In my opinion the way the conference started was the most notable thing, especially in light of how conference ended. Sharath THANKED us, his students. HE thanked US for making room for each other and adjusting to the crowdedness. He told us that they were doing their best at the shala to fulfill every students needs both in terms of asana and spiritual development. He took the time out to say those things and it touched me very deeply. It also embarrassed me. I mean there he is, sleeping something like 3 hours a night, working crazy hours looking into each of our practices and I believe, our souls, and he’s thanking us. It was humbling. It was touching. It was embarrassing. It was real. And I think it makes a good beginning to this blogs ending, but I’m skipping ahead…
Sharath then dove into conference. He spoke about his grandfather, Guruji and how he brought Ashtanga yoga to light. He explained the definition of Ashtanga, 8 limbs, and went into the elements of first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, noting that the first three limbs (Yama, Niyama, Asana) are external but without them the internal limbs will not happen. Sharath pointed out how hard it is to follow the Yamas and Niyamas and encouraged us to practice them while doing our asana practice. He said that once one has rooted himself in the Yamas and Niyamas, he will automatically go to the higher levels. One can not get there (close to G-d, enlightenment, infinite) if one has dirt or blockages inside and out.
Sharath said one of the biggest problems he sees is with Brahmacharya (celibacy or being true to one’s partner). He also spoke quite lengthily about Asteya (stealing) sharing the subtler layers of stealing which I have found extremely important to be careful of. He said taking easy money can be stealing and to be wary of it. He also warned (and I follow this strictly) that one should not take gifts that were not earned or too many gifts from one person.
Next Sharath spoke about Saucha (cleanliness) and the two kinds: internal and external. He spent more time on internal cleanliness, making clear that it involves good thoughts, good actions, a purified nervous system, eating pure food and more. Santosha (contentment) has to do with being satisfied with what one has. Sharath said that happiness comes from developing this.
He then spoke of Tapas which he said is to lead a disciplined life. He made sure we understood that this doesn’t mean hurting ourselves. It involves keeping to a schedule and avoiding things that disturb our practice. This included poor eating and having too much food especially at night time.
Sharath spoke of Svadhyaya (self study), saying it does not mean you don’t need a teacher. The Guru brings out the light inside of the student. He noted (and I thought it was an important point) that the relationship between Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana is very close. This has to do with the element of surrender. Sharath shared how he sees many people have a fear of surrendering but encouraged us to do so noting that it is not the kind of white flag surrender which sends you to prison! Once the mind and body are pure it is easy to connect to a higher energy. Sharath said the best way is through Japa. We should chant a mantra that speaks to us daily a half hour before bed. By constant chanting you go into a different stage and connect to the divine. BUT you can’t just chant and have bad thoughts in your head, you must do it meaningfully and devotionally or it is better not to chant at all.
Sharath said you can practice yoga for 35 years but unless you try to follow the yamas and niyamas it has NO MEANING.