Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 2 September 2012
Sunday conferences begin with Sharath taking a seat on the stage area and chanting quietly. During a recent conference a student asked what the chant was for and today we found out. As Sharath explained, this specific chant thanks all of his gurus in this lineage—Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya, and Pattabhi Jois. It is important to thank these people because many students, once they learn, they forget their guru. He reminded us that we represent our guru in this lineage. Without them it would be impossible to practice and relish this system of yoga. Sharath said that few people knew the system of yoga from the Yoga Korunta, and Pattabhi Jois kept it alive by teaching it to others and spreading its message. Yoga is a science and a spiritual development. The purpose of the sādhaka (aspirant / practitioner) is to totally submerse himself in the yoga and learn it.
To explain how to be a good student to our guru, Sharath quoted the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali 2.01 tapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogaḥ, which means discipline, self-study, and devotion or surrender to the divine constitutes kriyā yogaḥ. He said it is important to become disciplined so that we do not get distracted and unstable. This discipline does not come all at once — it is a process that happens year by year. He reiterated that he wasn’t speaking only of āsana, but of the whole yoga practice. Everyone wants to rush now, get authorization quickly, but our aim should be to learn first, and this is why self-study is important. Now we may see someone do handstands on a DVD and think they know what they are doing. He pointed out that even his young son can do handstands. We should get connected to whichever god or belief we like. It can be a belief in something without shape. We have created all of these shapes, but there is no one shape for any god. Once we get connected and surrender to our self and to the divine, we can be very calm. A sādhaka should always surrender to his teacher. If that thirst does not exist, what you learn will only be physical. These three things — devotion, development, and dedication — are important to our practice because it gives meaning to what we are doing. Otherwise, why spend time doing it?
Questions started with an issue from a previous conference when Sharath referenced Rāma shooting arrows at Hanumān, his most devoted disciple. Hanumān was so devoted that he became Rāma. Student and teacher are one. Another student asked if we should chant something like “Oṁ Namaḥ Śivāya” during our āsana practice instead of counting. Sharath said when doing āsana we should devote ourselves to doing that only. Our concentration should be in one place, on the breathing. If we want to chant, that should happen at home before asana practice. When doing chanting, we should concentrate only on the chant. When discussing a student’s question about the breath in our practice, Sharath was careful to differentiate between Ujjāyī breathing and “free breathing.” Ujjāyī Prāṇāyāma is a breathing technique and not what we are doing. In our practice we are not forcing the breath. We should inhale and exhale smoothly as this will help to activate our digestive fire. We should not hold our breath in āsana and instead try to have a flowing breath to help our circulation and nervous system. Someone followed up by asking when a student could learn Prāṇāyāma, the fourth limb. He said that he would show us when we are ready, but that there is one technique we could do on our own. He demonstrated and explained that he was inhaling through his left nostril and exhaling through his right nostril three times before switching to inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This was controlled using his right hand with his thumb on his right nostril and ring and little fingers on his left nostril. Here there is no breath retention. This can be done after practice, after rest. A Prāṇāyāma practice can get rid of diseases, but done improperly, it can invite diseases into the body and make us crazy. We should learn properly and follow a system. It too is a science. Also, there are cosmic reasons for certain actions such as which side of the bed to get up on (right) or which direction your front door should face (East). When a baby is born, the parents take the baby outside at sunrise so the sun’s rays bring the baby good health. Just as the sun can bring us positive energy like solar heat and solar powered cars, it can be used incorrectly or negatively too. Yoga is like the sun. It can be healing if used the right way but it also can be used to burn ourselves or someone else. A teacher has to know which āsana is good for students who have imbalances in the physical body. A teacher should study the student and can’t push everybody.
When questioned about whether we should take time off from practice or push through practice when injured, Sharath cautioned us to be careful. He said sometimes the body is only changing. Due to the things we’ve done to the body before our āsana practice; we may be working through a lot of stiffness. Āsana makes us free from all of this, but during the transition, there may be aches and pains in the body. We should practice, but we should be careful. Do not push too much until we feel better. We don’t respect āsana sometimes. Using himself as an example, he recounted his earlier days in Eka Pāda Rājakapotāsana. He thought he could do deeper and deeper until he injured his shoulder. He demoed for Guruji the next day even though he was injured. After that day he practiced slowly and was very careful. It healed and he became more flexible. He cautioned that we should go slowly, let the body change, and don’t rush it. Flexibility will come. When doing this practice, exercises and sports can make us more stiff and susceptible to injury. He joked that there is no need for other activity unless we really like it, and then, we can do that once in awhile. He said, in his experience, injuries or pains that we get by āsana, āsana can heal.
To wrap up he said that yoga is bigger than us. Nobody can copyright it or brand it. It is our duty to uphold the system and educate people about what proper yoga means. When we protect dharma, when we protect truth, the truth will protect us. He sent us off by saying we should keep practicing. It doesn’t happen all at once. It takes a long time.
By Megan Riley