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

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