A New Project

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As the sun sets on the end of my third week of living and practicing yoga here in Mysore I have to confess to feeling physically quite tired and have been reflecting on how much I  have done so far.  I feel quite a part of my local neighbourhood and am on first name terms with owners of the bakery and chai stall and his neighbour who sells the most wonderful fruit and vegetables. The morning cycle  to practice, past the lazy but rather endearing street dogs, children on the way to school (either on foot or piled into a Rickshaw) and people going about their daily business is rather lovely, with people saying hello to me at various points of the journey.  I have also discovered that, just like the car drivers with their horns, the bell on my bicycle is in permanent use …. I am now cycling around like a local!

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The daily practice at the shala continues to be a journey of self exploration but I haven’t as yet really got the hang of the twice weekly led classes.  On a Friday morning at 6am and Sunday at 4.30am (both Shala time of course) there are led (or counted classes) where everyone arrives at the same time to practice together, let by Sharath, as he counts us all through the Primary Series.  I am very used to counted classes and usually love them but having been finding these increasingly challenging.   A 4.30 start actually means a 4.15 start and you need to arrive at least 30 minutes earlier to wait quietly outside the gates if you want to have a mat space in the main room, which means getting up around 3.15 am.  Consequently the whole process feels a little like I have dreamt it when I go back to bed again for a couple of hours afterwards.  The trouble is that there are so many people practising at the shala that when there is a led class the mats are literally next to each other with no space between them and those not lucky enough to make it into the main room (which so far includes me) are then practising in the changing rooms, or the entrance hallway.  I haven’t yet mastered the technique of being in the right place to ensure I can put my mat down in the main room so have adopted the strategy of by passing this altogether and heading straight for the ladies’ changing rooms.  I am most definitely learning new levels of patience and acceptance which can only be a good thing.

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In other ways my journey here has taken a different direction as I am now also involved with a new Project in the form of a permaculture course with work on a vegetable garden for the girl’s home at Odanadi.  In the way that all things seem to work here, I was introduced to a friend of a friend who was running a course here after I had offered to work on the garden at Odanadi.

This has so far involved, amongst other things,  a visit to a beautiful small organic farm just outside the city.  Only four acres large but a brilliant example of how agriculture can work in a sustainable way in a country where farming these days generally involves mono-culture  with a reliance on chemical fertilisers and pest control  and a gradual deterioration of the fertility of the land as result.  What struck me most was how lush the planting at the farm was, especially as all of the surrounding area was pretty much all dusty dry red soil.  Under a beautiful canopy of coconut palms were a whole range of established fruit trees :  chicco, mangoes, papaya and jack fruit, as well as rows of bananas surrounded by scented rose bushes and other flowering shrubs (whose names I didn’t know).  Hardly an inch of the ground remained uncovered and we  sat listening to beautiful bird song on a blanket of very ‘springy’ green grass under the shade of an old jack fruit tree as the farmer cut up one of its fruit to share with us.  The garden at the girl’s home is quite a challenge as, unlike the farm, the land there is extremely dry.  Water is at a premium here and anything that is going to grow needs to be able to cope with the very dry conditions, so a priority will be putting in more quick growing trees such as the coconut palms to provide much needed shade where slower growing plants can thrive.  It is exciting to think about the possibility of the women and girls at the home having a fully stocked fruit and vegetable garden at some point in the future, not to mention a greener, planted environment in which they can sit, play, come together to socialise.  The girls and some of the younger children from the home have been so brilliant as they join in with some of our preparations.  Lots of smiles and hugs and ‘hello sister, what is your name’ every  few minutes.  They are an inspiration and I hope to be able to give at least a little of my free time here to help with the garden.

Soaring temperatures, The Old Town and The Three Sisters

 

 

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It seems that the thermometer is rising by the day and I barely make it to my second sun salute in the Shala each morning before I am dripping in sweat.  This is taking a little getting used to and there is definitely a sense of needing to slow down.  I now have my own transport in the form of a little push bike which is brilliant.  The morning commute to practice is pretty much free wheeling down hillall the waythere but that does mean that the return journey mid morning is all uphill … and in the heat of the sun!

There is also a surprising alchemy occurring during my practice each morning.  I am actually doing less asanas than I would usually do at home and there is very little in the way of instruction or adjustment at the moment as I have said inthe previous post and yet as a result of this self dependance within the context of a room full ofothers all practising alongside me I ambecoming more aware than ever of a greater sense of mindfulness each day.  I have found myself confronting myself during the time that I spend on my mat each day.    There is no escape and I am having to recognise a whole range of emotions (different each day) … feeling distracted, frustrated, accepting, learning to let go, to soften the practice some days, to challenge myself more on others and becoming more awareof how I deal with challenge.  None of this is new of course, asanyone witha regular yoga practice will no doubt acknowledge,  but even having spent all the years practicing yoga that I have, this experience somehow feels  very concentrated, like someone holding up a big magnifying glass to me.   In his conference last Sunday Sharath talked about how the practice has less to do with how many different asanas (postures) you do and so much more to do with how the practice transforms your life, enabling you to engage with it fully, by looking at ourselves properly to see who we are and what our purpose in life is …

At the end of the first full week’s practice I did feel suitably tired and in need of a hot bath (although sadly I don’t have a bath) and so it was really lovely to have a whole day off on Saturday (which is always a rest day, along with full moon and new moon days).  To celebrate this free time a few of us went out on the Friday evening to a beautiful old hotel, the Royal Orchid, which has the most amazing colonial style architecture … lots of carved rosewood furniture and details and a stunning courtyard restaurant where you can dine under the canopy of mango trees.  I think there may have been a monkey in one of these trees because half eaten mangos seemed to fall onto our table from above at various intervals during the evening.  The food was stunning and it was great to reconnect with a friend Jenny from Bournemouth who has been travelling with her partner Andy for a few months now and they had just arrived back in Mysore that day.  The world really is quite small.

Saturday was spent doing a spot of exploring and sight seeing, with a trip tothe beautiful temple atSomnathpur, about an hour’s drive from thecity.  The drive itself is really interesting as you quickly leave the dust and chaos of the outer limits of Mysore city and find yourself travelling along basic roads through little villages and stretches of forest or sugar cane plantations. The poverty is pretty stark though and you are aware of how very little most of the people who live here have.  The driving is as crazy in the country as it is in the city though!  The temple itself is beautiful … intricately carved out of granite stone and made up of a central space surrounded by more beautifully carved corridors on all four sides …stunning!

Then it was time to drive back to the city to check out the old Mysore Palace in the daytime.  This  involved forming a long orderly queue to walk around in the heat through the various corridors and rooms that make up this beautiful building.  It is a celebration of an era when money was clearly no object and full of beautiful carved wooden doors and pillars, solid silver doors, ornate tiled floors and stain glass.  It was well worth the visit.

 

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After the visit tothe palace, the mid afternoon heat was getting the better of us all so we headed to the north of the town to a hotel with a swimming pool which you can pay to use for a couple of hours …. bliss!  As the afternoon turned towards evening and suitably cooled down by a swim we all headed back down into the centre of old Mysore to the old market which was a real treat.  Lane after lane of little stalls selling every kind of vegetable, fruit and spices with their colours appearing all the more saturated in the twilight.  These were followed by the most beautiful flower stalls where stall holders sat cross legged up on platforms or on the floor working on making intricate threads of flower heads and petals.  So much colour everywhere.  There were stalls selling incense and precious oils, kitchen implements,banana leaves, blocks of jaggery (a caramel coloured typeofunrefined sugar) and old picture stalls too.  I was in a visual heaven and was kicking myself for not bringing a better camera with me so had to settle for using my camera phone.  It was lovely to have the time to take photographs and I realised how little time I allow myself in day to day life to do things like that.  India can be so intense and hard work at times with the constant noise and heat and lack of personal space and then it can completely stop you in its tracks with its beauty …. you can’t help but loving it.

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In contrast to the busy day’s sight seeing on Saturday, I had booked myself an ayurvedic massage after the morning practice on Sunday at a place which several people had recommended. Fortunately I was given a lift there on a friend’s scooter as I would never have found the place myself, tucked down an alleyway in an area of Laksmipurum, another suburb of Mysore. The outside looks very unassuming and I knocked at the little blue door to be greeted by the lovely Harini, one of the ‘Three sisters’ who treat people from a room in their home here. I soon found myself wearing very little at all and lying down on a floor level ‘bed’ whilst two of the sisters, including Harini, proceeded to massage me using their feet (an old ayurvedic technique) using special oils. Although quite strong, it was one of the best massage treatments I think I have ever experienced and brilliant after the intensity of the practice each day. What was really lovely was that at one point one of the sisters came in carrying her 7 month old baby (one of twins) and proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions about my own children whilst Harini continued with the treatment. There was something quite special and very grounding about the atmosphere there and I most definitely slept well that night!

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Yoga, palaces and unusual house guests

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As I begin my second week here in Mysore it feels like much longer as so much seems to have happened and I finally feel as though I am settling in and getting into the groove of Indian life a little more. I am now installed in my more permanent home from home, thanks to the lovely Scott and Pip, which is an appartment about 10 minutes walk away from the main yoga shala. We have our own kitchen and huge living space and, most exciting of all, a big balcony to sit out on and watch the crazy Indian world go by. Even after just one week here I can see how important it is to have somewhere to go and be quiet and simply step away from things. The main yoga shala and our appartment is in a neighbourhood to the north of the main city called Gokhalem and a considerable amount of commerce has developed around the many yoga students that come to visit and practice here. There are a number little cafes and eating places, most of which look like (and usually are) someone’s house where you can get a great post practice breakfast and coffee. Just look for the large numbers of scooters parked outside and rows of flip flops by the door and you can usually bet that it’s an eating place. In true yogi style you can find almost any variety of fresh juice, granola, almond milk, spirulina etc. within walking distance. I am embracing Indian culture and especially the food (which I love) and my daily stop off is the little grocery stall on the walk home which serves the best chai I have found so far. This is served in little glasses and costs 7 rupees (about 7p). My favourite food so far has been at Anu’s cafe, which is actually on the roof of Anu and Ganesh’s house where they have built a little bamboo shelter with lots of cushions on the floor. Every day between 1 and 2.30 pm they serve an amazing array of delicious home cooked Indian dishes and salads which you can then sit and eat in the shade on the roof. More dishes just keep coming until everything has been eaten. Anu also runs cooking classes which I am definitely going to check out whilst I am here.
I am also now getting the hang of the procedure at the Shala when you arrive to attend the daily self practice (Mysore Style) classes. You are given a start time. Mine is quite late (10 am shala time) and are then asked to arrive 10 mins early but not too early. The Shala is very busy so when you arrive you go silently into the hallway, if there is space to get in, and sit patiently in the little huddle of other students on the floor who presumably also have a 10 am start time. This bit is quiet interesting because you are sat by the wide door to the main shala and can watch Sharath and the other assistant teachers as they go around the (very busy) room attending to the students. The heat in the room is incredible and a mixture of Indian summer temperature and what is being produced by all of those practitioners. You are also struck by the sound of everyone breathing. There is very little verbal instruction from the Sharath or the others so the soundscape is really just the sound of breathing, punctuated every few minutes by Sharath’s voice instructing ‘one more’ to those of us waiting patiently outside for a space to become free. If you’re like me you might also hear ‘one more … small one …’ meaning that there is a small space available for anyone not too tall! Indians don’t mess about with their words.
The practice itself is quite something in the energy of that room, with the heat and the history of the space and the visible lines of sweat dripping down the paintwork on the walls. I am pretty much left to myself with no instruction or adjustment other than to be told when to stop and start my finishing sequence, which I do. I have been given a shorter practice at the moment and so find myself very much in my own (small) space as I practice each morning, loving the heat and the opportunity to have this time to go inwards. Being on the later practice time means that as I am finishing the shala has usually emptied out a little and feels a little cooler by the end, relatively speaking. It also means that I have the luxury of doing my finishing sequence on my mat in the main room and not relocating to the changing rooms at this point which is the usual scenario when the room is packed. You certainly have to come here with a very open mind and no expectations and simply see what unfolds. I am looking forward to what that might be …
In addition to the morning self practice classes we also have (compulsary) chanting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunchtimes for half an hour which I love and I have enrolled for the beginner’s Sanskrit and Philosophy course too, which I love even more. There are around 12 of us at the moment on this course and we sit on the marble floor upstairs at the shala learning to speak and write the correct Sanskrit letters and characters. There is a sense of place and history as I sit there and look out through the little slatted wooden window at the tops of the palm trees in the distance and listen to Lakshmish (our teacher) pronouncing the words or talking about the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
It is not all work and no play though and thanks to my new housemates (in fact Scott has taken on the role of my tour guide these last few days) I have managed to fit in a spot of sight seeing too. On Sunday evenings the incredibly majestic Mysore Palace in the centre of town is completely lit up for an hour. It is covered in light bulbs which were apparently added to celebrate the arrival of electricity to this town many years ago. It must use up a fair bit of electricity and I do wonder if this has anything to do with the regular power cuts which we get? Anyway, if you imagine Harrods but on a huge scale this is kind of what it is like. It is fabulous. The palace itself is really beautiful and we are planning a trip at some stage to go and look around properly during the day time.
The visit to the alluminations was followed by an amazing supper. Having walked up a dark staircase in what looked like a fairly tired old building near to the town centre, we were then all sat on a roof top full of tables and lights overlooking the town, sharing delicious spicy dishes and drinking lime soda. Having never really had a sweet tooth I seem to be developing a taste for sweet lime soda!
Yesterday was a free afternoon with no extra classes and so was filled up with a little bit of pampering in the form of a pedicure in a local salon.
For 250 rupees (that’s around £2.50) myself and two others, Sophie and Norah found ourselves sat in a row with our feet in plastic buckets of various shapes and colours whilst three gorgeous Indian beauticians proceeded to soak, scrub, ‘sand’ and then massage our tired feet. Even the large quantities of dettol that seemed to be poured into the buckets was strangely reassurring. It was hilarious and also probably the best pedicure I’ve ever had. I now have ‘new’ feet.
This was followed by some window shopping at another local treat, Meema’s silver wear shop which is actually in her house. Whilst you browse all the beautiful mala beads and silver wear, Meema serves delicious chai. During yesterday’s visit there was suddenly a lot of excitement and commotion as a cow randomly wandered into the house. A very excited Meema proceeded to entice it back outside with the help of some chapphattis (as you do) and told us that having a cow in your house was a huge blessing! So there you are, I felt very honoured to have been there at such an auspicious moment.

A new student

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‘Slowly slowly ….’

This was the reply from my teacher Sharath when I asked questions about the practice during my (brief) registration meeting. It also pretty much accurately describes life here, or at least the pace at which things get done, and I have been slowly adjusting to a more Indian perspective over the last 3 days. Although one of the things that I haven’t quite managed to get used to is the idea of a good night’s sleep.  The ‘wooden’ mattress doesn’t help but the nightly chorus of feral dogs in the nearby streets really doesn’t help. No wonder they all lay around all day with all the night time activity! The traffic doesn’t stop either during the night and I realise how much I have got used to the wonderful quiet of night time in the countryside.  Give me an owl hooting over a barking dog any day. Things might move ‘slowly slowly’  here but they do everything with plenty of noise!

I have spent quite a bit of time simply exploring and getting to know my way around a little which included meeting the wonderful Ganesh who helped me with my taxi here from the airport and seems to be the fountain of local knowledge for yoga students.  He also has a beautiful dog which reminded me of Betty, who I then really missed :(  . Ganesh furnished me with a map and lots of information and I set off to find the coconut stand  which, according to my lovely friend Nat, is the ‘centre of the universe’ in this area. Everybody, it seems, knows the coconut stand.  There are few things more delicious than drinking coconut water straight from the shell and I can see I might end up having to ration myself soon.  The coconut stand is just around the corner from the yoga shala and consequently is the ‘go to’ place for nearly everyone in need of a bit of post practice refreshment.

Registration at the main shala is the first time you get to go there and meet Sharath. As with the classes it is at ‘shala time’ (15 minutes early) and I arrived in plenty of time to queue outside in readiness.  It was good to meet a few other students as we waited and I had that first day at school feeling.  This is followed by more waiting and form filling before going into the main shala and then Sharath’s office to register.  The whole process is fairly swift and you are given your pass and start times to turn up for each of the weekly classes.  There is a sense of history about the shala and as I walked through I was definitely aware of the special energy of the place …. the energy from all of those people who have been and practiced there over the years.

The following day, Friday, was my first practice which was one of two weekly led classes at 7.30 am.  With everyone practising together these are very busy and I was advised to arrive at least 30 minutes beforehand (which is actually 45 minutes if you factor in ‘shala time’).  Perhaps because of nerves about not waking in time, finding a rickshaw to get me there in time or just being generally confused by the start times, shala times and how much earlier to arrive times I had a bit of trouble getting to sleep on the Thursday evening.  When I did finally drop off it was not for long as a woke up with a start a couple of hours later thinking we were under attack.  It was only fireworks but whoever was letting them off was being quite enthusiastic about it.  This in turn woke up the dogs who’d been remarkably sleepy until that point and this then started the monkeys off.  I abandoned all ideas about sleeping, phoned home to have a lovely conversation with Paul and read my book instead.

I didn’t feel as bright and bushy tailed as perhaps I should have done when I stood patiently outside the shala on Friday morning and when I stood on my mat in the hallway (the main room seems to fill up with mats remarkably quickly before the class) I really wished that I had had more sleep.  As with all the times before when I have been counted through my practice by my teachers John and Lucy or when I have attended classes with Pattabi Jois  or Sharath,  there is a kind of magic alchemy that takes over as you chant and then breath and then move and there is no time to think or dwell on how your body feels like lead that day or anything else. You simply get carried on a wave of energy … all those people with one breath.  The next thing you know we are chanting the closing mantra and soon after I am drinking my coconut water at the coconut stand.  It feels good to be here!