March 13, 2011

How My Body Became My Guru- Part One: Why I Hated Mysore

Hauling Myself to Mysore

When I was going to India, after 5 or 6 years of practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa, I felt like it would seal the deal of me not being a real Asthangi if I skipped out on Mysore. Basically I felt like I would officially be a half-assed Ashtangi, or worse yet, an insincere seeker, if I did not make a pilgrimage to Mysore to practice.

Pattabhi Jois and Sharath, his grandson

My teacher, Richard Freeman, was going to be there for Pattabhi Jois’ 89th birthday, and I was attracted to the idea of being together with my teacher and his teacher and to be drinking from the fount. I imagined the power of practicing in the city where Krishnamacharya first taught both Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar.

I thought my doubts (or what could retrospectively be labeled intuition) about Mysore not being a good fit for me were based on weakness and fear.

Why I Hated It

Exiting the Bangalore airport, I was astonished not to be haggled in the North Indian fashion, and got a cab to Mysore. The interim details are not that important.

I hated Mysore. It was one of the most challenging months of my life. Any Ashtangi reading this will say,“exactly, you did not stay long enough. To get anything out of Mysore you have to stay for at least three months.”   Or “”You were cleansing your nadis and left in the middle of the process.” Or “you did not see the process through and you just don’t get it.”

Because anyone who doesn’t have a good experience in Mysore is presumed to just not get it- to be

Mysore Palace- where Krishnamacharya taught the Maharaj

weak, avoiding, in denial or afraid.

I will say that my ego was severely dismantled and so was my body.

Getting injured in Mysore does not an interesting article make. Few have gone to Mysore and have not gotten injured. I left Mysore without being able to walk, which is only one of the reasons I hated it.  I was surrounded with a lot of people who were there to escape their lives. No one had much to do except practice and take a Gita or chanting class. Those two things take about 3 hours max. So the rest of the day seemed to be about shopping, and anti-inflammatories (prescription-grade conveniently sold over the counter in India). I have never been around so many people medicating in order to practice. The shop talk was all about what pose you got to in the series, what adjustments you got, and then what weird diet you were on. (like did you drink your own urine?)

Anyway, a lot of people love Mysore.  I know that it can be a powerful and transformative place.

Is Your Body Real?

Ramana Maharshi

I’m writing because part of the cult of injury is that the body is just a transitory object and not real.  Pattabhi Jois is from the Shankaracharya lineage of Vedanta that believes that nothing as we see it is Real.  What’s Real is defined by what does not change. Since the body changes, it is not real- it is a manifestation and projection of the mind.  Therefore, feeling bad (injury) is no more important, interesting, or noteworthy than feeling good.  None of this is real, so why have preference for injury or non-injury.

A month after my arrival to India, I limped into the Ramana Ashram questioning everything. I spent the first two days reading books and trying to understand what I was supposed to do if there was nothing to do. (It felt kind of like the first time I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and then tried to sit).  Each day I felt more disconnected and depressed and confused. Then one evening I walked by two men talking and one asked me if I wanted to try the first mango off the ashram tree. Before I knew it we were connecting over American jazz, I was chanting all the Sanskrit I knew, and getting schooled in the subtleties of the yoga sutra.  And he was explaining the philosophy to me in a practical way. Things were already starting to make sense.

Sort of.

Go here for Part Two- I Slept with My Guru

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