“[Duke] Ellington never let you forget that music was his profession. On the other hand, the popular vision of Coltrane is that he seemed to ask you, repeatedly, to alter your life.”
Ben Ratliff

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

Mushrooms, second encounter


Though I am gradually moving towards a better energy equation with work (it could be that I am simply “getting back in shape”) it still consumes most of focus. This means that I tend to end days and weeks tired. This last week I also allowed, for the first time, urgency within the organization infiltrate into my energy body. It was a negative experience. I enjoyed my work and did it calmly but I the agitation was in me and I could feel myself needing to ward off a sense of urgency. This negatively effected my breath, sleep and ultimately brought to me an end-of-week crash.

This converged with a wish I’ve had some time to meet with mushrooms one more time. Josh described a potential for a kind of mental reset. A long weekend (due to holidays), alone for two weeks, no need to speak for 3 or 4 days, mentally overloaded … the conditions felt right. The previous experience was a sense of exhaustion that remained with me for what felt like a couple of months (though I think it was also due to the materials that surfaced). That left a bit of wariness in me to repeat the experiment. So this time I opted for a small dose. And so Friday morning, I decided to ingest a small 1.5 grams (compared to the larger dose I took previously) before morning practice.

For the first hour or so of practice I did not feel anything. The first manifestation that got my attention was sound. I realized I was hearing with cure clarity the sounds (my eyes are closed for most of practice) of my hands grazing the mat or the rustle of my clothes. It was a soft transition so at first I wasn’t sure something had changed, but then I realized it did. By the time I got to pranayama I was applying this sensitivity to the sound of my breath which I was able to modulate with great sensitivity. The short chant at the end of practice sounded also vibrant. The acute listening created a positive feedback cycle that brought confidence to my voice.

When I opened my eyes I realized that my sight was also effected. I was seeing brighter and sharper. I felt a bit lighter and softer inside, but other then that the effect felt marginal.

Outside was a cloudy, wet, cold and generally miserable looking day. I needed to go outside and pee. I also felt drawn to visit the poplar tree that I so connected to during the previous experience. But I felt hesitation. That would require putting on boots. This kind of weather usually keeps me indoors. But I overcame my hesitation, put on my boots and headed out to the poplar tree.

Sound was the medium through which my connection to the poplar tree was established. On the way to the true everything was really moist. A late cold wave brought snow that had just melted. I paused numerous time on the way to the tree. I though I could hear water infiltrating into the soil. It seemed unlikely to me, but I stopped numerous times and that was my experience.

The rustle of the gentle breeze through the leaves captivated me. Now the tree was bare and silent. So I greeted the tree, peed on it and then placed my hand on it to see if touch would evoke something. It didn’t, or so I thought and still think. But I was then met with an urge to go and visit the Linden tree I’d planted when I first purchased this place. I came here with a wish to stay in one place long enough to watch a tree grow. This Linden tree is the tree I’ve been watching grow for almost 12 years.

I found the tree filled with new reddish shoots expanding the volume of the tree and ready to burst into life. But my attention was drawn to the barbed wire lying around it. Years ago, when the tree was still young and fragile, I erected a small barbed wire fence around it to protect it. A herd of sheep and goats was moving around here with a careless and incompetent shepherd and they posed a threat to the tree. However, it has since grown and become a resilient tree (I think it has passed 6 meters, could be more, but it is hard for me to estimate). The fence poles collapsed and the barbed wire was all around the tree, embedded in grass and dirt and enmeshed in some of the shoots that came out of the base of the tree.

I felt compelled to disentangle the tree from the barbed wire. And so I found myself, in cold, wet, miserable weather, working with my bare hands to disentangle and collect the barbed wire. It took quite some time, I am not sure how long (not because I lost sense of time, I was aware of time and effort, just compelled to complete the task. My hands froze and I got cut twice. But I felt indifferent to the physical discomfort.

I eventually got the barbed wire free from the tree and took it away. When I was done I stepped away from the tree and it looked so much lighter and brighter. I felt relief coming from the tree. I felt gratitude resonate between the tree and myself. I placed my hand on the tree. It told me it would finally flower this year. I believed it.

What else got disentangled?

I then ate and got on with my day.

Next time 2.5 or 3 grams.

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Michael Levin | Cell Intelligence in Physiological and Morphological Spaces


came to me via Bonnitta Roy

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 17: Nirodha


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

… The mind functions at five levels.

1. Mostly it functions in a way that we hardly notice it. So much happens, so many ideas, perceptions come and go that very often we lose track. It is like a monkey that is drunk and somebody is poking it. IT is distraught and cannot comprehend anything. In Yoga this level of functioning is called kṣipta.

2. A slightly better condition is called mūḍha. Here the mind is like a dull, sleepy, heavy buffalo. There is hardly any inclination to act, to respond or to observe … There are many reasons for this – overeating, lack of sleep, exhaustion, drugs … individual constitution … when a person … has failed to succeed in what he wanted to do …

3. … vikṣipta [is when] we act but we have doubts; distractions come about, there are obstacles.

4. ekāgratā [is when] clarity has come about and we have direction and are able to proceed. What we want to do is much clearer and distractions hardly matter. This is also called dhāraṇā … Yoga is actually the beginning of ekāgratā. Yoga suggests means to create conditions that gradually move the kṣipta level of mind towards ekāgratā.

5. When ekāgratā develops, it culminates in what is called the state of nirodha. This is when the mind and the interest almost become one as if they have merged … rudh represents the envelopment of a particular intererst, ni means the intensity of that envelopment … The word nirodha also means “restraint.” It is not by restraining the mind that it will move and become involved … It is the other way around; that is, so strongly and intensely the mind has moved toward one area … that there is no “infiltration.”

… “citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ” is how Yoga is defined in the Yoga Sūtra. It means that the mind has one and only one activity in all its totality and that the other activities which would distract the mind are absent.

How then to distractions come about? … Through the help of the senses the mind can see or perceive the many things in the world. It can also, on the basis of limited observation, infer the whole … The mind can also conjure things based simply on words … the mind also has the faculty of retaining something that has been experienced … it is possible for us to imagine things … Different actions from the past condition us and block us from seeing things as they are. We already have set ideas about things and we can’t get away from them.

… the mind has also an inherited quality of inaction … and … something inside forces us to do what seems like a hundred different things.

… all of these faculties of the mind … are necessary to life … the Yoga Sūtra says that all activities of the mind could be favorable or unfavorable. What we try to do in Yoga is simple to create conditions so that the mind becomes a most useful instrument for action. And this can only be done gradually. Any “short-cut method” is an illusion.

… in the state of nirodha … one sees and one knows … That is why they say a yogi is a wise man. Not because others cannot see what he has seen but because he has seen something others have not seen, he has seen more than others have seen, and he has seen it ahead of others.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 16: Jñāna, Bhakti, Mantra, Rāja, Kriyā, Karma, Laya, Tantra, Haṭha, Kuṇḍalinī


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Jñāna Yoga

… inquiry in which we first hear, then we reflect, and then gradually we see the truth, is jñāna yoga … that jñāna is always there. Jñāna arrives automatically when something that is blocking it has been removed … We see the truth, we merge with the truth, and that is jñāna.

Part 2: Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti comes from the root bhaj which means “to serve; to serve that which is higher than ourselves.” I have already explained this in the context of Iśvara–praṇidhāna. By any means, we serve the Lord whom we believe is the final source of guidance and help … To see in everybody the highest truth, to believe we are working for him in all our actions, to think always of his name, to meditate on him, to go to his temples, to show great devotion towards him is bhakti yoga.

Part 3: Mantra Yoga

… A teacher who knows us very well might give us a mantra which has a particular connotation because of the way it has been arranged. If that mantra is repeated in the way it has been instructed, if we are aware of its meaning and if perhaps we want to use a particular image,mantra yoga brings about the same effect as jñāna or bhakti yoga … The mantra is not something we find in a book or something we buy. It is something that is given by a master only after great deliberation, after knowing us and knowing our interests and our needs. Otherwise a mantra will not be effective … To be effective it must be received properly and repeated over a long period of time.

Part 4: Rāja Yoga

… The word rāja means “the king who is always in a state of bliss, who is always smiling.” … Any process through we achieve greater understanding of that which appears mysterious and obscure in the beginning is rāja yoga.

… In each of us there is a king, puruṣa. Due to our actions, past and present, the puruṣa is suppressed … by the mind which is fed by the senses, reacting to hundreds of objects that they are constantly serving. Because of avidyā, puruṣa is pushed so low that it is almost as if it were not there. When this process is reversed, where puruṣa ascends to its true place, it is established as king. Puruṣa is the master and all other things serve him. That is called rāja yoga.

Part 5: Kriyā Yoga

… We have already discussed in detail kriyā yoga as the yoga of action, that part of yoga we can practice … in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, second chapter, first sūtra, it is described as consisting of tapas, svādhyāya and Iśvarapraṇidhāna. Tapas are practices such as āsana and prāṇāyāma to aid in the removal of physical and mental impurities; svādhyāya means inquiry and questioning; Iśvarapraṇidhāna is to leave the results of our actions at the discretion of the Lord.

Recently kriyā yoga has become popular in the context of what is called kuṇḍalinī. I will describe kuṇḍalinī later in detail.

Part 6: Karma Yoga

Karma yoga, so very important in the Bhagavad Gītā, is given the same definition as Iśvara–praṇidhāna in the Yoga Sūtra. We have to do our duty and doing our duty is itself more important than what we aim at getting from doing it … We must act in life, but we should not be disappointed by the results of our actions for we may often act imperfectly … This is similar to kriyā yoga.

Part 7: Laya Yoga

Laya yoga … When the puruṣa completely merges with the object of meditation, that is laya.

Part 8: Tantra Yoga

This Yoga has been given many meanings and there are many disputes over these meanings. Tantra yoga involves special techniques … emphasis is placed on kuṇḍalinī

Part 8: Haṭha Yoga & Kuṇḍalinī

One of the accepted concepts behind kuṇḍalinī is that we have certain passages in the body through which prāṇa can enter and leave. These passages through which prāṇa can enter when they are free from impurities, pass through the trunk and intersect at six points: at the eyebrow, at the throat, somewhere in the middle of the heart, at the navel, just above the base of the trunk and at the base of the spine. These passages, called nāḍīs, criss-cross throughout the trunk, one starting on the right and terminating on the left and the other starting on the left side and terminating on the right … There are many names for these nāḍīs. They are called ha and ṭha, as in Haṭha Yoga … or are they called iḍā, left, and piṅgalā, right …

… there is a central nāḍī, called suṣumnā. Normally the prāṇa enters only in the iḍā and piṅgalā nāḍīs. In Yoga the ideal position for the prāṇa is in the suṣumnā. When the prāṇa is in the suṣumnā, it is not outside the body. If it is not in the suṣumnā, it is because there is an obstacle blocking the passage. That obstacle is represented as a coil … If somehow the prāṇa enters the suṣumnā … ha and ṭha become one .. the word Yoga meaning here “to unite.” That is called Haṭha yoga.

The obstacle is called kuṇḍalinī because it looks like an earring worn by women in the olden days and kuṇḍali means “earring.” … Many books describe that which goes up as kuṇḍalinī. Kuṇḍalinī does not go up … bandhas are an attempt to direct the fire or hear of the body in order to remove the kuṇḍalinī bit by bit. That is why the spiral concept is suggested. Even though parts of it are slowly removed, still the kuṇḍalinī has the potential of blocking the suṣumnā.

… If you analyze what I have been saying, you will see that kuṇḍalinī is nothing but what has been called avidyā. In the same way that avidyā has become so powerful that it stops puruṣa from seeing, kuṇḍalinī blocks prāṇa the suṣumnā

It is called Kuṇḍalinī yoga when the emphasis is given to the concept of kuṇḍalinīHaṭha yoga when the division between ha and ṭha is removed … Tantra yoga when certain energies which are normally spent elsewhere can be used in such a way to help reduce the obstacle that blocks the prāṇatantra means “technique.”

Sometimes mantra have a beneficial effect in removing obstacles .. the body has five parts, each related to one of the elements of prakṛti. The throat represents ākāśa, space … The heart is vāyu or air … The navel … is agni or fire … The lower abdominal area is āp or water and the rectum is pṛthvī or earth … The eyebrow is the mind … the crown of the head, represents puruṣa. Together these seven things make up the cakras. In some books each cakra is given a beautiful notation … the navel cakra is represented by the syllable rum … the throat by hum … By placing our attention on these cakras, becoming involved in this concept and following certain practices … we can remove obstacles. Finally, what it all comes down to is that avidyā, here represented as a coil, must be removed … A dead serpent is always straight … It is said when the fire in the body is used to kill the serpent, the kuṇḍalinī straightens and the passage for prāṇa is clear.

Question: I have read that when kuṇḍalinī is released, it is like a powerful electric shock going through a wire. If the wire isn’t heavy enough to carry the current, it burns out. So they are saying it is dangerous and we must be prepared.

Response: … When a person sees the truth the only shock is that he sees he was a fool before!

these things must be made clear by someone who knows both the subject and the language. Otherwise there will be confusion. While it is used as a metaphor that the kuṇḍalinī is going up, really, it does not make sense. If we say kuṇḍalinī is an energy … then we have to accept the fact that we have two energies in life, prāṇa and kuṇḍalinī. Some also say that energy is sleeping. What is meant by this? Many of these ideas, I’m sorry to say, are based on incorrect translations. Kuṇḍalinī represents avidyā, and absence of avidyā represents absence of kuṇḍalinī.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 15: Antarāya, Iśvara-praṇidhāna


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Antarāya

… The term antarāya describes a situation where a person moving towards betterment is blocked, either because of the experiences had in that progression or because of negative factors that might have been present for many years. Let us consider some of these obstacles, nine in number, how they arise and how to get rid of them.

1. … when we are ill, or have a disease … we must regain our health … It disturbs the mind to such an extent that we have to do something about it before we can proceed.

2. … the nature of mind itself … we get moods … sometimes we feel heavy .. dull … we don’t feel like proceeding. This mental heaviness could be due to food … cold weather … [or] just the nature of the mind … When heaviness takes over the mind … we feel so dull that we just don’t move.

3. … doubt … doubts always arise. There is no doubt about that!

4. … sometimes we act with little deliberation, we want to progress very quickly … instead of progress we regress … This action is without clear reflection and deliberation.

5. … Because we think our achievement graph is not going up as much as we want or as much as that of another, or as much as we expected, we suddenly get a little dull … This represents lack of enthusiasm. In these cases something must be done to regain our enthusiasm and motivate us towards our goal.

6. … when our senses seem to take over. They reassert themselves as masters, sometimes without our knowing it … because of their [senses] habitual action of always looking for things … our direction slowly shifts in the wrong way …

7. The worst obstacle of all occurs when, somewhere in the back of our minds, we think we have understood something and we haven’t … This feeling of having reached the top of a ladder is only an illusion. Such illusion is quite common …

8. … we presume we have progressed a lot, but in reality, when we deal with society we find that we have much more to do … instead of reaching the goal in Yoga, to understand more and more and more, somewhere in the process we say, “no more for me. I thought I got it but I think now I am like a fool …” We just stop.

… When we work on this basis, when we become aware of illusion and come face to face with reality, we feel, unfortunately we are really a little less than what we are. This can create the last obstacle,

9. a situation in which we reach a point that we have never reached before, but we are unable to stay there, we allow ourselves to slide back. So, at every stage, we must never think that we have become masters. There is always a sense of being a little better than yesterday and always, too, a sense that we can be a little better tomorrow. This movement remains present until we reach a point where there remains neither a better nor a worse.

So these are the obstacles in the progress of Yoga. They do not necessarily follow one after the other.

Part 2: Iśvara-praṇidhāna, OM

“… The most important method given to surmount obstacles is the concept of Iśvarapraṇidhāna … it springs from great devotion and belief that there is some spirit higher than ourselves …

The qualities of Iśvara are many: in brief, he sees things as they are, he acts perfectly, he is all knowing, the first guru, a source of help … unlike us [he] is not influenced by avidyā … he never acts wrongly, he has never acted wrongly, he will not act wrongly … Therefore, he should be a means of guidance for us. Like puruṣa, he is also able to see … he is … a viśeṣa puruṣa … “extraordinary” … because Iśvara is beyond avidyā and duḥkha, he has a potency within himself that enables hime always to know everything. In Yoga, a word for this … is sarvajña. Sarva means “all”, jña means “to know” … this quality is restricted to him, it is a quality that we as human beings don’t have …

… our respect for him is because he knows and so we pray to him, “You know, share with us your knowing.”

… To have a relationship with him, Yoga uses a special symbol to represent him. This symbol is called praṇava. Praṇava is OM … the more we continue to recite this symbolic sound, while delving into the meaning, the more we gain an idea of Iśvara.

OM is a sound that is very much respected in India and in cultures heavily influenced by India … With the sounding of OM, we are saying everything … [it] has four aspects:

1. The first is “A” (pronounced) “ah”), which comes from the abdomen and is formed in the open throat, with the mouth opened.
2. The second part is “U”, formed in the middle of the mouth.
3. Then with “M”, the lips meet and the mouth is closed.
4. The sound then moves into the nasal cavity, so something else is there

… “A” in Sanskrit, as well as some other languages, is the first letter of the alphabet. “U” represents a continuation and “M” is the last of the alphabet. So “A” to “M” through “U” represents the entire alphabet and whatever can be represented by letters … Further, the extended sound after the “M” has no particular designation … So whatever the alphabet can represent, and whatever the alphabet cannot represent, that too is Iśvara.

… “A” we open the mouth and this opening stands for creation. “U” stands for the continuation of creation. “M” means I have to stop and close my lips, but then there is more … all that is created, all that can be created, all that is sustained, the power behind creation, subsistence, dissolution and beyond is also Iśvara.

… “A” represents a waking state (as if yawning upon awaking). “U” is a dream state, and “M” is a state of deep sleep. The fourth state is called samādhi … there is one who is always present in all these forms because he never sleeps, he never dreams, he is always awake, and he knows and is beyond …

… this way of devotion … complete faith, and delving into his meaning is also one of the ways we can remove the obstacles that come as progress in life.

I want to remind you that this is only one of the alternatives for removal of obstacles; Yoga does not insist that you accept Iśvara. If you find this concept meaningful, continue with it. Otherwise consider other alternatives.

… Each time we recite this sound, we must allow some time so the mind starts thinking about what the sound represents. So, both repetition, japa, and its meaning, called artha, must be present. Otherwise our chant will just be mechanical, parrot-like and this will not help … the more we go into the meaning, the more new meanings we will find.

Part 3: Other Means

There are other alternatives that might help us to overcome obstacles, to keep the mind steady … One alternative is to find a means that will enable us to sustain a particular direction of discipline. Suppose we have one particular teacher … Sometimes with him we hit upon something new only to find that it leads to nothing. Our immediate urge is to to to some other teacher, and then to still another, and so forth. The Yoga Sūtra says we are not to do this. We are to try to keep the same relationship, one that will lead to deeper communication and trust … By following one principle, one teacher, one discipline, we find a means to avoid or surmount obstacles.

Prāṇāyāma is often mentioned as an alternate way to help surmount obstacles … particularly with emphasis on exhalation … This is called recaka prāṇāyāma

Investigation into the functioning of the senses can also help … how the tongue functions, how it tastes things at the tip, in the middle, and in the back. Such investigation quiets our minds though it greatly depends on the individual. It is not the discovery of the way the senses function that is so important. Rather, in that moment when we are stuck, the mind is given a little space.

It is always important that when we are stuck, we must stop struggling to move. We should never try to force progress … When there is confusion, we must find some space in the mind.

Another alternative is suggested for those people who accept a concept that deep in the body, somewhere in the heart region there is something called the puruṣa. The Upaniṣads state that there is a small muscle in the region of the heart, and that deep within it is a small opening like a lotus bulb Inside that is a small space and in this space is the puruṣa. It is always glowing there. Inquiry into this concept often brings the mind to quietness.

One of the best ways to remove obstacles is to study people who have overcome a lot of problems (duḥkha) in their lifetimes. We will discover, as we read their writings and find how they have solved their problems, that which might also help us. In India … When we go to a temple, we ask about the sculpture, the symbols, who did what, and often we are told moving stories. We come to see the way the symbol relates to us … This also helps us to progress.

… it is often helpful to investigate something that constantly happens in us, but about which we know very little. We could investigate … dreams … what is sleep, what sleeps, and how one awakens …

… we can reflect on something we find meaningful … for example … the use of an image of a deity … We delve into the concept of the particular deity … We have to use such objects … that bring a quality of peace to the mind. We cannot use objects that stimulate mental distraction.

… Perhaps, now you can appreciate how open Yoga is to alternative procedures.

… we have to give a person what he is prepared to take, not necessarily what is finally best for him. So, no matter how good it is that people accept Iśvara, some just don’t care about this notion.

But later, automatically it seems, a respect comes … something happens. I don’t know why; we seem to respect some force or higher presence … we would never have accepted before. This always happens … but we can’t lay it all out in the beginning. No, we can’t put a block in communication by insisting on something … So when a person is ready, we’ll talk about Iśvara.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 14: Bandha


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Definition

I have explained how prāṇāyāma helps the firs in the body, sūrya, to reduce the “dirt,” apāna. Bandhas are a means by which we can intensify this process. The theory is that the bandhas make sure the flame is brought exactly to where the apāna, “dirt,” is concentrated, so that the fire has more effect.

The term bandha means “to bind or to lock.” In this process we tighten certain portions of the torso in a particular way. We will consider three bandhas: … The jālandhara bandha involves the neck and upper spine. The uḍḍīyana bandha involves the portion of the torso from the diaphragm to its base. The mūla bandha involves the portion from the navel to the base of the torso. Jālandhara bandha positions the torso in such a way that the spine remains erect, keeping the draft in line with the fire. Uḍḍīyana bandha brings the apāna up towards the fire … we use mūla bandha to keep it [apāna] near the fire.

These three bandhas can be used in the practice of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Eventually … jālandhara bandha is maintained throughout inhalation, exhalation and holding the breath. Uḍḍīyana bandha is done only after exhalation is finished and before inhalation is begun; that is during bāhya kumbhaka … [and] mūla bandha is maintained throughout the prāṇāyāma.

Part2: Readiness

… Now, who is ready to do these bandhas? As uḍḍīyana bandha is done only on holding the breath after exhalation, one of the most important requirements is that we be able to do a long holding of the breath without sacrificing the quality of the inhalation and exhalation. If this is not possible we should forget about bandhas for the time being.

… We must begin to do these bandhas in some simple postures so that our bodies can get used to them …

Part3: Application Sequence

In teaching the technique of bandhas, we begin with jālandhara bandha. If we are not able to do that, we are not ready for the others. In jālandhara bandha, we lift up the back so it is very straight, pull the head back so that it is in line with the spine, then tuck the chin down …

The next bandha we teach is uḍḍīyana bandha … as we exhale we start contracting the abdomen. At the end of the exhalation the abdomen is completely contracted, lifted, and pulled back towards the spine; at the same time the diaphragm moves upwards. If we do this bandha very well, the navel goes back to the spine; the rectal and back muscles contract. At the completion of uḍḍīyana bandha the whole abdominal area is hollow. I want to caution you that this lifting of the abdomen is to be done very slowly, not rapidly.

… The mūla bandha is established after we have done the uḍḍīyana bandha. As we release the upper abdomen and diaphragm, we maintain a contraction in the lower abdomen, back and rectum … the portion of uḍḍīyana bandha below the navel is maintained in contraction while the portion above the navel is released.

… To practice these bandhas in prāṇāyāma we must first establish a ratio of breathing … that we can do comfortably at least twelve times without the bandhas. Suppose we pick a ratio of 6-0-12-06. I would do the following:

60126No bandhas for six breaths
60126Use jālandhara and uḍḍīyana bandha for six breaths
60126Use all three bandhas for six breaths
60120No bandhas for six breaths

The last six breaths of this prāṇāyāma serve as a counterpose. This introduction of bandhas is a very gradual process …

… We should anticipate a great reduction in our ability to do long breathing and holding the breath once we introduce the bandhas. There is quite a bit of effort involved in doing them. If a person can do 10-10-20-10, I have found that with bandhas the breath is reduced to 6-6-12-6 …

The best āsanas for doing bandhas are inverted, lying flat, or sitting with the back straight. A classic posture is mahāmudrā, which is, in fact mahāmudrā only if the bandhas are used.

There are many postures, however, in which the bandhas should not be done, for example, backbending and twisting postures …

Question: Should bandhas be a part of every daily practice?

Response: Yes, if we are ready to do them … don’t do them in all postures and prāṇāyāma. That will only be negative.

… I must caution you about the use of bandhas … Many of our internal organs are involved in the process of contracting, lifting and releasing. If we don’t know what we are doing we might develop some problems.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 13: Antaraṅga Sādhana, Saṃyama, Kaivalya


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Antaraṅga Sādhana

… We are not consciously aiming for or striving to do dhyāna. We are really striving to remove the obstacles to dhyāna. We always have a potential for the state of samādhi but somehow something comes between us and that state. This veiling we have discussed as avidyā and its “children.” … Anything that aids in removing these obstacles is often understood as dhyāna itself. That is why we have temples, recite mantras, do prāṇāyāma, etc. Therefore, “I am doing dhyāna” really means “I am trying to prepare myself for the state that is called dhyāna.” to say that we are “doing dhyāna” corrupts the words dhyāna itself. So we use the word dhyāna also to mean that which prepares the mind so that the state of dhyāna can happen.

Dhyeya means “the object of meditation.” Dhyāta means “that which meditates.” This is the same as puruṣa. Dhyāna is meditation itself. These words … come from the root dhyai, “to think.”

Question: In samādhi, does the object retain its distinct identity?
Response: Of course. The object is not in meditation, we are. The object might change, as all things change, but not as a consequence of samādhi. What we experience in relation to the object will often be different … Our understanding of the object is different because our minds are clearer so we can see something that we did not see before. The object does not necessarily change; the change is in us.

For example, what is the difference between a state of samādhi and a state of anger? There are said to be four stages in the intensity of the children of avidyā. The first, prasupta, “dormant potentiality,” is when they exist as only potential, like a seed. The next stage, tanū, is when they have been extended towards an object, though still mild, like a seed that has sprouted. The third stage is vicchinna; here one aspect of avidyā is apparent and others not. The last stage, udāra, occurs when one aspect of avidyā is manifest and has taken over our reason completely. If we are completely covered with anger it is as if we are not there … Is this samādhi?

… The answer given in the Yoga Sūtra is very clear. To investigate the nature of anger is a dhyāna. But to be in a state of anger where we have “lost our heads” is not dhyāna … The state of samādhi is really a state of prajñā … “clear understanding.” … ṛta prajñā means “what is seen is true.” … we see what is anger, how it originates, what are its effects. In a peak of anger, however, we lose ourselves. In such a state the mind is completely covered with avidyā … the true test of samādhi is not when we sit cross legged, close our eyes, and show a lot of nice things on our faces. It is what happens to us, when we see what we have not seen before.

… As in anything else, a little guidance is helpful. In theory this seems simple, but there are practical difficulties … The Yoga Sūtra … makes no direct reference about going to a teacher, because, at that time, it was taken for granted. Originally the teaching of Yoga was passed on by word of mouth before it was finally written. Students would live with their teachers until they got to know them very well. Therefore, I feel it is better to have some personal guidance.

Part2: Saṃyama

Question: Is a state of samādhi possible in āsana? Wouldn’t it interrupt movement?

Response: In āsana don’t we have all of the necessary elements: the mind, the object and communication between them? So what is the problem … In āsana the object of dhyāna is variable. It could be the entire concept of āsana, it could be some detail or special focus … Depending on what we use, what we see in dhyāna will be different … the object influences the understanding … Saṃyama is when one pursues continuously over a period of time a particular object … Saṃyama is dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi, on a particular goal or object over a period of time. Rather than on Monday choosing one object and on Tuesday choosing another, we try to understand completely one particular object without changing our interest.

… Are the states of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi permanent? It is said very clearly that when a person is in a state of samādhi, there is no other state in him. It is almost as if at that moment he does not remember that he ever had a distracted mind. When a person is distracted, of course, he has only a memory of samādhi … in this way it alternates. As a person gets more and more involved the time for samādhi is more, and confusion less.

… The ultimate goal in Yoga is that we always observe correctly and therefore, we never act regrettably.

Part3: Kaivalya

… The word kaivalya comes from the word kevala, “to be aloof.” It is often translated as “isolation”. The state of kaivalya is one in which a person is able to understand this world so well that he rather aloof, in the sense that he is not influenced by the world though he may influence the world … He lives in the world but he is free from the world. But he is not free from the perception of the senses or the body … Kaivalya is the effect upon the whole person the more and more he achieves samādhi.

… According to Yoga, the purpose of creation where puruṣa and prakṛti come together is to provide us with a context for an understanding of what we are and what we are not. When we understand this, there is kaivalya and prakṛti has served its purpose. To such a person, prakṛti is simply where it is and it has no more purpose.

If we do āsanas, gradually we become supple. If we do prāṇāyāma, we [gradually] gain control over the breath. So, too, with kaivalya, gradually something happens that we do not control. There is always a gap between our effort and these states. There is always this spontaneous thing, something happens in us. I will illustrate with a graph

We cannot discover the moment of dhyāna just as we cannot find the moment we fall asleep. We either miss the moment or we never sleep. In dhyāna we may prepare ourselves but when the moment comes, it is almost a gap or a break, and we are in dhyāna. With the final kaivalya, there is no more oscillation. A person is always in that state.

… While we are trying to do something like prāṇāyāma, there is also something that inhibits us … something mental. One force is inclined to practice and the other, old habits, pulls us back. This means that there is necessarily en effort. When the moment comes in which there is no need for effort or trying, at that moment dhyāna occurs. That is why the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtra says we must have abhyāsa … “to go on in a particular direction.” The more we go in one direction, the less we will concern ourselves with other directions …

In the next lecture on theory I will mention the things that really prevent the normal state of dhyāna … what are the obstacles, and what might help to remove them?

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 12: Prāṇāyāma, Ratio, Gazing, Mudrā


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Ratio

Now, a very important aspect of the practice of prāṇāyāma is how to establish the right ratio for individual practice … We might need something new to maintain our attention to practice or to suite a particular need, If the ratio is too easy, our prāṇāyāma will become mechanical. If it is too complicated or difficult, there will be resistance or conflict.

The choice of proper ratio involves two things – what can be done and what should be done. What can be done involves a given person’s capacity to inhale, hold the breath, exhale, and hold the breath. What should be done involves our direction of movements, our aim, our need. We have to accept where we are and move towards where we should go. This movement … will always be present in Yoga.

What can be done can be easily established if we observe our breath in āsana. If we observe how the breath fluctuates, how they body responds through the breath in certain postures, we will get an idea of the limits of our breath.

… The person in our example can exhale but has a problem with inhalation. Obviously we will try to concentrate on extending the inhalation unless there are other related problems …

Let us take another example ysing the same ratio 10-0-10-0-, and the same postures … The difficulty is with inhalation in the bending backward posture, The exhalation in this posture is all right. What does this mean? … Sometimes the body can fool us … we can find out by introducing something else into the postures. In this case, I would ask the person to five seconds after exhalation … 10-0-10-5 … Then the true quality of the breath is revealed. We might find that in this example, the exhalation becomes shorter and the inhalation continues to get worse. Then we know this that this person probably has a problem with exhalation.

… Having determined what we can do, we want to establish a direction of movement based upon this information. For example, a person can do 15-0-10-0, and we want him to do 15-0-15-0. The first step for anyone, and this is very important, is to make the exhalation longer than or at least equal to the inhalation. There are many ways it can be done …

… Because the total length of the breath is twenty five seconds he will also be able to do 10-5-10-0 … next we introduce holding the breath after exhalation … we now have a balance … After a week of this we can try 12-0-12-0. If this not possible through the throat, he can use nostril control to help.

Can do:
Should do:
First do:
Then (balance):
After some days:


So a solution to what we should do might be … to change the type of prāṇāyāma. If that is not enough, some special āsanas will help … These are some of the means we can adopt … Also, over a period of time starting points and, therefore, goals will be different.

… These changes call for a gradual process and that can only happen over a period of time. At times we should do even less than what we are capable of doing … what should be done is what is helpful for us, not simply to do longer and longer sequences of breathing. The goal must be logically fixed. It is not like running a race.

… flexibility is necessary, since the human existence is such that things change … The aim in Yoga is to train ourselves so that we can modify inhalation or exhalation and hold the breath to meed a demand. That is why we develop different ratios.

Part 2: Gazing

… We have already mentioned that in prāṇāyāma we must have good posture, that we must select a type of prāṇāyāma, and that we must have a … mental attitude … of attention … we can sense the sound of the breath or feel the breath as it moves through the body and that this helps focus attention. Something else that might help attention is a special form of gazing, that is, holding the eyeballs in a steady position but with the eyes closed. We use the eyes so often that it is not easy to keep them steady. Whether we are seeing, or hearing, smelling or tasting, we somehow involve the eyes, thus the eyes are overused. Closing the eyelids is a very important aspect of prāṇāyāma. We bring the eyes into a position as if we were looking at our abdomen, navel, tip of the nose, or between the eyebrows … In the beginning it is easier to do the technique of gazing during retention of the breath, forgetting about the position of the eyes during inhalation or exhalation … The effect is to rest the senses.

… In the beginning we can gaze at the center of movement. On the inhalation we shift our gaze … towards the solar plexus … during holding. When we exhale … towards the navel. A step beyond this would be to gaze at a fixed point …. throughout the entire prāṇāyāma.

Part 3: Mudrā

Another practice that helps our attention during prāṇāyāma is the positioning of our hands and fingers … hasta mudrā. Hasta means “hand.” The word mudrā has many meaning. Let us understand it simply as symbol … dhyānamudrā is when we rest one hand in the other …[in] cin-mudrā the thumb and index finger of the left hand join to form a circle and the right hand is used to modulate the breath at the nostrils … As far as possible the whole body is used during prāṇāyāma so that we are sure we are with the breath …

… If you were to study prāṇāyāma with me, I would not mention any of these practices for a long time. Then they would be introduced gradually. What we are trying to develop to bring about unification will, if we move too quickly, divide us into pieces.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 11: Antaraṅga, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, Samādhi


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Antaraṅga

… We have discussed the first four aṅgas, yama and niyama as attitudes and āsanas and prāṇāyāma as two limbs we can practice. The remaining four aṅgas are called antaraṅga sādhana, meaning “certain things we really cannot practice, rather they just happen.” All we can do is prepare ourselves for them to happen.

Part 2: Pratyāhāra

Let us discuss pratyāhāra, the fifth aṅga that involves the senses … The word āhāra means “food.” Pratyāhāra means “withdrawing from that on which we are feeding.” … when the senses refrain from “feeding” on their objects. If there is a beautiful sunset, our eyes are drawn to look at it. That is the normal way the senses function. It is possible, when we are completely absorbed in something, that even though the beautiful sunset is there, we won’t be seeing it … Normally … the senses register an object and the mind relates to that object … For example, it we are completely absorbed in the breath in prāṇāyāma, automatically there is pratyāhāra … The senses are capable of action but do not act because they are uninfluenced by their objects. They are withdrawn.

Pratyāhāra does not mean we look at an object and say “We are not going to look at that object.” The moment we focus upon the object we are going to look at it … If I see something and say, “I don’t want it,” that is not pratyāhāra. In this one part of the mind says, “come, let’s have it,” and the other part says, “No.”

Part 3: Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, Samādhi

The sixth aṅga is dhāraṇā … comes from the root dhṛ, “to hold.” Suppose there is a tank of water with channels extending from each side. If the channels are of the same depth, the water will flow equally in them all. If we dig one of the channels deeper, more water will flow in that one. That is an example dhāraṇā … when we create a condition so that the mind, going in a hundred different directions, is directed towards one point. We encourage a particular action of the mind and as this action becomes more intense, the other movements gradually subside … It is a state of mind where the mind orients itself towards one point and nowhere else …

… it is a step leading towards dhyāna. In dhyāna, when we become involved with a particular thing and we begin to investigate it, there is a link between myself and this thing … there is a perceptual and continuous communication between my mind and the object. If there is this communication, it is called dhyāna. Dhāraṇā must happen before dhyānaDhāraṇā is the contact. Dhyāna is the communication. Further, when we become so involved in an object that our mind completely merges with it, that is called samādhi. In Samādhi we are almost absent, we become one with that object. We lose our personal identity in the sense of name, job, family … there is no mental gap between us and the object. They merge. That is samādhi.

Remember, we don’t practice dhyāna. In the Yoga Sūtra the whole subject of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi is not explained in the chapter that describes practice. It has been placed in the third chapter where the effects of Yoga are discusses … perhaps I can create conditions that encourage something like dhāraṇā. Asana and prāṇāyāma can, according to the Yoga Sūtra, create a condition where the mind is fit for dhāraṇā. We can’t be returning from a lot of shopping and say we are going to do meditation. Little by little we have to allow the hundreds of things going on in the mind to subside. If they are too powerful dhāraṇā cannot happen. And if we try to do dhāraṇā while various things are happening in the mind there will be conflict.

Pratyāhāra is a result of a state of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi. It is put before dhāraṇā in the Yoga Sūtra, not because it occurs first but because it deals with the senses rather than the mind and is therefore a little more external than dhāraṇā.

… to facilitate the beginner getting a feeling of dhāraṇā … it is always best to start with the easiest thing, a comfortable seated posture, and an object that is pleasant – something that we like … Finally the object does not matter. However, it is important that it does not bring conflict and prevent us from focusing in one direction.

… It should not be mistaken that in the state of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi the senses are dead … They only act in relation to the direction of the mind and not against that direction. These actions of the senses perpetuate the state of dhyāna … they do function but just to serve the mind.

… In dhyāna there is a medium for communication which could be thinking. In samādhi there is not even this thinking. There is a sort of thinking because there is understanding, but it is very minor.

… The first chapter of the Yoga Sūtra explains how samādhi happens. First we reason … this is what we call vitarka and it uses much logic. Then vitarka stops because we can’t go on back and forth. So we reflect. That is called vicāra … As this reflection is refined, asmitā samādhi occurs … the feeling “I am with it.” Then we understand. At that moment we feel a state of blissful happiness. That is ānanda.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 10: Prāṇa, Ayāma, Apāna, Sūrya


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Prāṇa & Ayāma

… Let us continue with prāṇāyāma, the fourth aṅga … our first objective is to be conscious of the breath … Next we determine how to continue to be conscious of it. …

The word prāṇāyāma has two parts, prāṇa and āyāma. Ayāma means “to stretch out or to draw,” and this is the active part of prāṇāyāmaPrāṇa means “that which is constantly present everywhere.” The breath is constantly coming from somewhere within the middle of us. AS long as it is there we are not dead. In the following diagram we have an aura of prāṇa both within and around us. It is almost as if this prāṇa is radiating out from the center all through the body and a little beyond.

Different sources explain prāṇa as a friend to puruṣa. Prāṇa is simple the expression of puruṣa in all parts of the body and beyond. This prāṇa has an intimate relationship to the mind because the puruṣa sees only through the mind (see summary part 5). Thus prāṇa mind and breath are interrelated. Whatever happens in the mind influences the breath … an evident fact. In prāṇāyāma we use the breath to do something to the mind so that the prāṇa increases its intensity. Tradition tells us that an unsteady person, one who is confused, has more prāṇa beyond the body than within it. The measure of prāṇa beyond the body is more when we are not at ease and therefore, the prāṇa within the body decreases in quality

What we are trying to do in the practice of prāṇāyāma is to confine more and more prāṇa within our bodies. When prāṇa is not able to enter our bodies, it is because something is there that should not be. The Yoga Sūtra uses the word kleśa, “defilement” but let us call it “dirt” … one of the definitions of the word yogi is “one whose prāṇa is within the body.” … To influence the prāṇa we have to influence the mind … In life our actions often disturb the mind and increase the measure of prāṇa outside the body. We reverse this process by the daily practice of prāṇāyāma … as we practice … more and more of the covering of the mind, avidyā (see summary part 1), is removed and there it clarity. The mind becomes fit for dhyāna.

When we inhale it is as if the prāṇa goes in. When we exhale, it is as if whatever prāṇa cannot stay in the body goes out.

Part 2: Prāṇa & Apāna

There are five prāṇas, vital forces of the body. They have different names depending on their association with functions in the body: prāṇavāyu, udānavāyu, vyānavāyu, apānavāyu, and samānavāyu. We will concern ourselves with the two basic pranas, prāṇavāyu and apānavāyu. Prāṇavāyu centers in the chest. Apānavāyu is responsible for excretion. Apāna also represents the center where body waste collects. Sometimes that which enters the body is called prāṇa and that which leaves it called apāna. There is a lot of confusion over the world apāna. Let us understand it simply as meaning prāṇa that is located and accumulated where it should not be … conscious inhalation is prāṇa and conscious exhalation is apāna

… On inhalation the idea is prāṇa that is outside the body is brought in towards apāna. During exhalation the apāna that is within the body moves towards prāṇa. The more impurity a person has in the body, the more apāna increases. We decrease the apāna so that we can bring more prāṇa into the body … “defilement, dirt,” accumulates in life due to factors both within and beyond our control. Our action in Yoga is to reduce this. A person who has shortness of breath, who cannot hold the breath, or make longer exhalations is considered to have more apāna. A person with good, comfortable breath control is thought to have less apāna. The more apāna we have, the more problems we have in all areas of the body.

Prāṇāyāma is a movement of prāṇa towards apāna and a movement of apāna towards prāṇa. Holding the breath after inhalation bring the prāṇa towards the apāna and holds it there. Holding the breath after exhalation does the reverse.

Part 3: Sūrya

One of the concepts of Yoga is that we have a fire inside our bodies, and it is located somewhere between prāṇa and apāna. The seat of this fire is near the navel, but the flame itself shifts. On inhalation there is a downward movement of the breath … [which] creates a draft … which draws the flame downward. It is this flame that burns the “dirt” from the body. During exhalation the draft works the other way, it brings the “burnt dirt” out.

… Importance is given to exhalation to allow for more time to remove the “dirt.” It is not enough to burn the “dirt,” we have to expel it.

… It is not enough that we bring the flame towards the “dirt.” It is also necessary to bring the “dirt” towards the flame. That is why when we exhale and hold the breath after exhalation we use certain bandhas, physical body locks or contractions. Very gradually we develop the abdominal muscles so that we can life the lower abdomen, the area of apāna, toward the navel and hold it there during the entire prāṇāyāma. This technique is called mūla bandha … Every part of prāṇāyāma works together to remove apāna and bring prāṇa into the body. The moment there is no “dirt” the prāṇa goes into its proper place. Nobody can control the prāṇa it has its own movement. We create a condition in which the prāṇa returns.

… This same principle applies to inverted postures. Inverted postures bring the flame towards apāna … That is why inverted postures are given so much importance.

… Of course we need a minimum of apāna which is a part of prāṇa itself. There are other prāṇas elsewhere. For example … udānavāyu centers at the throat … [and] is responsible for speech … So all types of prāṇa are required but they must be in balance.

this fire … is the whole mechanism in the body responsible for producing heat … it relates to the process of making the food we eat easier to assimilate … Some say that the fire is in the stomach. I would say it involves the entire portion under the diaphragm and above the navel.

… We can control the fire by modulating the breath … The technical term for this fire is sūrya which means “that which is always hot.”

… The fire is always there.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 9: Prāṇāyāma, Pūraka, Recaka, Kumbhaka, Samavṛtti, Viṣamavṛtti, Anuloma, Viloma, Nāḍī śodhana, śītalī, Kapālabhāti, Bhastrikā


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

This part introduces the vocabulary of breath-related practices.

Part1: Pūraka & Recaka

… In prāṇāyāma we simply breathe. As long as we observe how the body is responding to our breathing, we have nothing to worry about. Problems develop only when we insist upon holding the breath for a long time without paying attention to the reaction of our bodies.

… it is important that we choose a posture we can stay in for a long time and get out of without feeling numb. Some people find kneeling very comfortable; others can sit in the lotus posture easily; and, in the beginning, it is even all right to sit in a chair. It is only important that the back be straight … The important principle is that the body should not interfere with the breath …

There are many types of prāṇāyāma based on different techniques and ratios. The easiest way to feel prāṇāyāma is just to observe the breath; feel how the breath goes in and out, observe the movement of the abdomen and chest …

The next type emphasizes inhalation. This is called pūraka prāṇāyāma. Pūraka means “to fill in” … a long timed inhalation, a hold for one or two seconds, and then a free exhalation … wait for the body to expel the air.

Next is … recaka prāṇāyāma. Recaka means “exhalation” … free inhalation, a hold for one or two seconds and then a long timed exhalation … often used for relaxation … Through some special techniques it is possible to develop a lengthy exhalation.

Part2: Kumbhaka

Then there is kumbhaka prāṇāyāma. Kumbhaka means “to hold, to stop the breath.” Here we hold the breath after inhalation or exhalation or both … for working in the chest area, but not including the heart, we use pūraka and kumbhaka after the inhalation, and for problems in the abdomen we use recaka and kumbhaka after the exhalation … If we want to calm ourselves, we use recaka and kumbhaka, and if we feel lethargic we use pūraka and kumbhaka

Part3: Samavṛtti & Viṣamavṛtti

Another possibility in prāṇāyāma is that we can fix ratios between inhalation, holding the breath, exhalation, again holding the breath. There are many ratio possibilities that can be classified under two general headings. The first is called samavṛtti prāṇāyāma. Samā means “equal,” vṛtti means “move” … inhalation and exhalation are equal and if the breath is held, this too is equal to inhale or exhale …

The other general type of ratio in prāṇāyāma is called viṣamavṛtti. In this the breathing is not equal; therefore there are quite a few possibilities …

Part4: Techniques

There are different techniques for breathing … one of them is “throat inhalation, throat exhalation” … utilizing the same restriction in the throat that we described for use in āsana. A variation of this is called anuloma ujjāyī … we inhale through the throat and during exhalation we close one nostril completely and the other partially and exhale through the partially closed nostril. This helps to extend the breath. When using nostril control, we do not use throat restriction. Likewise there is a technique called viloma ujjāyī … in which nostril control is used for inhalation. Exhalation is with the restriction in the throat. This is a useful technique for those who wish to extend inhalation.

To extend both inhalation and exhalation … nāḍī śodhana .. means “that which clear the passages through which the breath goes” … we inhale through the partly closed left nostril, exhale through the partly closed right, inhale through the partly closed right, exhale through the partly closed left, and so forth.

… Another useful breathing technique … involves the tongue … the technique is to curl the tongue like a tube and to inhale through it. As we inhale the air passes acrodd the tongue which is usually moist. The air becomes cool and it refreshes the throat … during exhalation, we roll the tongue backwards as far as possible against the roof of the mouth. This keeps the tongue wet so that the next breath will be as refreshing as the first. Exhalation can be done either through the throat or through alternate nostrils. This technique is called śītalī … śīta means “chill” …

There is also one type of breathing used for cleansing. If we have much phlegm or feel congestion, fast breathing is useful … we use only abdominal breathing … our breaths are short, fast, and forceful … This … is called kapālabhāti. Kapāla means “skull.” Bhāti means “that which gives brightness.” … There are modifications of this technique. If one nostril is blocked, we force the air in quickly through the clear nostril and out through the blocked one. This is called bhastrikā … “a bellows.” … We must be very careful with these techniques. With this fast breathing we might feel dizzy. Therefore … we always follow it with slow breathing.

… After āsanas we must rest a few minutes before prāṇāyāma … This intervening time not only gives the body a rest, it helps the mind make the transition.

… Mental attitude is very important in the practice of prāṇāyāma … we have no body movement … Yet, we must have the same attitude of attention. To follow the movement of the breath we should feel inhalation from its beginning at the collar bone down to the diaphragm. Exhalation is the opposite, beginning with the contraction of the abdomen … follow the movement of the breath inside the body. Another beginning technique is to feel the breath only at the place where it enters or leaves the body … These suggestion will keep us in touch with what we are doing, otherwise, our prāṇāyāma exercises will be mechanical. Even the ratio of inhalation and exhalation is not as important as our involvement with the breath. Timing is only an aid to being involved in the prāṇāyāma … When we follow the breath, the mind becomes more and more involved in that activity. This … prepares us for dhyāna, meaning “the mind is ready to go in one direction.”

… It is said that if we are doing one practice session we should do at least twelve breaths … counting with the fingers … begin counting by placing the thumb on the lower segment of the index finger and proceed through twelve counts

… it is better to stay with one technique of concentration … It is much easier to discover something while concentrating on one technique rather than spreading our attention … The area of concentration depends on the ratio and type …

It is really difficult to simply follow the natural movement of the breath because once we focus on the breath, it tends to behave differently. We tend to control or interfere with its natural state. It is “something” simply to follow the breath … we tend to do one of two things – either we will feel the movement and be involved in it, or we fill feel like a witness … like a man watching a river. It we are able to do this, it is almost a state of meditation … Doing this is to still the mind. That is not easy but it is wonderful.

… Number and type, ratios and other techniques are only a means, not a final goal. That goal is not to need any technique. If we can just be involved with the breath, an active witness to the breath, that is prāṇāyāma. But this is easier said than done.

āsanas, unless they are too strenuous, help achieve good breathing … generally we do first āsanas and then prāṇāyāma.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 8: aṅga, yama, niyama, āsana


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Yama & Niyama

… Yoga does not offer us a specific method, in that, if we do this, such will happen … Yoga also suggests that our attitude towards things can help in this movement toward reduced avidyā and freedom from duḥkha. The entire practice of Yoga, as we are beginning to see, consists of certain attitudes, action and their consequences …

… Attitudes towards “the outside” are called yamas and those toward the “the inside,” niyamas. These are the first two of eight limbs or aṅgas used in Yoga …

Part2: Yama

Yama can mean discipline, restraints, etc., but attitude may be a preferable definition. If we have a particular attitude, it may also be a discipline …

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra considers five attitudes (yamas) or relationships between an individual and the “outside.” The first is ahiṃsā. While the word hiṃsā means injury, cruelty, etc., ahiṃsā means more than merely the absence of hiṃsāAhiṃsā means “thoughtful consideration of people and things … we must consider our circumstances and accordingly follow this concept of ahiṃsāahiṃsā is conditioned by duty. We have to do our duty. This could even mean that if our lives were threatened, it would be our duty to fight.

The next yama is called satya. The word satya means “to speak the truth.” … Speaking the truth is good, but not if it harms others. We must consider what we are going to say, how we are going to say it and how it will affect others. If speaking the truth will harm someone, it is best to keep quiet. Satya should never conflict with or work against ahiṃsā

The third yama is asteya. Steya means “to steal” … asteya means “if we are in a situation where people trust us, we will not take advantage of them.”

The next yama is brahmacarya … the root car meaning “to move” and brahmā meaning “truth.” Brahmacarya is “to move in the direction of truth.” It is often used to mean celibacy. However, it more specifically means that we must create a condition in our relationships to other beings and things that fosters understanding of the highest truths. If we move towards the understanding of truth and sensual pleasures get in the way, we must keep our direction and not become lost …

The last yama is aparigraha … means “hands off,” “not to grasp” … “to receive exactly what is appropriate.” … otherwise it is exploitation.

The Yoga Sūtra described what happens when these five attitudes become steadfast in a person. The more we develop kindness and consideration, that is ahiṃsā, the more our presence engenders friendship.

Satya … For everyone who speaks the truth, there is no difference between what they do and what they say, and what they say, will be.

It is said that to a person with asteya all jewels will come … they will have access to everything that is precious in life.

If we do everything possible to move towards truth, brahmacarya, we will develop a capacity to go in that direction. The more we see the importance of this, the less we become involved in other activities. Naturally, we will need great vitality to pursue this course. The word used to describe this vitality is vīrya … [it] is linked to the word śraddhā … [which] means love or faith … the more śraddhā present, the more vīrya we find we have.

Parigraha is more and more a movement towards materialism. The reduction of parigraha, that is, aparigraha, means we turn more inward. The less time we spend on having possessions, the more we have to investigate all that we call Yoga.

Part3: Aṅga

Aṅga means a limb of the body. When we are born, every part of the body grows together … In the same way, if we are moving in a positive direction, things mutually and simultaneously develop … aṅgas must grow together.

Part4: Niyama

Niyamas, like yamas, are attitudes and are not to be taken as actions or practices. The five niyamas are more intimate in the sense that they are attitudes we have towards ourselves. The first niyama is śauca, or cleanliness. There are two parts to this … external … is simply keeping ourselves clean. Internal śauca has to do with cleanliness or the internal organs and mind. The practice of āsanas or prāṇāyāma could be an internal śauca.

The second niyama is saṃtoṣa, a feeling of contentment … Instead of despair when our actions don’t yield desired results, we progress and learn from our actions …

The next niyama is tapas … means to keep the body fit. It is like heating the body to cleanse it … to bring out aśuddhi, “dirt” inside the body … Posture, attention to food habits, breathing are all tapas that help us to avoid the accumulation of “dirt” … [tapas must not make us suffer]

Svādhyāya is the fourth niyamasva means “self or pertaining to ourselves.” Adhyāya means “study, inquiry, etc.” … to go near. Svādhyāya means to go near yourself … the study of yourself … We are encouraged to read ancient texts because our reaction to what we read will tell us something about ourselves … Sometimes svādhyāya is taken to mean the repetition of mantras

The last niyamaīśvarapraṇidhāna means “to leave all our actions at the feet of the Lord.” … This attitude suggests that we have done our best, therefore we leave the fruits of our action in the hands of something higher than ourselves …

Part5: āsana

The third aṅga is āsana. In the theory of āsana … there are two aspects … we must be comfortable and at ease (sukha) and we must be steady and alert (sthira). We must be involved and at the same time attentive. Yoga suggests two ways to achieve these qualities … Locate certain knots or resistances in the body and by certain means release them. We achieve this progressively using the concepts of vinyāsa and counterpose. The means we use to release these knots must not adversely affect our bodies … If we force our bodies, the reaction will be negative and painful.

… the second suggestion is to have a mental image of a perfect posture … An explanatory metaphor exists in Indian mythology, represented by Ananta, the king of the serpents … a cobra is carrying the universe on its head and at the same time is providing a bed for Lord Vishnu. The cobra must be relaxed to provide a comfortable bed … That is the sukha concept. Yet the cobra cannot be dull and weak because it is carrying the universe. That is the sthira concept …

… It is said that if we really know how to use āsanas we will be able to handle opposites … because we know how the body behaves, we become sensitive, we know how to adapt. A test for āsana practice is our ability to adjust easily to extreme cold and heat … if we need to stand for a few minutes, we should be able to stand; if we need to sit … we should be able to sit …

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 7: Improvisation in Asana


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

… As we continue āsana practice using a variety of postures and breathing in a planned sequence, somehow we get used to the routine. Gradually our attention to our practice decreases … This, then, is a reason for improvisation, to bring a new quality of attention and a sense of discovery to our practice.

… If we are doing āsanas and the mind continues to wander, we are not doing the āsanas, only our bodies are doing them … There is a need to focus the mind and this happens automatically when there is attention and discovery.

Another reason for improvisation is physical improvement … Improvisation can help solve a physical problem and can also us to avoid duḥkha. What might be good or possible for one person can have a negative effect on another. We must carefully consider a person’s condition and then improvise so that he or she might gain something without getting into trouble. That explains why, in our practice classes, we suggest different things for different people.

One last reason for improvisation is efficiency, to get the maximum results through minimum effort … If we know how to do a posture in a intelligent way, we can achieve the most beneficial results from that posture …

The easiest way to improvise is to modify the āsana … attention is placed on different areas or needs .. variations … help give everyone a sense of discovery. If we modify a posture we can see how it affects the different parts of our bodies.

Another way of improvising is to modify our breathing. For example, we can control the breath to make an inhalation equal to an exhalation … We can make the time of inhalation equal to the time of holding the breath or we can make the time of exhalation equal to that of holding the breath, or any number of variations.

… Also, what we do before a posture can determine where the action will be felt. Often people say they feel nothing in a posture. They want to feel something in their muscles and they think nothing is happening. To assist people in learning to feel, we can change a technique or being with an opposite posture before the main movement. This will assure them that something is really happening.

One more way of improvisation is to shift our attention during a posture to different parts of the body …

There are two ways that we do postures. We can do a posture dynamically, that is to repeat the movement ,and we can do it statically, that is to stay in a posture. Within these types, the following variations are possible:

(1) Free breathing. Inhalation and exhalation as long as possible using the throat restriction.

(2) Making the inhalation equal to the exhalation …

(3) Making the exhalation twice the length of the inhalation.

(4) Holding the breath after inhalation.

(5) Holding the breath after exhalation.

(6) Holding the breath after both inhalation and exhalation.

(7) Inhalation, exhalation, then doing a pose while holding the breath …

(8) … to reverse the normal breath movement patterns

… Improvisation should not be done at random … Generally, improvisation should be done only when it is warranted … Otherwise … we will be more distracted than helped by improvisation.

… Normally, we breath in a certain way beginning in the chest and moving to the abdomen. Inhalation involves the upper portion of the torso, the chest and diaphragm, as well as the spine. Exhalation, in terms of movement, involves the contraction of the abdomen. If we want to increase the effect on the chest we concentrate on the inhalation. If we want to increase the effect on the abdomen or stomach, we concentrate on exhalation … if someone has a weak heart we never hold the breath after inhalation because it builds up pressure and increases anxiety. For such persons, we usually establish an inhalation/exhalation ratio of one to two.

… Generally it is all right to move from Yoga practice to other activities provided we rest in between. Moving from other exercises to āsanas presents problems. The whole attitude when we run or play … is different from when we to āsanas … we might not be present in our practice. Physiological problems could also arise. In some sports … muscles are always contracted. If we immediately try to do stretching or bending backward exercises we will develop cramps. If we must do āsanas after physical activities, take a long break. We should avoid sandwiching any other activity into a planned sequence of āsana practice.

… Generally anything before prāṇāyāma is all right provided there is an adequate break for transition … If we are going to engage in a competitive sport after prāṇāyāma, we must allow an adequte transition because this breathing practice makes us calm. We have to boost ourselves a little bit before we do vigorous exercise … On the other hand, a performer who might have stage fright will find that controlled breathing is very helpful … a very relaxing prāṇāyāma calms the nerves.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 6: Puruṣa & Prakṛti


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

This chapter is a brief overview of Samkhya.

In this excerpt I’ve elected to let the live teaching setting in which this book originated by letting the questions come through. I believe that the questions (and answers) capture well the essence of these teachings by encountering (and re-framing) often unspoken metaphysical assumptions.

Part1: Theory

According to Yoga teachings, the world is made up of only two things. One is the puruṣa, that which sees, but it sometimes prevented from seeing clearly by avidyā. The Yoga Sūtra uses the word draṣṭṛ for seer or observer. That which is seen by draṣṭṛ is dṛśya … We think and we know that we are thinking, so we are able to see not only the outside but also the functions of the mind. Next the senses function as the instruments of perception. Finally there exist the objects of perception, all that is seen, the whole outside world. This whole process is not one of distinct events; they are interrelated. In fact, all things that fall in the realm of the seen were created from the same source … this common source, called pradhāna, had no relation with puruṣa. When the puruṣa came in contact with pradhāna it was as if a germ sprouted. This germ, prakṛti, multiplied and the material world evolved. First came mahat, the great principle. After mahat came ahaṃkāra, the “sense of I.” From ahaṃkāra came the tanmātras and the indriyas. The tanmātras are the characteristics of sound touch form, taste, and smell. They were created in this order … from the subtlest to the grossest. The indriyas include, besides the mind, the senses of perception and action. Those of perception are hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling; those of action are vocal, manual, locomotion, evacuation, and procreation. From the tanmātras came the bhūtas or elements of space, air, light, water and earth.

This is a brief and incomplete summary of the theory of evolution set forth by the Yoga system … What happens in the outside world influences us and what happens in us influences our relation to the outside world …

There is no source in Yoga that explains whether the original of primal pradhāna or puruṣa was from the Lord or simply there. there is no description of the puruṣa other than thatit sees and only through the mind. We cannot do anything about the quality of puruṣa; it is constant. Our practice in Yoga is to effect a change in the quality of the mind so that the observation of the puruṣa, which is through the mind, is not distorted. When the mind thinks it it seeing rather than the puruṣa there is avidyā, and this is the beginning of duḥkha … It is important that we remember … puruṣa is unchanging; prakṛti changes, and mind is a part of prakṛti.

… There is no other way to describe puruṣa. It cannot be seen by the mind. We only know it is present because sometimes we have clarity … puruṣa is an active witness uninfluenced by that which it sees … According to the Yoga Sūtra, the whole saṃyoga or confusion between prakṛti and puruṣa is in our life so that those who are inclined to seek clarity can learn the distinction between correct and incorrect understanding. In this sense, Yoga is optimistic; we move through our recognition of problems and confusion into a quest for clarity.

… Observation only happens if there is an energy and an inclination on the part of puruṣa to go out, as it were, and bring back an impression. This is different from modern physics where there must be light in order for an image to come to the eye … something must provoke us to see, to listen, to think. That which triggers this action comes from the puruṣa, not from the outside. Often external things try to provoke and yet we do not react …

Part2: Questions

Question: How does this relationship with the puruṣa come about?
Response: … Any stand we take will be speculative. How can we know? We develop many theories because of our discursive intellects. Who can experience the beginning of the world?

Question: Does puruṣa have the potential to explain things like what happens after death?
Response: There is no death for the puruṣa because there is no change for it, and what is death but change … any explanation we give for actions that we have or have not experienced comes from the mind because words emanate from there. Words do not emanate from puruṣa.

Question: Does puruṣa act?
Response: Its action is that it sees … It does not act in the sense of walking or talking. All actions that we are able to see come from prakṛti but the source for these action, the energy, comes from puruṣa.

Question: Does the puruṣa go into another form when we die?
Response: … There are quite a few theories on this and you can accept whichever you like.

Question: Is there an explanation for how the mind can bring about changes in itself?
Response: … it is difficult to say we changed because we practiced Yoga, Zen or any other system. There are those who change as the result of practice and those who never change in spite of practice … We never know. What we do know is that somehow the qualities of heaviness and “dancing” in the mind are eliminated … Something fundamental must happen at the right moment, something so strong and so striking that we really want to stop, think and change our course of action. After that happens, little by little we progress.

Question: Clarity is a state of mind or quality of mind. I don’t understand the need for the concept of puruṣa?
Response: … who is going to know if there is or is not clarity? We need an element outside the mind to witness clarity. That is why puruṣa is important.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 5: Saṃskāra, Puruṣa & Prakṛti


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Saṃskāra

… dust that blows on the skin is harmless, but if a tiny particle gets into the eye we suffer … a person who seeks clarity becomes sensitive like the eye … That is why there is always more apparent duḥkha for a viveki, one who is seeking clarity, than for someone who is not …

Yoga uses the Sanskrit word citta for mind and cit for the puruṣa. Citta means “that in us which thinks it is the thing that sees.” Cit is “that which sees.” … When the mind is free from heaviness or “dancing,” it has the clarity of sattvaguṇa.

The triangle is an outside object. The image of it falls on the mind so that the cit can see. If the mind is colored, the triangle appears colored to the cit. If the mind is dusty, then there is no image at all. If the mind is clear, the cit sees the triangle as it is.

… Yoga describes wisdom in seven steps. All of these steps are complicated except the first, which is an understanding of that which should be avoided … We might not know what to do, but we recognize the problem. That is the first of seven steps of wisdom, prajñā.

… we must consider the five faculties of the mind. (1) Pramāṇa is an activity of the mind that registers things accurately through the senses. (2) Viparyaya is an activity of the mind that registers things that are never accurately confirmed. (3) Vikalpa is imagination, that knowledge or understanding based purely on words and ideas with no substance or reality. (4) Nidrā is dreamless sleep. (5) Smṛti is memory, the activity of the mind that retains the experience of an observation. These faculties of the mind work together. With the exception of nidrā, at any one moment there is likely to be a mixture of them. Any of these faculties or a combination of them is not necessarily a form of duḥkha but they have the possibility of affecting the amount of duḥkha.

… Think of the mind as a camera. The image of the object is projected on the mind through the lens of the senses, but the seeing is coming from the direction of cit (puruṣa). The puruṣa observes the mind. If the mind is colored the image is colored; if the mind is clear, the observation is perfect. Since the puruṣa can observe only through the mind, the quality of observation depends solely on the state of mind … The puruṣa, in fact, provides the power for the mind to see … The mind cannot see by itself … That is why in Yoga we work with the mind. We can’t do anything with the puruṣa.

… is it the mind that decides where to focus our attention? Very often the mind does make that decision. While it should not, it does, because it has been conditioned to do so. We called that saṃskāra, constant and automatic movement of the mind in a particular direction. This is why some of the practices we do in Yoga are so important. In āsanas, for example, we do some excercises that are not conditioned by our usual mental activities and yet are not beyond our capabilities … This sense of reorientation is communicated in the Sanskrit term parivṛtti … failing this, the mind will continue to take over … The mind is not the master but very often it behaves as if it were. Therefore, it is useful for us to do some things which give the puruṣa some scope to see. If we get into a groove, the mind takes over and the puruṣa becomes ineffective.

… Clarity means you see how the mind functions and are able to handle it … We know what will lead us into more or less duḥkha. This is clarity. This is why we use the word viveka, “to see both sides.” We are able to see what we are and what we are not. When we used the word asmitā we defined it as ego. Asmitā is also a state where puruṣa and the citta are mixed up and often form a unit within us … When the puruṣa and the citta can be separated, we have viveka, the ability to see both sides.

… one might ask “What is to be done with duḥkha?” … the only duḥkha that matters is that which is about to come. Things that have happened or are happening must be accepted. Tomorrow’s duḥkha can be avoided … The whole of Yoga is an attempt to do this. We know duḥkha is coming as long as avidyā is prevalent. The only origin of duḥkha is avidyā.

Saṃskāra is the total of all our actions that condition us to act in one way. Kāra comes from the root kṛ which means “to do” or “to act.” Sam means “complete, accumulated.” Saṃskāra may be either positive or negative. We try to create a new positive saṃskāra, not to reinforce the old, negative … If this new saṃskāra is powerful, the old one causing duḥkha will have no effect … As the new ways become stronger, the old ways become ineffective … The Yoga Sūtra tells us that we should create powerful new saṃskāra to cause the old to disappear. Then it tells us, don’t stop there but go on until there is no saṃskāra. Let us concern ourselves with only the first step now.

… when we do Yoga, we develop increased sensitivity. If we become preoccupied with this sensitivity we might increase avidyā … If we carefully observe our actions, we will not have this problem.

Part2: Puruṣa & Prakṛti

… In this world we have two things: puruṣa and prakṛti … the term used in the Yoga Sūtra for puruṣa is draṣṭṛ, for prakṛti, dṛśya. Draṣṭṛ is the seer, that which sees; dṛśya is that which is seen. Avidyā exists when these two get mixed up. When the distinction between them is missing, it is known as saṃyoga. At that moment the seed for duḥkha is sown.

One of the expressions of saṃyoga is asmitā. Asmitā is when the seer (cit) and the mind (citta) are associated, mixed up and held in an inseparable notion of I-ness … This association of two distinct entities often leads to problems.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 4: Vinyāsa, Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Vinyāsa

… Will someone who knows nothing about Yoga recognize the difference between it and gymanstics … merely by looking at a book on Yoga āsanas? Yoga … is not an expression of form for others to watch. We are doing it for ourselves. We are the observers and we are the observed … if there is no self attention, it is difficult to call it Yoga …

It is important that Yoga practice be planned in a sensible, organized way … we have a starting point. Our condition before beginning the practice, which we discover through some investigation, is this starting point. We then ascend gradually … we prepare the body … After we slowly ascend to the “crown” or apex of our day’s practice, we slowly descend …

In Sanskrit, this concept of intelligently conceived steps in order to reach a desired point is called vinyāsa. If we want to do a particular posture, we need to find out what is involved in the posture, then prepare the body and breath so that the posture can be done without strain. In planning a sequence of āsanas there must be preparation.

… Postures must not inflict torture. We must take steps that will make us happy, sukha, to be in a posture.

… While preparation is important, another important point to explain is the descent from a posture or its compensation. Compensation is to counter the negative effects of a posture … We call such compensation a counterpose … we first teach preparation, then we teach the counterposture …

… We should always start with the easiest things … and little by little we can introduce the more difficult …

The counterpose for a given strain is generally the easiest pose opposite to the direction of the strain … The reason we do this is to return the body to a normal condition … The counterpose for a given posture is not always the same. The counterpose is decided by the effect of the original pose rather than its form.

… Postures can be done in two ways, either dynamically through repetition or statically, by staying in the posture for some time.

It is always better to do a posture dynamically before we try to stay … allowing the body to get used to the position, and compensate.

… Rest is also important to our planning. Obviously we must rest if we become breathless of unable to control our breath … [or if] some part of our body becomes tired and sore … During rest periods we have a chance to feel the muscular effects of the posture … Rest is also required before doing prāṇāyāma … the more time spent doing āsanas, the more we rest.

Part2: Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa

… There are four parts to breathing: inhalation, exhalation, and retention after inhalation and exhalation. In āsanas we should never hold the breath if it is going to reduce the length of the inhalation or exhalation … Holding the breath can be used to intensify the effect of a posture … retention after exhalation increases the posture’s effect on the abdomen . On the other hand, if we inhale and hold the breath the effect on the chest is increased … In forward bending postures there is a tendency to hold the breath after exhalation. In backward bending postures … we hold the breath after inhalation.

We can also use retention of the breath to increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation … In Sanskrit this practice of making the exhalation longer and holding the breath after exhalation is called laṅghana … “to fast.” In this case we are “fasting” the lungs. Whenever there is a problem below the diaphragm, we do laṅghana. Likewise the concept of increasing the length of inhalation and holding the breath after inhalation is called bṛṃhaṇa … “to expand.”

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 3: Avidyā, Dhyāna, Svatantra, Pratikpaksa, Duḥkha, Guṇa, Prajñā, Kaivalya


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Avidyā

” … We never know when a particular form of avidyā might arise. It is like planting seeds. The moment they get water, fertilizer and air, they sprout … We should never relax when we appear to have no avidyā … Therefore, we emphasize that this movement towards understanding, this practice, which we call Yoga, must go on and on until avidyā is reduced to a minimum. A few days of āsana practice and self-inquiry might help for a short period of time, but it will never help forever. Practice is cumulative and gradual … We can be better than yesterday, but we can be worse tomorrow …

Avidyā relates to action … depending on the power or potency of avidyā, our actions will have positive or negative effects … Action is understood to be of two types. One type is action that reduces avidyā and brings understanding from the puruṣa, and therefore true understanding. The other type is action that increases avidyā … Everything we do in Yoga … aims at reducing avidyā.

2: Dhyāna

… One way we could prevent negative actions, actions we might regret, is called dhyāna. In this context the word dhyāna means to reflect. This reflection may occur when we plan a course of action, and then imagine its exact opposite … and its ramifications. Then we come back to our original plan to see how certain we are … It affords us the occasion to examine our actions from a distance.

3: Svatantra

… Yoga makes us svatantra. Sva means “self.” Tantra means “technique.” We use our own system, our own methods … While consultation and guidance is a help, there is no doubt that finally we are the best of our own actions.

4: Pratikpaksa

Pratipakṣa is removing ourselves from the situation by doing something completely different … Take the problem of my coming to Hamilton, New York. It was a big decision … At such a moment and after much thought it is better not to discuss Hamilton versus Madras. I went to a concert instead. Here there was no conflict. In this environment I made a decision to go to Hamilton … subconsciously my mind is working without external pressure … the time we get in dhyāna is extremely important in that we can reflect and through this reflection gain quality of action.

5: Duḥkha

Duḥkha is a disturbance of the mind. While sometimes the words sorrow, misery and disease are used to define duḥkha, it is best identified as a feeling of restriction … When we feel we have a lot of space, have a sense of comfort and openness, that is the opposite, sukha

What is the relationship between duḥkha and avidyā? Any action resulting from avidyā always leads us to one or another form of duḥkhaDuḥkha can express itself in different forms. We never know how it might express itself. Sometimes we feel choked, sometimes it is mental.

Duḥkha comes about in a vicious circle. When we see something that we want and are able to get it, there is no duḥkha. If we are unable to get it, this is the beginning of duḥkha. Very often people have this type of duḥkha even when they are trying to improve their lives. They become so thirsty for understanding that they are unable to get understanding as quickly as they desire … This form of duḥkha in which we see something we want but are unable to have it is called pariṇāmaduḥkha … There is also tāpaduḥkha … I am used to Indian dishes at they are cooked in Madras. Though the same dishes can be prepared by wonderful cooks here, they are not as good as those prepared by my mother. So I am sitting here thinking … how I wish I had some of her Iddli … tāpa is like thirst. Another form … is saṃskāraduḥkha … We are conditioned to certain habits and when these habits are disturbed, we feel uneasy. This form of duḥkha comes from our own actions. Our actions have put us into grooves that make us happy and comfortable. Some of our grooves we know are not right, yet the process of coming out of these grooves is also duḥkha. That is why it is sometimes difficult to stop a particular action we recognize as bad.

6: Guṇa

The mind has three qualities or guṇas. They are tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is heaviness. We feel dull. We want to do something but we put it off … this will produce conflict and duḥkha … It is time to go to bed and rest, and yet the mind says let us go out … This quality of the mind wants to move, wants to dance. It is called rajas and also produces duḥkha. The third quality of the mind is really the absence of these two. The mind is truly clear. This is called sattva and obviously it does not produce duḥkha.

7: Prajñā

In Yoga one of the first levels of prajñā, wisdom, is the awareness and understanding that we are disturbed … The first clarity in life is to see that we have duḥkha and then to do something about it …

Duḥkha does not mean pain … There might be no physical pain and still be great duḥkha … there are often small things buried within us that constantly bother us … That is duḥkha. It is a disturbance deep within us … While duḥkha might have physical results, it is primarily mental … we don’t need to bring it out because it will show itself naturally.

8: Kaivalya

… If we thought something was not changing and we established our lives on that basis and then gradually recognized that things were changing, we might have duḥkha. The opposite might also be the case. If we felt that everything was constantly changing, and therefore, we did nothing to establish anything in our lives, this might produce duḥkha … Nothing is constant, but all things are reality … There is a human state called kaivalya. That is, a person is free. When a person is free, it mans that things outside of himself are not as disturbing as they were in the past … A little flexibility always reduces duḥkha.

… The differing interpretations of Yoga found in so many recent books, and the great exposure we have to so many ideas, makes it even more important for us to know how to investigate ourselves in everything we do … This is why we must investigate where we are – whether it is for āsana, breathing or the study of the whole concept of Yoga. Otherwise there will be more duḥkha.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 2: Asana, Sukha, Sthira


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Asana

The practice of Yoga provides us an occasion that might give us a feeling for the meaning of the word Yoga. Despite any incidental benefits, this is the fundamental reason for practice …

In our practice we focus upon the body, the breath and the mind … it is the purpose of Yoga to unify their movement …

āsana means “posture” and it comes from the Sanskrit root, ās, “to stay, to be, to sit, to be established in a particular position.” Patañjali‘s Yoga Sūtra describes āsana as having two important qualities: sukha and sthira. Sukha is the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Sthira is firmness and alertness. Both qualities should be present in a posture … Without both qualities it is not as āsana

To make this idea of an āsana a reality we must accept ourselves as we are. Therefore, if we have a stiff back, we must acknowledge that fact. Perhaps we are very supple but our breath is quite short; perhaps our breath is all right but our body isn’t ready … It is also possible to be very comfortable in a posture while our minds are elsewhere. This, too, is not āsana … The quality of breath is very vital since it expresses our inner feelings … The breath is the link between the inner and outer part of our bodies.

2: Breath and Movement

… The most important principle is the natural relationship between breathing and movement … As in any physical activity when we squeeze the body, pressure forces the breath out. We breath out in all postures where bending is in a particular direction, such as a forward bend of the back.

… This type of coordination establishes the relationship between breathing and movement … when we contract the body, we exhale; when we expand the body, we inhale … we determine the length of time for our inhalations and for exhalations. This fixes the timing of our movements.

… Deep inhalations expand the chest and move the diaphragm downward … When we exhale, we do the opposite. We contract the abdomen on exhalation and as we do this, the ribs contract.

3: Ujjayi

Our next step allows us to feel the breath throughout inhalation and exhalation. Through this we will gradually improve the quality of our technique of breathing … To give is this feeling of uniformity and smoothness when we breathe, we impose a restriction on the throat which produces a sound. It is as if we had a valve in the throat and we partially closed it to control the breath. We measure the control by the sound … allowing us to hear, as well as feel, the breath as we work toward deeper and longer cycles.

There are two advantages two using this technique. One, we are more involved with the flow of the breath, and therefore, we have concentration throughout the āsana. Two, the sound in our throat tells us when to stop or change an āsana … In beginning practice, we do āsana in the dynamic way … Dynamic movements lead to the second phase, static postures. This in turn leads to longer and longer periods of firmness and alertness in postures (sthira). Beginners often have the problem of not knowing how many times to do a posture … Only the breath will determine this. As long as we can breathe smoothly with the sound in our throat, we are within the limits of our body. The moment we need to take a quick breath through the nostrils, without maintaining the proper sound, we must stop.

4: Holds

Another concept of breathing used during our practice is called “holding the breath.” After we inhale, we hold the breath and at the same time stop all movement. Similarly, after we exhale, we also hold the breath and stop all movement before our next inhalation. As with inhalation and exhalation, holding the breath is a conscious act. The length of time we hold the breath is critical. If it is too long … the body rebels … If the holding of the breath is too demanding, the inhalation and exhalation will be disturbed. Holding the breath should be practiced only as an aid to inhalation and exhalation.

5: Practice Planning

What postures should we choose?

Postures to make us limber are needed and the best of these are the standing ones…

We have postures that counter the great effect that gravity plays in the function of our bodies. Gravitational effects are both good and bad. Yoga tries to undo the latter … We try to reduce the negative effects of gravity by using the body in a different plane. This is achieved through inverted posturessupine postures where we simply lift the legs .. the headstand and shoulder-stand which are the complete opposite of normal posture.

… The effect of gravity also affects the muscles. When we are uncomfortable sitting in a slumped position … it is because the muscles of our backs are unable to take the unusual loads. Also, if we are unable to sit straight, our breathing is inhibited. Therefore, we need prone postures to strengthen back muscles …

Finally, sitting postures help us to sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair so that we can do some breathing exercises.

… Yoga teaches us that with every action there is both a positive and a negative effect … we must stress the positive while we neutralize the negative … by doing a counterpose

… Before we do a posture we should be sure our bodies are ready for it … If we prepare well, there is less need for a counterpose …

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Yoga Practice & Well-Being Charts 2022 part 1


The experiment in charting my well-being continues through subjective Yoga-practice related indicators.

Monthly Charts

The monthly charts being 10 days before the beginning of the month and continue 10 days beyond its end in order to give the month some context.

6 Month Charts

The 6 month weekly median and daily charts stretch back into the previous half year and 3 weeks into the next half year in order to give this half year context.


  1. OpenCollective + Israel + Allergy – there is dip that starts at the end of April, is clear in May followed by a slow recovery in June. It is clearly visible in the 6 month charts. This is a convergence of me starting to work at OpenCollective, then visiting Israel for 3 weeks and returning to the yearly allergy period.
  2. Practice has been mostly regular (including, for the first time, while I was in Israel) and the charts show that when my physical well-being (body/asana) fluctuates so does my breath but that my breath is also subject to its own slightly more erratic nature.
  3. My breath is recovering both in the long term, mid-term (6 month scale) and short term. Yet, overall, the quality of my breath has been fairly consistent.
  4. I feel, and the graph confirms, that my quality of presence has slightly diminished, but overall I am surprised by how well it has responded to both this turbulent period and to being regularly immersed in work (I was curious how work would effect my presence!).
  5. My physical well-being and overall well-being seem to be a slow trajectory of recovery and improvement, but my presence seems to be lagging behind. Curious how this will continue to unfold as I move into what is typically a period of recovery and strengthening.

Allergy (yearly chart)

This chart is the one I was most curious to see. I felt (and continue to feel) that this year has been my “best” allergy year – in the sense that the symptoms and life disturbance have been minimal. I have felt this trajectory over years, but have never had data (subjective though it is) to back it up. This year, for the first time I do:

… and what a difference. Last year’s drop is clearly visible and it too was noticeably better than previous years (when I would have weeks of agitation, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc.) This year I have “dropped” to the levels it took me last year 3 months (July, August & October) to reach through recovery. In fact (I just checked my “logs”) this year I never felt that I had to adjust my practice to a cikitsā (recovery) modality at all.

I am grateful for the opportunity to look at this chart. I wish I could look further back in time and I am looking forward to visualizing years to come.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 1: Yoga, Avidyā, Pariṇāma, Puruṣa, Sādhana


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Yoga

Yoga is one of the six principle systems of Indian thinking known as darśana. The word darśana is derived from the Sanskrit root drś, meaning “to see.” Fundamentally darśana means “view” or “a particular way of viewing.” It also has a further meaning which suggests … a mirror in which we might see ourselves. Yoga, as one of the six darśana has its source in the Vedas. The word veda comes from the Sanskrit root vid, “to know.” It means “that which tells us everything we would like to know.” … Yoga was formalized by Patañjali, one of the great Indian sages. His classic text is the Yoga Sūtra.

What is Yoga? … The Word “yoga” is also a Sanskrit word derived from the root yuj … “to bring two things together” … “to converge the movement of the mind” …

Another meaning … “to reach a point we have not reached before.” If there is something that is impossible for us to do today and we find a means by which it becomes possible, that movement is Yoga …

Yoga also means “to act in particular way with all of our attention focused upon that action …

The advantage of attention to action is that we act better, and at the same time we are conscious of our actions … If there is attention to our actions, there is always a chance for us to reassess them and especially to avoid mindless repetition.

Yet another classic definition of Yoga is “to be one with the Lord.” No matter what name we use … any movement that makes us understand something higher than ourselves is also Yoga …

… the practice of Yoga calls for direction … to watch cautiously the direction of each step we take in order that we know exactly how and where we are going. These cautious observations will lead to discovery …

How we begin [to practice Yoga] depends upon our individual interests. There are many ways to practice Yoga. Gradually, the practice of one technique will lead to others. We might begin by studying the Yoga Sūtra, or we might begin with prayer. We might begin with āsana … We might begin with breath … We begin where we are, as we are, and what happens, happens.

… When we begin the study of Yoga … we are dealing with but one technique … As we progress, we notice that we are whole beings consisting of body, breath, mind and more … as complete human beings, we must gradually look at all aspects of ourselves.

2: Avidyā

Avidyā means literally “knowledge other than right knowledge.” Avidyā is a false state of understanding. We think we are right and we act accordingly but eventually we find ourselves on the wrong track. Equally troublesome, we may have an understanding that we think is wrong which in fact is not. Therefore, we don’t act when we should …

Avidyā is the accumulation of … many thoughtless actions that we have repeated mechanically, almost blindly, over the years. Our minds become so conditioned that we accept yesterday’s actions at today’s norms. Such conditioning is called saṃskāra. Because of this conditioning our minds become covered, as it were, with a film of avidyā.

Avidyā often does not express itself as avidyā. If we know that we don’t understand and we are sure of that, we will nto act and if we know that we understand, we will act and will be right. This action is based upon a deep level of perception. Quite the opposite, avidyā expresses itself through superficial perception that says, “I think I know then I act, and find out later that I didn’t know.” … Therefore, we have two levels of perception. One is deep within us and is free of the film of avidyā. The other is superficial and is covered with avidyā.

… we will know it through its four children. First is asmitā. It is the “I-thing” which is always pushing us … Second is rāga which is attachment or desire. We want something today because it was pleasurable yesterday, not because we need it … Third is dveṣa [aversion] … If we don’t get what we want we tend to hate it or we have a bad experience and we don’t want it to happen again. Finally there is abhiniveśa, which is the source of fear … we feel insecure when the continuity of our way of life is disturbed … these four children, separately or in combination, make it difficult for us to see clearly.

… What Yoga does is to reduce the action of avidyā, in order that true understanding prevails.

… The reduction of avidyā is seen through the reduction of its effects … We notice avidyā by its absence, not by its presence. When we recognize previous troubles we know that avidyā has been present.

When we know we are right, there is deep within us a feeling of quietness; no tension, no disturbances, no excitement. When I speak slowly, deliberately, I know there is a source of quietness and there is vidyā in me However, when I am not sure of what I am saying, I tend to speak quickly, I use unnecessary words, and I break my sentences.

3: Pariṇāma

… According to Yoga everything we see, experience and feel is not an illusion but true and real. This is called satvāda. Everything, including avidyā, dreams, and even fancy and imagination, is real; however all these things are constantly in a state of flux. This concept of change is called pariṇāmavāda … In Yoga although everything we see and experience is true and real, changed to occur either in character or in content … Whether things get better or worse is to quite an extent in our hands. That is why the practice of Yoga, called sādhana, is suggested. Sādhana is the means by which we reach a previously unattainable point.

4: Puruṣa

However, there is in the concept in Yoga something deep within each of us that is real and not subject to change. We call it draṣṭṛ or puruṣa. It is what sees and can see correctly. The practice of Yoga is to let this happen. As long as the mind is covered by avidyā, our observations are clouded … true understanding which occurs as the result of reduction of avidyā generally does not happen spontaneously. This complex of body and mind has become accustomed to particular patterns that tend to change very gradually. In any case, change from confusion to clarity should be gradual in order to avoid shock.

… the word puruṣa means “the person who resides in the city.” … What is the nature of this town? It consists of the body, the mind, the senses, our culture, customs and even avidyā.

… the purpose of avidyā. We have avidyā and when we recognize that, directly or indirectly, we realize we must do something about it. While our first step, namely “I want to be better” may be rooted in asmitā ,,, it is the right step because it is the first rung on the Yoga ladder …

5: Sādhana

Again, I refer to Patañjali‘s Yoga Sūtra. Three things are suggested by which we can begin to explore the meaning of yoga and therefore feel avidyā. First is tapas. Tapas comes from the root word tap, “to heat, to cleanse.” … what is meant here is the practice of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Apart from other benefits, these practices aid us in the removal of impurities from our system …

The next means by which we can explore Yoga is svādhyāya, the study of ourselves. Where are we? What are we? What is our relationship to the world? …

The third means of exploration as suggested in the Yoga Sūtra is īśvarapraṇidhāna. It is usually defined as “love of god” but it also means “quality of action.” … We must also carry out our jobs, go to college … All of these actions must be done with a high degree of quality. Since we can never be certain of the fruits of our labors, it is better to remain slightly detached from them and pay more attention to the actions themselves.

… These are the three specific practices that are recommended to reduce avidyā. Taken together, these practices are known as kriyāyoga, the yoga of action … While only part of Yoga, kriyāyoga is the practical aspect of Yoga which can initiate a change for the better in the quality of our lives.

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