Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 4 December 2011

Recently Sharath spoke on two subjects: the first was an interesting yogic theory about our life essence and the importance of headstand & shoulderstand, and the second subject was about understanding yoga properly so that our yoga practice will evolve correctly rather than furthering our imbalances.

Amṛta bindu (the nectar of immortality) is stored in the crown of the head. Everyday it drops to the jaṭharāgni (digestive fire) and as such our life shortens. Storage of this bindu lengthens the lifespan and brings health. Guruji used to say that from 32 parts of food one drop of blood is formed; from 32 drops of blood, one drop of vitality; and from 32 drops of vitality, one drop of amṛta bindu comes. In the past yogis performed Khecarī Mudrā. By gradually cutting under the tongue with a sharp grass, the tongue could be pushed back far in the throat to stop the amṛta bindu falling (Sharath says don’t do this at home!).  But, we [in Ashtanga Yoga] have a different method: Śīrṣāsana (headstand) and Sarvāṅgāsana (shoulderstand). These two postures and their variations can be used to stem the downward flow of amṛta bindu into jaṭharāgni.  Slowly over time we can increase the amount of time we spend in these postures. Sometimes, if we are tired, or the body is aching, then we can do a shorter āsana practice and spend more time in these important āsanas.  We can do śīrṣāsana for 10, 15, 20 minutes so amṛta bindu is stored and life is lengthened.  “Sometimes when I was young, Guruji would be in headstand.  I would go out and play cricket with my friends for a long time and come back in. Guruji would still be there in headstand!” As you get older you can do less āsanas, and more śīrṣāsana (headstand).

If you understand the true essence of āsana then it is good.  If you do too much, it can increase rajo guṇa (quality of activity), especially when breathing and intention are not correct.  Āsana should calm you down.  Cirque de Soleil doesn’t mean they are big yogīs. Being a yogī means trying to reach samādhi, liberation.  How?  Firstly you must have the correct foundation of yama (moral disciplines) and niyama (spiritual disciplines). If you don’t follow ahiṁsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), etc., then you will increase rajo guṇa. Haṭha Yoga Pradīpika says there are only six limbs in yoga. Why is that? Because the first two limbs are assumed. Yama and Niyama (the first two limbs of aṣṭāṅga yoga) should be practiced automatically. If you don’t practice Yama, Niyama then āsana is of no use. Āsana is not to show-off.  Some people make āsana very fancy, but they don’t understand the purpose.  The mind should change slowly. As we go deeper and deeper into our āsana, our minds will change.  That is transformation. Āsana is so fascinating, but our understanding of yoga only comes after practicing for a long time – 5-6 years at least. Overall, the whole yoga will change. Āsana is the foundation over which we build a very big spiritual building.  Doing many postures won’t take us to samādhi (pure yogic concentration), the mind has to change. The Vinyāsa Krama of Ashtanga Yoga is very unique because of the breathing. The breath controls the mind, and the mind controls the body.  Irregular breathing will make you crazy.  Once you synchronize āsana and breath for many years, then higher states can be reached through the vehicle of āsana.  But if the fundamentals are not correct this won’t come. You shouldn’t let the ego grow or the yoga building will collapse. By understanding why we are doing yoga, we can change the way we practice.

FOOT NOTE:

Yama: Ahiṁsā (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacarya (Control of Sexual Energy) & Aparigraha (minimal possessions)

Niyama: Śauca (cleanliness), Saṁtoṣa (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svādhyāya (studies related to the nature of the Self), Īśvarapraṇidhāna (devotion to the divine)

By Andrew Hillam