We are here. Me and my two daring, dedicated students, Porter and Allison. We didn’t get here quickly. We took the only route there is to India, the long one. The night before we left we were at Land Yoga Shala for the New Years Eve Candle Lit Class and Meditation. Twenty-four students arrived ready to purge themselves of all that didn’t work in 2013 and emerge clean, clear, & open for 2014. It was breath-taking. I helped each student to recite a mantra and we set fire literally what they wrote they wanted no longer. Then we practiced half primary series in a circular formation, each mat lit by candle light and Guruji’s image at the front surrounded by flames and fresh flowers. Our practice was dedicated to letting go and creating space. After the asana practice I talked the students through a 25 minute meditation to enhance the feeling of openness, forgiveness, and readiness for what’s next. We concluded the night with a blissful chanting of OM and as midnight struck and I could sense we all entered 2014 with a feeling of presence and excitement.
I stayed up all night. 5:15AM the car came and the journey began… 32 hours to Mysore, India. It’s hard to explain what happens to the brain, body, and spirit on a journey like that. One enters a different zone. It’s trying, but I have to admit I like it. I need it. The hours provide the space I need to transition out of western and prepare to enter eastern life. I sleep and sleep and during that sleep I heal and digest and when I arrive in India I feel more ready. And one has to be ready, because India is always coming for you. India is the mother who will give you every lesson you need. She will love you, but it won’t be easy. You will take your medicine. You may at times be punished. But if you go with flow, if you try to listen to her heartfelt directions, you will flourish. Ma is good.
We checked into Green Hotel and because India wanted it so, we have 4 glorious nights here before moving into our “permanent” home for the month on Shala road. We’ve registered for our classes at KPJAYI, done a good deal of scarf and bangle shopping, there was some pool time, and today we climbed to the top of Chamundi Hill stopping at the Shiva Temple and receiving all the blessings and prasad we could. It was wonderful. It was my eighth time to the top and it may have been my favorite, which just shows how mood and company and weather and all those funny factors can make any experience.
But that peak wasn’t THE peak. The high of the day was our first Conference of the trip. Sharath gives Conference on Sundays and it’s like getting filled up with your favorite most nourishing food. That’s the best way I can explain it. It’s divine. Just sitting near Sharath and feeling his words makes me so happy. In Sanskrit there are four levels of translation to any passage and though Sharath speaks in English, I believe we have this too. I always try to hear the deepest meaning, the essence, of his speech.
Here’s what he had to say today:
Sharath began with a reminder of the importance of quality of breath. There is a believe that we have a set amount of breaths in our lifetime so by drawing out the breath and taking fewer breaths each day we can increase our lifespan. There are also asanas that extend life by preserving Amrita Bindu (vital energy). The most important are Sarvangasana and Sirsasana with all their variations. Sharath made a point to say that these asanas can be practiced by anyone, even some with blood pressure issues, if done correctly (no pressure on the head) and under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Then he demonstrated!
A student asked about having imbalance between the right and left sides of his body. He felt that because podmasana is always right foot first that this would increase the imbalance. Sharath reminded him of asanas like Marichasana D where left food does go into the podmasana position. In podmasana right foot is always first because of pressure you want on the liver and spleen and also because that is what the shastras say.
Later another student asked about why we do the right side of each posture first and Sharath gave a beautiful explanation about energy flow. What I took is that he really wanted people to understand that it’s not that right is good and left is bad. (His daughter is left-handed.) But there is a natural energy flow which occurs through out the body. Energy flows in through the right side and then around and out the left. Remember what I said earlier about Mother India- Go With the Flow! Sharath compared it to another energetic flow int he body, the digestive process, and told a rather graphic story of Krishnamacharya explaining that though you have two holes in the body, there is one you put food into and one it comes out of. Similarly, each part and side of the body has a different energetic purpose.
Sharath spoke about perfecting one asana before even thinking of the next and quoted Guruji as saying an asana must be done 1,000 times before it is perfected. At the same time, Sharath also reminded the group that practice isn’t to be judged by how well one thinks one had performed his asanas or a particular asana that day (for example catching ones heals in back bending). It’s being on the mat and doing ones practice that is in itself having a good practice and he reiterated how important this was to remember.
He spoke of the obstacles to “long termed, uninterrupted, devotional practice” and specifically expounded on lazinesses. Sharath said that the day you feel too lazy to get out of bed is a day that laziness is dominating you. You should dominate it by defying it and doing your practice that day. He said, as I’ve often heard him say, and have experienced myself, that the day you do that will be your best practice and your mind will become very strong from defying its obstacles.
This prompted a student to ask about self doubt to which Sharath replied that doubt is good because with out doubt there can be no improvement. If we think we are perfect we have no where to go. When one knows what one needs to work on, that self knowledge is very good. It can’t end there, though. Improving self means making in effort in that direction. One shouldn’t get stuck in self pity but move forward using the Yamas and Niyamas as a guide.