Each time I travel to India to study and practice yoga, I learn a little more than I did the last time. I listen to the words of my teacher, Sharath Jois very carefully and try to apply them in my everyday life. On Saturdays, after led classes are over he holds conference where he speaks about a topic in relation to yoga. He then takes questions from the students. This weekly conference lasts about an hour and a half, very little time to spend with someone whom has such immense knowledge of yoga. He speaks about how yoga is as vast as the ocean, and what he has to share is only a drop of that.
Luckily we have the opportunity to learn from so many scholars who reside in this town. I am told that when you have a good teacher, they will lead you to theirs. Unfortunately, Sharath’s teacher, Guruji his grandfather K. Pattabhi Jois, passed away in 2009. So Sharath is the end of the line, and as much as we have learned from him, he has so many students and very little one on one time to spend with each of us, if at all.
During this trip, I was lucky enough to meet a very learned Ashtanga teacher from Colorado, Annie Pace. She invited a few of us to study with a Brahman Scholar on the outskirts of Mysore to learn more about the philosophy of yoga. This is not the first time I have studied with a yoga scholar here in India, but each time I do, I not only learn more, but I become more connected to the roots of yoga and am more clear about the path that I am on.
This past week I was able to spend 4 hours listening to the Brahman Scholar speak about the intricate parts of yoga as well as have those lessons reinforced by Sharath’s conference on Saturday morning.
Very often these teachers speak about yoga in the West. I am sure that they are not dogging yoga in the West, but merely trying to reiterate the fact that yoga is an Indian practice, something sacred that can only be passed down from guru to student, this is known as parampara. Over and over again I have heard from my teachers here that what is being taught in the West is not yoga. They say that if you really want to learn about yoga you must travel to India and find an “Eternal Teacher” or Guru. A Guru is not someone that you give your life over to, it is one who takes you from darkness into the light. Yoga is something that you must dedicate your life to. If you do not study and live by the Yamas and Niyamas, yoga’s ethical practices, then what is the point of doing asanas(postures)? Asanas are only a very tiny push towards discovering the vast ocean of yoga.
This week during the philosophy classes we learned about the following Sutras by Patanjali~
- Abhyasa/Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility (1.13). To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break (1.14). From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being.
This practice that we must maintain over long periods of time is not practicing asana or merely abiding by the Yamas and Niyamas for a few months or years, we must constantly be seeking and studying and learning and devoting ourselves to this vast ocean of yoga for the rest of our lives. Only then will we start to see the benefits of our devotion. As we delve deeper into this dedication towards the yoga, our purpose in life becomes clear. Without a purpose and living your life for that, we have wasted being born as a human, which is considered to be very rare and precious.
Each time I come to Mysore, I realize that I have so much more to learn. This is the reason I make the trek halfway around the world, spending months at a time away from my family to learn from the great teachers whom have had this knowledge handed down to them from their Gurus.
One last thing, because I think this is important. Sharath spoke about not putting an Om symbol on your mat or on your pants. This is true that the symbol of Om is not considered sacred by Westerners and they casually tattoo it on their bodies and place it wherever they see fit. Putting the Om symbol on your yoga mat or rug is disgraceful. When you put the Om symbol under your feet you are stepping on that, and your feet are dirty and considered the lowest place on the body. As well, you should never wear the Om symbol below the waist. Anywhere below the waist is also considered dirty and you will be asked to leave the Shala if you do either of these things. It is important that people seriously consider how sacred and important the Om symbol is to Buddhists and Hindus, and by placing it casually you diminish it’s importance and your understanding of these sacred practices. This not only goes for the Om symbol, but through the practice of yoga one should be respectful of all sacred symbols and other’s beliefs.