The 1st limb of Patanjali’s noble eightfold path

By Anna Bhushan based on conversation with A.L.V. Kumar avlkumar2

A. L. V. Kumar has been a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation. His interest in teaching came about as a result of a car crash that resulted in complete paralysis of the lower body. He used his knowledge of yoga to restore his body to full health. Following this experience he decided to dedicate as much time as possible to teaching yoga to heal both body and mind. Since then he has taught yoga to over 13,000 people in India by conducting free public workshops, in addition to residential meditation courses, teacher training and yoga therapy courses in India, the US, UK and China. Kumar was recently honoured with the Bharat Jyoti Award, the International Achievers Award and the Glory of India Award for his meritorious public service in the field of yoga.

Anna Bhushan is a trustee of the Yoga Healing Foundation, under which Traditional Yoga programs are run. She is a trained yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a painter and lecturer. She has been studying with A. L. V. Kumar for many years and writes these articles from her conversations and recordings with A. L. V. Kumar. Read more about A.L.V. Kumar on the website of Traditional Yoga, Hyderabad, India.

Our previous article introduced the Hindu sage Patanjali who codified the oral tradition of yoga into a series of sacred written texts known as the Yoga Sutras. Before learning the asanas, a student of yoga was required to master the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path. We now examine the first limb : the yamas. 

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Patanjali, a great yogi who lived in India around 100 BC, is the author of the Yoga Sutras which teach the path to completely purifying the mind, leading to enlightenment. Patanjali teaches an eightfold path to achieve this goal, based closely on the noble eightfold path of Buddha, his predecessor by 300 years.

Patanjali’s eightfold path includes:

1. Yama (morality)

2. Niyama (observance)

3. Asana (sitting posture)

4. Pranayama (observing the natural uncontrolled breath)

5. Pratyahara (withdrawing the senses)

6. Dharana (momentary concentration)

7. Dhyana (access concentration)

8. Samadhi (absorption concentration)

There is a common misconception that Patanjali is referring to physical yoga in his eightfold path, particularly when he mentions asana and pranayama. In fact, Patanjali’s science pertains purely to the mind. Asana refers to the sitting posture for meditation, and pranayama refers to the practice of observing the natural breath in meditation.

The first and foremost step that Patanjali teaches is yama. These are the five principles of yama:

Ahimsa – non-violence (to remove anger or hatred from the mind)

Asteya – ‘non-stealing’ (to remove greed from the mind)

Satya – truthfulness (to remove fear from the mind)

Brahmacharya – ‘non-sexual misconduct’ (to remove lust from the mind)

Apaarigraha – ‘non-intoxication/addiction’ (to prevent slavery of the mind)

There is absolutely no doubt that the first step of the spiritual journey is abstaining from unwholesome action. The resolution to give up any action which causes harm to yourself or others by body, speech or mind is the foundation stone without which there can be no progress whatsoever. This is the teaching of every yogi and every saint. Buddha calls these principles sila.

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This code of conduct is also recognisable in the tenets of most of the major religions throughout the world. If people of the world maintained these five basic principles it would be a very different place, free from violence, terrorism, corruption, addiction and sexual abuse.

Without striving to maintain these five qualities, there can be no spiritual growth. No matter how much meditation, how many rituals, how many spiritual books we read or how much charity we do, it is of no use without this basic morality.

The Katha Upanishads say: “Not even through deep knowledge can the atman (inner self or soul) be reached, unless evil ways are abandoned.”

Why are these five principles so important?

On the path of yoga the goal is to remove all negative tendencies from the mind. That is why the first step is to stop doing any action that increases those tendencies and reinforces unwholesome behavioural patterns. For example, every time we tell a lie we increase fear in the unconscious mind. If we want to live without fear, the first thing we do is to make a commitment to always tell the truth. It is not possible to experience anger and peace simultaneously. When we shout at someone we flood our bodies with adrenalin and other unpleasant chemicals that get deposited as a cellular memory at the unconscious level of the mind. These stored impurities will eventually resurface and find a new object to attach themselves to. Or they may manifest as health problems. It is said that if we shout at one person, 100 people will shout back at us sometime in our future. This is the law of karma; cause and effect, seed and fruit, stimulus and response. When we cause harm to anyone else through our negative actions, we simultaneously cause much more harm to ourselves.

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The volition behind the action has the effect of making it weak or strong, so for example, accidentally treading on an ant is not breaking the principle of non-violence as long as it was not done out of strong negligence or carelessness. However, if we curse someone or wish ill on them mentally, even if we do not outwardly do anything to harm them, the violent action of the mind has been performed and we will reap the results. For this reason refraining mentally from unwholesome actions is specifically mentioned. For example, having the intention to confuse or mislead someone amounts to breaking sila even if the words uttered are not literally a lie. Likewise, covetousness is the mental violation of the principle of ‘non-stealing’ even if the hand does not touch the object of desire. The first step is to refrain from the action outwardly by body and speech, but just as important is developing the mental tendency to shrink away from any thoughts of hatred, greed for others’ belongings, excessive or inappropriate lust, deception and desire for intoxication.

If we want our room to be clean, the first thing we do before clearing it of dust is to make sure that we are not bringing any additional dirt inside. If dust is blowing in while we are working hard to sweep it out, the purpose is defeated and we are just wasting our time and energy. That is why both Buddha and Patanjali teach that in order to purify the mind we must first scrupulously maintain these principles.

Maintaining these five principles gives the aspirant a sense of confidence and relief. It creates a lightness and calmness in the mind. The calmer the seas, the deeper we can dive. When the seas are choppy and stormy, it is very difficult to enter the water. In order to practice meditation effectively, we must create the conditions that will reduce mental agitation so that we can concentrate and explore the mind.

Photographs by Coni Hörler.

One Guru or Many?

By Anna Bhushan based on conversation with A.L.V. Kumar 

avlkumar2A. L. V. Kumar has been a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation. His interest in teaching came about after a car crash that resulted in complete paralysis of the lower body. He used his knowledge of yoga to restore his body to full health. Following this experience he decided to dedicate as much time as possible to teaching yoga to heal both body and mind. Since then he has taught yoga to over 13,000 people in India by conducting free public workshops, in addition to residential meditation courses, teacher training and yoga therapy courses in India, the US, UK and China. Kumar was recently honored with the Bharat Jyoti Award, The International Achievers Award and the Glory of India Award for his meritorious public service in the field of yoga.

Anna Bhushan is a volunteer with The Yoga Healing Foundation, a charity under which Traditional Yoga programmes are run in collaboration with Traditional Yoga India. She is a trained yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a painter and lecturer. She has been studying with A. L. V. Kumar for many years and writes articles based on her conversations and recordings with A. L. V. Kumar.

Read more about A.L.V. Kumar on the website of Traditional Yoga, Hyderabad, India. 

One Guru or Many?

Devotion to the teacher, ‘the guru’, is often considered to be one of the most important steps in the spiritual journey. Traditionally in India, knowledge has been passed orally and experientially from teacher to disciple. The guru, having achieved complete purification of the mind, guides the student on the path of enlightenment to reach that same perfection. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the guru is the ‘Lord’ to whom one must surrender, ‘Eeshwara Pranidhanaha’ in order to know the path.

In today’s world where thousands of gurus compete in popularity, how can we know when it is appropriate to ‘surrender’? And to who?  How much and for how long? Is it right to have such devotion that we never leave our guru come what may?

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Right Devotion

Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion, teaches us to have ‘right devotion’, defined as that which opens the mind and increases our wisdom, as opposed to narrowing the mind and increasing fanaticism. Yoga is non-religious and non-sectarian, it is a universal science. Bhakti, the path of right devotion, can be applied to any situation whether religious or not. For example, a Christian may have devotion to Christ, a Hindu may have devotion to Krishna, an atheist may have devotion to humanity. Yoga never encourages us to change our religion. Devotion must be accompanied by discrimination, common sense and wisdom, otherwise it can lead to blind faith, or  ‘wrong devotion.’

Practicing Right Devotion

Devotion to a teacher should be to the qualities of that teacher (rather than to his or her physical form) and if we are not developing those qualities ourselves then something is wrong either with our ability as students or with the teaching itself. For example, we love and revere our teacher because of the pure unconditional love and compassion that he/she shares with all beings. We keep a photo of that guru and light an incense stick every day, we pray and worship at their feet, but if after years and years of following that teacher we are unable to feel the same level of love and compassion at least towards those around us, then that devotion has not served its purpose. Over time the teacher should be able to guide us to the same level he or she has reached. For this to happen, we as students should be wise enough to understand the teachings properly and to practice right devotion, not blind devotion. We need to grow in spirituality not merely grow old in spirituality.

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Shankaracharya by Raja Ravi Varma

Avoiding Blind Attachment

Adi Shankaracharya writes in great detail about the qualities a student must possess in order to be worthy of a teacher and likewise, the stringent criteria a student should use in verifying the teacher before becoming their devoted pupil. A teacher should have conquered and removed all the unwholesome qualities of the mind (such as anger, jealousy, lust, greed, craving for name and fame) and achieved the peace and purity of enlightenment. A teacher should not only have attained that level but should have the time, interest and ability to personally guide the student. Yoga is a science and at every step should be practiced with common sense and not be clouded by emotion. Blind attachment to a guru who is not able to help one really progress can be a major stumbling block on the spiritual path.

Steps to Practicing Right Devotion

So, the first step is to verify the teacher’s level of purity, experience and ability to teach the path (this is not equivalent to their level of fame and popularity). The second step, once we become their student, is to assess whether we are developing under the guidance of the teacher.

Yoga is a science. If we understand this science properly we can understand the techniques being taught by the teacher and know to what level they can take us. We can make an informed decision about which teacher to follow by understanding the path they offer. Many teachers offer the basic foundation steps in the path of yoga, known as conditioning yoga (pravritthi yoga), a few may offer the advanced or highest levels in spirituality, deconditioning yoga (nivritthi yoga). For instance a mantra is very helpful to transcend the mind at the beginning, however a mantra can never take one beyond the second level of Samadhi, let alone to enlightenment. The problem comes when we attach ourselves to a guru teaching at the basic level and think that they can lead us to the highest enlightenment. We won’t leave them come what may.

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When to Seek a New Teacher and When to Look No Further

It’s the equivalent of attaching ourselves so much to our primary school teacher that we refuse to move up to junior and then secondary school.  The path of right devotion would teach us to value and respect our primary school teacher. When we have learnt whatever there is to learn at that level then we move on to secondary school and we become completely engaged with the new teaching. We are building on the earlier progress that we made, and this does not mean that we are ungrateful or disloyal to our primary school teacher. We have not betrayed our primary school teacher. It is natural that we should seek to learn more and more. And when we graduate with a PhD we feel grateful to all our teachers from primary level through to post graduate level.

The advice is to stick with a guru for 12 years maximum. If in that time you have not made good progress and at least reached the first stage of enlightenment then it’s appropriate to move on and keep seeking a teacher who can take you further.

A boat (like a tradition or technique) helps us to cross a river. We feel gratitude to the boat but that does not mean we carry it on our backs forever. We have to be wise and pragmatic on the path of yoga.

If we are fortunate enough to come across a truly enlightened teacher who is able to teach the path, and if we are experiencing that level of progress then we should absolutely stick with that guru. There is no need to look any further.

Top 10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving as a Yoga Teacher

By Jane Mason

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Jane lives and works in India and is part of the yoga.in team. She is trained in vinyasa, hatha, viniyoga and prana vashya yoga, having practised with many teachers and explored different techniques around the world. She is currently completing her 500-hour yoga teacher training as well as training in yoga therapy. Here she shares some tips for yoga teachers who are just starting out, or for those who are looking for inspiring ideas on how to thrive as a yoga teacher.

“How do I survive on my earnings as a yoga teacher?” This is a dilemma that confronts many yoga teachers. The annual income for this profession is reported to be 41% lower than that of any other salaried position posted on job sites. When you consider that $30 is the average income per yoga class it would take ten classes per week to earn even a basic wage. No wonder most yoga teachers struggle to survive financially because teaching with such regularity will usually result in “burn out.”

So why have an ever-growing number of people chosen to teach yoga? The motivation is most certainly the power of this practice, and a testimony to the desire to spread the benefits of yoga to a wider community.

So if you are a teacher of yoga, how can you achieve financial independence while doing what you are passionate about?

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Here are our top ten tips for surviving and thriving as a yoga teacher:

1. If you are starting your own business, get some start-up training: We would not imagine teaching yoga without intensive training and education. So why would we think we could run a business before gaining the knowledge to do so by the same methods? Small business courses are designed to help any new business owner understand the basics of business and how to optimize chances of business success. Try to do one of these courses before you start up your own business. Earning an income from your practice is not incompatible with your yogic principles – it is a way to enable you to continue to deliver the practice to a wide community.

Business courses will give you the generic skills you need to:

–         Manage your finances and understand the importance of having a projected cash flow and profit and loss so that you can be aware of the ongoing viability of your business and there are no surprises along the way.

–         Market your business and expand your client base by developing new markets such as corporates, the elderly, kids, etc,. This specialization will help you grow and open up an entirely new source of income.

2. Run workshops: Many teachers struggle to survive from teaching standard classes. Workshops are a great way to earn money and also expand and deepen your knowledge and teaching repertoire.

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3. Run retreats: If you have a circle of like-minded yogis, try organizing a retreat. This is a great way to build a community. With the right group of teachers, you can learn from each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses.

4. Mix it up: Mix your classes between group and individual classes. You can earn as much or more in private sessions as group sessions and this can ease the class load and reduce the chance of burn out.

5. Continuing education: Don’t stop there. Once you are up and running you need to keep focused. Continue to grow and thrive through experience and continual learning. The more experience and knowledge you have the more employable you are.

6. Networking: Networking is a way to reach out to the wide community and get to know people. It is another way to maintain continuity in your sales growth.

7. Jobs relating to yoga: There are ways to be involved in the yoga community without teaching classes all day. Look into yoga bodies and alliances, magazines or websites.

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8. Taking it to the next level: It is not for everyone but there are endless possibilities such as DVDs, books, podcasts….some teachers even have agents to book events and help promote their yoga material.

And finally, where better to seek guidance than the yoga sutras:

9. Abhyasa (“a spiritual practice which is regular and constant”): It is all yoga, whether on the mat or running your yoga business, determined effort, practice and discipline are necessities.

10. Vairagya (detachment): Try not to focus on the money and be attached to this outcome, as it will affect your judgment and likely your teaching. Apply appropriate effort and surrender to the outcome. Remember why you do this…for the love of yoga.

Photographs by Coni Hörler.

Top 10 benefits of practicing Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga

By Inna Costantini

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Inna has been practising yoga for over a decade and teaching since 2008. With a background in media, anthropology and a stint in PR, she experimented with a variety of yoga paths, before deciding to trade her desk for a yoga mat, and embark on an intensive yoga training course in India. Inna is fascinated by yoga in all its forms, its effects, and the intricate links between physical and mental well-being. As a teacher, she loves seeing the changes in people, being a witness, an observer and sometimes a guide, and inspiring students and friends to practice, evolve and grow stronger on so many levels. Inna is also a freelance writer and loves sharing her passion for yoga, travel and the environment both off the mat and across the globe.

A word on the practice….

Traditionally, Ashtanga yoga was only taught as a self-practice. Complete beginners are first taught the Surya Namaskar A and B series, with additional postures being gradually added on according to the student’s abilities, both physical and mental. While most practitioners spend time studying the primary series, some eventually move on to the second (or intermediate) and then third or perhaps even fourth. The last two series are somewhat mysterious and only a select few have ventured beyond the fourth.

In Mysore, the ‘home’ of Ashtanga yoga, led classes are now taught twice a week (on Fridays and Sundays) and partly serve as a guide for students: breath counts, rhythm, drishti (focused gaze), focus, etc,. These are high energy – for beginners and advanced. Experiencing a led class in Mysore is a powerful moment – the room breathes as one, moves as one, gazes steadily to a single point in each pose, like a moving meditation.

The traditional way of doing this practice ‘Mysore style’ is to follow the self-practice method: it starts simply, breath by breath, posture by posture. It is a perfect practice for beginners as well as the more experienced, as the shala (school) in Mysore will have new students doing their practice alongside senior teachers.

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If you want to learn some of the many reasons to do the practice then read on…

1. Personal attention: Like a private class within a group, each student receives personal attention and guidance from the teacher. There is space and time for the teacher to observe students in their practice and give adjustments when needed. This personalized assistance is tailored to the students’ individual needs, which happens less frequently in led classes where generalized instructions are given.

2. Increased concentration and focus: This is a much more personal and internal way of practicing yoga. When confronted with our own practice, we have to face distractions, discomfort and the wandering mind. The physical practice aims to bring us back to that focused state, rather than passively listening to a teacher or watching others. This is a more meditative aspect of yoga.

3. Move at your own rhythm and pace: Spend more time on postures that are challenging and place a greater emphasis on making the practice your own. Besides, everyone in a Mysore style class is going at a different pace and practicing different asanas, so perhaps there can be less comparing and competing.

4. Group dynamic: There is something special about practicing in a room full of people. This may be hard to describe in an objective manner, but there is a sense of ‘energy’ in a Mysore style self practice room. A space where one simply hears the sound of breath, the movement of bodies and senses the body heat. This magical ‘energy’ often carries you on through the practice.

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5. Portable: It can be practiced anywhere, anytime, by anyone. You don’t need props, belts, walls or even a mat. As long as there is space to extend your arms up and your legs back, then you can practice. This can be a reminder that yoga is not bound by material ‘stuff’. You don’t depend on anything apart from yourself – a breathing body, that’s all.

6. Deepen your understanding of the practice as it is. Feel the breath, bandhas and drishti – pay attention and cultivate awareness. There is also more potential to come into a meaningful relationship with the teacher or guru.

7. Stay in control: It allows practitioners to further refine their own practice. This is refinement in a self reliant way.

8. Watch yourself, not your neighbors, teacher, feet / toenails / pedicure. Observe your thought patterns, habits and just be a witness. A self-practice environment enables one to hear and feel body (and mental) sensations more clearly.

9. Inspiration: Although you don’t want that drishti to wander around the room, or a competitive streak to kick in, seeing other practitioners on the mat can be a source of inspiration and joy.

10. Explore… the possibilities, the layers, the depths of the practice. Be playful, but not too much, it’s Ashtanga after all…

Photographs taken at the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mysore by Coni Hörler.

What is Vedanta?

By Shubhraji

shubhrajiShubhraji is a direct disciple of highly revered H.H Swami Chinmayananda and the founder of the Namah Vedanta Center for Spiritual Unfoldment. She is a teacher of spiritual studies and meditation techniques, which form part of the ancient Vedanta philosophy of India. She lives in the USA and travels widely throughout the US, as well as Europe and the Far East. She is known for her unique dynamic and accessible delivery of Advaita Vedanta teachings.

For more information on Shubhraji, visit her website.

Vedanta is a universal philosophy. There is no one book of Vedanta. It is a body of knowledge that evolved over thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. It is the underlying philosophy of yoga.

Background:

The spiritual masters sitting on the Himalayan peaks were meditating on one central question: ‘Who Am I?’. The revelations that came to them regarding the essence of existence are called the Upanishads – which is the literature found at the end portion of the Vedas (the four sacred books of the Hindus). It is difficult to ascribe a historical timeline to this philosophy. It is through an oral tradition that the teacher passed on the Sanskrit verses to his students. The Vedas were compiled in 1500 BC., but they are believed to have been around since at least 3500 BC.

Vedanta (including the Upanishads) refers specifically to the teaching found at the end of each Veda. However, it includes other major scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas and other devotional literature.

Meaning:

The word ‘Vedanta‘ comes from the Sanskrit root word ‘vid’ – to know.

veda = knowledge
anta = end

It really means the culmination, the end or the acme of self knowledge.

The ultimate aim of Vedanta is for each individual to discover his or her true nature, which is happiness or bliss. It claims that when one realizes one’s self, we not only have union with the self within us, but merge with the One Supreme or Absolute Reality called Brahman.

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One Reality:

Though there are sub-schools within this system, the central idea of this teaching is the non-dual teaching of Advaita, or One Reality without a second. This One Reality is identical with our own Self in essence. The direct method of self-enquiry and meditation is the hallmark of this system.

It represents the crown jewel of Indian thought and has inspired Indian culture, religion and India’s greatest intellects throughout the ages.

Three Paths:

Without being dogmatic, Vedanta gives us the paths, which are also called yogas – and each person, with the guidance of a preceptor (guru) or even on their own, can choose the path best suited to their temperament. These paths are based on the integration of the three aspects of the human personality. For the physical oriented person – karma yoga or the path of action, for the emotional type – bhakti yoga or the path of devotion to God and for the intellectual personality – jnana yoga or the path of knowledge. By practicing these serially or together – one purifies his or her being and becomes fit for self realization.

vedantapic1Vedanta and yoga:

Vedanta predates the system of yoga, which was formally compiled by Sri Patanjali in the 2nd century BC.

Yoga and Vedanta are both part of the six main philosophical systems in India. Yoga has now come to mean primarily hatha yoga or asana – with an emphasis on the physical postures. Vedanta on one hand is based on self-enquiry, but it also includes practical ways to achieve self realization. It addresses all levels of seekers to achieve a more meaningful way of life and find inner peace.

It is important to understand that Vedanta does not conflict with the practice of yoga. Students can often practice asana, study the yoga sutras as well as the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads and integrate Vedantic philosophy in their daily life. Mantras, meditation, chanting, (kirtan) and selfless service are common to both systems.

Though yoga and Vedanta are very different philosophically, there are many similarities and there is even an overlap regarding certain practices and principles.

Vedanta is still practiced by most Hindus in their daily lives even if they practice asana or yoga. Some of the great Vedantic masters are Adi Sankara, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharishi, Ramakrishna and Swami Chinmayanada, to name a few.

Famous personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Arthur Schopenhauer were also deeply influenced by Vedanta.

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Purpose:

Vedanta states that we are the ever-free reality, and it is only due to our ‘ignorance’ or avidya that we are bound and we suffer.

The purpose of Vedanta is to remove this ‘ignorance’ so that we can realize our eternally free blissful nature.

This can be done by a subjective direct realization of the truth. By practice of ethical values, devotion and knowledge, we attain moksha or realization and merge with the One Absolute Brahman.

Vedanta, as the masters say, is not a view of life, but a way of life. It can be easily adapted by anyone regardless of his or her religion or creed.

Interview with A. L. V. Kumar of Traditional Yoga

Interview by Anna Bhushan
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A. L. V. Kumar

A. L. V. Kumar has been a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation. His interest in teaching came about as a result of a car crash that resulted in complete paralysis of the lower body. He used his knowledge of yoga to restore his body to full health. Following this experience he decided to dedicate as much time as possible to teaching yoga to heal both body and mind. Since then he has taught yoga to over 13,000 people in India by conducting free public workshops, in addition to residential meditation courses, teacher training and yoga therapy courses in India, the US, UK and China. Kumar was recently honored with the Bharat Jyoti Award, The International Achievers Award and the Glory of India Award for his meritorious public service in the field of yoga.

Anna Bhushan is a Trustee of the Yoga Healing Foundation, under which Traditional Yoga programs are run. She is a trained yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a painter and lecturer.. She has been studying with A. L. V. Kumar for many years and writes the articles from her conversations and recordings with A. L. V. Kumar.

Read more about A.L.V. Kumar on the website of Traditional Yoga, Hyderabad, India. 

Why did you decide to come to the West?

I was invited to give some talks and demonstrations by people who met me in India and benefited from my teaching. In the West yoga is frequently considered to be simply the practice of asanas.  I have met many yoga teachers who are unfamiliar with meditation. Those who meditate in the West do not always practice physical yoga. The value of physical yoga should not be underestimated. I wish to give a picture of the completeness of yoga. Whatever I know I want to spread to help others.

kumar yoga poseWhat is different about your yoga?

The question perhaps should be where is the practice of yoga that has been taught for thousands of years? As this is where the problem lies today. There is much confusion regarding the understanding of the many branches of yoga, hatha, bhakti, jnana and raja yoga and how they are progressive, sequential. People even mistakenly think that Patanjali taught hatha yoga. I wish to clarify these misunderstandings to enable people to make swift progress.

Progress to what exactly?

Yog is the Sanskrit word which means getting on well with everything, or union; to get along with everything in life, with our own health, with the food we eat, with the work and activities we do, with our family and friends; to remove problems and be free of unhappiness. All this is possible when we get on well with ourselves. Knowing thyself is tattwamasi. The science of getting on well with ourselves is called yog. Exactly the opposite, viyog means separation. Separation brings unhappiness.

What do we mean by ‘ourselves?’ This includes our mind and body. In Sanskrit this is described as consisting of five layers, sheaths or koshas. The different sheaths or levels require different inputs. For example food is the input for the annamaya kosha or physical, gross body. Breath is the input for the pranmaya kosha or subtle, life force, astral body. Thoughts are the input for the manomaya kosha, the conscious mind including the five senses, altogether known as the six sense doors. Our perceptions, emotions and instincts are the inputs for the vignana maya kosha or the subconscious and unconscious mind.

Happiness is the input that creates bliss. All our problems are brought about by the wrong inputs to these koshas, for example not enough, an excess of or unpure food will lead to an unbalance or sickness. The formula for happiness requires cleaning or removing of all the impurities from the koshas. Yoga is a very precise and practical method to do this job of purifying the body and mind. That is why the study and practice of yoga in its entirety is so useful. It addresses life on every level.

You call it Traditional Yoga. Which tradition do you come from, Iyengar or Ashtanga?

Since I was a child of 12 years, I have looked into the practices taught in many schools of yoga. But I have only been interested in finding the ultimate reality through my own experience. I would sincerely follow any teacher or technique I came across until I knew the practice, had fully grasped it and could evaluate it in the context of my own life and behavior. I was never prepared to remain in one school until I had investigated all available knowledge. I have studied in about 26 schools in the north and 12 in the south including Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Kaivalyadama Lonavala, Bihar school of Yoga, all Kriya Yoga traditions of Lahari and non Lahari traditions. As I said before, I am teaching the genesis of yoga not just one school or another.

So many teachers are teaching to the best of their knowledge but unfortunately this knowledge may be limited to one teacher or tradition. They may be teaching certain asanas or postures but without the traditional understanding of the whole process, the integration of all the various limbs and how the practice unfolds. And so many of the pranayamas, bandanas and mudras, which are so effective, are slowly becoming extinct or have been lost altogether. These work on a cellular level, to rejuvenate and balance the whole system. There is little understanding of the relationship between the yoga that makes the body healthy, flexible and strong and the yoga that purifies the mind and leads to ultimate happiness. Actually hatha yoga is a preparation for inner yoga, sometimes called raja yoga, king of the yogas, which strengthens the mind and removes the impurities that lead to suffering.

kumar walkingIs it true that you were once told you would never walk again?

Yes, in 1992, I had a road accident in Pune and my pelvis was crushed by a truck. Except for those days following the accident I had never suffered physically or mentally because my body was like a tensile rod. It just bounced back whenever it got shocked and recovered very quickly. I use awareness as a tool to recover, not suppressing anything. The accident resulted in multiple fractures to my lower spine, hip and pelvic bone, and I lost complete control of my lower body because the back wheel of the truck had crushed my hip region. I was bedridden with a ruptured urethra, the pelvic bone having pierced the tube. The edge of the pelvic bone was so sharp it made sitting impossible. I had to go for dilation of the urethra every two months. The doctors told me I would probably be unable to walk again.

After a year my condition had not improved. My physical health was fine apart from the problems with walking, urinary discharge and reproduction function. I was due to be married so I tried to persuade my wife- to- be and her family, to cancel the marriage for her sake. What kind of life would it be for her with a husband so damaged? The doctors also advised them that that would be the sensible course of action. But she insisted the marriage go ahead as planned, so I was airlifted to the ceremony. After two years with no change I decided to ignore the doctors’ advice and began to practice yoga. At first it was very painful. I used my knowledge of the asanas, mudras and bandanas, and after a year I could not only walk but run and finally resumed my previous 300 asanas. Eventually I was blessed with two daughters. It was that experience of the healing potential of yoga that made me decide to dedicate my time to teaching.

You also treat people individually with something called kaya chikitsa, what is that?

Kaya chikitsa is a form of yoga that can be practiced on people unable to practice for themselves; it is for the seriously ill or bedridden. When I was in the Himalayas when I was quite young, I was approached by a man. His family was the last from a long tradition to practice this system. As he had no sons to pass it on to, in order to prevent this knowledge dying out altogether, he asked me to study it along with two of my friends. I only started using it after many years when I had made the decision to try to help people, and since have had good results for a number of problems such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, heart problems, skin diseases such as erythrodermatitis, spinal problems including slipped discs and spondylitis, reproductive problems such as infertility, polycystic ovaries, thyroid and respiratory problems like asthma and sinusitis. It is a very good system. I have trained a few people to do this work but you need to be physically strong and fitas it is very demanding.

Apparently you are a nuclear scientist – how do you reconcile the nuclear industry with teaching yoga?

Like many things, nuclear power can be used to help or to harm. I am a scientist and I work on the processing of fuel at a government plant. At our plant we have developed many processes that would help in a closed fuel cycle, so there is very little waste compared to the west. This is because the quality of the uranium in India is quite poor so we need to use it as effectively as we can. In India we are developing at a very fast rate and there is a great need for energy. It is important to take a responsible attitude to this problem of conservation of energy and to greatly reduce the burning of fossil fuels. By tradition, teaching yoga should not be used to earn one’s living in India. I am a family man so I work as a scientist to support my family.

kumar with dog

We have a lot of gurus who come to the west, are you hoping to be another with your own following?

I have no desire to be a guru. My only aim is to spread understanding of the traditional practice and the integration of yoga, to speed up the progress of all practitioners, and to help free as many as possible from physical and mental suffering. For that we need as many people teaching as possible, not just me. Perhaps in India we become a little cynical of the five star gurus who come to the west and enjoy the fame and fortune available here, and I’m afraid there are some gullible people who follow them. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. They teach maybe one or two techniques, and people are happy. People think this is the ultimate without looking further. That is why it is important to intelligently test what they say, to scrutinize them carefully and see if you do get what they claim to be offering. Is there any change in your behavior? Can you react without any anger or hatred to others? Can you be happy with whatever happens? The great scientists of the mind such as Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Patanjali, Guru Nanak, all spoke about removing defilements and developing love, compassion, forgiveness and equanimity. This should be the test of any teacher.

How do you reconcile your responsibilities as a family man with your commitment to yoga healing?

In India the family is still very important. We mostly live with our families and grandparents, aunts, uncles living close by. This gives everyone support. My wife works and my children are still at school. In my spare time I teach yoga and see people individually if they have serious problems. It is a matter of using one’s time efficiently and trying to help as many people as possible.

Sadhana Part III: What is the Purpose of Life?

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has travelled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritural traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 3: What is the Purpose of Life?

In Part 1 of this series on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self realization in yoga. In Part 2 I explored what yoga is all about and what we try to achieve by practicing Sadhana. In the last of this 3-part series, I ask: What do I need to know and experience the truth?

This questions occupies every moment of our lives, most of the time unknowingly! Yes, every single thought-feeling-action in our daily life is centered on ‘I’ and focuses on either proving its existence or protecting it from death.

One may say, “I know who I am already and what I want from my life.”

Okay, what do we want from this life?

That’s another big question which is asked by everyone at some point of their lives but hushed up in the restless waves of the ocean called the mind. Some would prefer to leave it for scientists or Socrates and don’t care about all this philosophy! Well, yoga is for the people who care about themselves and about life and the world. So, yoga students ask this question again and again and try to find the answer from within.

02 yoga class (8)smallA Big Question: What is the Purpose of Life? 

A typical answer can be:
1) To grow up as a healthy kid in a safe environment (we can’t do anything about it now).
2) Good education at school (with lots of games and fun).
3) Acquire skills/degrees at college (for some this can mean party time with drinks-drugs-sex!).
4) Finding friendships and relationships (Facebook time?).
5) Getting a job to make enough money, to meet our needs for existence and have a lot of fun on weekends and during vacations.
6) Marriage and having kids (for some it’s a scary burden and the end of freedom).
7) More money to support the family, pay credit card bills and insurance (Oh I am getting older).
8) Retirement (a long holiday and waiting for death).
9) Peaceful death (who cares what happens next?).

So, the purpose of life is reaching a peaceful death and on the way having some exciting times with work, a home, cars, money etc… Also it is important to have fun with friends, family, kids and let’s not leave out our lovely pets. For some, it is important to be something in society or to do something for society!

Right?

10 Students (17)Well, it’s not a pleasant way of putting the complexities, absurdities and subtleties of our life in a few simple points… but this is what most of us aspire in life, knowingly or unknowingly.

Actually, or psychologically, very few people aspire to some big goal which they have in mind! It’s not that we can’t dream but very few of us dare to break the walls of archetypal social patterns and dare to walk the unique path. We are told (or brainwashed) to flow with the masses or maybe a smart sheep in the flock of humanity. We surrender to the great wheel of Samsara, dictated by our parents, teachers, society, media, friends, family, colleagues, governments etc… and also by our own minds. So, we are busy getting small doses of happiness from events, things, people and meeting day-to-day challenges, with no time for all these weird ideas about life and death!

Happiness

When we study the undercurrents of human life, we have an unspoken rule of thumb:

1) Seeking happiness / life.
2) Avoiding unhappiness / death.

Names, places, people, things and gadgets may change or repeat themselves in a different order, but what everybody wants from living this life is happiness/life. Avoiding unhappiness/death is just another way of saying “I want happiness and I don’t want death or the end of happiness!”

All this boils down to one word: ‘Happiness’. Life becomes a pursuit of happiness! Happiness becomes a standard of living. When we are happy, we feel alive. When we are not happy, we call it bad times!

In the next section we will study the secret of happiness that yoga offers!

06 Eating Time (77)

The Secret of Happiness!

So, it is happiness that drives us crazy in doing, talking, thinking and feeling all the things which make up what we call life. Yes, happiness, the never-ending promise fueled by the desire to be happy. The desire to have nice clothes, a nice house, a nice car, a nice this and that is secondary, what is important is ‘to be happy’. We catch hold of anything that makes us ‘happy’ and leave or throw away anything that doesn’t give us that ‘happiness’. Deep inside us we feel anything that makes us happy is ‘good’ and what doesn’t make us happy is ‘bad’, irrespective of what we think or say about good and bad social values.

The few yogis who embarked on this journey of finding the truth of life and death, ask if we are really happy even after pursuing happiness for years and decades. Is Bill Gates, with all his wealth, luxuries, name and fame, happy? If so, why does he still do things to make other people happy – well, that’s another way of making ourselves happy!

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.