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...
"Yoga is not doing. Yoga is happening."
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.
"It's (yoga) my life, not my living. My life."
A student asked about pain in asana from trying perhaps too hard. Sharath suggested that this pain shows what you did in your life before yoga (sports, etc). He implored us to give time for our bodies to change. He also noted that yoga is not a competition and sometimes people get hurt because they look at others and try to do what they see others doing even if it is not right for them.
"Yoga is self transformation."
"Yoga is 100% good. It's people who have spoiled it... Yoga is like the sun. The sun has no time. It was here before us. It gives us solar energy and good health. But what will happen if you look at the sun with a telescope? You'll burn yourself. How you utilize it is very important."
Finally a student asked about the pushing to get into the shala and to get a good spot close to the teacher in led classes. How do you think Sharath responded? Do you think he spoke of Ahimsa (non harm)? Or gave some peace, love, shanti shanti quote? Wrong. He talked about all the different cultures where there is pushing and shoving. He pointed out the rushing to no where which is New York City.
And he said this:
"When you do your pilgrimage it's not easy. Nothing will disturb you. Your aim is to see God. If it becomes easy it is not a pilgrimage. It's a tourist spot... I agree pushing is not a good thing, but when you are eager to see God, to experience something-- Everyone wants to experience that."
The amazing thing is this- Sharath doesn't see harmful pushing. He sees students aching to learn. He started conference thanking us for making it all work, for making room for each other. I don't see so much pushing either. Sure there are crowds and there is a movement forward and sometimes it is intense, but I see January in Mysore (busy) and I'm so glad, so grateful to be able to be here amongst the warmth and the intensity and the gathering of people from all over the world that go nuts to get into that room. That room has a power that draws us to it, and we are also making the power... full power... Mysore Style.