There is no way to Peace. Peace is the Way. - Mahatma Gandhi
Conference Notes 9/9/12
Sharath had one main point for this conference: If your approach to yoga is to try to get every asana, you are going to find yourself in a tough position. There are millions of asanas. The amount of asanas is equal to the amount of life forms on earth, including things that grow from the ground like trees and other plants, the organisms that come out in your sweat, animals in the water, and those that hatch from eggs. The poses reflex nature in all its forms.
Through our lineage, the lineage of Krishnamacharya, we have 600-1,000 asanas. In our tradition the poses are broken up into beginner (Primary series), intermediate, and advanced. If you try to rush through these or skip ahead you will injure yourself and create bad health. One asana should be perfected before moving on to the next. Guruji used to say a person needs to do a single asana 1,000 times before it is perfected. The first group of poses called the Primary Series is extremely important for the pulmonary system, digestion, flexibility, stability, and all around good health. It should be practiced for some time before moving on.
Intermediate Series is called Nadi Shodhana (nerve cleansing). Sharath pointed out that all the series including Primary have the element of Shodhana (cleansing), but it is most intense in the intermediate poses. This series of asanas focuses on back bending. Sharath emphasizes that back bending is not just about the back but requires a lot of strength in the legs. This must be built up first. To highlight the importance of patience in one's approach to the practice, Sharath shared his own experience of a two year period where he did not receive any additional asanas from his grandfather. He even admitted to his own impatience at the time.
The advanced series, Sthira Bhaga, translated as "divine steadiness" or "strength and grace" focuses on increasing stability. Sharath didn't say much about advanced which is typical. Those poses come from the teacher when the student is ready and as with all the poses, should not be learned from books or video. Sharath emphasized how important a teacher is in this process and how you can always tell when a student has learned with out the guidance of a teacher because of incorrect Vinyasa. The correct linking of breath and movement is EXTREMELY important. Done properly, this it is the key to stability and good health, but done improperly, agitation and bad health will occur.
As usual, there was a time for questions. A student asked about what to do when the mind starts to drift during practice and Sharath remarked kindly how this will happen even to long term practitioners. Doing Japa, the repetition of a mantra or divine name is helpful. Mostly we should remember, that slowly by slowly the body and then the mind will change. Sharath maintained, we can not change the world, but we can change ourselves. Through the practice we can become calm, focused, and manage our own thoughts and actions. The limbs of yoga are not simply practiced, but ultimately absorbed. Given time and proper practice this will occur. Then, as Gandhi became a living, breathing example of Ahimsa (non-violence), so will we come to live yoga, expressing it as a quality in all we do.