Saturday, 9 January 2016

Convince me Krishnamacharya are there any serious benefits to Leg behind head postures? ALSO Krishnamacharya on the chakras.

I stopped bothering with leg behind head postures some time ago, I think the one with the Shakuhachi below from earlier in the year was the last time I tried it (it was kind of a joke), I was surprised my leg still went there.

These days I tend to practice up to ardha matsyendrasana in Ashtanga 2nd series ( one day slow, half Primary with the odd extra vinyasa, the second day the first half of 2nd, again taken as slow as is comfortable). I tend to throw in mayurasana for luck as Ramaswami/Krishnamacharya stressed it was an important posture and I can see how it might be. 

I just can't see much point anymore in most of the postures from the second half of Ashtanga Intermediate series, why would I possibly want to put my leg behind my head, is there really any benefit, Krishnamacharya? When I think of the time I spent working on those postures and not just those in Intermediate but also those ever crazier variations in Advanced A and B  ( see Appendix), wouldn't my time have been better spent on pranayama, on dharana.

What can possibly be the point other than to sell bums on mats?

I was going to post an oh so clever post on this and thought I would check what strange benefits Krishnamacharya might have included..... actually, the benefits he mentions are quite interesting ( EG support for pranayama and dharana) and makes me want to look again at how Krishnamacharya was employing the chakra model ( I'm adding Krishnamacharya's treatment of chakras from Yoga Makaranda I, II and Yogasanagalu in the appendix also). I've tended to be a bit dismissive of the benefits mentioned for asana in the past, probably after reading that one asana was supposed to be cure for leprosy.

Chakra, too many rainbow coloured books seeping into the philosophy section shelves put me off however, more recently I've tended to feel that those old yogis/meditatiors from ages past spent a lot of time noticing recurring sensations/experiences in the body and that these no doubt formed a worthy of consideration basis to the chakra model. Simon Borg Olivier is interesting here

"In hatha yoga the two spiralling snakes are referred to as the nadis (subtle channels) Ida and Pingala and the spinal cord contains the sushumna nadi. When viewed from above the head the spiralling of these channels looks like the yin yang symbol or even the ancient swastika symbol . The places where the snake-like spiral nadis crossover up the trunk is the supposed location of the main chakras (energy centres) of the body. Each of these main chakras corresponds to and seemingly has relationships with main endocrine glands and also major nerve plexi. The ‘opening’ or ‘unlocking’ of, and the voluntary control of the chakras is a major aim in hatha yoga and can in fact be the tool that allows yoga and yoga therapy to be effective. In order to heal any part of the body especially the internal organs or body systems the only thing we can actually control is our mind, which can control muscles, which can affect posture movement and breathing". See this blog post

Krishnamacharya includes the instructions and vinyasas in his Yoga Makaranda (1934) I've cut those out here ( see Free Downloads for Yoga Makaranda) and gone straight to the benefits along with the picture from the book of one of his students and any old photos of mine from when I was practiced these that I could find buried away on a google search  ( so that you know it's not only ten year old boys who can make some progress in these). 

I'm still not convinced but am prepared to take another look and think some more.

NB. The asana below are ever more advanced variations of more basic postures that may well be sufficient for exploring the breath in ever more subtlety, they may act as preparation towards the more advanced postures or they may be all we ever require. There's no rush, explore the breath in these basic and key postures, once the breath becomes slow and steady, slow it further still and if still steady explore staying twice as long, allow the body to grow into these postures to inhabit them before considering exploring a more challenging version like the leg behind head variations below. Here is a link to how basic key asana may progress into more challenging asana. This is not necessarily a sequence but rather just showing how one asana might allow another to become possible over time


 Leg behind head postures and their benefits in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda 1934

NB. Krishnamacharya seems not to have practiced asana in fixed sequences but rather in groups of asana, Primary, Middle and proficient. It seems likely that when a Primary asana became steady and comfortable he would add on or replace it with middle and finally proficient asana or variations.

27 Ekapada Sirsasana (Figure 4.71, 4.72)

Benefit: This will arrest bleeding due to piles and give strength to the body. It removes vayu disturbances in the neck region and gives the neck extraordinary strength to carry excess weight. It is extremely helpful for the awakening of kundalini. Pregnant women should not do this posture.

28 Dvipada Sirsasana (Figure 4.73)

Benefit: It will remove diseases of the spleen, of the liver, and of the stomach. It will clean the muladhara cakraIt will greatly help with uddiyana bandha. Practise it after first studying the picture very carefully. Women who are pregnant should not do this posture. Those who are prone to miscarriage must practise this asana regularly for some time and then discontinue it before they conceive. If they stop practising this asana during pregnancy, it will enable a strong healthy birth and will help the uterus wall expand and be healthy. People who do not wish for progeny must always practise this asana. If they do, then they will not have any children.

29 Yoga Nidrasana (Figure 4.74)

Benefit: Tuberculosis, bloating of the stomach, dropsy and edema (swelling of tissue due to accumulation of water) — such serious diseases will be cured. It will cause the vayu to be held at the svadhishthana cakra and the brahmara guha cakra and as a result will cause long life. It will help to rapidly bring the apana vayu under one’s control. It is not for women who are pregnant.

30 Buddhasana (Figure 4.75, 4.76)

Benefit: It will cure hunchback and will create proper blood circulation in all the nadis. It will clean the svadhishthanaanahatavisuddhi and brahmara guha cakras and gives complete assistance for kevala kumbhaka.
This asana is very beneficial for curing long-term persistent fever. Pregnant women should not do this.

31 Kapilasana (Figure 4.77)

Benefit: It will maintain the muladhara, svadhishthana, manipuraka, anahata, and visuddhi cakras in the proper sthitiIt is extremely helpful in guiding one along the path of dharana and dhyana.

32 Bhairavasana (Figure 4.78)

Benefit: Keeps vayu sancharam in equal and proper balance in the idapingala and susumna nadis and prevents any vata disease from approaching. Pregnant women should not do this. But those women who do not wish for any children, if they practise this asana regularly following the rules for a period of time, they will definitely never conceive. Of this there is absolutely no doubt. Practising this asana will close the uterine passage and stop the fertilization from taking place.

33 Cakorasana (Figure 4.79)

Benefit: Diseases causing tremors (trembling) in the joints of the arm and in the wrists will be cured. Pregnant women should not do this.

34 Skandasana (Figure 4.80, 4.81)

Benefit: Gives the skill of pratyahara through the knowledge of the light of the self shining in the crevasses of the heart.

35 Durvasasana (Figure 4.82)

Benefit: Elephantiasis, vayu in the scrotum, trembling and tremors of the head — these serious diseases will be destroyed. It is a tremendous support on the path towards samadhi. Pregnant women should not do this.

36 Richikasana (Figure 4.83, 4.84)

Benefit: It corrects the recaka that is essential for the practice of pranayama


.....even more crazier variations from Advanced series

If you've has heard of any supposed benefits for any of these other leg behind head postures below feel free to share in comments.

1. Viswamitrasana
2. Vrichikasana A
3. Bhuja dandasana
4. Marichiyasana G
5. Marichiyasana H
6. Pasve bhuja dandasana
7. Eka pada sirsasana utkatasana


Krishnamacharya on the Cakras ( Chakras) from Yoga Makaranda

Asana practice renders correct blood circulation. The snayus (ligaments) and various parts of the body will function at the perfect, ultimate level. It also causes all types??? of internal circulation to function properly. We all know the connection between good blood circulation, good nadi granthi, healthy body and good health. Hence it is not necessary to further emphasize the benefits of practising asana daily for at least a few minutes. What more does one need after seeing this? Only after acquiring these benefits can one expect to look forward to others.

Because of the power of pranayama practice, one develops strength in the bones, the bone marrow and the heart; one develops the brain, the head, the anna kosam, the fat layer, the mana kosam, the strength of breath and prana, and longevity; it sharpens the senses, strengthens the intellect and the voice and purifies the blood. All these are important factors necessary for the maintenance of health. Those with strong bones, vitality, nerves, and tendons will lead a healthy long life. Lack or weakness of viryam leads to lack of strength which leads to the atrophy of bones. Such a condition leads one to suffer from tuberculosis. Whoever has no impurities in their blood will never develop any disease, and their body will develop a kind of glow. How can darkness reside where there is sunlight? Hence all Ayurveda texts speak specifically on the importance of good blood circulation and bone strength for good health. If the blood is not clean, then the nadi cakras will not function (rotate) properly. We have observed the wheels of trains, electrical gadgets and such machines. If even one wheel malfunctions, all the activities of the machine stop and the gadget breaks down. Similarly when any one of the nadi cakras contained in the machine that is the body malfunctions or is spoiled, we will not derive any of the benefits of good health. Hence good blood circulation is essential for the proper functioning of the nadi cakras.

1.2 Cakras
In the machine that is our body, there are ten cakras — namely 
1. muladhara cakra, 
2. svadhishtana cakra, 
3. manipuraka cakra, 
4. surya cakra, 
5. manas cakra, 
6. anahata cakra, 
7. visuddhi cakra, 
8. ajn ̃a cakra, 
9. sahasrara cakra, 
10. brahmaguha (lalata) cakra.

1. Muladhara Cakra
This cakra is next to the rectum. If, due to the strength resulting from practising pranayama with a focus on this cakra, caitanya is attained in this cakra, then this will strengthen the viryam (sexual vitality). When the viryam is kept under control, the body becomes tough. If anybody acquires caitanya in this cakra, they will become virile.

2. Svadhishthana Cakra
This svadhishthana cakra lies two angulas above the muladhara cakra. If by doing pranayama abhyasa according to the krama and rules caitanya is attained in this cakra, then this will destroy all diseases. There will be an astounding increase in good health. Any amount of physical work can be done without any fatigue. Even enemies will admire and adore one who has caitanya in this cakra. Violence will run away and hide from him. Even a tiger and cow will live in peaceful coexistence in his presence.

3. Manipuraka Cakra
This is situated exactly in the navel. If, due to the strength of pranayama practice, caitanya is attained in this cakra, then the practitioner will never encounter any physical or mental afflictions. These afflictions will flee his presence. One who has acquired caitanya in this cakra will be able to face any disaster or accident with mental fortitude. Not only that, he will develop divya drishti. He will experience the bliss of identifying atman as a separate entity from the body. This cakra is situated in the middle of all other cakras. The main function of this cakra is to ensure that all organs or parts of the body function at their proper strength. Good health is possible only when all the organs are strong. Any disease in any organ indicates ill health.

4. Surya Cakra
This cakra is situated in the third angula above the navel. Pranayama prac- tised with an equal ratio of exhalation and inhalation (recaka and puraka) with a focus on this cakra gives rise to caitanya in this cakra. Caitanya in this cakra purifies all the nadis of the stomach. One who has acquired caitanya in this cakra will not suffer from any diseases of the stomach, nor from any mahodaram and will acquire eternal good health, amazing vitality or shine, and long life. The pranayama practitioner will attain free move- ment of this cakra which will be visible by rapid increase in the digestive power. Special caitanya or insight will develop on practising bastra kevala kumbhaka pranayama. This is not possible to attain from practising other types of pranayama with a focus on this cakra. These will just lead to the ordinary benefits.

5. Manas Cakra
This is close to the anna kosam. Caitanya in this cakra is attained by a sustained practice of kevala kumbhaka pranayama. The main function of this cakra is to increase the power of intuition and to expand the intel- lect. This is because practising kumbhaka pranayama purifies (cleanses) the brain. There is a special connection between the brain and the manas cakra.

6. Anahata Cakra
This is situated in the hrdaya (heart) sthana. There is a special connection between this and the heart. Pranayama abhyasa with recaka and puraka kumbhaka of different ratios (raising and lowering the ratios) with a focus on this cakra will give rise to a steady state of caitanya in this cakra. This state of caitanya in this cakra removes weakness of the heart and will give extraordinary strength. All the activities associated with the heart are carried out due to the strength of this cakra. We all know that in this world, life is possible only as a result of the strength of the functioning of the heart. Hence if this cakra is kept in a correct state and moves freely, emotions like affection, devotion, gn ̃anam, etc. — such superior states of mind (bhavas) will arise in the heart. If this cakra malfunctions or becomes impure and moves in a constricted fashion, then murder, theft, adultery, unchastity and other such inferior emotions will arise in the heart. By correct pranayama practice, the speed of the cakra increases and this gives rise to an expanded intellect and the person will be inspired to become more involved in good works. Any pranayama practised against sastra will weaken the movement and speed of the cakra and will destroy or weaken the heart.

7. Visuddhi Cakra
This is situated in the throat region. That is, it is situated in the region below the neck, above the sternum, in between the two bones where there is a soft area (gap) the size of the middle finger. If caitanya is achieved and held in this cakra due to the strength of pranayama, the practitioner gets svara vign ̃anam (knowledge of sound). If cittam can be controlled to focus on this cakra, the practitioner will lose all thoughts of this world (lose consciousness) and will be able to see the divine paramatma in all his glory through the light of the self. If one controls the movements of the citta and attains caitanya in this cakra through the strength of kumbhaka, he will attain a steady state of youth and enthusiasm. By achieving this caitanya through krama, these benefits can be experienced to the extent desired.

8. Ajn ̃a Cakra
This cakra is situated between the two eyebrows. If caitanya can be held (focussed) here, one acquires the power to control everybody. Through the movements of recaka and puraka in the nadis of the two nostrils, if one practises pranayama by keeping the breath in the nostrils and circulating and moving the prana vayu, then the nadis below the nostril get purified. One develops a divine lustre, one is able to see the atman and through this blessing will be able to see all the events that are occurring around the world without moving from their position. Caitanya citta vritti in the ajn ̃a cakra is extremely helpful for a long life.

9. Sahasrara Cakra
This is directly above the throat or palate. The greatness of this cakra is beyond description. Every part of the body is associated to (depends on) this important point. If one enhances the caitanya in this sahasrara cakra through the strength of practising puraka in complete pranayama abhyasa, this will result in the rapid movement of this cakra which will in turn give any skill or power that you wish for.

10. Brahmaguha (Lalata) Cakra
This cakra is situated above the forehead. Pranayama practice will cause the prana vayu to move through the susumna nadi and this prana vayu should be held here through the skill of kumbhaka. If such a practice is followed, one acquires the power to change one’s own destiny. One cannot describe the greatness of this procedure. It can only be learned through experience.

The caitanya sakti in every cakra can be only achieved through the strength of the practice of pranayama. Once the caitanya sakti is attained, the movement of the cakra becomes great. At this time, one begins to immediately experience the many benefits mentioned earlier. If pranayama is practised under proper guidance for one or two years following the sastras, cakra sakti will blossom and the many benefits will be attained. But this pranayama must only be practised along with asana and while observing the yama and niyama. If practised in this way, the pranayama sakti will blossom and move in all the important regions of the body and in the ten cakras and give great strength and benefits. One who is not skilled in the yama, niyama and asana will not receive any benefits. By correct practice and effort, the cakra sakti expands and all the mentioned benefits are attainable.

Krishnamacharya on the chakras from Yoga makaranda (part II)

We have mentioned that there are seven CAKRAS supporting the HRIDAYA. They are:

1. MULADHARA CAKRA - between the root of the reproductory organs and anus.

2. SVADHISHTANA CAKRA -at the origin of the reproductory organ - between Muladhara and Manipura.

3. MANIPURA CAKRA - at the navel

4. ANAHATA CAKRA - at the heart

5. VISUDDHICAKRA - at the base of the throat

6. AGNA CAKRA - between the two eyebrows

7. SAHASRARA CAKRA - situated at the crown of the head.

The 7 Chakras are active in three ways.


AAVRITTi is due to Puraka, Rechaka and Kumbaka.

PARIVRITTI is due to the proper control of the three Bandhas - MULA, JALANDHARA and UDDIYANA.

SAMVRITTI is due to the variation in the length of the Rechaka and Kumbakha in Pranayama.

The 7 Chakras mentioned above and the Manas are not visible to our naked eye. Joy and sorrow are feelings palpable only to the mind and for that reason, we do not deny their existence. So also certain changes inside our body have to be personally felt and they are not capable of physical demonstration. Even the modern advanced appliances like the x-ray can not reveal the existence of the feelings of the mind and the changes in the CAKRAS. But Samyamam mentioned in the Yoganga discovers the feelings and changes in one’s own mind and in others.


From Yogasanagalu

Although it can not be observed by the main sense organs, the jeeva or soul that is hidden within the body and experiences countless suffering and joys according to followers of Visishtadwita and Dwita philosophies, in the mind as per Sankhya followers, reflection of jeevatma according to some yogis and Advita followers.  The mind (its ability to experience) with attributes of wanderings and restraint by way of the heart (called Dahara and Kuhara) is rooted above and below in the following chakras:

Mooladhara chakra - below the navel and above the reproductive organs
Swadishtana - between mooladhara and manipuraka
Manipuraka - exactly on the navel (belly button)
Anahuta - middle of the heart
Vishuddi chakra - below the neck
Agna - between the eye brows
Sahasrara - crown of the head

Encompassing these seven chakras (nadi granthis) are 1. Avrutti, 2. Parivruti and 3. Samvruti.

The movement (activation) of these chakras are caused by the greatness (power) of pranayama and the variety of rechaka, puraka and kumbhaka

For more on the Chakras, have a look at Simon Heather's article 'Origin of the Chakras' which fishes out references to them in the Upanishads.

Simon quotes extensively from the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, which is quite marvellous, I was reading it just recently and was quite blown away. The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad is an excellent primary source for information on Prana, Bandhas, Chakras, Pranayama etc. See the link below for a downloadable pdf and a useful introduction

This next one, an article by BNS Iyengar, Chakras Bandhas And Kriyas is just great, had me laughing out loud and really wishing i could go to Pune (mock-terrified at the same time).

Here's a link to a pdf of the old Theosophical Society book on Chakras by C.W. Leadbeater

And a Chakra meditation from the Swamiji website. Explore them in this way in a separate meditation practice to fix the images and sounds and then look at bringing them into your asana practice.


The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga by Arthur Avalon

International Association of Yoga Therapists list of articles relating to Chakaras;postID=8140639069994186373

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