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Studying Svastha Yoga with Indra Mohan and A.G. Mohan
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Studying Svastha Yoga with Indra Mohan and A. G. Mohan in Mamallapuram, India

By Ketna Shah

Discovering Svastha

I first discovered Svastha Yoga through A.G. Mohan's book, Yoga for Body, Breath and Mind. I was quite impressed by the ideas in the book, and incorporated them into my Yoga practice and teaching. Through the Svastha Organization's web site, http://www.svastha.com/, I learned about two upcoming programs with Indra Mohan and A.G. Mohan: a 4-week course for Yoga Teachers, and a follow- up 2-week course on Yoga Therapy. I was excited at the prospect of learning directly under the tutelage of Mohanji, and immediately registered.

Arriving for the Programs

The programs were held in Mamallapuram, a beach resort town near the major city of Chennai, India. All participants were picked up at the Chennai airport, and the transportation to the resort was quite smooth.

Participants

 
  Svastha Participants Group Photo
The 40 participants were from all over the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Spain, Germany, France, Austria, Israel, Iraq, Malaysia, England, Scotland, China, Singapore, Japan, and India. The background and professions of the participants varied as well, including Yoga teachers, a school principal, a chiropractor, a physician, and accountants. It was an amazing experience- a gathering of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, all under one roof, with a common love for Yoga.  

Setting

We were located on a resort on the beach. Imagine outdoor early morning sessions, with a sunrise on the sea, and the waves and the beach in the foreground. The resort itself was neat and clean, and we were housed two to a room. The course fees included housing and all meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an afternoon snack and tea. All meals were vegetarian and based on principles of Ayurveda. Coconut milk, warm ginger water, or warm cumin water were offered during morning and afternoon breaks. I found drinking warm ginger and cumin water very appropriate after a Yoga Session, and I relished these. Lunch was always Indian style food, and dinner included a few Western options. The food was not at all spicy, and most participants loved the food. On the weekends, participants had opportunities to sample the local food outside the resort.

The Course for Yoga Teachers

Our day started at 6.45 AM with a 1-hour practice session, conducted by Svastha Yoga certified teachers from Australia and Singapore. We were introduced to the "Sthira-Sukha-Series" designed by Indraji and Mohanji. The class gave us an opportunity to observe how to teach Yoga in Svastha Style. 

After breakfast, we started a morning session with 15 minutes of peace chanting, followed by a lecture by Mohanji on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Mohanji brought clarity and simplicity to the Sutras. From 10.15 AM to 10:45 AM, Mohanji conducted another practice session. After a morning break, Indraji conducted a 1-hour session at 11:00 AM.  In every session, she covered 1 or 2 asanas in-depth, including tips on how to get into and out of the posture, along with breathing instructions and the preparative and balancing postures for each asana.

Following a lunch break and a rest period, the participants re-assembled at 2 pm for a 1-hour session conducted by Mohanji. This session either continued the morning discussion of the Yoga Sutras, or became a question and answer session. 3:00 PM to 3.30 PM was reserved for another Yoga practice session, followed by an afternoon break. At 4:00 PM, Indraji conducted a 1-hour session on Ayurveda or Yoga asana. Topics included Ayurvedic cooking, how to put together a sequence of asana for a class, and how to personalize Yoga for a student. The participants were given assignments at the end of the week, to be completed over the weekend and submitted the following Monday.

Svastha Yoga

"Svastha" is a Sanskrit term for  a state of health and balance. Svastha Yoga emphasizes the importance of breathing and working with the spine.

Breathing incorrectly while coming into or out of the pose can reduce the effectiveness of the pose, and breathing correctly can enhance the benefits of the pose. Thus, the course explains and emphasizes correct breathing techniques while coming into and out of a pose.

The spinal cord is the central structure on which the entire skeletal and neural systems depend. The spine also determines the space available for most of the important internal organs. A misaligned spine can cramp and put pressure on certain organs, in turn influencing their function. As we age, the natural curves in the spine become exaggerated. This includes rounding of the shoulder, drooping of the head, and increased curvature in the lower back. Most of the Yogic postures, when done correctly, can be used to correct these problems. However, if proper care is not taken, attempts to practice Yogic postures can actually worsen the problem. The Svastha course taught techniques for entering and exiting each asana, with an emphasis on the health of the spine. The asana is not as important as the capability to get into and out of the asana smoothly and effortlessly. Unfortunately, it may be possible for individuals to attain an asana without having the prerequisite capabilities of strength, flexibility, and balance to move in to and out of the asana. In such cases, practicing the asana does more harm than good.

Svastha Yoga emphasizes personalizing yoga for each individual. Beginners are given only certain basic postures, movements, and breathing techniques, to build strength, flexibility, and balance. The course teaches trainees how to assess an individual and create a personalized practice. The Svastha Yoga movement also emphasizes an integrated approach that incorporates asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, Ayurvedic food, and a simple lifestyle. The course ties all these together to show their interdependence.

Sthira-Sukha-Series

The Sthira-Sukha-Series are sequences of asanas designed by Mohanji and Indraji. They are designed to be used by a person who has developed basic fitness and flexibility and learned correct breathing techniques. The sequences are designed to properly warm up the body and prepare for more advanced asanas as the series progresses. Each pose is balanced with its counter pose. At the end of a Sthira-Sukha-Series, I feel balanced and relaxed. Most of the students to whom I have introduced this series report similar experiences. Currently there are around 5 Sthira-Sukha sequences, and I expect more of these to be announced in the future. We may also see Mohanji and Indraji introducing specialized series for individuals with special needs or advanced capabilities.

Yoga Therapy

The Yoga Therapy course emphasized the symbiotic relationship between Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda. Recommended reading for this course was Yoga Therapy by A. G. Mohan and Indra Mohan. The East has had a long tradition of recognizing and accepting the interplay of different forces in nature. Ayurveda describes the human system is as a balance between three doshas (Pitta, Vata and Kapha). In this view, ill health is seen as an expression of an imbalance between the doshas. Ayurveda goes beyond finding an external cause of disease (a virus or a bacteria) or a functional problem in an organ. Instead, Ayurveda tries to explain why the system was susceptible to the infection or functional problem in the organ in the first place. The real value of this view is looking at prevention rather than the cure, by addressing underlying issues.

Yoga Therapy in this context is the use of Yoga to restore the balance of the doshas. It can be also be used to correct any physical and structural issues in the posture and skeletal alignment. In the program, real case studies where students were present, and trainees were taught how to diagnose problems, design a sequence of postures, and prepare food recommendations. The case studies covered included depression, scoliosis, lower back problems, knee problems, constipation, posture issues, ruptured disc, frozen shoulder, hypertension, and weight problems.

Personal Impact

Mohanji and Indraji provided a sequence of postures to each participant based on body type and medical history. I practiced this sequence daily for over a month during the course, and consistently since returning home. At the end of the course, I had lost 10 pounds, without dieting or being food conscious at all. My posture had improved, with an un-rounding of my shoulders and strengthening of my back. My husband thought I looked 10 years younger!

This course marked a major milestone in my life, and in my Yoga journey. It is comforting to know that during this journey, I will have the support and guidance of gurus like Indraji and Mohanji. Also, I have met an amazing group of people from all parts of the world, and I am sure that many lifelong friendships will emerge from this experience.

Conclusion
This course highlights the hugely important body of work done by Mohanji and Indraji in collecting, simplifying, and bringing clarity to the yoga literature and techniques. They have distilled the essence of the ancient Yoga texts, and applied modern understanding and explanation to the techniques and practices of Yoga. More details about the course can be found on www.svastha.com, and books about Svastha Yoga can be ordered from Shambhala Publications: www.shambhala.com.

The author lives and practices yoga and yoga therapy in Denver, Colorado and can be reached at ktrshah@juno.com
September 12, 2005

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