Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 9 September 2012

“You can’t change this world but you can change yourself.” – Sharath Jois

There are millions of āsanas, and only God knows them all.  They are named for many living beings.  We know only a few but think we are masters. The āsanas in our practice our divided into three different levels: primary series, intermediate series, and advanced series.  Sharath explained that a new student can’t just begin with advanced series.  Preliminary āsanas are there first to gain good health and flexibility.  Changes come to prepare us for the next āsana, the next series.  We should be patient.  Sometimes we seek out teachers who give many āsanas quickly and think they will be very good teachers, but it’s all just marketing.  Sharath referred to Abhyāsa, a daily and consistent practice, as the way we can develop stability in the body and mind. Some students come in flexible as noodles but have no strength.  Others need flexibility.  Guruji said if we did an āsana 1,000 times we can perfect that āsana.  Back-bending drop backs are important first because they require much strength in the back and the legs.  This prepares us to do intermediate backbending like Kapotāsana.  We should not rush these openings.  We should give it time because rushing will always cause injuries.  Sharath relayed that he was in one āsana for two years.  Guruji would sit on a stool and do his prayers near Sharath while he practiced.  For two years he ended at the same posture.  One day Guruji looked up and said he should do the next one.  Being patient gives us time to get balanced.  If we begin doing handstands too soon, it makes the shoulders too tight for Kapotāsana, for example.  Intermediate series, Nāḍī Śodhana, is more intense but gets easier because of the things learned in primary series.  Finally, addressing Sthira Bhāga, or advanced series, Sharath says we develop even more stability through arm balances, deep backbending, and the work of lifting the body.  By working the āsanas, by putting forth effort, many of the inside poisons and toxins come out, and the body is purified.  We should rub our sweat into the skin, not off of the body.  He said some āsanas are slippery and we might have a towel but not to use a towel too often to wipe sweat.  The sweat created from practice is not “easy” sweat, meaning sweat created by heating the room like in hot yoga.  The sweat we create through our efforts is beneficial if rubbed back into the skin.  Ultimately, through this āsana practice, we are working toward the point where this physical body doesn’t bother us.  When sitting for Prāṇāyāma, we can be in Padmāsana for a long time without disturbing the mind with the body.

One student asked if Kriyā (cleansing) techniques were for practitioners.  Sharath said that they are used only when a person has a particular problem.  We are doing āsanas and cleansing is already happening.  There is no need to perform a kriyā unless something is wrong.  For example, sūtra neti, threading string through the nostril and mouth, may be beneficial for a particular allergy or infection.  If there is no sinus infection, jala netī, or the use of a netī pot, may provide relief of congestion.  Naulī can be used for incorrect digestion but should be used carefully.  Women, especially, can find it hard on the reproductive organs.  These techniques were for sadhus with no family and before there were hospitals.  People had to treat themselves.   He stressed we should be educated about what we are doing.  The technique can affect us in a different way than intended if we do it and have no problem.  Trāṭaka Kriyā, gazing at one fixed point, usually a flame, can be done to improve our concentration in addition to helping certain eye problems.  It is safe to do regularly.  Referring back to sinus troubles and sickness, Sharath reminded us to not practice with fever or a very bad cold because we likely aren’t getting enough air during the practice or we get too heated.  He added with a chuckle that you’ll only make everyone in the shala sick, too.

Answering a question about the occasional wandering mind, Sharath recommended japa, the repetition of a mantra, for after āsana practice. He said something might be bothering you — it happens — and we have a distracted mind. We can’t change the world but we can change ourselves.  Done after practice or before bed for about 30 minutes, using a mantra that has been taught to us, the worry might not be 100% gone,but it will be manageable.  Also, he noted, it is important to clean ourselves before we perform these kinds of rituals.  Śauca, or cleanliness, is important before japa just as it is important for āsana.  We are trying to be calm individuals and manage ourselves and what comes up.  Mahatma Gandhi was the symbol of ahiṁsā, because he submersed himself in ahiṁsā and then was, himself, ahiṁsā.  A yogī is someone who has cultivated all of these things in him or her.  It is a quality.  He asked how many of us can say we are a yogī or yoginī.  We have to become sādhakas day by day.

Next a student asked about teaching a cancer survivor who has undergone chemotherapy.  Even though the treatments are over, the student gets overheated quickly even now.  Sharath suggested that the student drink plenty of water and juice and to use oil to cool the body.  He suggested coconut or almond oil to cool her.  Treatments and medicines can stay in the body a long time.  He said āsanas bring heat to the body anyway and we use oil baths to cool the body.  It used to be custom in India to put coconut oil in children’s hair to cool them.  Putting the oil on the head will draw heat out of the body.  For the head, amla oil is very good.  Also, he advised that she should talk to a doctor.  There are many herbs and ayurvedic treatments that can help with diseases and afflictions of the body.

Sharath ended conference by inviting us to visit a local hospital with him.  A Mysore pediatrician has opened a hospital devoted to children with HIV and AIDS, and Sharath extended an invitation to us to accompany him and see what we can do to help the hospital and the young patients.  He said he would provide the date and details soon.

By Megan Riley