Can Yoga be taught in groups?

Today most Yoga classes are taught in groups and there is a very big debate about whether this is appropriate or not because classically Yoga was taught one to one between a teacher and a student. Group classes certainly can be a very good introduction for the people who want to try Yoga. It is certainly much more safer for people who have anxiety for doing Yoga alone. It is certainly social because people can have friendly conversation and share mutual experiences and reassure each other.

Also, most importantly in today’s time most people feel very lonely. Therefore this could be a very good way for people where they feel may teach people each other in a group and can make connection with each other. So group classes provide a very good and important role in modern society.

However, when group classes become competitive and group classes become repetitive, then it really does not take the Yoga practitioner deeper in their own journey. That is when perhaps a good time for individual practitioner start to think about one to one teaching where they can approach the teacher who can teach them and guide them in an individual capacity and explore their Yoga much deeper into their other dimensions as well. But definitely it is a very good way to start Yoga in a group context especially in modern environment.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

What are the Yogic Tools for calming the Mind?

Yoga definitely is about influencing the mind to become more and more calm. Calm mind is able to achieve much more than a distracted or an agitated mind.  You can observe this in your daily life.  When you are actually calm you are able to do much more than when you are disturbed or agitated. This is for many reasons. First of all, a calm mind needs less energy than a distracted energy or an agitated mind. When we use the calm mind, we have much more energy at our disposal, whereas when the mind is agitated or distracted the energy is lost unnecessarily and therefore we cannot do much more.

There is also another reason. When we are having a calm mind, we are able to reflect much more peacefully and therefore come to a much more appropriate solution rather than when we are agitated or distracted. That is why Yoga is emphasizing on calming the mind.

There are many tools that are presented for calming the mind in Yoga practices. A key among them is the technique of Pranayama. Pranayama is considered one of the best tools and the simplest tools to calm the mind. The longer our breathing becomes the more calm the mind also becomes.  Pranayama is considered as one of the best tools because it directly influences the mind and it can be done everywhere. I remember when I used to travel with my teacher, my father, sometimes we would be on the flight, he will just put the blanket around his head and do Pranayama under it because he didn’t want the people to be disturbed or get distracted from what they are doing. That is the flexibility of Pranayama. You can do it anywhere you want including the plane – as a passenger not as a pilot hopefully, as a passenger in a car you can do it in your house or yoga studio, you could do in a park or wherever you want.  This is why it is one of the most efficient and effective tools because it’s very practical.

But there are also other tools like visualization, meditation, mantra practices which are also very effective in calming the mind. What would be ideal is to check with our teachers what would be the best practice to be ideal for each of us to calm the mind in a most efficient and effective manner. This is because each of us are very different, we have different responsibilities in our life, we are in different stages of our life, and therefore what may appeal to us at this moment will be different from what will appeal to another person in the same moment. Its also possible that what will appeal to us at one point in our own life may be different from what will appeal to us at a different point of time.

That is why Yoga is not giving us one method but it is giving us many methods to calm our mind.

Keep calm and carry on.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Why is Asana popularly known as Yoga all over the world?

Asana is indeed the most popular tool of Yoga in the world today. There are a couple of reasons, which I feel, I can attribute these to.

First of all, when Yoga spread outside India, it spread through certain great teachers like Sri. BKS Iyengar and Sri. Pattabhi Jois on the one hand, and certain disciples of Swami Shivananda on the other hand. Disciple of Swami Shivananda took more religious and a monk like approach. That is why you will see many of them engaged in Bhajans, Mantras and all these kind of practices. But students of Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar took on a very physical approach because Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar concentrated mostly on Asana practice. This is also because when Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar studied Yoga with their Yoga Teacher Acarya T. Krishnamacharya when they were teenage boys in the 1930s and Arcarya T. Krishnamacharya taught them only Asana practices. He was of course teaching the king and the ministers in the Mysore palace the other techniques, but these students being young boys were part of the group that practiced mostly the Asanas practices.

Historically Sri BKS Iyengar moved away from Mysore when he was very young and Acarya T. Krishnamacharya also moved away from Mysore in the late 40s, so these students did not continue to have time with their masters to learn other practices of Yoga in detail. So, when their influence in the west increased, Yoga got established very much in the minds of people as Asana practices.

This is also because you could see that people like Sri BKS Iyengarji would give demonstrations to thousands of people showing amazingly and extraordinarily difficult Asanas which would “wowaha” the people and the audiences which got established very strongly in the minds of people as Yoga.

There is another reason I attribute to the popularity of Asanas. In modern society, the physical body is given intense focus. People want to develop the physical body, they want to look good, they want to look good in their profile pictures, Instagram pictures as well as in videos therefore the physical body gets a lot of attention.  Asanas are very physical in nature in the eyes of many Yoga practitioners, eventhough classically Asana is not just a physical practice. This is another reason why the Asanas have become very popular in the minds of public as Yoga practices. That is also why you will see many people who retire from Gymnastics or dance like Bale and other things. they all get attracted to Yoga because it is very easy for them to do the physical postures.

These two are in my opinion the strongest reasons the why Asanas are the most popular tools of Yoga today. However, I sincerely urge every Yoga practitioner to look beyond Asana practice, which means necessarily to give up Asanas, but to transcend the Asanas and embrace the other wonderful, deep practices of Yoga. There are many wonderful benefits to be achieved. This will be a very good motivation for people to engage in the holistic practices of Yoga.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Do we need more backbends in Asana Classes today to address the Bad posture many have today?

Do we need more backbends in Asana Classes today to address the Bad posture many have today?

Yes. It is true that in today’s world people have developed a very bad posture because of the sedentary lifestyle, the work that we do in front of a computer or an electronic device, even when we are looking at the telephone we are bending forward and looking at it. So the back does take a lot of stress much more than in the past. This is also combined with the fact that we are not really moving a lot. We are mostly seated in today’s times, either in front of our computer or in front of our clients, we are sitting in a car, we are sitting in a table when eating at home.

There is also another problem which is that the pelvic and the sacrum region we are not getting enough movement. So the stress on the lower back is quite intense. It is very simplistic to say that if we do some back arches, the slouching positions will be corrected. It is not so simple. When we are slouching, it is not only the upper back that is getting tensed along the neck and the shoulder but also the lower back which has to carry the lower of the body so that the weight is transferred through the earth. When our posture is erect the weight of the body goes right along through the spine, through the feet and to the earth and there is not too much stress for the lower back. Whereas, when the posture is bit slouched the lower back take lot of tension and this is another reason why we cannot be simplistic in our approach that only back arches will have.

We also have to do certain asanas to extend our lower back as well. That is why certain times, the forward bending asanas are also helpful, squats are also helpful as well as some twists because sometime we are tend to shift the weight of the body more on one side than the other.

Another important thing that we can also reflect about is breathing. Many people think that the breathing is only concerning the respiratory system and not the muscular system. But if you look at it very carefully breath has a very strong influence on the muscular system of the body. The muscles relax when we are extending the exhale. Sometime in some lying positions when we are extending the exhale the lower back is also getting quite a bit of relief as well.

What is important is to look at every individual and see how their lifestyle has caused stress in their backs and to find a solution that is relevant to them and offer it to them in timely and safe manner. This is the approach of the Yoga Therapy to deal with the back posture very common in modern day society.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Can one cure Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons disease with Yoga?

It is very important for us to remember that Yoga Therapy is more about healing than about curing. Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons are names given to certain set of symptoms that may or may not be understood in Yoga as a Therapy. In Yoga Therapy we are looking at the symptoms of the person’s disease and more importantly we are looking at the experience that the person is having with these symptoms.

It is difficult to say that Yoga Therapy can cure something like Alzheimer’s disease. It is difficult to say that Yoga Therapy can cure something like Parkinsons illness. But at the same time, in my experience I and my students have seen that my father helped lot of people with diseases like Parkinsons disease because, Parkinsons disease may not be actually Parkinsons disease, it may be the imbalance of what we all as the “Vata” system. If Vata is in imbalance our body starts to tremour. If the Müladhärä cakra is highly unstable, the body start to tremour, because the Müladhärä also rules the bones in the body, the solid parts in the body. If such is the case, definitely there are practices that can help to reduce the symptoms the person will be diagnosed as cure from Parkinsons illness. For us, as a Yoga Therapist we are not looking at it as Parkinsons disease.

Alzheimer’s is more complicated. When there is actually brain damage, it is not possible for Yoga practices to reverse it. It is not easy to say that it will reverse it. But Alzheimer’s or memory loss can be, because of Vata imbalance. It may be a technical term given to somebody who has got loss of memory and is mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. In such cases, when we balance the Vata the memory improves. But if there is brain damage and the nervous system it is not actually easy to say that Yoga will actually cure this situation.

But Yoga can definitely reduce the effect of these illnesses and improve the quality of the life of the persons and also the family members. Yoga as a Therapy can play a complementary role as supplementary system not only for the patient and but also for the families those who are going through these Parkisons or Alzheimer’s disease because they are something that they are affecting not only for the patients but also for the family.

Namaste!

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

Can I practice Yoga without giving up my religion?

Yoga is Universal. This is one of the reasons why Yoga is embraced by people around the world, because Yoga does not actually emphasize on the religious belief. Yoga certainly emphasizes on a spiritual attitude where we are concerned with how we relate with each other and how we relate with oneself and most importantly how we relate with the Universe. But Yoga does not ever insist on a religious faith and say that only those who are religious must practice Yoga.

In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, patanjali gracefully says, “Iswarapranidanat vah” He gives us choice. For those who believe in the divine, those who have a chosen faith, that can be used as one of the means or tools of Yoga. For those who do not have a religious faith or religious orientation, it is still okay to practice Yoga. This means Yoga is non-dogmatic, not insisting on a religious belief or religious path. So, whoever wants to practice Yoga can embrace Yoga irrespective of their religious faith or religious orientation. In this way Yoga is very non-discriminatory.

What is important is that we practice Yoga with an open heart with faith in our hearts and an all-embracing attitude so that we don’t bring the tenates of our religion into Yoga practice. We don’t become fundamentalistic Yogis, but rather embrace the message of Patanjali that Yoga is universal and therefore we must become universal in our orientation as well. We must be non-discriminatory towards the genuine system that are guiding humanity in their path in their own methods as long as they are not harming the people.

In a nutshell, Yoga is for everyone as long as they are open to receive the benefits of Yoga. That is the most important thing.

Namaste!

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

Can I practice Yoga during Pregnancy?

The short answer is Yes.

Yoga during pregnancy is one of the most important topics discussed in the text “Yoga Rahasya” of Nathamuni. Nathamuni talks about different trimesters and what kind of practices are appropriate and which kind of practices should be avoided in which trimester, all these are very greatly discussed in this beautiful text. Yoga during pregnancy is very significant not only for the health of the mother and ease of delivery at the time of delivery but also for the health of the child in creation.  Yoga strongly believes that when the an mother is healthy not only at a physical level but also at energetic, at an emotional and at spiritual level. The child will also be healthy over all. The potentials of the child will be very positive. This is one of the reasons why the Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni advocates very strongly the practice of Yoga during Pregnancy. Women must definitely consider this during pregnancy not only for their own sake but also for the sake of their child.

Guidance on what should be done and guidance on what should be avoided should also be presented so that it can be safe during the entire nine months which a very important time during her life.

During this time not only there are bodily changes, but there are also hormonal changes, there are psychological changes and relationship with her and her husband or her partner will change, relationship with the family will change and most importantly a new relationship between her and her child is going to get started.

In all of these areas a healthy person is important because the more healthy the person is the more healthy relationship will also manifest. So this is another reason that Yoga has a strong role in the time during pregnancy. So I would suggest myself, from my own experience of having my partner practicing Yoga during my child’s delivery as well as guiding so many of my students who have benefited through Yoga during their pregnancies and had very wonderful child births and wonderful children that Yoga during pregnancy is a very good thing to consider.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Can Yoga help me liberate myself from my subconscious patterns?

Human beings are animals of patterns. We all have habits or patterns that Yoga philosophy refers as samskaras. These are patterns not only which are external but also which are internal. For example, our body not only has a pattern of behavior to body language and communication, but also our perceptions, our thought processes to view the world etc. All these are what is called conscious or subconscious samskaras or patterns. These come not only from cultural and educational learning but also from the impressions that we arry from our past i.e. the collective impressions that we carry from our past. This is called Vasana-s. Vasana-s are basically impressions that we have accumulated from the past in our life as well as from our ancestors through whom we have been born, we have been created and we carry their impressions as well through what is called blood. 

 

All of these shape our reality and the way we interact with our reality, the way we perceive our reality, the way we respond to our reality. So reality is a very subjective concept for our existence. That is why sometimes we are in trouble because the way we perceive something may not be actually consistent with the reality of what is existing. For example, somebody may perceive this room as warm, somebody may perceive this room as cold, but the fact is that the room is at a particular temperature. The reality of the experience is the subjective one and the way we respond to it is subjective as well. Somebody may feel warm and take the sweater off and the person who is feeling cold may like to wear a sweater. 

 

The same happens in our reality and its manifestations in different parts of our life. What we see as danger may not be seen as danger by somebody else, what we see as pleasure may not be seen as pleasure by somebody else. That is why Patanjali reminds us that reality is a subjective experience. 

 

Sometimes based on this subjective experience we get trapped by these patterns and we start to suffer. We  repeat our patterns because it is taking less energy because the patterns are already programmed in us and to follow that pattern is much more easier. Sometimes we repeat these patterns and falling once again in our suffering trap. That is why Patanjali says we have to replace the old patterns with new ones. We have to replace the patterns which are inappropriate with patterns which are appropriate. 

 

Tajya Samskaraha anya samskara pratibandhi: Tasya prashanta vahita samskarath

 

There are many references that Patanjali gives which are telling us that we have to replace the old and more inappropriate patterns with new appropriate patterns. This is the path of Yoga where we are replacing disturbed patterns what is called “Udhdhana Samskara” with patterns of stability called “nirodha samskara”. 

 

Achieving this through Yoga is not a simple and direct way. Yoga offers in a very holistic manner.  For some people, we may have to use body exercises through Asanas, diet changes, through certain gestures like Nyasa-s etc where we are changing the pattern through physical medium because sometimes these patterns are imprinted on the physiological construct.  

 

For some other people, we will have to use certain energetic practices such as Pranayama, Mudra-s & Bandha-s etc. For certain others, we have to practice through meditative practices or mantra practices so that the imprints that are in the mental psychological structure change as well. 

 

So Yoga is essentially the way where we are changing unconscious and inappropriate patterns into conscious and appropriate patterns. That is precisely the role of Yoga in mankind. This is precisely why Yoga was presented many many years ago because if we get taken over by unconscious patterns we become victims of the patterns and we fall in sufferings again and again. To become free from these patterns we use the holistic tools of Yoga. 

Namaste!

By Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Why do some people call this tradition Viniyoga® ?

Let’s look at why some people call this tradition Viniyoga®. A very important aspect of Yoga is that we have to respect each and every individual as an unique being. Nobody is the same. We are all having different heights, different weights,  different body types, different constitutions, different potentials, different interests and very importantly different purposes and paths in this life.

Patanjali, the Master of Yoga, was very clear that one way will not be suitable for everybody. Patanjali offers practices that have to be tailor-made to suit every individual so that the best of each person can shine. If we take a standardized approach it will not work for everybody. It is not work for anybody in their whole life because we are changing each day of our life.

We are not the same people as we were few years ago and nor we will remain the same person few years from now. That’s why Patanjali calls the process of appropriate application of the tools of Yoga as the Viniyoga® of Yoga. Acarya T. Krishnamacharya was very instrumental in reviving this art when this art was slowly losing its relevance from the field of Yoga when group classes had become very common since the 1930s. Acarya T.

Krishnamacharya was very clear that we have to teach Yoga individually so that the best potential of every person can actually come forth. This becomes more important even in the domain of Yoga as a Therapy. Yoga as a Therapy cannot be done in group situations to the best possible way because every individual’s experience with the disease is different. Some one may have diabetes with high blood pressure; one person may have diabetes with arthritis; one person may have diabetes with depression. The same tools will not work for everybody. It is very important even in the field of Yoga as a Therapy and more so because we have to deal with people one to one as their experience is very unique. Because Acarya T. Krishnamacharya brought this back in a very strong way and it was made very popular by his son and primary student Sri. TKV Desikachar.

A lot of people started to associate this tradition of Yoga as the “Viniyoga®” tradition. It would be inaccurate to call this tradition as Viniyoga® tradition because there is no style of yoga of Viniyoga® of Yoga is only an approach of Yoga that every tradition of Yoga must embrace. The word Viniyoga® in this context is a verb and not a noun. In the Viniyoga® of Yoga where the Yoga is the noun Viniyoga® is the verb which means the appropriate application of Yoga. It would be inaccurate to call Viniyoga® as a particular style of Yoga. Viniyoga® is the approach of Yoga that everyone must embrace for Yoga actually is to reach every person in the most appropriate manner. Viniyoga® is the Universal term that has to be followed, not just for Yoga but in every aspect of life. We do that in many aspects of our life we must not forget that in the context of Yoga.

By Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher

Do I need special clothes to practice Yoga?

A big market for Yogis today is the Yoga clothing market where many people are told to buy special Yogic clothes like yoga pants, Yoga shorts, Yoga underwear etc., which have become a very essential part of all Yoga conferences and seminars. But actually, when we go back to the history we see that Yogis were practicing Yoga in their normal clothes of that time.

The normal clothes of those times were dhotis which were very traditional Indian cloth and that is what they were wearing. This was like pants for us now. Yogis were not actually going shopping to buy some special pants for Yoga or special clothes for Yoga, but they practiced with what they had.

In the 1950s Acarya T. Krishnamacharya wrote an article on this topic of why Yoga is in fact the most accessible ways for practicing for the main public.  In this he describes that one of the reasons is that it is very economical, no need to buy extra clothing, no need to by extra equipment etc.  In fact references on this can also be found in his first book the “Yogamakaranta” which he wrote in 1934.

If you look at all this Yoga actually does not require not just extra clothing but extra equipment like crops and all those kinds of things. The Yogis were very practical and used what was available. There is no need to buy anything additional to practice Yoga. The only investment that we need to practice is “time”.

Dr.Kausthub DesikacharViniyoga® Teacher