This week was the last conference I will be attending during my stay here in Mysore, and I think it was my favorite. It was another early one, 10am, and Sharath’s fatigue from teaching 3 back-to-back Led classes (2 Primary and 1 Intermediate) was apparent. He was still generous and patient with his time; humor was still often employed, but the tone felt more authoritative than usual — no nonsense. Efficient and to the point; good stuff.
In the beginning, familiar territory was covered: stories and anecdotes were used to remind us that Ashtanga Yoga is not just about the asana practice. A few questions were asked from students, and again his answers suggested a similar conclusion: Ashtanga Yoga is not only physical, but is instead a spiritual practice. All 8 limbs (including asana) are used to deepen our spiritual awareness, etc. etc. …
Then, a departure. He decided to turn the floor over to the audience and ask us,”What does it mean to become more spiritual?”
An awkward pause followed as gazes wandered and dropped, that please-don’t-call-on-me-feeling started to hover over the room. I know I certainly didn’t want to try to define spirituality to Sharath Jois! Thankfully a few brave souls did raise their hands and attempted to answer.
The gist of the first attempt was basically:Being free from your body and mind; realizing you are one, and connecting with a higher power. Sharath’s reply: “No.” Then some head shaking and further explanation, “This is not wrong, but is a very shallow answer.”
Another hand goes up, and the second attempt starts with, “The Yoga Sutras mention…” but this is quickly rebuffed. “Do not quote from Yoga Sutras! Quote from yourself. I can quote so many Sutras. No Sutras!”
Eventually, he just told us. I wish I had written down exactly what he said, but his basic message was that becoming spiritual means changing yourself. It means learning to keep the focus on the internal world while turning away from the distraction and struggle of trying to change the external one all the time. Surrender. Accept. Change comes from this, yes even externally, but that is not the point.
Oh, so Simple…and yet, oh SO difficult. Hence, that whole lifetime of practice part…
Hearing a definition of spirituality offered in such a straightforward and universal way resonated deeply. No yoga jargon, no connections to religious beliefs necessary. Truly, this can be a practice for everyone.