Tanvi Mehra in conversation with IndeaYoga’s Bharath Shetty.
My unplanned yoga journey began seven years ago with Yogacharya Bharath Shetty, the founder of IndeaYoga in Mysore. During my brief career in fashion, I felt a restlessness that dissipated when Bharathji inspired me to start my own teaching practice. A sabbatical from another life has led me to commit full-time to yoga. That is the charisma of Bharathji, my guru and friend, who sparks a love for yoga in all the lives he touches.
Tanvi: What does yoga mean to you? How did you discover it and when did it become your calling?
Bharath Shetty: Yoga changed my life. It keeps me healthy and happy. I discovered yoga in 1993. I suffered from asthma. It was introduced in my school for 40 mins, twice a week. I practised regularly and it helped my asthma. I became healthier. I started teaching in 1995. I didn’t ever set out to be a yoga teacher but when I was self-practising, I was approached to teach and in three years, I had 60 students. In 1999, I was in an accident and yoga healed me. It became clear to me that yoga was my everything. It took me from many distractions to a single focus. There was no turning back.
Tanvi: Tell us about studying under Yogacharya B K S Iyengar.
Bharath Shetty: I call my time with Guruji as the golden era of my yoga journey. I spent eight months under his tutelage and I consider it the best time of my life. Guruji Iyengar and Swami Vivekananda are two of my biggest inspirations. I had the great opportunity of attending guruji’s sessions and there was immense learning. I started my yoga practice based on his book Light on Yoga and had been practising for 10 years, so this made the learning process much easier when I finally met him. I remember he had come to Mysore for four days and I had the best time with him as he answered all my questions. For all the precious hours spent with him, I am forever grateful.
“I call my time with Guruji (B K S Iyengar) as the golden era of my yoga journey. I spent eight months under his tutelage and I consider it the best time of my life.”
Tanvi: What is IndeaYoga’s philosophy?
Bharath Shetty: IndeaYoga came from one of the shanti mantras of the Upanishads: tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, which means lead me from darkness to light. Indea is made of two words. The English word ‘in,’ and the Sanskrit word ‘dea,’ which means light. Yoga is based on the ‘inner light.’ At IndeaYoga, we wanted to work inward rather than outward. It’s based on observing ourselves rather than attaching ourselves to anything external. We want to find the internal balance within ourselves. When we are present in our every little action, we become ourselves. The whole idea of IndeaYoga is to be present and to know yourself in-depth.
Tanvi: What do you love the most about teaching yoga?
Bharath Shetty: Teaching yoga came as a gift to me. I started teaching only when someone asked me to teach. When I started teaching, I had no training or certificate and it’s only when I decided to be a trained yoga teacher that I went for my first training. Every moment in the classroom is my favourite as I get to learn so much. Each time you start teaching, you lose some of your own ignorance as you learn from every single student. Training students and seeing the next generation of teachers carry forward the torch of yoga gives me boundless joy.
Tanvi: What are the difficulties you have faced as a yoga teacher?
Bharath Shetty: It is an overwhelming job to guide someone who seeks. People want to do everything fast. They jump from one thing to another. It is rare to get a few consistent students who sincerely work on the same subject. There is also a lot of competition in yoga these days. Competition builds ego and it’s important to approach your practice with playfulness. I keep telling my students to “play with your practice and do not fight.” Everyone comes to fight and overachieve everything in a short time frame. To get a consistent, committed student is the true challenge for any guru.
Tanvi: What is your self-practise like and how has it changed from the time you started?
Bharath Shetty: My practice is what I preach: body, breath and mind. Asana is not everything. I usually take a sequence of asanas to work on consistently for a few weeks and watch the body’s response. Right now, I am working on the deep connection between asanas and the five pranas and chakras. I started with asanas but over time I knew that asanas are more than the physical body. When the breath and the body connect in an asana, the mind slows down. That is active meditation for me and I still practise this. Asana is all about taking you inward.
Tanvi: How do you strike a balance between being a yoga teacher, running your shala and being a father of teenage daughters?
Bharath Shetty: Oh it’s wonderful. Wherever I am, I am that person. If I am with my family, then I am a family man. When I am at the office, I’m a businessman and when I’m in class, I’m a teacher. It’s all about being yourself in the present moment and fulfilling that moment’s responsibility. Just perform the responsibility where you are. Everything has its own rules and regulations. When I am with my growing daughters, I have to listen to their requirements and interests and spend time with them. Whenever they need time, I have to give them time. When I am in the classroom, I don’t think of family and when I am with family, I don’t think of what I’m going to teach in the classroom. Just be present and enjoy every minute as that is the way to excel and grow in every direction.
Tanvi: What advice would you give budding teachers and experienced teachers?
Bharath Shetty: For budding teachers, it’s important to find your purpose. When the purpose is clear, find the appropriate teacher and sincerely follow the footsteps of this teacher for at least six years. Don’t complain, Six years is considered an important learning period. Each time you face a problem, think of it as a lesson for your growth. Don’t change your teacher and your practice from time to time. Stick to your teacher. Experienced teachers need to build consistency and commitment. Each student is your teacher and we must respect all our teachers. Don’t change your thoughts. Stick to your traditions and roots. There is nothing wrong with updating what you already know but always remember that if we take hatha yoga or Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga or Patanjali’s kriya yoga, or The Bhagavad Gita, the philosophy leads you to a certain concrete place. Physical body health is important but your principles must be stronger, so be consistent in what you practice and teach.
Tanvi: How important is it for a yoga teacher to know anatomy?
Bharath Shetty: It’s very important to know the structure and function of our bodies so we can better understand its limitations and extensions. That in turn helps us to manage the wear and tear of the body. Once you gain this knowledge, it’s important not to limit yourself to this, but to explore yoga beyond understanding the body’s pranic functions and the mind’s reactions. It’s important to guide someone beyond their physical growth.
Tanvi: Can someone who has injuries or ailments do yoga? What if someone is injured during the practice?
Bharath Shetty: Yoga is the best healer for injuries or ailments. Yoga helps release fatigue and fastens the healing process. Although injuries take place within the body, healing takes place through prana. When the mind is constantly negative, that energy is consumed by the mind and healing takes much longer. With regard to ailments, it depends on the kind of ailments. In today’s world, 80 to 85 percent of ailments are due to stress, and yoga is the biggest stress buster. I can’t say one will heal completely but surely, recovery is fast. Yoga is about being happy in the moment. Injuries happen during practice when one tends to hold their breath. It is important to be mindful, breathe and then move so that injuries don’t occur. If injuries happen, it is important to give that area a break and work on other aspects till the body is ready.
Tanvi: Is it necessary to believe in God to practise yoga?
Bharath Shetty: The term that comes to mind is Īśvarapraṇidhāna. It is easy to surrender when you see god in a thing, but if you are strong, believe in yourself. In order to practise yoga, you must first have faith in yourself. It is important to have belief in something and your ‘self’ is most important.
Tanvi: Can someone who practises yoga eat meat and consume alcohol?
Bharath Shetty: If as a beginner to the practice you are asked to leave alcohol and meat, you may not be interested in the practice at all. Yoga requires mindfulness and this practice changes your system. It may change your desires and urges. When their practice deepens, alcohol consumers and meat eaters unknowingly transform themselves into vegetarians. It is best not to be attached to any concept. Jīvo jīvasya jīvanam means one living thing is the food for another. Anything we eat has life in it.
Tanvi: What do you think is the most important asana and pranayama that one should practise daily?
Bharath Shetty: It’s hard to say as each asana has its own importance and every asana has its own reactions. As long-time practitioners, we do a combination of forward bending, back bending, inversions, balances and twists as a balance of all these postures will bring us harmony.
Yogacharya Bharat Shetty will be teaching a workshop in Mumbai on March 6th and 7th, 2020. I will be assisting him at this workshop. See you there.
To register call +91 9886091291.
For further information on Bharath Shetty’s teaching schedule, visit IndeaYoga.