Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 28 October 2012

ajñāna-timirāndhasya jñānāñjana-śalākayā |
cakṣu-runmīlitaṁ yena tasmai śrīgurave namaḥ ‖

After reciting the traditional Guru Śloka, “What news?” was Sharath’s opening remark. He half jokingly asked us all if we had been watching any of the Formula 1 Grand Prix races that had been occurring in New Delhi. Then the conversation quickly shifted to yoga as someone asked about teaching finishing postures to beginners.

At least all of the Marīcāsana postures should be completed, then we can add Sarvāṅgāsana, Matsyāsana, Uttāna Pādāsana, Śīrṣāsana, and Backbends (Ūrdhva Dhanurāsana). Padmāsana is necessary in the shoulder standing sequence and the counter postures Matsyāsana. So it is easier & better to learn those āsanas properly after having completed the Marīcāsana section.

We also discussed how to adjust the practice of āsanas as the body ages. “Āsana is very important to circulate the blood” which will minimize stiffness and aches. But, the body can’t do all the same āsanas at 60, 70, 80 years that it could do when it was 20! After we get married, have 2 children, and teach over 150 students per day, you can’t do all the āsanas anymore. (Laughter fills the room.) We should “do whatever we can.” As for knowing which āsanas and how many āsanas we should do, “You have to try, that’s all.” Without practice, the mind gets distracted too easily. So doing some practice is very important.

If we can’t do āsanas then sitting & breathing, or sitting & doing Japa (mantra repetition) is good. First we should take a bath then we can sit & do Japa for half an hour; this very helpful. But this shouldn’t mistakenly be called Meditation. Meditation means Dhyāna. “Just closing your eyes and thinking about your girlfriend (more laughter) is only good for photo.” Meditation (Dhyāna) means withdrawing the senses, experiencing a sense of oneness where everything seems to come into “one place.” The practice of Japa was recommended fairly fervently by Sharath.

Of the three aspect of yoga practice – Tapas, Svādhyāya & Īśvarapraṇidhāna – Svādhyāya is our homework [this is a reference from Yoga Sūtra 2.01]. Literally it means self-study, but that doesn’t mean that we learn on our own from books & videos without a teacher. We have to try to understand the teachings [of our teacher], what is yoga, what is the supreme. We have to try to get to that knowledge, to surrender to God. The Guru removes our blindness (Timirāndha) gives the ability to see (Unmīlita) Brahma, Viṣṇu & Maheśvara.

When we surrender to Guru & tradition, then Jñāna will come. There is a story from the Rāmāyana that demonstrates the power of devotion:

There is a fight between Rāma and Hanumān. Although Hanumān is supremely devoted to Rāma as Lord Viṣṇu, God on earth (Sharath doesn’t explain how the fight was staged, just that it was meant to demonstrate the power of true devotion). Rāma takes aim with his bow & arrow at Hanumān, but Hanumān is doing Japa to Lord Rāma. His devotion is so intense that he becomes Rāma! So Rāma is shooting an arrow at himself. So Hanumān becomes untouchable, or protected by God because of the identification with Rāma. This is real Īśvarapraṇidhāna. If you do lots of Japa, you get more concentration, more devotion. Yoga leads us to remove our delusions so we can see properly. One-by-one our delusions, our impurities leave us.

Japa done after bathing – so we are maintaining both our inner & outer purity – in either the early morning or at night before going to bed is very good.

Sharath then began explaining some of the nine obstacles listed in Yoga Sūtra 1.30 and letting us know that everyone experiences these:
pramāda: carelessness
ālasya: laziness, sloth
Sharath makes a reference to nature stating the irony in naming a certain Indian bear as the “Sloth Bear” because he said it’s the most dangerous animal in the forest!
avirati: lack of determination & concentration
bhrānti-darśana: confusion
To this Sharath recited one of Guruji’s favorite ślokas about two gurus, two doctors or two wives being the cause of the death of the student, patient or husband respectively. Sharath laughs more than the rest of us!
anavasthitatva: no concentration
Sharath explains this as how people will get distracted or upset by something into the room and not getting “their spot”, or by watching someone else doing Kapotāsana [as if it were a sporting event].

Sharath then mentioned some of the qualities necessary for a strong foundation as referenced in Yoga Sūtra 1.14: He says it does not come easily. Practicing for a long time (dīrgha-kāla) with respect (āsevita) & gratitude (ādara) and that the practice has to be done consistently (nairantarya) – not just for two or three days and then taking a break. He referred to people in Goa practicing yoga naked on the beach; saying that they are not practicing out of respect for the tradition, but for fun, for sensationalism.

Too many people practice for the wrong reasons. They want to earn money, so they pursue getting a teaching certificate. For Mokṣa (liberation), a certificate is not needed – only hard work! We have to establish the yamas & niyamas (Yoga Sūtras 2.30 & 2.32), then we will realize so many yogic qualities inside of ourselves.

Regarding choosing a teacher, Sharath emphasized that we choose our own teacher, and that we should choose one who has proper Sādhana (spiritual practice), one who is devoted to the practice, one who understands yoga properly – not simply just one who knows everything.

When asked about moon days, Sharath made reference to the Jysotish system of Tithis (lunar phases) saying that the full & new moon days [properly referred to as ‘tithis’] have beginning & ending times. We have to see how this lunar phase falls across the day(s) and decide which day to take off. You’ll often notice that the dogs howl much more during these full & new moon ‘days’.

In Mysore Dasara is one of the largest holidays, because the demon named Mahīśāsura lived atop of Mysore’s largest hill, Chamundi Hill; and, it is there where the famous slaying of the demon occurred by the Goddess, Cāmuṇḍeśvarī (aka Durgā). Dasara is a celebration of that event and is the day that Sharath was born. Guruji, as many of us know, was also born on an Indian holiday: Guru Pūrṇimā. Dasara (aka vijaya-daśami) has been celebrated for some 300 – 400 years in Mysore.

The closing discussion was pragmatic. Don’t stretch before your āsana practice – it’s not boxing or gymnastics, it’s yoga. Just begin directly with Sūrya Namaskāra. If you have stiffness or tension, that’s what the āsanas are for. You can take oil bath; that is good. But don’t get massage; it makes it worse! The oil bath removes toxic & excess heat from the body; it is very good to do. But, start slowly: only ten minutes the first time, then week by week increase five or ten more minutes up to two hours.

By David Miliotis