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Mysore Diary 2006

Read the Yoga Chicago version (with photos) here

Read Part II here.

No Sleep Til Mysore: Feels like the Third Time
Part I of Kali's 2006 India diary

By Kali Om

I was anxious before leaving on my third trip to study ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) and family in Mysore, India. My back had been hurting, and I had no idea of what to expect during the monsoon. Also, I was flying on a free ticket that had me going to four countries on two airlines, with some very tight connections in between.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006, Frankfurt, Germany
Due to equipment problems, it took over 24 hours and five airplanes to get me to Frankfurt; there were so many takeoffs and landings that I found myself doing a headstand at the airport at 2 a.m. They’ve put me up in a hotel; tomorrow I fly to Bangalore.

Friday, 26 May, Mysore
My flight arrived shortly after midnight, and so did my luggage! After a long drive in an overpriced taxi, I finally landed at the Kaveri Lodge, where I’ve stayed both previous times, at 5 a.m. I heard the Muzzah’s familiar call to mosque and saw my local friend Prashanth waiting on the steps. They had given away my room but let me crash in the owner’s digs for a few hours.
When I awakened a couple of hours later, they offered me a cup of chai. Wunderbar!
After a bath, a nap and lunch, Prashanth whisked me around on his motorcycle to change money and pick up some necessities--including cockroach chalk and a charger for the cell phone that my friend Jammu loaned me.

I also registered for my first month at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. It was 27,900 rupees, or around $620). Guruji was gracious but didn’t seem to recognize me.
Later we walked around the lake at the university and I enjoyed a frozen saffron lassi at 3 Sisters juice bar--where they all remembered my name.

Sunday, 28 May
There’s no yoga on Saturday, so Prashanth and I motorcycled out to Bylakuppe, a Tibetan refugee settlement. It was pleasantly cool and drizzling as we passed green fields and pink lotuses.

Women weaving baskets. Photo by Cara Jepsen.But the roads were bad, and our rear tire developed a slow leak. Prashanth decided to drive quickly to the nearest village and put me on a private bus that had men hanging out the doors. Somehow they made space for me.

They dropped me at a bus stop in a village that's pronounced Ba-LEE-ka-dee. In no time a crowd of men gathered round, and I was thankful that I was wearing a salwaar kameez--long dress, baggy pants and scarf--—and knew enough Kannada (the local language) to chitchat a bit. Finally, Prashanth found me and brought me to the repair shop.

While we waited, I sat down with a woman and her daughters, who were weaving colorful plastic bags, and, in Kannada, asked their names. I got my camera out, and soon we were laughing and taking pictures. Through Prashanth I learned that the basket-bags take about two days to produce and sell for Rs 160 ($3.50).

Golden Temple at Bylakuppe. Photo by Cara Jepsen. Then it was on to Bylakuppe, which is home to the large, colorful Golden Temple featuring three massive gold Buddhas. After sightseeing we sat in the temple for a while. Then of course I had to urinate. A young monk-in-training directed us to the Ladies Toilet, and, shoeless, I entered. It smelled barnyard-bad but not that awful. Yet somehow I found myself stepping on a human turd. In my rush to get to the foot-wash I noticed piles of turds everywhere. It reminded me of those invisible ink kits they used to have, where you'd write something but couldn't see it until you passed over it with the other marker. Suddenly, all I could see was feces.

Within minutes I had disinfected the pads of both feet, searched for open sores (none) and put on my shoes and made my way to a much cleaner pay-toilet.

I had expected to find a clean bathroom at the temple. But during my late-night car trip from Bangalore to Mysore I'd expected to find a filthy W.C. at the station where we’d made a pit stop. Instead, it was spotless. Yet another India lesson about expectations.

Sunday, 28 May

At 5 a.m., in the darkness, I rode the 6 kilometers to the shala (yoga studio) where I had my first contact with Westerners since Thursday.

Coconuts after class. Photo by Cara Jepsen.On Sundays they do an instructor-led primary series class (in which everyone practices in unison; a led intermediate class for more advanced students follows). On Fridays everyone does led primary series. On other days we do a Mysore-style self-practice. Sharath (Guruji’s grandson and fellow yoga teacher) was not present, but his sister Sharmila, who teaches in Bangalore, was. She gave me a firm adjustment in baddhakonasana (cobbler’s pose) and told me to put my elbows on my knees.
In the changing room I heard someone call my name. It was Krista whom I’d met a couple of years ago at a teacher training led by Manju Pattabhi Jois (Guruji’s eldest son); she's here until August and wants to go to breakfast sometime!

Guruji recognized me after the class--after I’d touched his feet. He seems to know me when my hair is up and I’m shiny with sweat. “When you come?” he asked.
Afterwards I went to across the street to get a tender coconut from Beck, who also recognized me. I also exchanged a few words in Kannada with Manju the tailor. "You were here two years ago," he said. Uncanny. I should learn to say more things in Kannada. Of course, I should really be learning Sanskrit....

Monday, 29 May
Today was a "normal" Mysore-style class. I arrived too early and waited while the others went in. After awhile, Sharath said, "Cara! You come."
My body was tight and weak, but the prana (energy) of the room carried me along. Saraswati gently put my feet behind my head in supta kurmasana (sleepping tortoise pose). At one point Guruji went up to a student’s infant lying on the stage (waiting for her parents to finish) and said, "When you come? When you come?" The place cracked up.

It was my first real practice since arriving, so I thought I could take it easy in backbends. (A prerequisite for moving from primary to intermediate series is standing up from backbend, and in 2002 I spent four months here trying--and failing--to do it. I stood up for the first time here in 2004 and was given some intermediate poses. But backbends and dropbacks have been difficult since I threw out my back while teaching last year.)
Guruji caught me and said, "Backbending?” and helped me drop back. The experience was so intense I thought I would faint at the end--when he hugs you and tells you to "Breathe! Breathe!”--and then thanks you.

After a solo breakfast at GreenLeaf I had a nap followed by a healthy lunch at Three Sisters. I’m trying to do what I can to stay well this time around, short of drinking my morning urine (which is meant to boost the immune system).

Oh! I just realized that I stepped on the human turd Saturday with my left foot--my poo foot.

Wednesday, May 31
Yesterday I lost my scooter key. After ransacking my room, I asked at the front counter and Vishwunath said, “Yes, Madam, it is here. No problem.” Oops.

And then I went and did it again today.

I also lost my yoga mat on the way home from practice. There was a truck that honked like crazy and pulled up beside me. The men yelled something, and--certain I was being harassed--I pulled my visor down over my face and ignored them. Now I realize they were probably trying to help me. Yet another lesson.

I stood up from backbend today--for the first time in months. But only once.

Thursday, 1 June
Today my legs were tight and weak. I bounced seven or eight times but could not stand up from backbend. No one came to help. Apparently this is something I must do on my own. Again.

Today I watched Prashanth’s yoga practice at his behest; he's been studying with B.N.S. Iyengar (a former student of Patthabi Jois and ashtanga teacher in Mysore) since I taught him a few basics in 2002 and has picked up some bad habits. Apparently his teacher doesn’t tell whether he's doing things incorrectly. But what is correct, anyway?

Friday, 2 June
This morning I ate breakfast in front of a live audience at Nalpak restaurant on busy Devaraja Urs Road. I looked down and noticed that men were in the cars below, eating breakfast and being served by a waiter. Imagine, iddly (steamed rice and lentil cakes) in your Tata Sumo SUV.

While unlocking the scooter afterwards I heard the Pink Panther theme. I turned around and saw its source; an old white Ambassador with a red Chicago Bulls sticker on the back, backing away from Nalpak.

In led primary series class today I stayed in utpluthith (uprooting pose) for Guruji's entire count (ie, I held myself off the floor in lotus for an interminable amount of time). I also managed to hold urdvha dandasana (headstand with legs parallel to the floor) for the entire, very long count--but only because I felt Sharath's eyes on me.
Saturday, 3 June
Today was a day off, and I slept from 10 p.m. to nearly 10 a.m.; apparently I’m still jetlagged. Which could explain why I forgot to lock my door when I left the hotel today (Harisha padlocked it for me--this constant scrutiny does have its benefits). They must think Westerners are the dumbest people in the world.

Later my blogger friend Jennifer and I shopped at a Tamil handicrafts exhibition, ate at 3 Sisters and then headed over to the Southern Star--where we sipped fresh lime soda by the pool. After it started to rain we headed to the restaurant. The waiter took one look at us and said, “Chocolate cake?” How did he know? Someone started smoking and we--both wearing Indian outfits--saw that it was a beautiful young Indian woman wearing Western clothes.

Sunday, 4 June
Guruji’s conference today was lively, thanks to Jennifer’s question about age and yoga. Still, it was hard to catch it all: Ladies do not take nauli [an intense abdominal exercise]. They do take babies. Ten babies. With the husband, makes 11 babies…. If you don’t do a proper practice with proper breath and bending, there will be sickness. Ladies should take a castor oil bath on Fridays and Tuesdays. Guruji has four brothers and five sisters, many of whom are living. His sister lived to 108. The secret to old age is good food habits. Also one should not waste time but use it to get closer to God.

During this, Sharath's daughter was reciting the ABCs to herself and occasionally yelling, "Appa!" When someone suggested Shrarath have nine more children, he said, "She is like 100 babies."

Monday, 5 June
Today I was weak and my back hurt and I dreaded backbending. On the fifth backbend I walked my hands in and bounced and suddenly—surprise!--I was standing at the front of my mat. Saraswati asked, “Finished?” No. And I very slowly dropped back for the first time in months. As I was trying to stand up, I saw Sharath's feet walk towards the front of my mat. He is like a magnet, and I immediately came up--and did it two more times, very sloppily and with great difficulty. Then he held my waist and rocked me halfway back three times; on the fourth rock he had me go all the way down and walk in my hands and then helped me up again. Apparently that’s how they're doing it these days.

This morning I breakfasted--yes, it’s a verb here--at Shakti House with Jennifer and Kristan and their roommates. Lovely conversation, and the food was like days of old. I think I’m finally starting to adjust. Again.

Wednesday, 7 June
Today I stood up once from backbend, went back and barely stood up again while Saraswati watched me. I went back down and could not come up. Why can't I just suffer in peace? Shame and inadequacy, inadequacy and shame...doing primary series for 8.5 years and never "progressing," UGH. People who were my contemporaries in 2002 are now doing Advanced A. It’s like I’m still a freshman and they’ve all gone on to college. Maybe I should bail on my second month and go to an ashram somewhere.

Click here to read Part II.