Adventures in Mysore India,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Uncategorized

Ashtanga Yoga Project Went To Mysore: How was it?

I got home from Mysore last Thursday and I feel great. My body clock is slightly off but I feel good.  I am ecstatic to be back at home doing things that I love with people I love. Since I have gotten home, and frankly throughout the whole trip, people have been asking me about the experience so I am going to write this article in an FAQ format based on the questions I have received. If you have any questions, I did not answer here, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

How was it?

The overall experience of Mysore was good.

Was it worth it for you to go?

Yes. It was worth it and I do not regret going.

Is it worth it for me to go?

Yes. I believe that everyone, who is serious about Ashtanga,  should go to Mysore at least once.  The tradition of Yoga is highly influenced by the culture of India. The lineage of Ashtanga, as taught by Pattabh Jois, started in Mysore. Going to India gives a framework for the Yogi to start filtering through myth, dogma and truth directly at the source.

It will help you decide who your teacher is and and what direction you want to go, if any, within the lineage. Sharath says that he is not everyone’s teacher.  A wise person once said, “the only perfect guru is a dead guru.” I would add that a Guru can also be perfect when you never have to deal with them directly. From afar, one can make the Guru into what they want. In person, one must come face to face with their direct experience of the teacher.

Mysore is an amazing city and just going to experience the city itself for a month is worth it. The shopping, the temples, the community, the weather and the food is all amazing.

What did you learn?

This is a bit complicated or ….not. I have been practicing Yoga and researching Yoga philosophy since 2003.  Just like anything in life, the longer you are involved in it, the less likely you are to have a new experience.  I have amazing experiences on my mat and I love the challenges my mind and body present for me. I love the moments where I find a state of moving meditation. I love how my practice moves my energy and focus in the right direction and prepares me for what the day may bring. However, new experiences are not that frequent.

Knowing this, I would be lying if I said I did not go to Mysore hoping to have new experience and I don’t recommend you do doing that! I did experience Mysore Magic, the phenomenon of the body becoming more open, while practicing at the Shala. There was much more ease in my body. Tension that I held around my hips started to release. I was really excited to take advantage of this phenomenon but I did not get the chance.

In Mysore, you start over. I knew that I was not going to come close to where I practice in the U.S. I only had two months and there are a few places where I definitely need fine tuning. However, I never ever expected to be stopped in Pasasana….because I can do Pasasana. Full bind, heels to the floor. I am not saying it is perfect. Like I don’t just pop into Pasasana at parties and I could totally breathe into some new ease there. If you look in the dictionary under Pasasana, you won’t see my picture. However, my pasasana holds its on.

The whole time, the only comment I got on my Pasasasana from Sharath was, “sit down”. LOL. It was not funny then. It is now. Thank God.  I could totally make up a story that he wanted me to get lower where my butt touches my heels but that would be a story. See, when you wait to get into the room, you can watch other people practice. For a hot second, before I realized how futile it was, I watched people do Pasasana.  There were people whose Pasasana looked just like mine, were lower then mine, could not bind and could not drop their heels practicing all of Second series.  That is when I realized, it was futile for me to watch LOL because it only raised more questions. I started bringing a book and reading in the morning!!!! Ahh…so relaxing!!!!

Asana wise, I learned a few technical things like how far to put your hands under your feet in Padahastasana but nothing major.

Philosophy wise, I absolutely loved taking chanting, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Sanskrit and Yoga Sutras classes with Laskshmish. I have studied all of these before but I loved getting a fresh perspective from someone steeped in the lore and culture of India. It is very different from the Westernized watered down fare that many modern commentators tend to use and most Yoga studios tend to teach. I am both terrified and excited about going back through my writings on the Sutras and seeing if and how my thoughts have changed. Lakshmish’s teachings will absolutely weigh in on any future commentary or workshops I do on the Sutras.

During this trip, I let go of a story I had been holding in my heart since 2003. See, sometimes, the only thing that would get me on my mat doing crazy shit like standing on one leg with one foot behind my head, was the story of being ready to stand before my teacher, whoever that may be, with the evidence of my dedication.  Doing Durvasana can be fun….and somewhat enjoyable and looks hella cool, but deep down I know that it has nothing to do with who I am on the inside.

If you haven’t noticed by the content of my blog posts, I have a love of Yoga Philosophy. So much so, that I recently changed the name of this blog. If you didn’t notice, when you put in Ashtanga Picture Project, it redirects to Ashtanga Yoga Project. The picture gallery is no longer on my front page and the website has been revamped and the logo has changed.

I love asana. Don’t get me wrong. I love the feel of it and the challenge of it and the lessons I learn from it. As a willing participant of the Ashtanga lineage, for better or worse, I get on my mat and work on asana each day.   Don’t get me wrong.  I am attached to asana.  If  my doctor told me that I had a rare disease that made me deathly allergic to asana, there would we wailing and gnashing of teeth. I would probably still practice LOL.  I have grown to love the sweet daily uncomfortableness of exploring the limits of my body and mind. I love the moment when a find ease or what Sharath calls “perfection” in a pose. I love how freedom in my body helps me to find freedom in my mind.

Sharath told us the first or second week of practice, “i am not impressed” by fancy asana.  He is more concerned about who we are as people. He wants to see how the Yoga has touched the heart and changed us from within.  He kind of ripped the band aid off of my attachment and it remains to be seen where that takes me. The next time I am trying to balance on my hands and crawl my full lotus up my arms and I ask myself, “why am I doing this?”, It will be totally interesting to see what thought my monkey mind offers up.

Did you get sick?

I got a cold but no stomach upset or anything like that. Many students come to Mysore so it is pretty well known what restaurants are clean and which ones are not. I ate at those. I did not take any chances.

What did you eat?

Mysore is very westerner friendly. If you look hard enough, you can find most of the food you already eat. It may have an Indian flair to it, but it is there. The food in Mysore is amazing. In two months, I only found one restaurant that served bad food.  Everywhere else was delicious. I ate American food, Italian food, and a whole lot of fabulous Indian food.

How was the weather?

Fabulous. Continuous Spring.

Is it safe?

Mysore is home to about 780,000 people. It is the second largest city in Karnataka after Bangalore. Like any nice size city, stuff is going to go down from time to time.  Did I feel safe? Absolutely. No one ever bothered me.  I walked to class by myself at 3AM in the morning. I was out at night a few times running errands or for a gathering and I never ever felt unsafe.  That being said.  If I was out at night, I stayed around the Shala which is heavily trafficked by people who knew me and I did not loiter. When I went out into town, away from the Shala,  I always went with people I knew and I had rickshaw drivers I trusted waiting for me.

What did you wear to practice?

I wore shorts and a tank top. I have never seen so many people get as riled up about a blog post as they did about the short shorts post. You would think that Sharath had said you should slap your mama or give up your first born child for blood sacrifice.  Never in a million years did I expect that reaction or want it. You can wear shorts!!! It was just about wearing shorts where your butt checks are hanging out and you can clearly see the outline of the contents of your crotch. It was about not having the bottom of your breasts hanging out or your nipples spilling out the top. It was not an unreasonable request!! For the love of God, don’t contact me to argue about this again. You are entitled to your opinion. That is mine.

Were the people nice?

Yes. They were wonderful. My God there were so many amazing people in that room everyday. I felt extraordinarily blessed. I get so excited when someone I met in Mysore friends me on Facebook. Seriously. Love. Come find me.

Is it only for advanced people?

No. Sharath and the assistants seemed to pay special attention to students who were not “advanced”.  People, who have been practicing Ashtanga for 3 years or less have an advantage. Your head is not full of information. You can approach the Shala with more grace and with less expectations. You are also more apt to learn something new on your first trip. I talked to many people who came already practicing Third series and they had to start back over at Primary. It is a major ego crusher and it is a lot to wrap your head around the idea that you may have to come back like 5 times before you can get back to Third series. Trust me. It is easier to go as a beginner.

Is Sharath Tough?

Yes and no. He expects you to do what he tells you to do and he has no qualms about calling you out. However, he is not going to crank you into poses or force you into anything. He has a relaxed but firm touch. When he assisted me in back bending, I felt supported and safe. He has an easy smile and loves to joke around.  One second he is frowning asking, “why you lazy” and the next second he is smiling and saying, “good job” and joking about something.

He is not a man of many words. Which can be a relief because you don’t have to worry about him riding your back but it can also drive you crazy. Him smiling and saying “Sit down” during my Pasasana totally threw me. When I said, “huh?”  and looked at him with the universal expression of confusion, he very sweetly just said, “sit down” again and nodded.  I dropped me hips down and waited for him to tell me when to stop. When I dropped my butt almost to the floor and fell backwards, he nodded with approval. Now what he was approving of, I am not quite sure. LOL.  It might take me another trip to figure out what that nod means. Gotta love Sharath.

Do you get a lot of help?

Maybe. Maybe not. Some people do. Some people don’t. I don’t know why. I don’t have a story for you. I suggest you not make one up either. You will be happier. LOL.

Am I going back?

Don’t know. Maybe. I am not going to lie. I like my cushy westernized Ashtanga. I love knowing that there will always be space for me. I will never have to practice in the ladies changing room. I love not getting up at 3AM to wait in line for an hour.  I love being able to freely ask my teachers questions without having to make office appointments.  I love that my teachers ask me questions about my body and my practice. I love that my teachers are crystal clear on what they need to see from me and what I need to work on. I love not having to be on 3 planes for 25 hours. I love not having to stop my life. I love not having to start my practice over.

I did enjoy the city, the community, and the connection to parampara. I am still interested in seeing where Sharath is taking the lineage. I am still interested in knowing what his nod meant. I am still interested in experiencing him fully as a teacher and finding a connection. I don’t know. When I do, I will let you know.

 

 

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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