Monday, December 20, 2010

Conference: Kriya Yoga, Savasana Demo & the Tortuous Uplutihih

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In fine form today, Sharath comes out of his office. Taking his time, he pulls out a chair and looks around. He looks stern and serious as he asks, motioning to the room, which is filling up with new arrivals everyday, "What you talk about?"

He cracks one of his subtle smiles and relaxes, “So loud!”

We laugh at his punch line, we move in towards the stage to make room for all the new students (there are a lot of new faces) and settle down properly to hear him speak.

Sharath launches today’s conference by putting emphasis on kriya yoga. In Sanskrit, kriya means action. He says action is important in our practice. He says there are 3 key actions: 1) tapas or discipline, 2) svadyaya or self-study and 3) ishvarapranidhanadva or surrender to god (whatever god that may be, he adds). He says also its good to do japa mala to the god of your own choosing.

He talks about the importance of effort. As is his way, when he talks about yoga philosophy, he analogizes using his own experience. He uses himself as an example of effort, saying that he is not before us today because he was born into a yoga family. Rather, he is here before us based on his own efforts, that he did not seek out being a teacher. He even intimates that if he had his own way he would prefer the role of student.

At some point in Sharath’s discourse, Sharradah bounces up onto the stage to speak to her father. They exchange some words in Kannada, and he sends her off. Once he is on the stage by himself again, he shares with the room, “She is asking if she can use my computer.” The timing in his delivery makes the cursory remark seem so funny.

I love conferences that have this lighthearted mood to it. Sure, it’s still serious. Everyone listens earnestly but there is something fun about it. It’s a pleasure to just sit there and absorb it all.

He talks about how yoga can alter one's life for the good. He asks us to look at the day of a non-yoga practitioner versus that of a yoga practitioner. There is a huge difference, he says. He speaks from his own life: he gets up early, her practices, he stays home, and doesn't go out. He admits it wasn't always so, that he used to love to go out and socialize, but that he's settled down since. Tapas, svadyaya, ishvarapranidhanadva.

He says that these changes are happening to us too. That at some level, our discipline is kicking in. That when 6 o'clock in the evening rolls around, we are thinking of going home, having dinner, heading to bed. This is true. My life seems to have changed dramatically since I started yoga, and for the better. More so since I've been in Mysore.

He starts to take questions:

Someone asks about whether there is a proper form to taking savasana and is turning around and having feet face the opposite direction more respectful? He answers, "It doesn't matter."

I was told this by a teacher so I felt a little embarrassed when he said it didn’t matter, "just lie down."

(These conferences are slowly undoing some habits I’ve picked over the years—-many from other yoga teachers. Already I’ve stopped sweeping my arms up from the floor in the ekam of Surya A and kicking up into a haphazard lift up into a semi-handstand after Warrior B, the later he even demonstrated as an easy going lift up which is actually a lot harder than what I was doing before.)

Then he actually corrects us saying that the pose that we’ve been referring to as savasana is actually sukhasana. Herm? He explains that savasana is not like you’re sleeping, you're not relaxed. Rather, it’s a dead man’s pose, where the body is still and straight as a stick.

He asks Alex Medin to come up to demonstrate. He shows Alex how to interlock his fingers. With hands cupped behind Sharath’s head, Alex lifts him. Sharath’s body, stiff as board, comes up easily to standing. Wild! We are all amazed and thrilled by the demonstration. In sukhasana, he answers later, it doesn’t mater if your palms are up or down, so long as you’re completely relaxed. Noted!

One student asks him whether its ok to take more than 5 breaths in the practice. He says, yes, its ok but jokes if everyone would do this turnover in shala would be too slow. He does say that if a person is finding difficulty with a particular pose, he can go up to 8 counts. Before moving on to another question, he jokes with the student, “Your breathing or my breathing?” He swiftly pumps his breath into quick bursts of inhales and exhales, then does his version, slow and controlled.
I look back to see that the student smiling.

Prompted by a question about padmasana, he talks of the importance of a steady padmasana, especially during pranayama. At some point, he shares a story about Krishnamacharya, who was traveling with a group of students up north. They visited one yoga school (he said he wouldn’t say which) where someone was practicing pranayama incorrectly with his left foot first in padmasana and using his left hand for nadi shodhana.

Krishnamacharya was upset by the sight, angrily he tells the man, if you're going to use that hand, you might as well eat food not through your mouth but through the other hole. Sharath leans in to the audience and takes up his left hand, "you know what you use this hand for?" Again, more laughter. Ashtanga students are very comfortable with toilet humor.

Another student, asks if it’s ok to “cheat,” to take extra breaths in uplutihih. Sharath usually starts counting “one” by the time a normal human being will have had about 5 breaths. Then he continues to count very slowly. He says there are two reasons why uplutihih is held for a long time: one, because it develops the mula banda and the udiyana banda and second—he pauses here for effect—“it’s fun!”

We all laugh, being on the receiving end of his good humor twice a week, doing our best to hold uplutihih for what feels like 30 breaths instead of 10.

Then he recalls something, provoking one of those quiet laughs of his. He shares a story of Guruji when they were on tour in Australia. Guruji was leading an intermediate led class, he tells. He says that touring was very tiring.

Guriji was up to “6” in sirsasana, headstand with legs halfway, when he fell asleep. He himself was quite impressed with the students, who where afraid to come down and pretty much continued to hold it. He snickers playfully that he let Guruji sleep for about 10 minutes before waking him up. He said that Guruji laughed loudly when he realized he was sleeping then proceeded to count “7”...

Sharath, it seems, is cut from the same cloth, coming from the same line of playful teachers. I am enjoying conferences more and more each time. I love these moments with him, hearing his little gems of wisdom, seeing his miniature demonstrations, and hearing his stories, his own and that of Guruji.


  1. How delicious to read your account, thank you! Seems like the savasana question is popular, I had read before about it and been wondering ever since, but the demonstration part is new, how cool, cannot wait to get there, guess I will be one of the new faces... how often does he do the conferences? is it every week?

    Again thank you for sharing with us!

  2. ohhh I miss it all so much! I felt like I was there! thank you

  3. Hey nice to read...feels like i was in the conference. Greets from Austria. :-)

  4. Claudia, the demo was wild. Alex could have been lifting a tree, his arms were completely straight and everything.

    Mysore misses you too, Ahu! I'm glad the bog makes you feel close by.

    Kristof, that was fast! Happy Holidays with the family!

  5. Wow dear Kaz, I´ve been reading all your posts, love it. It must be an amazing time in Mysore, I´m so happy for you!!! Loads of love, thinking of you very often. Jaja

  6. Yoga is the natural way to stay happy, healthy and stress free. It is the best home exercises you can do around the house.
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