A Mysore update – just another experience at the source

There we go, another round of Mysore. Blogs and articles are plentiful, but there is always space for more….

As always, first impressions can be quite mixed.

The initial excitement of simply going away to a warmer climate, having more time and doing more yoga was quickly spoilt by a delayed flight, delayed luggage, a 3 hour long bumpy taxi ride to Mysore, the worry of finding 33,000 rupees cash by the afternoon (involving 3 cash withdrawals and one money changer), counting my ridiculous stash of rupee notes to pay my fees for a month of practice. The first few hours in India are inevitably hectic.

And then there was the contrast of landing before dawn, waking up to Bangalore in darkness, dozing off in the back of a cold taxi, intermittently watching the morning mist lift over the rice paddies, getting a whiff of fresh morning air, followed by exhaust fumes overlapped with cow poo. With sunrise, the usual ‘Indian’ sights came into my frame of vision: the chai wallas, steaming pots of milk, stick thin labourers emerging from roadside shacks, bloated business men on their way to work, colourful and washed out saris, trucks, cows, dogs, dead dogs and the ever-changing scenery. The arrival in the slower paced city of Mysore is a yet another contrast. Gokulam, the posh side of town where the foreigners, yoga students and wealthy locals reside, is a pleasant but slightly secluded area. Most of the people who pay sky-high rates for yoga, also expect a level of comfort unusual to India – wifi, hot water, washing machines and all mod cons. There is a price to pay for luxury, but this is not so much of an issue here. If you can afford it, why not? That is the general attitude.

DSCN1616So for the first few days, I was not too impressed – so many familiar faces, small talk, everlasting blissful faces, the endless discussions on practice time and student numbers- and the longing for a few peaceful days to ease into things seemed an impossible request. Keywords for me were borderline irritation and lack of inspiration. But then everyone settles, the excitement -and irritation- lessens and life goes on. For most students, life evolves around yoga practice, classes and lunches. Or breakfasts. It seems that ‘practice’ absorbs the need and desire to do much else. But perhaps that is the whole point. And perhaps I am missing it.

It is far more interesting for me to get out of town, see a bit of normality, less Lululemon yoga pants and drink chai rather than green tea.

As much as I sometimes come with a critical mind, I do love it here. Meeting up with old friends, getting into a slightly simpler routine and having a little more time.

Sharath, besides the fact he is intensely busy and sleeps 4 hours a night, appears relaxed, fun and always open to a joke or smile. He doesn’t need to try or be funny, but he does make an effort to be kind. At the same time he never fails to pick up on a poorly executed asana and his eagle eyes know exactly when one is in their practice. The depth of his knowledge is actually pretty astounding. In led class, he corrected for the first time my Iyengar like placement of feet in Trikonasana -‘feet closer’- and in shock, I obediently shuffled my feet in what felt like a strange posture. They will move wider again no doubt once I leave.

In the conferences, there is a sense of ‘deja vu’ – the reaffirmation that we are all here to study yoga as a whole, not just the postures, that yoga happens inside oneself and is a method for self realisation. In the last conference of the year, he made it clear that yoga is not a religion, it can be compatible with any religious beliefs, but one has to believe in the energy of the practice. For him, ‘asana is the foundation for spiritual journey…. a practice for transformation that leads to a higher state of spiritual knowledge’. And a method to calm the mind.

He always makes a point to criticise the obsession with flashy postures, handstands, endless videos on how to backbend and balance on your hands. He wants to make it clear that this is not yoga and one cannot learn through a video or a two week teacher training course. He adds that it is his karma to teach the method he has been taught from his grandfather. What others do with it is beyond his control. Ironically, people are still meeting up in the park on saturday evenings to practice acro yoga and other strange or interesting variations. Senior teachers will still post daily pictures or videos of themselves contorting their body in an exotic location or hand-standing in various parts of the world. People are still obsessed with being upside down. So what, may I say? If yoga really ‘happens within you’ then none of this actually matters.

The questions asked are usually interesting, sometimes repetitive and sometimes just odd. ‘At what age should one start a child on Ashtanga yoga?’ 12 is the official answer – before that, correct breathing is not easy to understand. Scary that someone would like to stretch and bend a child before that age (for the sake of spirituality). And ‘should we stop any other sports when doing asana’? The answer is an absolute yes. Walking, running, cycling are all off limits and will apparently cause too much stiffness in the joints. What a shame for all those athletes out there. Of course, there are many….

Sometimes it doesn’t all make sense and sometimes the simple words used, illustrate the practice very well. ‘Real knowledge comes within you. And when you get rid of delusions, it means yoga is happening within you.’

Happy New Year from Mysore.

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