Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Conference: Newly Certified, Faith, & Eat Vegetarian

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Today we witnessed a rare occurrence at the shala. Sharath explains that it’s been over 3 years since someone was certified. And this afternoon, he shares with the room, two students are bestowed the privilege. Australian teacher Mark Robberds is called up to the stage to receive his certificate. The room applauds wholeheartedly. I think everyone feels as I do, how much he deserves it. Mark is such a light and grounded person with a most inspiring practice—I remember waiting for my “One more” at 5:30am and just watching him gracefully move from one insane asana to the next. It’s always shocks me when men can do splits! Well done, mate! Not present is another student: Jorgen Christiannson based out of Los Angeles, who also receives applause.

He talks a little, explaining that older generations have gone. And now these certified and authorized teachers play an important role in continuing ashtanga yoga, that they are key bearers of this yoga tradition, now spanning 4 generations.

Sharath sits, taking his place on the chair he pulls out. This conference, I am a good distance from him. I usually like to sit up front so I don’t miss a word (I’ve long learned to embrace my inner-geek). And from where I am sitting, I am struck by the brightness of his dark eyes. His demeanor changes throughout conference depending on his topic, he moves from serious to authoritative to sheepish when he is being humorous. But the deep pool sparkle in his eyes is a constant light.

He returns to his favorite recurring theme: lineage. He mentions again a saying: a student with two gurus means there is one dead student. He explains that its like when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. What happens, he asks? The dishes go bad. He quietly laughs saying we are the dishes. When you have two gurus, you receive instruction from one and another set of instructions from another. The result is confusion.

Then, Sharath talks about faith. He says that it is important to have “faith in the practice” and “faith in your teacher.”

This strikes a chord with me. I’m big on faith. And I feel that so much of this crazy practice requires quite a lot of it. Faith, a healthy amount of devotion and surrender, whether its getting dropped back, waking up early each morning, tailoring diet to the well-being of the practice, working and saving every peso to get here, or prioritizing India over seeing family this Christmas.

These sacrifices, whether big or small, seem worth it, to be in the shala, to be in Sharath’s presence. Its part insanity, I sometimes think, being here, spending this amount of money to be knackered by 2-hours of practice and, let’s face it, what seems like a very small amount of personal attention. But the moment Sharath’s in front of me, the seemingly impossible task of reaching for my heels from behind my back seems to be not such a daunting one-—sure, it’s still hard, but not impossible. Time is not an issue. Its quality not quantity.

The last time he adjusted me in supta kurmasana, as well. I felt an energy and self-confidence that really is not typical. It wasn’t a deep adjustment but once he’d lifted my legs I was shocked to find myself easily hoisting myself up and into bakasana with none of the usual elephant-like difficulties. Such is his grounding energy. I trust him. The faith makes all the difference.

He also stresses the importance of having the blessing of your teacher also. He shares a story from the Mahabharata. (I don’t remember names and I’m totally paraphrasing here). There was a warrior who went to a great archery teacher. Because the warrior knew that the teacher would only accept a brahman, he lied. So he was accepted and was trained wholeheartedly by the teacher. One day, the warrior was sitting, his teacher asleep on his lap, when a mosquito lands on his leg. The warrior stays really still and doesn’t mind when the insect bites him and draws blood. His teacher gets up right away and confronts him, “You are a warrior.” (Sharath breaks from his story here to let us in on the joke, that brahmins are not known for their courage, he laughs a little, enjoying the joke himself). So, falling out of favor with his teacher, the warrior is unable to properly recall the mantras necessary to successfully shoot his bows against the good guys, Arjuna and the side of the Pandavas. He adds little comment. As it is with our asana practice, he lets us stew the story in our own juices.

He takes questions...

Someone asks for advice on diet.

“You must eat vegetarian,” says Sharath. He states two key reasons. The first, I think though I may be wrong here, because of lightness such a diet creates in our practice. The second is ahimsa or non-violence. Over the last couple of conferences, Sharath has been adamant about practicing the other 8 limbs, especially grounding ourselves in the yamas and niyamas.

And besides, he quips, “Human teeth are like cows.” Later, maybe upon seeing that we are taking his line of reasoning quite seriously, he adds, “I’m joking (about the teeth).”

He does stress the importance of milk and ghee. That it is tradition for Indians to eat a spoonful of ghee with every meal. He adds that the daily consumption of milk will result in a long life.

He then describes an energy drink not to be found at your local Jamba Juice. He holds out his right hand, fingers curled up creating a cup size proportion. He says to take that much moong dal, wash it carefully, and soak it in a copper pot over night. The following day, blend the moong dal, adding two bits of jaggery. He says this is very good for us, especially for backbends. A new spin on the protein shake to be sure!

Another student asks about sweating? If it’s ok not to sweat?

“Everybody sweats,” he says, as if swallowing a laugh.

He says that not sweating can be a result of improper breathing. He reiterates breath with sound, deep and even breaths. We shouldn’t even wipe away our sweat. In fact, we should be rubbing our sweat onto our body and that this process will help detoxify us. He recalls a famous politician who drank cow urine and lived a long life of 105-years old. Much to my relief (I was afraid he was going to add to cow piss to our list of dairy food), he said that wiping our sweat would result in the same benefits. Phew!

At some point Sharath’s children, Shrradha and Sambhav, unabashedly come in and join there father on stage. Shrradha casually addresses her dad in Kannada as if there weren’t a roomful of yoga students fixing their eyes on her back, Sambhav, who is so small and adorable, a mini Sharath—-bright eyes and all, though his is the bright eyes of all children that age—-puts on a show, jumping down from the stage, his bulbous eyes looks at his audience, filling him with the need to step up on stage again to jump. While his father talks, he does this several times, ending up at some point rolling around on the rug below.

Throughout, Sharath is patient and unbothered, he continues to talk to us. At some point, Sambhav is in his father’s lap. He is in a strop with his sister and kicks her as she tries to take him. Sharath gently admonishes him. In retaliation, Shrradha flicks her pen on Sambhav’s head. He gently chides her too. He speaks in Kannada one final time, and the two are obediently off.

By himself on stage again, a student asks how does he balance his family life with his yoga practice?

He jokes, “When we moved here, the shala, I put them upstairs.” (or he says something close to that. On a serious note, he does say that it takes time and balance. He confesses it doesn’t always work.

I love seeing the Shrradha and Sambhav around the shala because it’s nice to see Sharath in another context. They very much look to him as a kind father figure, they don't seem afraid of him at all. I more or less get flustered whenever confronted by Sharath. I get these irrational nervous spasms.

(The other day he stopped me during backbending to ask me what my last pose was. I blanked. The name escaped me. I mentally went to my asana storeroom, looking for the right pose, afraid to say a pose too early and get demoted or a pose later and look dumb, or (aghast) presumptuous. If I had said exactly what was going on in my head it would have sounded: “You know, the one with the feet here and my hands here…” all the time, thinking "God, save me.")

Seeing him with his children--mind you this is just a few times now I’ve witnessed them together--well, they love him, which I know isn’t unusual. But they seek him out and they are allowed to. He doesn’t shoo them away, even when he’s working. He observes them, it seems. Totally patient, he looks kindly on their idiosyncrasies and gives them space to simply be. He is stern only when he needs to be and such moments are fleeting and still somewhat gentle. It reminds me a little of how he is with us.

Before the conference ends, Sharath makes another special announcement. He is being visited by a student of Krishmacharya. A.G. Mohan was a student of Krishnamacharya for 18 years in Chennai from 1971 to 1989. He has invited Mr. Mohan to stay an extra day to visit with us and share his stories of Krishnamacharya’s life after Mysore. We get to meet Mr. Mohan on Sunday, a special treat at the start of a new year at the shala.


  1. very interesting, it seems like people are in devotion to sharath. enjoy your stay
    in the beginning of your post you said that the new graduate teacher is so good in asanas, so nice to watch, i will just mention that beiing good in asanas and teach good is 2 differents things for me.
    i wish you happy new year

  2. Hi Kaz. We have never met but I was in Mysore from sept - dec. Ursula and Veronique both shared your blog via Facebook and I have really enjoyed it. Thank you for putting into words some of the feelings and reasons why I keep going back to Mysore. I'm glad you have had a positive experience that will keep you coming back for more. Good luck with the rest of your yoga journey

  3. It's as if i am right there sitting next to you breathing in this experience--nice kaz, thanks!

  4. Wonderful post Kaz really enjoying your blog. Did you attend the Mohan conference, I read his book on Krishnamacharya, be interesting to hear what he was like and had to say.

  5. lil, so true. i was just in a conversation with someone today about your point.

    denise, hope to meet you in the future!

    mo-ching, you so are!

    grimmly, i also enjoy your blog. i did attend the mohan conference, but haven't had a moment to sit and write. it was a really great conference. he was so lively and i also just read the book. will post it soon i hope!