Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga


Pratyakshanumanagamah Pramanani (1.7)

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines PRAMANA as an ultimate verification of truth, a definite proof we can rely on when we decide and act. We follow it when we want to grow as beings returning to our True Self.

PRAMANA is based on three fundaments:

PRATYAKSHA – an individual experience, feeling, and stimuli and information received from the body.

ANUMANA – deducing, inferring, gathering, logical analysis.

AGAMAH – old scriptures, testimonies or a word of authority, reliable teachers, traditional sources of knowledge.

According to Yoga Sutras, one must consider all three foundations to state whether a pattern is credible. In other words, we verify each proof on all three levels, and only when it gets fully confirmed we can (be sure and) use it as a guideline on our path.

During Vedic times, an individual experience, PRATYAKSHA, was the least credible way to gain knowledge as the senses and mind were considered imperfect. The mind and senses recognize what supports the patterns anchored in them and instinctively lead us in that direction. We succumb to the illusion of paths seemingly being easier, shorter, more comfortable, and more familiar. These are the mechanisms that only a trained mind can recognize and correct in the beginning or at least when the pattern has already been activated. We usually become aware of this way of acting only after the fact, when the pattern is already fed (reinforced).

Nowadays, people tend to rely mainly on their personal experience (PRATYAKSHA), which means ‘I follow/trust what I feel,’ ‘I follow/trust what my body, senses, and feelings say.’ One mistakenly identifies oneself with feelings flowing, for example, from the heart. We do not realize it is an ordinary attachment, comfort, or fear (for example, fear of loneliness). We tend to identify feelings, thoughts, attachments, or fears with who we think we are, while these are just patterns, schemes, or imposed filters. They are not us in their primal form; we have acquired them. All of that, apparent and illusory, creates our perception of ourselves and our identity to which we begin to get attached.

It is a mistake to believe in the superiority of one’s feelings without an analysis supported by logic (sober judgment) and, above all, to give them priority or indisputability. Deducing has an advantage over feeling, for it relies on information external to our individual, consolidated patterns. Thanks to deduction and comparison, we can get a new perspective and go beyond our individual experience. Intelect also has its limitation. It is subject to cultural, emotional, or personal patterns, and may also be based on incomplete data. Unfortunately, the deduction process itself can also be disturbed.

Therefore, in Vedic times, the three pillars were arranged in a hierarchy. The most credible are source texts and authorities based on the experience of many generations (AGAMAH). The next is analysis and logical thinking (ANUMANA). Finally, the least credible are personal feelings and experiences (PRATYAKSHA).

The practice of Ashtanga yoga encompasses working with all three pillars.

There is a fixed sequence, thought out and put not accidentally in a given order. We do not choose asanas based on whims because our preferences stem from a feeling most likely based on a pattern that wants strengthening.

We should establish a steady rhythm of breathing that does not allow us to escape into either the attitude of ‘I like it so that I will stay a bit longer’ or the opposite one, ‘I do not like it so that I will hurry up.’ Remember that every asana symbolizes a specific life attitude and reveals how we deal with it and whether we try to escape it, which is essential information for further personal work.

It is not about not feeling, either.

A consciousness of what we feel and receive during yoga practice (PRATYAKSHA) has to be present. We keep our feelings on, allow them to be, and do not suppress them but do not follow them either. We check them, analyze, verify, and observe. A mindful, conscious, and insightful observer is what we aim at.

We build our mindfulness and awareness of how we set our body. We look for points of reference in our body or, for instance, against the yoga mat. However, it does not guarantee our body posture is correct. Our neurological system, senses, and body reading are habitual and can be misleading and incorrect. They base on the posture kept throughout the years due to compensation or gravity. The body resets (recalibrates) all past settings and adapts them to the new pattern. It may cause an impression of ‘I am/I am standing straight” while one leg takes more weight.

It also applies to the center of gravity, which may shift slightly over the years of various conditions. For instance, we can unconsciously weigh our right leg more to protect an injured left knee or ankle, but we get accustomed to this habit and continue it even after the injury is healed. Another example is bowing our body forward or back (we usually move our weight forward).

The sense of sight works similarly. An image set throughout the years by our mind, labyrinth, and nervous system as a permanent point of reference is not necessarily correct (initially centered). It is often acquired and adapted to our skewed posture (neck, head, body weight, etc.) or as compensation for a weaker eye. Consequently, we perceive something objectively straight, parallel, or perpendicular as crooked or at a different angle than it actually is. So, it becomes hard to find the correct posture on one’s own and be sure it is correct.

‘The eye learns to perceive the external world according to those readings. Each of us knows that moment when the teacher corrects us to the proper position, and we feel we are crooked in relation to our constant, acquired attitude of “being straight”. Therefore, it is necessary to recalibrate the parameters of the body according to external points and with the help of an external observer.

The litmus paper here is TRISTANA which, first of all, includes UJJAYI breath. A steady length of inhalation and exhalation. A steady number and quality of breaths and the same rhythm. This helps us observe appearing feelings. Secondly, DRISHTI, being conscious of where at a given moment my DRISHTI is and if it is one of the nine mentioned in the scriptures (and not, for example, drishti at a knee). The mind follows the sight. Where we direct it is where we root it, and this way, we focus it. Thirdly, BANDHAS (Mula, Uddiyana, Jalandhara). 

The full PRATYAKSHA, during yoga practice, is to remain conscious and mindful of the body (stimuli from the body), an experience of TRISTANA.

The next pillar of Ashtanga is ANUMANA – correct, proper, and skillful practicing – gathering, using logic, and deducing to choose the right option. It implies seeking a primal form of posture (ASANA). It is based on and meets the basic principles of therapeutical yoga that brings back health and vitality. The opposite is getting into a routine, a mindless practice that you want to ‘tick off’, boredom, and various discomforts stemming from unskilful practice. Learning from mistakes, injuries, or openings in the mechanics of a body belongs to this stage, too. It is not a technique that is wrong but, most of all, the way of doing it.

ANUMANA is a more yoga-like way to inquire and investigate. What is the correct form? What did the author mean? It is a state of unending, relentless inquiring and insights. It means we understand what we do and where we aim at.

AGAMAH is a support and an eye of a teacher who has already gone through our path. The teacher is a mirror and authority because he studied and accumulated knowledge and experience. Such authority, in a word – a reliable teacher – does not result from learning the sequence without insight, inquiry, or a short and irregular practice time. Agamah also includes our own searchings in old scriptures, different teachers’ teachings, and our lifelong studying (SVADHAYAYA). The source’s reliability is the basis here and the relentless pursuit of reaching this source.

These three pillars of PRAMANA – correct transmission – protect the original/primal knowledge. They force us to seek the truth. They allow us to reach our Individual Spiritual Element, an Individual Self described in the scriptures.

They lead us so that we do not get misled by the illusion of senses (when a nervous system is overstimulated or polluted by toxins) and by the dynamics of patterns (grown out of the experience and our reaction to it), which distort our perception of ourselves.

How ridiculous it sounds then, ‘I listen to myself, I follow my heart’ when you are actually far away from your primal nature. However, we deeply believe in and want to believe it, so we create the image of ‘conscious’ following and making our ‘free choices.’ We build appearances we have control of, and we go in the right direction. 

Whereas they are only senses, comfort, and fears, distant from the accurate picture of the Soul.

We forget that a Good PRAMANA Pattern is based on three pillars, and the one we consider the most important is actually the least. It may be so to disconnect us as much as possible from ourselves.

Here, an issue of humility arises. The two fundamental pillars of PRAMANA (the correct pattern) rely on searching, inquiring, and continual/unending/relentless verification.

The first is to take the position of an inquiring, analyzing observer, and the second is a disciple’s attitude open to external knowledge. Intellect is the foundation here, not emotions. Thus, we aim to learn to be open to feedback and expertise while also being able to analyze and verify them. The same applies to information that comes from our body or mind. We do not immerse in these sensations nor trust that everything we do is how it should be done. We do not assume it is appropriate because it resembles an outline of something we already know. An observer and a student – two attitudes that point of reference outside are ANUMANA and AGAMAH. If we lack humility, we get stuck in this stage.

Caricatural PRATYAKSHA relies on feeling and concentrating on the ‘Self’, which leads to fostering AHAMKARA (ego and identity created from it). It means enhancing an omniscient individual teacher who is open predominantly to internal knowledge, to what comes to him from him, and who often escapes confrontation with an external source of knowledge.

Considering all three pillars, we learn Our Self using external and internal teachings. If we rely on one or switch them upon how we feel, we get distant from our Centre, the original intention of teachings, and the authentic tradition.

Reversing the value of these three elements, where the word and authority of the teacher or traditional writings are the least important, results in adapting yoga to people’s comfort, not people to yoga. The effect is the dilution of tradition and knowledge and the loss of the original character. 

A different situation occurs when we need to verify our practice in terms of health, taking into account ailments or injuries. In this case, it is not a softening but a gradual building of the practice to eventually be ready to complete the sequence fully.

It is worth mentioning that in case of issues we do not have direct control over – such as metaphysical issues – a possibility to confirm comes only from the authority in the matter (AGAMAH). Most of all, these are the oldest scriptures and knowledge passed orally by spiritual masters, from generation to generation, for ages. However, a complete understanding and integration of the knowledge happen only after an intellectual analysis (ANUMANA) and through individual experience in the issue (PRATYAKSHA).