I missed the conference on 27th October as I was ill, and Sunday 3rd November was a moon day – so this is my first conference after a two week break. I was pretty excited.
The shala was jam-packed with people – it’s already so busy that it almost feels like January. Friday’s led Primary was not a pleasant experience – so much pushing – but thankfully there’ll be three led Primaries on Friday from now on.
Anyway, here are my notes:
In our asana practice we’ve always been saying three things are very important: one is posture, one is breathing, one is gazing. The shastra (scripture) says don’t do asana without vinyasa. If you just bend your body it doesn’t mean you are practising yoga. What vinyasa does, you are purifying each and every organ in the body. The blood will circulate properly. If the blood is circulating properly, the blood becomes warm. Whatever toxins are there will come out through the sweat or through exhalation. Vinyasa also generates internal energy.
Some people you can make out they are not doing it properly, where they exhale, where they inhale. They have not learned through the Pattabhi Jois school. This is very important – to learn the vinyasas in our asana practice.
In the Yoga Sutras there are only three sutras about asanas [I think II.46, 47 and 48].
Sthira sukham asanam [II.46] – the posture should be stable and comfortable. My grandfather used to say you have to practise asanas one thousand times then the stability will come. Why you are not comfortable? because your body is not used to that posture. An example, marichasana D – why you are not comfortable? because your hips are tight, your ankles are tight, there is too much fat, your shoulders are tight.
When you practise everyday you will be more comfortable. When you do asanas comfortably it becomes a meditative practice. Once that pain goes, pain can be physical or mental, then you can go further in your posture, it’ll become meditative. You totally get absorbed in the asana. Vinyasa, the breathing, supports the asanas. Once you are comfortable in the asana, your breathing will also be longer and easier, smooth breathing. Once that smooth breathing comes, gazing comes, you are able to concentrate. It takes practice. You have to allow the body to change.
If you go bicycling for many hours, running for many hours, skiing for many hours, surfing for many hours – there you are closing your hips. Here you are opening your hips. These two don’t match. I also have gone through this.
We used to bicycle from here to university. There go running, do pull-ups, do push-ups… then with my grandfather I suffered a lot. You have to allow the body to change.
One more thing is take oil bath every week once. It makes the body more flexible and removes the pain.
How many asanas are there? How many living beings are there? that is how many asanas. It is divided into four different types of living beings [I think this may be three different types. Sharath goes on to mention only three and I also found a reference in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.3.1), which mentions only three (from an egg, from a living being, from a seed/sprout)]:
- From the earth – plants, trees, insects.
- From the egg – birds, reptiles, humans.
- From sweat – germs.
Like that there are thousands of different asanas. Some are not recommended for women, some are not for family person. Not for women because their internal organ structure is different. If you see the asanas, the names, it’s all named after living beings. Some are named after rishis, the saints. The rishis discovered these asanas and practised these asanas. More advanced postures, many are named after saints.
Of the asanas, there is no end. But you can’t practise all the asanas, our practice is limited. It doesn’t mean that if you practise all the asanas you will reach higher levels of yoga. Whatever you have learned, you can reach [higher levels of yoga]. The intention should be good then you can reach, you can go beyond your limitation.
1) The sutra that you talked about asana in – which one was it?
Answer – the posture should be stable and comfortable. Meditation is a state of mind. The rishis did meditation in the same posture. They stayed in that same posture for thousands of years. Vishvamitra, a rishi, he did tapas (austerity) in Guruji’s village, Kowshika, he did dhyana (meditation) there for many years, thousands of years. Kowshika is one name of Vishvamitra.
2) If you don’t have a teacher that you can go to often, what do you suggest?
Answer – don’t go [laughs]. You do your practice, whatever you have done here. You go to teacher to get adjustments in certain postures. That’s why you want to go?
Student – yes.
3) What is your opinion on strong adjustments in certain asanas?
Answer – it depends how they are pushing. If they are pushing unscientifically then you’ll break your body. Teaching is more difficult than doing. You can hurt someone. You have to know when to push, where to push, how to push.
4) When a woman has had a baby, how long should she wait to start practice again?
Answer – for a normal birth three months, for a C-section six months. Then you should start with primary series after. The internal organs have to heal. You have to respect the nature of the body.
5) With surrendering to Ishvara, who is Ishvara?
Answer – Ishvara is the existence, the nature, the energy who is making this world work.
Student – but how do we surrender to that energy?
Sharath – in your practice, by following yama and niyama. If you follow that, that means you are surrendering. Humans gave the name god to god. Humans see god as human. Tigers see god as tiger. Birds see god as a big bird, bigger than him. God means some energy, which is running this, the whole show.
How do you feel that? through your yoga practice. You have to apply yama andniyama to get to proper meaning, to understand what yoga is. If you follow that your mind gets very calm. If you follow ahimsa your mind gets very calm, there is no conflict with anyone.
Why everyone talks about spirituality? They need something to stop themselves to do bad things. So they go to a teacher, a master, he will guide you. If teacher says go and do anything, smoke cigarettes, go to party… he is spoiling you. It’s all fake the joy you are getting from outside. You have to get inner joy. When you get there’s nothing like that. Everything looks different. Everything looks joyful for you. Now you want to see the internet, Facebook, Twitter, what this guy is doing… But instead if you sit for 15 minutes and try to understand how to bring inner joy. Do japa (mantra repetition) for 15 minutes, take one mantra – any mantra you want, chant it at home. Then you will see how this thing will change. Don’t think anything, just do japa.
6) What do you recommend for women who lose their menstruation from practice?
Answer – for a long time? consult a doctor, an ayurvedic doctor. Yoga and ayurveda are like brothers. If you have yellow fever you can’t be cured by asanas. You have to go to an ayurvedic doctor. It could be because of the heat from practising in a group or it could be because of the spicy food here. You could try an oil bath to take away the heat.
7) Do you advise after practice that we drink coconut water? I mean some people drink four or five coconuts? [Everyone laughs]
Answer – up to you. If you like then drink. Sometimes too much is too bad. You have to drink how much you need.
8) If a person doesn’t have a religion, how do they go about seeking a mantra?
Answer – you have to have something. What is your taste? You can’t say I don’t believe in that supreme energy, you have to believe in one.
Student – it’s not so much not believing in one, it’s just not having a preference.
Sharath – you should have one. How old are you?
Student – 24.
Sharath – [laughs] see this is the problem. Later, when you get wiser the things change. When I was practising 23 years back I was just bending my body. But when I got wiser then I realised that yoga is beyond asanas. Many things I had to discover. Maybe in ten years you will know.
Part of svadhyaya (self-study) is getting connected to one god. We have to believe in someone otherwise we won’t exist. Your mother, your father can be your god. Your teacher, your guru can be your god. You can feel that energy through your mother or your guru. Do you believe in this practice, what you’re doing?
Student – yes.
Sharath – so that belief can be god.
Someone asked me long back, in the old shala… my grandmother gave me a ring. I was wearing that ring. I was wearing here [indicates ring finger] so many people thought I was married. So one lady asked me, “are you married?”. I said, “yes”. “So where is your wife?”, I replied, “yoga is my wife” [laughs]. I was so involved in yoga. Your first wife is your practice.
Student – is your wife jealous?
Sharath – no, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
But sometimes we can see something different in our teacher. Many people believed Guruji as their god. They felt some energy through him. Once I had back pain lifting too many students. My challenge from day one was practice and helping. When you lift students your body becomes stiff. I got this pain in my lower back. And everyday Guruji used to make me catch in back-bending here [indicates mid-thigh]. So I told my grandfather, “I can’t do today”. My grandfather he said, “just do it, just breathe”. He made me catch and after that all the pain was gone. That day it was a totally meditative practice. That was the energy that he had within him.
That energy only comes from a proper sadhana (spiritual practice). Yogasadhana is not easy, it takes a lot of sacrifice. To master something you have to leave meany things. If you are forced to do something it won’t be the same. When you like to do some work it is totally different. When you do something willingly the energy is totally different. And sometimes you need that push from your teacher.
We see many attitudes here also. When a student comes and thinks he knows everything, he wants to prove that. I say I have to learn so many things still. It doesn’t end. The person who knows everything he doesn’t say he knows everything.
You can only experience yoga through your practice. If I eat masala dosa that doesn’t mean you have relished masala dosa. You have to go and eat. Yoga is also like that. You have to do it.
9) Should we study the Yoga Sutras a bit like we do asanas? like should we sit with one at a time and get to know it well or should we read them all at the same time?
Answer – you have to keep on reading them to get better understanding. If you read once you won’t understand. Then you can compare what the Yoga Sutras say to how you feel in practice.
I’ll go back to the masala dosa [laughs] – do you know how much they have to prepare to make a masala dosa? If you just eat masala dosa you won’t understand how to make. If you are really fascinated then you can go behind and see how to prepare it.
10) Why in the asana count do some inhales and exhales not have a count?
Answer – there is no movement in those. Some don’t have.
There is no conference now for two weeks as this Sunday is another moon day and Sharath has an awards ceremony the following Sunday, which we can all attend.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.