This Thursday night is Shivaratri, a night devoted to worship of the “renegade” god Shiva, who is considered to be the lord of yogis. According to Hindu mythology it is believed that Shiva married his consort Parvarti on this night and also manifested himself as a lingum to show that there was no beginning or end to his being. In conference this week, Sharath spoke of childhood memories of walking through Lakmispuram visiting different temples throughout the night. Shiva devotees will stay awake all night on this auspicious night (14th day of the new moon) fasting and chanting “om namah shivaya”.
(This is the Shiva lingashtakam – one of the chants that we learn in chanting class)
I plan to visit Chamundi Hill again, as nearby the main Chamundi temple is a smaller Shiva temple. It’s nice timing as I visited Chamundi in my first week here, and now as my trip draws to a close I will enjoy one last visit. This was a fast trip for me of only five weeks but was very special as always.
Excerpts from Sharath’s Sunday conference are below.
There are some asanas that are very important. These are sarvangasana, sirsasana and padmasana.
Sarvangasana means the asana for every organ in your body. It purifies the nervous system.
In sirsasana when you are upside down, the blood circulates to every limb and organ. It is very important to come down slowly from sirsasana. It is beneficial to do it for up to three hours. Since we have so many asanas to do, this is not possible – otherwise the primary series would take five days! You can do a longer sirsasana when you can – but at home, not here, the shala is very crowded! Keep one day in a week where you do sirsasana for 20 minutes. You can start with five minutes then extend to eight, then to ten minutes then slowly extend to 30 minutes.
This will help you when you get older, when your body becomes stiff. You’ll still be able to do it when you are 70 or 80 years old. Sirsasana is good exercise for the body and it also calms the mind. When you can balance properly the mind becomes very calm.
If you don’t have time to do a full practice just do sun salutations, standing postures and the finishing postures.
Pain in the Body
Kapotasana is a very difficult asana because the whole body is balanced on the knees and it is very intense on the lower back. Don’t look at others who are very flexible. You need to relax in the posture. In any posture, think how you can relax in it. But there will often be some pain. That’s why we have the sutra – no pain no gain! Or no coffee no prana! No chappatis no strength!
When I started kapotasana it wasn’t too difficult for me, but eka pada sirsasana was very difficult. I couldn’t even walk. I had a new motorbike and I couldn’t start it!
It’s very important to take an oil bath every week. You can use castor oil, coconut oil, almond oil or olive oil. Make it a habit to do it every Saturday and the pain and soreness in the body will go away. Guruji had a student who had a lot of body pain. He told her to take an oil bath using castor oil. She did it, but she didn’t know how to remove it. She came to our house at 8pm saying – Guruji I don’t know how to remove the oil! Amma had to give her soapnut powder to take it off!
(This is a great clip by Kimberly Flynn explaining the oil bath process)
When we practice asana we generate heat and sweat. Don’t waste this sweat, rub it into your body, there are some good minerals in it. The skin will absorb the good minerals, and it opens the pores for more toxins to come out. This makes the body leaner and stronger.
Nowadays there are many different types of yoga – even sweat yoga, where the room is heated. This type of yoga is not good. It will make you weak. The shastras say that sweat with no effort makes you weak. Sweat should come through effort, through vinyasa.
This hot yoga is artificial. It is not good for the heart. The heart will weaken. Also you are not breathing fresh air – you are breathing someone else’s exhalations. This will make you sick and weak, physically and mentally. The breath is what controls the mind. When you have emotions like anger or anxiety the pattern of your breath will change. Control the breath and you can control the mind.
You see the yogis in the Himalayas walking around without wearing shirts. They have generated internal heat through yogic techniques. The external temperature is not affecting them. But I don’t want you to walk like that in the street!
If you are practicing in a cold climate, you can start with the heat turned up but then turn it down. Or take a very hot shower before practice. This will help asanas and is also good for saucha (cleanliness). To be clean before practice is very important. When you practice it is like worshipping God. You don’t go to practice in in dirty clothes. First you get yourself clean. Each day of practice is like going to temple. You are asking God for peace of mind. There you are asking, here you are getting! You are experiencing peace. I can’t live without my practice. It is the same ritual as doing pooja.
As you get older your practice changes. In your twenties and thirties you are flexible. In your forties the flexibility will go, especially if you are teaching thousands of students and have a family and children! As your responsibilities grow, your asana practice will be less. But keep practicing everyday even if the number of asanas is less. Without asana it is hard for the mind to be stable. Try not practicing for 15 days and see how you feel. You won’t have the same energy in you. With asanas the mind becomes sharper and the body becomes strong.
Everyday is a good practice. As long as you are getting up and practicing that is what is important. It is putting the effort (karma) in that is important. Don’t practice expecting the fruit, but it will come.
When you are learning a new asana you can try it two our three times. But don’t over do it. If you do it too many times, you start to build up aggression. If you have time you can stay longer in each posture.
The greatness of Pattabhi Jois was that through him each and every one of his students has got to experience real yoga. He treated everyone equally. Even me as his grandson was taught in the same way as foreign students. There are many different yoga masters but for me my grandfather was the greatest master. He was not an ordinary person. He was a professor of yoga. He had studied so many shastras. There was a library in him.