Yogrishi Sai believes in the healing effect of mantras and music. He’s the founder of Hojo Yoga Studio and the Yogrishi Sai Foundation, and he has also participated in Indica Yoga’s Global Festival of Yoga where he shared his ‘Mantra Meditation’ practice as taught by Sri Krishnamacharya. We caught up with him to talk about how he found yoga, his love for music and how he uses it to heal his students and how we can preserve yoga’s authenticity even in a global world.
Sophia: How did your journey to yoga begin?
Yogrishi Sai: I was initiated into Yoga and Vedic studies at a young age during the traditional Brahmin ‘Munji’ ceremony. Since then Asana, Pranayama, Puja and Homa have become an integral part of my life. As time went by, my interest in yoga and spirituality grew exponentially and I took up yoga as a career. I was inspired by the life-long service of Sri Krishnamacharya in yoga and spirituality and consider myself extremely fortunate to be a teacher from his lineage.
Sophia: Tell us about the Krishnamacharya lineage. Are his teachings different from BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois (both are his students).
Yogrishi Sai: Krishnamacharya is known the world over as “Grandfather of Modern Yoga”. He lived to be a centenarian and devoted his entire life in propagating yoga as a simple and systematic discipline for health and well-being for the modern age. His approach was focused on promoting strength, flexibility, structural alignment, proper functioning of various body systems and mental steadiness by applying unique yogic methods. In effect the great yogi transformed yoga into a therapeutic and healing practice for everyone.
Krishnamacharya taught that everyone is capable of achieving a state of serenity to connect with the Self by gaining control over breath through yoga. In my own experience what stands out in the Krishnamacharya tradition is the focus on the three components of breath and the synchronised physical movements and breath. The efficient breathing with right movement makes yoga practice graceful and effective and prepares the mind for deeper meditation.
Sri BKS Iyengar and Sri Pattabi Jois were Krishnamacharya’s students. We can clearly see elements of Krishnamacharya’s methods in their teachings, however both developed their own distinct style and contributed immensely to promoting yoga globally. They adopted diverse approaches to address the needs of their students. The training under Krishnamacharya provided a strong foundation for them to experiment and evolve into great masters.
Sophia: You said your work has evolved over the years to include mantra, kirtan and you’re a practitioner of Bhakti as well. Tell us about that.
Yogrishi Sai: In the KYM tradition, playing music during Asana practice is not encouraged. Rightly so as it would take attention away from breath. My students in the west love Kirtans as popularised by artists like Krishna Das and they were keen that I include Kirtans during the sessions. To strike a balance, I started including Kirtans towards the end of the sessions. With the grace and blessings of my music guru Vidhushi Lakshmi Bhat, a long-term disciple of Pandit Vinayak Torvi, I was able to accommodate this new feature in my sessions. Needless to say, learning music was a transformative experience. I realised its healing potential and benefited immensely during the daily sadhana. It's a well known fact that Indian classical music and Vedic mantras have therapeutic healing effects. I experimented by creating a playlist of certain ragas and mantras and played it softly during yoga therapy sessions. The results were quite outstanding. So I have been adapting and evolving based on the needs of my students and applying methods that have proven to be fruitful. I pray for forgiveness from my teachers for any deviation from the tradition.
It’s interesting that you brought up the topic of Bhakti. Sage Patanjali in Yoga Sutra lists 'Ishvara Pranidhana’ (complete surrender and love of God) as one of the three aspects of Kriya Yoga. This line of thinking is also the hallmark of Krishnamacharya lineage. He was an ardent devotee of Krishna and continued to offer the traditional prayers till his Maha Samadhi. Bhakti fast-forwards the process of ‘chitta shuddhi’ an essential prerequisite for achieving ‘chitta vritti nirodha’ state.
Sophia: What are your views on the globalisation of yoga?
Yogrishi Sai: Yoga is India’s gift to humanity. During the pandemic, millions across the globe benefited from yoga’s healing power. Yoga and Ayurveda have earned recognition as a cost effective complementary and alternative treatment methods among the global community. Thanks to the efforts and grace of great saints and masters such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar and many more, India’s timeless wisdom became popular around the world. Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi cemented Yoga’s place in the global consciousness with the adoption of International Yoga Day at the United Nations. I’m also encouraged by the efforts of Indic scholars to remove misconceptions and point out misappropriation of Indian wisdom. There is much more to be done in the rapidly changing global scenario.
Sophia: How can India’s ancient wisdom be applied to a modern world without losing authenticity?
Yogrishi Sai: The modern world is grappling with problems on multiple fronts; wars, terrorism, pandemic, food shortages, supply chain disruptions, corruption, lack of jobs etc. The devastating pandemic combined with excessive spending has brought many countries on the verge of bankruptcy. The time is ripe to integrate ancient Indian wisdom and redefine the ways of living. The global communities should come together to redefine success and the ways to live a good life as taught by the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Yogic scriptures. Business leaders should connect business matrices with ethical concepts from Indian Scriptures. I really appreciate Indica Yoga’s efforts to preserve and propagate India’s ancient wisdom by investing in research, publications, scholarships and global conferences on Indic wisdom.
Sophia: What are some of your beloved mantras and why?
Yogrishi Sai: My day starts with the chanting of Sri Rudram, Purusha Suktam, Devi Suktam and Sri Suktam as part of Shiva Pancayatana Puja. Chanting these hymns helps me remove all the negativity and unpleasant memories from the mind. I feel a sense of purity and serenity through the day as a result of chanting these sacred mantras. Chanting of the mantras by paying special attention to intonation and pronunciation sets the stage for meditation.
Sophia: Do you meditate? How does it affect you?
Yogrishi Sai: I practice ‘Mantra Meditation’ as taught by Sri Krishnamacharya. I have had the opportunity to present this meditation technique during the Indica Yoga Global Festival. It helps me stop the constant traffic of thoughts, desires, memories etc., leading to a state of blissful silence. It prepares me to face the ups and downs of this worldly existence with equanimity. Meditation is the key to a fulfilling life.
Sophia: Name spiritual masters that have inspired your practice and work? How did they affect you?
Yogrishi Sai: Two masters influenced me immensely at crucial stages of my life. First and foremost Sri Krishnamacharya. At a time when I was engulfed in self doubt and confusion his teachings and life story inspired and transformed me. At another low point, Swami Chinmayananda’s works gave me new meaning and purpose in life. There is so much more to learn from these two great saints, I have just scratched the surface.
Sophia: What does it take to be an authentic yoga teacher?
Yogrishi Sai: It would be ideal to start one’s yoga journey under a capable master who comes from a long lineage of authentic yoga masters. If one can’t find such a master, the next best option would be to do TTC from a traditional yoga school such as KYM, Bihar School of Yoga etc. Attaining precision in Asanas is only a small part of becoming an authentic yoga teacher. Proficiency in each of the limbs of Sage Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga is equally important to achieve the goal.
Furthermore, we should embrace and nurture divine qualities such as compassion, love for all, truthfulness, purity in actions, dignity etc.; must conduct life in an honourable and dharmic way. Great masters uplift people around them just by their presence. This divine grace is the result of their daily sadhana. Therefore we should prioritise a daily practice of Asana, Pranayama, Dhanya, Chanting, Kirtans, Study of Scriptures, constant remembrance of God etc. We can learn a lot more by studying the lives of great teachers. Last but not the least, we must stay connected to our divine nature.
Sophia: Any advice for young yoga students and teachers?
Yogrishi Sai: Do ‘Tapah’, ‘Svadhyaya’, ‘Ishvara Pranidhana’ - and all is coming!!
For further information on Yogrishi Sai’s work visit, https://yogrishisai.com/