The yoga sutras are the classical presentation of Raja (royal) yoga and contain one of the earliest references to a practice involving both asanas and pranayama. What distinguishes Raja from Hatha yoga is that it begins with yamas and niyamas, the ethical and spiritual observances, and moves steadily along an eight-fold path to finally allow the experience of the full fruits of yoga.
It may be a surprise that the first in-depth writings on Hatha yoga and related explanations of asana practice are just a few hundred years old. The first substantial writing, the well known Hatha Yoga Pradipika, was written in the 14th Century by the Indian Sage Swami Swatmarama. According to the original texts, there are 3 purposes of Hatha Yoga. 1. The total purification of the body. 2. the complete balancing of the physical, mental, and energetic fields, and 3. the awakening of purer consciousness through which the participant ultimately connects with the divine by engaging in practices rooted in the physical body.
Whether you have come across the dynamic series of Ashtanga, the refined alignments of Iyengar or the customised vinyasa of Viniyoga, your practice stems from one man: a five-foot, two-inch Brahmin born more than one hundred years ago in a small South Indian village. He never crossed an ocean, but Krishnamacharya's yoga has spread worldwide. Today it's difficult to find an asana tradition he hasn't influenced. Some of his students were to go on to become some of the worlds most renowned teachers; Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S Iyengar, Indra Devi and his own son Desikachar.
According to biographical notes Krishnamacharya made near the end of his life, his father initiated him into yoga at age five, when he began to teach him Patañjali’s sutras. In 1924 when working under the Mharaja of Mysore, Krishnamacharya set up a yoga shala in the palace grounds and adapted the ‘jumping’ practice for the adolescent
boys who lived there, developing what is known as Ashtanga’s ‘Mysore style.’ At the same time he taught gentle and therapeutic practices to others at the palace. The approach was "experimental", constantly changing adapting to the needs of specific pupils according to their ages, constitutions, vocations, capabilities and paths. Krishnamacharya’s yoga was grounded in the teachings of Patañjali’s description of asana as sthira and sukham - steadiness and ease. In contrast, the system that Krishnamacharya taught to Pattabhi Jois and that became the basis of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was fixed.
ASHTANGA VINYASA YOGA
There is often confusion about the meaning of Ashtanga. The term means 8 limbs as in Patañjali’s eightfold path, but it is also the name that Pattabhi Jois’ called his fixed approach. The complete name, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, identifies Jois’ method of yoga practice which for Jois is firmly grounded in the Yoga Sutras.
The origin of this method however, has been somewhat mystified. It is said to have been derived from the ancient text of the Yoga Korunta. The Yoga Kurunta, supposedly written 5,000 years ago by Vamana Rishi; was transferred orally to Krishnamacharya by his teacher, which was then taught, unmodified, to Pattabhi Jois.
In the 1920’s, at a library in Calcutta, Patabbhi Jois was said to have rediscovered the Yoga Korunta. This rediscovery is shrouded in a veil of myth and legend, as some say this text never existed. The texts were to contain the six ‘series’ of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga written on banana leaves. After Jois’ study, they were destroyed, disintegrated or eaten by ants. No copy survives; neither Jois nor any other of Krishnamacharya's pupils transcribed it, as would have been expected in a traditional guru-shishya relationship. Krishnamacharya also did not cite the text in his 1935 Yoga Makaranda or his 1941 Yogasanagalu. The Yogasanagalu does contain tables of asanas and vinyasas, and these are comparable to Jois's system, but far from being fixed as written in an ancient manuscript. More sceptical yogis believe that its dynamic approach is more likely to have been inspired by military exercises seen around the palace after the British Empire moved in. Consider the parallels between a burpee and a chaturanga...
Throughout his childhood B.K.S Iyengar suffered from various illnesses. His father died at a young age, leading him to live with his brother in Bangalore. In 1932 his sister invited him to live with her and her husband, Krishnamacharya, in Mysore where they practiced what looks to have been the ashtanga 3rd series, see YouTube 1938. After 5 years of studying with Krishnamacharya, his health improved. Krishnamacharya asked Iyengar to go to Pune to teach.
Iyengar affirms his commitment to all eight limbs of Patañjali’s ashtanga yoga, including asana. Rather than a one size fits all approach, he emphasises ‘asanas cater to the needs of each individual according to his or her specific construction and physical condition.’
In contrast to the Ashtanga Vinyasa path taught by Krishnamacharya to Pattabhi Jois and to Iyengar as well, in Iyengar yoga the poses are held for longer allowing time to feel. This approach is one of disciplined practice for cultivating ease and health in a stressful world where ailments and physical limitations are very common. The use of props, anything that helps stretch, strengthen, relax or improve the alignment of the body is one of the most distinctive elements of Iyengar yoga, enabling students to attain the perfection that Iyengar sets as a goal in the asanas.
There is a popular misconception that both asana and pranayama should be practiced together from the time yoga is first begun. It is the author’s experience that if a novice attends to the perfection of the postures, he cannot concentrate on breathing. He loses balance and the depth of the asanas. Attain steadiness and stillness in asanas before introducing rhythmic breathing techniques. The range of bodily movements varies from posture to posture. The less range of movement, the smaller will be the space in the lungs and the breathing pattern will be shorter. The greater the range of bodily movement in asanas, the greater will be the lung capacity and the deeper the breathing pattern. When pranayama and asanas are done together, see that the perfect posture is not disturbed. Until the postures are perfected, do not attempt pranayama. One soon realises that when asanas are well performed, pranayamic breathing automatically sets in. - B.K.S Iyengar
VINYASA FLOW YOGA
Vinyasa Flow Yoga is less definable than other approaches. Ramaswami, a long time student of Krishnamacharya defines Vinyasa yoga in his Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga as “variation” or “variations and movements”. Godfrey Devereux offers two definitions: vinyasa meaning “Progression, continuity” and Vinyasa “a continuous sequence of breath-linked postures.” Vinyasa Flow teacher Shiva Rae describes it as “one that awakens and sustains consciousness.”
As in Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa Flow moves steadily from pose to pose consciously connecting breath to movement and is often referred as the series of movements that are done between each asana, based on the Sun Salutation, so as a student moves from one pose to the next, they are said to have completed one “vinyasa.” This flowing style creates a movement meditation.
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