Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, March 2013

The following are excerpts from two conferences given by Sharath in March 2013 at KPJAYI. They are Sharath’s responses to questions on a variety of topics related to yoga and āsana practice.

Breathing during āsana practice:

You do normal breath, inhalation and exhalation with sound. Ujjayi breath is a type of prāṇāyāma. This is just normal breath with free flow. Relaxed breathing in the posture makes this cycle. This will generate heat inside us, makes the blood warm so it’s easy to circulate. It allows the blood to circulate properly in the body. There are seventy two thousand nāḍīs (channels) in the body. Some big and some small. All should be activated by doing all different kinds of āsanas. It makes our body healthy and all the toxins will come outside. When you start āsana practice you see changes. It keeps on changing and by many years of practice your body changes. (Sharath then quotes from the Haṭha yoga Pradīpikā Chapter 2, verse 2) ‘cale vate, calaṁ cittaṁ niscalaṁ bhavet’ (the breath being in motion, the mind is moving. The breath being without motion, the mind must be motionless). Once we control our breath and the cycle is correct the mind is correct. If you are too happy or too sad the breath is not correct. There is a lot of prominence in yoga to the breath. For prāṇāyāma and higher levels of yoga we should first master the breath in vinyāsa krama. Many people do āsana practice, bend their body but there is no breathing.

Bandhas / Tristhāna:

The Bandhas should be engaged all the time, not only in āsana, meditation and prāṇāyāma etc., but even when walking. That is why they are not included in tristhāna. In tristhāna, breathing improves the lung strength and helps the nervous system. In the method of vinyāsa krama (from the Yoga Karunta) the dṛṣṭi performed in āsana is the same as trāṭaka. The Yoga Karunta was not available, it was only in a Calcutta library. Krishnamacharya took it from there and taught it to his students.

Balancing Family Life with Sādhana:

Sharath: I have to make time for everything. Sādhana is not like doing work. Sādhana is that which comes within me. It’s part of life so it won’t be a stress. It’s just like doing daily routine life. Sādhana is not only āsana, yoga is beyond the āsanas which are only one limb. Yoga keeps happening even in sleep.

Speed of Practice:

Sharath: If practice is too slow there is not enough heat and there can be a lack of attention. The inhalation and exhalation should go in one place, not too fast and not too slow. The breath needs to be balanced equally between the inhale and exhale. Food is also very important. For instance it is important not to eat too much spicy food. When practicing early you should not eat too much at night either, only one chapati!

Quoting from Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā Ch. 6, v. 17:

yuktāhāravihārasya yuktaceṣṭasya karmasu |
yuktasvapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā ||17||
Yoga, which rids one of woe, is accomplished only by him who is regulated in diet and recreation,regulated in performing actions, and regulated in sleep and wakefulness.

Too much sleep causes ālasya (laziness), you get depressed, sleepy. You shouldn’t sleep too much. You have to become aware of everything. It is important for sādhana. You should also be limited in doing karmas (work/responsibility). You should do only a certain amount of work, not too much. Too much āsana is not good either, you can become strained, aggressive. You shouldn’t bring aggression into āsana practice but should calm the mind. Whatever you overdo is not good.

Motivating Yourself for Practice:

Sharath: When you practice for a long time it becomes part of you. Then when you don’t practice for one day your state of mind is not good. You should not be practicing to have a “good” practice, but instead to keep steadiness within yourself. Whatever happens outside should not effect our internal practice. We should do practice happily regardless of whether it is “good” or not. Sometimes some postures will not be possible, but when you accept the good and bad and everything becomes equal for you, that is how practice should be.

On Coming to Mysore for Practice:

Yearly once come, then go back. A guru can guide you that’s all, but your own intelligence and effort is very important. Guru will guide you toward knowledge. It’s important how you adapt that in your life.

On Meditation Retreats:

Sharath: Dhyāna, meditation, it should happen within you, it’s not something you can “perform” but a process that should happen automatically within you. All your sense organs should come under your control while doing āsana. Dhyāna means when all focus comes to one point. Focus in one place is called as dhyāna. To do dhyāna you have to sit in an āsana posture. You should have a pure mind and sit in one posture and then dhyāna will happen – that is why āsana – is where you sit, how you sit – if you perfect it then you can do prāṇāyāma, dhyāna. First the physical body shouldn’t bother you. (Sharath then quotes from Yoga Sūtra 2:48 ‘tataḥ dvandva anabhigātaḥ’ ‘then pairs of opposites are no longer disturbing’). Then dhyāna is more effective. After two days of meditation you get bored, that is because you’re not ready. You have to do āsana, prāṇāyāma first to bring steadiness, then dhyāna automatically happens. It is like the process required to grow a plant. You need to prepare yourself properly. (Sharath then tells a story about Sadāśhiva Brahmendra. A great Yogi Saint from South India in the 17th century). Sadāśhiva Brahmendra’s mother found him in front of a dustbin, he was eating food from there and she was upset. Another yogī said, “Your son is not crazy he is a big yogī in a higher state of yoga.” None of us can understand; in that state of mind nothing is important. Āsana is just a tool, not the final stage of yoga.

By Andrew Hillam