Srivatsa Ramaswami is one of the few remaining Yoga teachers who studied directly under Sri Krishnamacharya. Despite the fact that he is in his mid-70s, my expectations were high when I started the Vinyasa Krama Teacher Training at Loyola Marymount University.
After a brief introduction, Ramaswami told us to stand in mountain pose and bring our attention to the breath located just behind the sternum. Mountain pose? He really was starting at the beginning. That took a lot of courage – or conviction – since nearly all of the students were experienced yoga teachers.
“Bring the chin to the neck and take three breaths. Raise your arms keeping the movement in time with your breath,” he said. “Lift your chest, lift your arms, inter-lace your fingers and stretch, stretch, stretch.”
After ten minutes of moving our shoulders in every direction, Ramaswami instructed us to lie down in corpse pose and rest.
“WHAT?” The confusion was palpable.
We had not done a single sun salutation or downward facing dog. No one had broken a sweat and we were resting already?
I am not a thirty-year old, super-athlete, but even I had more stamina than that. During all my yoga classes over the past twenty years, no one had ever started like this. Most yoga workshops start with an intensive asana practice which only lets up after everyone is broken down and battered.
We returned to standing and continued the series bending sideways, doing standing twists and forward bends then resting again.
“Try to complete each movement in at least five counts,” he instructed us. “Over time, keep increasing the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations without causing an increase in the heart rate.”
Returning to our feet, we finished the series balancing on our toes, arms extended overhead.
Lying in savasana for the third time, my mind was not at rest. I kept talking to myself.
“The squat with the knees together must be the preparation for the jumpbacks. After this, I am certain he will be kicking it into high gear.”
But we did not do any jump-backs or sun salutations. By the third day, the class was smaller. Two young women decided Vinyasa Krama was not for them.
“People have called my yoga – old man’s yoga,” Srivatsa Ramaswami told our class. “When I say raise your arms, they become impatient.” He shrugged.
I understood why people might say that. My iphone pings throughout the day reminding me my next appointment starts in thirty minutes. Did I have time for thirty minutes of Tadasana every day?
Finding one and a half hours for our health takes effort. It is easier to incorporate a caffeinated drink break to combat an afternoon lull and requires less planning to pop a sleeping pill. When I scheduled time away from my computer to move my limbs, then I wanted to get maximum value for those ninety minutes (add in the time for the commute).
Fast forward eleven weeks.
Now my days start with twenty minutes of the Tadasana series. My husband says my posture has changed. I notice the difference in my shoulders and hip joints.
My rotator cuff has strengthened, releasing the pressure on an impinged nerve. My left arm no longer goes numb doing Warrior poses. I can lower my entire body into a flat-footed, full squat while holding my knees together. My inhalations have increased to ten counts while my exhalations – depending on the movement – have increased to twenty. By consistently applying Ramaswami’s method, my balance has steadied as my deep, inner muscles are strong.
The last eleven weeks have flown by. And I have gained without pain by practicing being patient and moving slowly – like an old mountain.
EXPLANATIONS OF THE TERMS USED
Asana – Sanskrit words for pose. The legend is just like the number of creatures on the earth, there are 84,000 different yoga asanas. The implication being the number of ways a body can be moved is limitless. Ramaswami indexes 187 asanas in his book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga.
Hasta Vinyasas – Movements of the Arms – The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga outlines the lateral side, the frontal stretch, the sweeping movement and the elbow movement on pages 4-7.
Jumpbacks – Pattabi Jois, the key teacher of Ashtanga yoga, taught and popularized jumpbacks, a vinyasa which links different asanas. In The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, Ramaswami calls these movements Pumping and Jumping – Utpluti and covers them in chapter eleven on commonly practiced sub-routines.
Krama – means Method.
Pranastana – Location of breath just behind the sternum.
Svasana – Corpse pose.
Tadasana – Hill or mountain pose.
Tadasana Series – Tadasana Vinyasas.
Vinyasa – A Sanskrit word used in the context of art, music, dance and yoga to describe the art of the practice. In yoga, linking various asanas, or poses, together is vinyasa, the art of creating a yoga practice.
ABOUT SRIVATSA RAMASWAMI
I teach what my guru taught me, not what he wrote.
– Srivatsa Ramaswami
Author, teacher, father, engineer, Sanskrit scholar, Vedic chanter, and Sri T Krishnamacharya’s 33-year student, Srivatsa Ramaswami continues to inspire yoga practitioners around the globe. He said when he was a young man, the best decision of his life was turning down Harvard, instead choosing to remain in India studying under his guru.
Ramaswami, ERYT-500, now lives in the USA and continues to conduct teacher trainings and workshops at Loyola Marymount University, the Himalaya Institute and other yoga schools. He connects with his students via his website, YouTUBE channeland FaceBook page. His website includes links to his published writing from India and his albums of chants. His three books are available on Amazon.