Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sharath in Sydney: Conference #2

Today's talk he gave was a little bit shorter than last week's, and he spoke about the asanas.

The asanas are done to purify the mind, body and nervous system. How are they to be done? Sthira Sukha Asanam (quoting from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras)... they must be stable and comfortable. Then he repeats... "COMFORTABLE". Everybody laughs.

Build strength and stamina over time... it's not about the number of asanas you do, but about how you do them (quality over quantity, I suppose). Even if you perfect only 10 asanas, that's OK and enough.

On a side note, yesterday I'd asked if anyone had any questions to ask him at today's conference and Grimmly had asked a couple of good ones (see yesterday's comments). Unfortunately, those questions came in after the conference was over, so I didn't have the chance to ask him. However, what Sharath says here might give you a clue as to how he feels about it.

Sharath continued with saying each asana is connected to each other. There are certain ways to do each asana, it all has a purpose for purification. When the asana is perfect and sthira/ sukha happens, the nervous system is purified then the mind is ready and clear to go to the next level.

Then he brings up an example: In the Primary series backbends and dropbacks, "if you can't do that, intermediate will be difficult". (I put those in quotation marks coz I wrote down notes and that was exactly as he'd said it). So, I dunno if that answers Grimmly's question or if that's still open to interpretation.

I personally feel that having listened to him in both conferences and how he keeps emphasizing that there's a method to the progression and "Don't hurry", and especially after watching the intermediate class today (I'll write more about this in the Week 2 Day 5 update after this), I feel dropbacks probably need to be mastered before moving onto intermediate in order to get the maximum benefit from the intermediate series.

Don't get me wrong here, I mean, sure you can practice intermediate if you can't dropback yet, but the whole point of intermediate is about Nadi Shodhana, which works on the energetic body. So... if the physical is not completely cleansed or there are still blocks within the physical body from not having mastered all of the Primary series, then how can you obtain maximum benefit when you start working on the energetic body through the second series? (especially when the initial asanas within second series are all about backbends!) This is of course, my interpretation and understanding of it, especially after listening to how he keeps emphasizing that there is a method to the progression.

After this, he asks people for questions, but there is a long pause, people are afraid to ask. Then he goes off and starts talking about the qualities of a yogi. He recites a very long chant (it could've been a poem or a saying, but I've no idea what this is). Then he goes line by line and interprets it in English. I think some things got lost in translation but very loosely, it went something like, a yogi has a slim waist (?!), speaks well (his words are musical/ nice to hear), and is soft-natured... I got a bit lost here so this part didn't really come to much in my written notes! For this, I apologize.

Then the questions came.
Q: When practising on our own, do we practise to your count? As long as your count?
A: You can go up to 5 breaths if you have the time. The important thing is the inhale should be as long as the exhale. So if the inhale is 2 seconds, the exhale should also be 2 seconds. Inhale 5 seconds? Then exhale 5 seconds. It is important to focus on your own asana and don't compare to the person in front of you! Think about what you're doing in your asana, cultivate them by focusing on your own asana.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the bandhas?
A: Do bandhas properly for a long life. Jalandhara bandha (chin lock) is mainly used during pranayama. What's the source to control your mind? ...Mula bandha (root lock). If applied right, it can be practised all the time. This is why many can't do Karandavasana - coz you only have arm strength, no bandha strength. Same thing also for jumpbacks. Who can do jumpback from Padmasana properly? It's the bandhas, not the arms. It's about your internal strength, and synchronizing the breath with bandha control.

Then he asks for who can demo a jumpback and teasingly asks a guy to do it. "Jacob! You come and do!" He looks like a physically strong guy, he comes up and says "I can't actually do a proper jumpback". Everyone laughs. He gets up and does it though and this is what annoys me about guys and upper body strength. TOO EASY FOR THEM!

Sharath then gets into Padmasana and does a vinyasa out of Padmasana, lifting up with complete control, getting an impossibly high lift (elbows at 90 degrees!), pauses for what feels like a few seconds balancing mid-air in Padmasana (his body is at an incline, not perpendicular to the ground), then quietly, gracefully and slowly... unfolds his legs mid-air and shoots back to Chaturanga. WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

He then lifts his shirt up to show how it's all in the bandhas and internal strength. His Uddiyana Bandha lock is ridiculous. It actually folds his abdomen in half! At first I thought it was coz he was tucking his chin in, holding his shirt up with his chin, causing the fold in his belly... but he's a skinny guy with no fat/ folds in his skin, so why was there this massive fold in his belly?! Yeah folks, it's called Uddiyana Bandha Power to the MAX!

Q: How do you know when you're ready for more advanced poses? Like headstand? [giggles from the crowd]
A: A good teacher will know when to move you on. But you can already practice headstand if you're doing the Janus and the Marichyasanas.

Q: Does your head touch the floor in headstand?
A: Yes, it touches the floor, but no pressure on the head. Come down slowly from headstand and rest a long time after. Allow the blood to go back through your system slowly. Headstand can be longer than shoulderstand. You can do this asana for as long as you like. It has many benefits.

Q: How long should Savasana be?
A: What you all are doing after your asana is not actually Savasana. Savasana is an asana in the 6th series! What you're doing resting after your asana is more like Sukhasana... Easy pose, or Happy pose! In the 6th series Savasana, which means dead posture, you actually stop your breathing. Well, you don't actually stop it but is close to it. You remember the story of Krishnamachrya stopping his heart beat? ...that's not me yet! [laughter] But my grandfather taught me this Savasana, to stop the breath in 6th series.

In Sukhasana after practice, 10 to 15 minutes is long enough. Otherwise your body gets too cool.

He then ends off by saying: You must remember that yoga doesn't need us, we need yoga. Keep the tradition, don't change it.

He then showed us a DVD of the KPJAYI Trust, a charity that Guruji set up in Mysore when he turned 90. A part of their karma yoga, they help the orphanage and mentally disabled. What was cool is one of my friends is in the video! She's the hot blonde chick who appears a few times and is teaching the kids (she also has a bad-ass intermediate practice)!

His talk on the bandhas and bandha control made me think a bit more about it in today's practice, and I'll have an update on that a bit shortly. It's dinner time now. :)


  1. Such a great series of posts, thanks for taking so much time for sharing them. The "if you can't do that, intermediate will be difficult". line came up in Toronto and London too. he seems to have chosen his words (difficult) very carefully. I think he makes his point but I guess leaves a little leeway for teachers. from what you said about him looking tense at the intermediates struggling with Dropbacks his feeling on this are probably clear. But then I agree you should probably be able to drop back and come up well by the end of Intermediate

    Loved the bit on the bandhas, though curious about jalahandra, it used to be used throughout the practice but seems to have been replaced by drishti, would love to know when that happened and why. Guess I have to go to one of his workshops and ask him myself.
    The Uddiyana bhanda bit was VERY interesting, was trying to engage some serious Uddiyana during Karandavasana this morning, difficult upside down to make it intense, I need to work on this during Pincha.

    thanks again for these.

  2. It was my pleasure, Grimm! I've loved reading other people's comments as well. And you're probably right that maybe he leaves it a little open to give leeway to teachers. A person's practice after all, is such an individual thing.

    A lady came up to me at the end of the workshop and told me she'd been practising Primary for 12 years. She can't do dropbacks yet but was moved onto Intermediate coz her teacher felt it was time. And her teacher's pretty traditional but made an exception in this case. I think it really depends on the person, the teacher, & the relationship they've got with their teacher as well... she said even though she's practising intermediate, she had no desire to practise that series with Sharath, and stuck to his Primary workshop the whole time. Different strokes for different folks, and that's what makes yoga, yoga!


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