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

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“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