Famed yogic guru Sharath Jois reveals the secrets to a long and healthy life in new book

Ageless: A Yogi’s Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life by Sharath Jois and journalist Isha Singh Sawhney is a guide (for both seasoned yogis and non-practitioners) on what it means to be on the yogic path. For the practitioners of the ashtanga school, Sharath Jois is the ultimate teacher, having taken over the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute from his maternal grandfather Sri Pattabhi Jois. His mother Saraswati also teaches at the iconic studio in Mysuru, but it is Sharath who guides the more advanced practitioners and makes decisions on changes to the revered ashtanga sequences.

For the uninitiated, this form of yoga is perhaps the most challenging — just the first, primary sequence comprises 41 asanas that must be practised by synchronising your breath with every movement. So much emphasis is laid on just asanas in ashtanga yoga that it’s a relief when Jois talks more about the yogic lifestyle than the poses in his book. Even though Ageless is aimed at just about anyone in India, hardcore ashtangis would do well to read it and remind themselves that ultimately yoga is what you do off your mat, not on it.

The book itself is quite an easy, enjoyable read, with Jois’ personal journey and his recipes, including his protein shake made with moong dal. There are many ‘aha’ moments too; for instance, did you know that tamarind binds itself to fluoride and pulls it out of the body? So the traditional practice of using tamarind paste in our curries (as compared to tomatoes, which were brought in by the Portuguese) is actually better for us.

It is to be expected that Jois’ knowledge goes beyond the common parameters of yoga, and in that sense, Ageless does not disappoint. Still, the book leaves much to be desired — the writing is clunky, and at times one wonders if the book has been edited at all. While it’s great for a one-time read, it doesn’t completely match Jois’ status as the contemporary ashtanga guru or his depth of knowledge, as I discovered from a telephonic conversation with him.

What are your earliest memories of yoga?

Yoga has always been in my family, but as a child, I preferred playing cricket on the street. My grandfather asked me to practise with other children, but I wasn’t so serious. I finally got into it with my whole heart when I was 19 and started assisting him.

What was your motive in writing this book?

We had one book — Yoga Mala — written by my grandfather. I wrote another book that is a practice manual (Astanga Yoga Anusthana) that mostly talks about asanas, which is available in the shala in Mysuru. I used to give lectures on the various aspects of yoga, and then students said, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ Most of the time our practice is all about the postures. But asana is just one limb of ashtanga yoga; the other aspect is how we should lead our lives. We wanted to do this so that even non-yogis can understand the yogic lifestyle. Asana itself is not the final stage of yoga. Many people have bendy bodies but they are not following yama and niyamas (rules such as truthfulness, cleanliness, non-violence) so they are not yogis.

What is more important: asana, pranayama or dhyana?

It all goes together. Asana is done to bring stability to the body and the mind. Without a stable body we cannot sit still in pranayama. Dhyana happens when you have control of the breath; it should happen automatically. There’s also a lot of confusion between dhyana (withdrawal of the sense) and meditation, which cannot be called dhyana. Meditation is when you’re trying to focus your mind in a different place. When you have control of mind, body and thoughts, that’s when meditation begins.

Famed yogic guru Sharath Jois reveals the secrets to a long and healthy life in new book

What do you think of the yoga that happens on social media?

Horrible; it’s not spiritual. It’s an acrobatic, circus practice. I tell people not to put their poses on social media. It’s totally non-yogic. You must learn yoga from a guru; the Internet cannot give you the same energy.

There has been talk that your institute favours foreign students over Indians. Any comments?

It’s a baseless allegation. We have for years tried to encourage Indian students. We also have scholarships for Indian students. It’s only now when the Westerners have started coming that Indians have followed. I’ll tell you an incident. One of my neighbours skipped class one day and I asked him why he didn’t come to the shala. He replied saying that it was because it was raining. But when I reached the shala that day there were many foreign students wearing raincoats waiting for us to open. My grandfather, in his time, would go to all the hostels and ask students to come and practise yoga. Only three or four people would show up. Ironically, for us Indians, it is very easy to understand yoga, because we come from this culture. Somehow, we get lost when we become older.

The writer teaches Vinyasa flow in Delhi; she is the author of Glow and a columnist with The Hindu Weekend

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 3:29:34 PM |

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