Thank you India … until next time x

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It is time to pack my bags and say goodbye to this beautiful country and all the wonderful people who I have been lucky enough to get to know over the last two months.  I feel huge  gratitude for having had the opportunity to experience this journey and I have learnt a lot, mostly things that I never expected … life always surprises us in that way.  The daily practice, which at first I have to admit did ‘push a few buttons’,  slowly began to work its subtle magic and the crazy, noisy, gently chaotic, colourful, beautiful country that is India worked its magic too, as it always does.

I had a very contemplative last day in Mysore , starting with my last early practice and  followed by an Indian breakfast at a cafe that a lot of the locals frequent .. that’s the last time I’ll be able to eat a meal for 60p in a while!  I then spent time saying my goodbyes , from the beautiful girls at Odanadi who have been such a big part of the garden project,  to Anu and Ganesh who are very much at the heart of the yoga community here in Mysore,  a respectful goodbye to Sharath and then supper with a few friends.  I also had to say goodbye to my lovely bicycle, which I have grown quite attached to over the last few weeks, despite it not having any gears.

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I’ve had a day in Bangalore on route home and got chance to investigate another stunning former Indian palace, now a hotel.  I absolutely love these places and this one has a gorgeous garden to wander around too. This evening I wanted to go to a local temple to say a little thank you for my trip and thought I was visiting an ancient stone building ….. but of course, in true surreal Indian style I found myself queueing patiently in what can only be described as a polystyrene and cardboard ‘cave’  with interesting coloured lighting and a constant chant to Shiva on a tannoy filling the space.  After what seemed like an age we emerged from the ‘cave’ into the open to be faced with the most enormous statue of Shiva I have ever seen (not that I’ve seem that many), also made out of what looks like polystyrene or plaster and all lit up !! I thought I was in Disneyland but this is serious stuff and the place was packed, so I respectively followed everyone and did my little ‘puja’ blessing in thanks for my wonderful trip and then watched what was described on the tannoy as an ‘extraordinary sound and light show’  … and it was extraordinary!  Only in India!                       … until next time xx

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‘Could it get any warmer? ….’

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I know we British are obsessed with talking about the weather but it is currently the main topic of conversation here as the mercury just keeps on rising.  Even the locals are saying that it is hotter than usual for this time of year and everything has slowed right down as a result.  The heat seems to have affected by ability to do anything and I need to lie down every couple of hours or so (which is quite nice really).  I have taken to getting money out of the local ATM machine in smaller amounts so that I can visit more regularly as it has the best air conditioning I’ve found so far!  The ceiling fan in my room seems to be just moving warm air around and the dogs don’t even seem to want to move around much in the evening anymore.  Everything has taken on a slower, laid back energy which is  actually really lovely.  Even the cows have slowed down more, not that they were exactly fast before.  One of them had her head inside a stall window opening the other day, obviously also trying to get a bit of shade!

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It is even swealtering already at the start of the 4.30 am led practices. I literally have sweath dripping down my nose and onto my mat within 5 minutes of starting to move and am contemplating wearing goggles for the inversions as it then runs into my eyes.  This heat is good though as the yoga and daily practice continues to work its subtle magic.  With each day it becomes so  much less about asana and about the ability to be completely in the moment. I find myself in a state of observation and enquiry more and more,  watching my thoughts and questions and doubts (sometimes) and sitting with these thoughts.  This is where the luxury of this practice and quiet time is so powerful.  In the conference last week, Sharath talked about doubt  and the the fact that that is completely part of our daily journey.  Life is a series of choices and decisions and we can often feel conflict or have doubts.  He said that if we continue with our daily practice and also to  practise awareness in each moment then doubts will eventually be resolved.  I think I still have a way to go with this one …

Outside of practice at the shala it was also fantastic to be invited along to a women’s group, or rather a little , group of gorgeous friends and acquaintances and local people, from all sorts of backgrounds who came together for a couple of hours to talk and share thoughts about  how we see ourselves.  Beautiful Anu kindly hosted us at her bamboo rooftop cafe space, and provided ginger tea and her delicious vegan fruit chocolate pie (which I love). Most of us were yogis here in Mysore to travel and practice but all of us, and we ranged from 20 something to 50 something in age, had interesting ideas and thoughts to share.  It was a very frank and honest insight into the lens through which most of us see ourselves and our world.  It was also wonderful that my friend Sandra and her daughter Emily were here too and came along to share their thoughts with the group.  Thank you to Sophie whose idea it was to get us together and whose blog I am really looking forward to reading.

I have also been having fun sourcing some gorgeous cotton mats for our new little yoga space and beautiful Indian door handles and fittings which I’m hoping to use on the new doors and cupboards.  As with anything here, even the smallest job takes half a day and usually involves several trips back to the shop because, despite all promises to the contrary,  nothing is ever ready or even in the shop when it supposed to be.  You really do have to be patient and let go of all time restraints.  On the plus side you are nearly always offered a seat and a cup of chai with a smile whilst you are waiting … and if you are really lucky there might even be air-conditioning (although mostly not).

The  Odanani garden is all planted now and we just need to make sure that it gets enough water to stay alive until the rains come in June.  The girls are doing a wonderful job so far of watering the whole thing (by hand using buckets and watering cans filled from their water tank outide) every evening after school.  The older girls have a team of younger ones to help them which is fantastic.  It seems very apt to be made aware of the scarcity of water and how precious it is when we acknowledged world water day last week across the globe. This is one thing that I will definitely take back with me from here … never to take water for granted again!

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Yoga Stops Traffick … from Bournemouth to Mysore

 

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This year’s ‘Yoga Stops Traffick’ event to raise money and awareness for the amazing work of Odanadi had a really personal meaning to me, having been lucky enough to have spent the last few weeks getting to know some of the residents of Odanadi’s girl’s home here in Mysore whilst working on their garden project. For the last four years I have been working with Natalie Cresswell and Scott Parsons in Bournemouth to organise the 108 (sponsored) sun salutions with our own amazing local yoga community and this year the guys had the most amazing support ever for the event on the 17th March at Murrells by the sea in Boscombe. I know that they are still collecting money but at the last count over £1,300 had been raised which is awesome. Well done Nat and Scott and everyone else who helped to organise the event, turned up on the day to take part, raised sponsorship and, last but not least, all those who baked cakes for the day too … I have to say that I did miss out on the cake … but we had fresh coconut water afterwards here inMysore.

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It felt very special to be at Mysore Palace for the main event here this year and quite moving as we turned up to help set up early in the morning and found all the people from Odanadi already there and organising things. Mats were laid down on the paved area outside the main palace gate, in front of a specially made podium for the event and the girls were handing out flowers to us all and putting them in front of each mat. My friend and roomie Sophie had a very special role representing the founders (her brother Sean and his wife Sarah) and got to sit on the podium with the other officials and we all rolled out our mats to do the 108. In reality, as it was so hot by the time speaches were made and we got started, we actually did 27 sun salutes (a quarter of the amount) and these were beautifully counted by some of the Odanadi girls, including two of my lovely helpers from the garden project. It was amazing to be there moving and breathing together with so many people from Odanadi of all ages, many friends from the Mysore yoga community and especially the two founders, Stanley and Parashu, whose incredible work for this organisation is truly an inspiration!

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Happy Holi !

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So last Sunday and Monday were spent mostly in a state of high alert on my part whenever venturing out as the locals were celebrating ‘Holi’. This annual festival is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘bad’. Known as the ‘Festival of Colour’, on this day, people hug and wish each other ‘Happy Holi’.

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In the days before Holi, the markets and shops are flooded with packets and piles of coloured powders, setting the mood for the actual day. You can see huge piles of bright red, magenta, pink, green and blue every where on the streets and on the day itself people ‘play Holi’, which seems to entail covering each other with the aforementioned coloured powders, or sometimes eggs too! Fortunately most of the local children in our neighbourhood were very polite and actually asked us if we wanted to play Holi but one gentle stroll (in the heat) to go to a nearby cafe for lunch resulted in three of us being chased down the street and daubed in green and red powder by two very enthusiastic and giggling girls who can’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old! My green scarf now has an interesting pattern to it! We did, however, successfully avoid being drenched by a long range water pistol from a nearby roof top on the way to the rickshaw stand as another small child (being encouraged by his giggling mother and older sibling) took aim at us from across the street.
My lovely friend Sandra has been staying with me for a few days with her daughter Emily who is studying in Bangalore as part of an exchange programme during her degree course and Emily was quite keen to see a little bit more ‘Holi’ action. So we ventured into the city to show them the old market and she was duly rewarded at my favourite incense and oil stall where a group of young people were enthusiastically throwing coloured powder at each other. Sandra and I stayed relatively colour free but it was lovely to then walk around the market with a now multi-coloured Emily and hear the reaction of all the other stall holders who were really amused. We had nearly made it out of the market when Sandra and I took a smudge of yellow powder each on our faces from someone who came out of our left field, again with much giggling and laughter.
Indian people have the most amazing endless capacity for fun.

A spot of rain …

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There was the most unusual sound as I lay in bed a few nights ago contemplating my 5 am start in the morning and unable to fall asleep.  It is so hot now during the day that there is usually a bit of a lull in activity around midday / early afternoon, only for this to start to start up again with a vengeance at around 5pm. Consequently there is a random soundscape of building / roadworks / the vegetable seller calling out his wares, dogs, numerous rickshaws and motorbikes driving past and all manner of music (from drumming to Bollywood hits to Justin Bieber on a loop coming from the dance school in the basement below us.  This continues until well into the evening.  I have decided that the locals don’t actually sleep.  Anyway, the sound which I heard last night was none of the above it was the sound of rain, and heavy rain at that.  Now I know that that you’ve all had far more rain than you would have liked for the last couple of months, but it was actually so lovely to hear and the early morning cycle ride to the Shala for practice the next day was wonderful as the air smelt so fresh (for a change), with the faint scent of blossom from the trees that the rain had somehow emphasised.
My lovely sanskrit teacher Lakshmish had predicted that we might have some rain as he said we would have ‘ one, maybe two drops of rain … ‘ and I think we had rather more than two drops.

Anyway, this turned out to be not just an isolated shower as two days later, after I had spent a couple of hours late in the afternoon with the girls from Odanadi and the guys from my permiculture group planting out some more trees and bananas in their garden there, we had more rain.
This time it was a pretty heavy monsoon rain which lasted a few hours and resulted in a very wet rickshaw ride home and the inevitable power cuts that night. The whole thing was then repeated last night with the most fantastic tropical storm … thunder, lightning, monsoon rain and quite a few palm trees blown down … and of course, power cuts! I can’t say I love sleeping without a ceiling fan in this heat but I did feel very pleased with myself that I had packed torches and spare batteries for this trip! There was an even greater level of chaos the next day as people in my neighbourhood went about clearing up after the storm and I saw one tiny elderly lady dressed in her sari, barefoot, carrying the most enormous palm tree branch on her head, along with several large bags of rubbish. It must have been 15′ long and quite heavy and she was half my size … the women here are extraordinary!

The amazing thing was that the rain felt like quite a blessing as we had just planted the trees at Odanadi and water is such a scarcity there. The ground is uncultivated and so is like hard orange concrete. We have to use pick axes to break up the soil and it can take an hour to dig a hole big enough for each little tree so how brilliant to have everything watered like this each evening!

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My regular morning practice time is slowly getting earlier and I now start at 7.30 am shala time with Friday and Sunday led classes at 4.30 am. The shala is so hot now that I am in danger of melting one of these days but there has been a subtle change in my practice and it feels like such a deep meditation every day. I definitely think it takes most of the first month here to adjust not only to the place but also to the practice and it can feel really quite difficult at first. Then suddenly you notice that your body, breath, mind state, everything in fact has shifted. It is subtle but really powerful work. Practising at the earlier time in the week though is good and makes more sense of the day, giving me time to get out and about a bit before going to Odanadi to help with the gardening late afternoon (it is way too hot to dig before 4pm). Last week I ventured out to the outskirts of Mysore city to a beautiful old building, now a hotel, called the Lalitha Mahal. It was like stepping back in time again onto an old Bollywood movie film set, with sweeping marble staircases everywhere and long light filled corridors with gorgeous carved hard wooden doors and shutters and screens everywhere. I sat in the garden listening to the birds for a while and drinking my sweet lime soda (I am quite addicted to these now). Then I spent ages wandering around and taking lots of photographs. I feel really at home in these old buildings … I wonder if I was a Maharini in another life ?

On Friday evening I had the best time ever as I went (with Sophie, Jenny and Andy) to the famous ‘Rashinkas’ tailor shop and emporium in a very busy old part of central Mysore called Ghandi circus. This is three floors of fabric, gorgeous silk saris, scarves and, thanks to the popularity of yoga here, all manner of yoga mats and bags etc. I spent ages picking out some lovely woven cotton mats for the new space in Studland which I can bring home with me (must check how much luggage allowance I have) and then treated myself to a beautiful silk sari, something I’ve always wanted. We then all went for a drink on a rooftop restaurant before heading to the gorgeous Metropole hotel for dinner. Fridays have become ‘Metropole Fridays’ now because we have Saturdays off and after a week of early nights, early starts and not eating too much, it is such a treat to eat the delicious south Indian food there in the beautiful courtyard. I am really going to miss all the amazing food that there is on offer here when I leave, from little cafes and thali restaurants to the fruit and vegetable markets everywhere .. and it is so cheap. The average price for lunch or dinner is between £2 and £3 so I’m not sure how easy it will be to adapt back to the cost of a supermarket shop back in the UK. I will just have to make the most of it whilst I’m here.

Maha Sivaratri

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There was much excitement and a definite holiday atmosphere here in the air last Thursday night as people everywhere were celebrating the annual, all-night long, Hindu Maha Sivaratri Festival, the ‘Great Night of Siva’, in reverence of Lord Siva, who is the manifestation and emanation of transcendental, undifferentiated consciousness.

According to Hindu mythology, Mahashivratri is Lord Shiva’s favourite day. Devotees on this day remain on fast or perform hour long spiritual meditation by following rituals to commemorate Mahashivratri and be blessed with grace. In the early morning, they visit temples to offer cold water, milk and bael leaves.  During Sivaratri, people  go to one of the Siva temples and  stay up through the night ,  as they chant, meditate and pray in this night long Puja.  The idea is that during this process of  wakefulness and spiritual practice people can contemplate their true nature.

It is these elements of Indian (and in particular the Hindu) culture that I love. Just looking at all  the colours of the women’s saris and the flower garlands and listening to the music and drum beats coming from the street outside my window was wonderful.  There is nowhere quite like India :)

 

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!