Yoga is cool and trendy in India, too

Judging by a quick look, Daily Bhaskar is not exactly the New York Times of India. Not even the NY Post.

But it does have coverage of all the major stories that have been happening in the past month, and which were all over the various papers we saw on our yatra travel. So it isn’t TMZ, either.

Its take on yoga’s popularity is all too familiar — plus there’s a Mysore reference.

Bottom line: Yoga may be converging into one and the same thing in the West and in India. We saw swamis with cell phones. Perhaps sadhus are next. Check it out:

Yoga today is not just about getting that perfect shape, but it is more of a fashion symbol nowadays. Most of today’s Bollywood divas like Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu, Silpa Shetty, etc, and hunks like Saif Ali Khan and others have switched to yoga over treadmills and sweaty workout regimes because they believe that yoga has it all to add to their oomph and glamour factor.

The trend of yoga is not just popular in India, but abroad as well. In recent years, yoga has also become popular in the west, inspiring increasing numbers of people to come and study yoga in India in traditional setting. In Manhattan, yoga studios are a dime a dozen. And since it is fashionable to do yoga, many Hollywood stars too practice it.

Sounds like it is straight out of any celeb mag in the U.S., right? Yoga’s “evolved” from just being about getting that perfect butt. For those who want to spin off into a cultural critique vortex, there’s a lot there to think about involving cultural exchange and influence; the role of information in our development; and what’s valued or seen as status.

But I’ll just note the piece lists “the most reputed Yoga schools providing good Yoga teacher training programmes in India.” They include:

1. Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai

Following Patanjali’s philosophy, the center preaches the importance of yoga as a complete science, which treats both, your body and mind through relaxing exercises and meditations. This center in Chennai is a popular destination among tourists looking for a comfortable and relaxed vacation, learning old Indian art forms.

2. Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune

This popular institute also known as RIMPYI, is the core of Iyengar Yoga, introduced by B.K.S.Iyengar. The center in Maharashtra, teaches the asanas of yoga and also the spiritual values of the same. Various students come here to practice the art on a regular basis, while tourists are also welcomed so that the form can be promoted, and thereby providing you a unique experience.

5. Ashtanga Yoga School, Mysore

Known as Power Yoga, a modern form of classical Indian Yoga, the Ashtanga yoga has been popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois, and the center for the art is located in Mysore, Karnataka. Various asanas and importance of spiritual enlightenment is taught here, while tourists can have a leisure time learning the asanas.

“A leisure time learning the asanas?” I can only hope Sharath reads that and doubles down on the folks who are there. Sounds like too many lazy people, right? (I kid.)

More seriously, the list seems to include all legit places; my quibble would be that I probably could have come up with the 10 it mentions from half a world away — I would have liked to see a hidden gem included.

Posted by Steve

Blog highlight: Mysore cheat sheet

Note: While we are in India, we intend to post new items if we have the Internet access. In the meantime, to keep our mojo going, we’re running some of our most popular posts.

***

My first Mysore-style Ashtanga class was at Tim Miller’s. I was petrified, even though I’d been practicing in led classes for quite a while. Over the years since, I’ve had friends make the leap (Steve was one of them), and I always sympathize.

Eventually, I wrote out a crib sheet for friends going for the first time (handouts are my thing—I am a writing teacher, after all). I find myself encouraging my new Ashtanga students to move from my led class over to the morning Mysore. “What’s ‘Mysore’?” I was asked last night. “You come any time during that time period, roll out your mat, and do your practice. The teacher adjusts you while you practice.” She looked at me with a combination of disbelief and freaked-outness. So, in an attempt to allay those fears. . .

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Mysore Practice But Were Afraid to Ask

What’s in a name? It’s called “Mysore” after the city in India where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught the Ashtanga method. The first “Mysore” classes were in Mysore, so it’s really just short for “Mysore-style Ashtanga.” It’s expected that you, like all those who preceded you, will at some point make the bad joke, “Boy, am MY-SORE.” (Heartfelt groans ensue here.)

Don’t be stinky. Shower before you go, avoid perfumes, and make sure your gear is funk-free. You are expected to be clean for practice, as someone you respect will be twisting you into shape. You’ll also be inches away from a fellow mortal, and smells get magnified in a hot, moist room.

Shhh! Enter (and leave) the room quietly so you don’t disturb the concentration of those around you. Although in theory I’m supposed to be practicing non-reaction, why tempt fate with your loud SMACK as you roll out your Manduka inches away from my ears?

About face! Each Mysore instructor has different preferences on which way to orient the room. Some face all one direction. Some face each other in rows. Very often this has to do with space logistics so teachers can move about. Follow your fellow students on mat placement.

Speaking of space. Remember there’s lots of adjusting in Mysore-style practice. Keep floor clutter to a minimum (bags, clothing, etc.) so teachers don’t trip.

Liquid faux pas. Do not take a water bottle into the room. You’re expected to hydrate before you come. If you think about it, there is no “break” in the practice in which to take a drink, so leave it outside.

Thank Pantanjali. Before you begin, it’s traditional to come to the front of your mat and recite the opening prayer. You can say it quietly, or silently, to yourself. Your instructor will begin the entire Mysore session with the prayer before he/she starts adjusting, but you’re still expected to begin your personal practice with it (same with the closing prayer at the end).

Don’t know it yet? Bad man/lady! There are a number of online resources (including iTunes). Download an MP3 and sing along until you get it.

Love thy neighbor. As you practice, be aware of others close to you. Show space courtesy. In a crowded room, this may mean modifying a pose (such as raising your arms in front of you instead of out to the side in the suryanamaskars) or even changing your routine (if there’s no room for chakrasana, then don’t do it; if you can’t swear you won’t hit anybody in the eye if you try it, think twice).

Move it on over. Be prepared to move your mat during practice to make room for others. Be cool about it!

Um… If you forget which pose is next, come to the front of your mat and wait for the instructor to see you so you can ask (quietly). It helps if you have a befuddled look on your face.

What’d he say? It may be that when you ask, your instructor will tell you the next pose’s name—in Sanskrit. Yes, you are expected to learn the names of the poses you do. Eventually. But in that moment when you have forgotten what comes after ardha baddha padma paschimattanasana, and you catch your teacher’s eye and ask, “What’s next?” and he replies, “Tiriangmukhaekapada paschimattanasana” and you know what to do, you’ll thank me.

Magic hands. Adjustments are made in relative silence. Tell your instructor if an adjustment is going too far (quietly—don’t wait until you have to scream), but keep talking to a minimum. Ask questions quietly and minimally. When the adjustment happening, stay focused on your breath, bandhas and drishti. (You are not expected to look at the teacher or thank him/her for the adjustment. Just keep breathing.)

What now? Your teacher will adjust you in both sides of the pose. Don’t rush, but don’t delay, either. It’s helpful to hold the adjustment for a breath once the teacher releases you (to help the body “remember”).

No dinking around! Avoid the temptation to rest (also known as “stalling” and/or “avoiding”). The goal of Mysore practice is to move consistently, but at the pace of your own (controlled) breath. Stopping, towel-wiping, etc. operates as a sort of flag on the play, since you are supposed to be practicing the “mala” of Ashtanga without pause.

The honor system. If you forget a pose, and suddenly remember, it’s quietly expected that you will go back to it, do it, then continue with the sequence from there. This may mean you have to repeat a few poses. Or quite a few. But that’s what you get for your flagging attention, isn’t it?

Greed is not good. You should always stop at the pose that ends your normal practice (if you’re not sure, stop after navasana). Do not presume to continue past that pose, and do not ask for more poses. Once your teacher feels you are ready for the next pose, she/he will teach you the pose.

Tradition! In some Mysore rooms, students move their mats for the closing sequence. This also came from Mysore, India, where there were so many students waiting in a line outside that practitioners had to make room for others by doing the closing poses upstairs. Some instructors (somewhat dogmatically, if you ask me) have students move their mats to the back even in a small or mostly empty room with no students waiting. Some folks just do this automatically. Ask the instructor if you’re uncertain.

Namaste. When you are finished with your practice, you can quietly thank your teacher and assistants if it won’t interrupt them as they teach others.

Sweat. Rinse. Repeat. Come back tomorrow! Ideally, you practice six days a week. Take Saturday off, and check for Moon Days—Ashtangis don’t practice on the new or full moon. But that’s another story…

Posted by Bobbie

 

A view of the streets of Mysore

This video was uploaded during the past day, and it includes various views of the streets of Mysore — but no Ashtanga. The woman who “tries her hand” at making incense looks like she could be there to practice, but I don’t see any particular nods in yoga’s direction, not even in her other videos. (There’s an earlier Mysore one from three days ago). And that seems to make for a bit of a fresh perspective on the city.

The fundamentally different nature of life and living there comes through pretty strongly, I think. But there doesn’t seem to be anything heavy-handed or judgmental about it. Just: Here’s what’s happening.

And of course, I write that as someone who has experienced the difference of India — yet. That difference is among the first things people — including those leading our Yantra — bring up when talking about India. (Well, except for yogis, who talk about yoga.) This seems to capture a bit of that.

Posted by Steve

Would you believe there’s not enough yoga in Mysore?

Although thousands of foreigners flock to Mysore every year, the city lacks “certifiable courses” in yoga, according to a short piece in the Times of India.

Yep. Not enough yoga in Mysore.

OK, so that’s the kind-of-out-of-context, top-line reading of the Times’ story. Apparently, there are people arguing that there isn’t enough scholarly, authoritative courses on yoga there.

Specifically, some college or university needs to start offering courses. Here’s a little bit from the piece:

At present, only Karnataka University in Dharwad offers yoga course in the state. According to sources, Mysore has more than 150 authorized yoga training centres. But no city colleges or any other recognized institutes offer courses. The city receives 5,000 foreigners every year and the inflow is more especially between the month of August and February.

Raghavendra R Pai, who runs Sri Vedavyasa Yoga Foundation, said though Mysore is known for its tryst with yoga, there are no universities from where people can learn the intricacies of this world-acclaimed practice. Many citizens and yoga teachers want the institutes to start yoga course. “Yoga should be included at least in the open university. The University of Mysore receives more than 1,000 foreign students every year who want to know more about yoga. If any institution comes forward to offer an authentic course, there will be good response. Since Mysore is an education hub, there are chances of yoga getting more popular,” he says.

The issue starts to get clearer, right? There’s a difference between going to the Ashtanga shala in Mysore and studying in a college environment. Right?

Either way, it’s amusing to think of Mysore as lacking yoga.

Posted by Steve

“The Cave of the Heart”: Eddie Stern on Guruji, the Practice, and the Past

In case you didn’t know it, Eddie Stern is co-editor (with Robert Moses) of a wonderful journal, Namarupa: Categories of Indian Thought. Eddie has an article in the most recent issue called, “Hoysala Brahmin Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.” It’s a must-read.

The April-June cover.

Not only does Eddie delve into the origins of Guruji’s life, but he connects those origins with Guruji’s faith, education and teaching (along with some regional history surrounding Guruji’s home in Karnataka). He also connects all that with the practice.

I’m mentioning it in part because on the way back from practice this morning, I heard NPR reporter (and Wiccan priestess) Margot Adler describe American yogis as disconnected from Hindu tradition. “Ha!” I said aloud.

Take this, NPR:

Eddie explores the philosophical underpinnings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s teaching, explaining exactly why practice is so important:

Guruji adhered to Shankaracharya’s philosophical perspective on the self, the world and God, and to his methodology of worship. The Smarta tradition held that Siva, Vishnu, and Shakti were all equal representations of the Absolute [ . . .]  Guruji used to sum this up succinctly, saying, ‘God is one, not two.’

How does this relate to practice? Because the mind can’t grasp the Absolute, and needs a form to focus its attention:

Samadhi means a type of sameness—the mind takes on the form of that which is being contemplated and we become that upon which we are meditating.

I was reminded, once again, of lines from the poet William Blake (frequently cited in this blog): “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.” Also, of a frequently repeated refrain in Jerusalem: “And they became what they beheld.”

That last line from Blake carries a warning to the perceiver. Eddie warns us as well, that meditation can become a form of “delusion”:

Though meditation on the Absolute can help bring perspective to our relationships, we should take care that it does not become a form of escapism.

Eddie Stern has the amazing ability to throw out a number of threads of thought and to pull them together, either explicitly or implicitly. As I said, a must-read. Namarupa is available for the reasonable price of $3.00 for the download, but I’ve ordered a print copy—it’s beautifully illustrated and produced, and I like contemplating the object.

Posted by Bobbie

Movie time this week in Mysore, and realizing one’s own guru

This week there is plenty of blog coverage of Sharath’s Sunday conference.

It’s probably because it featured the showing of a 22-minute movie about Ashtanga in Mysore: “Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source.” The film was shot earlier this year and turned around quickly. (I suppose the art of digital filmmaking at work.)

It seems to be on one of the platforms that WordPress isn’t supporting at this point. Here’s a link to the webpage for it. You can get a nearly 2 minute preview. It looks like they are charging $4.99 to stream it or $9.99 to download it.

I have to admit that the preview fails to do two things for me:

1. Make me want to watch the whole film. I feel like I know what students are going to say about being in Mysore and what Sharath is going to say about the practice.

2. Make me want to go to Mysore to practice. The first reason why it fails on this account is purely my own self-limitations and what I suppose borders on fear. The practitioners shows are so far advanced from me — in the purely physical, limber sense — that I can’t imagine getting much out of time spent there.

The second reason is the growing crowds it shows. I know we all read — again, via all the blogs from Mysore — about personal attention, but I find it hard to imagine getting much, especially as a “newbie.”

The third reason goes to the title of the film, or one word in it: “source.” On that point, here’s a quick recap of part of Sunday’s conference from the blog “Bird in the Tree“:

Later today, at the 10am conference, which featured a viewing of the new documentary ‘Mysore Magic,’ created and directed by Certified Ashtanga teacher Alex Medin and a small crew of filmmakers during the first couple of weeks of the New Year, Sharath talked at length about parampara. It’s a major reason why learning Ashtanga at the source is as special as it is: the importance of lineage cannot be overemphasized in an age that has many, many versions of yoga being propagated. Likewise, a guru who calls himself a guru can’t really be a guru! ‘Only the student can call a teacher his guru,’ Sharath emphasized. And it is only by surrendering to the guru that one can truly glean the knowledge he (or she) has to offer. This is a very personal choice. The new documentary, a lovely portrait of the Ashtanga Yoga Community today, features many students talking about what has led them to here to practice as well as interviews with Sharath.

Well, I’ve got my “source” and my “guru,” and he’s about 100 miles away at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. (What the movie does make me want to do is go to India and experience the spiritual source of things.)

I understand why others are drawn to Mysore. It’s why I have been “obsessing via blog” about Mysore and a trip there. But, as I’ve reflected this morning, I realize once and for all: I’m just not.

And I think I may be lucky or even blessed by what I am drawn to, instead.

Posted by Steve

Noted: Nothing from Sharath’s conference this week

This is a post that really might be better as a 138 character thought on Twitter:

Has anyone else noticed there wasn’t any blog coverage from last Sunday’s Sharath conference?

Now, I’m assuming there was one, and that there won’t be this Sunday, which is a Moon Day. (At least it is here in California.) Perhaps there wasn’t, and that explains things.

But I can’t help wondering about it because the last Conference that got covered was the one where teachers’ names were aired. And it was the one that made me wonder if we weren’t getting too much information from Mysore too quickly.

Now, before you even think it, I don’t in any way, shape or form believe anything I wrote reverberated in Mysore. But I wouldn’t be surprised if people there didn’t reflect on how lessons being given to 300 or so students weren’t being disbursed to thousands and thousands. And that something might be being lost in that virtual translation.

So perhaps there was a tacit agreement to lay off. Or maybe there was something more formal. We don’t know.

And that’s kind of the point. We can find out when people we know return and give us the scoop, face to face.

You know, like they did in the “old days.”

(Final side note: This topic is interesting for me because Bobbie and I are, I think, planning to “blog” as much as possible from the Confluence. Will we face any of these same issues? I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll be cognizant of them.)

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff Reports from Mysore in the 1970s

The HYZ logo. It grows!

In a straight-forward account that’s been floating around the internet, Nancy Gilgoff describesthe early form (and early evolution) of Ashtanga as Guruji was teaching it to her and David Williams. I’ve heard David Williams tell this same tale, as well as stories of revisions that came during Annie Pace’s and Tim’s time with Guruji, and I’ve come to a conclusion when it comes to the practice of Ashtanga.

Beware of dogma.

Many of our readers know this already, but it may surprise you to know that the word “parivrtta” was not in the lexicon. It may surprise you how that changed. As Nancy tells it:

During another, later trip to the States, Guruji added in Parivritta Trikonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana. The next time he came back to Maui to teach, he saw us doing Parivritta Parsvakonasana, asked why we were doing it, and said that this was “crazy posture” and that we should take it out. But the whole Maui crew loved it so much that he said we could leave it in.

A pose appeared in the sequence because the students loved it. Those of you who have studied with Timji feel this way about the Hanumanasana sequence that follows prasarita. You sometimes have to sneak it in, guerilla-style, outside of AYC. It’s a great read, and demonstrates, I think, elements of the excellence of Guruji’s teaching–indeed of all good teaching: the ability to evolve and learn (from the teaching itself, and from your students).

Posted by Bobbie

The Question of Mysore, Part Two

It's a really, really big place.

When I first started practicing Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois went on his last American tour. I didn’t go.

I know, I know. But I was new to the practice, and ignorant (still ignorant actually, but less new). I didn’t think I was “good” enough to go.

Now, I’ll never practice with Guruji. But, all the same, the question lingers–as Steve’s now asking it: Should we go to Mysore?

I search my self and the answer always comes back the same: No.

A lot of practitioners seem to be wrestling with the question from the point of view that going to Mysore at this point makes them feel like “Ashtanga tourists,” which, of course, is true. But “tourist” isn’t a dirty word. I’ve been a tourist frequently in my life. It’s one of the benefits of having disposable wealth. I live in Los Angeles. I see tourists all the time. It helps me to see my city as a destination, as something worth savoring. (It’s 80 degrees here today, by the way, and there are waves!)

So if I’m going to be a tourist, if I’m going to spend all those extra resources to go, what am I going to “tour”? I have studied closely with my guru, Tim Miller. He’s my teacher, and I trust him to teach me the right way, to dispel the darkness. To go to Mysore to practice, I’m afraid, has no appeal for me; my teacher isn’t there.

But to see the country where Sanskrit was born, the source of the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, and of course the Yoga Sutras–now that has great appeal. I’m a literary tourist, really. To see the land that gave rise to the philosophy that gave rise to the Buddha and the wrenchingly poetic Heart Sutra. That’s got pull.

A literary tourist. Not shocking, really. When I stood for the first time in Keats House, in a little neighborhood in Hamptead Heath, London, I wept. This was the room where “Ode to a Nightingale” was written, I thought. (John Keats is also a guru of mine.) Life-changing.

I’m sure that Mysore is a, as you so often hear, “life-changing experience” for those drawn to it. For me, so is the Ashtanga Yoga Center, every time I go.

So when the very different question is asked in our house, Should we go to India? the answer to that is, always, Yes! When?

Posted by Bobbie