Sunday, January 29, 2012

A deal is a deal

My last week assisting in the shala, Sharath told me that if I had one particular student catch his ankles in backbends, he would pay me 50 rupees.  He wasn't setting me with a great challenge, as the student in question is doing full intermediate series and can catch the ankles sometimes, but the guy is a fair bit bigger than me, and admits to having to really work at back bending.  So we go to it, he catches, I tell Sharath, and we all move on, but no more mention of the 50 rupees.  Yesterday afternoon when I went to re-register, I thought I would mention it just to be cheeky, and when Sharath handed me the standard amount of change, I reminded him of his promise.  He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, had a good laugh, and went digging through the drawer with the change.  His hand came out with an extra 50 rupees, wobbling his head and saying that 'a deal is a deal.'  I could hardly believe that I actually asked, and that he actually paid me as well.  The best thing to do with the money (equivalent to approximately $1) is probably to split it with the friend that I adjusted in order to earn it... I sense a trip to the coconut stand coming on...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source

This is a link to the great documentary Mysore Magic, and it is well worth watching if
* you have been to Mysore
*have thought about going to Mysore but haven't made it here yet
*or if you maybe have a friend or family member here right now and can't imagine what the heck they could possibly be doing in Mysore.

The dynamic trio who put this film together did a great job of catching the essence of being here, and the whole thing was completed in three weeks, start to finish.

I have a brief speaking role, which is a bit weird to watch, and also there are a few short clips of me either practicing or assisting in the shala, and I feel pretty honored to be a part of the film, even in such a small way.  So please download the film, and unlike youtube videos, this one needs to be purchased, but I believe it is worth it, and a portion of those proceeds go to the Charitable Trust run by the shala.  Local organisations in need will benefit from your purchase.    Happy viewing!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shifting gears

So many transitions happening here in Mysore, the revolving door has swung full circle yet again.

Yesterday marked my last day assisting in the shala, and it is a touch bittersweet to be finished.  Part of me (the absolutely exhausted part) is glad to be done and passing the responsibility on to the next person, but now that I have gotten comfortable with the role and just being in the space for that purpose, I kind of wish I could keep going!  The first two weeks were mostly fear, and as that eased away, the learning process really began, and I started enjoying being in the room.  Sharath has been joking around a fair bit, telling me yesterday that if the person I was doing dropbacks with caught their ankles, he would pay me 50 rupees, and he has been asking if I have been eating more chapatis as my adjustments have become more efficient.   Starting next week I will be able to take rest after practice, and enjoy my coconuts instead of rushing straight back into the room, but I will miss the extra time spent in the shala, learning and absorbing the energy.

Many friends are making their way back to real life, and it is a hard lesson in detachment saying goodbye to people you really care about.  The bonds of friendships run deep when you have so much time to cultivate camaraderie, and letting go of the support network that holds you up through the emotional, physical, and energetic roller coaster of the practice/living in India is challenging.   As much as it is sad to see friends go, more people are arriving everyday, so the are new connections and reconnections to be made as well. 

There has been some coconut stand drama this week as well; Tuesday morning the legendary workplace of Guru and Sons was irreversibly altered when the police came and ripped out the tree that provided the shade and essentially the backbone of their business.  The whole stand was relocated further away from the road, but only after being closed for a day so that the family could re-group and decide it is possible to keep operating.  Rumors are abound for the cause of the destruction, ranging from rival coconut stand owners bribing the police to cause trouble to a city wide beautification/organization project. Yoga students have been swarming back for coconuts and chai, trying to show support for one of the best loved families in Gokulam, and there has been a wave of people sporting the newly printed Guru and Sons t-shirt.  It is good to see the community of foreigners coming together to support the locals, when so often there is a complete disconnect between the two groups.  I can only hope that this will all be sorted soon, and the coco stand can recover the losses they have suffered this week, even if the location has lost a bit of it's charm. 

This revolving door just never stops turning...

Sunday, January 15, 2012


India has a certain distinct quality (all places do really, but India's is maybe harder to describe somehow), and for lack of a better word, I will call it the 'ness'.    It is something that swings from one extreme to another, and I experienced two examples of this over the last two days. 
On Friday I had to go to Bangalore to take care of some x-rays for my Australia visa application, a trip there and back in one day, with a brief doctor visit so that the Australian government can be certain that with all of my travel in developing countries, I haven't picked up any tuberculosis along the way.  I could list numerous reasons why the need for an x-ray is a bit excessive but I won't.  The trip went smoothly, I had hired a car for the day and the driver was very polite and drove with a greater degree of care and caution than I am used to seeing in Asia, and it saved me the hassle of having to try and deal with rickshaw/train or bus/rickshaw-appointment-rickshaw/train or bus/rickshaw drama.  The medical center is where the real 'ness' started to show.  When I got up to the clinic there was a counter with many ladies sitting behind it (more people than desk space), and one waved me over, so I spoke with her, she wrote my name down on a scrap of paper and then told me that the doctor wouldn't arrive for another hour, so I should sit down and relax.  So I sat, and crocheted, and then when I ran out of yarn, I picked up the book that I'd tucked into my bag.  About 90 minutes later, one of the multitude of ladies behind the desk called me up and looked at the necessary paperwork, then sent me out the door to the security guard for a token (the take a number machine thingy is guarded by security... wouldn't want someone to mess with the system and take two numbers...), and then to the billing desk.  After paying I was the proud holder of an x-ray requisition form, so I went down the hall and round the corner for that whole procedure, where a lovely older lady who spoke absolutely no English fawned over me in the lab and made sure the technician didn't try any funny business.  Back to the main area, where there was more waiting, and then multiple re locations in the lobby.  "Madam, you come sit here."  10 minutes later, "okay madam, now you sit here." Repeat.  After about three hours total of hanging around the clinic, I got to see the panel doctor who has been approved by the Australian government; she looked at my papers and took a photo while asking questions, then sent me on my way.  After about 3 hours of waiting, a five minute doctor's appointment.  Joy.  And then the three hour trip back.  What a day.
Saturday morning I woke up early; even without the alarm set it is hard to sleep in when you get into the habit of being up at 3am everyday.  A coffee and some lazy reading in bed entertained me for a few hours, but when my tummy started to grumble, the secret breakfast place was calling my name.  A few text messages later, a posse of four was organized and ready to go, quickly meeting at the coconut stand and then we were off.   Two motorcycles, carrying two people per bike was a small SBP convoy compared to other days, but as a permanent passenger, I am used to checking back over my shoulder to make sure that whoever is following is still hanging on as we weave our way through the streets of Mysore.  We rounded the last corner and a moment later I threw a glance back to our friends, only to see them sliding in some dirt splayed across the road, tipping over and skidding sideways across the pavement with a crash.  We turned around and raced back, but in the mere seconds it took us to reach them, about 5 local men had rushed in to lift the bike and help get our fallen friends out of the road.  The speed with which they reacted, and the lack of hesitation to come to the aid of foreigners was really remarkable in contrast to my experience in Bangalore the day before.  We left those kind gentlemen with many thanks and gestures of namaskar.  Luckily, we were literally around the corner from a small doctor's clinic and pharmacy, so both fallen friends were checked and bandaged within minutes of getting up off the ground.  They were left stiff and sore with some road rash, but nothing worse.  No broken bones, no head injuries.  Phew. Also, when we reached SBP, there was beetroot sambar to go with the best idlis in town, so that made everything an awful lot better.   

India has this infuriating way of making you think that it is quite possibly the most inefficient and impersonal place on the face of the planet, but wait five minutes, and you are shown the humanity and haste that is the flip side of the coin (rupee?).  Multifaceted-ness is there Mother India; you are an experience in extremes.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who needs chapatis?

Yesterday as I was assisting a fellow student into supta kurmasana, sometime near the end of my shift, I was stopped mid adjustment by the boss, and he came over to show me how it was done so to speak.  This particular student seemed quite open, but it didn't look possible for her hands to bind over the expanse of her back, so I didn't force it, not wanting to be responsible for causing injury.  Sharath made her jump back and enter the pose again, and then with a few grunts, managed to tease her arms across her back: aha! tentative clasp of the fingertips .  He quickly moved around to her feet, but as he crossed them, her hands popped free.  He made some disappointed noises as he tried to keep her hands from sliding any further apart, and then helped her up out of the transition.  As she jumped back, he looked at me with a grin and said that both he and I need to eat more chapatis.  Ok Boss, point taken.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Conference recap

Yesterday morning was like the Mysore equivalent of a marathon.  Started off with a packed led intermediate (the unofficial count was 71 people!!!), and then just enough time for a coconut, only to head straight back into the shala for an early conference.  This was one of those occasions where Sharath was at his best, and I wish I could have been a bit more focused through all of it (my grumbling tummy was louder than his voice at some stages of the morning), but a lot of what he said really sunk in.  Some students take notes on their ipads or laptops, but I am just going from memory here, so nothing is word for word.
~People expect things to be instant, and for everything to happen quickly, and yoga can be frustrating when they can't do something right away.  There are phone calls to the shala every week from people asking about teacher trainings, and you can't study everything that quickly and expect to learn anything properly.  It takes time.  A certificate doesn't mean you understand yoga, and any school that says they can teach you all eight limbs in special 2 week course and the you are a teacher is not correct. 
~Someone who says ashtanga is just putting your body in poses and never focuses on the other limbs is like a sailor who only ever goes across the top of the sea and never takes the time to dive in and see the beautiful creatures under the water.  You don't get the whole experience of yoga until you do the practice, do the asana, and develop discipline and devotion, and start to apply the other limbs.  It is experiential, and I guess this is another way of saying it is 99% practice and 1% theory.  You must first calm your mind, and cure your body of any ailments, and then the asana practice becomes an expression of dharana and dhyana (concentration and meditation), so that you don't need a special pillow to sit on and take a separate practice for these limbs.  Use the breath and the drishti and the asana together to find something more than the physical, make it a spiritual practice.  This is a point he has mentioned the last few weeks at conference, so I am thinking he feels quite strongly about it.
~Guruji  has passed and he is deeply missed by the whole family, and I would say a large part of the ashtanga community, but his energy is still very present in the shala.  Someone asked how to keep the inspiration for daily practice, and Sharath said to put his photo in the practice space, then he laughed (as did everyone in attendance) and said to put Guruji's photo, and think about how much he dedicated his whole life to yoga, not just the time in the shala.  He asked if anyone has seen God, and looked around asking a few people individually, and then changed the question to has anyone felt God?  There was a shift in energy in the room and he likened Guruji's presence to God's presence... you can't see it, but if you are paying attention, you can feel it.  He went on to say that it doesn't matter if you say Ishvara or Jesus or Shiva or Allah, the divine is the divine and it is all one.  He also went on with a laugh and said that if Jesus came from India he would have been called a yogi.
~Someone asked about ujjayii breathing in practice, and Sharath quite clearly said that there is no ujjayii in asana practice, it is a pranayama.  When we do asana we should do free breathing with sound, that is all.  If we take shallow breaths we can't clean our nervous system so we need to move the breath deep into the body for it to work properly. 
~A very cheeky question came up right at the end of conference; someone asked what to do if your teacher at home tells you something different than you have been told by Sharath, and this person went on to name two senior teachers, one of whom happened to be in the room the time, essentially throwing them under the bus(rickshaw?) (so to speak).  A murmur went through the room, and Sharath handled the question gracefully, saying that two gurus will kill one student, just like two doctors will kill one patient.  You need to know who to follow, who to listen to, and keep it simple.  He has said before that things have changed over the years a bit, and people should practice and teach how they have been taught by their guru, whether that be him or Guruji or whoever.  Faith must be there in the one person.  We come to Mysore with many problems and then think that some time in India will fix everything, and then leave India with more confusion and more options and new opinions, and then gossip about it on facebook, and that makes even more problems, so we need to keep things simple. 
In my humble opinion, a question like that shouldn't be raised at conference if names are going to be mentioned,  Taking class with any teacher is a choice, and if you think so strongly that what they are teaching is not correct method, why go back to their class???  Fingers don't need to be pointed in group situations, and it comes across as very catty and completely thoughtless.  The named person who was in the room handled it well, no drama at the coconut stand or speaking out in defense, and I would hope his other students are more grateful for the effort he puts into teaching.
Conference was followed by chanting, so by the time I got home it was noon, and nearly lunch time.  The chai I managed to have between conference and chanting had to suffice as breakfast... not enough after the intermediate class.  The rest of the day was dictated by either hunger or the food coma that came after lunch.    Today is shaping up to be much better in the food department, moon day sleep in, coffee taking, and then secret breakfast place idli.  On the way out the door the greens man was walking by, so I bought a huge bunch of spinach to make for lunch.  It can go with my mung sprouts that I made in my nutmilk bag in the kitchen.  No scurvy today!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Memo to self

I very rarely go to the pool while I am in Mysore, but a few times a trip I get into my bathers and go for a swim. 
It always turns out badly.
The first trip I managed to get a sunburn, whle wrapped in a scarf.  In the shade.  Wearing SPF 45? 60?  Something high.
Last year I sat entirely in the shade, and thought it was silly to pay money to sit in the dark in a bikini. And come away with a bit of a burn.
Today I went back to the pool, craving a bit of vitamin D on a beautiful clear day, promptly applied sunscreen and found a spot shaded by palm trees.  What do I have now?  A sunburn. 
Memo to self: STAY AWAY FROM THE POOL!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Looks like everyone wants to read about helping the boss

Holy rollercoasters batman.  Since I posted about being asked to assist in the shala, the number of people reading this blog has gone up by about a kajillion percent, and other than being grateful to a few other yoga bloggers who have linked me to their pages, I am feeling like I need to be much more careful with my grammar.  With that being said, thank you very much for taking the time to read my thoughts on Mysore and life in general, even if my punctuation is not always quite following the correct method. 
So about helping the boss.  (Since no one wants me to talk about my shoddy sentence structure, even my mum...) This is the third week of helping out in the shala, and it is becoming much more comfortable, partly because I am getting to know the students who I am assisting, and partly because they are getting to know me.  Not to mention that I get to watch Sharath and Saraswati giving adjustments, so I have been trying to soak up as many of their magic tricks as possible.  People are beginning to trust me, and there is a tangible difference in the way someone feels to adjust when they stop fearing me or the posture or whatever it is that makes someone tense up the moment you step up to them.  A big part of the challenge this month is having to work with people who I know nearly nothing about, and with the numbers the way they are in Mysore right now, every spot in the shala empties and is filled at least once, sometimes twice during my shift.  It is a lot to take in.  What is really amazing is how different all these bodies are; no two people who come through that room are alike.  With all the different nationalities, there is a huge variety of shapes and sizes and colours and proportions, and even if you group people into general categories, everyone has their own history and abilities and challenges within that category.  Sharath has been sending me to backbend some of the big guys, partly to test me a bit I imagine, but I think he also gets a bit of a kick out of watching me do it.  Or out of watching my reaction when he tells me to do it.  My facial expressions are pretty transparent, so I am sure he has noticed whenever I am daunted by the task he sets for me. 
What is a bit worrysome in Mysore is when you start to notice someone going off the rails a little bit.  This has been the case each time I have been here, and it can really hard to observe someone who is clearly struggling.  The person I am thinking of need not be named or described, but I can only hope that whatever demons she is wrestling can be quieted down through the practice.  India is not a good place to visit if you are not mentally stable.  The multi-sensory overload combined with the intensity of the practice is too much.  So anyone reading this, check in with yourself and make sure you are mentally sorted and clear and healthy before you book your ticket.  Please.
On a more positive note, the film crew that has been around the shala the last few days is apparently working on a short clip to put up on the shala website.  They have lots of footage of asana, but now they interviewing a few people to collect some thoughts on practice and Mysore and life pre-yoga, and I was asked to participate!  I agreed to do it, and then immediately regretted it, all my usual fears about speaking and my lack of experience with the practice came up, but then I decided that if I said something completely idiotic, it wouldn't be added to the final cut of the video anyway.  I was asked about my life before yoga and why it hooked me, and also why take all this trouble to come to Mysore to study, and what I notice physically and mentally from doing ashtanga.  I think they will wind up using about 10-15 seconds of it, so the 10 minutes of chatter they filmed will be reduced to hopefully one insightful thought.  Did I even say anything insightful?  Guess I will find out.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello 2012

2012 is here!  Getting to celebrate with my dear Mysore friends has been a lovely way to ring in the new year, in a very quiet, unassuming way.  The last day of 2011 was filled with laughter and love from a truly international group of people, and the evening finished off for me at about 9PM, after playing a heated round of scattergories.  Yogis gone wild... up past 8.  I was introduced to a tradition of eating 12 grapes, and making a wish as you eat each one, the number 12 representing the months of the year.  I had to think long and hard about these wishes, and it made me realize how much I already have in my life.  Can't tell what I wished for though, that would be sure to jinx it!  This morning dawned clear and cold, and sitting on the steps of the shala waiting for led intermediate class to begin, there was a definite feeling of beginning something anew.  Some filming was happening during class today, apparently for some sort of documentary being made about the shala, and between the cameras and the lobby packed full of people, some nervous energy was there.  I finished the series today, officially adding the seven deadly headstands to my daily practice, which is a nice way to start the year, and it somehow made the epic closing headstand easier to manage.  Yogi brunch again today, and then off to chanting class with the Shmish. 
Some vulnerability is making itself known in my body these days, not so much in a sense  of physical injury, but more in terms of the nervous system, feeling raw and emotional and jittery in a way I haven't experienced in a long while.  Something tells me it is a combination of intense practice, some of the deepest backbending I have ever experienced, and then assisting and sharing energy for over two hours on Mysore days.  Add in the stress of a long distance relationship with someone who is being increasingly distant, and news from home that my mum is having some of the same health trouble that she had last year; it makes for a feeling of delicacy that is pretty uncomfortable.   It's not so surprising really, when I factor in all of those things, but I am still caught off guard by the unsteadiness.  Pretty fortunate to be here and surrounded by love.   

*Just noticed that my post on assisting Sharath has been mentioned in another blog!  Thanks for thinking of me C!