Monday, February 04, 2013

Conference notes: February 3, 2013

On Santosha: When you do something bad to others you do not have Santosha within yourself.  People who do bad things do not have mind control. 

“Through practicing asanas, your mind should change.  That is the transformation that happens within you….Then you are a true Ashtanga practitioner, not just bending your body…Practice should not be just two hours, this practice must be for the whole day, whole life…Then there will be meaning to your practice.”  - Sharath

A student asked about the closing prayer – if we should only do on Fridays?  Sharath explained we should do after every practice, everyday.  This prayer is for the whole world, not just for ourselves.  Chanting it will help us to always be humble.  Mantra is for our well being – that is all.  It is not a religion to chant.  Yoga has no religion, it is for self transformation.

On teaching yoga to children: In response to a student’s question about what to start teaching yoga to children Sharath stated we should start children at 10-11 years.  Before that the body of a child is very tender.  When a child tries to imitate postures we might do in practice, we should not stop them – allow them to play and imitate, but do not teach them asanas until they are 10-11.

On teaching pregnant practitioners: No asana practice during first trimester.  From second trimester on, a woman can take her regular practice excluding twists.  Lots of deep long breaths during asana will be very good. Also, for women having trouble conceiving they should stop practice for some time as the heat of this practice can make it difficult for some women to get pregnant.

On practice: You should have a proper teacher to lean asanas.  Formally it should come teacher to student.  Practical experience is best.

On studying with many teachers: Studying with too many people will confuse the student.  Then you don’t know what is yoga.  Sharath quoted a statement Guruji often uttered: “If you have two Gurus one student is dead.  If you have two wives one husband is dead.  If you have two doctors one patient is dead.”

 “Sadhana is where you devote yourself to one Guru who gives you the foundation of your spiritual knowledge…Fundamentals should be strong within you; that only one Guru can give.  Then you can go learn from books.”  If we have one teacher to devote ourselves to, we will not get confused by the incoming information from many teachers, we can stand firm in our knowledge bestowed upon us from our Guru.  Once we have a strong foundation from our Guru, we can go forth and obtain more information from books, but then only we will not waiver in our beliefs and understanding of what is yoga and how it is helping us in this life.

On life distractions that take people away from their practice: A young practitioner asked if Sharath had advice for those who get distracted and leave their practice.  Sharath stated that distractions can happen anywhere – but its how we deal with distractions that matters.  Some get easily distracted and their practice suffers or falls away.  We have to make our practice priority, if it is then no distractions will take us from our practice because it will be of upmost importance to take practice each day.  Sharath mentioned that not everyone can be so dedicated to their practice, it takes a certain kind of mindset.  

“Don’t leave your practice!  It will help you judge what is correct, what is not correct….When you go deeper in your practice, your practice becomes everything.” Ultimately, practice must be a priority.  If a practitioner looks at their practice like this it will never suffer in spite of the limitless distractions around us.  Sharath noted that is it not being selfish to make your practice a priority because through practice we become stabilized so that we can be good for everyone else. 

We must develop this day by day, month by month, year by year.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Conference Notes: January 20, 2013

Conference today was refreshing, uplifting, funny and educational.  Sharath spoke of many things, took quite a few questions, demonstrated some simple breathing exercise, spoke of sacrifice, dedication, what is yoga and made time to fit in a few jokes too.  

One student asked him why there is difference between how senior teachers who used to study with Guruji many years ago teach and how things are taught today.  Sharath couldn’t help but laugh and try to explain to this student that yoga isn’t about the postures; the postures are here to help us stabilize the body and the mind – that is all.  The student continued to ask the same question over and over because he was not getting the answer that he wanted…he kept missing the point…yoga is not about the postures, not about how one so called senior teacher may teach you to raise your arms straight up and he teaches us to raise our arms to the side…yoga is about coming and taking practice in order to steady the body and mind…that is all.  Again the student asked using an example, these senior teachers say they learned from Guruji and were allowed to start second series without having to stand up from backbends, why is it different now.  Sharath stated this is different because your body must be ready, and if you cannot stand up from backbends the system is not ready for second series postures; it is not safe, it is not yoga to do something more advanced simply because you want to, it is important for this yoga to go deep, to change you and you need time, dedication, surrender for this to happen.  This students persistence in getting a different answer somewhat annoyed Sharath who finally explained that just because someone came to Mysore to study for three months with Guruji in the 1980’s or the 1960’s does not necessarily make them a ‘senior teacher’ and if these teachers are boasting they teach differently, the way Guruji used to teach, they too are missing the point of yoga.  He briefly mentioned that many so called senior teachers never learned the asanas correctly, could not themselves do the postures correctly, and gives students too many postures at one time simply because they want to be liked or because the student wants them, regardless of if the student is ready to take them.  This is not yoga.  Sharath explained he teaches the way he does because he wants his students to understand yoga, the philosophy, the asanas, what it means to do yoga.  Perfection of asanas is important to him for his students because it ensures they have dedicated themselves to allowing this yoga to go deep, to be more than just movements.  It is important because the body must be ready for postures that come next, and a teacher is doing a student an injustice giving them many postures, ready or not.  Sharath also mentioned that when Guruji was young, he was a very strict teacher.  Some people, who no longer acknowledge the institute, boast they are senior teachers, perhaps boast they are better than Sharath, and perhaps are missing the point of yoga.  Sharath beautifully stated that he does not know everything; there is still so much to learn.

One student asked Sharath what one is to do if they cannot afford to come study in India, but want to have and maintain a dedicated practice.  I loved his answer to this question.  We can afford cell phones and nice meals, nice clothes, etc but we cannot afford yoga?  He spoke of so many of his students who make tremendous sacrifices to come study with him each year, bringing their children, sacrificing many things to ‘find’ the money to come to India and study with him b/c they want to learn the truth of what is yoga, they want to learn this practice properly under his guidance.  If so many of these people can do, everyone can do.    So many families coming now brining their children, uprooting their lives to come learn proper practice, to understand this yoga, to show their dedication for this practice, this lineage – if parents can make such tremendous sacrifices and bring their children, it is possible for anyone to do.  He chuckled and advised someone to skip one meal per day for some time until they saved enough for the trip.

Someone asked what they are to do when people speak ill words about their teacher.  Sharath sat back quietly for a moment and said, “When dogs bark it doesn’t bother the heavens.” Many people will speak ill words about many things.  We are to ignore those people and their words. 

He spoke of how some people will come to this practice and it will not help them because they do not want it to, or perhaps are not ready for it to…It is like giving a diamond to a monkey.  He will not understand how precious the gem is and will use it to play cricket.  Some will come to this practice, will not understand it, and they will use it for reasons other than for steadiness of mind and body.  And this is also the result of someone not learning the practice correctly.  If someone takes or is given too many postures they are not ready for, it will have negative effects on the body and mind, it will boast the ego, not soften it.  Thus it is not only important to truly master a posture so the body has the time to become steady and comfortable before moving on to the next, it is vital for the mind also.

One student asked how this practice has changed over the years, since the early days Guruji was teaching to now.  He said the yoga has not changed, not at all.  Yoga has been around since the beginning of time, since the existence of the Vedas.  Yoga has not changed at all, but perhaps some people are trying to change yoga.  Some people today use this practice for reasons other than what it is intended for – to steady the body and the mind.  Some people use this yoga to make YouTube videos and get many fans and show people how good they can do this asana or that asana.  This is not the purpose of yoga.  In these ways some people have changed yoga, why they do yoga, but the yoga itself has not.

On the topic of pranayama, Sharath explained pranayama should not be taught until asana is mastered, as it is stated in the yoga sutras.  Also, someone should not learn pranayama from a book because it must be learned from teacher to student, and ONLY when one is ready.  Otherwise it can have very negative effects on one’s mind.  He took time during conference to demonstrate simple alternate nostril breathing, with no kumbhaka.  After demonstration he instructed everyone to do with him.  He showed correct hand placement, and we each took inhalations through the left nostril and out the right five times, and then switched inhaling in the right and out the left five times.  He advised that we not hold the breath but let it flow.  This will help us with asana practice, with meditation practice, with prana movement.

Sharath also spoke of how it is important to be a good teacher, anyone can do asana well, but one teaching yoga to others must also learn and teach correctly.  It is very hard because everyone is different, with a different body.  We are all humans, but we come from different places, look different, and we all take to the practice differently.  To some Kapotasana will come easy, others must work for a very long time.  The importance is in working very hard at the asanas for a long time, learning proper method, and respecting the teachings.  If someone cannot do the posture, the teacher should not give them more just because they want more.  He told a funny story regarding Ramesh, Guruji’s son who passed many years ago.  Sharath so lovingly spoke of how Ramesh was so dedicated to this practice, the teachings, teaching yoga.  He was a very spiritual man and very dedicated to teaching correct method.  Guruji was a very strict teacher back then and so Ramesh taught as Guruji taught him.  There was an Indian student who wanted new asanas everyday!  One day Ramesh was teaching and this fellow told Ramesh he wanted another postures.  Ramesh knew that this student was not ready for any new postures (both his mind and his body), and he would not go against Guruji and give him the next asana.  Instead he said he was going to give this student a very special posture, Rangasana.  He instructed the student to lie on his side with his hand holding his head, then do the other side, and repeat five times.  The student was very excited to get a new posture.  Guruji comes in and asks this student what he is doing, and he tells Guruji that Ramesh gave him Rangasana.  Guruji laughed….there is no such asana.  But there is a god, Ranganatha, well known in South India.  This deity is a resting form of lord Vishnu.

Let us be dedicated students working diligently each day on our practice(s) so that we may take the right action at the right time.  Let us make the necessary sacrifices to get to the motherland to study correct method under the guidance of Sharath so we can practice correct method and teach correct method and maintain a connection and deep seated respect for our teachers and this lineage.  

Friday, April 06, 2012

Why Take Moon Day off from Asana practice?

Why No Practice on Moon Days?

As Tim Miller writes:

"Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. What is the reasoning behind this?

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest.Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it."

Here is a response from Eddie Stern, a long time disciple of Sri Pattabhi Jois and also editor of Namarupamagazine:

'I had one friendly comment to pass on about the 'anandhyanana' days:

It is possible that the student who asked you about any prohibition of practicing yoga on the full or new moon days was doing so because of the observances of Pattabhi Jois. Much has been made of this observance, with all sorts of ideas about why he does this, and what significance it may have. However, the matter is quite simple. As you know, the Maharaja's Pathashala (Sanskrit College) was closed each month for classes on the moon days, and the day before and after. Studies were continued by the students, but no new lessons taught. One reason for this was that on amavasya and purnima, certain rituals had to be performed by the teachers and students alike, who are all brahmins - for example, the pitr tarpana which needs to be performed on amavasya, and the ritual bathing the day after the moons – all these things take time to be performed. As well, though I have never been able to find the reference, Pattabhi Jois used to quote to us - and I also heard this from my old Bhagavad Gita teacher in Mysore - that if a teacher teaches new subjects on the moon days, his knowledge will decline, and on the day before or after, the knowledge of the student will decline! Perhaps you might know where this reference comes from?

When I spoke to Pattabhi Jois's astrologer while interviewing him for the Guruji book, he concurred with the idea that it has something to do with the idea of as above, so below: our mind is the moon, and waxes, wanes, and retains information in a similar cycle as the moon in the sky.

Since Pattabhi Jois was a student at the Maharaja's Pathashala, and then was the Professor of Yoga there from 1937 to 1973, this became a habit and observance for him. Since he held the view that yoga was a practice of Vedic origin, and that the knowledge of the Upanishads was to be accessed only through the doorway of asanas and pranayama, he ascribed the same observances to teaching them as he did to teaching Veda. He further used to say that on the full and new moon days, there was a particular conjunction of nakshatras that made it easier to get injured, and that the injury would take longer to heal. I have never been able to verify this through jyotish; perhaps this is something that he learned from his father, who was an accomplished jyotishi.

Pattabhi Jois knew quite a bit too — the name Jois is a South Indian corruption of Jyotish, and astrology was in his family tradition. I say all this to make the simple point that Pattabhi Jois had certain habits from the time he was 14. Why he had these habits is interesting, and though we may not be brahmins, or even Indian, as his students it is good to understand why certain things were done by him, and accept that if he felt them important enough to follow, that they are applicable to us too. But we should not go making a big thing of it and creating all sorts of fantastical ideas!

Below is a funny story to illustrate what happens when we (for example, Ashtanga Yoga students!) do not take the time to investigate simple things in a rational manner:

A saintly scholar used to give a class on Bhagavad Gita each evening beneath a tree near a village. He had a pet cat, and this cat would sometimes run through the crowd, making a disturbance. As a result the sage began to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time the speaker shuffled off his mortal coil. One of his disciples continued to give the Bhagavad Gita class under the tree, and continued to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time the cat passed away, and the disciple bought another cat. After three generations a disciple wrote a paper on the sacred tradition of tying a cat to the tree while giving a class on Bhagavad Gita.

So, all that being said, I think that the moon day/practice observance should be followed by the Ashtanga Yoga students out of respect for Pattabhi Jois and his methods. The purpose of following these things, and submitting ourselves to a lineage, is to create humility and thoughtfulness in the student. We will (most likely) not go to hell if we practice on these days, but surrendering oneself to a lineage has its own charm and effect on our character, so why should we not try it? I do not believe that all yoga students should refrain from practice on these days - they too should follow the observances of their teachers, and hopefully by aligning our minds with higher principles, we will all find happiness in our practices. On moon days or not!'"

All information came from

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pool Day in Mysore!

Kaiden and Emerson playing in the pool at Silent Shores Resort in Mysore.

Watch til the end :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kaiden showing us his mad skills

Kaiden working on his alphabet while having breakfast with mommy :) So much fun!


The wise words of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi Ammachi – The Holy Mother

“Children, it is not teaching the world that should be done first, but gaining the strength to teach the world.  Those who go to the Himalayas will take woolen clothing to protect themselves from the cold.  In the same way, before entering the world, the mind should be strengthened so as not to get disturbed by adversity.  This is possible only through sadhana (a spiritual practice).  One who does not have the strength of sadhana will break down due to different facets of the world.  Therefore, what is required is continuous sadhana while staying in one place without wasting time.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kaiden eating Ice Cream

Kaiden having some chocolate Ice Cream after his haircut.

Kaiden's First Haircut in Mysore, India

Enjoy these videos of Kaiden getting his first hair cut in India! We went to a little barber shop on Kalidasa Road. Kaiden did such a great job sitting still - he knew that his gorgeous locks were too hot for this Mysore HEAT! We were both sad to see the doo go, but he was real happy when he felt the coolness of a short hairdo.

Kaiden doing yoga

Kaiden is super precious in this video as he shows off his skills working to come to seated from down dog. Go ahead, smile REALLY big ;)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kaiden at the Devaraja Market in Mysore, India

Kaiden and Krista at the Devaraja Market, Mysore, India. February 2012. Kaiden enjoyed the market very much!