Tag Archives: Mysore

Across the line

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It is week 2 in my 2.5 weeks of practice with Saraswathi at the end of this season. I had arrived on Friday, and managed to begin my practice with a strong led class with her 2 Sundays ago.
Today, I received my first Intermediate series postures from Saraswathi today. It was a quick blur of a practice today, perhaps remnants from the short moonday trip to Taj Mahal that I just got back from last night. With no dinner from the previous night, all I could think of by the time I reached Supta Padangustasana was “I am SO hungry right now”. Though practice was quick, I felt time moved slower than usual. I took extra breaths in between postures in my Downward Dog. I accidentally skipped one or two postures and had to pick up from where I should have continued from. It was an unusually challenging practice, not because the postures were painful or difficult, but because the energy level was precariously low as I battled moments where dark stars were swimming across my vision.
“Last year, what you do in Intermediate?”
I came down from my Urdhva Paschimottanasana and looked up to her from my mat. “None” I said, shaking my head with a small smile.
“Ok, today you try, Pasasana. After Setu, do Pasasana”
An immediate flashback to that fateful Mysore practice I had with DR in early February where he had questioned me on who my teacher might have been to have given those Intermediate postures when dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana still remained a complete mystery to me. I wondered a little how that situation would have turned out if I had answered his question with “Saraswathi”.
I nodded and proceeded to my final posture from the Primary series. My legs straightened just a little bit more in Setu, perhaps fuelled by the excitement of entering into Intermediate with direct blessing from Saraswathi herself. Pasasana came easy today, quelling the slight anxiety as I haven’t been practicing this posture in the weeks leading up to me arriving here. Just as I was getting ready to close of, she looked across the room and said “No, from Setu you jump through, Pasasana”
It must’ve appeared as a whisper when I said “I’ve done Pasasana” because she kept insisting “chatvari, jumpback”. She lead me up through Krounchasana after which I indicated an Urdhva Dharunasana and she nodded.
I have been practicing my drop back lately by hovering. I do it 3 times, first pressing on the sacrum and the other two, hovering as far back as my own bravery or fear (depending on how you see it) would allow me to. Today she stood a couple of students away, and said “go, just go. Go down”. And this is when I thought to myself “OK, shit just got real yo”
At some point in a drop back there is always the fear that kicks in when I am low enough. Perhaps sensing that I would not go back any further she placed one hand behind my back and I dropped back, a little too hard on my right wrist, but I did it nevertheless. And she brought me back up with one hand.
As I am typing this, I am still amazed at what that brief and ever so barely there touch of a single hand from her can give enough assurance that I won’t be breaking my neck or stumble forward uncontrollably. Sometimes that is all that is needed from a teacher, the moment when they give you enough space to explore the depths and borders of your own fears, pushes just enough to feel the boundaries, and supports you just barely to guide safely across the line.
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“When you meet the right one, you will know in your heart”

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I am finally coming around to working my way through that box of books I brought back from Mysore in November. There is a book about Shri K Pattabhi Jois and the personal accounts of his students and family members

It’s a new habit of mine lately to scan the table of contents first and to jump straight to the part which catches my interest first. Naturally, I zoomed in onto Saraswathi’s interview. I think Donahaye and Stern did an awesome job in keeping her answers in its most original form, edited only as much as is required, but still allowing her voice to come through. Because it certainly felt that way. Reading it was like listening to her talking at the Sanskrit College in October when she and Sharath were invited as honorary guests for their contribution towards spreading the light (and method) of yoga.

I remembered the first time I had ever seen her in person. In Brickfields when she was in Kuala Lumpur for her 2014 Asia tour. My journey with Ashtanga yoga then was new, and I wanted to find out what the hype was all about being able to practice with immediate family members of Shri K Pattabhi Jois. I remembered a room packed with people so early on into the morning, and the gentle rhythm of chanting from the temple nearby. When I saw her it wasn’t really anything special. She struck me as a regular woman. And though it may be anti-climactic in that sense, there was an energy that emanates from her and throughout that entire LED class. I didn’t know what it was or exactly which moment in that entire class that made me realise I wanted to spend an extended period of time practicing with her, but I knew that very night I will be headed to Mysore sometime in the year just so I could practice in her class again.

In an earlier account somewhere in this blog, I wrote about the first 2 weeks in Mysore being filled with a combination of confusion and disappointment. I loved being close to her but that persistent thought of “I learn more and progress more at home with other teachers then here” was the main theme at least for those first few days. Week 3 & 4 was when the magic took hold and I began to understand that learning and progress occurs in so many other ways that the traditional method of learning I grew up with.

My experience of her are fond and warm, very much like a warm embrace of coming home. Even when I barely knew anything about her personal life aside from the fact that she is the daughter of Pattabhi Jois and the mother of Sharath Jois. I remembered at the end of my first practice in KPJAYI when she stood next to me, leaning against the rows of pictures lined up on one side of the shala, and casually asking me where I had come from. “Malaysia”, I said and her face lit up and immediately peppered me with questions about Ganesh and his wife.

There is a firmness in her touch, yet a kindness that follows through closely behind that. The only adjustment I would ever get from her are the rare support in Utthita Padangusthasana, and at the end in Shirshasana. One morning she called me to stand next to C, who was also about to enter into her Utthita Padangusthasana and made us complete that posture next to each other while holding our legs steady with both of her hands. I wished someone had took a photo of that! C and I laughed about that all throughout breakfast admiring her skills at multitasking all these students in her shala.

If anyone ever catches her eyes, there is a kind of gentle humor that resides in the depths of her soul. It’s like a gentle crinkle of the eyes and a smile that is just there for no reason at all. A day before Diwali, she was in class adjusting as usual, singing to her favorite songs. By then I’ve developed the habit of occupying my thoughts and movements within the perimeters of my mat but the strange voice of a woman humming eventually made me realised it was her singing. It was only when she stood in front of me, I realised she had an earphone in one ear and walking around with an iPod too.

It was luck that my stay there somehow coincide with that event at the Sanskrit College because that night, while she was giving her speech, was the first time I realised her immense contribution not just within the circle of Ashtanga practicing community but beyond that as a woman. I don’t know if she ever realised this, but being the first female Sanskrit scholar (largely thanks to Pattabhi Jois’ insistence as well that women should receive equal education) and later the first and perhaps the only yoga teacher at the time to be teaching Ashtanga to a mixed group of men and women opened up space to reconstruct, expand or even reimagine the role of women within the Indian society. I believe, her exposure in the Western world helped reinforce her presence within the social fabrics of the traditional Mysorean family life. Reading her accounts of having neighbours and family members giving her grief for moving back to Mysore after having her 2 kids while her husband was away working with Tata Motors was heartbreaking nonetheless.

I have been blessed to be introduced to yoga through so many other wonderful beings. The journey that started if at all by chance all the way back in 2003, and the amazing souls I had met and learned from since then is responsible in its own way for allowing me to be where I am today. Those that we learn from, especially in isolation for long extended period of times (as in committed to one teacher at one time) undoubtedly leaves its mark within us. The way they speak, adjust, teach and sometimes think eventually and to a certain extent is reflected in the way that we speak and teach. And that I believe is the most beautiful outcome from a student-teacher relationship.

At the end of her interview for this book she said:

When your mind is strong you stay with one teacher (…) when you meet the right one, you will know in your heart

Before I left, some of the more common topics circulating around the breakfast table in Mysore was “would you come back to practice with Saraswathi or would you try Sharath?”. My answer was always the same, to practice with Saraswathi for as long as she is around. Because I know in the depths of my heart that I would miss no other teacher more than I do for her.

Circling back home

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2 more sleeps before my flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

Being in this moment right now takes me exactly to that time when I am seated on the floor of my little tiny bamboo hut in Koh Samui, looking at my neatly packed bag and wondering what life would be like once I get back to the motherland and learn to integrate my experiences in the last one month into my daily life.

The only difference I feel is the magnitude of experience and changes that has occurred within myself while being away to focus solely on deepening my yoga practice. While before during my Teachers Training in Koh Samui the realisations that occurred were more obvious and exponential, this time around the lessons that came to me were subtle. If 2 years ago I went away merely to fulfil the curiosity of an intensive yoga practice and a brief respite from the corporate world, this time around I went away with nothing else in mind besides wanting to be close to this woman whom I had met once but felt a pull to return to in a way that can’t be quite justified in words and to return as a ‘full cup’ so that I can share more with those whom I come across in my own classes.

My life has been simple in Mysore. Waking up at 5 am. Practice at 6am .Finding simple joys in the cool breeze and scent of jasmine in the air as I walk to the shala. Breakfast at home. Laundry then heading out for coffee with some friends. And then it’s back at home. Reading. Writing. Brainstorming on the next project. Connecting with potential business partners. Appreciating the clear clear blue sky and the view of coconut trees against it (when it’s not raining of course). Cooking dinner or looking for dinner in one of the many nearby places. Soaking in the Mysore environment. The life of a KPJAYI student. And truly just beginning to understand the magic this place holds that has many dedicated practitioners returning annually for decades after. I may not entirely grasp the full understanding of parampara or teacher-student relationship just yet though by all means I fully acknowledge its importance, I feel like I am beginning to experience the tiny buds of practicing and being close to a guru.

The learning doesn’t come so obviously like how one would expect by attending a workshop. There are no lengthy explanations during those Mysore practice. All discussions were saved for conference time. There are no complicated demonstrations. Just the occasional “You, what you do?”, “Tomorrow/or another specific day, you do [insert next pose]’, ‘You, wait”, “You, stop” and “Very good”. The first 2 weeks I was here, my mind struggled with this method of learning. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything new. I didn’t feel like I was progressing, what more the benefits of practicing so close to and under the direct guidance of a globally recognised guru. “What’s the big deal??” and “WHY am I here again??” kept returning to my head, especially on those days when I felt like I didn’t give my 100% to the practice or that my practice was just NOT as I had wanted it to be.

If there was one thing that I could do over, was to allow myself to stay open without judgments to the motions that I was going through. To allow myself to be distracted by the awe of practicing in a packed shala, by the next person with the most graceful jumpthroughs and by that lady behind me who is doing her chaturrangas incorrectly. To allow all this without chastising myself for not being focused. Because this is what it means to see things with a brand new pair of eyes. If there is a next year for me to return, my experience and I am sure of this would be entirely different.

A lot of what we admire or dislike in other people are merely the reflection of what we yearn or dislike within ourselves. Without even knowing it, we are already what we yearn for even if it is not executed so obviously in its physical form. Just today, I was practicing next to this amazing soft spoken girl who was a former Wall Street Investment banker.  I remembered in my first few weeks here hearing her cries as she dropback and assisted into catching her feet. I remembered Saraswathi saying to her (and in a room so quiet like that, everything she says sounds loud) “breathe, no cry”. I remembered feeling “oh man, no dropbacks for me anytime soon!” as I felt some of her discomfort being in that position. Today her entire Primary practice seemed effortless, graceful and one that left me amazed at how much persistent practice and patience can manifest itself eventually in the physical world. And it occurred to me, the lessons I have learned from being this close to her are subtle, one that doesn’t need formal words to explain, and one that hits right home in an instant.

There are many things that attract me initially to this practice, and as I spend more time dedicating and focusing my own practice on just Ashtanga , I see more of its beauty. I love the way the practice demands at most 2 hours of your time in a day and for the rest of the day you are to live your life as any other human being. Families, friends, relationships and careers are all given equal attention. The pace of life in Mysore may be slower than normal, but if you know how to utilise the rest of the hours in a day after your practice, it actually mimics a regular day you would have back at home. To me, this has not felt or was intended to be a holiday. When some people responded to my statement of coming to Mysore as “oh you mean like a yoga retreat??” I honestly did not know what to say and chose instead to smile and keep silent.

I have been humbled, surprised and tickled by the many different facets of people that I have met. Mostly I am thankful for the few special ones that I got to know better in the last few weeks. The incredible energy that each person exudes and share. The stories told and the perspective gained from these. And the people these people remind me of, the people whom I have missed. It is amazing how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world, by race, ethnicity, skin color, nationality, political preference and god knows what else, but that at the end of the day there is a common thread that binds us all together. It is this very thread I believe that makes me feel like I have known these people whom I have just met, for a very very long time. A wise person once wrote ” Divinity is right here, right now, inside you, inside me, there is no separation, we are one, but we are definitely not the same, and that is the beauty and complexity of the multiplicity of one”.