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Yoga Anatomy with a t-shirt

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Long before beautifully illustrated Yoga Anatomy books became available, Yoga teachers had to come up with clever ways to relate asanas with anatomical regions. In the 1970’s specially designed t-shirts were popular among yoga instructors. It might not be a bad idea to bring those back, at least for yoga workshops!

From the Jul/Aug 1979 issue of the Yoga Journal, “A Conversation with Lilias Folan“, pages 7-15:

Lilias Folan, Yoga anatomy t-shirt

… YJ: What qualities would you say are necessary in a good yoga teacher, whether it would be on television or in the classroom before 150 people or five people?

Lilias: … I think another essential quality for a yoga teacher is the desire to share, to share ideas, and methods, and ways that you have learned to communicate something in a posture that is a little bit different — to share your knowledge. So often beginning Hatha teachers feel that they have to hold it to themselves and not give it away to other teachers, because they might be sort of stealing their thunder and as soon as they share it, you’ll know that. Actually, as soon as you share it, you really have it! But it’s that sort of holding your ground that can be verv choking.

… YJ: What was your trip to India like?

Lilias: I went to India, I think it‘s almost five years ago, with a Rama Krishna group led by my friend Swami Pranananda. We were there for three weeks and we visited traditional Rama Krishna maths in Calcutta. Delhi and Madras. In Rishikesh we visited Swami Chidananda at the Sivananda Ashram, and it was just a wonderful experience to be with him in his home. The trip wasn’t at all stressful. There wasn’t too much focus on Hatha Yoga. It was more for meditation and just to be in these places and absorb the atmosphere. It was delightful. I don’t think it’s necessary for students to go to India. India is coming to the United States. But I hope I can go one day to visit Mr. Iyengar in Poona. Yet, it is not necessary since so many of his teachers are here.

YJ: Do you feel it is helpful though for students to go to the country or visit the culture where yoga originated or that it would help their understanding in any way?

Lilia: Honestly?… I don’t think It helped me to understand particularly. I don’t think it deepened… No, I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why I loved India — it was a jewel. It is a country that is a jewel. And I never had those pictures in my mind. I thought it was just poverty, then I went there and saw its beauty … such beauty. The Ganges at sunset, Sivananda’s burial place, Swami Chidananda in his own ashram, things like that were beyond words. … To experience it… Wading in the Ganges… I mean, I will never forget that.

… YJ: As we approach 1980, what do you think the future of yoga will be? For example. do you thlnk it win ever become part of the physical education programs in public schools lllte calisthenlcs and swimming are now?

Lilias: Right now Hatha Yoga is starting to be used in the school system. Children are being taught Hatha Yoga in the Montessori schools. I know of a class for two-and-a-half to 5-year olds at our Cincinnatl Jewish Community Center. It’s also being taught for college credit in different parts of the country. And I hope that someday lt will be introduced into medical schools. Do you just mean Hatha Yoga in the school system?

YJ: Well, that was part of the question. But also, what future do you see for Hatha Yoga in America? Do you think it will really become mainstream?

Lilias: Well, lt’s certainly been a 3000 year fad. I think it’s going to last for a little bit longer. What is fascinating to me is that Hatha Yoga seems to be synthesizing. lt’s growing. It’s not always taught now in the traditional or purist or classicial way that was taught thousands of years ago. It’s synthesizing. We have this method and that method, and can take the best from each and put that into our own practice. What’s right for you may not be for me. I love taking what I can use, putting it through my inner filters and getting it back out in a way that is comfortable for me. It is like we are all weaving a giant colorful mandala of dance, music, song, word, and touch … a mandala that will portray the balanced body, mind and spirit.


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March 4, 2011 at 7:48 am

Posted in History, Yoga

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1977 State of Yoga Education in India

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In a 1977 article for the Yoga Journal, B.K.S. Iyengar laments the lack of support for Yoga education in his native India (“Yoga and the Integrated Student”, pages 20-23, Yoga Journal, Sep/Oct 1977). Yet another essay affirming that the “Take Back Yoga Campaign” is 33 years late to the party!

Our educational authorities are still debating the propriety and worthwhileness of introducing yoga in schools and colleges. In 1937 had the opportunity to pioneer the teaching of yolga in a few selected schools and colleges in Pune (India). I even taught yoga in the National Defense Academy, to the cadets as well as the Officers, with beneficial results. At that time I met with a strong opposition from several yogis and yoga teachers who maintained that yoga could be taught at the individual level only, and not to groups. Today I am happy to find that those who were opposing the introduction of yoga in schoos and colleges in 1937 agree with me and are themselves emphatic in their insistence that yoga should be taught at the group level in schools and colleges.

It is difficult to understand why we neglect this rare heritage of ours instead of using it for our benefit. It is even more difficult to understand this sad neglect when we observe European countries taking an increasing interest in yoga.

For example, technologically and scientifically advanced countries like England have introduced yoga as an approved subject. The Inner and Greater London Education authorities have under my supervision introduced yoga in their syllabus. And the demand is so great that they find it difficult to provide qualified teachers.

When yoga is so popular abroad I fail to understand why there is delay in introducing it in our own country. Is it because it is traditionally associated in our minds with a recluse who renounces life, runs away from society and isolates himself on some remote mountain top? Yoga is life-abundant and not life-negating. It is the only system l know of which develops harmoniously both the body and the brain.

One cannot emphasize enough the need for yoga for our students. India is rapidly coming industrialized and urbanized. We are thus heading for an era of speed, stress and strain. Such a life makes heavy demands on our nerves, which are but invisible branches of the brain. When the nerves collapse, anxiety and neurosis of one kind or another sets in. The individual becomes a nervous wreck. Prevention is better than cure, and yoga is the prevention. It ensures strong yet elastic nerves that can face a great deal of hectic activity with equanimity and poise.

Written by virtualsatsang

February 23, 2011 at 7:26 am

Posted in History, Yoga

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  • LA Times profile of Sharon Salzberg:

    Sharon Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.

    … The Buddhist principles of vipassana, or mindfulness, and metta, lovingkindness, afforded Salzberg what she calls a “spacious” form of awareness in which people know they have a choice. Instead of being dominated by her fears, Salzberg said, she began to communicate what she learned, ultimately publishing seven books.

  • Yoga isn’t as old as you think: Responding to the the “Take Back Yoga” marketing campaign, the author cites a couple of authors (Sjoman and Singleton) that I’ve previously highlighted. One additional academic source worth mentioning is David Gordon White’s upcoming book on the Yoga Sutras.

    … Both Sjoman and Mark Singleton, a US-based scholar who has interviewed many of those associated with the Mysore Palace during its heyday in the 1930s, believe that the seeds of modern yoga lie in the innovative style of Sritattvanidhi. Krishnamacharya, who was familiar with this text and cited it in his own books, carried on the innovation by adding a variety of Western gymnastics and drills to the routines he learnt from Sritattvanidhi, which had already cross-bred hatha yoga with traditional Indian wrestling and acrobatic routines.

    In addition, it is well established that Krishnamacharya had full access to a Western-style gymnastics hall in the Mysore Palace, with all the usual wall ropes and other props that he began to include in his yoga routines.

    Sjoman has excerpted the gymnastics manual that was available to Krishnamacharya. He claims that many of the gymnastic techniques from that manual—for example, the cross-legged jumpback and walking the hands down a wall into a back arch—found their way into Krishnamacharya’s teachings, which he passed on to Iyengar and Jois. In addition, in the early years of the 20th century, an apparatus-free Swedish drill and gymnastic routine, developed by a Dane by the name of Niels Bukh (1880–1950), was introduced to India by the British and popularised by the YMCA. Singleton argues that “at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” The link again is Krishnamacharya, who Singleton calls a “major player in the modern merging of gymnastic-style asana practice and the Patanjali tradition.”

  • Europe’s New Politics: I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I thought this recent BBC podcast on the rise of populist, anti-immigrant parties in Denmark & Sweden was worth highlighting. The Danish cartoon controversy aside, it is disturbing to witness the rise of intolerance in Western Europe. Immigrants are stereotyped as being ill-suited because of culture (Islam) and economics (over dependence on the welfare state). To be fair, in both Denmark and Sweden, we are talking about minority parties. But in both cases they have real influence on parliamentary proceedings.

  • How effective is yoga?:

    The aim of this overview was to evaluate critically all systematic reviews of yoga for the symptomatic treatment of any condition. Twelve electronic databases were searched and 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions were located. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many systematic reviews were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction. Despite an impressive number of systematic reviews, evidence of effectiveness is positive only for two indications.

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February 21, 2011 at 8:06 am

33 years ago, B.K.S. Iyengar predicted Western influence on Yoga in India

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In a July/1977 article for the Yoga Journal, Iyengar asks “Why is the West Interested in Yoga?” Some passages reminded me of the “Take Yoga Back” campaign . As far as Iyengar’s prediction that the West would one day influence Yoga in South Asia, I’m reminded of a 2004 interview of Kausthub Desikachar, where he relates the following story:

… I met an Indian lady on the plane from San Francisco to Madras, who has been living in America for about 40 years. She asked me what I was doing and I said, “I am a yoga teacher.” She said, “Oh, you came to study in California?” I replied, “Why do you ask that?” And she said, “Isn’t California the Mecca of yoga for the world?” That is the perception.

Here are excerpts from Iyengar’s essay from the Jul/Aug 1977 issue of the Yoga Journal:

… Now Westerners are realizing that yoga can keep their minds out of bondage. Though physically able to sustain the pace ot modern life, they are often not able to bear its mental pressures. The artificiality has hurt the core of their consciousness. A lopsided and pampered existence has not protected them from enormous mental tensions generated by so many hectic claims on their lives. Though Western society recognizes and permits divorce, remarriage, free sex, independent living even for adolescents, still the people have not been able to bring peace to their inner selves. On the contrary, this so-called liberty has produced innummerable mental and psychological worries and problems. Westemers are intellectua ly developed but emotionally starved, as they are cut off from the fountain of inner life. They talk a lot from the brain, but their hearts are empty and sterile. This has separated them from spirituality, and because of all this they are drawn to yoga, to regain some inner balance.

While explaining why the West has taken to yoga, I cannot refrain from saying that we Indians have neglected yoga, this rich legacy which has come to us from our ancient sages. While the West wants to adopt the Indian way of life, which is known for its simplicity and straight-forwardness, we Indians are trying to imitate their way of life. Not only have we neglected our own art, yoga, but we are forgetting it. We talk a great deal about our philosophy, but we do not convert it into action. We are merely glorifying the past. We do not live according to what is morally important; we live on ideals. We are humble and simple; belief has a very strong hold on us. But we are very slow and even slovenly in action.

… When I came in contact with Westerners, the first thing they told me was that they are tired of lectures on Indian philosotpihy and weary of so much endless eoretical knowledge; they wanted something practical and tangible, of which they were ignorant. We do not distinguish between body and the mind. There must be an integrated approach. I then had to teach the asanas and pranayama with this wholesome approach. At every step I had to insist and make them understand how the body and the mind work in coordination, how each asana and each breath is treated with a kindred spirit. Their bodies, being very supple and elastic, could perform movement, but I had to make them aware that the mind has also to be kept alert, living all the time in the present, and how the current of spiritual awareness has to flow in _each movement, each action.

… Westemers are enthusiastic, courageous, sincere, and hard working. They are always awaiting with humility guidance from the East. I think that their scientific and technical knowledge, coupled with our spiritual understancing and maturity, could perhaps work hand in hand together to bring human beings once again to the religion meant for univeral peace which was founded by our ancient masters.

Perhaps one day it will be they who bring yoga back to India. But the East was the original source of yoga, and I pray that it will always be the main source – that it will continue to be the preserver of this great art.

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February 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

Posted in History, Yoga

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Teaching Yoga in India, Back in the day

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The recent “Take Back Yoga” campaign had me thinking of the plight of yoga and yoga teachers in India, 50-60 years ago. Long before yoga exploded in the West, yoga wasn’t getting much support and attention in India either. In addition, recent research has shown that the relationship between modern asanas sacred texts aren’t as strong as previously claimed. So to me, the “Take Back Yoga” campaign is most likely just a clever marketing campaign.

From B.K.S. Iyenggar’s Light on Life, page 53:

… As I have said, society as a whole thought that anyone who wanted to make a career as a yoga teacher was mad as well as a good for nothing. The climate of opinion was that it was acceptable to become a priest or a renunciate, but yoga as a profession was beyond pale. An even greater source of pain was my family’s disapproval and ostracism.

… Hindus are also traditionally forbidden to cross the sea. After my first teaching trip to England in 1954, I stopped in Bangalore to pay my respects to my maternal uncle. He refused to even let me in the house.

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February 9, 2011 at 7:35 am

Posted in History, Yoga

Does our “Yoga Tradition” come from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?

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One of my favorite religious studies academics has a book on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjalii out later this year. While it was his editor who convinced him to work on a book about the Yoga Sutra, he quickly found himself excited about the topic. Here are excerpts from a recent two-part interview (part I and part II):

David: What’s most interesting to me, I had this kind of throw away idea I told the editor. I decided I’d count YS manuscripts to get some idea of how important it was, to find out were people reading or writing commentaries on this book. So I spent the summer reading manuscript catalogs which was unusual. I ended up doing quantitative analysis.

Susan: I see – you were counting and analyzing records of all the manuscripts in libraries and collections. Why look at manuscript catalogs? Is it more efficient?

David: Because of the climate, of course, manuscripts in South Asia don’t last that long, but with the manuscript catalogs that were published in the late nineteenth century, you can go back another couple of hundred years. These catalogs classify the philosophies of India under six headings: Yoga, Samkhya, Mimamsa, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and Vedanta.

Susan: And this is when things got exciting in the research –

David: Yes. By far the fewest represented categories were samkhya and yoga: out of a total of 30,000 or so extant philosophy manuscripts, only 500 are manuscripts of the Yoga Sutra and its commentaries.

Even within the category of “Yoga Philosophy,” there are many more works on hatha yoga than on the YS; and if you look at works on tantric yoga (which are generally classified under the “Tantra” category and not the “Philosophy” category), there are many more of these manuscripts than there are YS manuscripts.

Susan: 500 out of 30,000 – and then within that the YS is a small number?! That’s a pretty amazing indictment of claims the YS is central to the practice of yoga.

David: The proportions I came up with, based on an careful examination of about fifty catalogues for archives whose holdings represent perhaps 80% of the total number of Indian manuscripts on the six philosophies, were the following:

There were forty times as many manuscripts on Vedanta philosophy as on the Yoga Sutra and its commentaries.

There were thirty-three times as many manuscripts on Nyaya philosophy as on the Yoga Sutras and its commentaries.

In other words, the number of extant YS manuscripts at the end of the nineteenth century was not even within the realm of statistical error, not a blip on the screen.

My conclusion is that by the 18th century no one was rewriting YS manuscripts because no one in India cared about the philosophy of Patanjali. That goes to what Mark [Singleton] was talking about in the collection he edited with his colleague –

By the 17th century the Yoga Sutra had disappeared from the Indian philosophical landscape. This also explains why Krishnamacharya couldn’t find a yoga expert for his own studies.

So, where does our “yoga tradition” come from? Not the Yoga Sutra.

It’s even open to question as to what importance the YS ever had, even pushing back to 16th century which explains why it would not even be primary yoga philosophy by the time these people were making these catalogs.

Susan: I was asking you the other day about Mark Singleton (Yoga Body:The Origins of Modern Posture Practice) and the fact some people seem to like to take his thesis about postures as fuel for “what’s physical isn’t yoga” or “isn’t the spiritual part” of yoga, without really seeing he’s saying quite a bit that takes the whole perspective apart.

David: It seems like such an irrelevant quarrel. As an historian, I’m not interested in what people think in the 21st century, it’s so much less interesting to me than 15th or even the 12th century.

Susan: Is there any context in your work that might address this frequent polarization of physical and spiritual in contemporary yoga talk?

David: Talking about what ‘people say’ is or isn’t yoga – what people say is really people articulating what they think they’re doing. In my mind, it’s impossible for me to differentiate between physical and spiritual.

… My vocation is to write about how people have interpreted what they do, preferably from the early period but also into the modern period, so I’ve just been recording testimonies about tantra, about alchemical practice, and this is what people have said about what they do.

To get back to your question of compared to today, is there a fit or not – it doesn’t make what people practice right or wrong, though actually I think it does matter that these teachers, these yoga gurus are pumping their 21st century phobias and fantasies into their yoga rap –

… I’m getting to know more and more yoga gurus. They seem to believe what they say, but I can’t help but think they’re in denial.

I was struck by The New York Times article about John Friend with the photo of yogis – well mostly yoginis – on their mats in rows around him.

… I don’t doubt that Friend is totally sincere. Who am I to say that those people are wrong. It’s not about right or wrong. They’re just not historically accurate.

I don’t doubt he thinks he’s doing well by doing good for other people. I can’t imagine that he’s just in it for the power and glory.

Susan: I’m being deliberately extreme, but haven’t plenty of people who’ve had a lot of power suggested they’re benevolent? My question is always: how or at what cost to other people has that power been achieved?

David: Again, that’s my quarrel: it’s historical accuracy.

You know, it’s impossible to do what they do without some kind of editing and synthesis. Anything more accurate will get in the way of their high paced yoga circuit economy.

This oversimplification of yoga is the definition of fundamentalism. We know that, and we know where fundamentalism leads.

Written by virtualsatsang

February 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

Posted in History, Yoga

How many Yoga Asanas are there? A Precise Historical Count of Asanas

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There’s an interesting section in Mark Singleton’s book where he tries to understand the origins of Ashtanga Vinyasa:

(pp. 184-186) In the official history of Ashtanga Vinyasa (as sanctioned by Pattahbi Jois), Krishnamacharya learned the system from his Himalayan guru Rammohan Brahmacari on the basis of a five-thousand-year-old text by Vamana Rishi, called Yoga Kurunta. On his return to India from Tibet, Krishnamacharya “discovered” the text in a Calcutta library, transcribed it, and then taught it verbatim to his student Pattahbi Jois. … According to some older students of Ashtanga Vinyasa, Pattahbi Jois has also related that he was in Calcutta with Krishnamacharya when he discovered the text. … He insists that the text describes in full all the asanas and vinyasas (or steps) of the sequences and treats nothing other than the Ashtanga system. … Unfortunately, the text of the Yoga Kurunta is said to have been eaten by ants, and no extant copy appears to exist, so it is difficult to verify the truth of such assertions.

Yoga Kurunta is one of a number of “lost” texts that became central to Krishnamacharya’s teaching.

… Krishnamacharya’s grandson, Kausthub Desikachar, refers to writings by his grandfather that “contradict the popularly held notion that the Yoga Kurunta was the basis for Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga”.

Given that the precise contents of Yoga Kurunta appear to have been “lost”, what then are the oldest and most reliable sources of asanas? In his short book on the Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, N.E. Sjoman makes a compelling case for the manuscripts he found in Mysore.

(pp. 50-51) Krishnamacariar was appointed at the Mysore Palace in the early 1930’s to teach yoga to the Arasu boys, the maternal realtives of the royal family. … During that time Krishnamacariar wrote his first book on yoga called YOGAMAKARANDA … The series of over two hundred asanas found with Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois are not shown in this book nor in his subsequent books. Thirty-eight asanas are illustrated. … It is stated in this book that this is the primary book on asanas suggesting he knew many more asanas.

(p. 49) B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga lists two hundred asanas. Many of these asanas however are variations within a posture and by grouping such variants under a single asana the list could be reduced quite easily to about fifty principal asanas. … Pattabhi Jois in Mysore teaches the same asanas as B.K.S. Iyengar. The systems are different. B.K.S. Iyengar thoroughly reformed the system that he learned though the asana content is common.

(p. 50) Pattabhi Jois published a book called YOGAMALA. The asanas have virtually the same names as those given by Iyengar in his Light on Yoga.

(p. 39) Swami Yogesvarananda brought out a book in 1970 entitled First Steps to Higher Yoga containing 264 asanas.

… Legend speaks of 84,000 asanas. Patanjali, the traditionally accepted and oldest source of yoga tradition, has none. The HATAHPRADIPIKA, the basic text of hatha yoga has only 15 asanas and the other texts have only a few more.

(p. 40) … Until now, no textual source for seriously documenting an asana tradition has been uncovered. The textual source presented here is a part of the SRITATTVANIDHI manuscript in the Mysore Oriental Institute. The illustrations are from Maharani’s copy of the SRITATTVANIDHI and from the HATHAYOGA PRADIPIKA both manuscripts from the Sarasvati Bhandar Library, the private library of his Late HighnessSri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar … The illustrations are of 122 asanas found in the yoga section of the SRITATTVANIDHI. The SRITATTVANIDHI is attributed to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar who lived from 1794 to 1868. The illustrations of asanas are from the HATHAYOGA PRADIPIKA1, a compilation of different yoga texts. … The illustrations of the yoga asanas in the SRITATTVANIDHI at the Oriental Institute are unfinished. … This text provides a unique documentation of a diversity of asanas from an earlier date than the modern texts — approximately 150 years earlier. It is unique in its concentration on asanas.

The Mysore Palace is not merely the repository of this important text on yoga, the Mysore Palace also patronized Krishnamacariar from whom the most popular yoga tradition and practices of modern times have arisen. This did not come directly through him but primarily through the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, his student.

(1) This is not the text that we know by this title today but a compilation of different texts on yoga. This text has never been published and exists only in the Sarasvati Bhandar Library. It is not possible to determine whether it is earlier or later than the SRITATTVANIDHI.

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January 28, 2011 at 8:09 am

Posted in History, Yoga