Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunday Conference at the Shala

Every Sunday at 4PM (shala time), Sharath holds a conference, so all the students come together and listen while he speaks about some of the more philosophical aspects of Ashtanga and tells stories from his many years spent with Guruji.  When I first came to Mysore, Sharath seemed extremely uncomfortable talking in front of all of his students and said more or less the same thing each week, always beginning with "the human body has 72,000 nervous systems...." and then continuing on to speak of parampara, the idea of lineage and passing information from teacher to student.  He would speak for half an hour, and then wrap things up quite quickly, looking relieved to have gotten through it for another week.  Last time I was here, you could see his confidence growing, the range of topics diversified and you could begin to catch a glimpse of his personality as he spoke.  Conference this trip has been a completely different story all together, with the time running to about an hour and a quarter this week, with quips from some of the classical Indian stories, and some thoughts on what it means to utilise the eight limbs on a day to day basis outside the asana practice. 

Some of his main points....
Yoga, Ayurveda and grammar are the three things that Patanjali wrote great texts on, and they are three things to use in your life.  Yoga can cure many things, especially primary series, but when it can't (for things like hepatitis), Ayurveda is there with many remedies.  And grammar is important because without it our thoughts cannot be communicated with truth.  (I would have never put grammar in the same category as the other two, but I can see what he means.  After having taught ESL, I can tell you how many misunderstandings come out of misplaced punctuation and word order.)

You must enjoy your practice the way you enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning, it is something you should look forward to.  Whether you do primary or intermediate or advanced on any given day, it doesn't matter, you should be happy to get to your mat to do your practice.

If you don't practice the first two limbs, yama and niyama, there is not much point in doing asana, you are then only doing exercise. (He went through all the yamas and niyamas, but a his thoughts on shaucha (cleanliness ) were new for me.  There is physical cleanliness, with the body and the organs being pure, but also mental cleanliness, thinking pure thoughts, and having a clear mind.  It makes this aspect tie in more to the ideas of ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truthfulness) to me.)

The number of postures a person can perform does not make them a yogi.  We are all students, and learning will happen until we die as long as we acknowledge how much we don't yet know.

Self study is a vital part of the process.  The postures will teach you many things, but you have to look at how they work and discover what makes them possible.  The teacher can put your body into a shape, but it is up to the student to learn how it can be repeated.

People who teach cannot go into it with an agenda; they can only teach the method as they have been taught it, and let the practice do the work.

Ashtanga yoga is a physically challenging practice, and sometimes people think that it forgets about the pranayama and meditation aspects, but this is meant to be part of the daily asana practice.  To do the most difficult asanas that your mind tells you are impossible, you must be in a meditative state, and you must be breathing.  Sharath spoke here about how Guruji used to come and assist him in back bending, making him catch very high up his legs, and he would get to the end of the practice thinking he couldn't possibly do it that day, but when Guruji stepped in front of his mat, ready to guide him backwards, he couldn't say no, and his mind went calm and he would be in a very focused, steady frame of mind all of a sudden.  That state of mind is what we need in the practice so we can't tell ourselves things are impossible.

Towards the end of the conference he got on to the topic of uthi pluthi, and said that he makes us hold it for so long in led class for two reasons.  One is so that we use our bandhas.  The other is to tease us.  HA!

There were many more points that he covered, but two days later, these are the ones that have really stuck with me.  It is quite a lot really, and I am surprised how much I remembered without having taken any notes.  I am left marvelling at the shift in Sharath's approach and confidence in these Sunday conferences, and I can't wait to hear what he has to say next week!

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