Sharath Jois: Teaching by Example

Learning at the Source

 

Sharath had a nickname for me. And he loved to call me by this name – especially during backbends.

Relax. 

He’d say it over and over again. Usually with a hint of smile though at times, an outright chuckle.

Every morning, I’d try. I’d try – and try hard – to relax. And that kind of works the same way trying to go to sleep works. It doesn’t.

Because the harder you try, the more elusive sleep becomes. And the more you worry about losing sleep, the further sleep slips away and a wide-awake anxiety sets in. Catching is that way, I think. Or for me, it is.

Anyway, I got to thinking (never a good sign with me) and wanted to meet with Sharath. I felt I had a legitimate question and since Meghan swore she’d disown me if I asked publicly in conference, I had no other choice than to go see him in private. It was about age. Specifically, how old does one have to be to let go (so to speak) of this catching? As I get ready to turn 51, it seemed timely and appropriate.

Though before I go any further, I should clarify a few things … First, I have no pain. Second, I can catch and was catching in backbends. And third, I don’t really like catching and not actually sure why that is, given I can and pain-free. All three reasons are probably exactly why my daughter forbade me to ask my question in her presence.

On the day of my meeting, I walked into Sharath’s office, already regretting having scheduled. Because it dawned on me that I didn’t really want to know the age one must be to be given a pass – I wanted a pass. I wanted him to say I didn’t have to anymore. All of a sudden, I felt childish. This man gets up at an hour past midnight, practices and then teaches until a time most of us are already considering lunch. My question seemed incredibly small and I wished I would’ve listened to my mother. Er … I mean, daughter.

But once I sat down, I felt immediately at ease. It’s weird that this teacher who makes me so nervous in the morning, can also help make me feel so very much at home and comfortable in his presence – even in his office. Our conversation opened naturally, with me expressing my genuine gratitude for being there and having him teach me. From there, the rest of our chat flowed, easily. The topic of age and backbends did come up and I no longer needed to ask – but we discussed anyway. His answer made sense, of course.

And yet, he didn’t stop there. We talked more about practice … what it is and what it means. And by we, I mean HE. Just as he speaks in conference. You can feel his devotion and sincerity, offering practical advice and guidance that goes far beyond asana in the practice room. Though my question felt silly – I no longer regretted scheduling my meeting. I am a student and this is sort of my job. To not know. To seek. To listen. To learn.

Sharath is a gift. And my unbelievable privilege in being able to visit Mysore and receive his teachings directly was not lost on me, especially in that moment. Which is the only explanation I have in gathering the courage to ask my next question:

I asked Sharath if I could interview him for the podcast.

I knew exactly why I was asking. And this time, it wasn’t for me.

And he said, yes. Um, did you catch that? —-

— HE SAID, YES.

So it happened. In two separate meetings, Sharath generously met with both Meghan and me in an interview we recorded and will share next week.

Though it took weeks for the real significance of these interviews to truly sink in for me, personally. Actually,  it wasn’t until my very last practice in Mysore that the realization hit me like a ton of humble bricks.

Sharath gave me his trust before I even gave him mine.

Do you know when one really falls asleep? Sometime after they stop trying. In trusting sleep will eventually come – and letting it come, when it does.

Every time Sharath came to do my backbends, I was trying to help him, help me, catch. I wasn’t being defiant. I’m not a “bad lady.” But there was no complete trust on my part. Not when I insisted on maintaining some control. It wasn’t that I couldn’t let go – it was more like I WOULDN’T.

Now, I’ve known teachers who would’ve seen my questions as a deeper questioning  – and feel threatened. Not Sharath. Whether I trusted (or not) almost didn’t matter. He never TOLD me to trust. Instead, he showed me how.

Still, I am not going to tell you that Sharath granted me the interview to teach me this lesson in faith. Quite frankly, I’m not that important. And yet, I was. Because yoga is that important to Sharath and so he was just doing what he does. Teaching those who want to learn while at the same time, letting the learning come when it does. And not through words alone – but by something even more powerful. By example.

My last practice, as I waited for Sharath to do my backbends, I knew I was ready. After my third dip, I went back and heard his familiar coaching.

Relax.

This time, I did. And for the first time, I allowed him to move my hands up my leg. I trusted him – completely. So instead of trying to make it happen, I let it happen. I let him be the teacher and me, the student. He told me to hold on – I did. He told me to straighten my legs – I did. And then he let go – and I stood on my own. Just. Like. That.

Very good, he smiled. Very good.

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