It’s Just Breathing

December 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

Wow, two posts in one day – you guys are in luck! 😉

I’ve spent the past week at a course learning about the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, taught by Nagaraja Rao. He’s erudite, lively and highly entertaining so don’t miss him if he passes through your area.

In preparation for each class, I’m re-reading Chip Hartranft’s commentary and the following passage about effort (abhyasa) really stuck with me:

A special type of effort is cultivated and driven by abhyasa, in which we practice to return to a point of focus without exertion. Instead, we come to relax the grip of wanting, aversion, or clinging to self that would pull attention away in the first place and also tend to generate subliminal bodymind tension. Thus the effort from abhyasa is not overt in the same way as conventional physical or mental effort. These inevitably reinforce one’s sense of self and cause(s) suffering…That is, the more force we use, the more it feels like we are doing something. As insight deepens, awareness recognizes that all effort is fraught with conditioning of its own and therefore sows the seeds of future suffering in consciousness. At the final stages of stilling, all action ceases. So abhyasa might better be described as “subtle effort”, focused on the cultivation of effortlessness.”

~”The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali”, Chip Hartranft, page 6.

I applied this concept of effortlessness to the led classes on Friday and today. And you know what? I think I’ve found the key to an enjoyable led class: just breathe. Don’t anticipate how hard it’s going to be. Don’t push yourself to keep up with the class. Don’t feel like you have something to prove. Don’t worry if you can’t do the full expression of Supta Kurmasana or can’t stay up for the full count in Sirsasana. Just focus on the breath, keeping it deep and relaxed. It made all the difference between finishing as an exhausted heap and walking out of the room bright-eyed and ready to face the day. I can safely say that the led classes are turning into the highlight of my week now.

Isn’t there an SKPJ quote somewhere that says yoga is all about breathing, the rest is just bending, or something like that? Now I get it.

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§ 4 Responses to It’s Just Breathing

  • Grimmly says:

    Indeed there is. He quotes Misra’s commentary on YS 2-47 in yogasanagalu and elsewhere. Here are my notes to this section I yogasanagalu. Long quote as I’m on my iPad and can only really cut and paste

    The translation and treatment of the sutra below is from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Based on the teaching of Srivatsa Ramaswami by Pamela Hoxsey and taught on the Vinyasa Krama teacher training course that I attended in 2010. This is relevant because Ramaswami spent over thirty years, from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, as Krishnamacharya’s student.

    Yoga Sutra II-47 
    “प्रायत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम्”
    “prayatnashithilyanantasamapattibhyam”

    “prayatna – effort (of life which is breathing)

    saithilya – smooth (make it smooth)

    ananta-samapattibhyam:

              ananta -breath

              samapattibhyam – focusing on it

    By making the breath smooth (and long), and by concentration or focussing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.

    Note: Krishnamacharya interprets this sutra differently than other teachers. he gives the correct technical meaning (in this context) fromn prayatna or Jivana prayatna, or effort of life which is breath. he says that it is the breath that should be made smooth and effortless, not the posture. it is not physical; it is the breathing” p55

    ——————————-
    I also found an Online edition of The Yoga Sutras with Vyasa’s commentary and the explanation/gloss called
    tattva- vaicardi of Vachaspati Micra ( Mitra) quoted in length in the text above.

    http://archive.org/details/yogasystemofpata00wooduoft

    II- 47. By relaxation of effort or by a [mental] state-of-balance with reference to Ananta
    [A posture] results. With these words the sentence is completed. When efforts cease the posture is completed,so that there is no agitation of the body. Or the mind-stuff comes into a balanced-state with reference to Ananta and produces the posture. (Vyasa)

    Having stated what the postures are, he tells what are the means of attaining them. 47.By relaxation of effort or by a [mental] state-of-balance with reference to Ananta. A natural effort sustaining the body is not the cause of this kind of posture which is to be taught as an aid to yoga. For if its cause were such, the preaching of it would be purposeless in that it could be naturally perfected. Therefore this natural effort does not accomplish this kind of posture which is to be taught and is contrary [to it]. For in so far as this [natural posture] is the cause of an arbitrarily chosen posture it is the destroyer of the specific kind of posture. Consequently a man, practising the specific posture as taught, should resort to an effort which consists in the relaxation of the natural effort. Otherwise the posture taught cannot be accomplished. Or . . . with Ananta,^ the Chief of Serpents, who upholds the globe of the earth upon his thousand very steadfast hoods, [with him] the mind-stuff comes into a balanced state and produces the posture”. (Vachaspati Micra)

    Translation of Ananta
    Ananta is another name for Vishnu (the infinite. limitless one) and often gets translated as infinity, some argue that the meaning of this sutra is to meditate upon the infinite, Sankara puts it like this,

    “When the mind attains samadhi on that which stands pervading all existence, the posture is perfected, made firm” p275  
    Sankara on the Yoga Sutras, Trevor Leggett.

    As Ramaswami states
    “Krishnamacharya interprets this sutra differently than other teachers…”

    “There is another interpretation of the word ananta. The…meaning comes from the word “ana” which means to breathe. Ana means preach. for example, prana, apana, vyana, and so on. They all come from the root ana, to breath. So, here ananta refers to the breath. Ananta Samapatti is to focus your attention on the breath. Anatasamapatti is to focus your attention on the life force which is the breath.” p97-98
    A Brief Introduction to yoga philosophy, based on the lectures of Srivatsa Ramaswami  by David Hurwitz.

    Enjoy the two types ?

    I’ve been troubled by the meaning of this, it seems to be a heading but what are the two types Krishnamacharya is referring too. 

    In the quoted (at length) commentary of Vachaspati Micra we find this line,

    “By relaxation of effort or by a [mental] state-of-balance with reference to Ananta”

    Is this then the two types (approaches to practice or asana)  that Krishnamacharya is referring too

    1. “By relaxation of effort 
    A natural effort sustaining the body is not the cause of this kind of posture which is to be taught as an aid to yoga. For if its cause were such, the preaching of it would be purposeless in that it could be naturally perfected. Therefore this natural effort does not accomplish this kind of posture which is to be taught and is contrary [to it]. For in so far as this [natural posture] is the cause of an arbitrarily chosen posture it is the destroyer of the specific kind of posture. Consequently a man, practising the specific posture as taught, should resort to an effort which consists in the relaxation of the natural effort. Otherwise the posture taught cannot be accomplished”. Vachaspati Micra

    How do we do this?
    As Ramaswami stated above
    “By making the breath smooth (and long), and by concentration or focussing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.

    Note: Krishnamacharya interprets this sutra differently than other teachers. he gives the correct technical meaning (in this context) fromn prayatna or Jivana prayatna, or effort of life which is breath. he says that it is the breath that should be made smooth and effortless, not the posture. it is not physical; it is the breathing” p55

    2. by a [mental] state-of-balance with reference to Ananta
    Or . . . with Ananta,^ the Chief of Serpents, who upholds the globe of the earth upon his thousand very steadfast hoods, [with him] the mind-stuff comes into a balanced state and produces the posture”. (Vachaspati Micra)

  • D says:

    Hi Grimmly,

    Wow. I honestly find Micra’s translation a little esoteric and over my head, but based on my understanding of the excerpts you shared, it doesn’t sound like there’s a significant difference between the two interpretations. Yes, Krishnamacharya’s focus is on ease of breath, but isn’t one of the fruits of Micra’s “relaxation of natural effort” smooth breathing as well? In order to relax – physically and mentally – breathing needs to come easily, otherwise the body will tense up, no? From my interpretations (of these interpretations!) it reads like they both view the breath as a tool to focus the mind and enable dhyana.

    We’re studying the Sadhana Pada next week so I will definitely have more to say about II.47 when we get to it! 🙂

    • grimmly says:

      Yes D, exactly. Micra’s commentary is one of the four important ones and K. ( or perhaps his own teacher ) is using that as the ground for the interpretation of ananta as breathe, seems a small step as you suggest but it’s controversial I think. In this intepretation the breath becomes the key to the whole yoga sutras and K’s whole approach to practice….it could be argued : )

      • D says:

        Hmmm……I think the breath is already key in the yoga sutras even if it’s not explicitly said. As for its role in K’s approach to practice – I think it’s pretty evident, no? Isn’t he the guy who came up with the vinyasa system?

        Anyway – I think it boils down to how precise you want to be…..I’m definitely open to the possibility that Micra’s commentary is controversial/revolutionary, but I’m just not seeing it right now…..

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