Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Hatha free Ashtanga Including Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda Raja yoga Kriya's and Mudras.

Note: This is an old post on my other blog from 2017.

Raja yoga, Patanjali's 'one pointedness', that can be employed as a tool, is I believe what most attracts me, intellectually at least, to this practice and yet Ashtanga, my physical practice of choice, seems to be more from the hatha yoga tradition. Why then am I practicing hatha, which so often seems a distraction, rather than Raja yoga?

Whenever I'm troubled by this I'm reminded of  Krishnamacharya's writing of Janu Sirsasana in Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934).....

"11 Janusirsasana
This form follows the hatha yoga principles. Another form follows the raja yoga method."

As far as I understand it, Krishnamacharya considered Janu Sirsaana A. Raja yoga and Janu Sirssana B. Hatha yoga, funnily enough I stopped bothering with Janu B years ago.

This is the only asana Krishnamacharya mentions the distinction in the asana section but we find it all through the kriya and mudra sections ( see below).

It seems we can be practicing our asana from a Raja perspective or from a Hatha perspective. I find that very interesting. I hope I'm practicing more from a Raja perspective but I'm still very unclear of Krishnamacharya's distinction.

I suspect that Krishnamacharya got this distinction from some text, perhaps one that he mentions in his Yoga Makaranda bibliography. Krishnamacharya could converse in Sanskrit, I suspect that one of the things that attracted him to travelling all over India promoting yoga for the Maharaja of Mysore was that he got to visit all the great and small important libraries. I suspect many of the texts Krishnamacharya read are now lost to us.

Perhaps it doesn't matter, Krishnamacharya's 'Yoga for the three stages of life' is all about preparation for the householder, we're  not expected to be 'real' yogis, at least not until our householder duties are complete, when we can then retire to the metaphysical forest and get down to some serious yoga. Yoga is or should be a discipline, a support for our ethics and our ethics, by simplifying, reducing, the emotional chaos of our lives, support our practice in return. It's a symbiotic relationship, our practice of yoga IS, or can be, an ethical practice. The Stoics would understand this, stoicism was and is all about training of the will.


This post marks ten years of practice and nine years of blogging about it., see this post

Is Hatha required for the Raja yoga practitioner?

The Yoga Body (Hatha)
Note: the terms 'Hatha' and Raja' are used here merely out of convenience. With 'Raja' I'm referring to the practice outlined by Patnajali/Vyasa, 'classical' is another term we might use. 'Hatha' referring to the much later Tantric inspired practices,

Some argue that it is (required), that Hatha is a 'rung on the ladder' leading to the fulfilment of Raja Yoga, that the goal of Raja yoga cannot be attained WITHOUT Hatha yoga.

This argument, however, tends to be made by Hatha yogis and/or Hatha yoga writers and teachers or those confused as to where Hatha and Raja begin and end. 

James Malinson and Mark Singleton's 'Roots of Yoga' is useful resource for garnering an improved  understanding as to when tantra and hatha yoga concepts and practices came about. Raja yoga, it seems,  got along quite nicely for hundreds of years before tantra and hatha came along*. Prana (as subtle psychic energy rather than just breath), Bindu, Kundalini, Sushumna, the Yoga body, were /are later concepts and models and not necessarily anything to do with Raja yoga. 

*Patanjali's presentation of yoga may actually have become almost lost until a renewal of interest in the 13th century, no doubt as a result of the rise of Tantra/Hatha.

Roots of yoga

I am not suggesting in this post that one yoga methodology is correct another incorrect but rather, seeking to untangle the category mistakes, where we are talking about the objective of one approach to yoga but confusing it with the methodology associated with another that has perhaps a different objective altogether.

Here's krishnamacharya's student of thirty plus years, Srivatsa Ramaswami, responding to a question in 'Yoga beneath the surface'....

"The whole approach of yoga is to help the practitioner turn inward and understand his/her system, be it the body, the nadis, the mind, or the soul.  Any of these would help to make the yogi less and less interested in the objective universe, and become more aware of himself or herself. 
So, it is more a question of an inward journey or study.

Raja yoga urges the yogi to understand his/her's mind and quiet it, so that the mind 'can see the self forever'. 

Hatha yoga would like the prana that is  flowing outward, through the nadis to the senses to experience the exteral world, to flow inward into the sushumna and reach the sahasrara and obtain samadhi. 

Kun­dalini yogis, with some yoga practice and intense visualisation, arouse the sleeping kundalini that obstructs the flow of prana to sushumna, and reach the Siva principie, or tatwa, in tbe sahasrara. This union of sakti with Siva is the aim of Kundalini yogis, and takes place with intense concentration within the yogi. 

The same for Mantra yoga. The Sakta Mantra yogis, by intense devotion and use of the mantras, are able to arouse the kundalini and guide it through the sushumna  for merger with the Siva tatwa.

 All these yogas, as  youu can see, are for the inward journey. All of them promise that, if you are able to reach the goal, the expe­rience is incomparably superior to anything that one gets in this world or the world beyond, like heaven. 

Kundalini yogis say that, when the ultimate union or yoga is accomplished, the yogi expe­riences immense bliss throughout his/her nadis. 

Raja yogis such as Patanjali talk about immense peace in kaivalya. 

In the Mahab­harata, a great epic, it is said that the happiness one gets  from fulfilment of desires, or the happiness one gets by the fulfilment of the desires in the worlds beyond, such as heaven, is, by compar­ison, not even a sixteenth part of the happiness one gets out of the desirelessness (vairagya) toward these objects".
Srivatsa Ramaswami yoga beneath the surface p189

Unfortunately then, all these different yoga's are called....Yoga. Not only are their methodologies different but their goals are different, one (hatha) is to achieve the immortal body and siddhis (Mallinson), another to achieve union with divine...Raja (Patanjali/Vyasa) is to attain liberation through ekigrata, applied one-pointed focus.

"Our ancients, the great rishis, followers of their sanatana dharma from the beginning of time, became experts in yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, stopped all external movements of the mind, and through the path of raja yoga attained a high state of happiness in this world and beyond. And they continue until this day to experience this". 
Krishnamacharya -Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)

Krishnamacharya continues...

"But during ancient times, all were skilled yoga practitioners and therefore had good health and strength, were blessed with a long life and were able to serve society". 

So Krishnamacharya starts out talking about Raja Yoga but then begins atalking bout yoga for health and strength..., the territory commonly associated with hatha yoga. Krishnamacharya seems to have assumed that there was some form of physical yoga practice way back before hatha was a glimmer in Tantra's eye.

There may well have been, it seems likely that there were other postures than the handful of seated asana Patanjali/Vyasa seem to refer to. The early ascetics clearly had tapas postures, it's not a stretch to think other postures or exercises were practiced with focus by those early yogis, if only to warm up in the morning or to shake out the limbs after a long sit.

Either way, these postures were not to unite prana, conserve bindu or force kundalini into the sushumna...., the sushumna, the yoga body concepts/models hadn't been invented/constructed back then. Nor were the yogi's concerned with achieving bliss, they had their eye on a bigger fish, bliss would have been a lower jana to pass over in seeking kaivalya, liberation, likewise the siddhis that may or may not have arisen as a distraction, a temptation....., a hindrance.

In Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)  Krishnamacharya at least noted where he believed one practice to be belonging to Hatha yoga another to Raja and we can assume that he is referencing the texts he mentions in his bibliography, mostly later texts. The Yoga Upanishads  he references were hatha influenced, likewise the Yogayajnavalkya that Krishnamacharya had such an affection for.

Krishnamacharya was as confused as anyone else I suspect but he had a principle to work by...,

As long as a practice doesn't contradict Patanjali, go against the aims of the Yoga Sutras, then it might be considered.

In this he perhaps opened the doors to a great deal of confusion. Krishnamacharya was more than happy however to point out where practices in the hatha yoga pradipika for instance should be dismissed.

My own principle/ rule of thumb is to ask: 
To what extent is this is a support for my practice, to what extent a distraction? 

Where Krishnamacharya made an effort to be clear about which practices were hatha and which raja, everyone else since seems happy to have allowed them to bleed into each other such that we have the incoherent, contradictory  confused situation we have today. It seems to have become quite acceptable to cherry pick from one system or another wherever our interest takes us or perhaps the marketing possibilities.

Are we then practicing asana for hatha or for raja objectives, are we seeking to attain one pointedness or to force that kundalini into the sushimna, unite apana and prana, yoke ourselves with the universal. What are we practicing for?

Even here, in our definition of the word 'Yoga' we are confused, there are multiple translations available. Generally, it seems, in the eyes of most modern practitioners Yoga is translated as 'yoke', and interpreted as union, with for example the divine/universal consciousness. For Patanjali/Vyasa..., for Raja yoga the intepretation is to 'yoke the mind', "... it entails yoking the mind on an object of concentration" (Bryant)

I'll repeat the later as this is what interests me most in yoga...

"... it entails yoking the mind on an object of concentration" (Bryant)

Ashtanga Vinyasa

Note: I consider my daily practice to be Raja yoga, Patanjali/Vyasa yoga, the form this happens to take is Ashtanga Vinyasa as presented by Krishnamacharya/Jois ( with a Vinyasa Krama interpretation). I happen to find this form, the relation of the body to the focus on the breath in silent self practice, suitable for me personally. I have never practiced with Pattabhi Jois personally and have no interest in practicing at KPJAYI, my attitude to Krishnamacharya is merely one of curiosity. I refer to Ashtanga Vinyasa in this post but my interest is in a Raja yoga free from later Hatha yoga metaphysics, it may just as well be practiced perhaps in your local studio as in an Ashtanga Shala or, my preference, our own home. I have no involvement with parampara or a guru–shishya tradition, no interest in glorifying the practice or it's teachers past or present. I am merely appreciative. Each morning, before practice I thank "...all teachers and practitioners for bringing me to and maintaining me in my practice".

What does Ashtanga Vinyasa look like to you, do you see a dynamic, fast paced, physically challenging, hot sweaty, tight bodied practice or do you see, when practiced well and modestly, stillness, do you hear the breath? For me it's the latter.

Note: personally I take my practice more slowly, modified, seeking efficiency rather than challenge and in a moderately warm room.

Pattabhi Jois, when asked, allegedly referred to the yoga he taught as Ashtanga, to reference Patanjali, his teacher Krishnamacharya's ground zero, this is pre Hatha.

Many of the criticisms directed at Ashtanga Vinyasa seem to be on account of an assumed failure by Ashtanga Vinyasa and it's teachers/practitioners to focus enough on hatha yoga concepts and practices ( although many creep in perhaps due to a lack of awareness of the distinctions/demarcation between these two yogas, as well as others).

However, Ashtanga Vinyasa is Raja yoga, the later hatha practices are not required. The asana practiced are for health, strength, fitness, concentration and need not be related to the 'Yoga body' model, the asana, the vinyasa, are also a container/a form, for the breath to be focussed upon as an object of meditation

Raja yogi's from other schools in the Krishnamacharya lineage also criticise Ashtanga Vinyasa for not giving, what they may consider, enough stress to the other limbs in Patanjali's yoga. They may have a point. However, it could also be argued that Ashtanga Vinyasa (whether practiced speedily or more slowly), in it's attention to the breath, in following the breath throughout the sixty, ninety, hundred and twenty plus minutes of practice is indeed very much in line with Patanjali's guidance. The breath is, for Patanjali /Vyasa a legitimate object of concentration and he instructs us to work on this practice, this focus on an object until samadhi arises...., which may or may not happen in this lifetime.

1.32 To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object.
(tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah) http://www.swamij.com/

1.34 The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.
(prachchhardana vidharanabhyam va pranayama) http://www.swamij.com/

1.39 Or by contemplating or concentrating on whatever object or principle one may like, or towards which one has a predisposition, the mind becomes stable and tranquil.
(yatha abhimata dhyanat va)  http://www.swamij.com/

Notes on the 1.32 and 1.34, on breath as an object of concentration, from my preferred edition of the Yoga Sutras.

And 1:39 from the excellent Edwin Bryant's Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - with insights from the traditional commentaries.

For some, half a series of asana may be sufficient, boredom not being a distraction, for others ever more asana and series may be required to maintain interest and keep the student on the mat (something some may take advantage of rather than seeking to help overcome).

The Yoga Mat is Ashtanga Vinyasa's Zafu.

That said, the other limbs, can be a support to this practice, the yama and niyama may simplify our lives and give rise to compassion, both may help loosen our attachments and reduce distractions, they can be a support for our asana practice, just as the practice of pranayama may reduce our emotional distractions. and likewise pratyahara and just Sitting in calm abiding with the breath without the distraction of attaining a complicated asana.

At different times in our practice, teachers, fellow practitioners, attending a shala or studio, visiting Mysore, reading relevant texts, taking on more challenging asana or indeed letting go of asana may or may not be found to be a support for our practice, it may equally be that merely attending to the breath, alone and at home, practicing modestly, is more than sufficient.

Patanjali/Vyasa's eight limb (ashtanga) Yoga is a clear, straight forward path/methodology but hard if not near impossible to follow, to stick to/with, there are seemingly endless distractions. The yama/niyama are there to help us with these distractions. Krishnamacharya stressed that the yama/niyama should be engaged with from the beginning. Unfortunately it's often suggest that the yama and niyama can come later, after the asana or late into asana practice.

Asana, rather than being a tool to overcome distraction, to help lead us towards one-pointedness, has for many become the biggest distraction of all, perhaps as a result of this lack of attention to the yamas and niyamas (whether of our own culture/tradition or as outlined by Patanaji). Our inner craving for distraction has been fed upon by the market, we need it seems ever better alignment, more flow, more visualisation, we need ever more anatomy awareness or more understanding of this allegedly related concept/model from the hatha tradition, we need more historical knowledge.

Of course we need none of these. We can sit on the edge a chair and follow the breath, or we can use Ashtanga vinyasa as a tool and move from one asana to the next with enough awareness of anatomy perhaps to keep us safe while bringing our attention constantly back to the breath, whether we practice half a series or six. Nothing else is required.

If samadhi arrises in this lifetime, then we'll need to go back to Patanjali and see what comes next but for most of us, "ekam-inhale....".

Whether we ever attain samadhi or not we can perhaps tread more lightly in the world, be of service, live healthier, calmer lives with focus and concentration that we may direct where we feel is most appropriate. If samadhi arises, so be it if not this perhaps is sufficient.... for this lifetime.


from the comments

Shaz2 March 2017 at 22:20

Interesting post, thank you. I am still trying to figure it out. 

What would you say then of a lot of Astanga teachers that teach the movement of prana in asana? So, the 'alignment' is the bringing together of prana and apana, with their associated physical spiralling actions? Richard Freeman and many of his students teach this. Is this then the 'bleeding over' of hatha methodology into the kriya yoga / raja yoga?

And what about the enormous emphasis on mula bandha? Mula bandha is also very much about getting energy into the sushumna. 


Anthony Grim Hall - 3 March 2017 at 09:17

"Interesting post, thank you. I am still trying to figure it out". Me too.

"What would you say then of a lot of Astanga teachers that teach the movement of prana in asana?" That's what the post is Shaz, my response to this.

Raja and Hatha are separated by hundreds of years Shaz, it's like comparing Plutarch with Roger Bacon, we might call both Philosophers, practicing philosophy both engaged in the search for knowledge but they are as different as chalk and cheese. and I don't fancy attempting to write on a blackboard with a stick of edam or put chalk in my cheese and tomato sandwich.

As I mention above Krishnamacharya was no doubt as confused as everyone else as to Hatha and Raja practices, while emphasising Patanjali and the yoga sutras (Raja) he leaned toward the Yogayajnavalkya a tantra/hatha influenced text. He included hatha mudras and kriyas in his Yoga Makaranda, though distinguishing between them which he believed to belong to hatha and which raja. He seemed to feel that one could bring in certain hatha practices either for the associated healt benefits and/or as a support for Raja yoga. Pattabhi Jois did the same, as you say, stressing the bandhas. 

Am I suggesting we abandon bandha practice, I'm undecided but leaning towards the idea that we can abandon the tantra metaphysics, the hatha goals and yet still chose to include certain practices that have clear benefits for our physical practice. So we can perhaps abandon the hatha concept of prana/apana ( for Patanjali, prana seems just to have referred to the breath, not a subtle psychic energy) and yet hold onto the muscular aspect of bandhas in say their support for the spine in our asana practice.

Re Richard Freeman. If you're a follower of this blog you'll know I love Richard, I find his visualisations beneficial at times for moving in and out of as well as holding postures, I don't however take on board the hatha ideas he writes about concerning prana/apana, kundalini, sushumna or seeking bliss. Richard is interesting in that, as he is the first to say, he brings together several traditions of yoga into the Ashtanga Vinyasa he teaches. Richard studied several different forms of yoga for many years before practicing with Patabbhi Jois.

Is the idea of 'Ashtanga without Hatha', throwing a whole bath full of babies out with the bathwater, possibly but we are in an environment where the market will latch on to anything it thinks it can sell and promote. 

This post is asking if it's still possible to separate out Hatha from Raja. If it's possible today to have an asana practice with a Raja yoga intention without recourse to the tantra metaphysics on which hatha practices are based.

If the answer is yes, and I believe it is, then we can perhaps look at individual hatha practices and, as with the bandhas, consider if their practice is beneficial without regard to the conceptual model which gave rise to them.

But again, this post is not intended to be critical of Hatha or of Tantra, it could equally be a post about practicing Hatha without concern for Patanjali/Vyasa, Samkhya and Raja yoga. Or the even more interesting question perhaps as to whether it's Patanajali/Vyasa's Raja yoga is conceivable without a Buddhist influence.


Note: While I focus on Krishnamacharya here in the appendix, to illustrate the distinction he made between hatha and raja yoga practices, this post is not concerned with the question of what or how Krishnamacharya practiced ( or Jois for that matter)  but whether Raja can be practiced today without recourse to hatha practices

1. Kriya and Mudra practices Krishnamacharya indicated as belonging to Raja Yoga in his Yoga Makaranda ( Mysore 1934)

My suspicion is that Krishnamacharya was not himself sufficiently clear as to the distinction between Raja and Hatha yoga, which texts where tantra inspired/influenced (Yogayajnavalkya?) It would have been difficult to date many of the texts he discovered/encountered. Krishnamacharya's rule of thumb seems to have been that if it didn't go against Patanjali's Yoga Sutras then a practice might be considered. He did however make an effort to indicate which practices he considered hatha and which Raja yoga. Pattabhi Jois perhaps failed to continue indicating these distinctions sufficiently as did BKS Iyengar, the result being that practices from one tradition have been allowed to blend into one another. One Ashtanga vinyasa teacher might consider it beneficial to follow his/her own interest and focus on prana as subtle psychic energy, another on raising kundalini, another on subtle and/or yoga body visualisations, still another on conserving bindu. Chanting mantras, compete with the breath as a focus of attention, likewise chakras, bandhas, praying to Hanuman or Kali or Ganesha, to Ishvara. Students who study with several of these teachers may end up merging several of these approaches, unclear themselves as to where one begins and ends, whether they are consistent with each other or contradictory.


In Yoga Makaranda, Krishnamacharya lists Kiriyas and Mudras and notes which belong to Raja and which to Hatha yoga. I find it interesting and useful to separate out the different practices and list them under their different traditions, we may get a feel for what seems to characterise each.

Krishnamacharya even makes this distinction in his instructions for janu Sirsasana.

As far as other asana go, we might look at how Pattabhi Jois (Krishnamacharya's assistant for a time) taught asana, perhaps reflecting how Krishnamacharya himself taught the boys of the palace with the focus on strength, health fitness, concentration and contrast it with krishnamacharya's own instruction in Yoga Makaranda, the longer stays, the kumbhakas, perhaps there is an implied distinction between asana for strength and asana for spiritual progress along with the benefits outline that may be considered asana for health.

Personally I'm no longer that interested the practices outlined below. We should remember too that Krishnamacharya was but one scholar, one authority and most likely flawed by the limitations of his research and the information available to him at that time.


All quotes below from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)

There are many types of this yoga — 1. hatha yoga, 2. mantra yoga, 3. laya yoga, 4. raja yoga.
Hatha yoga focusses mainly on descriptions of the methods for doing asanas.
Raja yoga teaches the means to improve the skills and talents of the mind through the processes of dharana and dhyana. It also explains how to bring the eleven indriyas under control and stop their activities in the third eye (the eye of wisdom), the ajn ̃a cakra, or the thousand-petalled lotus position (that is turn their attention inward and not outward) and describes how to see the jivatma, the paramatma and all the states of the universe. But even here it is mentioned that to clean the nadis it is necessary to follow the pranayama kramas.

Asana and pranayama are initially extremely important. But if one wants 21 to master asana and pranayama, it is essential to bring the indriyas under one’s control.
Yoga consists of eight angas which are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

I. Dhauti Kriya

1. Antar Dhauti: This is of four types: vata sara dhauti, vari sara dhauti, vanhi sara dhauti, bahish kritham dhauti.

(a) Vata Sara Dhauti: For this, first hold the mouth like a crow’s beak and gradually suck in the air. Then close the mouth and swallow the air that was sucked in. After this, allowing the air to occupy the stomach, swirl it this way and that in waves as though washing the stomach. Then send it out of the body through the anus or the nose.
Practising this just once isn’t enough to expel the sucked-in air through the anus. Practise this for several days without fail, repeating the activity at least 25 times daily. Then, after a few days it will become possible to expel the air through the anal passage.

Those who do not have the time for this can expel the air through recaka or exhalation of the air out through the nose slowly and care- fully. This will give very good benefits. This vata sara dhauti belongs to raja yoga.

(c) Vanhi Sara Dhauti: The stomach along with the navel should be pulled in to touch and press against (stick to) the spine and then should be pushed forward again. Repeat this several times. While pulling the stomach in, do recaka kumbhaka and while pushing it out do puraka kumbhaka. Practise this before eating. If you want to do this after eating, wait at least three hours. Otherwise it will be dangerous. This exercise needs to be practised daily, repeating it 84 times in a day. This belongs to raja yoga.

kumbhaka. Practise this before eating. If you want to do this after eating, wait at least three hours. Otherwise it will be dangerous. This exercise needs to be practised daily, repeating it 84 times in a day. This belongs to raja yoga.

II Basti Kriya

2. Sthala Basti: Sit in pascimottanasana. Through aswini mudra draw in the vayu and push it out and turn the stomach in all four directions.

Benefit: Constipation, indigestion — such diseases will be destroyed. It will increase jathara agni. This is raja yoga.

2. Vamakrama Kapalabhati Kriya: (left side) Draw in (inhale) the air through the left nostril and exhale it out through the right nostril. Then draw in the air through the right nostril and exhale it out through the left nostril. After you do this four times, draw in clean water through the left nostril. Lift the face up, press the left nostril with the finger, tilt the head slightly to the right side and spill out the water through the right nostril. In a similar manner, the water taken in through the right nostril should be expelled or spilled out through the left nostril.
Benefit: Dripping phlegm diseases (running nose) will be prevented. It will develop the strength of the indriyas to smell even the most subtle smell. This is raja yoga.

IV. Nauli Kriya

The nerves of the lower abdomen are pulled into the stomach and are then rapidly turned around this way and that, to the left and right sides, all around the stomach.
Benefit: Removes all diseases and strengthens digestive power. This is raja yoga.

V. Trataka Kriya

Fix the gaze at one point or object without moving or blinking the eye until it starts to tear.
Benefit: Removes all diseases of the eye; gives good eyesight. Not only that, it develops the power to become adept at sambhavi mudra and will also prevent long sightedness. This is raja yoga.

VI. Kapalabhati Kriya

This is of three types: vyut krama, vama krama and cit krama.

1. Vyutkrama Kapalabhati Kriya: Draw in water through the
nostril and send it out through the mouth. This is raja yoga.

2. Vamakrama Kapalabhati Kriya: (left side) Draw in (inhale) the air through the left nostril and exhale it out through the right nostril. Then draw in the air through the right nostril and exhale it out through the left nostril. After you do this four times, draw in clean water through the left nostril. Lift the face up, press the left nostril with the finger, tilt the head slightly to the right side and spill out the water through the right nostril. In a similar manner, the water taken in through the right nostril should be expelled or spilled out through the left nostril.
Benefit: Dripping phlegm diseases (running nose) will be prevented. It will develop the strength of the indriyas to smell even the most subtle smell. This is raja yoga.


7. Mahadeva Mudra: Sit in mula bandha mudra and do kumbhaka in uddiyana bandha.
Benefit: This will increase the jathara agni and you will get the animadi guna siddhi — one of the eight siddhis which is the quality of becoming as minute as an atom. This belongs to raja yoga.

9. Viparita Karani Mudra: Keeping the head on the ground, lift the legs up and hold the entire body straight without bending or curving the body in any direction. This is raja yoga.

13. Tataka Mudra: Sit in pascimottanasana and push the stomach for- ward. This is raja yoga.

15. Sambhavi Mudra: Due to the strength of the traataka abhyasa men- tioned in the shatkriyas, after the eyes have teared profusely, fix the gaze on the mid-brow.
Benefit: This gives rise to ekagrata citta and gives dhyana siddhi. This is raja yoga.

16. Aswini Mudra: Repeatedly close and open the anal opening many times.
Benefit: Cures diseases of the rectum, will render physical strength and sharpness of the intellect, awakens the power of kundalini and conquers untimely death. This is raja yoga.

19. Mathangini Mudra: Stand in water up to the neck. Through the nostrils, draw in water and spit it out through the mouth. Then take in water through the mouth and expel it out through the nose. This is raja yoga.

20. Bhujangini Mudra: Stay in bhujangasana, stretch the neck out in front and according to vata sara krama, pull in the outside air and do puraka kumbhaka.
Benefit: This will remove diseases like indigestion, agni mandam (low agni), stop stomach pain and leave you happy. This is raja yoga.

11 Janusirsasana

This form follows the hatha yoga principles. Another form follows the raja yoga method. The practitioner should learn the di erence. First, take either leg and extend it straight out in front. Keep the heel pressed firmly on the floor with the toes pointing upward. That is, the leg should not lean to either side. The base (back) of the knee should be pressed against the ground. Fold the other leg and place the heel against the genitals, with the area above the knee (the thigh) placed straight against the hip. That is, arrange the straight leg which has been extended in front and the folded leg so that together they form an “L”. Up to this point, there is no di erence between the practice of the hatha yogi and the raja yogi.

For the hatha yoga practitioner, the heel of the bent leg should be pressed firmly between the rectum and the scrotum. Tightly clasp the extended foot with both hands, raise the head and do puraka kumbhaka. Remain in this position for some time and then, doing recaka, lower the head and place the face onto the knee of the outstretched leg. While doing this, do not pull the breath in. It may be exhaled. After this, raise the head and do puraka. Repeat this on the other side following the rules mentioned above.
The raja yogi should place the back of the sole of the folded leg between the scrotum and the genitals. Now practise following the other rules described above for the hatha yogis. There are 22 vinyasas for janusirsasana. Please note carefully that all parts of the outstretched leg and the folded leg should touch the floor. While holding the feet with the hands, pull and clasp the feet tightly. Keep the head or face or nose on top of the kneecap and remain in this sthiti from 5 minutes up to half an hour. If it is not possible to stay in recaka for that long, raise the head in between, do puraka kumbhaka and then, doing recaka, place the head back down on the knee. While keeping the head lowered onto the knee, puraka kumbhaka should not be done. This rule must be followed in all asanas.
While practising this asana, however much the stomach is pulled in, there will be that much increase in the benefits received. While practising this, after exhaling the breath, hold the breath firmly. Without worrying about why this is so di⇥cult, pull in the stomach beginning with the navel, keep the attention focussed on all the nadis in and near the rectal and the genital areas and pull these upwards — if you do the asana in this way, not only will all urinary diseases, diabetes and such diseases disappear, but wet dreams will stop, the viryam will thicken and the entire body will become strong.
Whoever is unable to pull in the nadis or the stomach may ignore just those instructions and follow the instructions mentioned earlier to the extent possible. Keep the nadis in and near the rectal and genital areas pulled up, the stomach pulled in and hold the prana vayu steady. Anybody with the power to practise this will very soon be free of disease and will get virya balam. Leaving this aside, if you follow the rules according to your capability, you will gradually attain the benefits mentioned below.

2. Kriya and Mudra practices Krishnamacharya indicated as belonging to Hatha or Laya Yoga in his Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)

(d) Bahish Kritha Dhauti: 
Position the mouth like a crow’s beak and suck in the air to the extent possible. Hold the air in (kumbhaka) and then exhale it out (recaka) through the nostril. This is only for those who are beginning the practice of recaka kumbhaka. Repeat this 25 times a day. This has to be done either before eating in the morning or before eating in the evening. If one keeps increasing the practice of this correctly, it develops the ability to hold the breath (kumbhaka) for long periods. Not only that, it will automatically become possible to expel the air through the anal opening. Once you begin to expel the air through the anal opening, you should not then try to exhale it out through the nose. Through this practice, after acquiring the ability to hold the breath for 1.5 hours, proceed as follows: Standing in water up to the navel, very carefully and cautiously push out the large intestine which is the sakti nadi located in the lower abdomen up to the muladhara cakra through the anal opening. Wash it with water until it is clean and then push it back inside through the same anal opening.
Warning: This kriya is only for hatha yogis and not for raja yogis, laya yogis or mantra yogis.

Jihwa Dhauti: 
Scrub the tongue vigourously using the three fingers of the right hand excluding the thumb and little finger. Spit out all the phlegm that comes out while rubbing the tongue. Afterwards, wash the tongue with water, gargle and rinse the mouth. Then rub cow’s butter on the tongue. After this, with a small iron tong, hold the tip of the tongue lightly and little by little pull it out. This is only for hatha yogis.

Jala Basti: Stand in water up to the navel. Then get into utkatasana and through the strength of kumbhaka, force the water in through the open- ing of the anal canal. Practise this as described and before twelve repeti- tions, su⇥cient water will reach the lower abdomen. After this, following the krama, push the water that is in the abdomen little by little back out through the anal opening. This should be done three times a day.

Benefit: Diabetes, urinary diseases, obstruction of bowels — such diseases caused by bad apana vayu will be removed. One acquires a handsome beautiful physical appearance and the body develops a shine and beauty like that of Manmada. This belongs to hatha yoga.

III. Neti Kriya
Take one span (the length between the thumb and little finger) of thin thread. Suck it in through the nostril and hold the two ends of the thread with the two hands after one end comes out of the mouth. Very carefully (caution!) pull it up and down about 10 — 12 times. This thread should then be removed through the mouth.

Benefit: Removes many types of kapha diseases. It will give good eyesight and will help to become adept at khecari mudra. This is hatha yoga.

Citkrama Kapalabhati Kriya: Take water in through the mouth, swallow it and then expel it out through the nose. This is to be repeated twenty-three times.
Benefit: This will remove diseases of phlegm, will also prevent old age, and will give lustre or brilliance to the body. This is hatha yoga.

All the kapalabhati kriyas should be done with clean, cool (unheated) water. The superior time for practising these kriyas is early in the morning before sunrise. For the first fifteen days of practising these kapalabhati kriyas, there will be a burning sensation in the nose, mouth and throat and you will develop a little phlegm or congestion. Ignoring these symptoms, very faithfully follow the instructions and practise the kriyas. All the benefits mentioned above will be experienced very quickly.

Mulabandha Mudra: 
With the left heel, firmly press the kandasthana which is between the rectum and the genitals and pull the heel in tightly in order to close the anus. Pull in the stomach firmly and press it against the bones in the back (the spine). Bring in the right heel and place it on top of the genitals. This is in hatha yoga.

Khecari Mudra
After first learning the yoga marmas with the help of a satguru who is still practising this, cut 1/12 of one angula measure (width of one hair) of the thin seed of skin at the bottom of the tongue with a sharp knife. Apply a well-powdered paste of sainthava lavanam salt (rock salt) on the area of the cut. Rub cow’s butter on both sides of the tongue, and holding the tip of the tongue with a small iron tong, pull the tongue out carefully, little by little. Repeat this (the pulling) every day. Once a week, as mentioned above, cut the seed of flesh at the base of the tongue very carefully. Practise this for three years. The tongue will lengthen and will easily be able to touch the middle of the eyebrows. After it lengthens this much, fold it inside the mouth, keep it in the cavity which is alongside the base of the inner tongue and fix the gaze on the mid-brow.
Benefit: Hunger and thirst subside without loss of body strength and with- out allowing room in the body for any disease. If practised daily, the body develops a lustre in a few days and one quickly reaches the state of samadhi and drinks the divine nectar. This belongs to hatha yoga.

(b) Vajroli Mudra: 
Form 2: Take a 12 angula long thin glass pipette or lead pipe and through the genital opening insert it and remove it daily, increasing the amount of insertion by one angula each day. After you are able to practise inserting the pipe for a length of twelve angulas, draw in the outside air through such an opening in the genitals. After practising this, eventually draw in milk and then water and then push them out of the body. This is hatha yoga.

Manduka Mudra: 
Keep the mouth closed and fold the tip of the tongue up to the top palate and after this keep moving it this way and that. Catch the nectar dripping from the upper part of the root of the tongue and swallow it. This is hatha yoga.

Pasini Mudra
Take the two legs and place them behind the neck. Extend the arms, and with the support of the outstretched hands placed on the ground, raise the body.
Benefit: Kundalini being kindled nourishes the body. This is hatha yoga.

Kaka Mudra: 
Hold the mouth like a crow’s beak and inhale and pull
in the outside air into the stomach.
Benefit: All diseases will be eliminated and you will have a long life like a
crow. This is hatha yoga.

Laya yoga

(b) Vari Sara Dhauti: Pure hot water or cold water should be drunk until the stomach is full and the water reaches almost up to the neck. Swirl the water in the stomach this way and that, up and down. Then pull in the stomach forcefully and push it out, sending the water out through the anal opening. This belongs to laya yoga. This kriya can be mastered by practising it several times daily.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Krishnamacharya and Burmese Buddhist meditation: focal points linked to breath and brought into asana.

Update 2019

Spoiler Alert: This is all highly speculative.

I'm reminded, updating this post, that Insight meditation practice was were I started, I actually went to the library to pick up some books on yoga ( they just happened to be Ashtanga) to help me in my Sitting. Perhaps it is no surprise then that I took so naturally to Krishnamacharya's 'breathing practice. 

This post may be a little confusing as I've added a lot of sections to the original post rather than rewrite the whole thing. Here's a summary of the argument/suggestion that I wrote for instagram.


1. Krishanamacharya went to Burma to study Burmese Yoga.

 "He (Krishnamacharya) mastered Hindu yoga in the Himalayas and Buddhist yoga in Burma, then part of India". T.K. Shribhashyam - Life Sketch of my father in 'Moksa-Marga. An Itinerary in Indian philosophy' 2011.

2. Burma was part of India at the time ( until 1937), so this was entirely possible.

3. Burmese Yoga = Insight Meditation.

Insight Meditation had ‘taken off’ in Burma at the time thanks to the teaching of Ledi Sayadaw - Burmese monk (1846–1923) and his students.

4. “Ledi Sayadaw argued that one did not need to enter into such states (samadhi/Jhanas) in order to gain the mental stability for insight practice. It was excellent if they could (and Ledi Sayadaw claimed that he himself had done so), but really all one required was a minimal level of concentration that would enable the meditator to continually return, moment after moment, to the object of contemplation.

The message spread far and wide: forget the jungle or the cave. Meditation is possible in the city.”

5. Sayadaw taught a paying attention to the breath, counting the breath.

6. Krishnamachray introduced breath attention into his teaching of asana, every movement was counted thus every stage of every breath was counted and paid attention to.

7. Krishnamacharya's breath centered approach is intended to lead to a mental stability similar to the Burmese Insight tradition that might be employed ( for Krishnamacharya) in support of the path of Patanjali yoga or (for me) in support of my practice of Stoicism.

8. The post continues with the original post on Krishanamacharya, Burmese Yoga and focal points.

Did Krishanamacharya’s experience of Burmese yoga influence his attention to the breath ( perhaps more than he realised)? 

It’s a tantalising thought.


"He (Krishnamacharya) mastered Hindu yoga in the Himalayas and Buddhist yoga in Burma, then part of India". T.K. Shribhashyam - Life  Sketch of my father in Moksa- Marga 2011

I'd completely forgotten about writing this post. The original posts focus is mostly on 'focal points 'and Krishnamacharya's possible early experience of Buddhist meditation. In this update I'm more interested in the possible influence of Burmese meditation on the breath focus in Krishnamacharya's presentation of asana. In Krishnamacharya's table of asana, in his early Mysore text, Yogasanagalu, we find that every movement has a count but each movement also relates to a stage of the breath, thus, looked at from another way, every breath is counted, every stage of every breath is counted. A

Recently I've been bringing a somewhat more formal mindfulness of breath into my asana practice and the thought popped into my head that for a time I had wondered what influence Krishnamacharya's interest in Burma, visit to Burma and/or experience of Burmese Yoga may have had on his practice. 

Of course I was thinking about asana and was searching google for something that might suggest a Burmese asana practice. But what if it was the attention to the breath in Sitting that made such an impact on Krishnamacharya and what he then introduced into his asana practice. That the breath focus didn't come from some questionable text or from Tibet but from Burma. It's a tantalising thought.

Were a 'Yoga Korunta' text to be found that clearly included a breath focus along the lines we are familiar with in Krishnamacharya's writing, it wouldn't necessarily negate the Burma influence argument. Of all the texts Krishnamacharya encountered in the libraries around India on his travels such a Yoga Korunta might have stood out for him precisely because it resonated with his interest in the breath, from his practice of Burmese yoga (meditation) and thus found it's way into his teaching. 

In the period the young, impressionable  Krishnamacharya  may have visited Burma to study Burmese yoga (meditation) or at least encountered Burmese monks and learned from them, 'insight meditation' was....'in the air. Already enjoying a pranayama practice, it is perhaps no surprise that Krishnamacharya may have been drawn to a practice that focussed on the breath and may he not also, consciously or not, appropriated a counting technique, particularly for developing focus in his young students. 

Ledi Sayadaw - Burmese monk (1846–1923)

"Prior to this time, the common belief was that anyone who wanted to practice insight meditation had first to enter into the deep states of concentration (samadhi) called the jhanas. But attaining these sublime modes of concentration required long periods spent removed from the world in intensive meditation, deep in the proverbial jungle or mountain cave. Now, however, Ledi Sayadaw argued that one did not need to enter into such states in order to gain the mental stability for insight practice. It was excellent if they could (and Ledi Sayadaw claimed that he himself had done so), but really all one required was a minimal level of concentration that would enable the meditator to continually return, moment after moment, to the object of contemplation.

The message spread far and wide: forget the jungle or the cave. Meditation is possible in the city. 
This state of mind was thus called “momentary concentration” (khanika-samadhi), and it formed the basis of “pure” or “dry” insight meditation (suddha-vipassana or sukkha-vipassana), which did not include deep concentration. While this approach to practice was discussed in authoritative texts, never before had anyone promoted it on a widespread basis: Ledi Sayadaw was the first to put it at the centre of his teachings. The message spread far and wide: forget the jungle or the cave. Meditation is possible in the city". 
History of Vipassana https://tricycle.org/magazine/meditation-en-masse/


Was this the Burmese yoga krishnamacharya may have studied?

Counting in Burmese yoga
IX. The Method of the Commentary 

In the Commentary (Aṭṭhakathā) there are three main stages of effort, namely: 
1. Counting (gaṇanā): attention is placed on the out-breaths and inbreaths by counting them. 
2. Connection (anubandhanā): attention is placed directly on the outbreaths and in-breaths and is made stronger and firmer, but the counting is discontinued. 
3. Fixing (ṭhapanā): the effort is intensified until the higher stages of attainment are achieved. 

There are two places where the out-breath and in-breath may be grasped: the tip of the nose and the upper lip. For some people the striking of the breath is clearer at the tip of the nose; for others, it is clearer on the upper lip. Attention must be placed on the spot where the perception is clearest, which may be called the “spot of touch.” At the outset, effort must be made to keep the attention on the “spot of touch” by counting the number of times the out-breath and in-breath strike that spot. In the next stage, effort must be made to keep the attention on the out-breath and in-breath continuously, without the aid of counting. Finally, effort is applied to make the attention stronger and firmer. 

There are two methods of counting—slow and fast—according as the attention is weak or strong. In the beginning, the mind is untranquil and disturbed and the attention weak, and thus one is not mindful of every breath that occurs. Some breaths escape detection. Only those breaths that are clearly perceived with mindfulness are counted, while those that are not clearly perceived are left out of the reckoning. Counting thus progresses slowly. It is the slow stage. 

Counting is done in six turns (vāra). In the first, counting proceeds from one to five; then, in the second, from one to six; in the third, from one to seven; in the fourth, from one to eight; in the fifth, from one to nine; and in the sixth, from one to ten. After the sixth turn, one must begin again from the first. Sometimes these six turns are counted as one. 

First place the attention on the “spot of touch,” and when an out-breath or in-breath is clearly perceived, count “one.” Continue counting “two,” “three,” “four,” etc., when the ensuing out-breaths and in-breaths are clearly perceived. If any of them are not clearly perceived, stop the progressive counting by continuing to count “one,” “one,” “one,” etc., until the next clear perception of out-breath and in-breath, when the counting advances to “two.” When the count reaches “five” in the first turn, start again from one. Proceed in this way until the sixth turn is completed. Since only those breaths that are clearly perceived are counted, it is called the slow count. 

When the counting has been done repeatedly many times, the number of breaths that are clearly perceived will increase. The spacing between each progressive count will decrease. When every breath is clearly perceived the counting will progress uninterruptedly and become fast. One must proceed until no breath is missed out from the counting. 

It is not necessary to do the counting orally; a mental count is sufficient. Some people prefer to count orally. Others count one bead at the end of each sixth turn, and they resolve to count a certain number of rounds of beads a day. The essential thing is to make the perception clear and the attention strong and firm. 

When the stage is reached where every out-breath and in-breath is clearly perceived with the aid of counting, when no out-breath or inbreath escapes attention, the counting must be discontinued, and the connection (anubandhanā) method adopted. Here, the connection method means putting forth effort to keep the attention on the “spot of touch,” and to perceive every out-breath and in-breath without counting them. It means repeating the effort made in the counting stage in order to make perception clearer and attention stronger and firmer, but without the aid of counting. 

How long is this effort by the connection method to be pursued? Until there appears the paṭibhāga-nimitta, the “counterpart sign” (i.e., a mental image that appears when an advanced degree of concentration is reached). 
When attention becomes fixed on the out-breaths and in-breaths (i.e., when a certain degree of concentration is achieved), manifestations appear such as masses of fluffy wool, gusts of wind, clusters of stars, gems, pearls, or strings of pearls, etc., in various shapes, groups, and colours. These are called counterpart signs. The effort in the connection method must be continued until such time as the counterpart sign appears clearly on every occasion that effort is made. 


During the stages of counting and connection, attention must still be kept on the “point of touch.” From the time the counterpart sign appears, effort must be made according to the third stage, the method of fixing (ṭhapanā). Counterpart signs are manifestations and resemble new mental objects. Not being natural phenomena, they easily disappear, and once they disappear, it is difficult to invoke them into sight again. Hence, when a counterpart sign appears, it is necessary to put forth special effort with added energy in fixing the attention on it to prevent it from disappearing; one must strive to make it become clearer day by day. The putting forth of this special additional effort is known as the method of fixing. 

When the stage of fixing is reached, the seven unsuitable things (asappāya; see just below) must be shunned, while the seven suitable things (sappāya) must be cultivated. The ten kinds of proficiency in meditative absorption (dasa appanā-kosalla), too, must be accomplished. 

The seven unsuitable things are: unsuitable (1) place, (2) village where almsfood is obtained, (3) talk, (4) friends and associates, (5) food, (6) climate, and (7) bodily postures; these things are called “unsuitable” because they cause deterioration of one’s meditation. The seven suitable things are the exact opposites: the place, village, talk, friends, food, climate, and postures which cause one’s meditation to improve. 

The ten kinds of proficiency in meditative absorption are: (1) cleanliness of body and utensils, (2) harmonising the five spiritual faculties (indriya), (3) proficiency in the object of attention, (4) controlling the exuberant mind, (5) uplifting the depressed mind, (6) making the dry mind pleasant, (7) composure towards the balanced mind, (8) avoiding persons who do not possess concentration, (9) associating with persons who possess concentration, and (10) having a mind that is always bent towards meditative absorption. Equipping and fulfilling oneself with these aforementioned qualities, one must make specially energetic efforts for days and months to fix one’s attention on the counterpart sign so that it becomes firm. This effort of fixing the attention (ṭhapanā) must be put forth until the fourth jhāna is attained. 

The Signs 

I shall now show differentially the signs that appear during the three stages of effort, and the types of concentration achieved during these stages. 

The image of the out-breath and in-breath that appears in the stage of counting is called the preparatory sign (parikamma-nimitta). In the stage of connection, it is called the acquired sign (uggaha-nimitta). The manifestation that appears in the stage of attention is called the counterpart sign (paṭibhāga-nimitta). 

The meditative concentration achieved during the appearance of the preparatory sign and acquired sign is “preparatory concentration” (parikamma-bhāvanā-samādhi). The meditative concentration developed with the attention fixed on the counterpart sign during the stage of fixing but before the attainment of full absorption (appanā) is called “access concentration” (upacāra-bhāvanā-samādhi). The four jhānas are called “concentration by absorption” (appanā-bhāvanā-samādhi). 

In the counting and connection stages, the out-breath and in-breath— the objects of meditation—gradually become allayed and calm down. Ultimately they are apt to become so subtle that they seem to have disappeared altogether. When this occurs, one must continue to fix the attention on the “point of touch” and must attempt to grasp the outbreath and in-breath at that point. When the out-breath and in-breath are perceived again clearly, it will not be long before the counterpart sign appears, which signals that the access to jhāna (upacāra-jhāna) has been attained. Here, upacāra-jhāna means the access concentration of sensesphere meditation (kāmāvacara-bhāvanā upacāra-samādhi) which has overcome the five hindrances (pañcanīvaraṇa). 

The calming down of the out-breath and in-breath to the point of disappearance, mentioned in the method given in the Commentary, occurs automatically and need not be specifically attempted. I have myself seen yogis in whom out-breath and in-breath have calmed down to the point of disappearance. In the sutta however, where it is said, “Passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ assasissāmīti sikkhati, passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ passasissāmīti sikkhati,” the meaning is that when the stage of connection is reached, the process of calming down the outbreath and in-breath must be specifically attempted. 

When the out-breath and in-breath apparently disappear, people who are not proficient in the work of meditation are apt to think that the outbreath and in-breath have really disappeared or stopped. Then they are apt to discard the work of meditation. Let all be heedful of this fact.


Carried over from April 2015 my main blog Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama Yoga at Home

"Those who practice yoganga, with the power of vinyasa and pranayama, have the ability to significantly decrease this number (of breaths). While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart.  During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana.  Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness.  Eliminates agitation and restlessness". 

Krishnamacharya Yogasanagalu (1941)

Now I'm no doubt reading too much into this and making connections where perhaps they aren't any or where none are necessary (these focal points are after all traditional points of mental focus in yoga) Still,  it's been playing on my mind, something about the technique of linking focal points to the breath and bringing them into asana practice. Either way it makes for a good post and a chance to look at this material again.

For a number of years I've been fascinated by the Idea that Krishnamacharya either went to Burma to study 'Burmese Yoga' or , what now seems more likely studied Buddhism, and Buddhist meditation in the Burmese tradition in particular. I was quite excited then to see this account (below) of Krishnamacharya and his son TK Sribhashyam  visiting the Mahabodhi/Bodhigaya temple, in the recent interview over at Harmony Yoga. Krishnamacharya sits down with some of the elderly monks who are supposedly old friends of his from when they studied Buddhism together. Krishnamacharya then went on to teach his son the differences between pranayama in Hinduism and Buddhism. Wouldn't you have like to be a mosquito on the temple wall for that conversation. What differences in particular did Krishnamacharya explain to his son, Samatha perhaps, mindfulness of breathing? Did any of these practices find their way into Krishnamacharya's own practice and teaching. ?

Now, I was just reading again Ajaan Lee's book, Keeping the Breath in Mind (free download available HERE - Thank you S.) and looking at this use of focal points (or bases of the mind) in the Meditation practice he presents based on the breath.

from Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo Keeping the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samdhi
"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind—the resting
spots of the breath—and center your awareness on whichever one seems most
comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it)".

Doesn't that remind you of Krishnamacharya's use of focal points to bring Dharana into his asana practice as outlined by his son TK Sribhashyam in Emergence of Yoga.

BUT Ajaan Lee is of course Thai not Burmese (There is a Thai tradition of focal point/bases for the mind breath meditation- see Dhammakya at the end of post). However, I checked Ajaan Lee's autobiography and it turns out he spent time in Burma and, get this, also India and at Maha bodhi in particular. Was the focal point/bases of the mind approach to Samatha in vogue at mahabodhi at the time Krishnamacharya may have studied there if indeed that was where he encountered Burmese and perhaps Thai Buddhism. Was there a cross fertilisation between this encounter with Samatha and Krishnamacharya's reading of Yoga Yajnavalkya ( see No. 4 below).


Krishnamacharya was always all about the breath, in Yoga Makaranda he only seems to employ two focal points, the tip of the nose and between the eyebrows, he was however well aware of the employment of the vital points in one of his favourite texts YogaYajnavalkya (includes a pranayama technique where the breath -and prana- moved from vital point to vital point). Krishnamacharya would of course have been fascinated had he encountered a meditative tradition based on the breath that focussed on traditional focal points (those from the heart up are considered to be spiritual focal points rather than those for the emotions or those for the body.

  1. First up then the Question and answer from the interview with Sribashyam on Buddhism and Burma.
  2. Next a page outlining the focal points in Emergence of Yoga along with an outline of Krishnamacharya's own practice
  3. A couple of sections from Ajaan Lees book outlining the Meditation technique  with a link to a free download for the full method.
  4. Finally the relevant passages on moving prana from vital point to vital point in pratyahara and pranayama practice found in Yoga Yajnavalkya.


1. Krishnamacharya and Burmese Buddhist meditation
Interview with TK Sribashyam ( Krishnamacharya's 3rd son from this post http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2015/05/an-interview-with-krishnamacharyas-3rd.html

"11) You mentioned in the Life Sketch of your Father that he mastered Buddhist Yoga in Burma. Would you be able to tell us more about this and what influence this had on your father’s teaching?"

"My father’s teaching of Indian Philosophy (Yoga Sutra, Vedanta, and even Hatha Yoga) had very often comparisons to the Buddhists thoughts – either to make us understand the flaws that existed in the Buddhist logic and analysis or to bring to light some similar views, especially in the psychology of Buddhism, so that we develop conviction in the Buddha’s teaching.
Apart from this, he used to receive Buddhist monks who would have long discussions with him on this philosophy. As often it was a private discussion, we did not dare to attend these lessons.
In the late sixties, when I went with my father on a pilgrimage to Allahabad, Varanasi and Gaya, he took me to Bodh Gaya for two consecutive days. It is here that he gave some important points of Buddha’s teaching, as also their method of Dhyāna, particularly their very significant mantra: Buddham Sharanam Gachami, Dhammam (Dharmam) Sharanam Gachami, Samgham Sharnam Gachami. I remember some elderly monks saluting him and expressing their happiness at meeting him. They sat in a corner in the Buddha’s temple and had more than an hour’s discussion. The meeting was completed by a silent meditation. Later, my father told me that they were his colleagues when he studied Buddhism. He taught me the technique and practice of Pranayama applied by the Buddhists and subtle differences between Hinduism and Buddhism. However, he was not criticising Buddhism in his lectures. My father had great respect for Buddha’s teaching.
We should not forget that Buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu.
A successful Vedic ritual or even a meditation requires a healthy body and mind so that we can stay during the rituals and in a meditation for a longer period without getting disturbances from the senses and the mind".
full interview HERE


2. Concentration on the the sixteen vital points

from Emergence of Yoga by Krishnamacharya's 3rd son SRI T K SRIBHASHYAM

Also example from the Book of Krishnamacharya's own practice to show how concentration of vital points might be employed.


*Note in the second sheet ( EG. Baddha Konasana ) how the concentration  moves from point to point, mula to sirsa, on the inhalation although the exhalation always remains on a single point


3. Keeping the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samdhi
byAjaan Lee Dhammadharo

Method 1
"Sit in a half-lotus position, right leg on top of the left leg, your hands placed
palm-up on your lap, right hand on top of the left. Keep your body straight, and
your mind on the task before you. Raise your hands in respect, palm-to-palm in
front of the heart, and think of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha: Buddho me n›tho—The Buddha is my mainstay. Dhammo me n›tho —The
Dhamma is my mainstay. Saºgho me n›tho —The Sangha is my mainstay. Then
repeat in your mind, buddho, buddho; dhammo, dhammo; saºgho, saºgho. Return
your hands to your lap, and repeat one word, buddho, three times in your mind.
Then think of the in-and-out breath, counting the breaths in pairs. First think
bud- with the in-breath, dho with the out, ten times. Then begin again, thinking
buddho with the in-breath, buddho with the out, seven times. Then begin again: As
the breath goes in and out once, think buddho once, five times. Then begin again:
As the breath goes in and out once, think buddho three times. Do this for three inand-out
Now you can stop counting the breaths, and simply think bud- with the inbreath
and dho with the out. Let the breath be relaxed and natural. Keep your
mind perfectly still, focused on the breath as it comes in and out of the nostrils.
When the breath goes out, don’t send the mind out after it. When the breath
comes in, don’t let the mind follow it in. Let your awareness be broad and open.
Don’t force the mind too much. Relax. Pretend that you’re breathing out in the
wide-open air. Keep the mind still, like a post at the edge of the sea. When the
water rises, the post doesn’t rise with it; when the water ebbs, the post doesn’t
 When you’ve reached this level of stillness, you can stop thinking buddho.
Simply be aware of the feeling of the breath.
 Then slowly bring your attention inward, focusing it on the various aspects of
the breath—the important aspects that can give rise to intuitive powers of
various kinds: clairvoyance, clairaudience, the ability to know the minds of
others, the ability to remember previous lives, the ability to know where
different people and animals are reborn after death, and knowledge of the
various elements or potentials that are connected with, and can be of use to, the
body. These elements come from the bases of the breath. The First Base: Center
the mind on the tip of the nose, and then slowly move it to the middle of the
forehead, The Second Base. Keep your awareness broad. Let the mind rest for a
moment at the forehead, and then bring it back to the nose. Keep moving it back
and forth between the nose and the forehead—like a person climbing up and
down a mountain—seven times. Then let it settle at the forehead. Don’t let it go
back to the nose.
 From here, let it move to The Third Base, the middle of the top of the head,
and let it settle there for a moment. Keep your awareness broad. Inhale the
breath at that spot, let it spread throughout the head for a moment, and then
return the mind to the middle of the forehead. Move the mind back and forth
between the forehead and the top of the head seven times, finally letting it rest
on the top of the head.
 Then bring it into The Fourth Base, the middle of the brain. Let it be still for a
moment, and then bring it back out to the top of the head. Keep moving it back
and forth between these two spots, finally letting it settle in the middle of the
brain. Keep your awareness broad. Let the refined breath in the brain spread to
the lower parts of the body...."

from Method 2...

"As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this comfortable
breath sensation spread to the different parts of the body. To begin with, inhale
the breath sensation at the base of the skull and let it flow all the way down the

"Then let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over both

shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips of your fingers and out into
the air".

"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind—the resting

spots of the breath—and center your awareness on whichever one seems most
comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,

b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).

If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don’t focus on

any spot above the base of the throat. And don’t try to force the breath or put
yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with
the breath—but not to the point where it slips away".


4. the Sixteen vital points in pratyahara 
from Yoga Yajnavalkya (AG Mohan edition)

However, we know too that Krishnamacharya stressed  the importance of the Yoga Yajnavakya and this text treats the vital points in the chapter on pratyaha, drawing the prana from one point to another. Perhaps then we don't need to look to Burmese Buddhist meditation to find the seeds of Krishnamacharya's employment of the vital points, to bring an element of Dharana to his asana and mudra practice.
from Yoga Yajnavalkya AG Mohan Translation

"The senses, by nature being drawn towards [their sensory] objects, their restraint by [conscious] effort is said to be pratyahara.
Whatever you see, look upon al of it as [being] in the self, and as the self. This is also called pratyahara by great souls who have realized [the essence of] yoga.
For all beings, the mental practice of the daily duties that are prescribed (by the Vedas), devoid of external actions, is also said to be pratyahara.
The following pratyahara is the greatest yogic practice and is praised and followed by yogis always. Having drawn the prana from one point to another, holding it in the eighteen vital points (marmasthanas) is spoken of as pratyahara. The Asvini Kumaras who are the best among the physicians of the celestials (devas) have spoken thus of the vital points in the body,
for the attainment of liberation through yoga".

"I shall explain all of them in an orderly manner. Listen, disciplined [Gargi]!
The big toes, the ankles, in the mid-shanks, the root of the calves, the knees, middle of the thighs, the root of the anus, the center of the body (dehamadhya), generative organ, the nave], the heart, and neck pit, Gargi Then, the root of!he palate, the root ofthe nose, circular orb of!he eyes, the center of the eyebrows, the forehead, and crown of the head. [Gargi,] best among sages!
These are the vital points".

"One must focus and retain the prana, using the mind, in these vital points. In one who does pratyahara, drawing the prana from one point to another, all diseases perish. Far him yoga attains fruition".

This is perhaps the most interesting of all, employing the Vital Points in pranayama.
It should be noted that the seven vital points from the heart to the top of the head are considered those most important for spiritual practice, the others being for the emotions and the 'body', this approach then might be taken with just the seven 'spiritual' vital points depending upon ones intention.

"Some skilled yogis speak of[another] pratyahara. Listen, beautiful [Gargi], I will tell you [about] it. During the practice of pranayama, the prana must be held by the mind from the big toe to the crown of the head, like a totally filled pot. Drawing [the prana] from the crown of the head, one must focus it in the forehead. Again, drawing the prana from the forehead, one must focus it between the eyebrows. Drawing [the prana] from the center of the eyebrows one must focus it in center of the eyes. Drawing the prana from the eyes, one must focus it in the root of the nose. From the root of the nose, one must focus the prana in the root of the tangue. Drawing [the pranaa] from the roof of the tongue, one must focus it in the base of the throat (neck-pit). Drawing the prana from the neck-pit, one must focus it in center of the heart, from the center of heart in the center of the nave!, again from the center of the navel in the generative organ and then from the generative organ in the abode of fire (dehamadhya), from the dehamadhya (center of the body), Gargi, in the root of the anus and from the root of the anus in the [mid-] thighs , then from the mid-thigh in the center o fthe knees. Then, [from the knee] one must focus the prana in the root of the calf, from there in the middle of the shank, and drawing [the prana] from the middle of the shank in the ankle. From the ankle, Gargl, one must focus
it (the prava) in the big toes of the feet".


(Phra Mongkhonthepmuni (Sodh Candasaro; 10 October 1884 – 3 February 1959), the late abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, was the founder of the Thai Dhammakaya meditation school in 1914.

As with many forms of Buddhist meditation Dhammakaya meditation has both samatha and vipassana stages. The goal of Dhammakaya meditation at the samatha level is to overcome the Five hindrances.When the mind becomes peaceful and stable as the result of successful practice for tranquillity, the mind will overcome the Five Hindrances and reach a state of one-pointedness (ekaggata) also known in Dhammakaya Meditation as the 'standstill of the mind' (i.e. to a state where it is free of thought). The indication of reaching this stage is that a bright clear sphere will arise spontaneously at the centre of the body. The mind should then be directed continuously at the centre of this sphere helping to transport the mind towards the ekalyânamagga path inside. attainment at the level of vipassana arises. 

There are several ways of focussing the attention at the centre of the body, namely:

following down through the seven bases of the mind, namely: the nostril, the corner of the eye, the centre of the head, the roof of the mouth, the centre of the throat, the middle of the stomach at the level of the navel and two finger breadths above the previous point.
visualising a mental image at the centre of the body: characteristically, a crystal ball [alokasaññâ] or a crystal clear Buddha image [buddhânussati] and repetition of the mantra ‘Samma-Araham’ (which means ‘the Buddha who has properly attained to arahantship’).
placing the attention at the centre of the body without visualising

7 bases of the mind

Dhammakaya meditation was re-discovered by Phramongkolthepmuni on the full-moon night of September 1914 at Wat Bangkuvieng, Nonthaburi.[1] This monk had practised several other forms of meditation popular in Thailand at the time with teachers such as Phrasangavaranuwongse (Phra Acharn Eam) of Wat Rajasiddharam, Bangkok; Phra Kru Nyanavirat (Phra Acharn Po) of Wat Pho, Bangkok; Phra Acharn Singh of Wat Lakorn Thamm, Thonburi; Phramonkolthipmuni (Phra Acharn Muy) of Wat Chakrawat, Bangkok and Phra Acharn Pleum of Wat Kao Yai, Amphoe Tha Maka, Kanchanaburi.[2] He claimed that the Dhammakaya approach he discovered had nothing to do with the teachings he had received from these other masters - but he did have previous knowledge of the Sammā-Arahaṃ mantra before discovering the technique. The technique of directing attention towards the centre of the body is already described in an obscure 18th century Sinhalese meditation manual that was translated into English as Manual of a Mystic. It was probably introduced into Sri Lanka by Thai monks during the Buddhist revival in the mid-eighteenth century, and taught to forest dwelling monks of the Asgiriya Vihara fraternity in the Kandyan Kingdom, who wrote it down.[3] After rediscovering the technique, Phramonkolthepmuni first taught it to others at Wat Bangpla, Amphoe Bang Len, Nakhon Pathom in 1915.[4] From 1916 onwards, when he was given his first abbothood, Dhammakaya Meditation became associated with his home temple of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen. It is said that Phramongkolthepmuni was the rediscoverer of Dhammakaya meditation, because members of the Dhammakaya Movement believe that the Buddha became enlightened by attaining Dhammakaya, and that knowledge of this (equated with Saddhamma in the Dhammakaya Movement) was lost 500 years after the Buddha entered Parinirvana.


T. krishnamacharya applying Tri-bandha from Paul Harvey Centre for Yoga Studies


an earlier post on Pratyahara and marma points