Space Cadet reporting for duty

image

Nerves and a slightly compulsive worry about forgetting to take my mat (hey, it usually lives on a shelf at my shala back home) made me wake up right before the alarm went off at beyond stupid o’clock this morning. A very silent crowd of students in front of the gate; police patrolling the streets. Walking into the shala not dissimilar to crowded trains in London: busy but no jostling or pushing. Two lovely women made space for me in the corner of the changing room, and we worked well together at not planting our feet on anyone else’s face and rolling carefully in Garbha Pindasana so that we wouldn’t knock each other out.

First practice of the month done! Sweet relief that yes, I know the Primary series and can do it somehow competently. Sharath walked into the ladies changing room at the very end of Uttpluthi. That was kind of cruel.

On the other hand, after being invited to delicious coffee by my neighbour and chai-ing it up with Karen, Space Cadet here forgot all about the chanting class. Uh oh.

Hello from Mysore

As far as long trips go, it hasn’t been so bad at all, the ten years gone by since my last trip playing not a small part. The new Bangalore airport is very, very nice, and the immigration process much more swift. The new road out of Bangalore is heaps better than the dirt road I bumped along on years ago.

The things that seem to not have changed much…the hair rising drive at full speed weaving in and out of traffic with often only millimetres to spare, the noise, the pollution. The ATM machines that won’t give you more than 10k rupees at a time, guaranteeing a hive of yoga students wandering around trying to get enough for registration this afternoon. But also the smiles and the head wobbles and the hugs from friends that you haven’t seen in many years but who remember you well.

The other things that made a difference are to be attributed to a lot of travel for work and leisure in the past few years: ensuring I ate a decent breakfast at the airport, layering clothes so that I could easily adapt to the increasing temperature, taking a spare set of undies to change into until in close proximity of a shower. The one thing I forgot, however, were the compression socks! This girl’s legs are not what they were.

Five days

Travel preparations have now reached feverish speed. Trying to make my absence as unnoticed as possible, I’ve gone into mad organizational mode. Like the world’s most effective PA, I’ve been making lists, writing documentation for family and helpers, and even doing grocery shopping to see my dear husband beyond the first weekend on his own. Yes I know, he can perfectly look after himself 🙂

My back has been complaining a bit, and the knee jerk reaction was first upset and then mild anger (how can this happen right before I go to Mysore for the first time in eons). Once all that passed through I actually took it for what it is: a signal from my body to slow down and pay attention to my emotional state. Apprehension, worry, insecurity are the things that tend to psychosomatize in my lower back.

It really is interesting how modern society teaches us to view the body as an inconvenient liability, at worst (wax! preen! hide any external sign of your menses!) and a tool at best (chase Third series in a vain search for validation and love!). It has taken me many, many years to make peace with my own body, appreciate it as is (despite the cultural pressure to be whippet thin and the regular appraisal of friends and even sometimes strangers who feel that as a woman your image is a zone for free commentary).

In reality, this meat covered skeleton made from stardust is the link between your soul and this world, and an ally rather than an enemy. So now I’m at peace, looking forward to this trip and knowing that the gifts I will receive in Mysore go far beyond, and sidestep, any asana I might or might not be able to “perform”.

Bring it on.

IMG_0292.JPG

Less than two weeks to go

pic 060

Time is just flying, and my departure day looms in the horizon. I’ve been teaching a lot in order to add more funds to the Mysore pot, which in hindsight might not have been the brightest thing to do since I pulled a muscle in my mid back demonstrating Supta Kurmasana and now my whole back has seized. So I’m spending a lot of my time hanging off what my husband calls my bat table. This, of course, has triggered a lot of emotion, mostly around the theme of not being ready for Mysore. As if one ever is!

In the meantime, I whetted my appetite for India by applying for my visa in person, rather than using a service. I figured that since I am not working (in an office job) and have plenty of time, there is no reason why I can’t spare an hour or two sitting in the India Visa Processing Centre. The Centre is like a microcosm of India: crowded, busy and yet everything works as if by magic. My initial sit was of two hours but I took the chance to eat my (non-smelly) lunch, having spent all my morning teaching Mysore and then doing my own practice. It only took a couple of days to get the text notification that my passport was ready to be collected, and a twenty minute wait to get it back with a six month multiple re-entry visa stuck to it. Score!

So now all I have to do (apart from the necessary preparations for the household to keep running while I’m away without inconveniencing my lovely husband who is busy enough as it is) is to idly worry that Sharath might not remember me since my hair is quite a few shades lighter and I’ve expanded horizontally a little bit! (I blame the yoga, actually: I went through years of craving fat and now I crave protein all the time).

pic 030

(picture taken in 2005 during Guruji’s 90th birthday celebrations)

Four weeks to go

Then…

When I went to Mysore in 2005, I was lost. Totally and utterly lost. I’d just turned 30, and remember very vividly thinking that life wasn’t supposed to be like that. I was heartbroken, I’d left a job that, while very interesting and certainly something very few people in the world were qualified to do, was a bit of a dead end in terms of career and pay progression. And I just didn’t know who I was.

My first exposure to Mysore style was indeed in Mysore in 2004. Then, Sharath had progressed me from Marichiasana B to Supta Kurmasana (quite a bit, in just four weeks!). In 2005 he taught me the rest of the Primary series.

Now…

I always wonder how much of the changes in the last ten years can be attributed to the practice and how much to just growing up. I was heartbroken for a long, long time, and the practice did indeed help me process all those feelings of loneliness (Second series will take care of that by centrifugating your nervous system five days a week, thankyouverymuch). I also changed careers to tech in investment banking, and Ashtanga gave me indeed the discipline to work long hours and keep the eye on the goal, plus the ability to somehow temper myself at times when stress ran high.

So now I’m married, have a pug and a mortgage, and wonder how much harder up and leaving for India will be when you have loved ones waiting for you to come back home. There is no specific reason why I’m going (read: I’m not going with the aim of getting authorization) other than having the chance on account of a sabbatical year and knowing that once I return to work, this chance will be gone again for a very long time.

Oh, and I’ve progressed past Primary. Well, at times 🙂

Five weeks to go

The application for study at KPJAYI was sent on the first of November, and accepted ten days later. The flights were booked shortly after and accommodation was facilitated by a good friend’s recommendation and another friend’s help with getting the deposit to the landlords. The Indian visa will get sorted in early January together with the tactical household arrangements (cleaner, dog walker…anything I can do to make my temporary abandonment of my little family a bit easier).

My second and last (so far) trip to Mysore was in 2005.

Then…

– Even though you were supposed to send a letter of intention to study at what was then called Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, you could just rock up and register.

– Guruji would ask for your name and write it down phonetically in Kannada in his little notebook. He’d take partial payments on account of the difficulty of getting enough cash out of ATMs, and was not concerned about it in the slightest.

– Even though 2005 was a busy year because there was a huge celebration planned for Guruji’s 90th birthday, still the numbers were nothing like what Mysore is these days.

– You’d be expected to only do Primary for at least a full month of your first visit to Mysore, and very, very few people would be authorised.

– Guruji was still teaching and Sharath and Saraswati assisted him, with spurious disagreements argued in very quick Kannada between any two or sometimes even the three of them, to the chagrin of the poor student that often would be stuck in a deep backbend or any other challenging asana, waiting for them to agree. After helping with Guruji’s classes, both Sharath and Saraswati had their own later in the morning.

Now…

– You have to apply on the first of exactly three months before your planned study date (so for me, 1st November right after the clock struck midnight, Indian time). A lot of people get rejected and have to try on subsequent months or, like it happened to me a couple of years ago, completely miss the opportunity.

– Students have to pay for their whole stay in advance and receive a student card that they need to have with them so that Sharath can learn their names.

– KPJAYI is truly packed with students, a testament to the exponential growth in popularity of this practice.

– The number of authorised and certified teachers has massively increased, again as a result of the practice becoming very popular and many people having now been practicing for 5, 10 and more years. People also, from what I hear, can get moved onto Intermediate on their second or third week there.

– Guruji is sadly no longer with us; Sharath is the man and Saraswati has got her own shala.

There are enough good Mysore blogs out there to make me wonder why I’ve started another one, but I think it will be interesting to document this trip’s experience against my first two trips ten and eleven years ago. May this one be as transformational as the previous ones were!