Am I Missing Something Vital in My Lifelong Yoga Practice? ~ Anthony Grimm Hall

Via on Jun 1, 2012

A status update by Srivatsa Ramaswami yesterday gave me pause.

If I practice asanas alone all my life and expect everything mentioned in Yoga texts to happen to me, then how come Yogis of yesteryears like  studied, practiced and taught other yogangas  like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures? Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?

I know many may never get around to reading the Yoga Sutraor any other yoga text. For many,yoga offers the promise of health and fitness, perhaps a greater sense of well being, and yoga as asana, as purely exercise, delivers this with no problem.

This, in and of itself, is enough of a reason to recommend the practice. But what else might we expect to come from our practice of yoga based on a study of the Yoga Sutra and other texts that lies beyond the reach of asana practice alone?

For instance, yoga is suppose to bring about:

  • >>clarity and focus
  • >>heightened powers of concentration
  • >>peace and tranquility
  • >>dispassion
  • >>liberation from the tyranny of desires
  • >>freedom (with a small f), for some this might signify happiness.

Yoga also claims to offer:

  • >>awareness of what is and what is not
  • >>understanding
  • >>knowledge of self and/or God
  • >>union with God (depending on your reading)
  • >>Freedom (large F)

This is quite a list, and so it’s no wonder Ramaswami suggests asana might not be enough.

Yoga is willful one pointed concentration.

Asana can help develop concentration through self-discipline. With asana practice, we focus on the breath, the bandhas  (depending on the style of practice), the posture, the finer points of alignment and we concentrate on all this for an hour or two hours every day (perhaps twice a day).

It improves concentration, but it isn’t necessarily one pointed concentration. There is a lot going on in asana as we shift our attention from breath to bandha to alignment—constantly refocusing and bringing one or the other back online all the time.

Pranayama has many benefits but there is less to think about, we stay in the same posture and can focus on just the breath, the bandhas and perhaps a mantra.

In pratyahara there is even less distractions as we withdraw the senses.

All this on the foundation we’ve built through our work with the yama and niyama.

And yet, it’s in the meditation limbs that we really get down to the business of working on one pointedness.

Our asana have calmed our agitation, the pranayama our lethargy and we find ourselves peacefully alert.

We no longer worry about the posture, about the breath, about bandhas; we merely bring our attention back to the object of our concentration: a simple mantra, an image, an icon, a flame, a pebble, our heartbeat, inhalation, exhalation, our ‘third eye.’ The list could go on and on.

With these limbs, we see the frivolity of the mind. Questions jump into our heads and we make a pact with ourselves to explore them at another time perhaps in our studies of the texts where such questions may have been raised before, perhaps with a teacher. We put the questions under erasure and continue to sit quietly renewing our focus again and again.

Our human lineage

Some argue that, as Westerners, we are not ready for the meditation practices, that they are an exclusively ‘Eastern practice,’ that, like children, we are best left to asana. The firmly established western Vipasasana, Zen and Buddhist communities have perhaps finally silenced this argument, quietly getting on with their practice just sitting.

In our tradition we refer to meditation as contemplation, but I’m reminded of the last wedding I attended where the Reverend called on the congregation to take a moment of silent prayer of quiet reflection.

Prayer and reflection, as meditation practices, have always been a part of our culture as surely as every other culture; it’s in our nature, we reflect, we grow silent.

Perhaps in our hectic modern lifestyles our moments of silent reflection aren’t as sustained, as consistent or as disciplined as they used to be. We’re out of practice somewhat, but meditation remains a birthright, our tradition, part of our human lineage.

Krishnamacharya taught asana, pranayama, philosophy and meditative practices. He taught these limbs of yoga for his entire life, to beginners and those more experienced alike. He taught them to women as well as to men and to those from the west as well as from his native India.

To repeat Ramaswami,

…then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures?

…Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?

 

I started practicing Ashtanga in March 2007, I’d been burgled, felt angry about it and angry that I was feeling angry. I picked up a couple of meditation books from the library and later some on yoga to deal with the anger. I was overweight (94 kilo), unfit and certainly not flexible. I’n the first four years I only went to two Ashtanga Mysore self practice classes. I’ve learnt from books and videos and from comments on my blog. I’m now 76 kilo, feel fitter, stronger and am pretty flexible. In 2008 I started a blog Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Home, the beginning this blog dealt with my obsession with achieving the Jump back (and later dropbacks, kapo, karandavasana , Advanced series etc). In June 09 I came across Srivatsa Ramaswami’ ( One of krishnamacharya’s longes serving students) and his ‘The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga’. I attended Ramaswami’s 200 hour Vinyasa Krama teacher training course in July/Aug 2010 were the focus was on developing an integrated yoga practice.

~

Editor: Thaddeus Haas

 

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6 Responses to “Am I Missing Something Vital in My Lifelong Yoga Practice? ~ Anthony Grimm Hall”

  1. MamasteNJ says:

    Just intro'd on FB to : Yoga Health & Wellness & Spirituality.

  2. Sonyata says:

    I began my yoga practice in 2008, and became a certified Ashtanga instructor in January of 2009. I began teaching, six days a week, and writing about it in blogs. I began reading the yoga sutra, and many other yoga books. Four years into the practice, I am still making slow but steady progress. And I still do not teach the primary series.

    I have not been that thrilled about doing a bunch of jump backs or jump throughs, and generally favor a good vinyasa flow to the rigid structure of the primary series. I have to be compassionate with my body, and since I am in my early fifties, it takes longer to recover. I want to do handstands, mayurasana, all the bakasana variations, and all of the high end poses. But it is not time for my body yet, so I continue to practice until it is time. Achieving handstands against the wall, and pincha mayurasana against a wall last year was a tremendous accomplishment for me. Shoot. I am still working on a decent vrksasana and utthita padanghustasana.

    I found a good studio, which teaches all of the asana I could care to learn. I found a great. challenging teacher, who can press up from lotus position into a handstand. Wow. I go to all the classes, from level 1 to level 3, hot and not hot. I go to the yoga philosophy classes, the kirtan, and plan on diving into their meditation classes as well. I am working my way through my fourth translation of the yoga sutra, and find that I understand it now. I have dozens of yoga texts. It is working, slowly.

    It is a seven year journey, in my opinion, to gain the basic yoga knowledge, and to make it your way of life. Of course it should continue throughout the rest of one's life. Some can achieve incredible asana in a very short time, especially if their background was in gymnastics or dance. Or if they are young and fit. Others take more time. But there is so much to learn, I am convinced one must continue in the practice to learn all of the aspects of yoga.

    Thanks for sharing, I can relate to your effort and struggle. You look great, and must have experienced incredible change in your life. Namaste.

  3. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Devolution is not the right word for the way I'm going. I had been doing New Age meditation for hours a day, for years. Although I'd been introduced to yin, hatha, and Kundalini yoga decades ago (along with introduction to Raja Yoga/Yoga Nidra techniques, they had never took. The meditation binge started in 1989. Practicing (overwhelmingly home, alone, and self-sequenced) a form of relatively mild vinyasa yoga regularly (it had gotten both more physically demanding, yet also more intense in the non-moving meditation department at the same time) for 5 years, and I am trying to hang onto my beginner's mind. I have been, lately, impressed with a local yoga teacher, who harks back to the old school, teaching for over 30 years, who teaches a contemplative style; which also, in certain cases, can kick your butt, too. The diversity of ages, body types, injury statuses in one class over at that studio is not to be believed in the current East Coast U.S. yoga climate, but there it is …

  4. chiara_ghiron says:

    Hi Anthony

    thanks for sharing. I also started my yoga path with ashtanga vinyasa about 8 years ago. It was a serendipitous encounter, I was doing pilates but felt it 'missed something' and I was also undergoing your classic middle-life/individuation crisis. Funnily enough, I had always thought yoga was not for me and ashtanga vinyasa seemed the right compromise of physical activity and mindfulness. I, like you, practiced most on my own for the firts years, following DVDs and the occasional workshop, until I realised I needed more than jump backs…. but the connection of movement and breath hooked me to the vinyasa style.
    I was lucky that I was never obsessed with form in the sense of having to achieve the 'perfect' asana or being able to do all the asanas. My unwillingness to hurt myself protected me and still does. I gradually realised that my body is getting too old to sustain a daily ashtanga vinyasa practice and that my constitution may not benefit from such a practice every day. Some tamasic days, yes… but as our constitution changes every day, how can the same practice be suitable day in day out throughout our lives? This is what Krishnamacharya also teaches.
    Along the path, I did a 200 hrs vinyasa flow teacher training and am currently in the second year of a KHYF TT. After exploring Iyengar for a short while which I must admit provided me with some revelatory experience about the nature of human beings, I came back to my first love, vinyasa, in the tradition of Krishnamacharya/Desikachar. This tradition feels the right combination to me. All the angas are there, with no obsession. Breath is central and I still find myself puzzled at how other traditions can keep breath and movement rigidly separated. The variety of effects you can achieve workingnon breath length and ratios, pauses etc during asana practices is incredible and such a powerful tool.
    I agree with Sonyata that it is a many years journey before you understand who you are and what you need on this path!

  5. piers ede says:

    Nice article and should be mandatory reading for Ashtangis especially. The point, of course, is that yoga is not just asana. For anyone who thinks it is, the answer to what you're missing is, duh, the other seven limbs. Asana is one part of a comprehensive system and the goal is not flexibility but freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from your highly limited notion of who you are…

  6. [...] You can even ask questions and get on camera. Check out the free classes here learnitlive.com Yoga Vinyasa – Another Form Of A Yoga Routine Article by Jack Price Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word which…use of the flexible way to practice the poses like a dance. Here the important thing is the inhale [...]

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