Here goes my attempt to capture (most) of what Sharath said at yesterday’s conference. Again, no dictaphone – I tried, but I mostly picked up my own breathing, occasional coughs and the murmurs of one of the amazingly well-behaved babies in the room, who happened to be behind me. The happy contentment of all those yogi-babies present at the conference is certainly an excellent advert for the benefits of yoga!
Anyway, over to the main man – warning, it’s pretty lengthy, I’ll be amazed if you get to the end…!
‘Ashtanga yoga was brought to light by my grandfather, Pattabhi Jois. He established ashtanga at his Lakshmipuram shala. Before, people didn’t know ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is all of the eight limbs. What is its purpose? What are its benefits? Can you go straight to samadhi as soon as you enter the shala? Can you get a certificate for samadhi?! Not possible. The certificate is just for your own satisfaction. It won’t take you anywhere.
No, you have to go step by step. This leads to transformation, which itself leads to clarity. First you get rid of the impurities of body and mind (delusions and distractions). Once this process has happened you get more clarity in you, once you’re untouched by delusions. Because of delusions we’re not able to understand our true nature.
So many things happen in life, and you think they’re so important, for example chasing money and power. People think money and power make you happy but those with money or power have to protect it, which makes them do bad things so they’re not happy. Other things in life are important – like peace of mind, and money and power can’t bring this. Yoga brings inner peace (citta vritti nirodha). When you see true yogis they don’t need anything. Their mind is calm; that is their wealth. Through their sadhana (yoga study) they have peace. If you spent one million pounds you couldn’t buy this peace.
It is impossible to fully block the mind. The mind has to think. The meaning of citta vritti nirodha is how to bring calmness to the mind, not how to stop it thinking. The mind is impulsive, distracted, always jumping here and there. After this conference you’ll go onto facebook. Why do you want to say whether this man is right or wrong? Take time instead to correct yourself. If you have time to correct others, you have time to correct yourself through yoga. Once you correct yourself, the whole world looks pure. If you’re always correcting others you’re a spy, not a yogi! You’re not taking time to calm your mind, you’re thinking about others all the time. You know so much about others and waste energy on this. You could use the same energy to know who you are, and become a yogi.
You see now how the eight limbs are so well put-together, how they work so nicely?
Asteya means non-stealing. Some people steal postures that they shouldn’t have, and some people even steal yoga. Branding all these types of new yoga is like stealing. With these new types of yoga, where postures have been stolen, there is no single method, they are not from a lineage. It becomes like a circus, like going to the gym. People say ‘I do yoga‘, but they don’t even know what it is. They carry their beautiful manduka mat in a beautiful mat bag, they’re good looking in their lululemon shorts!
But how to bring inner beauty? Inner happiness is different from what you get from outside. Someone gives you an iphone and you’re happy for a while, until the new iphone comes out, then happiness wanes. Once you have inner happiness, this won’t go. If you’re just doing asanas to sweat, it doesn’t bring inner happiness, but once you enjoy and relish the practice, happiness comes.
If you eat ten types of dosa you can’t relish them, you’re just filling your stomach. To relish it, you just eat just one. In the same way you should just practise one system. I never ventured away from ashtanga, I never asked anyone questions or had discussions with senior students. You have to find your own way, with a guru who opens the darkness inside you. My grandfather was the guru who opened students’ lives to yoga. Through yoga he opened their eyes.
Asana is important, but is not the final stage. It is the tool to discover and to take you towards the final stages. You have to do sadhana. Because of my grandfather, I’m here and I learnt the true knowledge of yoga because of his hard work. From a child I watched him. He got up at 3:30am to do his practice, and then he gave coffee to the whole family around 4 or 4:30am – there would be coffee next to every bed. He looked after the family. One day my uncle (Manju) came to visit from America. When my grandfather gave him coffee he said, ‘Why do you want to give coffee so early in the morning?’. So my grandfather stopped giving him coffee. Then from that time, Manju couldn’t sleep, so then he said, ‘OK, I’ll have coffee’. (He chuckles.)
My grandfather did many hours of chanting every day. That was his daily practice – I saw this from a child. Then he taught for many hours – first Indians, then westerners – until he finished around 11am and still didn’t eat any food. Then he would perform rituals and only had his first meal of the day at 2pm. That is the dedication he had.
My grandfather never separated students. Everyone was equal. If a small child came he would sit next to them and make sure they learnt the surya namaskaras and the vinyasas properly, before taking them further. He wanted them to learn properly. Because the whole vinyasa structure is based on the surya namasakaras. Once breathing comes properly in surya namaskara A and B, then the whole practice will come easily. The whole cycle will only be complete when you breathe properly; it’s not just about the postures. Breathing is the most important.
Some students are so flexible like noodles – they can catch their knees no problem. But they can’t stand straight – there’s no stability. Most of you have not observed proper breathing – the cycle generates lots of internal energy in you. Beginners can’t even do 5 surya namaskaras – they get so tired. Because it is not just the body moving, it’s also the air moving inside. Most of you only do shallow breathing, then you get tired and breathe through the mouth. But with proper vinyasa in the surya namaskaras, it builds strength and stamina. Then you can do the surya namaskaras and not get tired. It takes time to build this up.’
Sharath then started chanting the primary series postures, one after another, on a loop.
‘My grandfather made us do this very fast. This is how we pray – through the pronunciation of the asanas. Some students find this prayer difficult.’ (He takes the mickey out of some common examples of bad pronunciation and laughs.) ‘It was very difficult to cheat with my grandfather. He used to listen and say ‘This is not correct!‘ then make you do it again. To bring perfection he sat in front of me in a chair and checked I was doing it correctly. Once his chair wasn’t there and I was happy – I thought he wasn’t looking. But the maid had taken the chair away for cleaning and he was standing and watching from outside! After two years he took me further into the practice and gave me new asanas.
New teachers want more students therefore, to please students, they give them twenty asanas. Then the student gets injured and blames yoga. You should only do your practice in the morning. Once a day is enough. You’re not going to a performance, so you don’t need to keep training. Yoga is not a performance, you don’t need to impress anyone. But yoga has become like that. Teachers need to impress students. They give out hugs – yoga hugs. No one hugged me! I hugged my sadhana only! When I was 28, people saw the gold ring on my finger and thought I was married. My grandmother gave me the ring and I didn’t know about the western culture of wearing the wedding ring on your left hand. In India we wear gold on our bodies because it makes us healthy. So people would ask me, ‘Where is your wife?‘ And I would say ‘Yoga is my wife. I’m married to my sadhana!’.
I have never seen anyone else like my grandfather. He was so dedicated. He was an ocean of knowledge. If you were confused by anything you just asked him – he had a library in his mind. He was a genius. The only problem was that he didn’t have good English. But this was OK. For those who spoke English they took forever to explain the postures. But they forgot the philosophy, the inner work, the vinyasas.
In trikonasana you can be in the posture but the mind wanders. You have to bring oneness and calmness through the breathing. When you relax and breathe easily in a posture, the mind becomes calm and the body has stability. When you get new postures the body reacts quickly and the mind can’t relax. With sadhana things change every day. You need to do this for a long time. Then the body becomes more familiar with the postures and more flexible, and the mind becomes calm. If you just do a fifteen day teacher training course you won’t become a yogi – it’s a waste of your money and time.
Your practice is your daily karma, your responsibility. The karma of marriage is important, as is the karma of sadhana. Both are important and you have to balance the two. Karma also means duty. Whatever bad we’ve done in past lives means we have to suffer in this life, and vice versa. Life is a blend of both good and bad karma. Accepting both means you become a yogi. Sukha (pleasure) and dukha (pain) are the two faces of this life. Your state of mind should be the same through all. Don’t become too excited when you’re happy – it brings bad things. When people watch the stock market, everyone is excited when it’s up and there are sad faces when it’s down. So you shouldn’t gamble in this life.
Once you find balance you find happiness and peace. You will mix up with nature, you become one. You see the beauty of nature, you blend with nature. You experience that everything is one; you become the nature. This is yoga. Then sukha and dukha won’t affect you. When pratyahara (sense withdrawal) grows within you it becomes dharana (concentration). You allow it to grow strongly in you and you blend with oneness. Then your mind becomes dhyana (meditation) and nothing disturbs it. Meditation, such as vipassana, is not the same as dhyana. Meditation is focus; dhyana is blending, oneness. So you see how beautifully the eight limbs have been designed. Pranayama is what makes the mind stronger, and you do pranayama in the asanas, by expanding prana with the breath.
Q & A
At first no one asked a question for a while. Sharath commented, ‘No questions? You have all the answers!’
Q: Where is the drishti in the surya namaskaras?
‘Drishti, like meditation, is single-point focus. It brings more focus to the practice. There are many different drishtis in the surya namaskaras – I will explain in the next conference.’
Q: ‘Is there a balance between someone who sticks to just one system their whole life and someone who tries out lots of different types of yoga?’
‘In my experience trying different styles drives you crazy. There is too much software for your computer to process – the computer will blow-up. There is no balance. You are not understanding the concept I’m saying. If you find your true guru, who has an ocean of knowledge, then there’s no comparison. Then what anyone else says becomes meaningless and doesn’t make any sense. Once you find your master, who has experienced what no one else has experienced, then that’s all you need. Otherwise, the mind is always wandering. There is a new trend in yoga for people to do lots of workshops with lots of teachers. This is only good for advertising yourself. Nothing gets corrected in these workshops. One true master is very important in life. Once you realise this you don’t need anything else. If I’d followed different gurus I couldn’t do what I do. Krishnamacharya had one guru, Pattabhi Jois had one guru, I had one guru. I don’t know how many you have…
Parampara is a pure sream of direct lineage of gurus. When the Ganges flows from the Himalayas it is pure. But once it starts mixing with other streams, the purity is lost. I am not imposing ashtanga on you. You just need to stick to one system. I am not Pattabhi Jois’s son’s son – I am his daughter’s son (NB I didn’t catch the word for this – something like bhoditra??). My genes come from my father’s side. I don’t carry guruji’s genes. So how did I get attracted to this path? So you know how much hard work I’ve done to learn this, and I’m still working hard.’
There was a question I didn’t hear, but that I assume asked something along the line of why different students of Krishnamacharya teach yoga so differently.
‘Pattabhi Jois was a student of Krishnamacharya for 25 years. Go and ask those students who changed his teaching why. I didn’t waste my time wondering why other teachers changed the teaching – you ask them!’
Q: How do you balance family life with your yoga sadhana?
‘Suffering. You can’t stop worshipping if you have children. God can come in different forms – God is nothing but a big energy running the whole show. When things don’t go your way, why is this? It’s not in your hands. Everything is part of nature. Some people are scared of having children – they think it’s too much. But you can’t run away. Although it depends on your culture – here in India we have lots of family responsibilities. Here, family is very bonded. It’s different in western cultures. When my grandmother was 75 and I was 27 she still used to feed me!
Being with children is a duty, a part of your life. It’s like brushing your teeth every day – if you say it’s too much of a burden then you know what will happen – no one will come close. Family and sadhana are the same: they must become part of your life, your daily routine. Then it’s not a burden. You should enjoy your practice. Don’t worry about collecting asanas – then it becomes a burden. Instead, it should become your karma, your duty, until it’s a part of nature and you have to do it. When you think like that, all goes smoothly.
I don’t sleep properly over these six months. Such hard work. Why? Because I want everyone to learn. Because I never saw my grandfather miss one day. But it’s not a burden. It’s part of my life, my duty. To turn up and teach you what I can – even when I haven’t slept!’
THE END! Well done if you made it this far… 😉