of a large continuum in a huge container where different things are collaborating with each other sometimes and not collaborating with each other at another times which is what leads to illness. The paradigm of how health is looked at by medicine and Yoga differs in this area.

An another thing where Yoga is different from medicine is that Yoga is non-invasive approach and self -empowering approach. Whereas, medicine is not necessarily always self- empowering because the patients give away their power to the doctors and health practitioners and don’t really empower themselves. Also, Yoga is non-invasive in the sense Yoga is using body’s its own resources whereas medicine is using external intervention to bring about change in the body. It is not that it is wrong. It is just that these are two systems.

Most important difference is that the western medicine is very much measuring tangible. But Yoga takes into consideration intangible concepts like Prana, for example, which is the basis for all the Yoga practices is a very intangible concept that modern science will not understand atleast at the moment.

So, it is very difficult for Yoga to be completely aligned with the medical system, but they can be at arm’s distance and work together in areas of agreement so that the person’s health is improved not just with one system but together hand in hand. I think a collaborative partnership is possible but not necessarily a system itself where they both align as a system itself. We can still help people eventhough we may not necessarily have an alignment in philosophy. That is where we need to keep our hearts open in the healing of ourselves and our patients.

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar
Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

Is Yoga Philosophy Dogmatic?

Namaste, my friends!

One of the questions I always get when I travel around the world to teach is whether Yoga is Dogmatic. I have not seen a discipline in the world as non-dogmatic as Yoga. Yoga talks about practice and detachment as the fundamental pillars of its success. It does not talk about the idea that we must conform to a particular standardized set of practices or rules.

The beauty of Yoga is the concept of Viniyoga that is presented already in the Yoga Sutras and that was subsequently expounded by Acarya-s like Nathamuni, Yogacarya T Krishnamacharya and more recently Acarya TKV Desikachar. What the principle says is that all Yoga principles must be adapted and applied according to every individual practitioner and not be standardized. The concept of standardization does not exist in Yoga but rather Yoga is talking about applying different principles in a unique manner to every individual because Yoga teaches us to honour every individual as a unique being.

Hence my friends, Yoga is definitely non-dogmatic. You don’t have to be a believer of a particular religion to practice Yoga. You don’t have to be in a particular state of flexibility to practice Yoga. You don’t have to be belong to a particular cult or a sect to practice Yoga. Yoga is non-dogmatic and universal. The only condition that it requires is that you are dedicated in your practice through daily sadhana.

Therefore, my friends please embrace Yoga as a non-dogmatic principle and teach Yoga as a non-dogmatic principle.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation, Chennai, India

Can Yoga help improve Metabolism?

Namaste my friends!

A very important part of Yogic practices is in improving the metabolism. Both Yoga and Ayurveda looked human system as a metabolic process going through seven different stages. They said most of the illnesses are arising out of the dysfunction of the metabolic process. This is not only common to Yoga and Ayurveda. Many traditional medicinal system like the Chinese medical system or the Korean medical system, they always say that it is because of a weakened metabolism or a disturbance in metabolism that most diseases arise.

What is important to understand is that how Yoga and Ayurveda understand metabolism is very different from how Western science is trying to understand metabolism. Yoga and Ayurveda talk about metabolism going through the seven stages, through the creation of the seven “Dhatus” and each of the seven Dhatu has what is called the metabolic fire that is called “Dhatu Agni” and in Yogic practices as well as in Ayurvedic practices we are trying to bring about a balance to these metabolic fires. That is one of the basis on which yogic practices and Ayurvedic techniques have actually been evolved.

Most of the Yoga practices have something to do with the stimulation of bringing about the balance in the metabolic process and Yes, therefore Yoga can improve and assist us in our metabolic process.

Namaste my friends!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

What is the difference between Surya Namaskara & Candra Namaskara?

Surya Namaskara is the technical name that is given to a sequence of practice which is popularly known today as the Sun Salutation. Some people also do a variation and call it as the Candra Namaskara. Many Yoga teachers and students ask me the question of where is the origin of these sequences, what are the effects, especially the differences in the effects between the two.

The origin of these two sequences is relatively unknown. There are many texts that do not talk about these sequences, especially the Yoga texts. It is my understanding that these sequences have been borrowed from what is called as the “Sastanga Namaskara”, the normal prostration done in the Indian tradition.

What makes this sequence as the Sun Salutation or the Moon Salutation is not the sequence itself. In traditional times these sequences were not done as a physical practice but rather as a spiritual practice with the inclusion of Mantra that honour the deity. So, when they chanted the Sun Mantras – the Surya Namaskara Mantras the sequence came to be what is called the Surya Namaskara. When they chanted the Moon Mantras the sequence became known as the Candra Namaskara.

The Sun Salutation or the Surya Namaskara is much more common and popular for many reasons. Firstly because of the importantance of the Gayatri Mantra which is a part of the procedure “Sandyavandanam” that is done three times a day where we are doing the sequence with the Sun Mantras and therefore we are invoking the Sun. That is why the Surya Namaskara is much more popular in today’s context. The effects will depend on the Mantras that are used because the Sun has different sets of Mantras, the Moon also has different sets of Mantras. But normally speaking the Sun Mantras are much more stimulating , heating and energizing than the Moon Mantras. So the difference is not in the sequence or position but the difference is in the Mantras that are used during the practice.

This is the difference between Surya Namaskara and Candra Namaskara.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation, Chennai, India.

What does Yoga offer to help people open their Hearts?

Namaste my friends!

Yoga is not as much about the body nor is it as much about the mind. Yoga is actually about the heart. This is why, my father the great TKV Desikachar titled his book “The Heart of Yoga”, because in Yoga we are talking about the role of consciousness, the role of self-realization, which is existing in the heart.

This is also a paradigm shift between the ancient oriental knowledge and moderns scientific knowledge because when ancient knowledge talks about the mind, they talk about the place of the mind being in the heart. Whereas the modern science talks about the place of the mind, the role of the mind being in our brain. This is the interesting difference.

When we have to try to understand the Yoga science, we have to understand it from the way Yoga understands the mind which is that its place is in the heart.

Opening of Heart is very important in Yoga practice because the concept of “Sukam” and “Dhukkam” itself refers to the construction of the space in the heart. Sukam – happiness, Dhukkam – Sufferings. When we are in Dhukkam-sufferings the heart space is feeling constricted and restricted whereas when we are searching for Sukha the heart space is open and expansive. These are very important aspects of Yoga that we have to consider and that is why the opening of the heart is important. When we say the heart, again it is not only the heart as the organ that pumps blood but the heart centre. “Hrudhaya”. That is why many Yoga practices are tailor-made to open the heart. Whether we take Asana practice, whether we take Pranayama practice, whether we take Mantra practice, the goal of Yoga is to reduce the construction in the heart and to open the heart.

That is why in Yoga practices we talk about attitudes which is very important in the practice along with the practices like the Asana and Pranayama. Attitudes like “Mythri” – friendliness, “Karuna” – compassion, “Mudhita” – appreciation and “Upeksha” – the concept of non-judgementalism as well as those that are presented in the Yamas and Niyamas such as “Ahimsa” – Non-violence “Satyam” – to be consistent with our reality, “Aparigraha” – not to grasp too much, “Brahmacharya” – to be fiddle, to be truthful, to be faithful, as well as “Astaya” – non-stealing, not to take away that belongs to somebody else.

Apart from Yamas, we also have attitudes like Niyamas where “Soucha” – to have purity in intention, “Sanhosha” – to be content, “Tapas” – to reduce the toxic thoughts, toxic emotions that we have sometimes, “Swadhyaya” – self-reflection, self-enquiry and “Iswarapranidhana” – the attitude of not being controlling, not behaving the way where we want everything to act in our way but rather to be more accepting what happens. All these become platform for other techniques of Yoga to work. So these are all the practices which we have to include in our Yogic practices to open our heart.

Sometimes this is not so easy and sometimes we have certain techniques like Mantras, Bhavana which can be useful in opening our heart. Sometimes we are asking to touch different parts of the body which includes the heart, perhaps we use the Mantras to give the gesture of openness as practices that can slowly change the subconscious blockages, the subconscious locks that we have, that has made our heart closed.

All these, my friends, we need to look at it in a case by case basis because why somebody has their heart open and why somebody has their heart closed is subject to our own individual experiences in life. That’s why taking the guidance of a competent teacher who is our mentor we need to evolve such strategies that allow us to open our heart step by step in a safe manner. Lot of people are afraid to open their heart because of the fear of vulnerability. But in Yoga and traditional sciences vulnerability is the strength not a weakness. We need to face our challenges and accept them so that we can grow from them. It is very very significant. That is why opening the heart to one self first and then to the other is very very important.

So my friends, please remember, Yoga is about the heart. Take time to connect with the heart of Yoga which is nowhere but in our own heart.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher & CEO of KHYF

Why does the Viniyoga® tradition combine Mantras with Asana and Pranayama?

This is a very important question about the role of Mantras in Asana and Pranayama. First of all we have to understand that Yoga is not the movement of body. Yoga is the movement of Prana, an energy. That is why the Yogis were very clear that they wanted to work with Prana. In the Vedic tradition, that tool actually manifest Prana and works with Prana is mantra.

Whether it is a Pranayama technique or an Asana technique they were using Mantra as a part of the practice so that the Prana would get activated and it will move in the body the way it is meant to be.

If you think about Asana for example, in the traditional times the Yogis were doing Asana-s statically. They were not jumping from one Asana to another like monkeys will jump from one tree to the other.  They were actually staying in the Asana practice for some time. What were they doing in the Asana when they were staying?  The were regulating the breath.

Asana is actually a Pranayama practice. In every Asana they would stay with some focus on the breathing,because the breathing would direct the energy to certain parts of the body which the Asana would facilitate. When you twist one side the energy is focused on one side. When you twist to the other side the energy is focused on the other side. That is what they were doing in the Asana practice where they would stay and breathe. We all know that in Pranayama we have to measure the breathing capacity. Inhale equal seconds and exhale twice the duration of the inhale etc. In modern time we are using a watch to  measure what is 5 seconds, what is 10 seconds etc. But think about the Yogis long time ago when they didn’t have a watch. What did they use? This is where the role of Mantra comes in. When they would stay in a position where they had to breathe inhale and exhale with equal duration they would use the same mantra during inhale and same mantra during exhale by reciting mentally. So the Mantra would become the measure of breathing.

That is not the only reason why they are using Mantras. Certain Mantras triggers certain effects on the body like Mantras on the fire or Sun or Mantras that are heating and therefore they are targeting the Pita system in the body. Whereas Mantras like water or earth are much more grounding or  much more cooling,  they would focus on lower Cakras in the body which is connected with Kapa.

Different Mantras have different effects as well. That is why they would choose different Mantras in Asanas and Pranayama so that these kind of effects would also manifest.

We all must remember that the Yogis did not practice Yoga sadhana whether it is Asana or Pranayama based on modern science. The Yoga has its own science and it’s the responsibility of all modern Yoga Teachers, Yoga Therapists to learn the Yoga science. Working on the Asanas and Pranayama through the modern understanding of human body like this Asana will work on this muscles  or that Asana will work on that muscle is not actually very accurate. If we take that approach it is like following the blind person or referring to Google Maps of directions in Lisbon when you are actually searching for a Restaurant in Rome . It just doesn’t make sense.

The Yogis used the ancient knowledge of understanding the human body that come from both Yoga, Ayurveda and particularly Sankya Philosophy to make the tools of Yoga work. According to Sankya Philosophy the most fundamental structure in our human system, the material structure in the human system is what is called the “Sabta Tanmatra” the fundamental element of sound. So when we are using the Mantras we are influencing the very subtle system in our body and through that there is changes in the gross skystem in the body as well. This is yet another reason why Yogis used the Mantras in Asanas, Pranayama and other practices.

This is another reason why the Mantras were used in the Yoga practices because Mantras influence very subtle systems in our structure.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar
Viniyoga® Teacher @ Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

What are the benefits of extension of breathing?

Pranayama is a very important aspect of Yoga and the goal of Pranayama is “Deerga and Shukshma” i.e. the breath has to be long and smooth. Breath extension is very important because it has consequent impact on our neurological system, on our emotional system and also on our physiological system.  When the breathing is long and smooth the body feels relaxed. Therefore the relaxation response is triggered in the body. So the body’s muscular structure feels relaxed, strong not tensed and on the edge the neurological system is relaxed and so it is not in the state of panic but rather when we are relaxed our sensory system in environment will perceive accurately so our responses will be accurate.  In the same way, our emotional system will also function in the appropriate manner when we are relaxed.  For these reasons the extension of breath is important.

What is very important is the extension of breath alongwith the smoothness or subtlety of breath. Patanjali does not say “Deerga Prana”.  He is talking about the “Deerga and Shukshma” the subtlety. The quality of breath is as important as the length of breath. We can’t just extend the breath where the quality of breath is dropping. Smoothness and the subtlety of breath is very important because the smoothness and the subtlety of breath has a direct impact on our energetic system. That’s why we must not think of Pranayama as a championship  with our source where everyday we are competing so that our breath becomes  longer each day.

We also have to focus on the smoothness of the breath because if the breath is not smooth it indicates that there are some psychological and physiological obstacles. We need to learn these obstacles and overcome these obstacles so that the smoothness can be ensured.

So, my friends, do not only focus on the extension of breathing, focus on the extension of breath with the smoothness of breath as well. The “Deerga and Shukshma” are both essential and important parameters to measure the quality of our breathing. In yoga the quantity is not always important but its the quality also equally or  perhaps even more significantly important.

Namaste my friends!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar

Viniyoga® Teacher @ Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

Why should I practice retention after Inhale and Exhale?

This is a very important and an interesting question in Yoga practice.  Basically, in Yoga practice a very important tool is Pranayama because we are working directly there with Prana, our energy system.  The way we work with our energy system is through regulation of breath, conscious regulation of breath. We have to extend the inhale, we have to extend the exhale etc.

A long inhale and a long exhalation is representative of a very calm and steady mind. When you are excited or when you are distracted or when you are disturbed the breathing will become shallow and short. Whereas, when we are focused and when we feel relaxed you will see that the breath will be much longer; much more quieter. You can see this in babies. When babies are in the comfortable arms of their mother they are relaxed and the breathing becomes very very smooth, very very long. compared to them of course.  Whereas when a stranger carry the baby, when he comes and takes the baby, the baby gets disturbed and you can see that the breath starts to get  short. So breath extention is not for extending the breath like the championship as to who has the longest breath. Breath extension has consequences into our mind structure so that the mind becomes more relaxed and therefore in turn then the has an impact in our physiological and emotional structures as well because we are a holistic entity.

But breath cannot be continuously extended. I can’t just extend my inhale and exhale as I want. So, at some point we need to educate our respiratory system to become able to extend the breath. One of the tools that allow us to extend the breath is retention after exhale and retention after inhale.  The retention after exhale vitalizes the exhalation and the retention after inhale vitalizes the inhalation.  At some point when we are not able to extend the breath further, say after inhale or after exhale, we use the retention after exhale and the retention after inhale to vitalise the breath for the current moment and over a period of time you will see that by extension of the  retentions after exhalation, the retention of the breath will become possible because the muscular capacity of the respiratory system will get trained in this manner. This is one of the main reasons why retention after inhalation and the retention after exhalation were suggested.

There are many other reasons as well. But the scope of this video prevents us from going into such kind of detailed explanation.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher

What is the meaning of Union of Body and Mind in Yoga?

Namaste Friends!

The very word Yoga is meaning a connection, a linking process. Very often, we are not in the state of connection. We are actually disconnected. What we feel we don’t do what we say and there is a disconnection between what we say, what we do and what we feel and this creates our energy to dissipate in different directions.

The same with our body senses and mind. E.g. I want to wake up early in  the morning and go for a walk in the nature. But my body is not co-operating. It is very Tamasic. It wants to sleep back and not allowing me to wake up or do what I intended to do. So there is a disconnection between body and mind.

In other cases, for example, people when they are relating with family members or the people in the job or in their society, they feel something, but  they are not able to say htat to the people; they are not able to act in coherence with what they feel. All these causes disturbances in our system. Yoga defines truth as “Yan manasadhyayati tat vacha vadati tat karmana karothi”. A synergy between what you feel and what you say and what you act – there has to be a coherence. People don’t do that and that’s why we are exhausted because its like nourishing three different entities and our Prana is depleted because we are not focusing all the Prana into the same direction. If we could actually act how we feel and speak how we feel there will be an efficiency of Prana. But instead of that what we do is different things, so we divide our energy in different directions and that is why we suffer from lack of energy, lack of vitality, chronic fatigue, burn out, etc., and all these are common modern day problems.

In Yoga we are asked to reeducate our system so that the body, breath and mind can go together and there is efficiency and honesty in our  system.  So when we are doing Asanas we are not doing physical exercise, we are doing it with breathing, with intention so that  the body breath and mind can go together.

When we are doing it with Pranayama, we are combining it with visualization and mantras so that the breath can go together and our voice as well. There are different ways in which Yoga is teaching us to bring together different aspects of our system and once we do that in our Yoga sadhana it will become much more easier and to take that into our life. That is what is meant in Yoga as the union of the body, breath and mind.

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Therapy Teacher