Virtual Satsang

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Posts Tagged ‘mohan_k_book

Yoga Mat circa 1978

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In an earlier post on headstands, I highlighted excerpts from A.G. Mohan’s recent biography of Krishnamacharya, where he recalls Krishnamacharya doing 32 variations of headstand — without a mat!

How far have yoga mats changed over the last 30+ years? Compare the ad below to my current favorite mat. (From the Sep/Oct 1978 issue of the Yoga Journal. Adjusting for inflation, $25 in 1978 would be equivalent to $81 in 2009.)

IT’S LIGHT! weighs only 4 pounds.

new age yoga mat circa 1978

This next ad appears in the Sep/Oct 1979 issue:

new age yoga mat circa 1978


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February 25, 2011 at 7:26 am

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How many variations of headstand are there?

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In a previous post, I quoted a passage from N.E. Sjoman’s short but beautiful book on the Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace which called into question the true origins of sirsana (the headstand). Regardless of its origin, the headstand is an important inversion regularly undertaken by many current yoga practitioners (yours truly included).

However sirsana is a tricky pose, and must be learned under the watchful eye of a trusted teacher. Many students either rush into sirsana (using poor technique) or hold it too long — either way injuries become likely. There are other variations and preparatory asanas that one can work on prior to attempting a headstand. This is one pose that you shouldn’t rush into.

Which brings me to the answer to the question posed in the title: there are 32 headstand variations.

[From Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, page 25.]

Usually Krishnamacharya did not demonstrate asanas to me … A rare exception that I recall was a class in which Krishnamacharya mentioned that there were thirty-two variations of headstand. This seemed excessive to me, I must have looked a little doubtful. He considered my expression for a few moments and then said, “What? It looks like you don’t believe me.”

The product we call a yoga mat did not exist in those days. Krishnamacharya had a handmade carpet of soft material, about a third of an inch in thickness. I used a similar carpet for my practice at home. If you spread your feet while standing on the carpet, the carpet would stretch and your feet would slide apart several inches, making balance difficult. Consequently, I did standing asanas on the plain floor, the carpet being reserved for lying and seated asanas.

Krishnamacharya gestured toward the middle of the room. “Fold the carpet and place it here,” he said. Then he proceeded to demonstrate all thirty-two headstand variations! At that time he was about eighty-five years old. As I observed over the years as his student, it was in his nature to rise to the occasion when faced with a question — that is, if it was a meaningful question from a serious student.

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January 21, 2011 at 7:37 am

Posted in History, Yoga

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Jade rides the current obsession with Celebrity Yoga Teachers

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The Jan/Feb 2011 issue of the Yoga Journal, has an ad from Jade (“The World’s Best Teachers Love Nature’s Best Mat”) featuring 8 celebrity teachers. (Because they’re so famous, Jade doesn’t even have to name the teachers in the ad.) I don’t have a problem with teachers endorsing products, but I doubt if any of them actually represent the best Yoga teachers. There are many teachers across the world, toiling in obscurity, some for little compensation, who impact the Yoga journey of many students. Fame translated to less time, which usually isn’t what you want out of a teacher.

Reading A.G. Mohan’s recent book about Krishnamacharya makes me yearn for the days when teachers shunned the spotlight! Seriously, I would be surprised if these so-called celebrity teachers are the best sources of instruction even for Hatha Yoga. Students need consistency, over long periods of time. There are many yoga instructors teaching classes & workshops in small studios everywhere, seek them out before you jet off to your next Yoga conference/retreat! The cost of one exotic yoga vacation, would pay for many one-on-one sessions with your favorite local yoga teacher.

[From Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, pages 80-82, 92.]

He seldom postponed or canceled class, nor did he hold back in teaching in any way. He took no sick leave, did not travel, and took no time off for holidays. By the time I began studying with him, Krishnamacharya was in his eighties and not under financial pressure. He was never well off during his life, but in his later years, he no longer had to struggle to make ends meet, as he had in some of his earlier years. He no longer had to support a family.

… The steadfastness in teaching was a reflection of Krishnamacharya’s enormous discipline in his daily life. He arose very early in the morning around two, and did asanas, pranayama, meditation, morning Vedic rituals, and his daily puja (worship).

… Krishnamacharya taught classes all day. By around six in the evening, he retired from teaching to do his evening rituals, and his asana practice, pranayama, and meditation. He would retire to sleep around eight after a light dinner. His schedule hardly varied.

Krishnamacharya’s uncompromising will made him an extraordinary yoga practitioner, a masterful teacher, and a spiritual adept.

… Successful businesspeople are disciplined in their work habits. Profitable investors are disciplined in deploying their money. Admired public figures who catalyze social change are disciplined in their commitment to their causes. Even tyrants and dictators may exercise considerable discipline toward their goals, deplorable though the results may be. But the discipline of a spiritual practitioner like Krishnamacharya is different. He was not directed toward an external goal. He did not employ his will to earn money, wield power, become famous, or change other people. The primary goal of his disciplined life was to master the mind — even if it came at the cost of material markers of success.

Krishnamacharya was never wealthy or famous, but that did not trouble him because he did not hanker for recognition or money. In fact, he actively shunned these. He strained to provide the basic necessities for his family earlier in his life, but I never heard him say “I did not have money. I struggled.” He merely said that keeping a large sum of money is not appropriate in a spiritually oriented life.

… In class he would often say, “Why do we need money beyond a point? If we are free of ill health, enmity and debt, is that not enough for a fulfilled life? In searching for money, we lose our health. And if we are unwell, how can we be peaceful? Similarly, a person with enemies will never sleep easy, nor will a person in debt. Be free of these and you will be at ease. Too much money only leads to less peace.”

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January 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

Posted in History, Sadhana, Yoga

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The right mix of Pranayamas and Asanas

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A longtime student of Krishnamacharya, A.G. Mohan’s recent book about his teacher is a great resource for Yoga practitioners.

How many pranayamas should a typical yoga practitioner do? Since the start of the year is traditionally a period when people fine tune their practice, I thought the following quote would be helpful:

“How many pranayamas should I do in one day?” Krishnamacharya responded by asking, “How old are you — about forty years? … Then you must do four times that number daily. Do 160 pranayamas a day.” (By “one pranayama” he meant one round of inhalation and exhalation.)

Early in 1975, Krishnamacharya had tol me, “You must do pranayama for half the time you spend practicing asanas.” And in a class on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, he had told me, “One must practice pranayama for at least three hours a day.”

… I asked Krishnamacharya why he had made different recommendations about pranayama. He answered, “The person who asked me in the lecture a few days ago was a yoga teacher. A teacher must always be ahead of his students in his practice. Therefore I told him to practice more. … You are also teaching yoga, but you are only around thirty years old now. He is ten years older than you. At your stage of life, you can do pranayama for half the time you spend practicing asanas. As you grow older, you must do more pranayama. When you are sixty years old, you must do pranayama for twice the time you spend on asanas.

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December 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Quotes, Sadhana, Yoga

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