Interview with Sharmila Desai


1. How to use yoga as a tool for social transformation?

Apply the life force we experience in our practice to our relationships and the world around us.

Gandhi was a perfect example of ‘being the change’ that also led to social transformation. His life of service embodied the core yogic principles of Ahimsa and Satya. Satish Kumar is a modern day living role model of someone who lives yoga as a total ecology inclusive of nurturing the environment and social action.

2. What changed in you and in your practice when you decided to become a teacher?

I waited a long time to formally share the practice/become a teacher. I only started assisting when I was midway through learning the Advanced series as taught to me in Mysore. I wanted to live and apply what was directly imparted in the teachings first as a path to truth. I hoped when the time came to share what I had been taught that I had also experienced its truth through living it. Becoming a mother, having to let go of the physical practice as I understood it and then build it back again twice over in a holistic way taught me a great deal about the more subtle aspects of effort and surrender. It made perfect sense to me that I only became Certified after having my two children, Asha and Arjuna.

Being a practitioner, teacher, mother, gardener all show me that the learning and growing never ends.

3. Can you share a memory about Guruji?

Sometimes after class when I studied with Guruji in the afternoons he made coffee. I revered him so deeply that I was too nervous to speak in his presence especially as a complete beginner. We would sit sipping coffee and sometimes he would be reading the paper…there was a sweet profoundness in the two of us simply sitting together quietly.

4. How can the practice become more spiritual? How can we approach Bhakti yoga?

Authentic yoga is a spiritual discipline. Humility and devotion nurture the spirituality already inherent in the form.

My first introduction to Bhakti was when I studied classical Indian dance. I would be learning a dance belonging to a particular deity and my teacher would drop me off at a temple with the instruction ‘stay here and let the qualities of the form become a part of you.’ She encouraged an inner merging with something divine-like that would later be transmuted in the dance. This is a feeling that cannot be formally ‘taught’ but must be experienced with time, sensitivity and genuine devotion.

I found over the years having an altar helps plant my personal practice as a prayer and an offering.

5. You have had many students. What do you observe as the main change in their lives after Ashtanga?

The main change I I observe is a deepening of compassion and connectivity.

6. How becoming a mother changed your understanding of the practice?

Becoming a mother taught me that the whole of life is a spiritual practice. In every moment and through our actions in the here and now guided by a respect for everything around us.


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