The Guru Speaks
A highlight of my time here in Mysore has been "conference" with Sharath. At the end of each week, The Boss takes a break from folding us in half backwards, to lecture and answer questions about Yoga, Life, the Universe and Everything.
I haven't been ambitious enough to transcribe and write a post for each and every conference, but I've been scribbling down notes and would love to share some of the things that really spoke to me over the past few months. I feel like this is a fairly decent synopsis of my "formal" KPJAYI learnings. Hopefully the choppy-ness of my transcribed notes, without the entire context, manages to still be readable!
I should also take this oportunity to explain the word "Guru", which in the West, can unfortunately conjure up images of cults and con-men. In Sanskrit, "Gu" means ignorance, and "Ru" means remover. It is sometimes translated as "teacher", but it specifically refers to teachers who remove ignorance of a spiritual nature. It is said that the Guru "Removes all obstacles and (spiritual) ignorance and brings us towards the light".
Sharath says you'll know when you've found your Guru because you will probably hate him and resist learning from him at first. :)
Here are some other things he had to say...
Yoga is a process which happens within you.
Progress in yoga isn't about becoming more flexible or strong - progress is marked by changes within yourself. Good thoughts, good actions, changes in your perceptions and reactions - this is Yoga.
Yoga is self-transformation - developing ourselves from the inside out. These internal changes will be something you can feel happening, but will probably be very difficult to explain and talk about.
Asana (yoga posture) is only one part of yoga. It is a tool to help stabilize our bodies and minds. To learn to still and focus the mind - this is a deeper understanding of yoga. Yoga should move you internally, should be a meditative practice. With inner absorbtion and stillness, all the nonsense around you stops.
The purpose of practicing asana is to remove impurities in the body and in the mind. This results in more clarity, allowing you to (hopefully!) become smarter and wiser. By doing your own internal research, you refine your understanding, and true knowledge (jnana) begins to glow within you.
As the body stretches and opens up, the mind also opens - becoming broader, less narrow, less attached to what we think we know. "In yoga, we are trying to open everything!" This process of opening up - of letting go - is where true freedom lies.
Once we correct ourselves, once we remove our egos, then the whole world becomes corrected. Only by working on yourself on the inside, does the world outside become beautiful.
To commit to yoga - to go deeper, you must leave many things behind. You make changes in your diet, in your sleep schedule, in your work and your lifestyle. Then maintaining this discipline also becomes part of your practice.
When you practice, you feel so fresh, so light - like you are free from everything and want for nothing. And sometimes yoga knocks you down, also. It beats you up, and takes all your energy - so you don't have the energy to go party and do the bad things. ;) Automatically, like this, discipline comes to you.
Yoga is not one man's property - it is to be shared. Properly. With dedication and devotion. Teaching yoga is a service. You need to respect your own teacher and uphold their teachings. The essence of Yoga - personal transformation, humility - is unchanging. It is not about ego. It is not about you.
"Yoga doesn't need you. You need Yoga."
You need to navigate doubt in order to learn. Doubt will always be there - it is a part of your practice.
Yoga is challenging - nothing worthwhile comes easily. Slowly, year by year, doubt should fade. Knowing how much less stable you are without practice renews faith in it.
Devotion and dedication to your teacher, to your practice - grows within you. It cannot be forced from the outside. Slowly, with time, it will come.
Simply - "Don't fear!" or "No fear, no fun!"
We have fear or discomfort in a posture (or in a situation in life) where we are uncomfortable. Overcoming this fear and discomfort is the very act of learning and growing. We must relax to overcome fear.
The body is controlled by the mind, but the mind is controlled by the breath. Breathing stabilizes our bodies, stabilizes our minds. The more you relax, the calmer the nervous system becomes. Slow breathing can reduce anxiety, stress and hypertension.
By slowing down your breathing during practice - by stretching out your breaths - you literally elongate your life. "Just like stretching out an elastic band."
"Pain is always there - with or without yoga (asana)!"
[Fair enough. After three months of this, I'm fairly certain that the aches and pains of yoga will never actually go away... I'm just finally getting used to feeling like an achy eighty-year old when I get out of bed each and every morning!]
Sharath also explained the concept of Shatripu:
We all carry six enemies or poisons. They are: lust/desire (Kaama), pride/arrogance (Mada), greed (Lobha), anger (Krodha), jealousy/envy (Maatsarya), and attraction/infatuation/attachment (Moha). Our inner beauty, our inner perfection is hidden by these poisons. They must be broken down, one by one, to realize our true potential.
[My attempt to elaborate/justify/understand follows. This is not something Sharath touched on, though.
The "cleansing" process of the yoga practice is called "tapas", which literally means "to burn". In the process of burning away these six poisons, we are bound to feel some heat. We are bound to feel some pain.
The metaphor of firing gold is often used - each time the gold goes into the fire, the more impurities are removed, and the more pure it becomes. The idea is to accept the pain that comes to us, even though we prefer to run after pleasure. This makes us stronger... as they say - "No pain, no gain".
I also like the way it was put in that Lumineers song - "It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all..." I've been repeating this over and over and over again to myself, hoping that it might be true, and seriously doubting how "pure" I want and/or need to be!!]
[Please feel free to skip this section if you are an aggressive atheist, scared of the word "God", or overly rigid and self-righteous in your spiritual beliefs. I'm not trying to convert anyone, I'm just reporting what The Dude said.]
By withdrawing your senses, by moving inward, all becomes divine. Everything can become one within you.
There is no single form for God. Krishna, Jesus, Allah - they are all conceived of by man. God doesn't have a form, but can come in any form. In Hindu mythology, we see God in everything- there are Gods in human form, monkey form, tiger and elephant form. And fair enough, really - as Sharath explained: To a monkey, God is a bigger monkey. To a tiger, God is a bigger, stronger tiger. [It only makes sense that in the West, God is a scary white guy with a big-ass beard, living in the sky.]
God is all forms and is without form, therefore God can also come through you. YOU can become God, can develop divine thoughts. Because of the six enemies, we don't realise our divine nature.
God is nothing but energy. Everything is moving - God is that which moves all things. "The Galaxy is always spinning! Someone must be there to make it spin!" [Oh, how I love Indian logic!!]
God is the supreme energy which makes everything work. Don't look for this energy elsewhere. "The temple is here" *taps chest*. Realize this temple within you - realise your inner Atman. Create your own temple. If you are peacefully sitting there, then everything becomes peaceful. If everyone maintains an inner calm, there are no external conflicts.
Religion has divided so many people. It has brought confusion, hatred, and many terrible things. Yoga is not Religion. Yoga is for self-transformation, for spiritual growth. Yoga is good for society. When we practice yoga, we begin to care for each other, for plants and animals, and for the planet.
"Birth and Death are the two certainties of life.
It's what you do in between that is important!"
On one particularily adorable Saturday in November, Sharath even sang to us - an Indian song that translates something like this:
"Your Heart beats...
You are still alive...
Be happy, for there are so many things to Know!"
I'll leave you with an Indian New Year's tradition that was also shared with us:
Locals mix together Neem leaf (which is very very bitter) and jaggery (a super-sweet palm sugar). Everyone eats some of this mixture, knowing that in the coming year, there will be both bitterness and sweetness, and that we have no choice but to accept them both together. <3
Happy New Year, friends. I hope you're able to savour all of the moments, both the bitter and the sweet.
I'm busy savoring the bittersweetness of my last two days in India. Saying goodbye to the teacher, the friends, the sunshine... but excited to see the teachers and friends and family I've left behind for three months. I guess I'll have no choice but to patiently wait for the sunshine.