Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sharath on bandhas (what would he say about anal breathing, I wonder?); Guruji's Lille Speech

Claudia has recently posted the latest conference notes with Sharath from Mysore, as complied by Megan Riley. They are very compelling to read, providing a wealth of invaluable insights for a home practitioner like me. In what follows, I will reproduce his words (as transcripted by Megan) in bold, followed by some neither-here-nor-there comments from me.

As always, Sharath covers a range of topics. In particular, he talks about the bandhas at some length during this conference, starting with an overview of the bandhas and their significance:

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.

Very interesting. I think what Sharath says here speaks to my own experience of the practice thus far. When I first started doing primary series a few years ago, I would feel rather tired after practice, and my energy level tended to be low for the rest of the day. But now, I feel that practice actually helps me to maintain a constant level of energy throughout the day, so that I experience spikes and dips in energy levels less frequently, and when they do occur, they also tend not to be so pronounced. 

I have no way of proving this, but I have a feeling that the relationship between the practice and my energy level started to change when I ceased to see doing the practice as merely physical exercise, and more as a breathing/energetic practice. My personal theory is that when I became more aware of the practice as an exercise in breathing and moving energy through the system, I also began to engage the bandhas more without being fully conscious of it. And bandhas, as we know, are locks which serve to "lock" in our energy, preventing energy leakage. Hence the improvement in my energy levels. And if Sharath is right, I might just live to be a hundred (maybe even a thousand? Hahaha...) if I keep on with my practice. At any rate, I can hope ;-) Damn! Can you imagine people reading Yoga in the Dragon's Den a thousand years from now? Mind-blowing.... 

Anyway, Sharath has more to say about the breath and the bandhas: 

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.

Very interesting. I think what he says here about the bandhas helping the asanas to develop energy inside us confirms my personal theory above about the relationship between seeing the practice as a breathing/energetic practice and engaging the bandhas. If you treat asana practice as a purely physical set of exercises, then its benefits for you will be limited to the level of the physical. In order to draw upon the energetic benefits of the practice, one has to shift the way one approaches the practice, because what happens on the level of our minds affects what happens (or does not happen) on the energetic level. At any rate, this is my theory. 

I like what he says about Navasana and Utplutih helping to strengthen the bandhas. I've noticed over the years that quite a few senior teachers like to make people hold these postures for longer in led practices. Well, now I know they are not doing this just because they like to see the suffering expressions on our faces :-) 

And one more thing: All this talk of bandhas is making me curious about what Sharath would have to say about using the image of breathing through the anus as a way of engaging the bandhas. Somebody in Mysore right now should seriously ask him this question... but maybe this is asking too much of folks in Mysore. After all, I don't know if I would be able to muster the courage to ask this question without coming across as being mischievous or even downright disrespectful, if I were in Mysore myself. Well, I guess there's only one way to find out, right?... But anyway, if any of you people who are in Mysore right now are reading this, maybe you can see if you can find a way to ask this question in a respectful way during the next conference? I'm really curious as to what he would say about this...


Earlier today, I watched the above video of a speech that Guruji gave in Lille, France in October 1991. Many thanks to Grimmly for posting it on his blog. Having never met Guruji myself, this is actually the longest speech by him that I have heard. I tend to have little patience for watching lengthly videos of people talking on Youtube; which is why I never saw any previous videos of his speeches that are out there in cyberspace. I know, very unbecoming behavior for an Ashtanga Fundamentalist, right? :-) 

Guruji has a certain compelling presence. He is not fiery or verbally eloquent in the way in which Mr. Iyengar is, but he does have a way of getting your attention, even though his English is rather halting. He talks at great length in this video about yoga practice as a method of curing diseases of the mind and body. In particular, somewhere between the fourteenth and nineteenth minutes of the video, he goes into great length about how the practice is beneficial for people with diabetes. I'm not sure I got everything (I'll probably watch this again soon), but I understand him to be saying that particular postures in primary series such as the Janu Sirsasanas (A, B, and C) and the Marichyasanas, as well as Baddha Konasana, are good for treating diabetes, especially if one does the practice daily for at least six months. At least, that's what I understood him to be saying. But maybe if you have some time, you can watch this video too, and tell me if I am understanding him correctly. Thanks in advance!      


  1. Noble, how did you manage to keep the ticker tape transliteration of his talk intact when you embedded the video in your post, it's not showing up on mine. This is from the sewell archive, the guy behind those classic 1st and 2nd series led videos with Tim Miller, Chuck Miller etc. Seems to have followed SKPJ around for years.

    1. Actually, my ticker tape translation only ran consistently for the first few minutes, and then intermittently after that. Which is why I had trouble making out what Guruji was saying about the practice for diabetes.

      I am really grateful to Sewell's good work. Must take a lot of effort, following Guruji and filming him all over the world. I also couldn't help noticing that he let the camera linger a little longer on that Sting poster when he panned over the bulletin board of the shala. Sewell definitely has a sense of humor :-)