January 1st, 2012 New Year’s Day Conference with Sharath in Mysore
I am settling into my third week of practice here in Mysore, slowly accepting the marathon of Third and a little more than half of Fourth Series. Last weekend’s conference was a wonderful way to bring in the new year and I am so grateful to be a student! The shala is as full as I have ever seen it with a long line of people waiting to register for practice even as the conference began to start. Some people who arrived late had to strain to hear from the lobby.
Sharath started off with a discussion about the important of asana, physical postures. He said that “in Ashtanga Yoga we always do so many asanas, generally in Krishnamacharya’s lineage, there are lots of asanas.” He noted that many people have this question about the need for asana and that many yoga teachers say that you can just sit for long periods of time, that you don’t have to twist your body and that twisting the body isn’t yoga. Sharath cited many Yoga Shastras like Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Upanishads that all say how asana is important to control the mind. One quote from the HYP states that before we think to get enlightened or self-realization we have to stabilize the body and mind. Without that basic discipline how can yoga, which means union, happen? First you stabilize the mind because if the mind is not in your control it will be like a monkey, a drunken monkey, that is jumping everywhere. First you need to control your mind and for that you need discipline and this comes from the practice of asana. Once we do asanas then mind will also come into your control. It doesn’t come all at once, you have to do for a long time.
Sharath continued, “Asana is the foundation for all spiritual building, if the foundation is strong then the building will be strong. Mind transformation will happen when you do asanas. For others it looks like physical, it is only when you go inside and practice asana for many years then only can you realize how spiritual it really is.” An analogy that Sharath likes to discuss this process is about a sailor who sails without diving doesn’t know the beauty of the ocean, the diver sees the beautiful fish and animals. If you just go on the ocean, on the surface then you never get anything, your mind becomes imagination, but there is no self-practice and no realization within. When you dive inside the sea then you will come to the conclusion that “this” is yoga with asana practice. He says, “You can relish the purity of this practice.”
From the Upanishads Sharath cited one portion that begins with “Tritiyange Sthitiyoge” and compares consciousness to sun. When the sun rises at noon it is very powerful but as the sun sets it becomes very calm as it withdraws its rays. The beach at sunset is very calm and exactly when a yogi sits in the third limb of asana then the yogi doesn’t have any mental disorders. You can feel this inner calm when you’re practicing everyday. When you practice every day the inner calm grows stronger inside and you get more focused and concentrated.
Sharath said that the system of Ashtnga Yoga that we do, known as the vinyasa system, is very special. If you go anywhere in India or the world, nobody knows the system, no one has practiced it unless they are from Krishnamacharya’s lineage. Three things define the Ashtanga Yoga method: breathing, posture, gazing. These are the three pillars or supports that we need for our practice. Sharath said that he was not including bandhas because that is to be done all the time. When the breath and movement are combined in the vinyasa method the blood and energy circulates throughout the 72,000 nadis properly. The tristana method develops your concentration so that when you go to pranayama, dhyana and the more subtle limbs, you are more focused. There is dhyana during asana and while it is not strong it is still present. Meditation is that which you cannot do but that which should happen within us. If you want to experience meditation, Sharath says that you have to understand what is meditation. You don’t just go sit somewhere and close your eyes–that just looks pretty. What’s going on inside is important and if you’re thinking of country, girlfriend, or othre thoughts then that is not meditation. First you have to control your sense organs and once that happens meditation will automatically happen within you. It can happen anywhere if your mind is in your control. Patanjali says yogas chitta vritti nirodah: yoga means to bring your senses in control. Thought waves are often so strong that you cannot still the mind, once you still the mind that is yoga, meditation and union. For that you need to develop certain discipline is needed within us. For discipline you need to practice asanas so the faculty of mind control will be slowly developed by you. Sharath concluded by stating that “Asana is the foundation to reach higher levels in your practice. Then think about yama, niyama and try to follow that. It is a process that happens day by day, year by year. Only if you do it for a long time will you understand. In this instant world no one has patience, their focus is only on authorization or certification. A real yogi doesn’t need a certificate saying that he is a yogi, that he is enlightened. For enlightenment you cannot get a certificate.”