[Mysore dispatch] Lingua franca

bilingual signs in Mysore

Always helpful when a sign around town is bilingual.

Sometimes when someone has tried other forms of yoga and wants a brief explanation of how ashtanga is different, I will talk about how no matter where you go, you can still have your practice – you won’t be dependent on finding a yoga studio as long as you have enough room to roll out a mat. I talk about how you can travel anywhere in the world and if you do find other ashtanga practitioners, you won’t need to speak a common language to be able to unroll your mat next to theirs and share a common practice. And in that way, you will be speaking the common language of this transformative practice.

After all these years of taking my mat with me when I travel, it has been such a treat to have spent the past month in Mysore with ashtanga practitioners from all over the globe. We descend on the Gokulam neighborhood with different cultural backgrounds and different native tongues — my new friends may say “capsicum” and I may say “bell pepper” — but we share a reverence of, and a belief in, the benefits of the ashtanga practice.

Yesterday, I chatted with friends over papaya fruit juices, ginger teas and healthy smoothies that you eat out of a bowl (we hit not just one, but two popular yogi hangouts: Chakra House and Anu’s Cafe). We talked about the corporate world, dharma and teaching yoga, the promise of 2014, how generosity is expressed in different parts of the world, and so many other threads of life. These conversations have created so much of the texture of my time here.

***

Chai with sugar

Chai = friend. Sugar = frenemy.

Back at home, I rarely eat sugar – I don’t keep any in my house, never add it to my drinks and generally only ingest it when I’m eating out and a dish or dessert has had sugar added to it.

For my first three weeks here, I indulged in my chai addiction, and the default chai here is not only addictively good (did I mention I have a chai problem?) – it has sugar to the hilt. I prefer chai without sugar, though. I tried a few times to ask for chai without sugar but got looks that ranged from blank to quizzical.

I finally asked a friend who has been taking classes in Kannada, the local language, how to say “sugar.” She said it’s basically sugar with an Indian accent.

Ah, so that told me that I was misreading those looks. It wasn’t that my words were not being understood. It was that the people I’ve been making this request to just can’t grasp why anyone would want chai without sugar. “But . . . the chai with sugar is right here,” I now understood them to have been saying with their perplexed facial expressions.

So now, I’ve learned to ask for both “chai, no sugar” and “sugarless chai” a few times while simultaneously trying to indicate through awkward body language that I am a sane person despite making this request. It’s been mostly successful, and I’m happy to report that for my final two weeks of my stay, I’ve been able to indulge in chai without sugar. This is good, because I was starting to really feel the effects of sugar on my practice – starting to feel a heaviness set in.
(The bad news is that the caffeine has guaranteed that my pitta levels continue to remain sky-high – but I’m willing to deal with this for a month while I get to be in a place that takes good chai seriously!)

I’ve decided, by the way, that sugar is the ultimate frenemy. I suppose that’s a thought for another blog post.

***

Sharath's office door

Yesterday, I went to Sharath’s office hours to say good-bye to him. I knew it would be awkward. How could it not be? I mean, what could he possibly say to me and what could I possibly say to him that was more meaningful than the energetic exchange that happens during practice?

But officially saying the words “thank you” and “good-bye” were important to me because that’s how I roll, so I went. I wasn’t nervous to meet Sharath or practice under his watchful eyes, but it cracked me up that it turns out I was super nervous to bid him farewell. I had thought about a couple things to say, and instead, as soon I got into his office, I got flustered, muttered a few words about being grateful to have the chance to the come study, slid a card and a small memento across his desk, and basically leapt out of the chair and back out into the foyer (where I realize that I had also forgotten that I was going to ask him to sign his book). I think the entire exchange took about 20 seconds.

It’s the Wednesday morning before January’s third moon day, and I’m off to my last practice with Sharath. I’m looking forward to a silent good-bye this time – the real good-bye. At KPJAYI, here is the way students leave the main shala space when they are done with practice: They wait at the door until they make eye contact with Sharath – usually, he offers a smile or a nod or both – and only then do they step out into the foyer and through the main shala doors to leave.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that if any place can prove that silence speaks volumes, it is this buzzing shala space.

Shala door

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

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.

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