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mysore diaries

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #15

December 14, 2015

‘Twas my last class with Saraswati and I was super excited.  Because she’s a woman of few words, we have to glean whatever we can about her personality from the little interaction that our practice sessions afford us.  Saraswati is very equanimous.  She has never displayed ego.  She has never displayed displeasure.  Sometimes (rare and delightful occasions) I have seen her smiling.  And never have I heard her rebuke a student, until this morning.

When I walked into class this morning Saraswati was reading a book.  Very intently.  If I wasn’t a huge fan before, I was one now.  Who doesn’t love a person who can’t tear themselves away from a good book?  (Personally, I love all those who try to get in a few more paragraphs in the middle of a work day.)  Finally she shut her book walked into the main hall.  I was up to the seated postures when I heard her speaking to a student:

“Yooouuuu, you don’t want to pratice?!!!”

Student mumbles something.

“Yes yoooouuuu sleeping.  Don’t want to practice?!”

Student mumbles a bit more.

“Always missing from led class.  Sleeping sleeping all the time missing led class!!!”

Student giggles and mumbles something.

“LAZY BOY!!!”

Saraswati walks away and a bunch of us are trying hard to control our laughter.  Someone falls out of the Ardha Baddha Padma Padmottanasana, clearly unable to contain their laughter.

 

Saraswati is sweet like that.  Even when she’s strict and rebuking a student (I’ve been on the receiving end), she doesn’t lose that gentleness.  I get the sense that when she teaches us she does as she would her own children.

When she came to adjust me today, she told me that I now need to start raising my leg higher in the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.  She gently raised my leg to show me how much farther up I will be able to lift.

She was clearly in high spirits today.  She asked me how far I’ve gone and I said “uh marichyasana…” and tried to think of whether it was C or D.  “C” I said halfway between a statement and a question.

“I don’t teach Marichyasana C,” she said to me imitating my statement-question tone.  This time I didn’t bother controlling my laughter.  You’ll only know how cute Saraswati mimicking you is when she mimics you.

Then she sat down to help me with Marichyasana D and asked me, “Your last class?”  Yippiee!!!  Saraswati knows my last day!!!  She knows I exist!!! She may even know my name!!!!  I think I detected a slightly puzzled look in her eyes in response to the huge smile that broke across my face when I was contemplating that fact that Saraswati may actually know my name.

Her high spirits remained even when I was leaving.  She was chit chatting about the heat with some students who were standing outside the door waiting for their turn.  When I came out I thanked her.  She asked me if I was going back to Bombay.  I told her I’m going to Bangalore.  She told me her daughter is in Bangalore.  I told her yes I know.  She asked me where I am staying in Bangalore.  I told her and I also told her it’s close to Purple Lotus where Sharmila teaches.  I asked her if she comes to Bangalore.  She said many many times.  I told her I will see her in Bangalore.  She smiled.

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As I was leaving I heard her calling out to a guy standing near the naariyal paani wallah.  

“Where you from?”

“I live in Delhi,” said the guy who was originally from Manipur.

“Ooooooohhhhh I thought Chinese,” said Sarawati before heading back into her shala.

My journey with Asthanga yoga continues in tomorrow, in Bangalore at the Purple Lotus.

 

Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #14

December 13, 2015

Today was my second and last ‘led’ class with Saraswathi.  I got there about an hour early and people had already started queuing up.  And as soon as they opened the door all the places were taken in no time.  Led classes are always the same, but since I’ve been practicing for two weeks now, I’m more familiar with the sequence and I feel I’m able to get more out of the class.  Today Saraswathi allowed me to go all the way up to Marichyasana D.  Tomorrow morning is my last class in Mysore and I’m excited that I will go all the way up to Marichyasana D.  I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in the last two weeks, and I’m looking forward to continuing my practice in Bangalore.

We decided to do a bit of sight seeing today since it was a holiday for Sharath’s class.  So at around 8 am 5 of us we headed out to Somnathpur and Tallakad to see the famous temples.  I’ve wanted to see the temples ever since one of my students told me about them and I’m so happy I got a chance to see them today.  And it wasn’t just seeing the place, but going with this particular group of girls that was great.  We were all interested in seeing the temples, taking awesome pictures and having a great day out.  We managed to get to Somnathpur in good time.  It wasn’t too hot, the bathroom was clean and the site wasn’t too crowded.  We even took some yoga pictures!  The Somnathpur temple is beautiful.

The temples at Tallakad seem to be more popular with people, for some reason.  There are a total of 5 temples in the complex, and they are still used by people.  But the Somnathpur temple has beautiful and intricate carvings.  These temples seem unfinished and built for the purpose of regular use, and not so much as a display of art.  Maybe the Somnathpur temple was for the royal family and the Tallakad temples for the commoners who perhaps wouldn’t be able to appreciate art so much.

By the time we finished seeing the first two temples in Tallakad, it was hot and the crowds were surging.  So we found a shady place to eat and then had ice cream while some of us went to take a look at the Cauvery river.

Pictures coming up soon!

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #13

December 12, 2015

It never ceases to amaze me how old the legacy of yoga in Mysore is.  I’m a sucker for history anyways (the kind that you can see and not just read about) and stories.  A lot of people here have trained with internationally famous yoga teachers, some of who were the first ones to train under Shri Pattabhi Jois.  I am curious to know about the first foreigner who heard about the little man in Mysore who teaches yoga and came in search of him.  At the time Mysore was just Chamundi Hills and the Palace, which probably looked very different from what it is now.  People may have come in through trains and hailed autos.  Auto wallahs might have been surprised to see foreigners (who still seem to be a novelty here.  When we go out, random locals ask for photos.  I discreetly step out of the frame because I know the subject they are interested in.)

KPJAYI has spawned a lot of local industries.  The auto-wallahs who stand outside the Shala, who charge up to Rs. 300 for a trip to the main market while an Ola cab will charge you only Rs. 109.  The coconut guys who are swarmed with people post classes and usually in the middle of the afternoon.  The cafes where you can find avocado salads, vegan food and crepes!  It was a challenge for me to find food that would ‘satisfy’ me.  I went to Gokul Chaats.  It’s been reviewed on Trip Advisor, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  However, a small restaurant away from the main road called Sri Durga has the most satisfying and wholesome food.  Ever since I’ve discovered it, it’s become my go-to place for coffee.  The infrastructure isn’t great, but the food and service is awesome.

We went to another restaurant today that has been catering to the influx of yogis since the time of K Pattabhi Jois.  ‘Eat at Nagarathna’s’ is a small and cozy establishment with close links to the Pattabhi Jois empire.  It’s run by Nagarathna and her husband, in their house.  The old shala was close to this house, which is how the earliest students stumbled upon it.  Nagarathna told us that her father-in-law was friends with Pattabhi Jois.  When his student’s needed nourishment, Pattabhi Jois would send slips of paper with the dish the student needed (hot pepper soup, dosa, salad) and send the student to Nagarathna’s.  This is how some of the earliest students found their way to Nagarathna’s table.  And we found ourselves at the very same table.  Those of you who know me know that this is exactly the sort of priceless experience I look for during my travels.  Nagarathana told us stories about some of the earliest students.  I don’t know much about Ashtangis, but my friends were delighted about hearing the names of their teachers and also imagining them as young yogis in Mysore, much like what they are now.  Names that clearly stand out in my mind are Tim Miller and Richard Freeman and Eddie Stern.  Nagarathna talks about how all the old Ashtangis used to sit around and enjoy the food and a few also hooked up with each other (she was talking about a couple who were Jois disciples a few decades ago.  I don’t remember the names, but they are currently teaching and famous in the Ashtanga community.)

The food was great, your typical South Indian fare.  But what stunned us is Nagarathna’s albums of old photos of some of the earliest Ashtangis! She had black and white and colored photographs.  Some were taken in her kitchen, in front of the old shala, in the hotel now known as Regaalis (and was known as Southern Star then), in front of the Mysore Palace…etc.  The album kept us riveted for a long time.  We even took photos of photos!  The picture that enthralled me was an old photo of the guru actually posing for a portrait with his students.  He’s sitting on a chair with female students in the front row while the male students stand in the back.  The sides of the picture have been eaten away by age and neglect(?).  I love this picture because I imagine Shri K Pattabhi Jois just like this, surrounded by students he loves, students who perhaps did not even dream that they would travel the globe to spread his word.  The guru with his devoted shishyas.

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Over lunch we talked about the first foreigner who stepped into this hitherto uncharted territory.  Allegedly, the first foreign student found out through the grapevine that there is a man teaching yoga in Mysore.  He promptly came to Mysore and Pattabhi Jois (the Brahman) refused to touch, much less teach, a foreigner!  Not to be deterred (and with no idea that he was throwing the gates open for future generations of yogis) he sat on Pattabhi Jois’s front porch for 3 weeks until the great Guru finally relented.

Everyone decided to head to FabIndia post the lunch (I’m surprised we could lift a finger after the way we stuffed our faces.).  I had some unfinished sightseeing left.  I grabbed a cab to Yadavgiri.  I saw the house, and it’s being renovated.  There was a huge padlock on the gate, but there were workers inside.  So I stood on the boundary wall and shouted to the workers, asking them to let me in.  They did.

I read somewhere that RK Narayan’s study used to face a huge tree and that he used to stare at the tree when he had writer’s block.  There was no tree inside the boundary wall of his house, but there were two right outside.  Maybe, decades ago, when he was living in the house, there was no boundary wall.  Maybe there was no pukka road, but a dirt road running in front of the house.  If that is how it was, then it’s believable that he would stare deep into the branches and trunk of the tree for inspiration…

Seeing the house is great, but I still sort of wish I’d managed to see it when it was falling apart.  I would have been able to sense the real character of the house.  However, I will have to settle for coming back next year to see the finished house.

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I would also like to mention that I’ve asked a number of localites about RK Narayan even saying ‘Malgudi Days?’ in the hopes of a spark of recognition.  But surprisingly, no one has heard of him!  I feel like I’m the only one whose heard of both Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and RK Narayan!

Now the days are starting to really whizz by.  I leave on Tuesday morning after my practice.  I’ll be back in Bangalore for lunch.  This morning I glanced through my class schedule for the rest of the year (tried to fit in the Ashtanga classes as well.  I think I will be able to figure something out.).

I’m looking forward to getting back to my classes.  I can already sense that these past two weeks have been incredibly unique and special.  I can feel a paradigm shift in my approach to yoga.  I can’t really put my finger on what.  I know these two weeks have given me lots of food for thought, new philosophies, new books…which is bound to change the way I practice and approach my classes.  I guess that’s only inevitable when you come to a place teeming with the energy of something so old and powerful.

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The picture had me transfixed.  I must’ve been in this position for 10 minutes.

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #6

December 5, 2015
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Can you spot me?

I came to Mysore for the first time on July 25th 2005 for the coveted Infosys training.  Little did I know that I would be back on Dec 1st 2015 to train at the prestigious KPJAYI.  In fact, in 2005 we were a bunch of trainee software engineers who thought Mysore was about masala dosa, the Mysore palace, Chamundi hills, and of course Infy.  It seems inconceivable to me now that I didn’t know that yogis from all over the world were converging to this sleepy town…and that Shri K Pattabhi Jois was also in the city!  I tell myself that everything happens in its own good time, but that’s small comfort.

In 2005 I didn’t know about the Jaganmohan palace.  Why it caught my attention this time is its large collection of paintings and artefacts, including paintings by Raja Ravi Varma.  Also, the Wodeyars (the Mysore royals) used this palace while the Mysore Palace was being built (their old palace had burned down).

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And strangely enough, there is a yoga connection too.  In the Yoga Makaranda I read that the Ashtanga yoga classes were conducted on the grounds of the Jaganmohan palace before moving to the Mysore Palace and then to the current location (Gokulam 3rd Stage).  While walking around the palace I tried visualizing how it would look without the commercial enterprises that have sprung up all around it (sari shops, food stalls, souvenir shops).  Basically trying to visualize how T. Krishnamacharya would have seen this place when he was teaching.  How a young Shri KP Jois and BKS Iyengar would have seen it.

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The palace hasn’t been maintained very well, but I wasn’t expecting otherwise.  There seems to be no order in which the artefacts and paintings have been placed.  There is hardly any security and no security cameras.  In fact, if someone really wanted to, they could actually walk out with a small cup or dagger.  The brass and copper items such as ashtrays and decorative plates are in wooden display cases with cheap metal padlocks on them.  I’m sure these locks are easy to pick.  There are no metal detectors at the entrance of the art gallery.  They did ask us if we had cameras and asked us to deposit our phones only because they spotted them.  No one checked our bags.

On the ground floor there are old pictures of coronations and durbars, which I really liked.  I wish we could’ve had a better look at these photos.  Some photos are placed at an angle where you can hardly see them.  The first floor had paintings by several painters, including ‘Lady with the Lamp’ by Haldenkar.  This painting is definitely awesome, but I wish they had done something about the lighting.  The surface of the paintings reflected the light, making it difficult to see the details.  I crib for I was there only for the paintings!!! In fact, I had to squint a lot and walk back and forth in front of the Ravi Varma paintings until I was finally satisfied.

The Ravi Varma paintings that stand out in my mind are called ‘Draupathi’ (I think they meant ‘Draupadi’) and ‘Galaxy of Women’.  The woman in ‘Draupadi’ is depicted in a beautifully draped pink sari with a golden border.  Her hair is loose.  In one hand she holds a brass plate with a small jug on it, and with the other hand she appears to be wiping away her tears with her pallu.  She is climbing down the steps of a large stone structure (temple? palace?).  I love the way the sari seems to blaze forth in the largely muted background.

The ‘Galaxy of Women’ shows a bunch of women, every single one of them dressed differently.  Each is wearing different styles of jewelry (even their nose rings are different!), and different styles of clothing (there’s an English woman among them too!).  Some of them are playing instruments, some are standing and some are seated.  The detail that stands out in this painting for me is the rug.  You can actually see the folds and creases on the rug beneath the women.  This little detail seems to bring the women to life.

Once done with the palace, Alexa and I decided to walk around a bit to see if we could find a place to grab a bite.  I’ve been missing south Indian food a lot so I was looking forward to dosa.  A receptionist in one of the hotels pointed us to the Raj Bhavan hotel and we had a nice lunch there.

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Now I’m wondering how to track down RK Narayan’s house ….

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day 2

December 1, 2015

When it comes to classes with old and traditional Indian teachers, the first class is always a bit unexpected.  This morning I woke up at 3.59 am (thanks to my body clock).  I promptly got ready and drove off towards the direction of Saraswati’s class.  In the dark all the houses in Gokulam 3rd Stage look the same.  I asked a lone man on a walk about where #55 3rd main was, and he told me he had no clue.  Finally, I met two people on a moped carrying yoga mats, and I flagged them to help me out.  Seeing that I was new, somewhat flustered and utterly confused, they decided to take me there!  Grateful that they did because I would never have been able to find it. 

From the number of people I had seen at the registration, I had expected a large crowd converging to the institute.  But I only saw a couple of mopeds parked outside.  I climbed up to the 1st floor of the house and let myself in.  The room was full of A bunch of students were already there in various asanas.  I looked around for what to do next.  It didn’t look like these students had just started their practice, but I thought the first session started at 5 am.  Plus there was no space to place my mat.  The room was stuffed with people and reminded me a bit of the Bikram Yoga studio I went to a couple of months ago.  Not a pleasant feeling.  I spotted Saraswati in the centre of the room, busy helping a student.  Once she was done, I went up to her and told her that I’m new and had no clue what I should do.  She pointed to a room and said, ‘You wait there.’  I did as I was told.  After some time, she told me to place my mat in front of the door I had just walked in from.  I’m knew a lot of students were going to be coming in through that door, and I’d have to watch that the door didn’t slam into me every single time.  What can I say?  Yoga teachers and their eccentricities.  I did what I was told.

I sat on my mat and started stretching.  Finally Saraswati came over and asked me if ‘I knew anything.’  I told her no.  So she stared by teaching me a very basic Surya Namakar  which she asked me to do 5 times.  After a while she came to me again and taught me another version of the Surya Namaskar and asked me to do it 6 times.  After some time she came up to me again and asked me if I knew how to do the Padmasana.  I told her yes.  She explained a variation of the padmasana to me and told me to practice that.  After some more time she told me that this is it for me today.  Tomorrow I have to start the class by doing each Surya Namaskar variation 10 times.  I nodded my head.  She then pointed to a room on the other side of the main hall and said ‘Now you go there.’  I did a little Savasana and then left.  I saw some people that met yesterday.  Once I was done I came back to my room and for some reason slept for about 3 hours! 

My friends have booked me into a guesthouse here and I moved in today.  As it turns out, this new room is closer to Saraswati’s class, so it works well for me.  Once I checked into this room I slept again for a couple of hours and woke up to polish off every single thing that was placed before me during lunch.  So I basically woke up, did yoga, slept, woke up, slept some more, indulged in some more gluttony, read, slept, woke up, had coffee and now I’m blogging with a rerun of ‘Desperate Housewives’ in the background.  Before starting this break a student of mine gave me an article that talked about leisure for the sake of leisure.  According to the article, the art of leisure has been ignored over the ages to the point that now people don’t take vacations to indulge in leisure, but to ‘do’ something.  I think I pretty much nailed doing nothing today.

  

 

Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day 1

November 30, 2015

I have to admit I was sort of nervous about driving all the to Mysore alone.  All kinds of doomsday scenarios kept on playing through my mind (from a flat tyre to horrible accidents).  I’m glad that I pushed the negative thoughts aside and drove down.  It was fun to listen to music and just think and get excited about POMELO_20151130105401_save[1]what lay ahead.  I made it to Mysore on time and managed to find KPJAYI easily.  Basically everyone seemed to know where it was.  There were throngs of people who were already there before me to register.  Registrations for the advanced class had started, and I had to POMELO_20151130201506_save[1]wait a while before I could register for Saraswati’s beginners’ class.  I joined a queue of people who had never practiced Ashtanga before.  We sat on the cool marble floor of the office and shared our pens to fill out our registration forms.  People have come here from far and wide.  Some have even brought children along!

Once I turned in my form I was given a class pass.  You must keep this pass with you at all times.  I have to report for the 5 am class tomorrow.

Once my registration was done I found my hotel and relaxed for some POMELO_20151130201250_save[1]time before heading out again for an early dinner.  I managed to find a place.  Wasn’t too happy with the coffee nor the organic ‘sprouded’ moong dal dosa.  I want masala dosas!!!  Hopefully I’ll be able to find a place which serves strong filter coffee and masala dosas a la Adigas.POMELO_20151130184201_save[1]

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

The Bags Are Packed

November 29, 2015

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Dinner with my favorite people before I head to Mysore.

I’m pretty much done with packing for my 15 days of yoga, reading, writing, thinking and resting.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m headed to KPJAYI (Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute).  I’ll be there for 15 days, longer than I’ve ever been on any retreat.  Vipassana is only 10 days.

I’ve read up everything I can about what to expect there, but most blogs are quite vague.  The only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that

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A separate bag for these.

everyone’s experience is different.  However, I reason that the Ashtanga yoga practice is quite intense and since I’m a complete beginner, the sessions may be very challenging for me.  So I’m taking a suitcase full of workout clothes and towels.  And books.  Because the TBR list has a mind of its own.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is driving all the way to Mysore in my humble Alto.  I’ve never done something like this before.  A road trip by myself sounds like a good way to unwind and spend some time reflecting about 2015.  And this weather helps!

 

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Fuel for Mysore.  Fresh, healthy and homemade by my friend’s kind mom.

All I need now is a good night’s rest.  Tomorrow I’ll throw my toothbrush into my bag and head out to what promise to be a phenomenal two weeks in Mysore.  Stay tuned for the Mysore Diaries!