It’s the last conference of the season 2012/2013. Sharath has been teaching non stop since the beginning of July last year. But he’s in good spirit and smiles a lot today. One would think because the shala will close and he will get some rest from all of us demanding students ;). But oh no – already on Thursday Saraswati and Sharat’s whole family travel to the US to teach in April and May. No rest in sight. However, with us Sharath is firm. It is important to rest and to keep a balance in life he says. “Day off” should mean DAY OFF! It doesn’t mean stretching exercises or doing other sports. The body needs to recover and repair itself. If we overdo practice the body will break down due to repetitive strain. Practice needs to be balanced. Just like food intake, work or sleep needs to be balanced, Sharath reminds us (he spoke of this at the last conference too). Too much or too little of each will lead to depression. Limitation (and a balance of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana) in all areas of life is the key to happiness.
At the start of the conference Sharath comes and sits down with a big smile on his face and says: “If you have any questions this is your last chance”. “I don’t have any because I’m not in doubt” he laughs. He is indeed in a good mood and the “show” is made even happier when Sharath’s son Sambhav joins the stage and performs some of his Bollywood dance talents :).
Despite the happy atmosphere, there’s a kind of sadness or sentimentality in the air. Sharath even becomes kind of “fatherly” when he, at the end of the conference, encourages us to keep up our practice when we go home. It is the practice that will help us remain steady in the ups and downs of life. Life is never just smooth or easy but by embracing both the good and bad times in life, just like the Indians savour Bevu and Bella on New Year’s Eve (these symbolize the fact that life is a mixture of different experiences such as sadness, happiness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise that should be accepted together and with equanimity through the New Year) we will be happy. Also, Sharath reminds us that one cannot know happiness if one has not experienced it’s opposite. There needs to be a balance – in this as in so many other things.
Many issues that have been discussed over the weeks and months come up again today. Sharath is aware of this but he underlines that he does this on purpose so that we remember. And every time a question is raised that has been on the agenda before, Sharath adds new dimensions in his replies. His new book that was released this past week is a summary of many of the issues that come up in conference.
“By being truthful, whatever action you take will be successful”
In the book Sharath’s for example outlines the Yamas and Nyiamas. A question in today’s conference related to Satya, which means truthfulness and is the second Yama. It means being truthful in both words and actions. In today’s conference, Sharath stressed that we should follow our Dharma. Dharma is what is true. Though, everyone makes mistakes – that’s only human. There is not always time to reflect upon one’s actions, but yoga practice will help one slow down and think and judge what is right and wrong. However, not all people use yoga for honest purposes. If they misuse it it will lead to no good and it will backfire upon them. Nature will take it’s course and reveal the “bad guys” in scandals or in other ways (maybe this was a reference to recent sex scandals in a number of modern (and traditional!) yoga styles).
“Protect yoga and it will protect you”
It is important how you use the tool of yoga, Sharath underlined. Any tool can be used with different purposes. A knife can peal a sweet mango, but it can also be used to stab someone.” If you use it to stab you will end up in jail – if you use it to peel the mango you will be able to relish the sweetness of the fruit. If you use yoga for proper reasons it’s like eating the mango. It will make you a better person”, Sharath said.
“Protect the truth and the truth will protect you”
Try not to get disturbed what other people around you do in or with yoga, Focus on yourself and protect your path, your Dharma. It is easy to be influenced by the people around you – therefore surround yourself with people who also follow Satya – the truth. Do your duty and come and see me once a year, Sharath said. But remember that the Guru can only guide you and help you get the knowledge. The Guru cannot bring you to Moksha (enlightenment) – you need to walk the walk yourself. Once you have the knowledge it is important that you adapt it to your life – then only you will be on the track towards Moksha.
Asana stithi – steady posture, “citta bandha” – mind control
Again Sharath reminded us that asana practice is not merely a physical exercise. “If you do your practise properly you will experience something within you – you will develop dhyana”, he said. By “properly” he meant making the asana practice stable, steady and focused and being totally absorbed in the asana. This would lead to meditation – dhyana.
How does one make asana practice stable then? By properly using the bandhas (in addition to tristana: breath, dristhi and asana). Mulabandha, located in the Muladhara chakra is source of all the five elements in us (earth, water, fire, air, and ether), the source of the divine and the source to control the mind. When we engage Mulabandha properly Uddyiana bandha will come automatically. When Mulabandha and Uddyianabandha are applied correctly, Jalandara bandha will also be complete. It is not possible to to Jalandhara bandha without the other two. Only when the three are applied then the energy of energy Kundalini – pictured as a coiled serpent at the bottom of the spine will flow up through the main nadi sushumna (the main nadi). This free flow of energy will make us stronger and lighter and will make our asana stable. As an example Sharath demonstrated Karandavasana, from Intermediate series (in particular the one I had struggled with during this mornings’ led class – not so much due to lack of strength but because I can’t keep my nerves under control and so I lose my bandhas and become very shaky). “It’s s very difficult asana which requires the use of your abdominal strength (not so much your arms or shoulders) and the use of your bandhas”, Sharath said before lifting up in to the posture (see video below).
At the end of the conference we all lined up to have our book signed, to say our thanks and good byes and have our picture taken with “the Boss”. Tomorrow morning is the last practice, led Primary series for all. And then it’s time to get on a plane and go home to do our Dharma. It’s been a blessing to be here for three months and I can’t begin to summarize the feelings and thoughts that I have about the time that I’ve spent here this year. But it’s not over yet so I will save that for yet another posting. Until then – Namaste!