Mel : Going back to Mysore
I have practised at Live and Breathe Yoga for four years, and am in the process of completing my Level 1 Yoga Teacher Training. I first started practising ashtanga yoga with Allison and Harry in 2010, and have been hooked ever since!
I have returned to Gokulam, Mysore in India after studying at KPJAYI in 2013 with Saraswathi (daughter of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath’s mother). As the source of ashtanga yoga, KPJAYI has a magnetic energy that entices students back year after year – sometimes for months at a time (and not necessarily just to obtain ‘authorisation’ status). This year, I was one of the many who succumbed to the desire to return to a lifestyle of transformative yoga practice and philosophy study, chai and long breakfasts – resigning from my job and taking out a loan to make it happen! (Note – the latter is not recommended!!) The town itself has become the hub of an international community of ashtanga yoga practitioners, and for many it is like their second home.
The journey from Bangalore airport to Mysore is best travelled by private taxi, and is an exhilarating 3.5 hour initiation into the frenetic pace of life in India. The car ride hastily reminded me of the mantra, and mindset, I adopted the last time I was in India – ‘surrender’. This country has taught me that the path of least resistance requires complete surrender of control to the universe, and faith that everything will work out ok. Careening down a highway around hair-raising bends (without a seatbelt!), amid fumes emanating from trucks, buses and motorbikes; it is easy to perceive the journey as multiple near-death experiences – or you can just sit back, relax, and trust that you will arrive at your destination in one piece!
Coming to India the second time was very different to my first trip. While I missed the sense of adventure from travelling here alone and experiencing the chaos for the first time, I truly felt like I was coming home. I feel so comfortable in this hectic, dirty, joyful country that celebrates beauty and exudes optimism, where the reality for its people can be everything but.
Gokulam is one of the more affluent suburbs of Mysore, with (relatively) clean streets, picturesque houses and palm trees dotting the horizon. Everything is so colourful, and beautiful. Motorbikes are draped with flowers, houses are painted brilliant colours, tractors are decorated with tinsel and vibrant sarees sparkle with beads and sequins. However India is also undeniably a country of paradoxes, and everything that is beautiful, is juxtaposed with something… slightly less beautiful. The streets may be clean, but the sidewalks host rubbish, fires, cow manure, mangy dogs foraging for food and the odd male urinating in public. Women wearing the most stunning sarees approach with an outstretched hand begging for money to feed the scrawny kids perched on their hips… Everywhere you go, there is a contrast of circumstances that can simultaneously warm your heart, and break your heart.
There are many industrious and enthusiastic locals in Gokulam who are willing to help you get settled in, however nothing is as simple or easy as you would expect. You can get pretty much anything you want, from a room, spirulina, an Indian SIM card or a scooter, as long as you are willing to expend the energy to negotiate the transaction. From ordering dinner to catching a rickshaw, you never can be sure what you are getting, or where you are going, but, it always works out in the end!
After having a few days off to rest, and to see in the New Year, I had my first practice with Sharath. I was very nervous, but am delighted to report that he didn’t kick me out of class or yell at me, and I didn’t fall over, cry, laugh or forget the sequence. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous that I was so nervous, but there are many experienced practitioners here and I was flooded with self-doubt about whether I was ‘good enough’ to practice with Sharath. I know that whether you can bind in Mari D does not really mean anything in the real world, but I guess I was scared of being out of my comfort zone! With a great sense of relief from having the first practice over and done with, I can now see that there are people of all ages, with varying degrees of flexibility and experience practising at the Shala, and Sharath has time and grace to help each and every one of us.
It is a privilege to be a student of Sharath’s. His presence ignites something inside you; elevates you. In September last year I had invasive surgery on my wrist and my first practice with Sharath was the first time since the operation that I have been able to do back bends! Not only did I find that my body was doing things it hadn’t been able to do for months, but midway through my practice, I suddenly felt like it all made sense – the years of practice, the mental and physical challenges posed by this demanding system of yoga, the financial sacrifices, the early nights… Ashtanga yoga is a huge part of my life and it has brought me clarity, health and happiness. For this, I feel immense gratitude towards the late Pattabhi Jois for bringing the system to the West and to Sharath for carrying on the lineage and continuing to disseminate ashtanga yoga to students around the world today. I am super excited to be able to spend one month here and will keep you updated on the latest!