self practice, Mysore and beyond

Mysore mandalaIn July 2012 I land in first Mysore class at Triyoga and plunge down the Ashtanga rabbit hole. I’d been dipping into Ashtanga classes for the last ten years but without any commitment, consistency or any real understanding of the practice. I was just bending my body.

It felt important to start my practice in London rather than Brighton where I live. I’m not quite sure why, anonymity perhaps. I set myself up for failure; not remembering the postures and not being able to commit to the practice.

During my first practice I was blown over by the energy in the room, it was perfect – so peaceful. It felt like it was just me and mat. I didn’t care what posture I got up to or whether I remembered the sequence. Practice became a habit after day one, and leaping out of bed at 5 am was a surprize pleasure.

It was exciting to be getting a super early train from Brighton into London to experience the pure joy of being a student, and entering the room with an attitude of surrender; I don’t know everything, I am not perfect, I am a work in progress. This was no hippie naval gazing and after a fair amount of spiritual shopping, I’d found something where the rewards were so tangible. No mud, intellectualising, nudity or tea were involved. Just practice, me and my breath.

Ganesh statue in MysoreMy practice was deep, it was meditation right from the start, but with accompanying bruises, aches and pains. Springing out of bed while its still dark with ease all added to feeling like I was part of some secret yoga cult. It was exciting, but as the days, weeks, months passed there was a fair amount of mental struggle, each posture bringing its own particular angst.

Some days I just didn’t want to have a man standing on my thighs for Baddha Konasana. And then there was Garba Pindasana- it hurt and I felt ridiculous in the posture. I had to practice letting go and those thoughts and hang ups would dissipate, or sometimes manifest into something else but one thing is for sure nothing ever stayed the same.

I’d arrive at work after practice inspired and excited. I have to share the intimate details of my practice with my colleagues whether they are interested or not.

After an intense few months of balancing practice, professional life (and a man on my thighs) I’d found a beautiful harmony between the two; the ‘leaving my ego at the door’ would spill info my professional life and bare fruit.

A week after finishing my documentary in London and six months after starting the practice to the day, I’m in India and about to begin a month of practice with Sharath, grandson of the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore the home of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I’d actually registered at the Shala just a couple of weeks after starting, which I’m slightly embarrassed about but I was so inspired by the practice.

I wait for that ‘one more’ before I enter the Shala with an attitude of surrender to practice under the gaze of Sharath. I soak up that powerful healing energy. My body is strong and my practice is enjoyable. I get dripped on by my neighbouring Ashtangi, he mops up his pool of sweat from my mat, I’m touched by his thoughtfulness. After practice I drink coconut water, I eat masala dosa. I indulge in the non-stop yoga talk. I am now in the Mysore groove.

A couple of weeks later, my body feels heavy, my practice is clunky, my mind is monkey. I’m bruised, achy and a million miles away from peace. I’m dreaming of back home, plotting and planning my first week back. Sitting with the now is hard. I’m craving and grasping something else. This adventure has now taken me to challenging places and I want to run away. I’m now a full time yogi and internally there is a whole load of work going on. There is a mirror in front of me, and nowhere to hide. As the layers peel back, my wounds lay bare.

I realise back home it’s too easy to hide. There’s very little to distract yourself with in Mysore, life is yoga, yoga, yoga. I have no job; I start to feel identity-less, l’m just another yogi floating in the sea of consciousness. I fill my time with my Ayurvedic massage course, practice, hanging out with yogis and sitting with the now. I give some attention to my wounds and feel gratitude; I recognise this is the ‘gold’ and I begin untying those knots of fear and frustration.

Seven months later, I’m still down the Ashtanga rabbit hole. My last week in Mysore, I do back bending with Sharath – grabbing my ankles for the first time, there is a moment of excitement, my ego feels nourished briefly. Then, the reality kicks in – I’m right at the beginning of this potent path of Ashtanga yoga.

Mysore charmAs Sharath said in one of the conferences ‘Are you practicing yoga or are you just bending your body?’ In the west he referred to ‘yoga factories’ and went on to say you won’t get enlightened there, if you want to break through barriers, you need real sadhana practice and you must practice with purity. If you practice for the right reason, then transformation is possible.

I’d leave the conference each week moved, inspired and reassured; I can see the treasure down the bottom of this rabbit hole. Practice in the Shala is an act of devotion – it’s a temple, not a school. I didn’t come to Mysore to learn yoga, I came because I want to practice yoga; I want liberation, and I want sangha.

I will miss you Mysore: that ‘one more’, motorcycle ménage a trios, constant yogi chat about asanas and injuries, coconuts, chanting the primary series in Sanskrit, Sri Durga’s coconut chutney, Sharath’s led primary bad jokes; which never fail to make me smile and the friends I made – all present and on the same trail.

I still think maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and my Ashtanga party will be over. It was all a big fat yogi om shanti dream but as they say ‘one breath at a time..’

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