Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mysore by day

Reading this blog you might think I'm busy having adventures and seeing the sights. While I've done my fair share, most days are much more sedate, even contemplative. The focus here is practice; everything revolves around that 90 or so minutes on the mat: what, when, and how you eat, when you sleep, and what you do.
I've had two ambitions on this trip: commit to the practice and write. So far, so good.

Monday through Thursday, I wake up around 5:30/6 (Friday is led practice at 7:30, Sunday is led practice at 6:00). My Mysore practice time has been moved up to 9 from 10, which means I have to be at the shala by 8:30 at the latest (shala time is 15 minutes ahead, and you have to be 15 minutes early - so half an hour in the regular world). When my wonderful teachers, J. and H. with whom I was living, were here, I would wake up and be greeted by their son, little j, and his babysitter, S. I really miss them! Now my mornings are solitary (and about to get even more so - my other lovely roommate, Z, is off tonight!). It's just me, some pranayama, a little breakfast, and more often that not, this infernal beast:

I should say it's lovely to have a washing machine. It is. But the spinner and I do not get along:
Infernal spinner.

This means nothing.
In order for the spinner not to bash about like a drunken monkey, the angels must descend to carefully balance the pile of wet yoga gear. They usually don't bother.
Also, I write in the mornings. Or stare at what I wrote the night before and sob. Whichever.

After practice, I go to chanting  Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was taking a Yoga Sutras class the other days, but that finished that last week. Then, lunch! Sometimes lentils and veggies at home, sometimes with roomies/friends, sometimes out. It's the food event of the day!

Our cooker. J and H packed up the claw. 

Afternoons are pretty chill: I write, take a chai break with a friend, go to meditation around 5:30 Monday through Wednesday, perhaps have a massage, take a walk, have a coconut at the coconut stand, buy some fruit, that kind of thing. Dinner is rather a non event as I'm usually still a bit full from lunch (and practice is better if you eat lighter. And it's hot here).  I usually eat some fruit, have some tea. Then it's my nightly googlechat with C, and then, if I'm not comatose, some writing, then  a bit of meditation practice, and off to bed.

It sounds pretty dull, actually (daily power outages notwithstanding)...Except it's not, because you're processing the practice in every possible way: physically (my hip is way better by the way!), emotionally (who wants to cry for no apparent reason?), consciously, unconsciously. You have to face yourself in unexpected ways here. And everyone says, just wait till you leave...

Speaking of which: 6 days left! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mini Tibet

Last Saturday, Y. and I visited a Tibetan settlement close to Mysore called Mundgod. Almost 17000 Tibetans call this place home. Other people call it "Mini Tibet."
One of the temples in the compound. I'll call it Temple #1. 
Y. and I explored the temples, three in total, and listened to prayers. Tibetan Buddhist prayers are super loud and accompanied by drumming and what look like and sound like didgeridoos (no pictures of these guys, not allowed).
Temple #1 inside.

Temple #2 where the monks were praying.
There were four temples in total, and a lot of monks:
I'm not a monk. In front of Temple #3, the really big one.

Temple #4; note the monks. 
The Dalai Lama is visiting in February. Here is his picture inside Temple #3.

Temple #3. Buddha's in the middle.
After the temples we went to see the prayer flags outside.
Driving to the compound we saw many houses sporting flags. Alas, no pictures. 

There are also hundreds and hundreds of prayer wheels around the compound. I turned all of them and got a cramp in my arm. Devotees do this every day. Many of them passed me. 
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 My hip started to bother me after turning all the wheels, so we went to the bookstore and I bought a book about Buddhism and another by the Dalai Lama called Beyond Religion. And two sets of prayer flags and a CD of chants. And then outside the compound I bought a singing bowl and a pink shawl. I've kept my shopping to a minimum this trip (because I already have a pile of elephant themed jewelery, bright purple genie pants, and Ganesh blankets sitting at home in Calgary), but mini Tibet got me. Really, when will I have the chance again? Sigh.
Also, I saw this kitten.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Practice

Or, why I came to Mysore in the first place.
I've been practicing Asthanga yoga for almost 3.5 years now, Mysore style for almost 3 (anniversary in May!). Mysore, and more specifically the K. Pattabhi Jois Institute of Ashtanga Yoga here in Gokulam, is the source of Asthanga yoga. Pattabhi Jois, or Guruji, started his shala here (after studying for many years with his guru, Krishnamacharya) and he passed the lineage, or parampala, to his grandson Sharath. There are many wonderful Ashthanga teachers all over the world and I've been very lucky to study with some of them. But I wanted to come here to the source to see for myself: why is this place so special and why do people keep coming back?
Me in front of the shala!
 Here's the thing - it's super busy here. It's always busy here, but January, and this January in particular, is crazy. There must be between 350 and 400 students practicing here every day.

Conference with Sharath last Sunday. See? Busy. 

My first practice was a led class (there are two led classes a week, one on Sunday and one on Friday. The rest are self-led in the shala, with instruction from Sharath and, sometimes, Saraswathi, his mother), and I had to fight (gently) for a spot in the main shala room - some students were practicing in the foyer, in the change rooms, and up on the stage. My Monday-Thursday start time is 10:00 am (at home I'm in the shala anywhere between 5:15 and 6:45, depending on my work schedule), so I have a full morning to myself before I even hit the mat. On this first trip to Mysore, I'm really just a face in the crowd, one of the thousands of practitioners who flock here annually, practically anonymous. I knew this would be the case and, honestly, it almost kept me from coming. I was worried that I wouldn't get a lot out of the experience, that my practice wouldn't "advance" (whatever that means), that I would spend a lot of money to come here and I'd leave unaffected. When I decided to come, in spite of my misgivings, I gave up any expectations for the month (as best I could) - whatever happens, happens, I thought.

But it turns out this place wastes no time getting into you and shaking you up. First, it's pretty magical.  Sharath is a master teacher, the most advanced Asthangi practitioners in the world practice in the shala, and Guruji taught here for years. All of this energy has an undeniable effect on the practice and the body and the mind. There's a focus here that I haven't found elsewhere, a special kind of energy.

And all this special energy has affected me in a very concrete way: my hip, the hip that has bothered me since I was 12, give or take, has started acting up. Really acting up. It started acting up a couple years ago, and then resolved itself, so I thought my hip was okay. But Mysore says no!
In practice the other day, I managed to get into Supta Kurmasana on my own (woo!). So the hip is opening:
That's not me!

 but I can't do baddha konasana to save my life, and I've always been able to do baddha konasana:
Again, not me!

Getting into padmasana (lotus) is super easy. Getting out it feels like someone is ripping my spine out from underneath me.

Sharath noticed it took me about three minutes to return to a seated position from a wonky version of baddha konasana and asked me what was wrong. He checked out my leg and said that things are changing, moving. So, I'm not worried. I'm just modifying where I have to, breathing through the discomfort, and stopping when I feel actual pain.

The practice is always challenging, but Mysore ups the ante. It gets into you. This place...
I'm glad I came, and I'm going to have to come back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Three Temples and an Asthma Attack

Last Saturday, I went on an adventure. Five of us headed off to Beluru in a tourist vehicle. It took us about three hours to get there.
We fought through typical Indian traffic, but there was also pretty countryside.

Here is the Chennakeshava Temple, dedicated to handsome Vishnu (really). It's about 900 years old or so and still in service. 

I'm usually not a tour group person because I don't like being ferried around and told what to do, but I know very little about Hindu iconography and symbols, so I joined a group already in session (okay, I eavesdropped in what I thought was a subtle manner and then the guide invited me and another woman to join in). 

I learned some interesting facts about the temple. For instance, the roof is held up by 48 pillars, all decorated in different ways. This one's the fanciest (by fanciest, I mean most holy. It is also, obviously the fanciest):
Note the blank space:
The guide said the artist left it blank on purpose to signify the possible continuation of the temple: the work's not done yet! Also, it nullifies the artist's ego. I wanted to add a little something something but they frown on that.

In the centre of the temple is a raised stage where the Queen danced for Vishnu as an offering. I couldn't take a picture of Vishnu (they frown on that, too). This statue, hanging above the stage, represents a dancer. Look at the weird thing she's doing with her left foot.
Close to the stage is this statue:

It's Vishnu as a female avatar. This statue has perfect proportions: the head is 1/7th the height of the body, the nose is 1/3rd the length of the face. Sexy Vishnu Female Avatar distracted demons. Her feet look like lotus flowers (they don't, really, but that's part of her charm) but I forgot to photograph them. 

Outside, I took a picture of this animal guy killing someone (I probably should have taken notes):

This is a Lion/Tiger - head of a lion, body of a tiger. Wait...a liger!

Y. wanted to take yoga photos so I took a bunch of photos of her and then she returned the favour. This isn't a yoga photo, it's a photo of me flustered, trying to decide on a suitable yoga pose:
Then we headed to Halebidu and the Hoysaleswara Temple:
They must use a lot of water on this lawn - it was super dry everywhere else. 
Here's a side door:

 This temple is dedicated to Shiva. Here's the Shiva Lingam:

The Shiva Lingam is basically a big phallus. I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the lingam, but it happened. 
Apparently, it's only a Shiva temple if Nandi the Giant Bull is waiting outside. Here he is:

Then we sped off to our final destination, Shravanabelagola, a Jain Temple. 
We climbed over 600 steps to see this guy, Bahubali or Gomateshwara:

This is a major Jain pilgrimage site. 

 It's also where I had an asthma attack!

View from close to the top. 

Little statue at his feet. It's actually not that little. His feet are massive.

I normally don't get winded walking, but I was feeling a little sick that day anyway, and well...Ahem. Anyway, after I broke out the inhaler, all was good. 

See? It was steep.

The sun set on the way home:

 But not before we saw this amazingness:
Those are coconuts.

We got home safe and exhausted. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

India Lite

The joke around here is that Mysore is "India Lite." And - it's true!
The last time I was in India, a rat dropped out of the sky in Old Delhi, red worms wriggled up out of a hotel sink in Mumbai, and bed bugs visited me in Goa for my 28th birthday. (Okay, a slight exaggeration: a mouse fell out of the sky and then I saw my first rat, which was the size of an obese cat). I got sick sick what seemed like every second day and the monsoon washed away the train we were going to take from Goa to Mumbai. And, of course, the all pervading poverty and heat and rain (monsoon! monsoon!) and and and. So, this time round I was expecting a real challenge.
Except that Mysore is really nice. Not just Gokulam, which is yogi heaven, but Mysore proper. Okay, I've only been to the city centre once, but seriously, it's really nice.
Last Saturday Y. and I went to the famed market. It was a 70 rupee (about $1.30) auto rickshaw ride away from Gokulam, the suburb where the shala is located and where we're staying.
Incense and coloured powder are really big at the market:
 Oh, and roses. Pretty!
I bought a couple bottles of essential oil and the vendor gave me incense! For free! (Which means I probably overpaid for the oil, but still. It was a nice gesture. And the incense smells heavenly - my favourite is Kashmiri flower. FYI - this area is known for incense). 

I experienced a lot less hassling around the market from walking vendors - people hawking trinkets, jewelery, etc, than I expected. And there is less obvious poverty here, too. Bangalore, India's IT capital, is just down the highway (drive safe!) and I wonder if the whole area has benefited economically from the industry. Or perhaps it's just always been this way...

After the market, we went to a bookstore, and then we had lunch. Thali!
Served on a banana leaf! At RRR.
South Indian food tends to be lighter than Northern fare. From left in the little dishes: a sweet honey-like (or maybe it was honey!) dessert, a brothy, spicy curry, curd, another brothy, spicy curry, and a coconutty curry. That's a papadum on the far left. They refill rice and the little mounds of curries. The middle was eggplant, my favourite. All you can eat with a Sprite for 98 rupees - just under $2. 
Oh, and I haven't gotten sick yet (knocking on wood...still knocking). 

It's possible that my next trip to the centre will completely contradict everything I've written, because this is India, after all, and India always throws unexpected things, like rodents, at you. 
This is a house in Gokulam. It's really nice.

And lest you think this is complete paradise, I experienced three black outs today and my shower was cold. But still. It's nice here. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

"Accidents Bring Tears, Safety Brings Cheers"

The road from Bangalore and Mysore is marked every kilometer or so with signs urging safety. The titular warning is my favourite; "Donate blood, but not on the road" is a close second. "Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer" seems to lack the drama an Indian highway necessitates. 

Sunrise, highway from Mysore to Bangalore. 

 A small fire started on the plane from Frankfurt to Bangalore, and we had to disembark (okay, it was a burning smell and we were still at the gate), so clearly safety was a theme of the journey.
I wonder if the pilot had the same icons in the plane - they certainly served the taxi driver well, and me, by extension.
And I thought I was going to die on the way to Mysore. If lanes are marked on the road, no one heeds them. My driver, a charming speed demon named Manu, zipped between lorries, auto-rickshaws, and, once, some oxen, merrily honking his horn the whole way:

I am no slouch at the wheel myself, but his driving made me want to throw up.
He did stop here though:
Huge Ganesh!
And he bought me a chai, so all is well. Oh, and I'm still alive.

I've been in Mysore for just over two days. I've settled in, registered at the shala, practiced led primary, and attended a conference. More on all that next post!
The journey here seems so long ago...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

On packing

Anyone who has every traveled with me knows this: I am a terrible packer. I bring three winter coats on a weekend trip to Toronto. I leave really important things at home (I brought three pairs of high heeled sandals to Tofino and no fleece for our honeymoon, which was at the end of August). I write various lists and hide them around the house, updating them when I have panic induced Eureka moments. For instance, the list next to me right now reads:
- write Ganesh's number
- email publisher
- bring nail polish remover
- Tevas
- nail stuff
This list is neither parallel nor sensical. It indicates action items and things to be bought. I am leaving for India in 16 hours. I am doomed.
In truth, I have been prepping for this trip for months now, systematically buying extra hair pins, yoga pants, and insurance. I am the most prepared I've ever been for any journey, but still I write nonsense lists and wake in the middle of the night yelling "tampons! buy tampons!" into my long suffering husband's ear.
Almost a decade ago, I left on the requisite European backpacking trip. Three hours before take off I stuffed my backpack full of whatever, never blinking. Five years ago I went to Russia with two overweight suitcases, no time piece, and three drops of contact solution, and I didn't care (my roommate might have, though, because I used all her contact solution). Two years ago, for our first trip to India, my then boyfriend (now husband, although I'm sure that trip made him think twice) took care of all the practicalities: electronics cables, batteries, converters, first aid accoutrements, leaving me to worry about, well, clothes.
This time I'm prepared. I have a first aid kit with enough immodium to plug up a small city state. I have two pairs of tweezers, multiple boxes of tampons, and an herbal stress spray that my naturopath endorses.
If my 5 year old ipod hadn't decided to die, just this afternoon, I'd be all set.
Bon voyage, me! India, here I come.