Yoga at the Source: Why I journeyed to Mysore
Somewhere along the line I learned that it is better to dig one deep well than many shallow ones. Of course, there is much to be learned in exploration of various spiritual endeavors. But there is a special power to the choosing of one and then the concentrated practice of one.
For me, making the decision to travel to Mysore India to practice was easy. The execution of the trip was much harder. Many arrangements large and small had to be made. I had to work very hard prior to departure to put together as much money as possible. It required me to ask my partner to sacrifice, and to live on a paper-thin budget while I was away. Even given that, it required me to ask for an immense amount of financial support from others. I took out loans. I had countless people chip in amounts small and large so that I could travel. I think it’s important to acknowledge that the journey is sometime financially prohibitive and that its perfectly valid to study with a good teacher at home until you can afford it. Its also ok to ask for help if you need it, you might be surprised by who is willing to give a little of they have in order to support you.
Perhaps though, this element of sacrifice is the first component in the power of Mysore. Getting there is not easy for many of us. A lot of friction and heat are created in the process of preparing alone. Many people will give up a coffee or dinner out to support you. The aspirant must sacrifice even more. In this way, we all prioritize spiritual seeking over self-seeking. It seems that tapas and that inner fire of purification are working even at this level.
Given what it took to get there, I landed in India with a grateful and searching heart. I’ve never felt more a seeker than when I first stepped into the Shala there in Gokulum. I felt wide open to the possibilities of the practice. I was also keenly aware that for the first time in years, I was free to practice without distraction. In Mysore there was nothing else to do. No next class to run to teach. No traffic to battle. No dog waiting to be walked and fed. No clock watching as I moved through my asana practice. Here is one great benefit of studying in Mysore: This sense of seeking amplified by the freedom from homes responsibilities allowed me to be foster a self-awareness I’ve rarely known. I hope I’ve brought at least a little of that increased sensitivity home.
If the journey-ing opened up a huge space for self-discovery, then Sharath and the legacy of Guruji guided me in the exploration. This is the birth place of Ashtanga and Sharath is the most experienced practitioner. He most closely studied with Guruji and his knowledge of yoga is immense and admirable. You can understand his knowledge when you hear him speak at conference, but even more importantly, you can feel it when he touches you. When he looks in your eyes you see his confidence and you trust him. You know that he is a vessel full of something ancient and important and that he is able to share it with you.
This is why I dug my well, all the way from Miami to Mysore. Because you can’t drink from the source anywhere else.
When I decided to go to India, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t even really know why I was going. But something (or maybe it was just that I was excepted to go being an apprentice at Miami life center) got me to go through the motions to get myself to Mysore practicing under Sharath. This initial step of going to Mysore, of making the decision to go and not really knowing why, but basing it on faith for the sake of my practice, created an interesting mindset. It became less about me or about adding a cool experience to things I’ve done, and more about watching the experience unfold around this long-standing tradition of Ashtanga yoga. The process of going to Mysore with this mentality was important for my experience. I blindly threw myself into it and I came out on the other side stronger and feeling a little more settled. Slightly more in touch with the purity of this practice. This has given me faith, which is something I’ve always been a bit insecure about. Faith that things will turn out ok and that despite not really knowing what I’m doing most of the time- I’m on a path.
I think what happens internally in Mysore and in the shala is different for everyone. You get what you personally need in regards to the practice. Being there gave me the energy to settle into the deeper realities of my practice and the role it plays in my life.
There was the space for all types of mental noise to surface. It brought the doubts I had about the practice to my immediate attention. being there gave me a sort of mental clarity to be able to sit with these doubts and understand why I had them. Is it supporting the kind of life I want to lead? Is it necessary to have one teacher? Is this a physically sustainable practice? Is it in-efficient to get stuck in one path and risk missing out on other ways of finding my truth? (just to name a few) But this practice doesn’t have to be physically detrimental or bring us shortsightedness. Instead it can be a space to work through all these things- to bring awareness to our limited perspectives. we aren’t doing it for the sole purpose of becoming physically stronger and more flexible, and so when we injure ourselves we don’t blame the practice for not being good enough for our spiritual path. Instead we hold up a mirror, and if we cant, our teacher can. Ashtanga yoga on the exterior can seem to be a regimented stuffy experience that doesn’t allow for the expression of our freedom. But many times, I tend to forget that Ashtanga yoga doesn’t equate to the order of poses given to us in primary, intermediate and advanced series. Those are just there as tools. It’s the process that happens inside- and the asanas given to us facilitate this process as a way of working though the eight limbs. Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali yoga and this is something that I understood with more clarity while I was practicing under Sharath. It can seem like it’s a narrowminded path and it can certainly become that if we lose sight of the pure intention of this practice- but it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully it’s the opposite, hopefully it brings us more freedom and a more complete view of the present moment so that we aren’t limited by our ideas of why we do this practice.
this process of observing the doubts helped me become more established in the practice. I’ve always had these doubts and I think on a deeper level they were always there not allowing me to fully embrace this practice in fear of missing out on another way or path. facing my doubts helped me accept that there is no right way, or one way of approaching this practice. instead, the practice is here to support me in my life, whatever that might look like. the practice doesn’t need to have an image of perfection, because I’m not perfect, and so its imperfections can become my mirrors, something to observe.
I also got a glimpse of my strengths in the practice- what has kept me coming to my mat for the past three years. My persistence and my curiosity. Being in Mysore fed my curiosity by showing me the potential for depth in this practice. One way I saw this was through its timeless and universal appeal- embodied by all those who were there with me and all those who have come before me. I was able to take on a broader perspective of Ashtanga yoga. It isn’t limited to MLC- it’s a universal practice that was ignited in India. There’s poetry in going to Mysore and receiving that same ignition from the source and getting a taste of that timeless quality. To receive it from the source of the practice, through a direct transmission of knowledge- through Sharath- made this the most genuine experience of the practice I’ve had. There were less opportunities for the knowledge and the practice to be tainted by superficial or biased ideas. Although, understanding how MLC strives to stand as a micro representation of this bigger picture has made the process of coming back home just an impactful as being in Mysore. All this- the ignition, the transmission of knowledge- I only got a glimpse of through my curiosity. But I got a good enough look to know that I would be back soon to try and understand this source more fully.
One of my friends back home asked me if I felt a cultural barrier between me and Sharath. I was shocked that I hadn’t thought of this when considering my Indian teacher. it was a logical thing to ask. But, in the Mysore room, the things we use to dress our exteriors; like our culture, personality and clothes, don’t seem to matter so much. I was there diving deeper into my present reality and he was there to support and guide me through that process. it’s beautiful. There’s people from all over the world, with different cultures and languages, but we all have this strong common thread tying us together. the common thread of this practice. This unifying thing stands out more in the shala than it does back home because of the contrast created by our broadly differing exteriors.
Mostly his teachings were subtle. He didn’t explain to me step by step what I needed to do or what the secrets to finding peace were. He didn’t even really assist me so much. But he did create a connection. At one of the conferences he told us that we don’t need to have a lot of conversations to create the teacher student relationship. And that was profound for me. He was right. I had this idea that I needed to spend a lot of time with someone and have a lot of conversations with them in order to establish a connection. But a connection can be made in an instant and a stranger can be a teacher. Something as pure as a connection between two people, like teacher and student, isn’t measured by words or time. It’s there as it is- in the present experience of it. I had to let go of some of my preconceived ideas to find a connection with Sharath. This seemed to be a common theme during my time in India- letting go of pre-conceived ideas to have an honest experience. I experienced his desire and ability to oversee my journey in the practice. my practice as in getting through primary series on any given day, and in the long-term journey that will hopefully unfold as a lifelong path. The space he created for me in my practice gave me the strength and the desire to keep looking inwards. His sincerity in passing down the knowledge he received from his grandfather inspired me to get on my mat every day and put in the work. Experiencing this firsthand gave me a taste of moving through the purity of this practice; the purity that can only come from the direct transmission of knowledge.
All these things have brought me to a place of deeper connection. Connection with the practice and the lineage. With myself. With others. It’s easy to theorize and intellectualize these things- but to experience it is beyond the workings of the mind. to be in the shala, in that energy, is magic. it’s easy to get caught up in all the noise surrounding this practice. between the different opinions and controversies and methods. But in the shala, under Sharath, none of that mattered. All that mattered was that we were all there together working towards better versions of ourselves. We were moving through the practice, moving through our selves, so that the rest of our day could make a little bit more sense with our slightly more open eyes, minds and hearts.
My trip to Mysore
My trip to Mysore, India was interesting. Traveling to a country like India can be very shocking to some people. The culture is very different then that of Western countries. I grew up in Asia though, so I already knew what to expect. As a woman, the sexism was apparent to me. Thankfully I was there during the winter season because I had to be fully covered even during the hotter days. Coming from Miami that is a big contrast. Practicing in the shala the first week was intimidating. I was placed in the latest starting group. I would wait in the crowded little lobby and peak into the shala to see and listen to the other practicioners. Sharath seemed to have eyes on everything. I was not surprised to have very little assistance during the practice until, and usually only with back drops. I felt that the practice was much more disciplined in Mysore than it is in other places. You can feel it in the room that everyone is there to practice and not to socialize, it was this way even after making friends. The atmosphere in Mysore was one that helped me to look within myself and my trip became very introspective. After coming back to Miami and practicing at the shala, it was not so easy to transition back to a more talkative and generally more social bunch of practicioners. I saw that many aspects of our culture, business and social life affected the degree to which traditional things such as ‘noble silence’ where adhered to. The silence in the shala in India was so soothing. The breathing that could be heard so clearly in the shala would drown out the unnecessary noises and distractions. I went to India during a difficult time in my life. I wanted to maintain a balance of keeping silence and learning to interact with people in the appropriate ways as to not distract myself. Coming back to Miami and practicing, assisting and teaching has made me look back on India to remember what I learned. My number one take away was the beautiful silence and dharana (concentration) that was developed during my time practicing there. I miss eating some of the food there and suggest bringing roll of toilet paper and handwipes at all times, especially as a female. Whenever I am asked how my trip to India was, I struggle to come up with a simple answer. It brings up a mixture of emotions and thoughts. Everyone must experience things for themselves to know how it will be for them.
India was a magical experience, even though you don’t have all the commodities, like a comfortable bed, a shower or fast internet. Practice took me two hours every morning and it gave me the support to face the rest of the day in « raw » India with abandoned dogs, trash burning in the street, and poverty every where.
It took me about a week of daily practice to access my inner self, to turn it into a sacred experience. At first I wanted to see and hear everything that Sharath did during class; each adjustment, each word … « one more »… But every time I raised my eyes, I felt like he was watching me and he really was! I could just read in his eyes : «what are you doing? what are you trying to see? Stay focus! » When the practice is felt deep inside, even though mats are laid so close one from another, it feels like there is only you in the middle of the Shala and you forget about everything else. Day after day, you delve a little deeper into your inner self, into that quiet place deep inside you. You stop the mind. You stop the struggle. You are just there, doing the work. Only you and your practice. It is simple but so difficult to explain. You don’t worry any more about your hip, or your foot. It is just about the combination of your breath, your gaze, bandhas . You surrender to the postures, to Sharath, to the magic. It’s happening, effortlessly. My inner experience was so peaceful. I could move a little deeper with every breath, while remaining more aware and more present with each second.
I believe it is important to let the assistants help you to improve your backbends. So one day, an assistant made me catch from the air very high up and I got injured. A very painful injury in my lower back. At night, I had difficulty sleeping because the pain was so sharp, but surprisingly there was something positive about this experience. Obviously I did not want to stop practicing because I was in Mysore and I had travel so far for this. But to be honest, if I had I been in Miami, I would have stopped to rest for a few days . But there in Mysore, I experienced that YES it was possible to practice with an injury even though it was at the same time very painful. Some days I went to practice with the inner commitment to only do the sun salutations and by the end of those I was thinking : “ok, I am feeling a little better, maybe I can do the standing postures now, and then ok only Paschimattanasana and so on until I would realized that suddenly I had actually finished the whole practice”. I learned to be more connected to my practice and I don’t mean putting my legs behind my head or anything like that. It is about letting go of your surroundings, it’s about not expecting to have a perfect asana. You are there, observing what is going on in your mind, your breath; simply distributing your awareness throughout your body. You just do the pose, relax and enjoy the experience. Be in harmony with your existence; feeling the peace of the practice without ambition … only the presence.
I learned so much during this trip. Now the most important thing is that I enjoy my self every step of the way up to the back bends that use to scare me so much. To be honest I am not sure if physically my asanas did improve so much, but emotionally I gained a certain maturity in my practice that I never though could be possible.
I’m so thankful for Miami Life Center to opened the door to such experience in my life.