“Yoga Is Number One”

April 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

I had plans for daily updates from Encinitas, but the time warp that comes with being on a yoga holiday made sure that none of that happened. Here’s my “recap” list of the big things that I discovered and experienced, paraphrased and filtered after a good night’s sleep:

1. The main reason why the led classes were so enjoyable and mind-blowing was Sharath’s count. Steady and slow, not too rushed, giving one plenty of mental space to just focus on the breath and bandhas. As someone who has only taken led classes from Western teachers so far, this was an enriching experience that shed a new light on the practice. When you slow it down a little and just focus on lengthening the inhales and exhales, your experience of the practice deepens immeasurably. At least that’s what it did for me.

2. Contrary to what’s currently perceived by the general Ashtanga public, the Jois family and the Ashtanga system are far from being “commercialized”, despite the opening of glitzy Jois Yoga studios around the US. I say this because I finally saw the distinction between “Jois Yoga”, the company, and the Jois family with their Ashtanga lineage. They exist on totally different planes. I would certainly reserve all criticisms of the yoga studio + boutique enterprise and all talk of the “McDonald-ization” of Ashtanga until you’ve had the chance to practice with Sharath or Saraswati. The Ashtanga tradition and love for Guruji is very much alive and well, and any rumors of schisms between senior teachers and Mysore is really just a bunch of bullshit. Case in point: Tim Miller turning up for Led 2nd on Saturday. I don’t think he’s the sort of guy to put on a show just for the sake of it. I believe he was there because he wanted to be there, out of love for the practice and Guruji. It meant a lot to everyone, including Sharath, to have him there, so…..what schisms are we talking about again?

3. On the last day Sharath thanked the people who enabled his visit and the workshops to happen. He went on to talk about how important it is to have a place to go to to practice, and how each of us enriches the practice space with our energy when we keep doing it over and over again everyday.

4. Someone asked about how best to balance Ahimsa and Satya in our daily lives and his answer was: “By being careful”. He said that yogis need to be very careful in our behavior and words so that we don’t hurt others inevitably, because we are all interconnected. He went on to talk about how renunciates in India used to go off on their own to the wilderness for their spiritual practice, and how being in Nature reminds us of how connected we all are. These days “it’s all a concrete jungle, there is no place to go, no ambiance”, so it’s even more important to seek out nature.

5. He talked about the difference between having a Guru and having a teacher (or teachers). Basically a Guru is someone who dispels, or helps to dispel, the darkness in one’s life. It’s a figure who goes beyond the instructional, who helps you to see beyond yourself and to get out of your own way, so to speak. This is why “you should only have one Guru”, as Guruji said.

6. We had many questions about ujjayi breathing vs free breathing in the practice (“I already answered this so many times last week”), so here is the official explanation: The term “ujjayi” refers to a pranayama exercise with its own patterns of breath, inhalation, exhalation and retention, etc. In asana practice, what we do is free breathing with sound, nothing else. He surmised that the notion of “ujjayi” breathing in asana practice arose from a miscommunication in the early days when students asked Guruji if what they were doing during asana was ujjayi and his response was interpreted as a “yes”. So it’s now left to Sharath to set the record straight.

7. “There are many bad things happening in yoga nowadays. But yoga is not bad, it is the people that make it bad. Everybody wants to be number one, but Yoga is number one. You cannot own it, it’s like air, for everyone”.


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