The topic of this week's conference was Bandhas.
Sharath said that students always ask why we talk about Posture, Breath, and Gaze in regards to the focal points in our asana practice but not about Bandhas. This is because Bandhas are meant to be engaged all the time, not only during asana practice.
Bandha means stopping or sealing and involves a contraction at the specified area.
The three most important Bandhas for us to know about are Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and M. Jalandhara involves bringing the chin toward the next to lock the throat. Uddiyana is engaged by contracting the area of the lower abdomen located 4 inches below the belly button. Mula Bandha is found by engaging the muscles of pelvic floor located between the genitals and the anus.
Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha should always be active.
Guruji said that one should turn on Mula Bandha each morning like a light switch and keep it all day until turning it off for bed. (My note.)
Jalandhara Bandha is used primarily in pranayama and in some asanas but is not engaged constantly. Sharath said there are many shastras explaining the benefits of the Bandhas and one main effect is the yogi appears to be quite young, even in old age. (Looking around the room I noted the numerical ages of my peers and nodded in agreement that the slowing and even reversing of the aging process is a visible effect of the yoga practice.)
Sharath went on to explain that all of us are made up of the Pancha Bhutas (five elements): earth, water, air, sky, and fire. The source of these elements is the Supreme Power or Supreme Energy. (Sharath explains that he is now avoiding the use of the word G-d because it scares people away). The source to controling the mind is Mula Bandha. The one who masters Mula Bandha becomes a Raja Yogi (King Yogi).
How does Mula Bandha come? (Like everything else) through practice. Sharath explained that we don't know when it will come because it is not a holding like holding a mat bag. The Bandha in an internal energy that when it is tapped into heals each organ and gives the body supreme strength, especially in the lower abdomen.
Sharath noted that if Mula Bandha comes, Uddiyana Bandha comes automatically, and vice versa.
He said many struggle with Karandavasana even though they have strong arms and this is because their Bandhas are weak, mentioning that this is also the case with those who have difficulty jumping through forward and back in their vinyasas. Sharath said that once one is connect to her Bandhas there is a feeling like flying in the practice. The whole body comes into her control.
The other element to attaining this kind of control of the body is concentration.
With proper concentration, the asana practice becomes a meditation and Dhyana happens automatically. Sharath said that this is what we should build. We should bring that meditation to practice in our asana.
Q: A student asked if they have a dedicated student who is stuck at a certain pose for a couple years, for example Marichasana D, and not binding, is there ever an exception where Sharath would give them the next pose.
Sharath gave a swift, "No" before going on to say that there is no pose a student can't get if he practices it in the proper way. It may take years, but it will come. If it isn't coming that is due to too much thinking or fear. Then the body will resist. But eventually the pose will come. (There are some exceptions which Sharath did elaborate on but I leave out since it applies only to yoga teachers.)
Q: Another question was about how to practice the Bandhas.
Sharath said to work on holding them especially in Podmasana while breathing. The lower belly should not move, only the chest. He also highlighted Utpluthi and Navasana as important asanas for strengthening Mula Bandha and the waist, noting that when one strengthens the waist, the Bandhas get stronger.
Q: There was a funnily phrased question about what Sharath means when he says "inhale lift up, exhale jump back".
Sharath said he means "inhale lift up, exhale jump back".
He expounded saying that the student should first learn how to lift upward and only then kick the legs back. They shouldn't try to jump back all at once especially if they don't have the lift. (Land Yoga students have heard me say this 100x)
Sharath also made a point to say that learning to jump back can take many years of practice.
Q: A student asked Sharath to show us some breathing techniques he had mentioned previously.
Sharath showed a very simple alternate side breathing with no retention
and equal lengths inhale and exhale. He explained the benefits of this technique which include getting rid of allergies, relieving nose blockages, curing asthma and reducing stress and anxiety.
"Breath controls the mind"
, Sharath said. When we are stressed our breathing pattern changes. We lose control of our breath when we have too much emotion and its rhythm is lost. Stress, anger, even too much happiness/laughing can disrupt the breath. Sharath encouraged us to sit in a corner and practice the alternate side breathing when we are feeling "like hitting (someone)".
Q: Someone asked how to help a student when they have fear in an asana.
Sharath said that when one is stuck in fear, the fear is dominating where the person should be dominating the fear. The student needs to work it out. "A little fear is good, "
Sharath said with a smile, "No fear, No fun."
He also noted that by daily practice the student should be able to let the fear go. Fear represents some weakness and yoga practitioners have to be "a little bit brave." To see ones inward purity, one has to let go of fear. Only a yogi who has no fear will be able to see the purity inside and recognize his purest form.
Sharath shared a story about Vivekananda, one of India's most important yogis and the man credited with bringing yoga to the west. Vivekananda came to the US in 1893 to teach people yoga, but many were scared. One man told Vivekananda that he didn't look like a gentleman because he wasn't wearing a blazer. Vivekandanda responded that in the West a tailor makes you a gentleman, but in India only by purifying the inside does one become a gentleman. By how one behaves, reacts, and by ones thoughts does one become a gentleman. Not by blazer wearing and not by saffron wearing either. By looks no one can become a gentleman.
The believe in India is that everyone is born a Yogi. Our true nature is that of a yogi and until 6 or so years of age we are close to G-d like. By our environment we are taught greed and cheating and move away from our true nature. (As Sharath spoke these words you could hear children outside laughing playfully.)
Q: There was a question about why Japa is done at night and not in the morning time.
Sharath responded that we have our yoga practice in the morning. After that by engaging with the world and with each other we will have many distractions. If we do Japa at the end of the day (about 1/2 hour before bed) we will clear our worries and sleep well.