Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 23 September 2012
Conference began with Sharath elaborating on the use of bandhas, a topic brought up by a student on a previous Sunday. Why are bandhas important? Sharath explained that many manuscripts refer to the bandhas and he himself refers to what Śaṅkarācārya has written based upon experience and what he learned from his guru. They are important techniques to keep longevity of life. Sharath said, though there is not documentation linking bandhas to the phenomena of saints and yogīs living much longer than we do today, he would figure that their ability to live for well over 100 years (1,000 years!) was due to their use of these techniques. Though there are many bandhas, we use three regularly. Jālandhara Bandha (demonstrated by dropping his chin) is used mostly for Prāṇāyāma. In Mūla Bandha we contract the anus and lift up. Uḍḍiyāna Bandha is activated below the navel in the lower abdomen. We have nine holes in our body. When we do Prāṇāyāma, we have to block these holes so that air does not come inside the body. When air can enter the body in this way, the mind is distracted and fluctuates. Impure air will distract our Prāṇāyāma and meditation. For the Pañca Mahā Bhūta — the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space — who is the source, the controller of this energy? Who is the source for this breath? God is the source. Therefore, the supreme energy is the source of our bandhas. Mūla Bandha should be done sitting, walking, all of the time. Sharath paused to add that it is done all of the time except a few times. He said “I don’t have to explain this” and laughed. Bandhas take time — there is no quick one month certificate for Mūla Bandha. Bandhas will help the āsanas to develop energy inside us and bring stability to the body and mind. Some āsanas are also good for developing the bandhas. Nāvāsana, Utpluthiḥ, and lifting up in our jumpbacks help us to strengthen the bandhas. This is why he makes us do them longer in led practices. Also, he added, it is fun for him. He goes on to demonstrate other places where we can work the bandhas properly. He demoed the jumpback from Utkaṭasana (not a half handstand but more of a lift of the lower body) and from Vīrabhadrāsana B (same but with one leg behind). These were not high lifts but very controlled. Sharath attempted an advanced posture, but said, he should wait because he had breakfast already. Finally, he got into Padmāsana and showed us how to draw in the lower belly. He said he sees many students allowing the lower belly to move quite a bit while breathing. The breath should be free, without struggle, breathing only with the lungs. This led us to discuss Prāṇāyāma. He said, ultimately, bandhas are important for Prāṇāyāma because we learn to control the breath. Prāṇāyāma should only be done once āsanas are mastered and under the supervision of a guru or master, not just an ordinary teacher. If done incorrectly, it invites disease into the body instead of getting rid of disease.
The first question he took from students was how jumping back in Sūrya Namaskāra A and B should look like. Sharath said to just do it — straight legs, bent legs, doesn’t matter. Another āsana question asked was whether we should hop or simply step into our standing postures from Samasthitiḥ. Again, Sharath said this doesn’t matter much. The vinyāsa is important but using straight legs versus crossed legs, stepping or hopping, is not so important as long as the student has the correct vinyāsa. He used eating as an example. He eats with his hand. Many of us use a spoon. Why change? He went on to say that he has tried chopsticks but that he is most comfortable eating with his hand. Small differences to do the same thing. Also, someone asked about the split practice some students are doing here where they alternate the first and second half of primary series during the week in addition to the first part of the intermediate series. Sharath said that many students are not warmed up enough to be split in the practice and go right into intermediate postures. They need to do some of primary still for those going to Eka Pāda Śīrṣāsana or Dvi Pāda Śīrṣāsana who cannot do it.
What makes a good student? Sharath said this question was difficult. A good student wants to learn yoga for self transformation. He or she doesn’t have any desire, only to get enlightened. Pattabhi Jois didn’t learn this to become famous. We do not need to be Brahmin or go through a ceremony. It doesn’t automatically make us enlightened. We can reach enlightenment without it. This is his karma. He was born in India and this is what he does. At the end of the day, it’s our own karma. To be human, that is our duty. Don’t be like an animal. Protect Dharma (truth) and Dharma will protect you. Just doing āsanas is not enough. We have to be more responsible and think of more than just ourselves. This is a 24 hour practice.
Finally, Sharath attempted the posture he tried at the beginning of conference only to conclude that he was too full. He reminded us that āsanas are also about failing, not just success. He then sat down to demonstrate proper bandha and breath in Padmāsana and reminded us to keep our back straight and not sit hunched over. He showed a few Padmāsana variations for people who are feeling congested. First, take back the hands while sitting in Padmāsana and open the chest while dropping the head all the way back. Breathe from there. This helps with congestion, colds, and asthma related breathing problems. If we want to add in a few basic breathing techniques it is best to complete through Utpluthiḥ and jump back to reset. Prāṇāyāma and breath work is best done after āsana practice is completed. He wrapped up by saying he would attempt the posture he tried to do when conference was back at the regular schedule and not right after breakfast. Stay tuned!
By Megan Riley