On Sunday 26 July, Andy Curtis-Payne and I were honoured to be invited to the long-awaited launch of the book Āsana Sahapāṭhī, a companion to āsana, by Dr Latha Satish and Dr D. Dwarakanath. The launch had been delayed due to the lockdown in India; however eventually it was decided to go ahead with an online launch.
Long time coming
Dr Latha is a long-standing and highly renowned student of TKV Desikachar (Sir), as well as a professional academic and researcher. I was flattered to be asked by her to contribute a review to the book as well as helping to proofread the text.
The book had a long gestation. First conceived and begun by Dr Latha back in the 1980s in the early days of her studies with TKV Desikachar, it was sidelined by her busy professional and family life. Though she attempted many times to encourage others to take it on and complete the task, it was only recently, with the encouragement and input of her friend and colleague Dr D Dwarakanath, that the book has finally come to fruition.
The issue of ‘āgamāh’, or ‘reliable reference’, is increasingly problematic for serious students of yoga in the modern era. The days of the great yogis seem to have gone and we are bombarded by information and opinion, for which it is often difficult to know the source and authority. Often, newcomers to yoga can be discouraged by being given a ‘one-size-fits-all’ recipe which doesn’t suit them, or by a random ‘pick-and-mix’ approach, which doesn’t provide the true benefits to be gained or, worse, can be harmful.
I believe this book, written by such long-standing students of Sir, will be greatly valued and appreciated by all of us who study and/or teach following the tradition of Ṥrī T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar, as an authoritative guide and companion to working with āsana. These great Acharyas gave us a careful and logical approach to āsana practice and the book explains in detail the meaning and purpose of ‘vinyāsa krama’; a reasoned step-by-step approach. This underlies practice at all levels and is outlined for all the key āsana-s, planning a course of āsana and developing a long-term plan towards a particular goal. All the key factors to be considered and the many techniques to adapt, modify or intensify a practice are explained. Thus, we understand the principles to be applied in order to develop appropriate, creative and safe practices which can be personalised to anyone.
Importantly in this book, āsana is firmly placed in its context within the astāṅga yoga of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, where it was first presented as part of the whole picture of yoga and not as an end in itself. It is emphasised that there are pre-requisites to āsana and that āsana itself is a stepping-stone towards deeper practices.
The book is helpfully illustrated with photos and useful ‘stickmen’ figures which can serve as a model for students and teachers when composing our own practices. The inclusion of QR codes and a link with a YouTube video channel demonstrating the techniques is also a helpful innovation of the book.
For newcomers to the tradition there are interesting and useful interludes in the book outlining the backgrounds and stories of the great teachers themselves, their work and that of their renowned students.
For some westerners or newcomers to yoga, the liberal sprinkling of Sanskrit terms may seem daunting at first. However, I feel the use of these terms is vital to root our yoga in the authentic sources of yoga philosophy and yoga texts, such as Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra. It was a broad and deep knowledge and understanding of this firm ground which allowed Śrī T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar to develop their approach. I believe it is important that this link with the source is not lost, that yoga is not diluted or coloured by other agendas or values. Therefore, I would encourage people to persevere and begin to absorb the rich nuances of the language little by little.
Throughout the book the devotion to the teachers and the teaching shines through. It is this attitude of humility and gratitude which yoga fosters and it is modelled here so beautifully. The close links with the teacher over so many years, as well as long experience of study and practice within this tradition, give this book an authority and practical application which will be a support to us all in the tradition, whether trainees or trainers. It is a fitting tribute to Sir and his father.
Details of how to obtain the book will be available soon!