O.P. Tiwari (*1933 in North India) is one of the great living Pranayama masters of India. He is a direct disciple of Swami Kuvalayananda, the founder of Kaivalyadhama Lonavla Institute and Ashram. For many years he was the leader of this world-renowned institute, which links Yoga tradition and science. With great integrity, he has been teaching now for more than 50 years, following the classical approach by Patanjali. We are honoured to share his insights on the practice of Pranayama.
This is the first published article of a series of our interviews with Yoga masters in India.
Becoming diagnosed with PD meant I lost my many skills in multi-tasking, I could no longer keep apace of my demanding job in education. I tried to fulfil the role but couldn’t function with the speed of thought I used to. It became too hard. With a heavy heart, I took retirement and I now think of my job as keeping myself well. I started to research Parkinson’s interventions vociferously, and these are the 2 key findings I have discovered. Read more
Choosing a yoga school in India for your yoga teacher training certification can sometimes be an overwhelming task. India being the birthplace of yoga is home to thousands of yoga schools, academies, and ashrams which makes the decision more confusing. That being said, you can select the right yoga school for your YTT by looking for the right qualities.
In this blog, we list out the basic 10 pointers that you must keep in mind while researching for your yoga teacher training centre (YTT) in India. Read more
Swami Satyananda and his disciples have put Bihar on the Yoga map with the Bihar School of Yoga that has been a beacon light for the seeker of Yoga. With numerous branches all over the world and Australia in particular, Swami Satyananda built up the Bihar School of Yoga on the back of the Ganges at Munger in the 1960s. A favourite chela of Swami Sivananda, his Bani encompasses the Yoga, Vedanta and Tantric traditions dealing with Yoga as a medium to gain and control the Psychic energies. The signature practice of the BSY is the Yoga Nidra that was developed by Satyananda. Swami Niranjananda continues the work of his Guru after Swami Satyananda attained Maha Samdhi. The Ashram in the mid period had become a deemed university under the name of Bihar Yoga Bharathi offering masters courses in the science of Yoga but then has changed back due to numerous developments.
For Yogi Andre Bolourchi, an Indian holy man was someone who lived in solitude, practiced celibacy, had a beard, and wore many malas. This stereotype lifted when he met Krishna, an Indian ascetic and Yogi who taught Yoga on the beaches of Goa. We stumbled upon the video of Andre practicing Yoga and learning Ayurveda with Krishna in Goa through the World Nomad’s YouTube channel. Since we loved what we saw about Andre’s Indian Yoga experience, we got in touch with him to find out more. Read more
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.
As a follow-up to Jane’s account of her experiences studying yoga with Vinay Kumar of Prana Vashya in Mysore, she has shared with us her notes of a discussion she had with Vinay on his unique style of yoga which is centred on the breath to bring a heightened consciousness to yoga practice. Vinay is perhaps best known for his popular ‘back bending class’ which all Mysore regulars will have heard a lot about. He spoke to Jane about how he developed his approach to Prana Vashya…
How were you first introduced to yoga?
I was 7 years old and very much impressed with the physical approach of gymnastics. A neighbour of ours took me to a teacher who showed me photos of yoga asanas (postures) and they convinced me that it was gymnastics. It took 2 years of me practicing asanas before I understood that it was not the gymnastics I had been looking for. He then introduced me to pranayama (breath control) and said that there is something beyond the physical aspect. It was then that I started experiencing and getting involved more in yoga.
When did you realise you wanted to dedicate your life to practicing and teaching yoga?
It was when I was 15 or 16. By that time I had a very strong practice of asanas and pranayama. Even though I started with the aim of achieving flexibility, I was drawn to pranayama practice which helped me to create my own sequence, which is now a system of practice. There was a voice in me which always kept me on this path. I was a student in electronics and psychology, but I always heard a voice saying this is not the path, you must practice yoga.
When did you start teaching?
I was 13 years old when I started to teach. My teacher opened a branch for me and introduced me to people of all ages, so all credit goes to him. I also worked as a coach to those participants who represent the state and country in competitions when I was 15.
How did Prana Vashya come about?
I wanted something beyond just a physical challenge to come through with my own practice. I felt that there was a need for another element to be included so I wanted to connect the breath with practice so that the influence remains for a longer time. This does not mean performing a lot of asanas but just synchronising these two elements to bring about a major change in the mind. It’s a sequence which will keep the person confident, energetic, healthy and highly energetic. That is what we mean by Prana Vashya, it is the controlling of the prana, which is life force.
You talk about the breath being one of the main components. How is the breath different to other styles of yoga such as ashtanga vinyasa?
Breath can be used in many ways in the practice. In Prana Vashya instead of physical accomplishment of a bandha (energy lock), we follow the breath lock which creates a point of focus within the body. So the main intention is to keep the practitioner focussed throughout the practice and provide him with easy elements to focus on. Each practitioner is asked to breathe and move in a particular way for every half breath, so there is constant attention fixed on the practice and no time for the mind to wander as it is completely engaged in itself.
In our approach of abdominal breathing, we don’t just see the lungs as the part of the body which takes in breath because if the lungs receive the breath, it should be with the support of the ribcage sideways and the abdomen downwards, making space for the lungs to expand, which we explain is a complete breath. If we say breathe in from the abdomen first, we are very sure that the breath won’t reach the abdominal part first – it starts working from the chest and then comes down. We expand the abdomen and create space which would not open if the chest expands completely first. Also, when you move the abdomen continuously, it is not happening independently and has to be influenced by the spine. The lungs can move with the help of the subconscious, but the abdomen cannot do that all the time so there is a constant message from the brain and the spine is influenced by the abdomen moving which will keep you more activated in the spine, with more warmth and more circulation.
You limit the number of people in your classes and teacher training. What are the reasons for this?
We keep it to a maximum of 12 in regular classes and we limit the teachers’ training course to four, to ensure everyone is satisfied. This way I can provide my full attention and they get the maximum amount of knowledge.
Can anybody practice Prana Vashya?
Yes, definitely. Because we observe the practice not in terms of only physical accomplishment but also its effect on the body and the mind, we have variations for any stage of the practice – a beginners to advanced. There are variations within the same series, so even though the sequence is made up of 62 postures, we have 62 variations. Even though there are 12 people in the class, every practitioner will work according to his or her breath capacity, physical capacity and limitations.
What type of student do you want to attract?
We tend to seek practitioners who want to build a personal, consistent, regular practice, not those who want to relax. For these people, yoga in Mysore would not be a good option because we believe that yoga asana practice or pranayama is not for bliss now but for bliss later, so we always say the process should be hard and the effort should be blissful.
If you could give one piece of advice to your students about their yoga journey what would it be?
I would say don’t stop with asana and pranayama alone. Give yourself the time to analyse what is happening, because we believe that asana and pranayama are just the pedals of the bicycle but the bicycle is moving and for you to realise it you have to be in a meditative state. So I would suggest sitting for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day observing how the mind is changing, how consistent it is, and how strong it is.
You conduct some yoga therapy, can you explain what this means to you?
From a very young age I was curious to observe the individual muscles and ligaments of the body and try to observe their capacities. This has helped me work with various people according to their requirements. According to me, therapy means bringing something back to normal – so we try to observe what is missing, what is the cause of any ailments or problems, and we try to work from the source rather than with the symptom.
Your back bending classes have become quite popular with people from different schools attending. What do you think makes it unique?
There are a few reasons for this. People call it ‘back bending class’ because they learn a few advanced postures but this course is actually called ‘back bending and overall flexibility development’ where we have not limited it to just back bending but also work on strengthening. I think something that makes it unique is we try to sequence the practice every day so there will not be a common sequence which the person follows. By observing their energy and capacity in the way they perform the sun salutation, we will tailor their sequence every day and try to break down a few postures which we fix as a goal to be accomplished by the end of the course.
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.
What 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.
Is 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.
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.