Check This Out: Conference – Ashtanga Yoga as research – 13th October 2013

appelephant New from Suzy’s Blog: See the original here

It seems like Sharath is speaking much more quickly than he used to. I should probably learn how to use my iPhone to record the conference and then type it up, but then I feel like where would the fun be in that? It would be a bit like having a car that could parallel park itself – it would just make driving too easy.

So anyway, here are my rushed notes from the first conference of the season:

Many people when they come to Mysore, many yoga students say they are going to the birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga. Actually my grandfather in 1945/1946 opened an institute, the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam; until then nobody knew what was Ashtanga Yoga.

All of the credit goes to my grandfather because until then nobody had knowledge about the eight limbs of yoga – there was lots of hatha yoga. My grandfather brought more knowledge to students about Ashtanga Yoga.

At first it was the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam and then it became the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute – in Lakshmipuram. Why was it called a research institute? because practising yoga itself is research. It was not a laboratory – the laboratory itself is within you through your practice. So this Ashtanga Yoga, step by step, is research within us, it is how we can go deeper and deeper within this practice.

I can teach you the asana (posture), but if you don’t put effort I can’t make you do the asana. I can push you to find a tree, but you have to figure out how to climb the tree.

First step is asanas – we can’t go to samadhi straight away. Even the shastra(scripture) says that the first step of yoga is asana. Why we have to do so many asanas? Why we have to go through pain? There is one simple sutra to answer this – no pain, no gain [laughs]. If it was easy then we would all be enlightened.

You have to do the fundamentals – yama (abstentions) and niyama(observances) while doing asana. These three are very important to build a proper foundation. Once you purify the mind and body the other limbs come. The first four limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama) are external exercises. Once those four are stable within you, the others (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) will automatically happen. Yoga should come within you. If you just carry a nice Manduka mat, it does not mean you are a good yogi, it does not mean you are enlightened. It is only when we put effort to know, when we do our sadhana (practice) a sadhana means you must do the four Ds – dedication, devotion, determination and discipline – if you do all four then your practice will also change.

If you just want to teach… yoga is not about getting certified or authorised. It is a practice for transformation – that should be the goal – how can I go deeper – if you do all difficult asanas it does not mean you have gone deeper. When you practise asanas you get a healthy body and mind – if the mind or the body are not healthy how can you think about dharana (concentration)? That is one obstacle that won’t allow you to go further.  Once we do asanas we can get rid of the diseases within us. Being healthy means you can sit in padmasana (lotus posture) for two hours, three hours. From asana you get flexibility, stamina, strength and your concentration is focused – so you are not distracted by what is around you. Once you are not distracted you can sit for long hours and dodhyana (meditation). Until then we have to practise asanas to get stability within us.


1)   When we jump through is it inhale jump, exhale into the posture or is it inhale jump, exhale, inhale, exhale into the posture?

Answer – the first.

2)   How many years should we practise Ashtanga Yoga?

Answer – until your last breath [we all laugh (haha – yeh right, as if I’ll be doingmarichasana D when I’m 80 – I’m gonna be chillin in a deckchair at the beach drinking pina coladas – no, be serious Suzanne)]. There are many misunderstandings about Ashtanga Yoga – “oh, it is very difficult”. Don’t think that Ashtanga Yoga is jumping back, jumping through, leg behind the head… that is just one limb of Ashtanga Yoga. If you don’t practise yama and niyama then you are not practising Ashtanga Yoga. For example, ahimsa (nonviolence) – if you get to 80 and you kill someone then you are not following Ashtanga Yoga. Lifelong you should practise it.

3)   How about the physical practice?

Answer – you have to keep struggling until your body allows you, you do how much you can. When you are 80 you can do suryanamaskara (sun salutations) and padmasana. You do the asana to keep you fit, steady and stable. Maybe you won’t be able to do all of the asanas all of the time, but you have to keep doing as much as you can. Research for yourself – see how your state of mind will be if you don’t practise for three days, one week. That is why you do asanas.

4)   Why do we start the asana from the right side?

Answer – in India we use [moves hands] for two different things [we laugh]. Inpadmasana we always put the right leg first – that will make a perfectpadmasana.

5)   Should we be strict vegetarians?

Answer – if you want to practise ahimsa you should be vegetarian. The food what you eat, your mind also reacts to that. Sattvic (pure) food is important for yoga practitioners if you want to follow ahimsa. You don’t need meat. See your teeth how it is – it is like a cow’s teeth, not like a tiger’s. You all come from different societies, different cultures. You are not brought up eating vegetarian food, your parents feed you non-veg food. I don’t blame them. But in vegetarian food you also get proteins and vitamins.

I’ve never had meat in my life. My family is a Brahmin family. Even egg we don’t eat. Even garlic we don’t use because of the smell. Only as a medicine we take garlic.

6)   I am new to the Ashtanga Yoga Community and I’ve noticed that Ashtanga Yoga has had a lot of influence in the West, but it seems like it has had little influence in India. Do you know why that is?

Answer – it has attracted many Westerners. It has helped them in many ways in their daily lives. In India almost everyone is a spiritual person, it is the opposite to western culture. In the West you don’t have any family support. When a child gets to 18 he is kicked out of the house. He has to go and survive in this crazy world. He gets lost. Everyone is looking for something, looking to connect to something. Ashtanga Yoga has  helped many people in many ways. That is why it has become so popular. It is always like this – Indians want to follow western culture and the West wants to follow Indian culture.

7)   What do you like about the West?

Answer – [laughs] there is no like/dislike. That is different, this is different. I like to visit and come back. It’s very fascinating, attracting, but not for me. I love Mysore, I love Gokulam, I love my street. When I go to the West it is nice to see many people who can’t come to Mysore, it is nice to meet them, to share whatever knowledge I have. My grandfather said yoga doesn’t belong to anyone, that it should be practised by everyone to lead a healthy and prosperous life. But how you do it is very important. It is very important to give proper knowledge about yoga. So when we go to different places many people have not experienced this practice from Mysore. This is the source. Many people can’t come for various reasons so when we go there it is nice to meet so many people and give them this practice. That feels good for me.

8)   Can you talk about moon days – what should we do on them?

Answer – just be quiet, sit at home, no activity. On these days the energy gets very high, crazy people get more crazy on these days. On these days rest the body, especially from asana and pranayama (breath control). You could injure yourself, and your state of mind won’t be the same – it is easy to hurt yourself.

Every week I take an oil bath on Saturdays, and one Saturday it was a moon day and I didn’t know it was a moon day as I had been travelling. For three days I experienced a headache. Oil baths – don’t take on moon days.

9)   If my husband wants to learn Ashtanga Yoga can I share the part of the practice that I know?

Answer – you can share, but don’t hurt him [laughs].

Today, this is a special time. It is Dasara. Today is Ayudha Puja – ayudha means instruments or weapons. Dasara has been practised for 500 years in Mysore. It started in Vijayanagar, in what is now Hampi. I want you to go and see downtown – there are lots of lights. Today we clean all the instruments, cars… we do puja (worship) to all this because they are serving us. If you go to the palace you will see they do puja to everything – elephants, chariots.

Tomorrow there is a huge procession – they will display the golden throne, which the Maharaja used to use. Now they put it on an elephant. You should go, but come home quickly because you have practice.

We have to thank Maharaja Shri Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar, he’s the one who brought yoga to Mysore:

Krishnamacharya first was in Hassan. My grandfather was in Kowshikar – he walked to school in Hassan. Krishnamacharya went to give a demonstration there and my grandfather saw it and wanted to learn. But Krishnamacharya didn’t accept him as a student – he asked him many questions – he wanted to test him. Eventually he said okay, you come tomorrow morning. My grandfather studied with him for two years and then Krishnamacharya left. Then my grandfather had his thread ceremony and was given three rupees. He took the three rupees and came to Mysore – he wanted to become a Sanskrit scholar. Then Krishnamacharya came to Mysore and my grandfather requested to continue practice with him.

My grandfather, when he came to Mysore he didn’t have food to eat so he used to beg for food at Brahmin houses. For a couple of years he went like that. Then he gave a demonstration to the Dean of the college. Then, nobody knew what wasasanas. People thought yoga was for sannyasins and sadhus(renunciates)We have to thank Krishnamacharya for changing that perception – he said that yoga is for everyone including women, with or without a family. The Dean was impressed. He gave a pass to my grandfather for free food.

But my grandfather, he never left yoga, asana practice. He practised asanasuntil he was 85, 86. In those days it was so difficult. Now we have everything and still we don’t do – “oh, I didn’t sleep last night…”. They practised because they had love towards this practice.

Many friends say, “have you gone crazy? you get up at 1 o’clock”. It becomes a part of life, without that you can’t survive, it’s like lunch. Yoga also, like that, has to come within you.

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 shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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