Thanks to Megan, (here is her Facebook) who shares through Jois Yoga (also in Facebook, don't you love Facebook?) Her conference notes.
Conference began with Sharath elaborating on the use of bandhas, a topic brought up by a student on a previous Sunday. Why are bandhas important? Sharath explained that many manuscripts refer to the bandhas and he himself refers to what Shankaracharya has written based upon experience and what he learned from his guru. They are important techniques to keep longevity of life. Sharath said, though there is not documentation linking bandhas to the phenomena of saints and yogis living much longer than we do today, he would figure that their ability to live for well over 100 years (1,000 years!) was due to their use of these techniques. Though there are many bandhas, we use three regularly. Jalandhara Bandha (demonstrated by dropping his chin) is used mostly for Pranayama. In Mula Bandha we contract the anus and lift up. Uddiyana Bandha is activated below the navel in the lower abdomen. We have nine holes in our body. When we do Pranayama, we have to block these holes so that air does not come inside the body. When air can enter the body in this way, the mind is distracted and fluctuates. Impure air will distract our Pranayama and meditation. For the Pancha Mahabhuta, the five elements, earth, water, fire, air, and ether, who is the source, the controller of this energy? Who is the source for this breath? God is the source. Therefore, the supreme energy is the source of our bandhas. Mula Bandha should be done sitting, walking, all of the time. Sharath paused to add that it is done all of the time except a few times. He said “I don’t have to explain this” and laughed. Bandhas take time—there is no quick one month certificate for Mula Bandha. Bandhas will help the asanas to develop energy inside us and bring stability to the body and mind. Some asanas are also good for developing the bandhas. Navasana, Utpluthih, and lifting up in our jumpbacks help us to strengthen the bandhas. This is why he makes us do them longer in led practices. Also, he added, it is fun for him. He goes on to demonstrate other places where we can work the bandhas properly. He demoed the jumpback from Utkatasana (not a half handstand but more of a lift of the lower body) and from Virabhadrasana I (same but with one leg behind). These were not high lifts but very controlled. Sharath attempted an advanced posture but said he should wait because he had breakfast already. Finally, he got into Padmasana and showed us how to draw in the lower belly. He said he sees many students allowing the lower belly to move quite a bit while breathing. The breath should be free, without struggle, breathing only with the lungs. This led us to discuss Pranayama. He said, ultimately, bandhas are important for Pranayama because we learn to control the breath. Pranayama should only be done once asanas are mastered and under the supervision of a guru or master, not just an ordinary teacher. If done incorrectly, it invites disease into the body instead of getting rid of disease.
The first question he took from students was what jumping back in Suryanamasakara A and B should look like. Sharath said to just do it—straight legs, bent legs, doesn’t matter. Another asana question asked was whether we should hop or simply step into our standing postures from Samasthitih. Again, Sharath said this doesn’t matter much. The vinyasa is important but using straight legs versus crossed legs, stepping or hopping, is not so important as long as the student has the correct vinyasa. He used eating as an example. He eats with his hand. Many of us use a spoon. Why change? He went on to say that he has tried chopsticks but that he is most comfortable eating with his hand. Small differences to do the same thing. Also, someone asked about the split practice some students are doing here where they alternate the first and second half of primary series during the week in addition to the first part of the intermediate series. Sharath said that many students are not warmed up enough to be split in the practice and go right into intermediate postures. They need to do some of primary still for those going to Eka Pada Sirsasana or Dwi Pada Sirsasana who cannot do it.
What makes a good student? Sharath said this question was difficult. A good student wants to learn yoga for self transformation. He or she doesn’t have any desire, only to get enlightened. Pattabhi Jois didn’t learn this to become famous. We do not need to be Brahmin or go through a ceremony. It doesn’t automatically make us enlightened. We can reach enlightenment without it. This is his karma. He was born in India and this is what he does. At the end of the day, it’s our own karma. To be human, that is our duty. Don’t be like an animal. Protect Dharma (truth) and Dharma will protect you. Just doing asanas is not enough. We have to be more responsible and think of more than just ourselves. This is a 24 hour practice.
Finally, Sharath attempted the posture he tried at the beginning of conference only to conclude that he was too full. He reminded us that asanas are also about failing, not just success. He then sat down to demonstrate proper bandha and breath in Padmasana and reminded us to keep our back straight and not sit hunched over. He showed a few Padmasana variations for people who are feeling congested. First, take back the hands while sitting in Padmasana and open the chest while dropping the head all the way back. Breathe from there. This helps with congestion, colds, and asthma related breathing problems. If we want to add in a few basic breathing techniques it is best to complete through Utpluthih and jump back to reset. Pranayama and breath work is best done after asana practice is completed. He wrapped up by saying he would attempt the posture he tried to do when conference was back at the regular schedule and not right after breakfast. Stay tuned!
By Megan Riley
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