Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sharath on bandhas, teacher trainings, and my thoughts on all this

I was just reading the latest blog entry on Suzy's Mysore Blog 2011-12. Suzy relates in great detail Sharath's answers to various questions during conference in Mysore on November 27th 2011. Here are a couple of things that jumped out at me:

(1) Suzy writes: "In conference on 6th November 2011 Sharath spoke about the 3 things that are very important in asana practice – the posture, the breath and the gaze point. He explains here why he didn’t mention bandhas: because bandhas should be practised all of the time, not just in asana, but also whilst walking and sitting. When you practise like this then the body develops strength."

Bandhas should be practiced all the time... I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and I have identified one big block of time in my day where my bandhas are almost certainly not engaged: When I am sitting in front of the computer, doing, among other things, blogging! Isn't this ironic, blogging about Ashtanga yoga while not engaging the bandhas?

Anyway, here are a couple of questions I have about this. Are there certain postures in daily life (such as being hunched over a computer) that are inherently not conducive to bandha engagement? Or will consistent daily Ashtanga practice eventually get our bodies to the point where we can engage the bandhas at any time of the day, in any position (including being hunched over a computer)? This seems at least possible to me: After all, some asanas (Baddha Konasana B, for instance) actually require one to assume a rounded-backed seated position and engage the bandhas at the same time.

Or, to approach the same issues from a bigger perspective: Guruji famously says, "Do your practice, and all is coming." Well, in this case, does "all" mean "giving up sitting hunched in front of the computer" (or at least spending less time doing it)? Or does "all" mean acquiring the ability to both sit hunched in front of the computer and still engage the bandhas? I hope it's the latter, but what I do know? Any thoughts on this?

(2) Sharath says: "Now you can do a 200hr teacher training and get a certificate to become a yoga teacher. How is it possible? It is nonsense. Put the certificate in the dustbin. You need to dedicate yourself to yoga, you need to research many things in yourself to get the knowledge. It only comes if you have passion in you."

This is probably the clearest refutation of teacher trainings that Sharath has uttered thus far, at least to my knowledge. And I agree with the spirit of what he is saying: Svadyaya (self-study) is definitely not something that one can carry out in 200 hours, and it would be foolish to think that one can become a "yoga expert" just by having done 200 hours at some teacher training program at some studio.

But perhaps some of us may be thinking: With all due respect, Sharath, it is very easy for you to say something like this; after all, you are not the one who has to try to make a living as a yoga teacher in this crazy land of America. As many have observed, many studio owners (as well as yoga students) in this country take the letters "RYT" to be a magic stamp that magically bestows upon one the powers of a "certified yoga expert" (whatever that means). It is one thing to respect tradition and be true to one's lineage and all that, but what is one to do when having or not having the letters "RYT" after one's name can make all the difference between whether or not one succeeds in scraping together a living as a yoga teacher?

Well, even though I am no longer in the yoga business (see this post), I will be so bold as to venture to suggest a way out of this dilemma. The Bible says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17) Applied to our present dilemma, this means that the good Ashtangi who yet desires to make a living as a yoga teacher in this crazy land should render to the yoga masses (i.e. studio owners and the average yoga student) the things that are theirs (i.e. do that 200 hour training, if that's what you need to get your foot in the door, so to speak). At the same time, the Ashtangi should also render to the lineage/tradition the things that are the lineage's/tradition's (i.e. accept that you are somebody who is perpetually a student on the Ashtanga path, and do not allow the "RYT" label to mislead you into thinking that you are a "teacher of Ashtanga.").

This, at any rate, is my proposal. But then again, maybe most Ashtangis out there are already doing this. Well, then I'm just stating the obvious, am I not? Oh, well...


  1. As far as bandhas go whilst at the computer your choice of chair may make a difference - I use a kneeling chair and it helps combat the hunch and engage the core - I actually use my desk time as practice time - easier to find and engage the bandhas there than when twisting around on the mat into positions my body isn't quite ready to go...

    BTW a great but rather long article on bandhas here:

  2. Kneeling chairs, Tom? Interesting. I should check those out. I'll check out the link too. Thanks!

  3. Try:

    Or for a cheaper option, a stability ball, which is more fun and I am starting to think maybe better than the kneeling chair.

  4. Thanks, Tom. I'll check these out too :-)

  5. i have been sitting on a balance ball chair for a year now at my 40-hr week desk job. it seems to help my posture, plus it is very comfortable.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Martha. So the balance ball helps you too?