As it was the last conference of the season this week, I thought I’d share my favourite quotes and ‘Sharathisms’ from my time here in Mysore.
Every Sunday afternoon, all the students currently practising at KPJAYI with both Sharath and Saraswathi (his mother), cram themselves into the main shala for Sharath’s weekly conference. There’s always a hushed silence as he walks out of his office onto the stage and sits cross legged on his throne (ok, chair). We hold our hands in prayer position while he utters a brief prayer under his breath, then we eagerly await his words of wisdom to begin.
There’s usually a pregnant pause filled with anticipation while he surveys the room, gazing at the faces of all his students. I get the impression he doesn’t plan what he’s going to say and still doesn’t necessarily know, even once he’s sat down in front of us. It almost feels like he’s some kind of channel and the teachings merely come through him. Once he starts speaking I find I’m completely mesmerised and he holds my attention like no other speaker I’ve met.
His son, Sambhav, often joins him on stage, either mimicking his father by sitting cross legged on a chair beside him, or playing with toy cars and aeroplanes before picking his way through the seated crowd, much to the amusement of his captive audience. After Sharath has spoken for a while on some aspect of daily practice or yogic philosophy, he’ll invite questions from his students and answer them as best he can, often talking at length on a particular topic in order to ensure we’ve fully grasped the concept or understood the message.
The following are some of my favourite conference quotes from the last 3 months (direct quotes in blue).
Yoga is like terrain management. This was in reference to the Land Cruiser’s new feature, Terrain Management. The road can be sometimes smooth, often rough or bumpy, and can have lots of twists and turns, like Lombard Street in San Francisco. Yoga helps you navigate through it.
Yoga is like a knife. If you know how to use it, it has many benefits but if you don’t it can hurt you.
Fear is dominating you; you should dominate the fear. Work out how to let go the fear. A little fear is good. No fear no fun! Everything comes too easily then. But fear will make you weak. Yoga practitioners have to be a little bit brave. He also said that there’s no asana you won’t get, even if it takes many years. It’s just your mind, e.g. fear, stopping you.
Shouldn’t do teacher trainings, just practice for 15 years, that’s your teacher training. Doing asanas all day destroys your body; destroys your mind. In 500 hours you become a yogi? Definitely not! Takes 500 lives.
Where is the sadhana [practice]? Sadhana is very important, not only to make a good teacher, but for personal transformation. A yogi will do sadhana his whole life, regardless of the number of students. If you don’t have sadhana how can you teach others? He added that you need sadhana for progress in spiritual practice.
Sharath explained that bhakti [devotion] doesn’t happen initially but develops as you get deeper into your practice. Yoga is like going to a church, temple or mosque. Initially you only go because someone, e.g. your parents, encourages you to, then the devotion comes. Something inside you will take you to the temple. Something in you is drawing you. Practice should be like a puja; like a prayer.
Karma is like garlic – it doesn’t go away. By doing good things we should get rid of all bad karma.
I can’t say yoga is because of me. I’m because of yoga.
Mother is the first guru, the No.1 guru. Who teaches you to walk, to crawl, to talk? Your mother. Then your schoolteachers become your gurus and so on. We have different gurus at different stages of our life, but we should always be gaining knowledge.
We made some sutras: “No pain, no gain.” “No coffee, no prana.” “No chapatis, no strength.”
In reference to hot yoga: This type of sweating is not good, it’ll make you weak – because it’s gained effortlessly, rather than being created yourself, like the prana [energy, life force] we generate during Ashtanga asana practice. Not good for your heart; heart will get weaker. Breathing hot air, someone else’s exhalation, will make you sick physically and mentally – as body is controlled by mind and mind is controlled by breath. Here he gave the example of being able to control an emotion such as anger by using the breath to calm ourselves down.
Without asana, mind won’t be stable. Try stopping for 15 days and see how you feel. Mind becomes sharper, body becomes strong and active.
Mind is like monkey, jumping here and there. How to still that mind is called yoga. Many people get scared. “Oh, I still the mind, I go crazy!”
We have a saying in Kannada: “A guru will never forget; some students will never learn.” It should come within you to learn yoga. A guru awakens you, makes you capable to handle anything.
Problem with many students is they get confused. Think if they try all different systems, go to different teachers, will gain more knowledge. But doesn’t work like that. You have to follow one system.
Whenever the rain falls, ultimately it has to go to the ocean. This was in reference to all deities ultimately being the same; the divine. It’s important to devote to one God. Indians are brought up on faith. Even very poor people still have faith which gives them internal strength. It’s important to trust in one deity. You should know each God’s part. Jesus is the greatest yogi. Jesus, Shiva, Ganesh, Parvati – all come from Isvara [God, supreme being]. All the same. Just energy. There’s only one God.
Knowing only asana is like having a vehicle but not knowing how to drive it. In other words, you need to know the other 7 limbs of yoga, not just the physical aspect of asana practice. He also said that your teacher can show you where the coconut tree is and give you some tips on how to climb it, but ultimately you have to climb the tree yourself.
Sharath explained that spirituality means having a good heart and that a spiritual person works for the benefit of all humanity and cares for every living being. Everybody’s heart is good. Good heart, disturbed mind, i.e. if someone is not leading a good life or has bad karma, it’s not the heart that is disturbed; only the mind.
On the question of vegetarianism: Just look at our teeth. Our teeth are like cows’ teeth – we don’t have canines like lions and tigers. We’re not born as carnivores; we’re natural vegetarians.
Sharath explained there’s an Indian saying that’s used when referring to people with large bellies: Ever pregnant; never delivery!
Yoga will take you deeper and deeper and make you a different person. Then your perception and attitude will change.
Spirituality has to grow within you, like a banyan tree. A banyan tree called yoga should grow slowly in each of us.