Interview with Sharat Arora (Anand Sagar) by Anna Polak
Interview with Sharat Arora (Anand Sagar) by Anna Polak
1. Ania: Welcome Guruji. Namaste. At the beginning, to introduce readers to such an important subject, I want to ask you what is yoga and what is the significance of yoga? What is the message of yoga?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Take a simple thing. I want to tie up something. If I am disturbed by people coming and telling or asking this or that, I cannot do anything. The first thing that yoga does is it helps us to concentrate so we are able to do, whatever we do in our lives, better. We become peaceful. That is the purpose of yoga - to become peaceful.
Yoga is very significant nowadays because there are a lot of disturbances. Media, publicity, Internet have become more and more powerful. That is why to do yoga practice is now more significant than ever before.
People must start to reflect on this.
The first thing about people who want to do yoga practice is that those people must feel the need to do yoga practice.
2. Ania: What is hatha yoga? What is the history of hatha yoga?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: In our time, when the concept of a brand is so important, people start to do this yoga, that yoga etc. But initially whenever you did any kind of exercise with the body it was called hatha yoga. It is because you are using the body as an instrument to bring peace about. Originally, (2000 years ago) yoga did not have that element of working with the body with so much detail. Around the twelfth or thirteenth century two different books about this kind of practice appeared. One is called Hatha Pradipika and the other one Shiva Samhita. They both describe asana and pranayama practice. And they refer to the Patanjali Yoga as a goal. They don´t describe any other thing in great detail. They are mainly talking about energy.
Hatha yoga is the use, as far as we are concerned, of asana and pranayama practice to get deeper into oneself.
3. Ania: How did you become a yogi? And why did you choose this path?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: I never chose anything. It was a very simple thing. I had no direction in life. So this just felt in and I did not even know what I was falling into. I had not even imagined that yoga was to bring peace about. I did not choose it with my mind. It just happened. And then by practicing and practicing I realized what the true goal was. Little by Little yoga became much attractive to me. First it was only a body work and physical effort but then I dropped this way of thinking. I had some amazing teachers and the yoga practice and pranayama practice that I did made sense to me.
4. Ania: Where did you find the inspiration? Or, rather, who was your inspiration?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: It was not only an inspiration, it was… I looked at my teacher as my father so I just loved the place, the situation, what the yoga was doing for me. BKS Iyengar was my complete inspiration. I have followed his teachings till today. But the only thing that I have discovered by myself is why we do all this. And how it fits into the philosophy of yoga practice as described by Patanjali who is the father of Yoga. After that I started to do Vipassana meditation. I was reading and inquiring what Vipassana is and how it is related to my practice. Then I went through Krishnamurti and him, next to Poonjaji who is a student of Ramana Maharshi, inspired me in all my practice. I took that philosophy and used it in my practice. Both these philosophers made me think about my practice. Unless I questioned what all these people were inspiring me to do, my yoga practice would have been very rudimentary, like in the army. Which is what it was for me before.
5. Ania: We already know BKS Iyengar was your first teacher. Why him and not someone else?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: I didn´t choose. My parents had moved to Pune by then and it was the biggest Institute in Pune.
I started in Pune in 1978 or 1979 and after three months I became an assistant teacher. I have not stopped teaching since then. Actually, teaching is a wonderful thing because when you say something, you have to ask yourself if it is something that you just realize or if it is something that you really believe in.
6. Ania: Tell us more about the time spent by the side of such an amazing and respected person as BKS Iyengar.
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: You know, when you are looking and looking for something, you feel grateful when you find it. In my life I was looking for something to do which would support me financially and at the same time an inspiring activity for the rest of my life. Therefore I was very happy to wake up and to do what I had to do.
The only hardship I remember about my time with Iyengar is that I lived with very little money. I got paid a little bit more than 200 rupees per month for assisting in the classes. I actually lived like this, with almost no money, for many years. But I chose this type of life and rejected everything else in order to do yoga. I chose to do it and I didn´t blame anyone. I was full of gratitude towards my teacher despite of my money problems. It was like having a new life.
7. Ania: Is your real name Sharat Arora or is it your artistic nickname?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: The actual name that my parents gave me was Sarat without h. But in Pune and Bombay, when I was student, it was easier for the people to pronounce Sharat rather than Sarat. Then my name became Sharat, not in my Passport but, yes, with the people around me. The name that my spiritual teacher gave me was Anand Sagar. Which means ‘sea of joy’ or ‘ocean of bliss’. I don’t use it because if it is the ocean of bliss, it has to be constant and sometimes I suffer just like anyone else, so I don´t dear to use this name.
8. Ania: You are the author of a great yoga method of working with the body. How did it happen?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: I don´t know how it happened. All I know is that I kept on doing my practice and inquiring. And basically I just teach all the time the same thing.
I found the inspiration with very different masters. Whatever I did, I explored in depth. I did not just take it and then start practicing. Through constant questioning some kind of clarity appeared. I fit in everything that Krishnamurti and Poonjaji were saying, and it gave some clarity in my life and yoga practice. Then I started to share it with my students every day.
Living itself is a process. When you live, you apply your wisdom and whatever you find while living, and you share it with your students. It is so simple.
9. Ania: What are the foundations of your method? What is it based on?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: I use the quality of the earth. You see what it does not only to your body but also to your mind. You realize its importance because it is helping you in everything in life. When you work in your feet you do something very vital – you use the qualities of the earth meaning you take away the disturbances by earthing. How easy it sounds! And it works. The most amazing thing is that it works. If disturbances are coming and going, they are bringing unrest. The earth brings you stability and that is why it is the foundation of our teachings. In order to earth, use the feet when you are standing and the buttocks when you are sitting. Having earthing as the basis, our method is characterized by simplicity. But simplicity is not at all what the mind is looking for. On the contrary, our mind puts anything simple away and tends to see it as something that does not work. It wants more complexity. But earthing really works and our students see that.
10. Ania: Was it hard to introduce your method into the yoga world and into the life?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: It was a process of inquiring on a daily basis. Which made me start to see things clear. Something happens to you, therefore you react. Then you make an inquiry inside yourself. That way teaching comes.
If yoga is something different from life, it is useless. It is all about life.
11. Ania: Did you encounter any adversity?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: All kinds of adversity. People find our method non-complicated. So they say it cannot be. This is the biggest adversity. They want it more complex. It fixes with the mind, with all those things they have to do and with the challenges they have in life. But everywhere in the world the true path is very simple. When it is a true path it is very simple. It has to be simple, otherwise who is going to follow? In yoga advance it means that you have gone deeper inside. You have dropped the different layers and gone deeper. You are going in within yourself. To understand how to go within requires quietness and concentration and the willingness to listen. People do not like to listen.
12. Ania: How long did it take you to do an introduction of your method? And how did you check its effectiveness and legitimacy?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: First you see it is working on you. Then you understand it is not only your discovery but the discovery of all the masters that are all saying the same thing. But you are putting it into practice when you do the yoga practice. Next, you apply these teachings to all the students. Then you see it is working and therefore it becomes legitimate.
All the masters say the same things; you have to find similarities and not differences. I tried to find the similarities and I mixed the knowledge coming from Krishnamurti, Pooja and BKS Iyengar.
13. Ania: Are there any limits in your method?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: All the time I add something to it. A new person comes and you apply the teaching to heal him. Therefore something new is added onto your knowledge. Another thing which is being added on is how to explain this in different ways to different people. That is the only thing that is constantly being changed and revised.
True teaching never changes.
14. Ania: What is therapeutic yoga? What is the purpose of this kind of yoga?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Whether it be a student or a patient, the same rules apply. With a patient you just have to make sure that what you are teaching starts working straight ahead without waiting. So the same teaching is for everyone. Except, it is more urgent that the patient learns it than the student.
The difference is that with patients all the study goes into diagnosing the true nature of what the patient is suffering from. One thing is the obvious label that is given by the doctor. However another thing is what is behind it. It allows you to fight the real cause of the problem. This is probably the study that I have been doing continuously since I was a student at the Institute. People came with problems and I had to find a way and explore how I could heal them.
15. Ania: You have many patients, students with many problems, coming from all over the world. Tell me who can apply for therapeutic yoga classes? Are they a specific group of people?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: You have all kinds of people coming - all kinds - and it does not matter what the problem is. The real cause is most of the times the mind. At some point the mind went off the track and they have to find where the mind has gone off the track. Then they have to be the ones who decide if they want to heal themselves or not and find the way to heal themselves.
16. Ania: What are the benefits for your students form therapeutic yoga classes?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: My students get better health and much more happiness in life. We all suffer from something and if we didn´t, we all would be enlightened. When you have suffered, you understand when someone else is suffering. When you heal yourself with your yoga practice you can apply that knowledge to someone else very easily. Most people have some problem and they go to an Ayurvedic doctor. I, as a yoga practitioner, should maybe try the yoga to heal me… Why not trying to heal yourself through yoga practice?
Anyone who is going to do yoga to heal themselves, first of all has to be motivated. No motivation, no cure. So we tell them about the mind, we tell them about the diet. Tell them not use western Medicine. But many things have to be applied and changed to heal oneself.
17. Ania: Students who come to the Centre with a healing request, see you as a doctor or a specialist in medical sciences. How do you feel about it? Each of them has a lot of expectations, especially those who came from far away. How do you deal with all those expectations?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Expectation is in all of us. It is not only in the patients. When a student comes to do the teachers training, THEY WANT TO GO AWAY WITH ALL THE KNOWLEDGE ALLOWING THEM TO QUICKLY BECOME A TEACHER. A patient comes with the expectation to be healed. Whenever you deal with someone you are dealing with expectations. But in reality, whatever you do in your job you have to forget expectations because no one can fulfil everyone’s expectations.
18. Ania: Now, let’s talk about your yoga school. When did you open your first centre and where?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: I came to Goa in ‘85 because someone said “if you go to Goa we will help you”. But that help did not come. I struggled and spent a lot of time trying to motivate local Indians to do yoga. I even tried to set up yoga in schools. When i saw that all this was a waste of time, I started to teach western people because they were ready already.
It becomes too hot in Goa in April and May. So in spring and summer season life took me to the mountains again.
19. Ania: In Dharamsala you have opened Himalaya Shanti Ashram - a unique place, away from the world, where your students may cut off from the life in the city and concentrate on yoga and meditation practice. Why this idea in such place?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: For a student it is not easy to drop all the disturbances. Wherever something is offered they are pulled towards it so they cannot concentrate on the inner processes. I knew no progress in spiritual life would happen unless a quieter place is offered. An appropriate place helps you realize that there is something that can stop suffering and there is something that can bring about peace and calm.
20. Ania: What are your plans for the future of your school?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: It would be good to see teachers start to really understand the subject and have the will to discover themselves and thus make progress as human beings. Then, wherever they live, they can share that with other people. I would like to see some genuine people have a little bit higher standards so that yoga becomes yoga and it is not taught as some other kind of nonsense.
21. Ania: Now, let’s talk about the present situation in the yoga world. What is yoga today?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: As soon as yoga became fashionable, people started to make their own labels. Basically a label is about… me. I do it like this and people have absolutely no reason to do it differently. Yoga has become popular but also corrupted. Instead of leaving apart the Ego, it is growing the Ego. This is what needs to be rectified.
Teachers must be an example of living.
22. Ania: How do you see the approach to yoga today? How do you perceive the approach of the teachers and also of the students?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Very few are actually interested in the spiritual effects of yoga, therefore teachers don’t explore this area. The very few who are interested look around only to find mantra and vedic chanting or the path of bhakti or surrender to God... which is ok but it is a different practice. So yoga for these people becomes physical while these other things - spiritual.
23. Ania: Is yoga the same for you currently as it was when you started as a student?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Definitely not. I had no idea of yoga when I started. It’s only when I started vipassana seriously alongside my yoga practice that I realized that yoga must have the same goal. I started exploring while practicing yoga to find what is common to both and to synthesize. Eventually more wisdom about yoga came upon encountering Ramana Maharishi’s path.
24. Ania: Did you notice any changes in the students’ approach to yoga?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: The kind of students we attract are indeed different now than before.
25. Ania: You are an excellent yoga teacher, known all over the world. Please tell me more about the role of the teacher.
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: A teacher is a sadhaka or a practitioner who must inevitably SHARE with the world as this is the law or dharma.
26. Ania: Among the students, who becomes a yoga teacher?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: When the interest in yoga gains TOPMOST priority of a student, then yoga can be taught. It is a natural phenomenon, when the fruit is ripe it will attract everyone.
27. Ania: And how does a teacher perceive the relationship with students?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: A teacher is there to give out of compassion, which means that the teacher responds to the student’s need.
28. Ania: What is the relationship between a student and a teacher based on?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: The student comes to the teacher with devotion, without prejudgments and without expectations.
29. Ania: What kind of benefits a yoga student should take home after a class?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: The benefits of yoga obviously which are a feeling of peace and love.
30. Ania: People from around the world come to visit you. A journey to India is caused not only by the need to know you and your method of teaching but also because India is the cradle of yoga. How you perceive people who come to India to study yoga?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: India lost yoga and spiritual knowledge during the Mughal and British rule nearing 500 years. It was revived from books and scriptures less than 100 years back. With the interest of yoga coming from the West, the standards dropped with commercialization. Although yoga was born here it has grown up in the West. Unfortunately, this is what foreign seekers get when they come looking for yoga – a reimported version. As yoga is experiential everyone who looks within themselves can find the truth but unfortunately the ‘teachers’ are too busy making a living to be true practitioners.
31. Ania: Have you noticed the difference between yoga students from India and yoga students from Europe and the rest of the world?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Not so much anymore. India has the same tired, lost and seeking outward people as in the West. There is not so much difference with media becoming so important.
32. Ania: You launch many courses and also train future yoga teachers. How does such training look like? How long do you train your students so that they become good teachers? Can everyone become a yoga teacher these days?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: We are going through a strange phenomenon. People want to be teachers before they become students ... The result is a shallow approach, especially that a teacher’s certificate is available after only 1 month of training and sometimes even less. After that, it is just business. When people interested in yoga hear that in our Centre it is a longer training, luckily some drop out but there are still some who want to do it but are looking for shortcuts. Trying to maintain a high standard with so much competition is difficult but I would rather stop teacher trainings than compromise.
33. Ania: What is happening during such training?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: Due to most people having short time to take leave from their jobs we are forced to have training which would take 2 months compressed into 3 weeks. With such intensity many students lose their interest.
34. Ania: Is there an easy way to learn?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: This is the question I ask myself.
35. Ania: What are the requirements for students willing to participate in the yoga teachers training?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: The first step to yoga is focus dropping everything that is not necessary. This is the first thing I like to see in students, then knowledge will be used for yoga practice. Otherwise it will become a commercial trap.
36. Ania: What is your message on yoga for future students from Poland?
Yogacharya Sharat Arora: In general, Polish students are very concentrated so they are a pleasure to guide. My message to everyone including the Polish would be to start looking within as otherwise life is wasted.
Ania: Thank you for the message, your time and a wonderful interview!
Nauczycielka Hatha Jogi
Studentka w Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre