Thursday, 28 January 2016

Updated : Questions to Krishnamacharya from his students

Originally posted on my Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga at home blog Aug. 2013

rom Questions to Krishnamacharya from his students in 
Yogacarya Krishnamacharya - The Purnacarya. Edited by Mala Srivatsan.

The 68 questions and answers below are also available in Spanish from

Patricia Aballay's Conciencia Yoga Blog

Conciencia Yoga


Prof. T. Krishnamacharya from

1. What is Yogasana?

a.   For those who have faith, yogasana is a posture which is both comfortable and firm (sthira and sukha). The asana-s done to realise the link between the jivatma and the paramatma

b.   For those who do not have faith in God but accept jiva, yogasana is a particular position of the body which aids in the discipline of the senses and prana

c. For those who do not accept jiva, yogasana is a particular posture that aids in the discipline of the senses and the prana.

Whether a person is interested in bhakti or in ahangraha upasana or in mamas santi he/she has to develop the ability to remain in a state of dhyana.

Dhyana must be done in a seated position.

2. What is the role of the mantra in asana practice?

For the Indians who have faith in mantra, which is timeless, and which has been received through a teacher, the mantra has to be included in the asana practice. This is known as samantraka asanabhysa. However, this ability is left only in a few families because of the great changes and turmoils that have taken place in bharata

3. What should the duration of pranava be during recitation?

The time for pranava should be six seconds during the practice of pranayama

4. What is the first step in dhyana for a beginner?

For a beginner it is desirable to use a very beautiful murti (idol).

5. At what age can one start practicing yogasanas?

A person is fit to practice when they can eat by themselves.

6. How many asanas are there?

There are as many as the number of species.

7. Can everybody do all of the asana's?

Taking into account the structure of the body and the distortions in the body one should do the appropriate asana. only experts can guide the student. However at least some student must become completely competent in the practice of asana-s.

8. Should asana vary according to age?

Yoga sadhana can be divided into three krama-s

1.   Sesti krama - This is up to the twenty-fifth year coinciding with the brahmacarya asramam. At this stage there is a need for cikista, as the sadhana is done to develop the strength of the body, the senses and the mind. The body should never become weak. However, if a person is sick at that age, one has to follow a combination of srsti and sthiti krama. In the ancient times up to the age of twenty-five a person would be in gurukulam. Under the guru's care there is not much need for sthiti krama. Patanjali has shown many ways for which each sadhana according to the requirements of the individual. It is the responsibility of the instructor to guide the individual.

2.   Sthiti krama - is from the age of twenty-five, when most of the people are grhasthas. For the married person, prevention of illness is desirable. however, in reality there is great scope for sickness. the power of the body, the senses and the mind get reduced, the life span is curtailed and unexpected death is likely. We should make sure that the yoga sadhana will avoid or correct this for, under no circumstances should one be deprived of good health.

3.   Samara  krama -  Practices from the age of seventy-five to one hundred. Only that yoga sadhana that will promote para, a para vaigram, jnanam and bhakti must be practiced. Moreover, if one practices yogasana-s, without respecting proper inhalation and exhalation, failure both in terms of immediate and long term benefits will result. the person may also suffer from some ailments.

9. Can a person practice yogasana using photographs?

Yoga, music, medicine and dance should be learned through a guru. Otherwise it is dangerous.

10. How many times should one practice yogasana's?

It should be practised for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening before meals.

11. How long should a person stay in an asana every day?

A person should stay in any one asana for at least fifteen minutes.

12. How long were the sages practicing yoga?

Nine hours a day. they included the performance of sandhyavandanam three times a day

13. What must form an essential part of a person's daily practice?

A minimum of ten minutes in antah-tratakam, sanmukhi mudra or mahamudra is essential.

14. What should be done when there is limited time available for practice?

When time is limited one can reduce the time taken to practice sirsasana and sarvangasana.

15. When can one see the results of practice?

After three months of continuous practice.

16. What should be the ratio of practice between asana, pranayama and dhyana?

The time spent in pranayama should at the very least be equal to the time spent in asana. The time spent in dhyana should be equal to the time spent in pranayama. Jada yoga is the practice done without a mantra or without the attitude of Ishvara pranidhana.

17. Should the asana practice be done fast and why not?

Fast movements will distort both blood circulation and the respiration. This results in crookedness of the body and injury to the different parts of the body. Slow practice of asana-s with proper respiration will not only remove the defects in the body but result in cotta ckagrata. However, I must insist that this practice should be done from the direct instruction of a teacher.

18. What does jitasana (asana jay am) mean?

Jitsana is the capacity of the person to stay in an asana for a length of time without experiencing pain. In ancient times the sages were able to stay in an asana for more than three hours during their pranayama and shyana practice.

19. What is meant by jitasvasam?

When a person is capable of doing any length of bhya kumbhaka (hold after exhalation) and anta kumbhaka (hold after inhalation) without getting tired, such a person is called a jitasvasi

20. How long should one stay in Sirsasana and Sarvangasana?

The time spent in each asana should be the same. The number of breaths taken in Sirsasana should be equal to the the number of breaths taken in sarvangasana. The length of each breath should also be equal. The postures are like the eyes of yoga. They strengthen the senses and the respiratory organs. A person with a heart problem should approach the practice of these asana-s with the utmost care. Only when a student is capable of doing sarvangasana should the teacher think of teaching him Sirsasana. people with asthma will have problems in practicing these postures. In the beginning these people should stay for two or three breaths only

21. Is there a difference in the practice for men and women?

The practice for unmarried women is the same as that for men except during their menstrual cycle.

22. How should very obese people and pregnant women be taught?

They should not be allowed to practice on their own without a teacher. When obese people practice on their own they may experience chest pain, vomiting and giddiness, due to the changes in the breathing pattern there could be a displacement in the womb.

23. What about the practice for women after child birth?

They can begin to practice three days after the childs birth, if they do not have any illness. They should begin with ujjayi pranayama, without kumbhaka, twenty-four breaths three times a day, for one week. They can then proceed to lie on their backs, legs bent, in desk pose and move their arms with breathing. Still later, they can raise their legs to touch the toes. After 15 days they can do dandasana. After a month they can do parvatasana and nadisodhana pranayama. After two months they can do sarvangasana. However, during pregnancy they should not do sirsasana and sarvangasana after the 5th month. They should not do paschimottanasana and similar postures. they may do mahamudra.

24. What is yoga?

One should work towards the knowledge and proper functioning of the sarira (body), the indriya-s (senses), the prana (breath) and the mamas (mind. Only while maintaining good health, alertness, longevity, comprehension and dharana sakti ( one pointedness), can one experience the jivatma, paramatma and the universe. the pratices leading to this experience is called yoga. The sastras (sacred teaching) that teaches this is called yoga sastra and has been in existence from unknown times.

25. How many kinds of Yoga are there?

There are four kinds of yoga. Sarira yoga (concerning the body) indriyaki yoga (the senses), manasika yoga ( the mind) and the adhyatmika yoga (the atma). The yoga that brings strength to the body by removing illness is known as sarira yoga. The yoga that promotes and sharpens the senses is known as indriyaki yoga. The yoga where the mind becomes stable and free from worries and which leads to a state of ekagrata ( one pointedness ) is known as manasika yoga. When a person is able to practice long and smooth inhalation and exhalation without becoming breathless, illness is removed. Such a person becomes stronger, has a longer life and can do better sadhana. This leads to the actual experience of the jivatma, paramatma and the universe. This is know as adhyatma yoga.

26. Who is competent to the practice the yogabhyasa?

Any person who aspires to experience the joy of sarira, indriya, mamas and adyatmika yoga, is eligible to practice yoga. there is no restriction of sati (caste), kulam (clan), gotta (lineage), stir (women), purusa (man), age, wealth, position or ashram (stage of life).

27. What is yogabyasa krama?

There has to be a krama (order of practice) for yogabhyasa. In the yoga sutra, niyamas (disciplines) are proscribed according to the individuals capacity. These niyamas form the yogana-s that are mentioned in the sastra-s. the yoganga-s are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and smadhi.

a) Yama: This comprises 

(1) Ahimsa - not to cause any himsa (injury) to others. 
(2) Satya - to be truthful in thought speech and action. 
(3) Asteya - not to aspire for another persons wealth. 
(4) Brahmacarya - to observe jitendriyam ( mastery over the senses) and pativram (fidelity to ones wife/husband). 
(5) Aparigraha - to have only what one actually needs and not possess in excess.

b) Niyama: This comprises. 

(1) Sauca - to have both internal and external cleanliness. External cleanliness deals with snanam (bath), panam ( what you drink), vastradharanam (clothing) and bhojanam ( the quality of food you eat). Internal cleanliness refers to the mamas (mind). The mind must not pursue bad thoughts. If this is not checked, it leads to apavitram (impurity) which will result in the decline of health and would not bring the benefits of yoga. 
(2) Santosha - To accept gracefully whatever happens as the will of the Lord. 
(3) Tapas - to have one meal once in eight days and to fast for an entire day, once in fifteen days. To follow the sastra-s. To undergo physical discipline and live in austerity exposing oneself to the forces of nature. 
(4) Svadhyaya - to study the vedas according to ones sakha (branch) and to do japam according to the upadasa of his acarya. 
(5) Ishvarpranidharna - to offer to lord Narayana, with love, all the benefits of the nitya (daily) karma-s. One must aspire to this and work towards it's growth day by day. These disciplines must be developed step by step without deluding oneself. T

These niyama-s make the yogabhyasa krama

28. What is the procedure one follows for yoga?

Asana-s are the means of reducing illness and for promoting health. The practice of asana makes a person agile. The asana-s should be taught according to the individuals requirements and must be taught in vinyasa. There should be a niyama in the breathing while practicing asana-s. Inhalation and exhalation should be decided according to the movement of the body. The length of the recaka and puraka depends on the asana and this is what helps the healing of illness. If the correct breathing is not done the practice is a waste of time. It is important to learn from a guru. If a person learns from a book then there is no point blaming the sastra-s from not realising the benefits mentioned therein.

29. Why is there the division of hatha-yoga and raja-yoga?

In his work Hatha-Yoga-Pradipka, yogi Svatmarama says ha-tha yoga is the bringing together of the two vayu-s the prana and the apana which are moving in the two nadir the ida and pingala. To have this vayu enter and remain in the susumna is hatha. The word ha- means ida and the word tha- means pinga'a. They are symbolic. The Hatha Yoga Pradipka itself says, that Hatha yoga vidya is to prepare the person to Raja yoga. Raja yoga here means bringing together of the jivatma and paramatma through Asamprajnata Samadhi.

30. On what basis do we follow the practice of yogasana? 

The adharma for Yogasana-s are the four veda-s, the upa-veda-s, the eighteen Puranas, the sutras and the smrtis. They have been handed down to us through the upadesa and the anutsthana of the respective acaryas.

31. Is there any relation between the approach to sickness in Nathamuni's school and Ayurveda?

Nathamuni deals with disease and therapy in conformity with the teachings of Ayuraveda. However, Nathamuni-s emphasis is on Niskamaya karma, yoga-anga anusthana, sattvika ahara, maunam, ekanta-vasa, bhakti and prapatti. In Ayuraveda, however there is more emphasis on medicine and surgery. Except for this there is no difference between Nathamuni's school and Ayuraveda.

32. Is it possible to learn pratyahara and antaranga sadhana from a teacher?

Practices like pratyahara can be learnt from a teacher. However, this should be after the age of sixty. Until then pranayama is adequate to give healthy long life. there is no doubt about this.

33. How many kinds of vinyasa's are there?

The number of vinyasa-s vary from five to fifty

34. There seems to be identical verses in Sivasamhita, Gherenda Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipka. Does it mean they are all based on the same text or did they have a common teacher?

If yoga is still vogue it is because of these texts. The authors did not write anything new. They received these sloka-s from their teachers and have presented them in the sloka form. The original master for yoga was Brahma himself. This is what Siva has spoken in the Ahirbhudnya Samhita. In the beginning of Kali yuga the first teacher was Sathagopa maharani. He lived in Alvar Tirunagari and his decedent and decibel was nathamini of Viranarayanapuram. It is sad that some of my own students have given up on sampradaya and are instructing differently.

35. Which is the most important yoga text today?

What is most important is that the student and the teacher must begin and end their yoga practice with a prayer to Ananta Nagaraja and Ananta Pradmanabha.

36. Are the techniques like viloma pranayama, anuloma pranayama, pratiloma pranayama, the different asanas and vinyasas that we use mentioned in any adhara grant (text)? or does it follow a guru parampara?

The pranayama-s are mentioned in the Nathamuni's sampradaya.

37. How are the texts like Goraksa Samhita and the Hathayoga Pradipka compare with the approach of the Yoga Sutra?

Goraksa Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipka contain certain practices such as nauli, dhauti, basti, kundalini, calina etc. These are not consistent with the spirit of the yama and niyama of the Yoga Sutra. Besides the claims made in those texts about the benefits of Sad kriyas are contradicted in the Hatha Yoga Pradipka. The most important differences is that, in the Yoga Sutra the focus is in Citta Vritti Nirodha. However some of the practices in the Hatha Yoga Pradipka and Goraksa Samhita are useful. It is suggested that these texts prepare a person for Raja yoga. Raja yoga is another name for the Yoga Sutra.

38. Why should one do vaidika-sastriya karma?

For the present benefit and for the future (after death).

39. Why should there be upasana of the devata?

Istartha Siddhi - you attain what you desire.

40. But this becomes kamayam. Is it desirable?

Kamyam is possible but it is not desirable.

41. What is dharma? Please explain in simple terms.

That which prevents a persons fall.

42. There are many approaches to the word 'Yoga', Which of these have to be refuted?

Adharmika yoga is to be refuted.

43. What is Adarmika yoga?

Adharmika yoga is the yoga that has not been mentioned in the Yoga Sutra.

44. Where in the Yoga Sutra is the Sadanga yoga of Nathamuni mentioned?

Isvarapranidhanadva is the sadanga yoga. Sadanga yoga is surrender. The six steps that are involved in Bhakti are 

1) that God is ultimate. 
2) the ideas that are not in line with this are rejected 
3) to have confidence that 'HE' would protect us. 
4) one ought to praise him, like worship. 
5) that you are at the service of God. 
6) there are no compromises - i.e. you ask him only for his blessings and nothing else. 

This type of bhakti is called visvasam

45. What is the evidence that bhakti alone leads to mukti?

The same sutra is the answer. Yogasutra 1.23 to 1.30

46. What does the bhakti mean to a person who has no belief in Isvara?

Love is bhakti for them

47. What is the difference between prakrti and prapancam?

Prakrti and prapancam are the same

48. Prakrti that has guns-s is mentioned as acaitanyam. How is this?

That which changes is acaitanyam. That which doesn't fluctuate is caitanyam

49. How can there be a samyoga between the prakrti, paramatma and the jivatma?

Samyoga can only be through paramatma

50. What is Jnana yoga?

Jnana yoga is the understanding of the relationship between the paramatma, jivatma and prakrti

51. Are bhakti and prapatti the same?

No, In prapatti the Sadanga yoga is predominant.

52. What is Raja yoga?

Raja means paramatma. So raja Yoga is jnana yoga. Yoga here refers to the paramatma jnanam

53. Does Hatha yoga mean a forceful yoga?


54. Some people describe that the kundalini goes through the susumna to the sahasrara. is it correct?

No. It is the prana vayu that moves through the susumna.

55. What happens to the kundalini when the highest of hathayoga is mastered?

It is not explained in our sastras. It's position itself is disputed i.e. where and when it happens to to the kundalini is not clearly mentioned in the sastras.

56. Is dhyana, dharana, samadhi a sadhana or a siddhi?

Since it has been mentioned as a samyama it is attainable. So it has to be a sahana.

57. Should yama and niyama, precede the practice of asana and pranayama?

Yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama go together. Without the varnasrama dharma, yama and niyama are not possible.

58. Yoga means to join. It is like many grains together?

It's like sugar and water or salt and water.

59. When there is samyoga, how will there be viniyoga again? Is it also an activity? If so how does it happen?

When we are linked to the outside we are automatically delinked inside. If we are linked to the inside we are automatically delinked to the outside. This could happen either because of the gunas-s or the power of the visaya (object). When there is a link with a visaya it is samyoga with that, but viyoga with the others.

60. What does prapancam mean? is it sat yam?

Prapancam (universe) is the imagination: nor is it distorted.

61. Is there any significance attached to our dress and to the sati to which we belong?

Our dress indicates the culture to which we belong

62. Is brahmacarya practiced in grhasthasrama? What is the difference between a brahmacarya in grathasrama and a brahmacarya in a brahmacarya asrama?

In brahmacarya asrama, studies are most important, but the priority changes in grhasthasram.

63. It has been said that our mind is linked to the kind of food we eat. What about our other samaras and  sahavasam?

Whatever has been mentioned for the suddhi (clarity ) of the mamas (mind ) is important. That is why food has been given so much importance.

64. There are many texts on Yoga. Which of them are important and which are less important?

Any text that does not emphasise astanga yoga is not an authority.

65. Where is the evidence that Visnu is sattvika devam, siva rajasika devam and sakti tamasika devam?

The evidence is in the puranas.

66. How is it that we are able to understand the suksma visaya that has been mentioned in the sastras?

Due to the effect of the parinama. Some times the suksma visaya becomes sthulam and during such time there are people who can comprehend it. that is why some have the experience of the suksma visaya while others do not.

67. What is the difference between sa-guna and nir-guna?

Sa-guna has a predominance of the three tunas. In ni-guna the tunas are not predominant. It doesn't mean that there are no tunas but the attaributes of the Lord transcends the tunas.

68.  What is your message to humanity?



Works by Krishnamacharya 
unfortunately most of the articles mentioned have not been released
  1. Yoga Makaranda
  2. Yogaasanagalu
  3. Yoga Rahasya
  4. Yogavalli
Other works (essays and poetic compositions):
  1. “Yogaanjalisaaram”
  2. “Disciplines of Yoga”
  3. “Effect of Yoga Practice”
  4. “Importance of Food and Yoga in Maintaining Health”
  5. “Verses on Methods of Yoga Practice”
  6. “Essay on Asana and Pranayama”
  7. “Madhumeha (Diabetes)”
  8. “Why Yoga as a Therapy Is Not Rising”
  9. Bhagavad Gita as a Health Science”
  10. “Ayurveda and Yoga: An Introduction”
  11. “Questions and Answers on Yoga” (with students in July 1973)
  12. “Yoga: The Best Way to Remove Laziness”
  13. “Dhyana (Meditation) in Verses”
  14. “What Is a Sutra?”
  15. “Kundalini: Essay on What Kundalini Is and Kundalini Arousal (sakti calana) Based on Texts Like the Hatha Yoga PradipikaGheranda Samhita, and Yoga Yajnavalkya
  16. “Extracts from Raja Yoga Ratnakara”
  17. “Need for a Teacher”
  18. “Satvika Marga” (“The Sattvic Way”; philosophy/spiritual/yoga)
  19. “Reference in Vedas to Support Vedic Chanting for Women” (philosophy/technical)
  20. “Fourteen Important Dharmas” (philosophy)
  21. “Cit Acit Tatva Mimamsa” (philosophy)
  22. “Sandhya-saaram” (ritual)
  23. “Catushloki” (four verses on Sankaracharya)
  24. “Kumbhakonam Address” (catalog)
  25. “Sixteen Samskaras” (rituals)
  26. “Mantra Padartha Tatva Nirnaya” (rituals)
  27. “Ahnika Bhaskaram” (rituals)
  28. “Shastreeya Yajnam” (rituals)
  29. “Vivaaha” (marriage rituals)
  30. “Asparsha Pariharam” (rituals)
  31. “Videsavaasi Upakarma Nirnaya” (rituals)
  32. “Sudarshana Dundubhi” (devotional)
  33. “Bhagavat Prasadam” (devotional)
  34. “Narayana Paratva” (devotional)
  35. “About Madras” (miscellaneous)

The video below produced by AG Mohan

Krishnamacharya was unique in many ways — as a master of yoga, as a teacher, as an Ayurvedic physician and as a scholar.  
In the West, Krishnamacharya is mostly known for his contribution to the revival of the more physically oriented disciplines and practices of hatha yoga.  Therefore, he is often referred to as “the father of modern yoga.”  

The notion that Krishnamacharya practiced and taught yoga that was somehow “new” or “modern” is primarily due to the many distortions or misunderstandings about the link between the physical practices of hatha yoga and the meditational practices of raja yoga.   He was the conservator of the ancient teachings of raja yoga.

As a master of yoga and a great scholar, he practiced and linked the physical practices of hatha yoga with the mental states of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.    Let us listen to the great master on what is yoga.  

Krishnamacharya:  Yoga is an awareness, a type of knowing.  Yoga will end in awareness. Yoga is arresting the fluctuations of the mind as said in the Yoga  Sutras (of Patanjali): citta vritti nirodha.  When the mind is without any movement, maybe for a quarter of an hour, or even quarter of a minute, you will realize that yoga is of the nature of infinite awareness, infinite knowing.  There is no other object there.”

During my interview of Krishnamacharya in 1988, he continued to expand on his personal experience of this yogic state of samadhi.  

This state of samadhi — the pinnacle of sustained mental focus and the goal of classical yoga — can be reached through pranayama.  Krishnamacharya used to say that pranayama is critical among the eight limbs of yoga.  The practice of pranayama is preceded by the practice of the mudras and the practice of asanas.  These are truly amazing photos of the great master.  

In addition to his mastery of asanas, Krishnamacharya was able to bring the involuntary functions of the body — like the heartbeat — under voluntary control.  

He was not only a master of yoga but also had titles equivalent to doctoral degrees in all the six Vedic darshanas.  

Krishnamacharya taught yoga for nearly seven decades.  He started teaching yoga under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore in the 1930s.  Indra Devi, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois studied with him during this period.  

What was Krishnamacharya teaching during the 1930s?  The silent film from 1938 contains the yoga practice of Krishnamacharya, his wife and children, and B.K.S. Iyengar, who was also the brother of his wife.  

An analysis of this 1938 video will reveal that Krishnamacharya’s teaching was based on this principle — “Teach what is appropriate for each individual.”

Video of Krishnamacharya’s children – 5 to 7 years old
He taught jumping asanas to his children, who were 5 to 7 years old. 

In an interview, B. K. S. Iyengar recalled that Krishnamacharya taught vigorous jumping movements to him.  

B.K.S. Iyengar:  “Well, you know it is very difficult for a boy of 14-15 years to analyze what my Guruji was teaching, what type of yoga was teaching, or something like that, you know?  Well, I can say it’s like a drill system to a very great extent… So, naturally my Guruji  must have thought that for these martial people, like martial art, yoga has to become a martial art to train them. So there were vigorous, rigorous movements what you call today ‘vinyasa,’ which is jumping movements from asana to asana which you have seen in my 1938 film.  So, that was the way he was teaching.”

Let’s see that. 
Video of Iyengar – 20 years old

Video of Krishnamacharya’s wife – 24 years old 
The Acharya taught differently to his wife to strengthen the organs in the lower abdomen.  Although his wife and Iyengar were almost the same age, Krishnamacharya taught them very differently.  He did not teach deep backbends to his wife.

Video of Krishnamacharya – 50 years old 
Now, watch the practice of Krishnamacharya when he was 50 years old.  Although it appears as if he is doing just head stand, he was actually practicing the viparita karani mudra, which involves long, deep breathing and suspension of breath and bandhas with mental focus.

Krishnamacharya wrote a book called Yoga Makaranda in 1934.  Part I of this book was published by the then-Maharaja of Mysore.  Part II was not published. This is the file cover of the original type written manuscript of Part II.  His son, Desikachar, and myself had classes together on some texts like the Yoga Sutras.  During the 1970s, we reflected on and attempted to edit this manuscript but its publication did not come to fruition.  

In Yoga Makaranda Part II, the Acharya not only details the methodology for each asana but also cautions against the use of force in the practice of asana.  

Currently, there are several misconceptions and confusions regarding the teaching of the Acharya.  There is a notion, for instance, that he was innovating his teachings over a period of time.  He did not.  He always taught what was appropriate for each individual.  The purpose and the capability of the person determined the practice.  He always designed the practice depending on the person and the purpose.

To a question on “Should the asana practice be done fast and why not?”, Krishnamacharya replied that fast movements, and in turn, fast breathing will disturb the flow of prana and will result in imbalances.  Slow movements with long inhale and exhale will help with proper prana flow and mental focus.  

His personal practice was always with long deep breathing and mental focus. Observe the position of his head, the lower abdomen and his mental focus.  He was always concentrated on the inner alignment through breath.

According to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together.  He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind.  This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice. 

He also did not mix up yoga and religion.  As a Vaishnavite, he kept the wooden sandals of his religious guru.  He did not keep the sandals of his yoga guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari, and never asked his students to pay homage to his Vaishnavite lineage or the padukas.

There is only one yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is also known as raja yoga.  Hatha yoga, laya yoga, and mantra yoga each have four steps.   They involve the practice of some of the eight limbs of the Yoga Sutras, like the yamas and niyamas.  They merge into the sixth limb of yoga, dharana, which leads to samadhi. Krishnamacharya with his depth of knowledge and practice was clear about these connections.

In the 1930s, Krishnamacharya tried to resolve the prevailing confusions among the then-yoga luminaries. He later recalled: 

“In 1933 through 1937, some people were talking about different varieties of yoga, like hatha yoga, raja yoga, and kundalini yoga.  Some said that the kriyas were the most important, and that that was (true) yoga.  I was in the yoga school in Mysore, under the patronage of the king.  I wrote letters to well-known yoga teachers like Paramahamsa Yogananda, Kuvalayananda, and Yogindra, saying that we should have a meeting and resolve such confusion.  Eventually, however, no meeting took place and nothing came out of the correspondence.”
Currently, the confusions have become manifold with the addition of brands, labels, traditions, and lineages.  

The goal of the physical practices of hatha yoga is to lead to the mental states of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras.  Absence of knowledge of the connections and the practice has resulted in many confusions and distortions. The discernment that Krishnamacharya spoke of so many decades ago is even more important now.

On November 18th, we celebrate his 125th birth anniversary.  I vividly remember this day, 25 years ago on his 100th birthday, as I was the convener of his centenary celebrations.  Krishnamacharya would have been extremely happy that his tireless perseverance in propagating yoga has resulted in millions of people now practicing yoga around the world.  He would want all of us to carry on the ancient and authentic teachings of yoga as they have been conveyed to us by the sages.  
Let the message not be lost.  

To download Yoga Makaranda (Part II), click here.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

More on Krishnamacharya's breath, two students 30 years apart, Indra Devi 1930s and Yyvonne Millerand 1960s

Thank you to Enrique for sending through these pages from two of Krishnamacharya's students thirty years apart, Indra Devi in the 1930s and Yyvonne Millerand in the 1960s. Also, two pages from Krishnamacharya's son TKV Desikachar's book 'Heart of Yoga'.
The selection is followed by Simon Borg-Olivier discussion of the benefits of abdominal breathing from his book Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga

The selections relate to my earlier post on Krishnamacharya's explicit instruction for the breath in Yogasanagalu (1941)

Friday, 6 March 2015
The breath: Simon Borg-Olivier made me fall in love with asana all over again.

In that post we looked at the explicit instructions for the breath given by krishnamacharya in his early Mysore work Yogasanagalu (1941)

from Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu

1. In yoganga sadhana we don’t see these (above mentioned) irregularities and with regular practice all organs will become strong.  How is that?  When practicing asanas, we need to maintain deep inhalation and exhalation to normalise the uneven respiration through nasal passages.

 2. In yoga positions where eyes, head and forehead are raised, inhalation must be performed slowly through the nostrils until the lungs are filled.  Then the chest is pushed forward and puffed up, abdomen tightly tucked in, focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose, and straighten the back bones tightly as much as possible.  This type of inhalation which fills the lungs signifies Puraka.

3. In yoga positions where eyes, head, forehead, chest and the hip are lowered, we have to slowly exhale the filled air.  Tucking in tightly the upper abdomen, the eyes must be closed.  This type of exhalation is called Rechaka.

4. Holding the breath is called Kumbhaka.

On reading those instructions Enrique was reminded of some of the instructions for the breath found in several of Krishnamacharya's students, Indra Devi, Yvonne Millerand and also those found in TKV Desikachar's Heart of Yoga. 

It's important to remember that although indra Devi and YYvonne Millerand  were Krishnamacharya's students their writing and own instructions for the breath may well be influenced by later teachers. however One thing we do find in all these descriptions is the employment of kumbhaka (breath retention). Kumbhaka in asana is very much a feature of Krishnamacharya's early Mysore writing and may suggest that the instructions given do closely resemble those instructions given by Krishnsmacharya while they were studying with him.

In the notes section at the end of the post I've included the selection on the benefits of abdominal breathing from Simon Borg-Olivier's Book that I'm currently exploring and trying to square with Krishnamacharya's own Yogasanagalu instructions

The first two selections Enrique passed along are from Indra Devi's 'Yoga For You'.

Indra Devi famously studied with Krishnamacharya  for a short period in the 1930s, is this how Krishnamacharya taught her to breath or an approach she embraced later based on other sources.

An earlier post on Indria Devi which includes 'In the shala', a chapter from one of her books on her experience studying with Krishnamacharya.

Friday, 8 November 2013
Photo: Indra Devi teaching Marilyn Monroe Yoga 1960 ALSO Indra Devi in Mysore


The second two pages are from are from an Italian edition of Yvonne's Millerand Guide pratique de HathaYoga. 

Including  a much appreciated translation from the Italian by Chiara Ghiron 

Thank you to Chiara Ghiron  for the speedy translation below

First picture

Same working position: laying on the back, with bent legs, feet on the floor.

Rest your fingers on the top of your chest; elbows and shoulders rest on the floor, relaxed.

Having inhaled into the thoracic cage, we exhale relaxing until a respiratory equilibrium and then continue the exhale by 'blowing' tthanks to contraction of the abdominal muscles.

Retention with empty lungs: during this retention, gradually release abdominal contraction.

1. Inhalation: the top part of the thoracic cage lifts gently as air gets in. After the top part of the lungs have filled, the middle part also expands, then ribs remain relaxed or floating. Towards the end, a gentle expansion of the abdominal area is perceived, due to completion of diaphragmatic contraction, expansion and lowering, to ensure maximal room to the entering air

2. Retention: short, with no movement whatsoever

3. Exhalation: attention is directed to the abdomen. From the start of the exhalation, the abdomen wall flattens and gradually gets closer to the back wall with a slow voluntary action that allows dosage of rate and amount of exhaled air

4. Retention: short. The abdominal wall is kept contracted for a few seconds then released, to allow for the following inhalation that restarts movement in the thoracic cage

Thank you to Chiara Ghiron for the speedy translation below

Mechanical deep breathing exercise

- Seated, with straight, slightly open, legs, rest on the straight arms behind the back, hands on the floor. Inhale into the thoracic cage.

- Exhalation is helped by movement. While keeping exhaling, the body curls, the head lowers towards the sternum, ribs contract, the back bends sustained by the arms. The maximal air volume is expelled when the abdominal muscles contract by squeezing the internal organs: 'you blow'

- Retention: observe the abdominal surface below the midline, perceiving the tonic contraction of the abdominal muscles under the elastic skin; it is an effort which is very precisely located. With empty lungs and no other movement, this contraction is gently released and the lower abdomen rounds up a little

- Inhalation: making lever on the arms, the upper part of the spin lifts to start inhalation, opening the shoulders which move away from each other, raising the sternum. Air enters with an uninterrupted flux in a totally natural way into the top of the lungs, then into their middle portion as the thoracic cage expands and the back stretches. Lastly, the head lifts and bends backwards slowly. Resting on the arms allows for the abdominal muscles to become completely relaxed; the belly rounds up under the expanded ribs, which is a sign that the diaphragm has lowered and the inhalation has happened from top to bottom

- Retention without movement for a few seconds; exhalation is then guided again by movement of the body

This exercise will be repeated at the beginning of each class to ventilate the lungs and verify the tone of the abdominal muscles. They need to be able to contract to ensure exhalation and relax to allow lowering of the diaphragm at the end of the inhalation.


Two pages on breathing from Krishnamacharya's son TKV Desikachar's 1999 book 
'Heart of Yoga'


My earlier notes from Simon Bog-Olivier and another selection from Yyvonne Millerand

This section from Simon and Bianca's's book gives us lots to think about and work with perhaps as well as their concepts of related ha and tha bandhas..

" Abdominal and thoracic breathing
Abdominal breathing and thoracic breathing are terms sometimes used by people who teach breathing to indicate where on the body an expansion of the trunk should occur reÀecting the primary activation of either the diaphragm (abdominal breathing) or the intercostal muscles (thoracic breathing). It is incorrect to think that air is actually coming into the abdomen during abdominal breathing. In both types of breathing, the air will only go into the lungs.

Abdominal breathing is seen as an outward movement of the abdomen on inhalation and an inward movement of the abdomen on exhalation. Abdominal breathing mainly uses the diaphragm muscle, which moves downwards (distally) as it generates tension. If the abdomen is relaxed, pressure from the diaphragm will move the abdominal contents downwards (distally) and also outwards (anteriorly).

Thoracic breathing is seen as an outward and upward movement of the rib cage on inhalation and an inward and downward movement of the rib cage and chest wall on exhalation. Thoracic breathing mainly uses the intercostal muscles.

Intercostal muscle expansion of the rib cage and chest wall in thoracic breathing is essentially the same as the muscular activation used in the yogic internal lock uddiyana bandha [Section]". p227

8.4.3 The Effects of Breathing Rate on Various Body Systems
Some types of pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) require slow breathing that ¿lls and empties the entire lungs. This is sometimes referred to by other authors as complete breathing. Complete breathing requires full use of the diaphragm, the thoracic intercostal muscles and the abdominal muscles:

• The diaphragm [Table 7.4] is the main muscle used in what is referred to as abdominal breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the abdomen gets larger as the diaphragm is activated (tenses and shortens), and on exhalation the abdomen gets smaller as the diaphragm relaxes (lengthens) and returns to its original position.

• The thoracic intercostal muscles (intercostals) [Table 7.4] are used in what is referred to as thoracic breathing [Section 8.2.8]. On inhalation the thorax (chest and upper back) gets larger as the intercostals are activated (tensing and shortening), and on exhalation the thorax gets smaller as the intercostals relax (lengthen) and return to their original position.

• The abdominal muscles [Table 7.4] are used to make a forced exhalation or a complete exhalation. 
By maintaining the grip (tension and shortness) of the abdominal muscles after the exhalation it makes it easier to expand the chest on a subsequent inhalation.

Many people have dif¿culty breathing with both the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles and are unable to expand their thorax unless they breathe quite forcefully with relatively fast and deep breathing [Table 8.1]. Fast, deep breathing forces the abdominal muscles to become activated (tense) to get the air out quickly and fully and, since the abdominal muscles have no time to relax after the exhalation, the subsequent inhalation is done with the abdomen ¿rm, thus forcing the thorax (chest and upper back) to expand.

Similarly, there are many people who can not easily relax their abdomen. Their abdominal muscles hold so much tension that these people are unable to breathe into their abdomen, and are hardly able to use their diaphragm at all, unless they spend time focusing on relaxation and slower breathing [Table 8.1]. These people tend to be doing mainly thoracic breathing while doing any physical activity.

In terms of the bandhas, the complete inhalation, i.e. the maximum possible inhalation, can be done with a tha-uddiyana bandha (chest expansion) followed and supplemented by a tha-mula bandha (abdominal expansion), while the maximum possible exhalation can be done with a ha-mula bandha (abdominal contraction) followed and supplemented by a ha-uddiyana bandha (chest contraction).

Table 8.1 compares the effects of two extreme types of breathing (fast deep breathing compared to slow shallow or tidal breathing) on the various body systems. These are only two of the many breathing possibilities that exist and each have varying effects. There is no such thing as right or wrong breathing but one must use the type of breathing that is appropriate for the situation.

Both the thoracic breathing and abdominal breathing confer possible bene¿ts and disadvantages. Ideal yogic breathing is a combination of the most advantageous aspects of both fast, deep breathing and slow, shallow breathing [Table 8.1]. In ideal yogic breathing, the three central bandhas (jalandhara, uddiyana, and mula) [Section 7.4.1] are held throughout the breath cycle. To initially learn to maintain a grip on the three bandhas, the thorax should be kept expanded (tha-uddiyana bandha) throughout the breath cycle as it would be during thoracic breathing inhalation; the lower abdomen should be kept ¿rm and drawn inwards (ha-mula bandha), as in a forced exhalation; while the back of the neck is kept long and the chin kept slightly down and inwards (ha-jalandhara bandha) [Section 7.4.1].
In optimal yogic breathing, slow relaxed diaphragmatic breathing is used to respire only a small amount of air per minute, but with the chest and abdomen held in such a way that only a small volume of air is needed to ¿ll and then empty the lung. In the most advanced stages of pranayama the key emphasis should be not on increasing lung volume from breath to breath but rather on increasing the pressure in the chest with each inhale without increasing the volume. p238

Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga

Update 2

"I arrived just in time. Giving me a few lessons a week, he started with a simple asana practice. I was to establish a link between breath and movement. Breathing should be controlled hand movements, slower breathing, the slower the movement. Each asana followed repeated at least four times. After one hour lesson in a sitting position, I learned the sound Udzhdzhayi and be able to distinguish it from the nasal sound. He allowed me to begin the simplest Pranayama - Udzhdzhayi Anuloma and Udzhdzhayi Viloma.

Krishnamacharya used to tell me, "lift up your chest," for the fact that, due to the rise of my chest, I could fill the air flow based on my lungs. After that, he insisted on the exhale with the abdominal muscles and the perineum. Breathe in and out - of course, but with the insertion of pauses, everything changes. Coached control is felt as an affirmation of life and gives a sense of a better life, by controlling breathing and blood circulation, which are interrelated. This is what I felt.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Krishnamacharya's marvellous Ardha Matsyendrasana 'no1' variation (instruction and photos) ALSO Purna Matyendrasana tutorial.

One asana I've become fascinated with lately ( I seem to go through phases, baddha konasana, bharadvajrasana, mudras like maha mudra...) is Krishnamacharya's Ardha Matsyendrasana 'no1'. I love this Ardha badha padmasana matsyendrasana version and especially the pictures of Krishnamacharya presenting it at the age of 84. 

In Ashtanga we tend to be more familiar with 'no2'. were one leg is bent rather than straight. This first version then seems simpler but is actually quite challenging, notice how deeply Krishnamacharya is twisted into the asana with his hand on his shin. I find the experience of practicing this version quite profound, was this perhaps the original. 

Sri Sribhashyam in his book Emergence of yoga indicates Krishnamacharya would employ Ujjayi breathing and Kantha (back of throat) or nasagra (top of nose) as the internal focal point (drishti?) in his own practice.


Ardha Matsyendrasana

Instructions below from Yoga Makaranda part II ( Salutations to the teacher the eternal one ) Photos from the fourth edition of Yogasanagalu ( Krishnamacharya aged 84).



1. Sit erect, with both legs stretched in front.

2. Bend one leg, say the right, at the knees, and place the foot of the right leg on the left
thigh, so that the heel of the right foot is as near the naval as possible. The tendency of the stretched leg to twist to the left should be resisted. The foot of the left leg should be perpendicular to the ground. The knees should not be more than 12 inches apart.

3. Exhale slowly, and twist the trunk to the left, keeping the spine erect. Take the left hand behind the back so that the fingers of the left hand may catch hold of the right leg at the shin, just above the ankle.

4. Twist the head to the left so that the chin is above the left shoulder.

5. The right hand is stretched and the outside of the left foot is caught hold of by the
palm of the right hand. The fingers of the right hand should touch the sole of the left foot. In this position the shoulder blades and right arms will be in a straight line.

6. The eyes should gaze at the tip of the nose in the case of married people. In the case of those who are unmarried the gaze may be to the midpoint of the eyebrows.

7. Take deep breaths. Not more than three at the beginning stages. The number may be slowly increased to twelve as practice advances.

8. Repeat on the other side.

Note: It is important that the counter pose should be done soon after the above asana is completed. The counter pose BADDHA PADMASANA, will be described later. ( see end of post).



1. Sit upright, with both legs stretched in front. Bend one of the legs, say the right, at the knee and bring the heel below the seat. The outside of the knee and the thigh should touch the ground. Bend the left leg and place the left foot by the side of the right knee and to the right of it. The left foot will be firmly placed flat on the ground and left foreleg will be perpendicular to the ground.

2. While exhaling, twist the trunk to the left and bring the stretched right arms so that the armpit is above the left thigh and the left knee touches the outside of the right upper arms and fingers of the right hand catch hold of the left foot.

Note: It should be carefully noted that to avoid danger to the elbow of the right arm, the right elbow reaches a position below the left knee as low as possible. See the illustration and note the position carefully.

3. The left arm is taken round the back, so that fingers touch the right thigh. Care should be taken that the spine is kept erect.

4. Turn the head to the left so that the chin is near the left shoulder.

5. Take three deep breaths.

6. Repeat on the other side.

Note: The deep breaths should be taken without retention of breath and without strain to the lungs.
As a variation, to make the asana somewhat easier, the heel of the right leg instead of being placed below the seat, may be placed a bit to the left so that balancing is easier in the final position.
Benefits: This is of special benefit to those suffering from stomach complaints. This rapidly reduces the waistline.


Instructions for the counter posture mentioned, baddha padmasana, at the end of the post.

Purna Matsyendrasana

Pattabhi Jois Late 1930s-40s

Purna matsyendrasana on right

No instructions in Yoga Makaranda for the more advanced Purna Matsyendrasana ( it is however in Krishnamacharya's Yogasangalu list of proficient asana) but here's Jessica Walden with an excellent tutorial.

On Ramaswami's 2010 Vinyasa Krama TT,
unfortunately this was just after a very large lunch.


Baddha padmasana and Yoga Mudra

Krishnamacharya mentions above that baddha padmasana is a counter to Ardha Matsyendrasana

from Yoga Makaranda Part II


This asana is the counter pose to the ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA - Section A, and should be done immediately after that asana.


1. Sit upright, with both legs stretched in front. Bend one of the legs, say the right, at the knee and place the foot on the left thigh as high as possible. The heel should be as near the navel as possible. Now bend the left leg at the knee and place the left foot on the right thigh as high as possible, and the heel as near the navel as possible. The knees should be as close as possible and touch the ground.

2. Take the left arm around the back and catch hold of the toes of the left foot by the right hand. Next, take the right hand behind the back and catch hold of the toes of the right foot by the fingers of the right hand.

Note: Which hand is taken round first is important. In the position described above, it will be observed that the LEFT leg is crossed over the right leg, and it is the LEFT arm that is taken round the round back first, to catch hold of the toes. When the asana is repeated on the other side, the right leg will be over the left leg and right arm will be taken round the back first.

3. Chin lock, chest forward. In the case of those who are married, the gaze should be to the tip of the nose, and in the case of the others the gaze should be to the midpoint of the eyebrows.

4. Take deep breaths. The deep breaths in this asana can with advantage be with control both after inhalation and after exhalation i.e., both ANTHER AND BAHYA Kumbhakam. The retention of breath, in the beginning stages, should not be more than 5 seconds after inhalation and not more than two seconds after exhalation. The breathing in and breathing out should be as thin and as long possible, with rubbing sensation in the throat. The number of rounds can be as many as it is conveniently possible without strain. 5. Get back to the position in step (1) and repeat on the other side.

This is one of the asanas specifically recommended for doing Pranayama. When a large number of Pranayamas are done there is a feeling of hunger, but it is a false sensation. Benefits: This benefits all parts of the body, reduces the waistline, strengthens the lungs and the blood vessels.


from Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) Part I p103-105

18 Baddhapadmasana (Figure 4.52, 4.53, 4.54, 4.55)
Place the right foot on top of the left thigh and the left foot on top of the right thigh. Take the hands behind the back and tightly clasp the big toe of the right foot with the first three fingers of the right hand and tightly clasp the big toe of the left foot with the first three fingers of the left hand.
Press the chin firmly against the chest. Keep the gaze fixed on the midbrow. Sit down, keeping the rest of the body straight. This has the name baddhapadmasana. This asana must be repeated on the other side (that is, first place the left foot on top of the right thigh and then the right foot on top of the left thigh) in order to exercise both sides of the body.

This has 16 vinyasas. The 8th and 9th vinyasas are the asana sthiti. The other vinyasas are like pascimottanasana. 

Study the pictures (Figures 4.52, 4.53) and learn how to keep the gaze. In this asana, one must do puraka kumbhaka. Only in yoga mudra sthiti should one do recaka. This sthiti consists of two forms — so study the pictures (Figures 4.54, 4.55) carefully.

Benefit: It will cure all diseases of the lower abdomen. Pregnant women should not do this asana.

originally numbered 052

originally numbered 053

originally numbered 054

originally numbered 055