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 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

WHAT ARE THE TOOLS OF YOGA?

It is long understood that Yoga is basically Asana practice. Wherever I go if I tell that I am a Yoga Teacher, many people ask me “can you stand on the head? “ because that is the idea being given in the Yoga in the eyes of the Public. It is far from the truth. Yoga is a holistic system that encompasses a wide range of practices which include many many tools that are transcending the human body. We have, for example Asana practice that is very well known that addresses the human body. But that is not the only tool of Yoga.

Other tools of yoga we have:

  • Pranayama which is the technique of conscious breath regulation .
  • Mudras– which includes the bandha-s which are also additional tools of Pranayama not only using the breath but also the body and consciousness in order to enhance our Prana, the energy in our system. 
  • Mantra-s very important part of Yoga which is using sacred sounds to create positive vibrations in our body. In modern days we have positive affirmation mantra-s are the original version of this.
  • Swadhyaya – reflection / Self enquiry. We have time for reflection. We are asked to reflect our patterns, we are asked to reflect our negative and aggressive behaviours sometimes, so that we enquire into what kind of memories we carry, what types of impressions we carry and how to resolve them.
  • We also have meditative practices which are under the names Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi where we are given an object of focus to meditate in both in a static  manner as well as in a dynamic manner for many forms of meditation that are part of Yoga which include both active and passive positions and these are very fundamentals to Yoga.

In fact in the Yogasutra of patanjali an entire chapter is dedicated to meditation which is very very fantastic and which is something worthy of reflection.

  • Apart from this we also have sensory practices that are called “Pratyahara” where we are directing the senses to function in a particular manner so that we gain control over the same and they are not distracting us or misleading us in our life.
  • We also have dietary regulations which is called as “Ahara Niyama“ where according to constitution, according to age, according to the seasons, we are recommended a different kinds of diet which is also a part of Yoga.
  • We are also given what is called “Vihara Niyama” which is lifestyle practices, changes of lifestyle, choice of lifestyle etc which are also very significant part of Yoga.
  • Then we have what is called “Iswarapranidana” which is a relationship with the divine that is also a tool of Yoga.

If you look at the tools that Yoga has to offer, it is a multifaceted technique. It is not just focused on the body through asana practice.  We all as Yoga students and Yoga teachers must remember that Yoga is a very vast discipline worthy of a lifetime study and practice.

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher