Mel : Reflections of Mysore
Recovery and Reflection
I didn’t write as regularly as I anticipated while in India, so here is a reflection on my second trip to Mysore. Overall, I had a fantastic time and learnt a lot about yoga, ‘yogis’ and myself (more on this in my next blog post). The trip was made all the more special because my boyfriend Chris joined me after his last-minute decision to enrol to study with Saraswathi at KPJAYI and book flights!
Back in Australia, it took about 40 minutes in the shower to scrub off the layers of dust, dirt, smoke and miscellaneous grime that had accumulated on my skin while in India. It will take longer to recover from the inevitable flu I caught on my last few days overseas. As wonderful and stimulating as it is, India definitely takes its toll on you! Right now I am looking forward to green smoothies, salads and being able to brush my teeth with tap water!
The ashtanga scene in Gokulam can be overwhelming. There are several cafes that are popular hang outs for students after class. Everyone seems to know everyone, and everyone else’s business. Spend some time in one of these cafes and you are bound to overhear a conversation that goes something like this:
A: Where are you from?
A: I’ve never been there. Is it summer now? How long have you been practising yoga?
B: 5 years, on and off. More regularly in the last three, but then I had an injury 6 months ago.
A: Ohhh, so this is your FIRST time to Mysore?! When did you get here? How long are you here for? Where are you staying? Who is your teacher?
B: Um, Mr So and So – he’s great. My inspiration. He’s on Instagram… you have probably heard of him.
A: Hmm no I’ve never heard of him, is he certified?
B: Not certified no..
B: Well actually no he did study with Guruji but he never actually got authorised.
A: *With raised eyebrows* I see. So…. are you studying with Sharath?
B: Yes, it’s great. I loooove him. He makes me believe in myself. He’s letting me try pashasana and I can get into it with help. The left side is worse than the right, because of that injury…
A: Oh, I know what you mean. I’m totally struggling with drop backs, I just can’t seem to get back up. OMG, how crazy was the led crass on Friday. Did you see that girl with the pink mat pushing from the bottom of the stairs? It’s so hectic. I hate practising in the changing room! I’ve got this plan where I get to class 2 hours early so I can get a mat space. You should try it next week! By the way, have you seen Kino’s latest video?
B: Uh – no, not yet…. *scrolling through her phone* Hey! You should come to kirtan on Friday night!
A: Yeah I saw that on Facebook. I’ll think about it. I have a massage that day though, so, you know. Oh no! I’ve run out of almond milk for my coffee. Have you tried the ragi pancakes here? They are ah-mazing!
The ‘Ashtanga Community in Mysore’ Facebook group is a high-traffic online platform for discussion, networking and advertising within – surprise, surprise – the yoga community in Mysore. There is so much narrative surrounding the Jois family and the ashtanga system of yoga, and everyone has their opinion on the fees we pay to study, who Sharath’s successor will be, what the Shala will be like in future, what the authorisation process should be, who is and who isn’t teaching but is or isn’t authorised/certified, the other yoga schools in Mysore, and of course, yoga teacher training courses.
For a while the politics was getting to me a bit and I felt like I didn’t know what I could say, to whom, for fear of rage or retribution. And this is a yoga community I am referring to. (Ok, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here, but still..) In the end I decided that I would form my own opinion based on my actual experience of practising ashtanga yoga so far and from being a student of Sharath’s. And for what it’s worth, I am dedicated to this system of yoga and am more than happy to pay what I think is fair to study with someone I consider to be my guru. It’s the parampara – the passing down of knowledge directly from teacher to student. It’s the family wisdom, and the lineage – from Krishnamacharya, to Pattabhi Jois to Sharath, my teacher. It’s the feeling of complete trust and faith in someone who has shown me that I am capable of doing things I never thought possible.
Friends, old and new
It was wonderful catching up with many of the people I met on my last trip. Many of us had not actually planned to return but somehow the universe boomeranged us back. As one of my old friends said: “Oh Mel, the things we do to get back here!” Yep, I hear ya!
I met many more gorgeous souls from all around the world and no doubt we will cross paths again in Mysore one day. As one of my new friends said: “We belong to two worlds now”. Indeed. There is truly an international community of ashtangis and I am so grateful to my teacher Allison for establishing an ashtanga community in Townsville, Queensland. And now we have our very own authorised teacher on Magnetic Island; Daniela Ceccarelli!
Khushi Cafe is a popular breakfast destination for yoga students as the Western-style food is delicious and is run by Jeevan, a member of the ‘coconut stand family’. I volunteered as a waitress when I could see that they clearly needed some extra help. Martyna a Polish girl was working there as she was friends with the guys, and she had not had a day off for about 10 weeks. When Chris arrived he also got roped into working on his first day even though he had never had any hospitality experience! (He ended up getting more tips than I did – the ladies loved his Aussie accent!) The friendly team at Khushi welcomed us into their world and they were so appreciative of our help. It was fun to serve and to have a sense of purpose; usefulness. It was also a great way to meet people and to get to know Jeevan and his team. I worked on weekends as Saturday was my free day and I had led class at 6 am on Sunday. I also worked some days during the week after my practice at 9.45 > 9.30 > 9 am (Sharath moves your practice start time gradually and at his discretion). Working at the cafe was an unexpected turn of events, but something that I very much enjoyed. Not only was the food wonderful but the energy of the cafe was beautiful, and the staffing system unique – a dynamic collective of volunteers. We painted a sign with the name of the cafe on it as our parting gift, and were delighted to receive in return a framed traditional Indian artwork featuring the Hindu god Krishna and his beloved, Radha. I was very touched by this and have so much love for the Khushi family!
Chris and I volunteered a few times at Odanadi Seva Trust, a local home that rescues women and children from human trafficking (www.odanadi.org). We helped them to work on their permaculture garden that was established last year, and with their Sattvic Sweets business. This program was set up last year by my friend Adam and his parter Alissa, founders of the not-for-profit organisation, The Cookbook Project (thecookbookproject.org). They teach healthy food culture and business skills to developing communities, and established Sattvic Sweets in conjunction with Odanadi Seva Trust. Adam and Alissa created healthy sweet recipes with the girls, identified customers, sourced packaging and set up graphics for labels etc. The girls then have two cooking sessions a week, preparing healthy sweets which are sold to the yoga community and local stores. Adam and Alissa’s amazing work is carried on by volunteers from the yoga community – currently the beautiful, selfless, Erica from the US. I was so inspired by Erica’s dedication and hard work. A true yogi.
In India a little bit of money and effort goes a long way. For example, just one blender (the cost of which we could easily spend on a night out in Australia) can create so many opportunities for the young women of Odanadi. I implore any other yoga students travelling to Mysore to get involved with volunteering in some way because there are so many who need help and whose lives can be improved by just a fraction of your time and money.
One of the Niyamas is svadhyaya, which means self-inquiry and study of the sacred texts. Sharath emphasised in one of his conferences the importance of studying the ancient texts – such as Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. There are plenty of opportunities to study in Mysore, and this trip I took classes on Hindu mythology with James Boag (focusing on Krishna, Ganesha and Hanuman), parts of Chapters 2 and 3 of the Yoga Sutras with Lakshmish (KPJAYI’s humorous sanskrit and philosophy teacher), attended chanting classes and did my own reading, namely Sharath’s new book Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana and Gregor Maehle’s Ashtanga Yoga. I love learning about yoga and yoga philosophy, and will write more on this topic once I have decompressed and digested the information some more!