Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga


Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras defines PRAMANA as an ultimate verification of a truth, an indisputable pattern. That is something that we can rely on when we decide and when we act. It is what we follow when we want to grow as beings returning to our True Self.

PRAMANA bases on 3 fundaments:
PRATYAKSHA – an individual experience, feeling, receiving stimuli and information from a body
ANUMANA – deducing, inferring, gathering, a logical analysis
AGAMAH – old scriptures, testimonies or a word of authority, reliable teachers, traditional sources of knowledge

According to Yoga Sutras, in order to state whether a pattern is reliable you need to consider all three fundaments mentioned above. In other words, each proof we verify on these three levels and only when it gets fully confirmed, we can (be sure and) use it as a guideline on our path.

During Wedic times an individual experience (PRATYAKSHA) was the least credible way to gain knowledge because senses and mind were regarded imperfect. A mind and senses recognize this what supports patterns rooted in them and automatically direct us in this direction. We fall victim to an illusion that there are easier, shorter, much more comfortable and familiar paths. These are the mechanisms that only a trained mind is able to recognize and correct in the beginning or at least when a pattern has already been activated. We usually realize that we function this way post factum, after a pattern has been already fed (strenghtened).

These days people tend to rely on mainly on their individual experience (PRATYAKSHA) – which means: I follow/trust what I feel, I follow/trust what my body, senses and feelings tell.  People erroneously identify themselves with their own feelings coming from e.g. heart, without realizing that what they actually experience is a mere attachement, or a comfort, or simply a fear e.g. of loneliness. We identify perceived feelings, thoughts, attachements or fears with whom we suppose we are while these are mere patterns and filters imposed. They are acquired. They are not us in their primal form. All what is apparent and illusory starts to create our perception of ourselves and our identity. What is more, we start to get attached to it.

Erroneous is a belief that following what one feels without an analysis based on a logic (a sober judgement) is better and that is a priority. What is even worse, it is regarding it superior, prior and indisputable. Deducing has an advantage over feeling because it relies on information external to our individual, consolidated paterns. Thanks to a deduction and a comparison we get a new perspective and go beyond an individual experience. Intelect has its limitation, too. It depends on cultural, emotional and individual patterns. It may rely on incomplete data, too. Unfortunately, a process of deduction itself might be disordered as well.  That is why during Wedic times these fundaments were put in a specific hierarchy – the most credible are source texts and authorities that base on the experience of many generations (AGAMAH). Next is the analysis and the logical thinking (ANUMANA). The least credible are individual feelings and experience (PRATYAKSHA).

A practice of Ashtanga yoga encompasses working with these three pillars

There is a set sequence, a deliberate and a thought-out. The order of asanas is not accidental. We do not choose asanas based on whims because our preference stems from a feeling that most likely bases on a pattern that wants strenghtening

We should have a steady rhythm of breathing which does not allow to escape into neither the attitude of: ‘I like it so I will stay a bit longer’ nor in the opposite one: ‘I do not like it  so I will hurry up’. Bear in mind that every single asana symbolizes a certain life attitude  and reveals how we deal with it and whether we try to escape it, which is a key information for further work on yourself.

It is not about not feeling, too.

A consciousness of what we feel and receive during yoga practice (PRATYAKSHA) has to be on. We keep our feelings on, we allow feelings to be, we do not supress them but we do not follow them. We check them, analyze, verify, 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 a yoga mat.

However, it does not guarantee our body posture is correct. Our neurological system, senses of perception and body reading are habitual and can be misleading and incorrect because they base on a posture  kept throughout years as a result of compensation or gravity.  Body resets (re-calibrates) all past settings and adapts them to a new pattern. It may cause an impression “I am/stand straight” while actually a one leg takes more weight.

It concerns a centre of gravity, too. It can change throughout years of different conditioning. For instance, when we unconsciously weight a right leg more (in order to protect an injured knee or ankle for some time but we get accustomed to this habit and continue it). Another example is when we bow our body forward or back (we usually move our weight forward).

Sight functions similarly. A picture set throughout years by a mind, labyrinth and neurological system as a permament point of reference is not necessarily correct (originally centralising). It is often acquired and adapted to our awkward posture (e.g. neck, head, body weight) and it compensates a weaker eye.

Then, what we see, though it is objectively straight, parallel or perpendicular, we will perceive as crooked or at a different angle than it actually is. So, it becomes hard to find a correct posture on one’s own and to be certain it is correct. Eye learns to perceive external world against its readings.

Everyone knows this moment when a teacher corrects your posture and then we feel awkward in relation to our regular, imposed upright posture. We need to calibrate our posture once again against external points as well as with a help of an observer.

Litmus paper is here TRISTANA which, first of all, includes UJJAYI breath. A steady length of inhalation and exhalation, a steady number of breaths, the same quality of them and the same rhythm. This helps us observe appearing feelings. Secondly, DRISHTI. Being conscious of where at a given moment is my DRISHTI and if it is one from the nine mentioned in scriptures (not, e.g.  dirshti at a knee). A mind follows a sight. Where we direct it is where we root it. This is how we focus it. Thirdly, bandhas (Mula, Uddiyana, Jalandhara).

The whole PRATYAKSHA during yoga practice is remaning conscious of and mindful to body (stimuli from body), which is experiencing TRISTANA.

The next pillar of Ashtanga is correct, proper and skilful practicing –  gathering, using logic, deducing in order to choose the right option (ANUMANA). It implies seeking an primal form of a posture (ASANA) which bases on and meets key rules of therapeutical yoga practice that brings back health and vitality. The opposite to this is getting into a routine, a mindless practice which you want to ‘tick off’, a boredom as well as various discomforts steming from unskilful practice. Learning from mistakes, injuries or on opennings in the mechanics of a body belong to this stage, too. It is not a technique which is wrong but most of all a way of doing.

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

AGAMAH which is a support and an eye of a teacher who has already gone throught the path we follow. Such teacher is a mirror and an authority because he studied a lot, he has knowledge and experience. Such authority does not result from learning the sequence with no insight and inquiry or a short and irregular time of practicing. In a word – a reliable teacher. It also include our own searchings in old scriptures, in teachings of different teachers, our lifelong studying (SVADHAYAYA). Reliability of a source is crucial but also our relentless pursuing to reaching it.

The three pillars of PRAMANA – of a correct tradition – protect a primal knowledge. They force us to seek the truth. They give us a chance to reach to 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 neurological system is overstimulated or pulluted by toxins) and by the dynamics of patterns (grown out of experience and out of our reaction to it) which distort our perception of ourselves.

How outlandish sounds then: ‘I listen to myself, I follow my heart’ when you are actually far far away from your primal nature. We believe in it deeply, however. And we want to believe it. We create an impression of a ‘conscious’ pursuit and making free choices. We make appearances and we seem to have a control over the right direction.

Whereas these are only senses, comfort, fears. It is distant to a real picture of a Soul.

We forget that a Good PRAMANA Pattern is based on the three pillars and the least on this pillar which is generally regarded the most important. Perhaps it is so to disconnect us as much as possible from ourselves.

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

The first one is taking a role of an inquiring, insightful and analytical observer. The second one is becoming a student who opens to external knowledge. Intellect is a fundament, not emotions. Thus, we aim at learning to be open a feedback and knowledge and at analyzing and verifying it at the same time. The same applies to inquiring information coming from our body or mind. We do not immerse in these sensations and we do not trust that everything we do is how it should be or assume that it is appropriate because it resembles an outline of something we have already known. An observer and a student – two attitudes with points of reference outside are ANUMANA and AGAMAH. If we lack humility, we get stuck in this stage.

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

When we take into consideration all three pillars, we learn Our Self, using external and internal teachings. If we rely on a one, or if we switch them upon how we feel, we get distant from our Centre but also from the original intention of teachings and from the real tradition, too.

Shifting valuating of these three elements so that the least important is a word and authority of a teacher or traditional texts results in adapting yoga to people’s comfort, not people to yoga. In this way, a tradition and knowledge are diluted. An original character is lost. It does not obviously concern a practice verified due to health issues, conditions or injuries. Then, it is not diluting a practice, but a gradual building of it until we are ready to make a whole sequence.

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

Ewa Makowska