Lifestyle Yoga Yoga Travel

Travel letter from India: Mysore, magic and madness

If I were studying anthropology, Mysore would be the place I’d do my Ph.D. More precisely, at 3rd stage Gokulam, Mysore, in Karnataka, India.

In the 1920’s the legendary father of modern Yoga, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya caught the attention of the Maharaja (great king) of Mysore. Krishnamachrya impressed the king with exceptional demonstrations, doing difficult asanas (yoga- poses), lifting heavy objects with his bare teeth, presumably stopping his own heartbeat, and furthermore with his knowledge and expertise in the therapeutic effects of this ancient practice. In 1933 a yoga institution (Yogashala) was opened in his name, and so began the Mysore- yoga school lineage.  In addition to being the Maharaja’s trusted advisor and yoga- therapist/teacher for the royal court, he also held classes for boys and young men. One of these youngsters, presumably the one having the great honour of being stood  upon by Krishnamacharya in the photo attached, was Patthabi Jois , later to be known affectionally as “Guruji” by his followers.

Mr. Jois opened what we today know as Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (KPJAYI) inside his humble household. The first westerners searched him out in the 1960’s, as so many others in that decade, searching for some “higher spiritual meaning”. It must have been hard to predict the avalanche of new practitioners that followed. These yoga pioneers went on to spread the practice across the United States and other western countries, and latin- America quickly followed. From what I’ve learnt from what many now call “senior- teachers” (Yoga- celebs), in the early days Yoga seemed occult, weird, and in some cases diabolic by their fellow countrymen. Though their devotion and sincerity did not cease, and soon the practice would attract several celebrities such as Madonna, Sting, Gwyneth Paltrow and Willem Dafoe. In the last ten/fifteen years this practice has become a billion dollar industry.

In 2009 Guruji died, but the lineage (parampara) is held forward by his daughter Saraswathi and grandson Sharath Rangaswamy. Fewer students from the older generation are returning these days, but the number of devotees has only grown. It is not uncommon that the Institute`s web- page crashes once the application form is available each month. These days people flock to Mysore from all parts of the world to get their taste. In one conference Sharath had to ask people not to come at 2 o`clock in the morning/middle of the night, because the police couldn’t uphold the security for these somewhat fanatic Yoga- devotees.

I have done several Yoga- trainings, retreats and workshops, but I’ve never been to a place with as much dedication as you can find here. The practice is actually pretty straight forward though. You wake up in the morning depending on what shift you got when registered, you do the sequence in your own pace overlooked by either Sharath or Saraswathi, and then you’re off to whatever. This means quite a lot of free time, so it is no wonder that every year there are popping up new Shalas (studioes), Cafees and other Yogi- activities like cooking- classes, massage courses and what not to do after practice. But what Ashtangis do best is to stretch- flex and chill, preferably pool- side.

My typical day would be getting up between 3 and 4 AM, shower, coffee and getting dressed, maybe some morning stretching if time allows. Then the sacred practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, which takes between 90min to two hours. Lately Saraswathi as thrown in some simple breathing- exercises (pranayama) at the end, for everyone’s benefit. After practice is the essential coconut, or two. Behind my house there’s some Indians playing badminton. If I have the time and energy, I join them for a match. I’ve learned never to underestimate an Indian badminton- player, no matter size or age!

Sometimes I just go home and nap. After additional rest, it’s off to breakfast, this place called “santosha”, meaning contentment, is the closest hot- spot with healthy food, content practitioners and happy staff.

Mysore is famous for its market, palace, and Chamundi hill. They’re a must see, tough the intensity of this Asana- practice, combined with heat closing at 40 degrees Celsius, I’m always in dire need for rest, again preferably by a refreshing pool. Three times a week there’s chanting at 12, and some evenings I take time to read additional philosophy, and take courses with my landlord the great scholar Vigneshvara (meaning “lord of obstacles”). All in all I have a pretty peaceful and carefree stay.

As another month is soon over to be over, I’m looking forward to come back to friends, family and dogs. But rest assured Mysore; I’ll be back, probably a lot!

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