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.


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