Yoga, palaces and unusual house guests


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.