[Mysore dispatch] So familiar and yet . . . so familiar


Although I tried to not place too many expectations on this trip, I did have the idea that at some point, I would think, “What am I doing again? Why did I think it would be a good idea to leave my life behind for a month and travel halfway around the world to study ashtanga?”

I know it’s only been a week, but what’s surprising to me is that — with the exception of the afternoon when I got extremely lost walking back from Loyal World Super Market :-) — I have felt nothing but a sense of familiarity with the place. It’s different here, of course. The idiosyncrasies are at once perplexing and entertaining (oh, the protocols required to walk from the first floor to the second of Sapna Book House if you are carrying a basket of merchandise!). But when I think that surely a fleeting sense of absolute foreignness is about to kick in, I realize I just feel more . . . familiarity.

It helps that I’ve seen blog posts and tweets about the coconut stand where everyone meets after practice, that I’ve heard about people practicing in the shala dressing room, that I’ve seen Sharath in videos.

It helps that when I was young, my parents took me to their native Thailand. So it doesn’t throw me off to see things like the bathroom set-ups here (lack of separation for a shower area, for starters) and the absence, to American eyes at least, of traffic regulations (to say the least!).

It helps that I landed knowing half a dozen people here — including a friend from Ann Arbor, my teacher, a Facebook friend, and a few ashtangis I’ve spent time with during extended yoga workshops and trainings.

It helps that a reader of this blog whom I didn’t previously know sent me an email earlier this week. He is originally from Michigan and now lives in Mysore, and wanted to get together for lunch, which we managed to do on New Year’s Day. (It was a blast — thanks again, NP!)

It helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone. Walking along 2nd Main (the official name that no ashtangi uses for this street) / Anu’s Road (the name every ashtangi uses), a man who introduced himself as Joseph and I struck up a conversation. At some point I turned to him and said, “Are you in the Mysore Magic DVD? Because I think I quoted you in a blog post once.” Yep, it was the same Joseph who had said in that documentary, “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.” We talked about the truth of that observation, and about his schedule here in Mysore and mine. And then we continued on to run our errands, which in my case involved my third swing by the mobile phone stand that all the ashtangis go to in order to get a cheap little local phone to work normally. (Good news, by the way. After some technical hiccups — oh, the protocols surrounding getting a phone set up — it finally works normally now and I can text like a veteran Mysore ashtangi!)

It helps that when walking up the stairs to my room this afternoon, the woman I passed but didn’t look closely at called after me: “Rose?” I didn’t recognize Dana at first because of her sunglasses, but there she was — a real treat since the last time I saw her was at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in 2012 and before that, it had been three years since I had met her in Vancouver.

It helps that the more people I know through this practice, the more inevitable it is that I feel hooked in and grounded. What a gift to be part of a global community in which I don’t need to know every name or recognize every face to feel like everything is all somehow  . . . familiar.

And . . . it helps that the force that drew me here is channeled through my mat and Mysore rug. No matter where I am in the world, if I am on that 71-inch-by-26-inch piece of real estate, I feel comfortable. It has always been that way with my ashtanga practice, and I can’t think of any other aspect of my life I can say that about.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

 So familiar and yet . . . so familiar

In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me

No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

Mysore Magic: A DVD for Ashtanga practitioners with desires and doubts

Mysore Magic screenshot

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source — Released 2012. Directed By R. Alexander Medin. Produced by R. Alexander Medin, James Kambeitz, Angie Swiec Kambeitz.

Yesterday was a treat — my personal Mysore Monday. Because I had the Labor Day holiday off, I was able to attend morning Mysore at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY: A2), which I can’t attend on a normal workday because I live an hour away. I closed out the day by watching Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source.

The film directed by certified teacher R. Alexander Medin, released early this year, clocks in at just 22 minutes and includes striking Mysore Magic:Yoga the Source filmfootage — taken inside the practice room of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Gokulam, Mysore — that’s woven into interviews with a range of compelling and articulate practitioners talking about why they were originally drawn to Mysore, and what the practice has done for them.

But the copy of the film I ordered a couple months ago indicates on the cover that this DVD is a new version, in that it includes six special features. The short film is quite well done — and, yes, it makes you want to book a ticket to India, stat — but for me, the gem of this 63-minute DVD can be found in the bonus features, which include segments on the following topics:

  • Guruji
  • Portraits
  • Family
  • History
  • Obstacles
  • Transformation

I was particularly drawn to the “Obstacles” section, in which you hear these oh-so-familiar thoughts spoken by different yogis:

  • “You are confronting your own shortcomings daily . . . “
  • “Some days are incredibly difficult to get up and go practice . . .”
  • “Whatever it is, it is guaranteed to come up in the practice  . . . “
  • “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.”

Sound familiar? I was wondering if perhaps they had actors reading from a script of thoughts that run through my head way too frequently. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about obstacles — and how to overcome them when you practice alone, at home, and don’t have the benefit of the energy of a Mysore room, much less the opportunity to travel to the source — thanks to the daily support I’ve been getting as part of a group of yogis, most of whom I’ve never met, who are part of the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. We meet in a little digital lounge where we can talk about our obstacles to practicing, help each other work through them, and generally cheer each other on.

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

In “Obstalces,” Kino MacGregor talks about her struggles in the practice. Yes, that Kino — the ubiquitous one who is all over social media, making everything look easy. The one who looks like she was born with a body made for this practice. The one who wears those trademark short shorts that make practicing things like arm balances even harder, because you don’t have fabric to use as friction.

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

I’ll note one of MacGregor’s quote because I think she’s probably the most well-known of the yogis in this section, between her videos, blog posts, tweets, Pinterest boards, and all the rest. Sitting comfortably in a Led Zeppelin tee, she tells the filmmakers:

What does strength mean? Where does it come from?
For me, that’s been a really big journey, actually, because I wasn’t strong when I practiced — not mentally, not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. So when I found this blockage in my practice — like, I couldn’t lift my butt off the ground — not at all in the beginning — I just remembered thinking, ‘What’s this about for me?’ And what does this say as a state of mind that I want to quit all the time? What does this say as a state of mind? Who is this person that can’t find any strength, that can’t, you know, accept this part of myself?

Fourth Estate

My first career was as a newspaper reporter, and I remember, early on, thinking that I was not fit for this field. I looked around at all these reporters who were tearing it up with A1 stories, investigative packages, beautiful long-form features. They seemed to me like they were born to do this — that they must wake up feeling confident every morning, that they have some uncanny ability to stroll into the newsroom around 10 a.m. and get their sources to spill by noon. Words seemed to flow out of their typing fingers as fast as coffee was streaming out of the newsroom coffee pot. Then I started to get to know people better. I started to learn about their sleepless nights. About the sacrifices they had made over the years to get their sources to trust them. I learned how some reporters would even get their doctors to prescribe Ativan when they were facing their toughest deadlines. Being part of the Fourth Estate — when done with integrity to ethics and dedication to the idea that citizens require information and truth to make informed decisions — can be hard. It was important to me to know I was not alone in feeling this way.

You are not alone, ashtangi

Back to Ashtanga yoga. It’s hard! This is not news. For some of us, it can be helpful to hear from people we think never had to work hard to achieve something, because it can make the endeavor seem more accessible. Some of us need to hear that nope, actually, these guys struggled too — and continue to struggle — just like the rest of us.

To be sure, there is also a kind of inspiration from knowing that someone else like you is still keeping at it and trying their best, despite their doubts, anxieties, frustrations, fears and everything else. Sometimes we get so beholden to our challenges that we lose all perspective. I think this is one way in which connecting with one another — whether over social media or by watching a DVD like this one — can support practices.

Checking out the film

There are renting options and purchasing options with the film — follow this link. I don’t believe renting the film — streaming it online for $4.99 — offers you the bonus features. It looks to me as if the DVD option, for $24.99, is the best way to go — and you should know that 50 percent of revenues go to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Charitable Trust.

Here’s a sampling of some discussions of the film when it originally came out.

If you watch it, I would love to hear what you think.

(Photo credit: Screenshot from Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source)

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