Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 23rd Feb

Freshly pedicured feet (complete with insect bites!)

Freshly pedicured feet (complete with insect bites!)

I’m the kind of person who likes to keep busy. Not in a manic, stressful way; just in a there’s-always-something-useful-I-should-be-doing way. So when I came on this trip I made sure I had plenty of ‘stuff’ to keep me occupied: I brought 2 correspondence courses with me, which are part of my current life plan – ‘Anatomy & Physiology’ and ‘Writing Features and Articles for Health, Wellbeing & Fitness Magazines’; I’m reading Edwin Bryant’s The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for a bit of light self-study(!); I started this blog as well as keeping a travel journal; and I’ve set myself the challenging task of learning the correct Sanskrit count for the entire Ashtanga primary series. Phew, it’s exhausting just thinking about it all!

The trouble with setting myself these potentially unrealistic goals is the guilt and disappointment that comes with not achieving them. Well, thankfully, this week I’ve let it all go. Just like that. Getting out of the city and being in nature on the wildlife tour last week really helped to shift something and I started to get a fresh perspective on things. So this week I’ve concentrated on doing things I actually WANT to do rather than things I think I SHOULD do. What a relief! (Plus I got a High Merit for my first lesson of the A&P course so that should keep the guilt at bay for a while.)

Rooftop kirtan (it got livelier as the sun went down!)

Rooftop kirtan (it got livelier as the sun went down!)

As well as the usual yoga and chanting classes, this week I have: learnt a meditation technique to help improve the eyesight from B Naga Kumar at Mumuksha; had a very relaxing and therapeutic gong bath (to the point where I was practically asleep) at The Blue House; received a wonderful ‘special pedicure’ complete with leg massage from the lovely Sanna at Iora Beauty Salon; visited the spectacularly opulent Mysore Palace (where I was caught sneakily trying to take a photo and had to pay a bribe to avoid my iPhone being confiscated); wandered around an Art Gallery containing a random but fascinating collection of Indian, Japanese and European paintings and artefacts (including the highlight of the collection: a French musical calendar clock which not only chimes each hour, but has marching soldiers and music too); attended an interesting talk on the meaning of the Ashtanga opening mantra by Arvind Pare; sang and danced at Mark Robberds‘ beautiful rooftop kirtan as the sun went down; had the most amazing 2½ hour deep tissue/emotion releasing/energy healing massage (there’s that fusion again) from Ravi Kumar that not only worked on my muscles, but the bones, joints and tissue too and helped release some of my energy blocks and stuck emotions (totally fascinating); and of course ate and drank plenty of delicious local and not-so-local food and drink – one of my favourite pastimes!

The splendid Mysore Palace

The splendid Mysore Palace

Last Monday at the end of my practice Sharath looked over and asked “Did you catch your ankles?” I gave a little snort, looked back at him with an expression of incredulity and shook my head. He laughed and said “Tomorrow!” Luckily it was my ‘ladies holiday’ for the next 3 days so my next 2 practices were counted led classes on Friday and Sunday. On Monday I finally decided to try out the whole coffee malarkey (“No coffee, no prana“) and had an amazingly strong and focussed practice after one cup of brain juice. When Sharath did dropbacks with me and told me to “Walk! Walk! Walk!” I felt I could go deeper much more easily. I came up and said “Getting closer” and he gave a little laugh. Hmm, I suspect I still have a long way to go!

A rare people-free shot!

A rare people-free shot!

On Sunday my led time got shifted from 4.30am back to 6am (phew!) and it was the quietest I’ve seen it in the shala so far. I arrived late (meaning only 15 minutes before the start time rather than an hour), there was no pushing or shoving, I had a choice of where to put my mat (which totally threw me) and we even had space around our mats to actually do a full asana practice – total bliss! I stayed afterwards to watch the led intermediate class, which was a very inspiring and eye-opening experience. I’ve never watched a counted led class before and there’s something so beautiful about the mass of people all moving together in sync as one, united, body of yoga. Observing the strength, flexibility and muscle definition of some of the bodies was also awe-inspiring.

But the most surprising thing for me was realising how many people left the room after Eka Pada Sirsasana, as they only practice up to that point – which is probably about a third of the way through the intermediate series. And I suddenly realised that it’s not as far away for me as I had thought. I mean, of course, I still have to get past the dreaded challenge of Kapotasana, but for the first time in a few years of consistent, steady practice, I feel inspired again – to work harder, to go deeper, to get stronger, and to commit myself more fully to this nourishing, transformative, inspiring practice.

Om shanti!

The palace by night

The palace by night…

...and a close-up of the countless light bulbs that make it possible

…and a close-up of the countless light bulbs that make it possible

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 16th Feb 2014

The fun and games of changing practice times continued at the shala this week. Having moved most of the time slots forward an hour during Sunday’s conference, Sharath promptly had to move them all back again on Monday morning! Suddenly it seemed the whole world was practising at 7.30am and the students were spilling out all the way down the steps. After what seemed an eternity of slowly shifting closer and closer to the front door, and eventually through it into the entrance foyer, with Sharath constantly coming out asking “What’s your time?”, he finally said “Wrong announcement; bad announcement!” and shifted everyone back to their times from the previous week!

Delicious fusion thali and 'green smoothie' at Cafe Mandira

Delicious fusion thali and ‘green smoothie’ at Cafe Mandira

The word of the week for me has been “fusion”. Many of the restaurants here have a fusion of Indian, Chinese and Western dishes and I ate a wonderful fusion thali at Cafe Mandira in the Old Mandala School in Lakshmipuram, which included tasty treats like grated beetroot and roasted squash. Fusion massage seems to be rife here too, with many people offering a combination of Thai, Swedish, deep tissue, sports and Ayurvedic massages. I had one on Saturday which was amazing and got deep into parts of my muscles that I didn’t know existed! I’ve also been wearing a fusion of Indian and Western clothing, as I’ve bought a few beautiful traditional kurtas lately and love pairing them with jeans or leggings.

How to jumpstart a rickshaw - Indian style!

How to jumpstart a rickshaw – Indian style!

On the way back from one such shopping expedition (thali/shopping/coffee = the perfect girlie afternoon), my friend and I were treated to a wonderful example of roadside recovery – the rickshaw foot jumpstart! Unfortunately the rickshaw we had jumped in after our hard day’s shopping decided to break down. The driver told us to get out, then pushed his vehicle across the middle of a very busy junction and indicated for us to follow. We saw him handing over some rupees to another driver and then he gestured for us to get in that guy’s rickshaw instead. We could never have anticipated what happened next. Our original driver pushed his rickshaw over in front of the one we were now in, our new driver started up and then drove along with one sock-covered foot pushing on the back of the broken down rickshaw in front. Every time we stopped he made sure he got up close behind it so he could give it an extra push as we started off again. It was hilarious! I’ve no idea how the original rickshaw driver managed to keep going but somehow he did and waved us off as he veered off across another big junction into the distance. And that, my friends, is how to jumpstart a rickshaw!

I’ve been having a few digestive issues lately, namely bloating and constipation. After getting the usual bout of Delhi Belly soon after I arrived, I now seem to have swung the other way! And what better place than India to try out some traditional Ayurvedic remedies. I followed a friend’s recommendation and went to see the lovely Dr Chitralekha at the Mysore Academy of Ayurveda. She did a prakriti analysis to determine my doshas, told me I have a moderate level of ama (toxins) in my body, gave me some diet and lifestyle advice, prescribed some herbal medicine and showed me some marma (energy point) therapy to do on myself. And all for only Rs570 (about £5.70)! So this week I’ve been: taking lots of pink medicine that’s basically like Pepto-Bismol; giving myself pressure massages; carrying a pot of ghee around with me to add to my food; trying to avoid bread, dairy, nuts and eggs; and taking herbal laxatives each night. I also have some rather ominous looking black pills which I can take if I decide to do a ‘purgation’. But that basically involves a self-induced sickness which will put me out of action for 2-3 days, meaning I won’t be able to practice. Hmm… watch this space!

The highlight of my week has to be the 2-day wildlife tour I went on with goMowgli. Friday was a moon day which meant we had 2 days off in a row, and provided the perfect opportunity to head off into the forests of Coorg in the Western Ghats to experience something other than the usual hustle and bustle of Gokulam. We had lunch at a beautiful spot by the river at Srirangapatna; we did a forest safari in Nagarhole National Park where we saw deer, bison, monkeys, wild boar, peacocks and elephants; we stayed at the very rustic Bethel Home Stay on a beautiful hillside; we invented a new drink round the campfire called GoRumli; we had an early morning, very invigorating ‘shower’ at Irupu Falls; we did a hill trek for some amazing views and saw evidence of tigers (very hairy tiger poo = a very dead deer); we walked around a coffee plantation and learnt how coffee, peppercorns, groundnuts and cashews are grown; we fed some elephants at Ane Chowkur Elephant Camp; we were fed like kings the whole trip and had a jolly wonderful time! And here’s the evidence:

The beautiful Cauvery river at Srirangapatna

The beautiful Cauvery river at Srirangapatna

The alternative James Bond

The alternative James Bond

Little Bambis!

Little Bambis!

Langur monkey just chillin'

Langur monkey just chillin’

Girls' dorm at Bethel Home Stay

Girls’ dorm at Bethel Home Stay

The spiciest breakfast I've ever eaten

The spiciest breakfast I’ve ever eaten

Striking a jungle pose

Striking a jungle pose

Mimi looking cute amongst the coffee

Mimi looking cute amongst the coffee

Hungry elephants

Hungry elephants

Nelly's snuffly trunk sucking up orange pieces like a vacuum cleaner

Nelly’s snuffly trunk sucking up orange pieces like a vacuum cleaner

The gang after a sweaty hill trek

The gang after a sweaty hill trek

One happy tour group!

One happy tour group!

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 9th Feb 2014

Photo courtesy of MariaSaraEva Jen

Photo courtesy of MariaSaraEva Jen

This week my practice time changed twice (or was it three times? I can’t keep up!) AND I got 3 more postures. Phew, not used to so much activity in one week! There’s been a big transition of people leaving and arriving as well, so it’s all change at the moment. It can feel a bit unsettling at times but “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Wilson Watts

Sharath seems to have got into the habit of standing at the front of my mat when I’m in Urdhva Dhanurasana so that when I come up he’s right there and I have to be careful not to bump noses with him! It’s a pretty good way to stop me over-shooting when coming up from dropbacks, as the last thing I want to do is hurl myself at him! Last week I almost did and he laughed and said “Too fast!” On Wednesday when he let me all the way down after halfbacks, he told me to walk in about 4 times but I was struggling on the last one, and when I came up he laughed and said “Stuck!”

North Indian Special at Sixth Main restaurant

North Indian Special at Sixth Main restaurant

This week I ate my best thali so far, at Sixth Main restaurant – a favourite eating spot. Most places offer both North and South Indian options and I went for the North Indian special. I can’t tell you exactly what was in it, I just know that everything was delicious! Especially the tomatoey soup, curdrice and buttered kulcha (a bit like a nan bread). Oh and the gulab jamun and ice cream for dessert of course -hence the “special”! While we were there I also saw my first monkeys of the trip. A whole gang of them climbed out of a tree on the other side of the road and ran down the street. Must have been lunch time…

Thursday marked the end of our sutra study classes, where we chanted all 4 padas (chapters) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras across 10 sessions, and Lakshmish explained what they meant. He has a wonderful way of teaching, using examples from everyday life; often relating to his family, his strong desire for an iPhone or his passion for watching Hollywood action movies in his batchelor days. He even confessed to having dreams about flying in a helicopter and shooting people with a machine gun – quite surprising for a Brahmin priest! It was fascinating to gain a better insight into the sutras, which basically set out the principles and practices one should follow in order to become a true yogi. I’m not sure I’ll be mind reading, walking through walls or growing new limbs any time soon, but I certainly have a renewed respect for the yamas and niyamas and how to apply them to everyday life.

This week I visited Ranganathittu bird sanctuary with some friends and it was lovely just to get out of the city for a few hours, as we bumped along in a rickshaw past rice paddies, palm trees, simple villages and the most garishly painted houses I’ve ever seen. There are no cages or aviaries at the sanctuary, which is great, but it does make it very difficult to actually spot any of the birds listed on the signs. The best bit was the brief jaunt down the Cauvery River in a little rowing boat, where we saw lots of storks, pelicans, spoonbills, bats and…. wait for it…. crocodiles!

Ranganathittu has the largest freshwater crocodile population in Karnataka state, so sightings are very common and we weren’t disappointed. We watched them silently gliding through the water with just their eyes and nose above the surface; swimming slyly towards the birds preening themselves on the rocks as if about to pounce at any moment; and basking themselves in the sun so we could appreciate their full enormity. There was a slightly alarming moment when one croc we’d got particularly close to suddenly opened his jaws very wide, then slipped into the water beside our boat. But the boat man assured us it was perfectly safe as the crocodiles weren’t hungry right now!

The obligatory rickshaw shot! (Amy, me, Cherie)

The obligatory rickshaw shot

Birds, bats & bamboo

Birds, bats & bamboo

The Big Bamboo!

The Big Bamboo!

Big croc

Big croc

Ian being a sexy Russian tourist!

Ian being a sexy Russian tourist!

Painted stork colony

Painted stork colony

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all this strenuous activity (well I did practice 6 days in a row…), I was knackered by Friday, so decided to have an indulgent me-day. I got a great back and shoulder massage for Rs400 (about £4), then chilled out on the roof terrace of Mystic School, using the sauna (biggest sauna I’ve ever seen), jacuzzi (again, huge but cold water – very refreshing!) and sun loungers. Gosh it’s hard work sometimes this yoga-travelling-malarkey! I also decided to book a Vipassana meditation for the 2 weeks I have spare after I leave Mysore. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and the only centre I could find with the exact dates I needed happened to be the same one a fellow traveller had recently been to. So I’m taking that as a sign from the Angels that it’s meant to be. Now I just have to wait for the acceptance confirmation… exciting but scary!

Mystic School's rooftop cafe and jacuzzi

Mystic School’s rooftop cafe and jacuzzi

Sunday saw my first 4.30am practice. What an experience! There’s something very surreal about getting up at 3.30am when the only other creatures awake are rats, roosters, dogs and other crazy Westerners yawning their way to class. I got a lift on the back of a friend’s scooter: we arrived and joined the throng of sleepy-eyed yogis sitting patiently in the street outside the shala, waiting for the gate to open, like groupies waiting for their favourite band. As soon as the gate opened there was a silent stampede as everyone fought for a spot in the main room, or surrendered and graciously accepted their place in the entrance foyer or changing rooms. When we came out again it was still dark and still felt like the middle of the night. By Sunday evening the practice felt like a lifetime ago and as I crawled into bed at 10pm I realised my mega early practice was still 2-3 hours later than Sharath gets up every day. Now that’s dedication. 

I love Indlish!

As a Linguistics graduate who’s always had a soft spot for the English language, I find great delight in puns, plays on words and clever word games or tricks. One of my favourite pastimes is spotting misspelt words (either intentionally or otherwise) in signs, on shopfronts or in menus.

Admittedly, I do have an abhorrence of misplaced apostrophes and a growing dread that apostrophes might be phased out of the English language completely within my lifetime, however, there remains a certain charm to spelling and grammatical errors, particularly when made in an official capacity, like on street signs or product packaging. And when such errors or imaginative use of English are used in countries where English is not the first language, that charm seems to magnify.

Here are my favourite examples of ‘Indlish’ that I’ve spotted so far…

Loyal World Receipt

A wonderful example of apostrophe use on a Loyal World supermarket receipt.

No comment!

No comment!

Teaism: my new favourite word.

Teaism: my new favourite word.

Menu marketing by Snazzy design.

Menu marketing by Snazzy design.

A were-dog perhaps?

A were-dog perhaps?

On the back of a rickshaw!

On the back of a rickshaw!

I love the style of this marketing in Barista coffee shop

Great marketing in Barista coffee shop.

The equivalent of the UK's "No cold callers". Nuff said.

The equivalent of the UK’s “No cold callers”. Nuff said.

Khushi's cafe: Yes, I have a Particulars intolerance.

Khushi’s cafe: Yes, I have a Particulars intolerance.

The Indian skin-based plumbing systems just can't handle it.

The Indian skin-based plumbing systems just can’t handle it.

Addicted to shopping? Never again!

Addicted to shopping? “Never again”!

This cooking oil is a car-free zone!

This cooking oil is a car-free zone!

"Electrifications" by J.K. Electricals - sounds like a cheap Harry Potter spin-off.

“Electrifications” by J.K. Electricals – sounds like a cheap Harry Potter spin-off.

Weekly Mysore Musings: Sun 2nd Feb 2014

Masala dosa. So simple. So delicious.

Masala dosa. So simple. So delicious.

I thought about writing daily posts of my time here in Mysore but there’s simply too much to say and I’d never get anything else done (like eating dosas, shopping, drinking chai, socialising, more shopping…) So I’ve decided to just share the highlights from each week.

During practice on Monday, one of the new assistants was watching my dropbacks, then came over to do halfbacks with me. “Can you catch?” he asked. I was stumped for a second, as I usually only hear that question asked by Sharath in reference to Marichyasana B. Then I realised what he meant. “What, ankles?” I wheezed, “No!” and nearly burst out laughing. “Ok well let’s give it a try” he said, and after going down and walking my hands in about 4 times – the deepest I think I’ve ever gone – I came up again and asked “So how far away was I?” “Yeh, you still have a little way to go,” he replied tactfully. No shit! What is it with Mysore and being able to catch your ankles in backbending?

Our cricket-playing guru

Our cricket-playing guru

On Tuesday a few of us were hanging around outside the shala after sutra class watching Sharath’s son Sambhav playing cricket in the street. He’s so cute and looks just like a mini Sharath! It’s funny to think he might be our new guru one day… or our children’s guru at least. Then Sharath came out to play so we had the privilege of watching him enjoying some downtime with his son. It was so funny: they were hitting cars, rooftops, gates and nearly a cow! It was such a lovely insight into how he manages to perfectly balance being an inspirational yoga guru and a normal, family man at the same time. As they headed back inside, Sharath turned to his son and said (loud enough so we could hear) “Tomorrow you do Kapotasana!” then looked back at us and grinned.

One of my favourite places for breakfast in Gokulam (Mysore’s yogi neighbourhood) is Khushi’s. As is the norm here, the cafe is basically the front room of someone’s house and you sit on floor cushions at large, sharing tables full of yogis either recovering from practice, discussing practice, or drinking coffee to fuel their practice. Khushi’s make the most amazing spinach, tomato & cheese omelettes; spinach & corn toast; ragi pancakes; peanut butter smoothies; and ‘addash’ shakes. These are made from bananas, dates, almond milk, figs and spirulina and are the most beautiful shade of pastel green.

Cheers! Addash shakes at Khushi's

Cheers! Addash shakes at Khushi’s

On this particular day, the shakes were so thick I could turn my glass upside down and the ‘liquid’ wouldn’t move an inch! As I started digging into my shake with a spoon, I was suddenly reminded of Angel Delight and realised how similar the texture was. Why didn’t they ever think of making healthier versions? They’d go down a treat…!

On Friday evening I went to a wonderful Indian classical music concert at the Blue House, which is such a lovely, serene space. Bhima Shanka, one of Karnataka’s most respected Tabla players, was accompanied by Govinda Schlegel on both Sitar & Sarod. I had a very good view right at the front and found myself transfixed, not only on the beautiful music, but also on their wonderful facial expressions, and skilled hand movements. Every now and then they’d build to a very rapid crescendo and Bhima’s hands would drum so fast I thought they might fly right off his wrists! Incredible.

Bhima Shankar on Tabla and Govinda Schlegel on Sarod

Bhima Shankar on Tabla and Govinda Schlegel on Sarod

Yesterday, as I was leaving the shala after sutra class, I got to the bottom of the steps and was just about to find my flip flops, when a man gestured for me to get out of the way. I moved back to the bottom step just as a huge, shiny, silver car appeared from the car park beneath the house and drove along the driveway, right over all the flips flops! I glanced at the driver and lo and behold it was Sharath himself; wearing a shirt and sunglasses, looking like such a dude. Well, if his students are going to leave their shoes strewn across his driveway I guess he has no choice but to drive right over them! Remember Ashtangis: always wear rubber shoes in Mysore.