Leaving Kochi (a little over a week ago), I had made the decision to "follow my bliss", meaning that I would base my travel decisions on my passion, yoga. All I knew about Mysore was that it would definitely offer yoga. I read that Mysore was the yoga capital for southern India.
I took a 12 hr. (overnight) bus to arrive in Mysore. The bus ride was pretty brutal... I consumed all of my ginger candies plus some generic motion sickness medicine in an effort to combat my nausea. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very much. I thought the bus would be arriving in Mysore around 7am (I was told), but when the driver announced "Mysore, Mysore, Mysore!", it was 5:30am. I stepped off the bus, cold and disoriented. I eventually found my way to Gokulum (a suburb of Mysore). I had a friend there, who I had met at the Sivananda Ashram a few weeks earlier. She showed me a few possible lodging options and we had a delicious breakfast at the "idly man" restaurant (idly is a traditional South Indian breakfast dish. These savory cakes are made out of fermented black lentils and rice, served with chutney and other spicy sauces. I drank the most heavenly chai there as well, all for about $.90!) Once I settled into my new accommodation, (a simple single room in a hotel- 300 rupees/$5 per night) I took a deep, well deserved rest before heading to my first yoga class that afternoon.
~ My introduction to Mysore yoga! ~
I quickly learned that I was in an environment of very specific focus. Mysore is the birthplace of "Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga". It seems like I should have know this... but I haven't had much exposure to ashtanga yoga. This suburb of Mysore is famous in the yoga community. People from all over the world apply months in advance to come practice at the "Main Shala" where they are taught by either Saraswathi or Sharath. These teachers are the respective daughter and grandson of the Indian yoga teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois. This legendary teacher developed the vinyasa style of yoga referred to as ashtanga yoga. He established his Ashtanga Yoga Research Center in Mysore in 1948. For those of you who are not familiar with ashatanga yoga... it's so intense! This style is very vigorous and challenging. The specific "Mysore style" refers to the structure of the class. The classes are not "led" as a group by the teacher, but instead students (who usually have the sequence memorized) begin and end the asana practice moving at their own pace. Classes are 2 hrs. long and follow the set sequence (for me it was the primary series) depending on the level of the student. The teacher walks around and offers strong physical assists and verbal instruction to students one-on-one.
The majority of yogis in Gokulum are there to specifically practice ashtanga yoga, committing to a time span of one-three months. It was not easy for me to find the right drop-in class. Most establishments required some sort of longer commitment (at least a week). However, I was told to check out the Chakra House for a class that would be suitable for beginners and welcoming to drop-ins.
Side note: There were Hatha yoga classes offered in Gokulum as well... but I did not get around to taking one. I figured that since I was in the nucleus of the ashtanga world, I would completely absorb myself in it!
After checking out a couple other options for drop-in classes, I ended up taking ashtanga yoga classes at the Chakra House for five days with an Indian teacher named Jay. Jay was new to teaching (just started in December), but a very experienced and disciplined ashtangi. He was welcoming and very patient with me. He definitely pushed me to my edge every day... but he always maintained his softhearted energy as we moved through the rigorous series. There were usually a couple other students in the the class, but a few of the classes were just him and I (private sessions!).
In these Ashtanga classes the theme of beginner's mind (Buddhist concept) showed up for me. After my three weeks of intensive Sivananda yoga, plus my entire yoga background, I went into the class/Mysore environment with healthy confidence. This confidence was rattled. The Ashtanga practice was very confronting for me on all levels... physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I felt completely out of my element in the asanas. Not only was I practicing new poses (with extreme variations), but I was pushed to go deeper than ever before into the ones I did know (in ashtanga style). I needed Jay's help every step of the way. I had to stop in between every pose to look at the printed sequence laid out in front of me and or ask questions about the series. I felt like a brand new yoga student again!! I did not expect that experience. Nothing about the yoga felt comfortable or easy... in fact, I often felt like I was being tortured in most of the poses! I felt like an awkward pretzel with no muscular strength or balance. There were moments in class where I felt like my bones could pop out of my body! The classes tested my endurance and I often relaxed into savansana as if I had ran a marathon. The physical aspect of this practice felt demanding and unforgiving. Mentally and emotionally, I observed intensity as well. I experienced resistance, frustration, anger, insecurity, and overwhelm. I found myself questioning why others would choose this practice and wondered what they loved about it. It was just SO physically hard! As the week progressed, I allowed my emotions to exist and release.
~ Surrender, surrender, surrender ~
I recognized the gifts of this experience. Feeling like a beginner again was so good for me. It was illuminating to think that I was "bad" at this style of yoga. I could feel the tension that my ego was going through.. "I thought this would be easy for me, I thought I would be stronger with more endurance..." As a teacher (and someone who was exposed to yoga starting in childhood) it helped me to really understand how intimidating yoga can feel from a beginner's perspective. A gentle hatha yoga class can feel just as painful/uncomfortable/confronting to a new student as those ashtanga classes felt to me. I have gained a more well- rounded understanding of the vulnerability it takes to practice yoga (or anything new) and the struggles that go along with the process.
I was curious about the deeper spiritual and energetic aspects of ashtanga. Considering an Ayurvedic perspective, I think that Ashtanga could be feeding into the rajasik (restless, hyperactive, Impatience, competitive) nature of modern life. It seems like it could be creating more imbalance in people's already chaotic lives (minds) due to it's physical intensity. I asked one of the many committed ashtangi's about the spiritual element of the practice and she said, "you start to feel the spirituality after 3 yrs. of practice!". Another advanced ashtangi explained to me that this path has been incredibly grounding for her due to the consistent and predictable routine. It was so interesting to learn about this path through my own recent experiences as well as through the energy of hundreds of enthusiastic and dedicated ashtangis!
Summarizing the rest of my week in Mysore: I found my ideal ayurvedic school and took a 5 day ayurvedic nutrition and cooking class! I absolutely loved it 😊 there were 8 students ( all women) and we met everyday from 12:30-3:30. The first half of every lesson was theory and the last half was cooking! I gained clarity on concepts that I already knew and learned a lot of new information as well. I now feel confident in using ayurvedic principles to experiment with the best diet for myself and I hope to be able to offer some suggestions to others as well. The cooking section of the class was so cool because we were not only learning about the ayurvedic properties of foods, but we also got to make some traditional Indian dishes! (chutney, dosa, perotta, chapatti).
On Valentine's Day, I took the bus into Mysore City center to see the Palace. Before I went inside, two Indian teenage boys approached me and one asked if I would hold a rose and say happy birthday to his mom in front of the camera! I said yes. Of course, I could barely pronounce her name... but I tried! It was a sweet moment. The palace itself was hard to believe even with my own eyes! So much rich history along with the exceptional beauty of the enormous building. On my way back to Gokulum, I took a tuktuk. The driver was especially friendly and joked about letting me drive, haha. He also asked if I was married (very common question, to which I always say yes) and commented "you very nice look" 😊 ❤️. It was a good Valentine's Day in India. Oh yeah, I also bought myself some heart shaped chocolates at the "cocoa vault"'store next to my hotel!
I ended up making a friend in my ayurvedic class named Nora (from Hungary). Friendships made while traveling are so amazing because the bonds seem to develop so quickly and with great depth! Although we only really got to know each other for 3 days, I felt that she was a true friend and I really enjoyed our similarities. She is another nurturing soul companion on this journey 🙏. My heart felt heavy when we said goodbye, but I trust that we will see each other again!
I left Mysore with a very authentic understanding of Ashtanga yoga. I know that it is not the style for me, but it sure taught me a lot about myself. I learned new asanas to practice on my own and to teach. I appreciated the physical strength that I gained along with the experience of beginners mind. I plan to continue studying and implementing the ayurvedic principles into my life to create inner balance as I continue forward!
Now for the holy city of Tiruvannamalai!!! 🙏❤️
~ My soul honors your soul, I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides, I honor the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within you because it is within me as well ~