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Yogi Says His Path Is for Normal People

February 13, 1988|Rick VanderKnyff | Times staff writer

Reflections showcases people from the county who have an interesting life story and gives them an opportunity to tell it in their own words.

For Lajpatrai Sharma, teaching yoga was a destiny that proved hard to escape. When he was born, the astrologers of his village in northern India prophesied that he would someday be a great yogi. His parents, though, weren't crazy about that idea, for to become a yoga master was to commit to a life of almost certain poverty.

Sharma went on to study commerce at the University of Punjab, India, and later became a chartered accountant (the equivalent of certified public accountant) at a time when the profession was in its infancy in India. But he also studied and practiced yoga. When he moved to the United States in 1969, he worked as an accountant for a year before leaving the profession to teach yoga full time. Now 67, he still gives private and group lessons in his Irvine home.

His comments are taken from an interview with Times staff writer Rick VanderKnyff.

I was born with holes at the edge of my ears, and that was the sign of a yogi. The astrologers declared that one day I would become a big yogi, and my parents told me that this was what the astrologers said, but they kept it hush-hush, because in India at that time, yogis were those who had nothing else to do. It was a very insignificant sort of life.

When I was 11 years old, one of the top yoga teachers of north India told me that I would become a big yogi one day, and I should learn from him. But I avoided it because I had higher interests in my life. I wanted to become something different from that poor yogi who wandered about in the streets.

But he kept on teaching me, and he taught me the ancient language, Sanskrit, the language in which the real yoga is written. I studied language and what yoga was about, but I didn't practice it. I was concerned with developing my own career.

I qualified (as a chartered accountant) in 1953, January, and my number is 2364. So, in all of India up to January, 1953, the total number of persons who became chartered accountants was 2,364. Now there are 55,000 to 60,000.

Destiny makes things, you know. When I was doing this work, at the same time my old teacher called me and said, "I'm going to die now. Learn yoga from me." So he started teaching me yoga. It was 1956. I don't know any other chartered accountants who did yoga. Not one.

Yoga is not what is being taught here (in the United States). Now there's too much bending and too much stretching. You go to any yoga center, and what do they do? They make you bend forward and backward, make you stand on your head or on your shoulders.

Yogis become limber, but a limber person is not a yogi. A double-jointed person can do much better than a yogi, but that person is not a yogi. There are distinctions between a gymnast and a yogi. A gymnast can do many more things than a yogi can do, but he or she is not a yogi.

Yoga has been confused because (people believe) a yogi must have a certain type of dress. He should dress funny. My question is: Why can't he have a nice suit on and still be a yogi?

Yoga is based on five pillars: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, cleanliness and control of senses. I could write a chapter on each of these words.

You don't have to stand on your head. They are deceiving people. People should know that yoga is for normal human beings. You can be a leading certified public accountant or an attorney and still be doing yoga. You don't have to have a beautiful body. You don't have to be a model to do yoga. It changes your insight, and it will make you a tremendously prosperous person.

I was going for a walk and met a man with bulging muscles, and he said, "You walk differently." I said yes. He asked, "What do you do?" I said, "I don't pump iron like you, but I am very strong."

He said: "I am also strong. Let us do something and see how strong you are." I said: "Do one push-up, and take as much time as you can. Lie down on your stomach, lift yourself up and come down very slowly." He was perspiring and shaking and said, "You do it." And I said, "I don't want you to be embarrassed." He said, "No, do it."

I did it, and he said, "Can I become your student?" He asked how old I was and I said, "Three times your age: you're 22, I'm 67."

I can move every muscle in the body. All the muscles are under control. I don't have to pump iron to make my muscles healthy. I've never seen a lion doing push-ups or lifting weights.

I work seven days a week. I work all waking hours. I've got about 10 to 12 private classes, three other classes where I have small groups, and one where I teach the art of living. That's on Wednesday night, and those who come get a free dinner because I am a good cook.

I meditate, I walk about four miles a day, I do yoga, I'm writing a book on how to live--I've written about 4,000 pages. One day it will come, that book. I manage my properties. And all my students, they come to me and seek my guidance on so many things.

I'm a very successful man in every way, because I have health, peace of mind, balance, success--material, mental, spiritual and physical.

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