Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 22 July 2012

In both the lecture and Q & A portion of today’s conference, Sharath explained the intricacies and details of the practice, clarifying many of the things students often bring up for discussion.  He began by emphasizing the three main components (Tristhāna) of the practice: posture, breath, and dṛṣṭi. Posture, as previous noted is the foundation of the practice, bringing stability and health to the body and mind.  Next, Sharath explained the importance of the breath in the practice, both in the posture and the vinyāsa krama. Proper breathing, he told us, allows the body to maintain good circulation, bringing oxygen to all of the internal organs. The inhalations and exhalations should be of equal length, and we should strive to have the pace of our breath be equal from day to day. Sharath recommended keeping track of how long the practice takes each morning to ensure consistency in the breath as much as possible. In terms of the vinyāsa, Sharath also said maintaining the proper link of breath and movement is important for building energy in the practice and changing the effectiveness and feel of the postures. When asked whether or not we should practice full vinyāsa, Sharath said no because with the return to Samasthiti every time we can lose the energy we are attempting to create. Sharath also explained that students who do not complete the Primary Series should not continue to do vinyāsas through to finishing because it disrupts the posture/vinyāsa balance of the practice and repeated Catvāri can cause extra stiffness in the body [1]. Finally, Sharath stressed the necessity of dṛṣṭi (gazing point) in the practice. Each posture has a specific dṛṣṭi and finding the proper focal point brings up concentration allowing you to totally embody your posture. There are nine dṛṣṭis in Ashtanga – but Sharath specifically emphasized the use of Nāsāgra or the tip of the nose, likening it to neutral on a car. The dṛṣṭi is very powerful, Sharath said, and when we are advanced in our dṛṣṭi it is equal to Dhyāna; eventually it helps everything to still. Beyond using dṛṣṭi in the āsana practice, Sharath discussed the use of Trāṭaka meditation, or gazing on a fixed point, as a means for improving concentration.

Additionally, Sharath also discussed the importance of the bandhas. There are three bandhas or seals: mūla bandha, uḍḍīyāna bandha, and jālandhara bandha. Mūla bandha is the most important, Sharath told us, and should be engaged both during and outside the practice. We should attempt to control it at all times, though mastery of engaging mūla bandha requires years of practice. Through engagement of mūla bandha we will see changes in our body and energy, finding ourselves stronger and more stable. We become lighter and more aware in the body and mind, noticing how we react and respond to change. In order to engage mūla bandha we should feel a drawing up of the anus at the end of our exhalation. Simultaneously, this helps us to find uḍḍīyāna bandha, which is a drawing in of the low belly, just below the navel. We should attempt to keep this area contracting during the inhalation. There are some āsanas, Sharath told us, where total engagement of the bandhas is not possible, but for most it is both feasible and necessary. Mūla bandha and uḍḍīyāna bandha, he said, also begin to activate the cakras in our body, helping to purify them, and awakening the kuṇḍalinī energy. Jālandhara bandha, which allows us to close off the flow of breath at the throat, is generally used only in prāṇāyāma.

If we can strive to work on all of these things in our practice, we will begin to notice differences. Our body and mind will change, but our whole lives will change as well, Sharath told us, but it will take time. When people say they can’t do Ashtanga because it focuses too much on āsana, he said, it is because they don’t understand the totality of the practice and the importance of the role āsana plays. It is like a fox who has been running in the jungle and becomes tired and hungry. He finds a mango tree and wants to eat the mangos. He jumps and jumps, but can’t reach the hanging fruit. Eventually he decides to give up and says “oh, I don’t want those mangos, they’re too sour.” The same is true of people and their expectations in the practice. They will give up and find a reason to justify that choice, but it isn’t true. The mangos are sweet.

[1] This instruction was for students attending Led Primary who do not complete the entire Primary Series. Sometimes, after their final posture (e.g. Supta Kūrmāsana) a student will continue to participate in all of the vinyāsas (jump backs) with the rest of the class even though he/she is no longer doing the postures in between. Sharath said that students should not do this, as it throws off the normal posture/vinyāsa balance which can cause extra tightness in the body. Instead, the student should wait and rejoin the group at finishing.

By Anna Muzzin