Where to begin is the hard part, right? I mean, its about as hard as figuring the middle and the end. The practice, the food, the people, the sights, sounds, smells… all if it deserves time. Let’s start with the practice.
I had my first class on Sunday morning. A Led Primary series with my teacher for the next three months, Saraswathi. Saraswathi is the daughter of Guruji (K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of the school I am practicing at, and student of Sri Krishnamaracharya) and is currently… 75 years old, I think. Still teaching six days a week, she leads as a stern, but very loving mother.
[The asana (posture/pose/physical) practice of Ashtanga (the eight limbed path of yoga – yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) is divided into several series of poses you perform six days a week, minus “moon days” (new moons and full moons). It is a practice designed for “householders”, people who participate in day to day life with a home, family, and job, as opposed to “aesthetics” who are able to devote as much time as they want to the practice of yoga because they separate themselves to do just that. The practice is completed within two hours, so it is accessible for those who need to spend their days doing other things. Every practice you begin with Surya Namuskar (sun salutations) and follow it up with a standing series of postures. Next you go into one of six series of postures, the first of which is the Primary Series. Studying under a guru, you are given the next pose when you are able to complete the previous one. Once one has completed the Primary series, they will be allowed to move onto the Intermediate series, and having completed that the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th as applicable. After going through the postures in the series you are practicing, you move into a finishing sequence of postures. Each breath is counted and each pose lands on a certain breath, as do the movements between postures – this is the vinyasa (the linking of breath and movement) of the practice. One is to also be attentive to their dhristi (point of gaze) and bandhas (internal muscular “locks”) through out their practice. Attending to asana, vinyasa, dhristi, and bandha during practice draws ones attention inward and helps move the practicioner towards the further limbs of ashtanga.]
In a led series (which we do once a week and Sharath’s students do twice), the teacher counts the breaths out loud and the students move as one through the postures. During the Mysore practice (which we do the rest of the week except Saturdays, Sharath’s students have their rest day on Sundays), each individual moves through their postures at their own pace, keeping with their own breath. You begin when you are called into the studio as the next individual in line and finish as the teacher says you are done for the day. So, having my first practice be led was interesting. I feel like she moved us through many of the postures rather quickly, but then spent lots of time in headstand, lotus poses, and chanting at the end, but it was a really energetic way to start my practice here. The energy in a room with 60+ people packed like sardines all moving together is something special. And, we got to do it in the main shala, as opposed to Saraswathi’s where we practice the rest of the week (it only holds about 30 at a time). It was a great practice. I’m not 100% sure what the rest of my afternoon held, but I’m sure it involved food. But I think I’ll alight on food in more depth in the future, because it is a subject with a healthy font of matter.
In addition to the one led series, I now have five Mysore practices with Saraswathi tucked away. Not to my surprise, she has stopped me at Marichyasana D, the fourth Marichyasana (these 8 poses, four of which appear in the Primary Series, are dedicated to and discovered by the sage Marichi). In Marichyasana D (I will describe for the first side so it makes slightly more sense), you lotus the left leg, placing the left foot on the right thigh and pulling the heel towards the belly button, then draw the right foot in towards the hips and point the knee up to the ceiling. The left arm then reaches across the right knee, up to the shoulder, wraps back around the right shin, reaching for the left shin. The right arm then goes behind the back and binds with the left hand. It is a deep twist and hip and shoulder opener. It is performed on both sides. It is particularly intense for me and I am unable to bind on both sides so far, BUT I have found progress in it through this first week so I have hope that I will be able to move past it soon!
The Mysore practice is very different from the Led series because you are totally in charge of yourself. Assistants and the guru come around the room to assist you in poses that you need the assist in, or sometimes other ones that will just benefit you, but it is up to you to maintain your asana, vinyasa, dhristi, and bandha to keep your focus, which can be tough when there are 30 other yogis in the room doing beautiful amazing things, people moving in and our, assistants and Saraswathi doing their thing, “One more!”, “What did you do?”, “Catching?”, and other fun phrases being shouted out. It is a unique experience, and it is important to remember and recognize that. And it is important to recognize that every practice will be different, some will be better than others. Through Thursday, I felt each practice was getting better, and then on Friday I felt I had lost my focus a little bit. There is always tomorrow, though.
Ok, fun and exciting things that happened this week.
Early in the week, I met Illinois, a fellow yogi I met through Instagram who had been in Mysore for December and left mid week. She was kind enough to show me and Paris around Gokulam, as well as do some AcroYoga play with me! Showed us some great places to eat, people to know, places to get things. All around good stuff.
Mexico, the third roommate showed up, and she is wonderful as well, outspoken and funny! The three of us went to see Star Wars VII on Thursday afternoon and it was an amusing adventure. Did you know Indian movie theaters (or at least this one) throw in an intermission for movies? We didn’t! Fun surprise in the MIDDLE OF A FIGHT SCENE.
Then, today, we went around to a lot of cool things with some yogis Mexico had met. At 5:30a, a dozen of us hopped in three rikshaws which took us to Chamundi Hill, a sacred hill in Mysore with a temple on top dedicated to Sri Chamundeshwari, an avatar who killed King Mysore (an evil king). We raced the sunrise up 1000 steps (no exaggeration). The weather was perfect for climbing 1000 steps, but a little chilly once we reached the top.
There we walked around, were people-watched, were asked to be taken pictures with, went into the temple like cattle with no little pushing, watched monkeys (only one object was stolen), pet cows, took some pictures (some with yoga poses), and went back down to the rikshaws. They then took us off to breakfast at a SUPER local place for dosas which were super tasty. From breakfast we hit the market, which was very colorful, but not overly crowded, but full of people eager to sell you things (although the produce sellers have no desire or need to hawk apparently). From the market, we returned back to Gokulam for a few minutes before heading back out for a nearish resort with a pool! Bright sun, cool water, and a little more acro fun by persuasion. It has been a great day and a great week!