Thursday, June 29, 2006

Today’s Vocabulary Words:

Tube Light = fluorescent light (used widely here because it does not emit heat)
Mess = cheap restaurant
Military Hotel – cheap non-veg restaurant

On Tuesday the film crew was in class shooting the documentary about Guruji. Every single light was turned up high in the shala (usually it’s rather dimly lit). I got a spot in the back row and never once felt the camera on me – which is good, since I had yet another mediocre practice.

During practice my dristi (gaze) was all over the place. I noticed Flatsie doing Virasana (a warmup) before starting her practice. I don't even know what series the pose is in, if any. I think we all know it's verboten to add poses to what we do in the shala; any warm-ups should be done at home, before class. We do a set program and that's that. Then I saw The Japanese Hairdresser going into pidgeon (another warmup) before starting her practice. I also saw Sharath tell her to stop. Both women are well into Intermediate Series. Both also have the bodies of borderline Anas. It makes one consider going on a crash diet and stop playing by the rules.

I struggled for some time with pasasana – long enough for my calves to start to hurt – before Sharath appeared. “Too many chappatis,” I said, explaining why the deep twist was a problem for me. After giving me an expert adjustment, he smiled and said, “Now chappatis digesting.”

Dropbacks sucked. I could drop back, but not come up. Saraswati saved me from myself. I work on backbends every day after practice and still it’s not working. My back is still tight and it still hurts. I think I am living in fear of throwing it out again. I don’t think this fear is unhealthy or unfounded but here I am in Mysore, where for some reason moving forward hinges on standing up from backbends. What am I thinking?

Near the end of practice Sharath’s daughter appeared wearing a pink John Lennon t-shirt; she was waving around the Amma doll that Miss Y sent as a gift for Guruji. A short time later we were treated to The Parade of Blondes, in which of two perky adult women trailed by a bevy of preteens – one of whom was carrying Sharda like a favorite doll -- marched across the shala to the changing room. After a few minutes the parade reversed its route, until its members put down their mats in the first few rows. It was quite a show. I’d never seen these Blondes before. The puberteens all had bright pink mats; one had written “Dottie” on hers.

After practice I stood around waiting to talk to Sharath. I’m about to start my eighth month in Mysore and am still working on Kraunchasana (the pose after Pasasansa, or the second pose in the intermediate series. Think of it like this: Primary Series is Teaching Little Fingers to Play, and Intermediate is the First Grade Book). But I recently learnt that someone’s who’s been here less than one month and has stood up from backbend exactly once has been given Pasasana. So I decided that it was finally time to talk to Sharath.

It was after 7:30 AM – when Sharath and Guruji are usually gone and Saraswati is holding fort – but they were still in the shala. So were the cameras. Guruji was in his seat on the stage saying goodbye to people and nodding off, while Sharath was tending to The Blondes; this one needed help in Mari D, that one needed to be stopped and told to do backbends; this one could go all the way to baddhakosana but her feet were too far away from her; she could also drop back on her own, like it was nothing. Many adjustments were there -- and the cameras caught it all.

It made me think about the three dogs that hang out in front of the shala, waiting for food. I felt a bit like the one f-cked up one with the sores that watches the others get the bulk of the treats.

Maybe The Blondes are the film’s producers. Yeah, that's it.

Finally Sharath had a spare moment. I told him I’d thrown out my back and was having trouble standing up from backbends, which I USED to be able to do. He asked if I had pain. I said yes but that I was afraid that there would be more and I would throw out my back and what did he suggest. He thought for a moment, and then said I should take an extra breath in each BB and try to relax the back. I laughed.

Then I asked about where in the series should stop my practice, since last time in Mysore he had me stopping in Kraunchasana and in NYC he said to stop at Kapotasana. He said Kraunchasana, since, apparently, the Mysore practice in Mysore, India is “different.” Then he said, “Tomorrow, Salabasana,” which is a shallow backbend and the third pose in Intermediate Series. I said that doing the smaller backbends before Urdvha Danurasana (the one I’m trying to stand up from) makes it easier. He nodded. Then I asked if he had back problems, and he said yes.

I did not feel good begging for the pose. It made me feel like one of the three dogs that hangs out in front of the shala....

But I will keep begging if necessary.

Prior to this, and after backbending humiliation, I skulked off to the women’s changing room to do my closing sequence. This is the freezing room and upstairs loft where we change clothes, use the bathroom and do our finishing sequence of shoulderstand, headstand, sitting and savasana. It was going well until Flatsie appeared, plopped down her mat near me and began doing the Intermediate Series headstand sequence. When she was finished with that – her breathing is all exhale, no inhale, like a choo-choo train – she proceeded to do the middle part of Intermediate Series – in other words, the poses that come after the point where she’s stopped in the shala. Without vinyasa (the sequence that links the poses together)! All of this is strictly forbidden – to practice at the AYRI we must sign a form that says we’ll stop our practice where they tell us to stop. Yet there she was, breathing loudly and ruining the energy of the room. The rest of us were helpless to stop it. Only later did I realize what a vindictive person could do; get Saraswati and point out what was going on. I wonder what she would do….

Over coconuts I talked a bit to a nice gent from Colorado and then ambushed poor Michael Halsband. He’s the photographer with the studio near NYC’s Midtown Lofts, where we sat on the floor and ate a divine $7 Indian breakfast every day after Guruji’s workshop in March. I thanked him for loaning out his place and asked about the Guruji documentary – which he’s making. He said it’s a feature film and will require over a year of shooting, including several more short trips to Mysore.

The previous day, the long-time student who was staying in the room next to me banged on my door and accused me of stealing her “neekkas-uh.” I couldn’t understand what the hell she was saying, what with the accent and all. After some time I figured out that she thought I had stolen her knickers. The following morning I gave her a ride to the shala. She didn’t wait for me so we could go in together. No, the minute the vehicle stopped moving, she jumped off and ran inside and secured her spot in line.

But she got busted and was told to come later from now on.

BTW I just learned that the requirements for getting official authorization to teach ashtanga vinyasa yoga have changed. I was under the impression that one must study in Mysore three times, for three months each time. But I heard today that it’s FOUR times, for as little as one month.

Plus you have to pay Rs 10,000 on the spot and every 1.5 years thereafter to maintain authorized status.

No word yet on whether losing one’s job due to too many trips to Mysore wins any kind of consolation prize.

Or whether in a few months it will change to five or six or seven or eight times.

Woman plans, Mysore laughs.


  1. Forget about those odd ashtanga vinyasa yoga rule requirements, just go Bikrim!

    They had a piece on him this morn on CNN and how he has copywrited 1500 or so yoga moves, and how the yoga community is agahast, but no one seems to be doing a F-ing thing about it, much akin to the problem you all seem to have confronting this 'Flatsie' reptile.

    Just keep grinning and taking it!

  2. I grew up in Gokulam in Mysore (in Richmond, VA now). My parents for a time leased the house to a property manager. Yoga students of Sri Jois lived in my house for some time. They've sub-leased it to another family now. The house is on 4th Main 3rd Stage with red tiles.

    Just thought it would be cool if I came across someone who stayed in the house I grew up in :)