Sharmila Desai was first introduced to Ashtanga yoga by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath when she visited Mysore in 1997. She has continued to study regularly at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute and is one of few worldwide to be Certified by the Institute to teach the Ashtanga yoga system. Her most recent book Yoga Sadhana for Mothers published by YogaWords and co written with Anna Wise is the first book on the subject of Ashtanga Yoga, pregnancy, birth and motherhood drawing from the oral tradition of her Guruji's family and shared experiences from many of his most devoted women students. Her book Sristi published by Trolley Books chronicles her lineage as well as performances worldwide including the Venice Biennale, ICA London, Schrin Kunsthalle and Deitch Projects.
On graduating from Columbia University, Sharmila was awarded the Henry Evans Fellowship to set up a dance program for street children in Mumbai, India. She has also taught yoga therapy workshops to the Southall Black Sisters in the UK and to South Asian Youth Action in Queens, New York. In 2015 she was the keynote speaker on YogaAsana at the Hindu Temple Society of North America for International Yoga Day.
What do you do best?
‘Being’ with my children.
Each day is a newfound journey together. I made a decision early on that I was going to be truly present for my children, look them in the eye and connect. I rely on my maternal instinct as well as draw on my yoga studies and formal education to meet who they are.
What makes you the best?
Not sure about the concept of the best in yoga.
Having a true Guru to guide me in this age-old practice has been essential. There is a certain sacrifice, a surrendering and an inner seeking that happens as you search for someone who can lead you on a spiritual path and molds your relationship to the discipline or as we say Sadhana. Yoga is something we experience within our whole being and finding a true teacher or Guru can lead you towards that experience.
My Guru opened my eyes to the vast ocean that is yoga, inspiring me to be an eternal student. I am in a constant state of learning, evolving, exploring and cultivating with love, curiosity and humility.
What are your aspirations?
Build an Ashtanga yoga school on our family’s ancestral land using permaculture precepts and offering special programs for the local community.
Support my children fulfill their life calling.
Keep exploring Nature’s wonder.
Birthing my two children in the water. I really wanted to give my children a natural birth if possible. I was also aware that the health of my babies was of the utmost importance so I was open to whatever measures were necessary for that to happen.
Letting go of personal attachments, expanding my concept of what was ideal to be inclusive of the life process within, and surrendering to an innate power were par for the course. The trust and love experienced in realizing this miracle was tremendous.
Most challenging moment?
My older brother was on a Pan Am plane that was hijacked with fatalities in the 80s. This trauma shook our family to the core and has proven to be a lifelong source of existential questioning.
Practice and all is coming
My mother and father for all of their sacrifices and the work ethic they instilled in me.
Shri K Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois for their dedication to imparting the tradition in its purity and transforming so many real lives in the process.
Sting and Trudie for their commitment to the environment making the Earth a better place for generations to come and mastering the art of living.
Nalini Mehta for her knowledge of Ayurvedic traditions, sharing the importance of a healing diet cooked with love.
Ina May for being a pioneer in home birthing, educating women of the natural process and inspiring many including myself to see it as a real possibility.
My ancestral village Morjim in Goa India
Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore South India
Rocky Mountain hiking trails of Colorado. I love the way the light moves through nature and I am reminded of my solo hike in the Himalayas.
Eco Mat - When I started practicing Ashtanga yoga in Mysore I did not have a mat. I practiced on either the carpet or a floor. Made from natural jute with 100% natural rubber and sustainable plant based materials in the UK, this is the only mat I have owned for years. I am instantly connected to the textural feeling and ecological sentiment.
Ekaminhale tees - Ekam means One in Sanskrit. It is the first command our Guru says along with the breath count Inhale when he leads us through the Ashtanga yoga practice. For me EkamInhale resonates much like a call to attention, to awaken in our life both metaphorically and literally. Made on super soft cotton and aesthetically designed, my favorite is the Sri Yantra which is the visual manifestation of Aum.
Intuitive Mala - My friend Sonja made me an intuitive mala with energy-filled beads based on my life in yoga and as a mother. Malas are sacred in nature when used in chanting and recitation to create a meditative state. The intuitive rasamala so far has been my most powerful mala worn to date...it feels like a compass to my TrueNorth as I weave through the day.
Ghee by Ancient Organics - Produced in a peaceful and mantra-infused kitchen honoring the tradition of artisan ghee made on the full moon. The bright and waxing moon amplifies the elemental healing qualities and taste of ghee. Our whole family embraces ghee as part of healthy eating and supporting the flow of our pranic energy.
Listening to my husband and children play guitar together
Photo credit: Hailey Wist