Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Conference #5

My favorite conference to date!! So many things were clarified today. It was super loud as Sharath walked into the shala. Immediately silence fell and all eyes were on him. We began w a mantra as we always do to set the tone. He spoke of the Bhagadvad Gita, how Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that he must become a yogi and that the yogi is supreme. He quoted a line from the text that explains the difference between a “tapaswi” a man who lives a disciplined life, and a yogi, who is more than disciplined, who does not get distracted by life, who doesn’t expect anything for his actions. A yogi seeks “jnana” or knowledge. But it’s not just knowledge from books – anyone can read and get knowledge that way. It’s about knowledge from books and from practice. About applying what we read and practicing. We are seekers on this path. We are all seekers on the path of yoga. But be careful! Don’t go looking for yoga! It’s within you! Don’t chase it – you will never catch it. On this path you must practice “dhira” you must be brave. We must realize our inner beauty, our soul. Our daily practice is internal, not external. Yoga is union. It is about joining the individual soul with the supreme soul, joining jivatma with Bramha. “Chitta vritti nirodaha” refers to the state of mind not the body. The idea of yoga today is all external exercise. For your practice to be Yoga you must have dedication and devotion. Why am I practicing? You must know this.

We moved on to questions pretty quickly as he was tired and was supposed to leave early for a family function. He ended up staying for the full hour. I am so happy he did!! Read on to find out why….

Q: Why, in your opinion, has yoga (in its physical form) spread so quickly around the world?
A: It’s attractive. It has been turned into a business that “makes you more beautiful”. But it’s also the platform for spiritual practice. The experience of yoga is unique to each individual. Even though we all practice the same asana’s in Ashtanga Yoga, our experience of the practice, is different.

Q: How do you approach the practice to make it more spiritual?
A: "Don’t focus on the asana’s. Focus on the yama’s and niyama’s to make it more spiritual."
Sharath then asked us to answer the question “ What is spirituality?” The first answer he said was too shallow. The next person quoted the Yoga Sutra’s….”Don’t quote the Yoga Sutra’s to me! I can quote many of the texts. I want to know what you believe spirituality to be.” He was reiterating the point that we are seekers on “jnana”. To really understand not just quote books, to speak from experience and personal understanding. “Spirituality is about changing oneself, to go deeper into our experience. Once we correct ourselves we always then go out to change the world and make them act like us. If we change ourselves inside, if we follow the yama’s and niyama’s, our world will change without force. Once we develop the Y’s and N’s in ourselves, then we become spiritual beings."

Q: Can you demonstrate the difference between Ujayii pranayama and “breathe freely with sound”?
A: "No. I just had my breakfast. LOL! Ujayii pranayama is not the breath used during practice. We just use breath with sound. That was something that got confused years ago when Guruji was asked. His English wasn’t that good and sometime he just said yes." (It’s funny because I was there for that conference when Guruji was asked about the diff between Ujayii pranayama and Ujayii breath. To me it was clear that there was a diff between the two. And I just had a conversation poolside with Annie Grover Pace who spoke to Guruji extensively about the diff between the two….)

The next question was asked starting with “In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga…” Sharath stopped the student and said, “Don’t call it Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It’s just Ashtanga Yoga. When you call it Vinyasa you make it less than it is, only focusing on one limb. Is there vinyasa in Yama’s? Is there vinyasa in Niyama’s? No. So it is just Ashtanga Yoga.” Again, while speaking with Annie she said that it should be about clarification. There are those out there that practice yoga with Baba Hari Das and call it Ashtanga Yoga. So people are just trying to be clear.

Q: Emotional release during practice?
A: You have a long way to go! Emotion will come. If the breath is not correct, if the asana is uncomfortable, if the mind is not focused. Let it out! It’s good. If you keep it in you will have “Chanchara” monkey mind.

Q: Can you be more specific about bhakti/karma/jnana yoga all happening within Ashtanga yoga?
A: Karma – your actions will change, you will do things without expectation.
Bhakti – you have to have dedication and devotion.
Jnana - Daily practice will teach you about YOU. You will learn about YOU.

Q: What about when you have children? Do you devote less time to your practice?
A: Always devote time to your children. They are our teachers. We think we are teaching them but they are really teaching us. They are like God. They are pure, innocent. If you can become childlike you will become a yogi. But no, don’t devote less time to your practice. Give the child to your husband/wife and take 2hrs to practice!

Until next time!!

Conference #4

Today’s conference started w questions….

Q: When can we start to practice Pranayama?
A: The 8 kumbhaka’s can only be done when you have mastered asana – so at least Intermediate series. Kapalabhati is ok and can be done after utplutihi. You can also do simple Pranayama’s like Surya Beda (inhale left nostril block right side, exhale right nostril block left side 5X – good for colds). And Nadi Beda (inhale right nostril block left, exhale left nostril block right 5X). Pranayama is necessary for proper circulation. That is why Vinyasa is so important in our practice. Asana without the breath is just gymnastics. Concentrate/focus the mind and be present, especially if fear comes up in the practice i.e. back bending. In the HYP it tells us we only have 26600 breaths to take in one lifetime. By doing Pranayama, controlling the breath, we can reduce the # of breaths that we take thus lengthening our life! If you are a woman you will already have a longer lifespan as women are stronger mentally – lol!
Pranayama purifies the body & nervous systems like a vacuum cleaner. It helps us to detox bringing fresh oxygen to the tissues and cells. Digestive power will increase (in pascimottanasana) if done correctly.

We moved on from questions to Sharath just addressing general issues regarding the practice. One thing he speaks of almost every week is incorrect usage of handstand. “Ekam inhale, dve exhale, trini inhale handstand – not correct! So many students doing this. Many teachers teaching this. Putting video’s on Youtube and Facebook. Just jump back. This lifting is gymnastics, not yoga. The breath is not there so the vinyasa is incorrect.” Every week he addresses this issue and every week the same people continue to lift up into a half handstand while jumping forward and back. I guess he’ll keep saying it until people start to listen.

Bandha’s are so important in our practice. Mula bandha should be practiced all the time! It is what will help you control your mind. He who does mula bandha all the time will become a Raja Yogi. In Utplutihi contract your anus and pay no attention to my (Sharath’s) count! LOL! Just hold for as long as you can. Contract the anus in all of the asana’s. There are 3 bandha’s: mula or root lock your anus, udiyana or upward flying lock just below the navel, and jalandara chin/throat lock. This third one is only done during pranayama to stop the breath. It is not done during asana.

Food: "What we eat is so important as it affects us, it affects our mind." He spoke of vegetarianism in a very tactful way. At first he said, “Why eat a chicken when you can eat your own dog? Your own child? Much tastier!” Then he pointed out that it was part of his culture to be vegetarian but he recognized that it was not always possible for people from other cultures to follow a strict vegetarian diet. It’s my (EMMA) personal view to know where your food comes from. Make kinder choices, free range eggs, organic products. If you do eat meat/poultry/fish, know its source, what it was fed, where it lived, how it died. Factory farmed animals live a miserable existence and die a miserable death. Make educated choices and you will be on the right path. Krishnanmacharya said all aspects of this practice must happen organically. Not because someone told you you have to be/do/act in a particular way to be a yogi. Just start to be more aware.

Authorization: It is Sharath’s duty to Authorize students who are ready to teach. It is the new teacher’s Karma what is done with the certificate. Authorization doesn’t matter if you cannot answer the question “What is Yoga?” Understand this practice, go to it’s core, that’s what should be developing. Focus on that. Non attachment to the outcome is what you should be working towards. Whatever else comes is secondary. If you are too attached to anything you will miss out on the good things in life – enjoy your life!! Be in nature. Yoga happens naturally when you spend time away from the noise of the city. The mind automatically becomes still. When the mind is clear each practice will be blissful. Leave your bad thoughts outside the practice room along with your shoes ;) Don’t expect any of this to happen over night. It takes time to develop this attitude. You will eventually get to a point in your practice where nothing else matters.

He then told a story about a Sannyasin & Samsara.
There is a Sannyasin who lives alone by the river. He has a daily routine as part of his sadhana. He does his own laundry, he cooks his own food. Everyday he washes his clothes in the river. He leaves then to dry on a large rock beside his hut. But the rats start to eat his clothes leaving them full of holes. So he goes to town and gets a cat to kill the rats. But he has to feed the cat milk. So he goes and gets a cow to feed the cat. Now he needs someone to take care of the cow. His day is so full with taking care of the animals on top of his usual chores that his sadhana is suffering. So he gets married so that his wife can take care of everything! He created so many problems by trying to solve one when the answer was simple. Change location…

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Conference - Theme HYP

Conference #3 began with a simple prayer:

Let our ears listen,
Let us have good vision
Let us have clear speech
Let us have good health.

Then Sharath began by asking the question:

Why is it important to start asana practice w Surya Namaskar?
1. before we start we must pray to the Sun god – without the Sun nothing can grow. The sun gives us energy and gives the planet life
2. to warm up the body

The theme today was the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the importance of how and where we practice. “It is important to practice in the early morning for many reasons – the earth’s energy is quiet, better air quality, no distractions, calm mind (do not interact w pp before your practice as it changes your energy).
It is very important where we practice and how we practice. We should practice inside. Practicing outside looks very pretty but the wind will take the prana/energy we are trying to build up during the practice and leave us feeling depleted. When we practice inside it’s like a pressure cooker – all the prana is saved within us.
We should practice on a mat! (I’ve seen a number of people practicing without a mat and their reasoning has been that traditionally a mat was not used and they are trying to be “traditional”) No mats were used back in the day – tiger or deer skin was used to separate us from the earth. The earth will drain your energy. Your mat contains your energy.
There must be limited ventilation i.e. no fans or AC and you must practice on the ground floor.

Be mindful of all aspects of your practice. The energy you bring into it is the energy you take out of it. “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha” – control your mind.

Sadhana - practice Jnana - knowledge Ajnana - ignorance

A Guru is the dispeller of darkness, remover of ignorance, doesn’t pamper of coddle, makes you realize what is correct, what is true.

In Eastern philosophy the student is taught to surrender to the Guru. In Western philosophy the student is taught to challenge the teacher. “I know more than you.” For Sharath he loves seeing all students from all walks of life. The Western attitude reminds him of his son’s behavior. LOL! His son is 4yrs old…

It is important to be bonded to the practice through the Guru. That is not to say you should be attached to your teacher but to learn from a person vs a book or a DVD. A person can keep you on the path. It is a slow process. Let it happen. Conference with Sharath wouldn’t have been possible 15yrs ago bc he did not have the experience or the knowledge to share the way he does today. Allow the process to happen. The body has to change – the muscles have to lengthen and strengthen in a different way to any other activity. Other activities make you tight. Yoga loosens you up. Certain changes will happen day by day, year by year. You need PATIENCE for this to happen. Your body will change when your mind changes. “No stiff body, only stiff mind.” Guruji
Sukha and Dukkha are both necessary parts of life. The only tool we have to keep us stable is yoga.

"Yoga is like a Land Rover – it can take you anywhere and handle any terrain." (I swear sometimes Sharath is the biggest kid!! And I absolutely adore him.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Conference - Theme "Be Yourself!"

Another week has come and gone. This time I did NOT spend my Sunday at the hospital! Yay! Come to think of it, I actually can't remember what I did... But hey! Whatever it was it didn't involve blood tests or scans! My practice week dealing with my knee was actually really good. Injuries are great teachers if you are willing to listen. This one seemed to be telling me to slow I did and my knee has been great!
Sharath has been in great form. Still teaching led class while reading the newspaper - I swear to God! I wish we were able to take pics in the shala! During the Sun Salutaltion's he is sitting on the stage reading the newspaper while calling out the poses. He's actually always reading it. Taking little breaks during Mysore practice to have some chai or a bite to eat and read the paper. Can you blame him tho? The man gets out of bed at 1am to practice. Then teaches us from 430am until almost noon these days. He needs these little breaks to keep himself sane - lol!
Sunday's conference was early, at 10am vs the usual 4pm. I actually prefer it like this as it frees up the rest of the day. I've noticed that the conference topics seem to be themed. I'm not sure if he comes up with the theme before he arrives or if it just happens as he speaks. WHatever the case, the themes have been fantastic! Last week seemed to be about energy and how to produce and keep energy positive. This week it was about being yourself! He spoke a lot about Guruji and Krishnamacharya aka KM and their contributions to modern yoga. Again, here are some notes that I took while he spoke...

Sharath: "If you study yoga but don't do yoga, books are worth nothing. 99% practice 1% theory.
- experience yoga within you
- develop yourself with your yoga practice
- when we recognize yoga within us the changes will start to happen
- Guruji and KM were great guru's bc they practiced and studied - they did it all
- asana is the foundation of spiritual practice
- yoga is not 'doing' it's 'happening'
- eventually yoga becomes part of your daily routine, it becomes necessary
- back in the day there were so many yoga was only for Sadhus, women were not allowed to practice, etc. Guruji and KM worked hard to change that. They worked hard and studied hard to develop yoga so that we could all practice it today.
*Guruji's first student was his wife, Amma*
- the relationship between Guruji and KM was very strong, like father and son.

Story.... "One day KM was giving a lecture while some of his students were demonstrating asana. He told Guruji to take kapotasana
which he did without hesitation. While he was in the pose KM used him as a podium, as in he stood on top of Guruji's ribcage to continue his lecture. There was a sharp blade of grass poking into G's shoulder. When KM stood on him the blade punctured his skin and went inside. It was very painful but G said nothing so as not to interrupt his teacher. When KM was finished the lecture he stepped down and G exited the pose. Blood went everywhere! Instead of getting upset, G smeared the wound w some mud to stop the bleeding. Til the day he died he had a scar on his shoulder."

- Yoga becomes spiritual thru devotion
- all "yoga' is practiced in Ashtanga yoga "In the west people always say, Oh, I do Hatha yoga. I do Bakhti (devotion) yoga." Hatha yoga is just the physical aspect of yoga. Hatha yoga is Surya (Sun) Nadi and Chandra (Moon) Nadi
- when it is only physical - competing or comparing - no spiritual practice is there

- BE YOURSELF. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Don't imitate anyone. Find your own way. When you discover your path then you will become what it is that you strive for.

"If you mimic Buddha, you will not become Buddha but a carbon copy of Buddha. Find the path, discover 'the way', then you will become a Buddha."
- NEVER COMPARE YOURSELF. Find balance and develop your practice.
- if your teacher is too easy on you, you will never develop a respect for the practice

Story... "There was a devoted student, who everyday did 'seva'. He was very eager to become enlightened. But after some time he began to develop doubt. He was doing everything his Guru was doing but he still wasn't enlightened. One day he asked his Guru why he wasn't yet enlightened. The Guru told him he would give him the answer after his bath. He brought him to a pond where he got in, sat down and invited the student to join him. When the student sat down the Guru grabbed him by the head and held him under water. When he released the student from near drowning he asked him if he understood the lesson. That struggle for breath, that desperation, is how we must struggle daily! The practice is challenging but the rewards are great! Many hurdles are there, it will be difficult. You just keep going...."

- energy comes to you from your teacher
- people come here (Mysore) with so much ego! Only when you are humble can you learn. Acknowledge that you know nothing and you will learn so much!

At the end of his talk he gave time for us to ask questions. Here are a few that were asked...

Q: Is it ok to use a wall to learn inversions? You always tell us not to use props. Is a wall a prop?
A: Learning using a wall, nothing wrong in that. Better than using props. Whole life you will use a block and never reach the floor! Using a wall, no problem. You don't want student to fall and when you have many students you don't have time to help everyone."

Q: How do you manage to maintain your spiritual practice when you have so many students, as well as family, two children?
A: Marriage and children teach you much more about spiritual practice than anything else. I started to assist Guruji when I was 19yrs old. I did many hrs of asana, purely physical aerobics. After some time, Guruji taught me philosophy. That's when the practice became spiritual. When I got married and had kids, it got more spiritual! Family is important. This is a family too. The Ashtanga family. We must support one another. Everyone is spiritual! Maybe you just don't know it yet. Work at it. Study, practice, and develop it. Allow the process to happen. It's like a flower. Plant a seed, nourish it. The plant will grow and the flower will blossom. Spiritual practice is the same. Sometimes we don't know who or what we are. Only thru our practice can we learn. If you don't try, you will never know your limitations. "

"Life many times will teach you what to do."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Conference was amazing. The place was jam packed with people but you could have heard a pin drop once he started to speak.

He spoke of the first 2 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga - the Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas: How you treat others, are as follows:

Ahimsa -- Non-violence.
Satya -- Truthfulness.
Asteya -- Non-stealing.
Brahmacarya -- Sexual responsibility.
Aparigraha -- Abstention from greed.

Niyamas: How you treat yourself

Sauca -- Cleanliness.
Santosa -- Contentment.
Tapas -- Austerity. Deep commitment to our yoga practice.
Svadhyaya -- Self-study.
Isvara pranidhana -- Surrender of the self to God.

The following are from the notes I took during conference.

Sharath began by saying "the practice of Asana must include the practice of Yama and Niyama. Yoga is the transformation that happens within us. The reason we do Asana is to purify the body and mind. This changes how we react, how we behave, our attitude. If we have an aggressive practice we are probably an aggressive person off the mat which builds ego which goes against yoga. If yoga is not practiced with a calm mind, it is only physical. If you don't understand why you do practice - sankalpa or intention - there is no point to the practice. You must be present. If the mind is negative when you practice, then negative energy will come of your practice. Chanting is important to bring positive energy to the practice. Injury is getting rid of bad karma (action- what we do comes back to us. Ask the question, "Would I do this to myself?" If the answer is no then don't do it... )."

He then went into an explanation of the Yamas...

"Ahimsa: non violence to self & others - to be aware of our thoughts and deeds as violence can happen unknowingly ie thinking bad thoughts about someone

Satya: to be true to ourselves and others

Bhramacarya: being true to your partner and your partner being true to you.

He said that our practice should be private, not about being in the limelight.


Sauca: cleanliness - Internal - of thoughts, actions, internal body, nervous system
- External - clothes, external body, mat, home

Santosha: contentment - to be happy.

Asteya: non-stealing. Greed brings unhappiness

Tapas: posterity - to follow a strict life, to follow a certain discipline in our life/routine i.e. 6am practice, food at regular times. If you want to do sadhana - practice - you must give up many things. Be careful where you go, who you associate with, who you meet, what you read, what you surround yourself with... Positive energy can be lost very easily if the mind is not stable, or if actions are done without thought.

Svadhyaya: self study - to discover yourself through guidance from your guru. Our mother is our first teacher. We learn from her by watching as a small child. The same way we learn from our Guru/teacher. We learn by their example. Discover the spirituality in your practice. Choose an "ishta devata" - diety that resonates with you - like Ganesha, Tara, Jesus, Buddha, etc...

Ishvara Pranidana: surrendering to the Divine. When you practice with a focus on your diety, you become God. God is within you. With practice and devotion you can discover that.

He ended the conference by saying "Without a Guru's blessing it is impossible for transformation to happen.""

Be well
E xo

End of week 2

Hello from sunny Mysore!
Another week comes to a close with much to report. After the whole pneumonia drama, I spent the next week taking heavy antibiotics, sleeping a lot, and practicing. Beginning my second week, I started into my full practice which is made up of full Primary and Intermediate poses up to Eka Pada Sirsasana (one leg behind the head). Normally this is the pose you're practice is split at - dropping Primary and focusing on Intermediate - but I have not been split. And I don't mind! It just means I have the opportunity to build strength. The week went smoothly, taking my time with each posture, enjoying the energy of the shala. I started to notice that my right knee was tight. It was a strange feeling. Every time I tried to flex and externally rotate (lotus) I had to apply pressure just in behind my knee to get the joint to release. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Then Sunday led practice came along. We waited outside the shala for the doors to open. Everyone pushed and shoved to get inside - embarrassing...The place is still so busy there are 3 led practice time slots to accommodate the number of people. Most years there have only been two...I set up in the lobby to avoid having to wrestle with anyone for a spot in the main room. All was good through Surya Namaskara's and standing sequence. Then we got to the floor. The second jump through I caught my right foot a little on my mat. I pushed it through to sit and SNAP. The knee gave out and that was it. I couldn't bend my leg for the rest of the practice. I went from practice back to the same hospital I had been to the Sunday before and requested an MRI. Again, being an Indian hospital I was ushered into the room immediately.

I spent the next half an hr inside the MRI drifting in and out of sleep. 6000rps (around $125) later I was done! I went to see Sharath before conference to let him know what had happened. He recommended a doctor and sent me on my way. I spent the rest of the day at conference (which I have written a separate blog about) and then with the doctor. He confirmed the diagnosis and recommended 6 days of physio along with lots of fluids and ice packs. I can still practice as long as I am mindful and go super slow. I'm learning a ridiculous amount already...

The next day it was time to go into the city for thali! Thali is a vegetarian meal with a bottomless assortment of dhal, vegetables, rice, and papad, ending (eventually) with something sweet. So after practice, we had no breakfast. We were saving ourselves for the thali at Hotel RRR.
OMG so delicious! We rolled out of there and waddled over to the market to buy essential oils. I picked up some saffron vanilla and patchouli. Gonna try them out this week.

I have decided that this coming Sunday I WILL NOT be spending the day in any hospital like I have done the last two Sundays. Instead I plan to treat myself to a massage at Indus Valley. So much is happening to my physical body here, from pneumonia, to a torn miniscus, yesterday I pulled my neck muscles, and this morning I woke up to discover I had been a buffet to some sort of biting insect. Enough is enough! I'm listening. Apparently my emotional/mental bodies are trying to tell me something. I'll keep you posted. Until next week....

Be well,
E xo