Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mum and Dad in Mysore - A Dummies Guide

Mysore is actually quite a family environment.  Students come here with their kids all the time and I even know of couple who practiced in their shala with their 2 sons as well as Grandma (and she had a beautiful practice as well!).  Sharath loves children and his kids come into the shala all the time.  His daughter went around once, asking people what their names were when they were upsidedown in headstand :o)

I have never thought that any of my family would come visit me in Mysore so I was pleasantly surprised when a few weeks into my stay here, Dad emails me to say that he and mum were coming for 10 days.  My initial reaction was ’Yeay’, now they may finally understand why coming here, for long stretches of time, is so important to me.  Then, when it hit me that they were actually coming, I panicked ... what was I going to do with them?
Mum’s very cool with doing nothing (which is what I spend most of my time doing here) but Dad likes to see and do new things and I stay away from touristy things here ... plus I sleep at 730pm, which is before dinnertime at home!

Anyway, their trip was a great success and this is because I did the following:
  1. Rented my landlord’s backhouse (versus a service apartment / hotel).  This gave them more of a local experience (complete with powercuts and coldish water if the heater wasn’t working properly).
  2. Gave them access to a kitchen and stocked up the refrigerator so they could make tea or dinner (if one goes to sleep at 730pm and they have to fend for themselves).  Dad made himself a 5-egg omelette and had lots of pineapple
  3. Brought them out to local breakfast places, especially my favourite SBP (secret breakfast place ... named as such so we can go without running into every other yoga student in the shala!) which is a stand by the side of the road where you sit on benches under a plastic tarp and wash your hands with water from a plastic drum.  This place makes the BEST iddly and parotta ... yummy!
  4. Introduced them to the locals.  Mum and dad loved meeting my landlord, rickshaw driver, tailor, coconut man etc.  And it was mutual.  Maney, my rickshaw driver, insisted on cooking them a meal and he cooked 2 types of chicken, even though he’s completely vegetarian
  5. Introduced them to my yoga friends.  Dad, as curious as ever, grilled everyone on where they came from, what they did for a living, how long they were here for etc.  They obliged graciously and were so warm that mum and dad felt very much at home.
  6. Brought them to the shala to watch a Mysore class, as well as a Led Intermediate class.  Dumbfounded is an appropriate word to describe their reaction.  They were confused by the seemingly chaos of a Mysore class ... lots of sweaty people packed into the room, all doing rather random things, with Sharath walking around making people grab their ankles or knees (in some cases) in backbends.  The Led class made better sense because everyone was doing the same thing at the same time.  Dad couldn’t stop talking about how amazingly strong and flexible everyone was ... and some of the poses he couldn’t grasp as even possible to think of, let alone execute with such grace and ease.
    NB. They weren't watching me of course
  7. Got them up early and tired them out ... so they didn’t mind sleeping early.  Dad sleeps around 11pm at home, Mum never before midnight ... but they were in bed by 10pm every night here and up around 8am (except for days when they had to come to the shala early).
  8. Spread out the shopping (a little bit every day).  Mum loves to window shop; Dad only shops out of necessity; shopping for pleasure doesn’t exist in his world.  So a bit of shopping every day satisfied both sides.
  9. Let Dad experience the local barber ... he loved that it only cost him S$1 :o)
  10. Took them out on a day trip.  We rented a car to visit 2 temples a few hours drive out of Mysore.  This was great for them to see the surrounding landscape as well as to get out of the city.
  11. Got them to bring lots of goodies from home to share with my friends (eg. tau sar piah, pineapple tarts, dark chocolate digestives) and maximised their luggage allowance to bring stuff back to Singapore for me!

Here are some things to take note of though:
  1. Too much Indian breakfast is no good.  To his credit, Dad lasted 5 days before he asked for toast and jam).
  2. Remember to give them meat! That only hit me when Dad asked if we could have curry for lunch .. as in fish curry, mutton curry or chicken curry.  I realised he wasn’t asking for curry .. he was asking for Meat!
Overall, their trip was an overwhelming success, both for me as well as for them.  They got to see and experience how I live here (what I eat, what I do, where I practice, who I spend my time with) and also managed to do some touristy things and buy souvenirs for people back home.

Mum is already planning her next trip here.  She saw my queen-sized bed and said, ‘Wow, such a big bed .. I can sleep here with you when I come next year’.  She also dropped comments like, ‘No need to do that .. have to save some things for next year’ and ‘Since you come for 3 months, I can come stay with you for a few weeks’.

Here are a few pictures from their trip 

Mum in front of the Shala

Our day trip to Belur

I love this cow shot

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stocktake - 2 months gone, 1 to go

I’ve just paid for my last month in the shala - too fast!   Even though I don’t usually do much in Mysore ... I thought I’d try and quantify some milestones, accomplishments (or lack of).
  • I have survived  2 months of No Cheating (ok, much less cheating) practice in the shala.  Some days were tough  (you feel tired, sore, heavy etc but you have to practice anyway) but as Sharath says, Mind is stiff (not the body) and you come out of every practice feeling good.
  • It’s always interesting to compare how your practice has changed each time you come.  The gauge is always the quality of your breath.  I’m finding my breath is stronger and deeper which translates into an ‘easier’ practice.  Poses which I dreaded last time are less intimidating, my backbends are deeper and there is a little more flow to the practice (mostly).
  • Led Intermediate class isn’t as scary as it used to be; I have been enjoying it actually ... lots of space because most people do Led Primary.  The only bummer is that you have to wait till everyone else completes the full sequence before joining them for backbends.  This means 3 backbends (standing up from the last) and then 3 dropbacks when you’re cold ... yucks! 
    NB. There are 2 days in the week where we do a Led class (versus Mysore ie self-practice style).  Friday (the last day of the week), everyone practices the Primary series.  Sunday (the 1st day of the week) is Led Intermediate for people who practice only the Intermediate series (or more) the other days of the week.  The objective of the Led class is to reinforce the correct vinyasa (breath-movement count).  You can forget / lose the proper vinyasa very easily in a Mysore class, ending up taking extra breaths, breathing too fast in poses you don’t like etc ... ie Cheating :o)
  • It’s different for everyone but I usually get a new pose every 3 weeks or so.  This trip though, I got a new pose the 2nd week I was here ... but nothing since then.  People have been known to be held at this pose for a while (some people up to 2 years!).  Once you put away any expectations of moving on however, you find that you can really get to know a pose very well (figuring it out in your head, trying out different things every day etc).  I am enjoying that process too plus, it’s great from a teaching perspective.
  • I’ve nursed a nagging right shoulder injury for the last year (got it adjusting in class).  Good news is - that’s gone.  Bad news is - I’ve got the same pain in my left shoulder.  This feels more like something’s shifting versus an injury but it’s now at a stage where I have no strength on my left side so jumping through & back is really difficult.  Sharath said that when there’s an opening, you lose strength – hopefully that’s true for me too.
  • I’ve done a 45-60 minute Pranayama session every morning before going to the Shala.  The Pranayama has been very good because I get enough sleep so I don’t spend most of my time dozing off!  The deep breathing practices result in a calmer mind and a more relaxed body; perfect prep before getting on my mat.  I love it.
  • I have taken Zero naps!  Still not sure if that's an achievement or a failure ...
  • I have watched 4 seasons of Mad Men (13 episodes per season), 28 episodes of The Good Wife and some live Tennis (US Open, Cincinnati and Toronto Masters).  For someone who doesn’t watch TV at home (except for tennis and American Idol 2010), I’d say I’ve achieved Champion status!
  • I have completed 2 Christmas stockings and am now embarking on the last.  This project has definitely taken a lot more time than I expected but the stockings are beautiful.  I hope my nephews, Daniel, Christian and Michael are informed (on a regular basis) of the effort I have put into this!
  • Sewing and watching TV go very well together
  • I have drunk so much chai that my name has been changed to Denise Chai.  I will not even begin to quantify the number of cups I have had.  Let’s just say .. pots would be a better unit of measurement ... enough said! :o)
  • Sewing, watching TV and drinking chai is an even better combination!
  • I have drunk about 100 coconuts so far ... and aim to drink another 50 before I leave
  • Mum and dad came to visit me here for a week.  Their stay here deserves its own post but suffice to say they had a great time.
  • Sharath has given me his blessing to teach. My objective in coming here is not to get authorisation to teach.  l come because Sharath is my teacher and here, I learn firsthand from the source of Ashtanga yoga.  However, authorisation is meaningful because it is a recognition of my dedication to the practice and its lineage (I started coming here 2004 and have practice with him every year since then, either in Mysore or around Asia).  It was funny though because when we were talking about authorisation, the 1st thing he said to me was, “You’re not authorised?” haha

Monday, November 1, 2010

Musical Chairs & Musical Statues

Shala gates open at 430am (shala time).  Prakash, the gatekeeper, errand guy (and also babysitter to Sharath’s kids) will only open the gates when Sharath comes downstairs (the family live above the shala), going straight to his laptop in his office.  People waiting at the gates get in, pick their spots and start practice.  Others in the 1st timeslot will drift in until the shala is almost full.  Sharath comes out just before 5am and stands in the centre of the elevated platform in the front of the room.  He calls everyone to attention with a ‘’Samasthithi” (meaning standing firm and still) and we say the Opening Chant together before continuing where we left off.  The next timeslot is 530am but some people start arriving 515ish, hoping to get the last remaining spots so they don’t have to wait.  As people from the 1st batch leave, they eventually get the “You ... you come early ... tomorrow, 430am” call.

People in the 1st timeslot have the luxury of picking their spot in the shala, if they care enough to come early.  Some people are creatures of habit, picking the same spot every day (ie. musical statues), others move all over the place (ie. musical chairs).  Where people’s favourite spot in the shala is depends on a couple of factors:
  • I get hot easily so I want to be near the door / window to get some cool air.
  • I hate being near the door because I’ll be under the scrutiny of people waiting in the foyer.
  • I hate being in the front row, especially in the middle because it’s right in front of the stage which means you have limited space in front of you.
  • I like being in the front row because there’s nothing to see so I can focus better.
  • I can’t practice in the 2 front corners because the beam obstructs me when I raise my hands up above my head (NB.  this doesn’t apply to me as I am too short!)
  • I don’t want to practice on the crease of the carpet.
    (The shala floor is carpeted by made up of 3 rows of large carpets laid next to each other.   This results in a crease where the carpets overlap each other.  If you imagine the lines forming  a tic tac toe grid, that’s where the creases will lie).
  • I don’t want to be near the mens’ and ladies’ changing room because the door is always being opened and closed and there is a draft because some people always forget to close the door.
  • I don’t want to be near the main door or changing room doors because people are constantly walking past my mat and it’s distracting.
  • I want to be on the carpet, plus it’s too cold at the back (there are about 6 spots right in the back which is on the bare marble floor, versus the carpet.  It’s also right next to the windows which are usually open to allow circulation of air).

Being next to a crease is usually okay but there is a danger of ending up on the crease if people in the centre take too much space.  The other day I was on the edge of a crease and it was a bit tricky when I did poses where I had to kneel down because I had a crease under each knee, and also under each hand when I was in downward dog.

Personally, I am a backbencher, but the last row of the carpet.  I don’t like to be on the marble floor because of the draft on a cold day and it’s just nice to have an extra layer of cushioning under your mat.  I try and stay away from the main door because I get nervous if I see eyes looking at me (although they may not necessarily be watching me).  

Just as people gravitate to certain spots in the room, they also get used to (and like) practicing next the same people all the time.  You inevitably find people you like to practice next to and people you avoid.  Some people have great energy, steady deep breaths and are a calming presence to have beside you.  In contrast, some people take short, choppy breaths.  Personally this agitates me and unconsciously causes me to quicken my breath.  I find that I come out of practice feeling flustered and unsettled.

Since space is limited (you have about 15cm on either side of you), people need to be very aware of what they are doing and to stay within the boundaries of their ‘mat space’ ie an unspoken mat etiquette.  This is especially in poses where you’re sticking a leg, knee or arm out.  It sometimes involves making minor adjustments and movements so you don’t inconvenience the people around you.  This is primarily on both sides, but sometimes to the front and back.
I’ve had the unpleasant experience of someone dripping sweat on the back of my mat or doing a backward roll into my face because they land on the front of my mat.  It’s a pain to practice beside an inconsiderate person who is oblivious to what’s going on around him/her.  This is 1 reason why some people like to position themselves on the sides or next to a wall.

If you are in a later timeslot, where you end up practicing is just like Russian roulette – you go where you’re assigned and you make do with the space you’ve been given and the people you have around you.

Who would have thought that the physical spot you practice on would be so complicated.  But this is how the human mind works; sometimes dwelling far too much on things that are unimportant in the bigger scheme of things.  This is precisely what Yoga tries to teach us … to put aside the distractions of the mind and focus on living fully in the present.  With Ashtanga yoga, the breath controls the mind and the mind controls the body. So slow, deep breaths results in a calm, still mind and a strong body.

PS.  Here is a pix of my 1st Christmas stocking (took me almost a month, a couple of hours each day) and a pin cushion I made for my friend using remaining scraps of felt.  Am close to completing the 2nd stocking too.

Xmas Stocking #1

Xmas stocking #2 (almost there ...)

Pin cushion