What’s it like to go to Mysore?

That question got answered on Thursday at “Quora,” which apparently is “your best source for knowledge,” except for the fact I’d never heard of it before this post appeared in my daily Google alert:

Like many things, what it’s like depends on who is doing the experiencing. It really depends on whom you ask, as well as when the respondent was last there.

[snip]

Even in the nineties, there were always complaints about the pool-side social “scene” and clique-y-ness that develops when young travelers spend a few months together, or the brunch time complaints about “the next pose” or the competitive atmosphere and more-yogic-than-thou bullshit that developed in the 2000’s and on up today.

That’s part of the answer from Joseph Goodman. You can check the post out and see if it all aligns with your thought — although whether it aligns may depend on when you go and read it, if you get my point.

I also feel compelled to point you toward this story from the Lafayette Journal & Courier about a subject that hasn’t come up in a while: Christian alternatives to yoga. A few key passages:

After a set of warm-up exercises, the Christian yoga alternative began. They stretched in postures instead of yoga poses. Gone was downward-facing dog and in its stead, women glided gracefully into tent pose. They still focused on breathing, adhering to constant reminders from Douglas to inhale and exhale.

However, the mood was intentionally religious in nature as Douglas read corresponding scriptures while the women lingered in their postures. By the end, as they lay supine in a refuge posture instead of the traditional yoga corpse pose, Douglas’ assistants laid warmed cloths soaked in lavender essential oil over the faces of the women to aid relaxation.

“Stay focused on God and your breath,” Douglas said. “Listen to that still, small voice.”

[snip]

“Yoga is a mystic and ascetic Hindu discipline for achieving union with supreme spirits through works, meaning salvation through works,” Douglas wrote in an email. “As Christians we cannot receive salvation through works but by accepting Jesus Christ. And yes, some of the postures look the same, (but) the body can only bend in so many ways. PraiseMoves is a redemptive work of the Lord.”

Reece agreed and said yoga shouldn’t be taught in Christian churches. “The Bible calls us to be a peculiar people and we should be that,” he said. “We shouldn’t blend in with the world.”

[snip]

Although the movement in PraiseMoves resembles yoga, Douglas argues that the philosophies are different.

“I don’t believe that yoga is just an exercise,” she said. “Yoga asks you to find what you need from within and they say that everything you need can be found from within. I’m nothing without God. Everything that I need comes from him.”

The postures have different names such as “The Cross,” “Peter’s Boat,” and “David’s Harp.” Each posture done in PraiseMoves has a scripture associated with it. Practitioners listen to the instructor recite scripture while they execute postures.

Kris Bowers of Romney said she prefers PraiseMoves to the traditional asana practice.

“I like yoga but I didn’t realize what it meant,” she said. “Each pose for yoga is a pose to worship a different god. PraiseMoves changes their moves to worship the one true God.”

I really like that just by changing the names of the poses, everything seems to be alright.

Bringing up PraiseMoves does allow me to broach a subject from our Yatra, an issue about which I think I disagreed with most of my fellow travelers.

There was a fair amount of discussion about just how religious, spiritual or steeped in faith India is — especially in comparison to the U.S. I did not, do not, find that to be true. If you compared a small, Midwestern city to a small, rural town in India, I think you’d find a lot of similarities between the roles of religion and temple/church. The people in that Midwestern town pray to and think about God, I wager, as much as the people in India. Religion is similarly central to both.

My sense — and I suppose I’ve found this within the broader yoga community — is that there is a dismissal of Christianity as truly religious or Christians as being truly religious and full of faith. So even if a person or family goes to church and lives by a set of Christian tenants, it’s all suspect.

I understand why that it is — we see and are familiar with the inconsistencies of Christianity that have made many people question it. If you have questioned and even moved away from Christianity, chances are you see its faults rather than its positives. I suspect if one got as familiar with those Indians in that town, there’d be a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions. Unfortunately, from my experience (and others), the priests in Hindu temples can leave a bad impression, for instance.

But all that is human nature. We’re flawed, fallen or living Maya — take your pick.

I’d just be careful when making broad statements about this facet of U.S. life, especially if you live on the coasts where, perhaps, life isn’t quite as full of faith and it is easy to forget about the flyover states. (Let’s blame Hollywood for our lack of faith, shall we? I also should point out that previous sentence was, in fact, written by someone who loves making broad, sweeping statements about people and things, as regular readers know. I also hate being consistent. [Goggle Oscar Wilde, consistent and dullard to find out why.])

I’ll now admit, for those still reading, all of this was an excuse to highlight this final passage from the Journal & Courier story:

She also teaches Mira!, a Christian alternative to Zumba.

“The Zumba classes I attended were very vulgar,” Douglas said. “There’s a lot of hip-shaking.”

The Mira! classes incorporate dance moves and are set to Christian music that typically has a Latin or rhythmic beat.

“But we just aren’t exaggerating the hip area,” Douglas said.

Yes, there is a Christian alternative to Zumba. That makes my weekend.

Posted by Steve

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Dispatches from Mysore: expectations and familiarity

We know lots of people are in, have just been or are about to head to Mysore.

One Ashtangi keeping track of her time there is Rose Tantro, who we met via the Confluence and our respective blogs.

You can check out her thoughts and “dispatches” at YogaRose.net. A little taste:

It helps that I’ve seen blog posts and tweets about the coconut stand where everyone meets after practice, that I’ve heard about people practicing in the shala dressing room, that I’ve seen Sharath in videos.

It helps that when I was young, my parents took me to their native Thailand. So it doesn’t throw me off to see things like the bathroom set-ups here (lack of separation for a shower area, for starters) and the absence, to American eyes at least, of traffic regulations (to say the least!).

It helps that I landed knowing half a dozen people here — including a friend from Ann Arbor, my teacher, a Facebook friend, and a few ashtangis I’ve spent time with during extended yoga workshops and trainings.

It helps that a reader of this blog whom I didn’t previously know sent me an email earlier this week. He is originally from Michigan and now lives in Mysore, and wanted to get together for lunch, which we managed to do on New Year’s Day. (It was a blast — thanks again, NP!)

It helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

I’m sure there will be more to come.

Posted by Steve

I don’t think you’re going to Mysore this year

Unless you already have signed up, got your confirmation, etc., etc. and etc.

Because things are full there. Full. See what I mean:

Sharath’s class is full for OCTOBER, NOVEMBER, DECEMBER 2013 and JANUARY 2014. We will not accept any more registration forms for these months. Kindly register from February onward. But please note that we will delete your online application if you submit it before 4 months of your arrival! This means:
Registration opens in OCTOBER for students starting in February 2014.
Registration opens in NOVEMBER for students starting in March 2014.
Students will not be allowed to practice with Sharath without the printed confirmation from KPJAYI. We will also delete applications with the incorrect date format. Please only enter MM/DD/YYYY (e.g. 12/10/2013 = December 10, 2013)

The good news is you have more than a week to get ready if you want to register for February.

There looks to be one other bit of relatively new information at the site, as well:

Students, please note that there is an auto-reply email that you should receiveimmediately after submitting an online registration form. This automatic reply only means that your online application has been submitted properly; it is not the final confirmation letter on whether you have been accepted for your dates of study. If you do not receive the automatic reply, it means that your application has not gone through. In these cases, we are not responsible for any inconvenience in future.

I know there’s been a little bit of thought lately about whether Ashtanga (or even yoga in general) is waning in popularity (like our moon right now). I don’t know if this is a counter to that, or just a demonstration that the Internet can allow us to plan our traveling yogi lives out a bit more in advance.

Posted by Steve

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