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.