A (Yogic) Photographer’s Assistant

Behind the Scenes

By far one of my favorite jobs ever has been assisting Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos during her asana portrait sessions. She was kind enough to share some of the shots she took while I was at work:

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Assisting the beautiful Ainia into Supta Kurmasana.

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A crisp, clean shot is all about the little details. Acting as wardrobe for the lovely Elena in Natarajasana.

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We drop back with a little help from our friends: helping in urdhva dhanurasana.

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Location scouting, lighting and composition testing and bovine monitoring.

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Sometimes we decide it’s a good idea for Laila to try bakasana on a cannon. In these cases I’ll be there, just out of frame, to make sure the she doesn’t tumble down (she didn’t and it was a gorgeous shot).

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Smiling during a shoot 🙂

Mysore Trip Four: Yamas and Niyamas, Pillars of the Practice

Every morning I wake up, rub the sleep from my eyes, make a cup of coffee and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I start with a few hours of asana. I inhale and exhale, bending my body into different shapes and experiences, and hopefully removing some of the samskaras stuck between my joints. I try and I fail and sometime I fall flat on my face. And after the yoga rug is rolled up and the laundry is hanging out to dry, I keep trying to practice Ashtanga Yoga.

Because this yoga thing doesn’t end at the corners of my mat.

I’m attempting to allow the remnant feelings from the ritual of asana practice to spread like butter on bread throughout the rest of my day. I try to be nice. I try not to do harm. I try, through interactions with others and with myself, to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I try and I fail…

Pillars at Melukote Temple
Pillars at Melukote Temple

For the past few weeks in conference, between beautiful discussions about guru and mula bhanda, Sharath has continually brought our attention to the first two limbs: the Yamas and the Niyamas. (If you’re a Land Yoga student or following me on Instagram, you might have participated in or seen The All Eight Limbs Movement’s first few monthly focuses: the Yamas, where Lara invited us to share photos about non-violence, truth, non-stealing, energy conservation and non-greediness.)

He keeps coming back to this starting place. We can do all kinds of “yoga practices,” but if we don’t place attention on the first two limbs, the foundational pillars on which the rest of our practice is built, something big will be missing. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Recognizing my failures and seeing my efforts…

“How will you know the depth of the sea if you continue to sail around on the surface?” Sharath asks, echoing one of his favorite analogies. “You have to dive in to know the beauty of the sea. Just like this you must apply all the Yamas and Niyamas to your practice in order to experience an in depth understanding. This process won’t happen suddenly…”

Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple
Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple

 

The Yamas are:

Ahimsa, non-violence:

Yoga Sutras 2.35 “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-violence (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.”

Being non-violent is important. Sharath says that our asana practice creates heat and strength, but it is important not to misuse the strength! Grounding ourselves with peaceful thoughts and actions off the mat is vital.

Satya, truth:

Yoga Sutras 2.36 “As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.”

We should be true to ourselves and to others.

Asteya, non-stealing:

Yoga Sutras 2.37 “When non-stealing (asteya) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.”

Sharath reminds us that a yoga brand that steals postures to create its own yoga “style” is not practicing this yama!

Brahmacharya, celibacy or energy conservation:

Yoga Sutras 2.38 “When walking in the awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya) is firmly established, then a great strength or vitality is acquired.”

 Aparigraha, non-greediness:

Yoga Sutras 2.39 “When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”


 

The Niyamas are:

Shaucha, cleanliness:

Yoga Sutras 2.41 “Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.”

This applies to internal thoughts and our external environment. Asana helps to clean the internal body, but we must also do our part: keep our mat, our clothes, our home and our thoughts clean. (Also, it’s important to shower before asana practice!)

Santosha, contentment:

Yoga Sutras 2.42 “From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.”

This niyama asks us to be happy. To be deeply, internally, happy and to think good thoughts and not compare ourselves to others or to what we don’t have. We should relish each moment in this human life and find happiness that comes from within! “Santosha does not come from the iPhone 6…because next week iPhone 7 is coming!” Most of our stress and delusion will melt away with the practice of santosha.

Tapas, discipline:

Yoga Sutras 2.43 “Through training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions.”

This niyama is related to the Sadhana, the practice and leading a disciplined life. “Without discipline,” Sharath says, “it’s impossible to learn something.”

Svadhyaya, self study:

Yoga Sutras 2.44 “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.”

Self-study is the art of doing internal research and putting effort into understanding what your teacher has told you. We should become a Sadaka, one who does Sadhana.

Ishvarapranidhana, surrender to the divine:

Yoga Sutras 2.45 “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.”


 

So we have our work cut out for us! These foundational concepts are deep and complex. I love hearing Sharath talk about them and reminding us of the well-rounded life we should aim to lead. Which is why I say each day I wake up and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga… Some changes have been easy for me, like maintaining a vegetarian diet based on ahimsa…others not so easy, like keeping a disciplined schedule.

What about you?

How are the yamas and niyamas working in your life?

What are you trying to practice?

Mysore Trip Four: Travel Update and Conference Notes

“A Beautiful Habit.”

Shala Card

To get to Mysore from New York City takes roughly 30 hours. Between taxis and planes and layovers and delays I notice a sense of internal calm I haven’t felt before. This is my fourth trip. I’ve already done this three times. As my boyfriend says, it’s not a coincidence anymore… I’m not going to India on a whim. I’m consciously choosing to make this trek year after year after year.

I arrive in early morning of October 1st, stumble into a taxi and sleep for most of the 3.5 hours it takes to drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Sharp stops and turns and then,

“Madame! Sleeping? Mysore coming!” says my driver.

I pull myself upright and recognize the stretch of road we’ve entered. By the time we reach Gokulam (the neighborhood where I stay and where I practice Ashtanga Yoga), I’m ready for a proper nap.

I find my small studio apartment, shut the curtains, settle into another typically hard Indian bed, and snooze until the shala opens at 3:30pm for registration.

I have my passport photos ready and copies of my Indian Visa. I’ve printed my confirmation letter which grants me access into the increasingly in-demand shala. I have my rupees counted and stacked to pay tuition.

Because it’s the opening of the season (my teacher only opens the school for western students to practice for part of the year) it’s a week of led Primary Series classes to begin. Jetlag wakes me up at 3am the next morning. In the pre-dawn dark I make coffee and prepare for practice.

Class just feels right the next few days. Strong and soft at the same time. The shala rugs feel a faded shade of familiar. I place my mat in the front row and listen to my teacher chanting the opening mantra just a few inches away from me. I practice with a smile. I see friends from past seasons, meet new ones from all over the world, and surrender to jet lag. I get my only-in-India pink elephant print bed sheets out of storage and make my bed. I walk around with wonder still in my eyes at the sights and smells of India. I try a new Eggplant curry at lunch and marvel at how they’ve cooked the vegetable just right so it actually does melt in my mouth.

Right now everything feels comforting here. The familiar and the unfamiliar. I want to keep this beautiful habit of coming to India year after year…

As the week of Led Classes (classes during which our teacher calls out each posture and we practice together as a group) gives way to the regular classes (called ‘Mysore Style’ classes during which each student practices only the postures they have been taught, individually without a teacher leading) my back starts to ache. I see a sweet Canadian for acupuncture sessions and the pain slowly melts into comfort.

This year the day off is Sunday instead of Saturday as it has been in the past. Conference with our teacher, Sharath, is now on Saturday afternoon. It’s a small change that funnily enough has most of us wondering what day it is – constantly holding to that old, conditioned pattern of ‘the week.’

So we adapt to our new week and pile into the shala each Saturday to listen to Sharath’s wise words…

Some Conference Notes October 11, 2014

“Yoga is the greatest gift,” Sharath says to start this season at the shala. Words so simple and true we all smile softly in a reply to him.

He explains that yoga is special because of the breath and the vinyasa system, the art of placing the breath in a special way connected to your movement. This process of breathing and moving takes time to learn. It must be tuned like an instrument or like a singer might train to tune her voice.

Once one has learned to control the breath, automatically control of the mind happens.

Student questions begin to flood the room.

“Is it possible to practice with perfect vinyasa?”

Sharath says yes, it is possible and we are all working towards it. But this is something that you must do one posture at a time, slowly. At the beginning we might spend two weeks on just Surya Namaskar A and B. The first day to complete a sun salutation it takes 25 breathes! But the more we practice, the more we train to breath correctly, and over time we can complete it with one breath per movement, the nine vinyasas required to complete a sun salutation A.

A question about the importance of alignment prompts Sharath to remind us that of course the alignment of muscles and bones are important, but so are the movements, the breathing and the heat that this helps to create. These moving asanas help to purify the lungs and nervous system and create a spiritual transformation within us.

Some Conference Notes from October 18, 2014

During the second conference of the season Sharath reminds us that there is no recoded birth date for yoga. For as long as there has been this universe, there has been yoga.

Almost universally it is agreed that yoga is for calming and controlling the mind. These initial stages lead to deeper understanding and ultimately higher consciousness.

In order to begin to control the mind, Sharath spent time talking about the importance of the Ashtanga Tristana, the three points of focus. They are asana, pranayama (breathing, which brings control to the mind) and dristi.

Sharath specifically mentioned the power of the gazing point, dristi, and it’s ability to bring more focus to our practice. Our attention is always on others, on the outside. The more we bring the focus inside the more potential the practice has to become a meditative experience which can lay the groundwork for deeper spiritual growth.

Pranayama can be described as the expansion of prana. In one day we take 21,600 breaths, he says. But we can expand the breath. And if we can expand the breath we can expand our life.

The ancient risis knew this, he reminded us, because of many, many years of practice, research and experimentation. He told a story of Guruji’s village, Koushika, where the great sage Vishvamitra did many thousands of years of meditation and research. Now everyone is rushing, but this research takes time!

Sharath reminded us that “yoga cannot be described. Yoga cannot be purchased. Yoga is all that happens within you.” And without the yamas and niyamas asanas are useless. He spoke of the importance of especially satya, to be truthful to yourself and others and asteya, not to steal. He also mentioned ahimsa, nonviolence. He warned us that asanas make us strong and create heat, but it is extremely important not to misuse the strength!

One of the points that made the biggest impact on me was a question regarding the global community of teachers and practitioners and the unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable conflict and competition that arises. Sharath really encouraged the community to commit to be wise enough not to fight, and instead to unite. To have an internal focus and not worry about the actions of others. To not get worked up in politics and external distractions, but instead to correct our own actions and build a supportive community that way.

 

Serengeti Namaskar: Yoga on Safari in Tanzania

driving into nothing
Driving into nothing…

We’ve been driving into the nothing for hours, it seems. Our caravan is made up of three Jeeps. Three amphibian Jeeps: vehicles that can be almost fully submerged in water and still run, I’ve learned. This can be particularly important on a safari, I’ve learned.

My companions are sixteen Israelis, one of who is my boyfriend, none of who want to speak much English. Our Tanzanian drivers are experts: they know this journey intimately. I can’t yet imagine knowing this nothing. It’s still an alien landscape on our first full day out on Safari.

Rumors bubble back and forth through the three Jeeps in Hebrew, crackling from the radio and gossiped by my boyfriend’s niece and her cousins. Bits and pieces are translated from sweet relatives for me, the lone American:

“We should arrive to the lodge by sundown,” I learn.

“Someone was attacked by a Buffalo there just last week,” I’m told.

“We’ll each have a tent,” I understand.

Before this phase of the journey into the uniform nothing landscape, the terrain has been varied. We drove through the lush rainforest-like mountains that surround the Ngorogoro Crater, then entered rolling hills and plains where Maasai grazed cattle outside our windows.

Maasai
Maasai children herding cows

 

“Can you imagine being Maasai?” our driver asked. “He walks all day. He is headed from nowhere to somewhere and back.”

And I can almost imagine it for a moment as I peer out the windows and see 360 degrees of nothing. Pure grey clay dirt stretching for miles. The scrub trees have long stopped decorating the terrain, and the herds of giraffe we came across a few hours back are nowhere to be seen.

Giraffe
The Lone Giraffe

 

But suddenly in the distance I see those flat-topped trees starting to appear again, adorning the earth, and as we approach the drivers make a sharp left turn. No signs. No indication that this might even be a road.

We drive slower now, the Jeeps staggering in parallel formation to avoid the other’s billow of white dust. We wind past the setting sun into thickening brush and suddenly take another left turn, this time at a small sign: Lake Masek Tented Lodge.

Lake Masek is a small lake several hours northwest of Arusha, at the corner of the Ngorogoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Reserve. This is where we’ll spend the night, right at the crux of these two legendary wildlife regions.

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Lake Masek Tented Lodge

Our caravan pulls up, and my heart skips a beat. We’ve arrived to a collection of tents, majestic, as they appear to float on top of stilted platforms among the trees. We unload in front of the main tent, my group of Israelis and me, powdered with dust kicked up from the nothing terrain and blown into our open Jeep windows.

Rumors percolate easier through the group outside of the Jeeps, and the translations come in again:

“It was a driver who was attacked by the Buffalo, just here, where we stand!” I learn.

“Do not leave your tent alone at night for any reason!” I’m told.

“Ring the main tent and an escort will be sent!” I understand.

My boyfriend hugs me close as we’re assigned to the Duma tent, Swahili for Cheetah, and escorted through the dusk by a Maasai warrior with a spear and a flashlight, checking the pathway for animals.

Once inside the mosquito nets the celebration is huge! We are in a tent, its khaki fabric spires draped above us, cascading around a white-netted four-poster bed. We’re shown a shower outside, under the stars, and a tub inside, under our canopy.

We smile like teenagers and skip around our tent, giddy.

“It’s like a dream!” we cheer.

Nighttime is colder than expected and we huddle under extra blankets. No insulation from the elements in our magical tent. I’ve set my yoga mat out and my alarm for just before sunrise, when I’ll practice on our deck, safe inside the screened netting, facing Lake Masek.

But something unplanned wakes me from deep, Jeep-rattled sleep. The bellows of a huge animal seem to be coming from directly under the raised platform of our tent. In the deepest dark I can’t tell if my boyfriend has heard it too, so I lay still as the beast, making noises that seem to signify some immense dissatisfaction, makes a temporary home underneath us…

After falling back to sleep post-buffalo, I rise with my alarm before the sun comes up but it’s too dark and cold to practice just yet. I wait a few minutes, listening to see if our nighttime visitor’s still around before stepping out of the bed onto cold wooden floors to roll out my mat on the front deck.

Masek Sunrise
Masek Sunrise

 

To the east the sky above the lake is just beginning to crack open with the first rays of red sunrise. It’s a scene I swallow up whole. I raise my arms with the first Surya Namaskar and smile towards this golden African dawn. I’m thinking suddenly that this is quite possibly my favorite place in the world so far. The deafening quiet of the stars. The simplicity of sleeping in a tent. The impossibility of this lodges’ existence in the middle of hours of driving through nothing. Even the visit from some huge potentially dangerous animal in the middle of the night has charmed me.

upward dog masek
Upward dog on our deck at Lake Masek

 

I take rest on my mat as the sky turns from golden-black to pink then inky blue; the sun casting rays across Lake Masek.

As we leave the tent with our Maasai escort (still wielding his spear) we see definite evidence of our visitor: huge buffalo droppings, just next to our stairs!

The group reconvenes, bleary-eyed from the excitement of it all, and possibly from lack of sleep:

“The mosquitoes kept me up,” says one.

“There was a hyena outside our tent!” reports another.

I tell them of our Buffalo visitor and of my early morning yoga practice.

We set out again that day, north towards the Serengeti and the Kenyan boarder. No longer driving through nothing, the terrain turns from rusty orange grasses to green fields and dried streams. Our safari will see Elephants and Giraffes, we’ll see Ostriches mating and Wildebeest migrating across the Mara River. I’ll even teach the group yoga in a sparkling glass-windowed room deep in the Serengeti. The magic of this terrain and this country will flicker in our eyes for the entire week. But still, I think I’ll hold on tightest to the memory of our first night in tents along the lake, after hours of driving into the nothing. Of our escort with a spear, of the Buffalo under our tent and the next morning’s practice with the African Sunrise…a Serengeti Namaskar.

lululemon Lincoln Square: March Studio of the Month!

lulu newsletter
Studio owner Lara of Land Yoga has been chosen to be lululemon Lincoln Square’s newest ambassador and to celebrate we’re featured as the studio of the month! Every Sunday in March you can catch either Lara or I teaching a FREE Sunday Salutations class at the 1928 Broadway location (near 64th street). Class starts at 9:30am sharp – and they fill up so get there early! Last week there were over 35 yogis in the store for my class.

I was also asked by the nice folks down there to be a ‘new product model’ for their February 26th newsletter (which also happens to be my birthday, fun surprise:)) which went out to over 19,000 people on their mailing list. Check out the newsletter, visit the store for some new yoga gear, and come join me for one of my FREE classes, schedule is on my Teaching Schedule page!

Post-India Daze

Dana Colors

Dana Colors
It takes me roughy a month to decompress from life in India and settle back in to the peculiar comforts of western life. I love these post-India days. I remember my time in Mysore vividly through my jet lag. It was truly inspiring. As I grocery shop in Harlem at 6am because I can’t sleep, the days seem to swirl together, peppered with the smooth, polished sounds of Sanskrit chanting and the peculiar rhythms of the Indian tabla drums. They burn bright in my memory with Indian sunshine. They were fueled by the crispy masala dosa, and buzzed with the caffeine from sweet chai.

My physical asana practice felt steady, challenging, but surprisingly pain-free.

My boyfriend was able to join me there for the last half of the journey and we bonded over our deep love for the country, zooming through town on a rented scooter, marveling at the perfect chaos of each intersection we somehow survived.

And I started to study the Yoga Sutras with a wonderful teacher. After the talks I’d ride home on the back of Michael’s motorcycle, grateful for the helmet on my head, which seemed to be guarding not only my actual skull, but also my thoughts from spilling out of my ears as they ran wild with philosophical questions, realizations, revelations.

I tried, as my teacher Sharath says he does, to practice yoga 24 hours a day. I’m sure I failed, but I’m sure that doesn’t matter.

I started to examine what it means to “have a practice.” I’ve been bending my body for nearly ten years now. I’ve been dedicated to a spiritual practice for about five. I’ve been trying to seriously apply the principles of a yogic life to my life for about three years.

And I feel small.

I feel like I’m a total beginner.

I feel I know nothing of the depths of practice.

And it’s thrilling.

So I dive deeper.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes Practice as ‘Any effort entered in the direction of restraining the tendencies of the mind,’ and says that practice should be ‘long-termed, continuous and done with dedication (love and respect) to be fruitful.’

In that way the physical asanas start to change the patterning of our outer material body. The yamas and niyamas shape or reshape the way we interact with the world and treat ourselves. As we withdraw our minds from the chatter, we’re practicing feeling the stillness.

And in that way, in anything and everything, in each moment of our day, we can practice.

How do you practice? How do you  still the fluctuating tendencies of your mind?  Do you do it with love and respect?

*photo by Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos

“You can sail around and around on the ocean for years. But it’s only when you dive in that you know the beauty of the sea.” -R. Sharath Jois

conference

Conference Notes December 8, 2013

conference

It seems like the whole shala has been sick at these past few weeks. Poor Sharath finally caught the bug and began conference apologizing and telling us he’d do his best to get through. His doubt was unfounded because he delivered an inspiring and poignant conference, as always!

Sharath began conference this week by quoting a passage from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. By doing asana, it explains, sweat is produced. We shouldn’t waste the sweat, but instead to rub it back into the skin (a note to all you vigilant sweat wipers!). This opens the pores and allows all the toxins to come out, which in turn makes the body light and strong. Sweat should come from within, from hard work, not from a heated room. Through the effort of working on asanas and building stamina we sweat and cleanse.

He also made sure to note that we should work towards a balance of every element of practice, both strength and flexibility. That’s why in this system Guruji taught primary series first, beginning with the Surya Namaskara. The teacher should analyze the practice of a beginner, as the work with sun salutations. They should see that the vinyasa is done correctly and move them slowly along, building strength and flexibility from the ground up. The body should be given time to adjust to the asanas and the vinyasa system. Vinyasa plays a big role in the sweat and detoxing process within our practice and it is very important to do it correctly.

We really got into a discussion on the breathing style used during our asana practice. Sharath really wants us to understand that what we are doing is free, unrestricted breathing with a little sound. It is not ujjayi pranayama! This is a pranayama technique, which is totally separate from the breath we use during practice. We should hear the sound of our breath, but we shouldn’t try to breath very loud or very strong. That would be too taxing during the intense physical exercises we’re doing. The inhales and exhales should be even. We should relax into each posture with a free flow of breath.

In connection with our lively discussion on breath, a student asked about how bhandas relate to the breath. Sharath said he didn’t even mention bhandas in the discussion because they should be active all the time! Udiyana is more pronounced on the inhale and mula is stronger during exhale. Jalandara, he said is mostly reserved for pranayama. Only when bhandas are perfect during asana should we move on to pranayama. Asanas are like our test grounds to perfect bhandas to ensure that when we get to pranayama study, they are a sturdy foundation.

Despite the physical nature of our asana practice, we are not in Mysore (or attending Mysore style yoga classes in our hometowns/countries) to work out. We are here to gain better clarity and more knowledge. We are here, Sharath reminds us, to bring peace to ourselves and to come to know who we are. The practice can reveal the answer to the question “who am I?” if we let it…

Sharath also took time to address some of the most common questions he gets from students: how often should I practice, how much should I eat and how much should I sleep? All of these should be done in moderation, he said. We should do a little physical asana practice once a day, we should eat enough food to nourish and fuel us, not too much that we become dull, and we should sleep for 6.5 – 7 hours per night. Moderation in everything!

Next a student asked about correcting mistakes. At some point we’ve all, knowingly or unknowingly, hurt another person. So how do we correct the mistakes and move on? Sharath says, simply, to be a better person. Yoga is an ideal tool to help us be better. Make up from your mistakes by changing and acting differently in the future. He reminds us, yet again, that yoga is not just gymnastics. If we are in Mysore to work out and show off, don’t come! Come to learn and be a better person. The world needs more people like yogis. People who learn from their mistakes and actively try to do better going forward.

“You can sail around and around on the ocean for years. But it’s only when you dive in that you know the beauty of the sea.” It’s like this that we should try to dive deeper into yoga, past the physicality of it. We should use it as a tool and an exploration to know ourselves.

“Yoga is my breath and my heart.” –R. Sharath Jois

sharath

Conference Notes December 1, 2013

sharath
Sharath receiving an award

Sharath began conference by quoting a passage from the Bhagavad Gita and noting that yoga is not new to us. It was old even when the Bagavad Gita was written! He said that when god created this universe, then yoga started.

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna talks about parampara. This means the passing of knowledge from guru to student. A guru is no ordinary teacher…he is one who dispels darkness and gives proper knowledge: jnana. So, Sharath says, we don’t learn yoga through videos or books. Without a teacher it is impossible to transfer proper knowledge.

I’m always happy when he talks about the difference between cultures in the West and here in the East. He’s aware that most of us in the shala from the western world are used to questioning authority and he’s sympathetic to our experience but invites us to try to surrender. There is a difference in cultural norms from the west to the east. In the west it’s ok to question and rebel from the teacher, but in the east there is a surrender required, which can make practice so much sweeter.

To illustrate, Sharath tells the story of a day he was in a lot of pain from practicing and assisting Guruji with all the students in backbends. During his practice, Guruji came to him to drop him back and Sharath said “No I think I shouldn’t do backbending today.” Guruji smiled and said “no it’s ok, you do,” and somehow as he surrendered to him, he had no pain. It was one of his best practices!

He goes on to say that there’s too much attention on books and videos today that teach the technicalities of yoga. How to jump back and through. How to do asanas. This creates confusion. There should be more attention on the fundamentals of yoga: how to behave, how to act: the yamas and niyamas. These fundamentals make our spiritual foundations strong.

Of course asana is very important but we should understand why. Yoga is to bring health and stability to the body, it is sacred, supreme knowledge. Sharath begs us to leave from our mind the thoughts that a physically advanced practice means an advanced yogi. This is just not true!

There was also time for some student questions during conference. Someone asked how the parampara lineage in Ashtanga Yoga is designed to pick a successor. Sharath explained that it is not designed like that in the Ashtanga system…its not like an ashram, no successor is selected to take the place of the guru. He said (and he’s said it before, which I love) that if we have the knowledge, each one of us can be the successor of the Ashtanga lineage!

There was a question about the six enemies of yoga practice: lust, anger, attraction, pride, greed and jealousy. He makes sure to note that they are enemies to humans, not just to yoga. We are like a pearl covered in an oyster shell. We have six layers outside of us just waiting to be shelled off and to reveal the pearl within, the true authentic self. This takes a lot of hard work. It doesn’t come by taking a workshop or gaining an authorization. But if we are consistent we can make progress.

Sharath also took time to address one of Guruji’s famous quotes: “99% Practice, 1% Theory.” A lot of students have misunderstood the meaning of the quote, he said. It doesn’t mean that we should just do asanas all day and only think about a little bit of theory. On the contrary, it means whatever theory we learn, read, study or encounter, we should put to the text by practicing it applying it to our life. Only then, through practicing the theory is it useful to us.

Someone posed an excellent question, asking: can Ashtanga yoga change the world? I think all of us in the room knew the answer and were so happy to hear him affirm that yes, if practiced correctly, yoga can change the world. Tenants such as ahimsa (nonviolence) can be extremely important to creating world peace. Awareness of our natural world, the resources and their value is vital to saving the world. Again he talked about Guruji, how he never sought fame, but lived simply and did his practice. We too, he advises, should not chase fame and money, let it chase us…run away from it.

To close there was a question about money. Are finances an obstacle to learning yoga today? Sharath immediately answered yes, but said that the KPJAYI has a scholarship program and quite a few students are studying on scholarships. I think it’s important for shalas all over the world to follow suit, offering work exchanges, scholarships and other ways to help make yoga more accessible so that anyone and everyone who wants can become part of this life and possibly world changing yoga.

 

Full

The full moon was November 17. In traditional Ashtanga Yoga practice, we take rest on the new and full moon. Many believe that because humans are made mostly of water, we too, are affected by the pull of the moon. The moon’s relative position to the earth creates energetic atmospheres, and the full moon’s energy is characterized by an expansive force which can be powerful and full of emotion, but often lacks the feeling of grounding. These are some observations from the full moon day in Mysore…

 

I’m full,

Floating against this evening’s pale blue sky.

I’m whole,

my illuminated orb

hangs steady,

moving easy over your horizon.
You take rest.

 

I am dogs barking:

Huddled in packs on the street’s

red clay corner.

Growling, lips curled above canine teeth

until one’s distracted by your smile,

tail wagging, at peace again.

Then pulled back to the wrestle

with a quick bite, a sharp yip.

 

I am this little boy’s mischief:

Reflected on his dilated pupils

and the rocks he throws –

like insults beyond his age,

tied to firecrackers,

two weeks past Dwali.

 

I’ve waxed on this energy,

Your nerves

Pulled up like the tide

against chewed finger nails.

Your creative storm surge:

the volume of your chants,

the ferocity of your smile,

the depth of your tears.