Sharath started this conference with a call for questions, so we talked about quite a variety of things from mantras to led classes, gurus to breathing and even how yovic awareness relates to environmentalism!
The first student question was about the mantra Sharath says after we chant ours together. (If you’ve ever taken led class with him, you’ve heard him recite an additional little chant right after we’re finished repeating the classical opening mantra all together.) He explained that this is a personal mantra thanking all the teachers in the lineage. (He even said maybe he’d teach us later!)
The talk of chanting lead to a question about the importance of led classes in addition to self-practice. Why don't we just do self practice all the time? Sharath explained that these classes are very important to understanding the vinyasas, or breath counts. It’s may be easy for a student to learn the poses, but to learn the correct vinyasas takes a lot of control, attention and of course practice. He sees students from all over the world, with seemingly fine practices that, upon closer examination, are inhaling when they should be exhaling, and visa versa. With the two led classes he teaches a week (Friday Led Primary and Sunday Led Primary or Intermediate), he can make sure students understand the pace and exact placement of each breath.
Talk then turned, as it often does in conference, to the idea of a guru. A guru is more than just a teacher; the word literally means "darkness dispeller." A guru reveals jnana, or spiritual knowledge and brightness. As he put it, a teacher may tell you how to solve your problems, but a guru makes you feel it, shows you practically, and leads by example.
A student wondered how we might bring more harmony to the relationship between the inner guru (our own heart, beliefs) and outer guru (our teacher). Sharath explained that usually the inner guru isn’t polished, and that it’s very important not to let your ego become your master. He said that real yogis always listen, they don’t assume that they know everything, and that with careful attention, our heart can become pure. Then there is harmony between inner and outer!
Naturally, the question of how often we should visit Mysore, to see our teacher was raised. The woman who asked the question had been to Mysore before, two years ago. Sharath smartly asked her why she had come back to study again. “Because I felt the need,” she answered honestly. He smiled and told us that is the answer…we should come whenever we feel the need.
If we have families or work obligations that keep us from making this long journey to Mysore, he suggested displaying a picture of Guruji which we can use for inspiration while anywhere in the world.
Breathing and Bhandas are two of the key principles and focus points in our practice, and one student wanted to clarify where the breath should happen: in the chest or the belly? This is a really important topic, because breathing down in the belly for many years can cause hernias, Sharath warned. He said the breath should always be accompanied by bhandas, and he specifically mentioned the importance of engaging the lower abdomen, to make the belly stable. Then, we should breath in the lungs in chest, keeping the lower belly steady. There is no stability for the body in belly breathing, he warned!
Someone then asked a rather open question about awareness, which I must admit, I couldn’t hear very well…but nevertheless, Sharath had a great answer. He urged us to build up to a stage where yoga keeps happening even outside the shala, to a point where we become one with everything. He urged us to treat things like we treat ourselves.
He says people are running everywhere looking for yoga, chasing yoga, when yoga is inside of us and can be done right now…all the time. When our attention is constantly outside, we have no time to think or be or study inside of ourselves.
Sharath told us that awareness also means being very conscious of changes and what our actions do to our environment. We come from the earth, and go back to the earth, so, if we cut a tree, we cut ourselves! He told us that remembers having a special bond with trees as a child in Lakshmipurim…that nature is very important, and that we must have the attitude and awareness to live in harmony with nature, and not just focus on ourselves.
I really enjoyed that he seemed so passionate about the environment in this sense. It’s always been very important to me, and seems to make a lot of sense. Yoga is inside of us and helps us realize that we are one with everything!