Mysuru reJoises Ashtanga Yoga – Star of Mysore

Mysuru reJoises Ashtanga Yoga – Star of Mysore

Sharath Jois, the world’s foremost authority in Ashtanga yoga, talks about benefits of yoga, his institute and why he is never tired of teaching this ancient yogic method.

By Arathi Menon

While the rest of the world knows the seasons to be four in number, an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, who makes his annual pilgrimage to Mysuru for yoga studies, has one more season on his calendar — the yoga season. No, this season does not follow the movement of the earth but that of a Mysurean whose name has come to be synonymous with Ashtanga yoga itself — R. Sharath Jois.

R. Sharath Jois

The grandson of legendary yoga guru K. Pattabhi Jois, Sharath Jois took on the mantle of running the world-renowned Ashtanga Yoga Institute — Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Institute a.k.a. KPJAYI — upon his grandfather’s passing in 2008. With 28 years of teaching experience behind him, Sharath is easily the world’s foremost authority in Ashtanga yoga today.

Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional system of yoga where yoga is considered a tool for spiritual progression and asana is not practised in isolation for just the physical benefit. It is, in fact, the first step to the ultimate spiritual realisation or Samadhi.

Thanks to the Jois family who popularised this method in the West, Ashtanga Yoga is now a multi-million dollar industry in the world. Celebrity yoga practitioners like Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow swear by it. The Ashtanga yogashalas around the globe follow what is called a Mysore-style practice where the teachers don’t lead the class; they give classes one-to-one in a group setting. KPJAYI is considered the source of Ashtanga Yoga because Pattabhi Jois was the student of T. Krishnamacharya, who is the father of modern yoga.

Ashtanga yoga has grown exponentially now and thousands of students come to Mysuru every year to learn from Sharath during the yoga season which is typically six months a year. Many more attend his classes when he travels abroad. It is no exaggeration to say that when Sharath Jois sneezes, the Ashtanga world catches a cold.

Contributing to Gokulam’s economy

Busy with the ongoing yoga season, Sharath says when the season opens he gets over 5,000 applications every month for his classes that can fit 350-400. He works seven to eight hours continuously every day, waking up at 1 am to do his own practice before the first set of students begin to come by 3:30 am. Ask him how he manages such a packed schedule single-handedly, the answer is almost always a humble smile. “I consider it as a seva (service),” he says.

His service, however, is not contained within the four walls of the institute. Thanks to hordes of foreign students who visit Mysuru, everyone, from housemaids to auto drivers and cafe operators around Gokulam where the institute is, makes swift bucks during the season. Emran Baig, who sells tender coconuts outside the institute, confesses that he manages to sell 500 coconuts a day during the season. Even castor oil, which Sharath recommends for a weekly bath for supple muscles, sells like hotcakes this time.

Yoga doesn’t hurt, it only heals

That apart, Sharath is instrumental in shaping some of the best yoga teachers in the world and in the process, raising the market value of yoga. A staunch critic of short-term Teacher Training Certificates or TTCs most private yoga institutes give out, Sharath believes one can be a good yoga teacher with only three to five years of dedicated yoga practice.

One of the mandates to be a KPJAYI-authorised teacher is to have a steady practice of the system for a minimum of three years. “Being a yoga teacher is a great career to choose. But if an engineering or medical career demands three to five years of learning, why should yoga be any different?” he asks. A question particularly pertinent at a time yoga-related injuries are increasingly being reported.

While the media probe on yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s alleged knee surgery in London is still on, Sharath’s own personal experience is a fitting example that yoga, when done correctly, doesn’t hurt. It only heals. Growing up as a sickly child who suffered tonsillitis at the age of four, rheumatic fever that confined him to bed for a brief period at the age of 11 and hernia that affected his joints and heart at 13, Sharath, at 48, is now as robust as a 20-year-old.

Listing out the health benefits of yoga, Sharath recommends Ashtanga Yoga for everyone — both young and old — but especially for those with respiratory issues, allergies and to ward off the ill effects of pollution. He says certain postures like ‘Badhakonasana’ and ‘Upavishtakonasana’ are especially beneficial for pregnant women as they help ease labour. He, however, cautions first-timers from practising Ashtanga yoga method if they are pregnant.

“Ashtanga yoga demands a certain time frame for the body to get used to it. It increases internal heat to flush out toxins from the body but you may lose your baby if your body is new to the practice,” he says. Equally important is to not push oneself too much in the practice and getting proper guidance from a learned teacher. “A lot of yoga injuries are the result of ego-based practice and teachings. This is why learning under an experienced teacher is important,” he says.

Sharath Jois with yoga enthusiasts at a session in Bangkok.

“Yoga day is a great idea”

Sharath is especially appreciative of the government’s attempt at pushing yoga and making it mandatory even at school level. “It’s good that the government is planning to introduce yoga at the primary level so that the knowledge of yoga is imparted at a young age. This will help create better yoga teachers in the future,” he says. “We need more yoga teachers but the yoga course should be given like a degree course at universities. More traditional schools should be brought in to give the course,” he adds.

Though he is not doing anything special on yoga day, he says he is happy that the world is finally recognising this ancient practice. “I hope this day motivates more people to take up yoga every day. We can get rid of a lot of diseases and also bring in more harmony in the world by practising yoga,” he says.

Considering yoga is the only practice that has an effect on both the body and the mind, Sharath believes that the popularity of yoga will certainly make the world a better place. “The yoga day is just the beginning. Many more good things are waiting to happen,” he says.

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