Ashes to Ego

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That smoldering pile of ash on the floor… that was once a nice chunk of my ego.

There isn’t really an orientation at the shala since people come and go daily, so you are left to figure out the protocols on your own. This predictably led to my completely mucking up in every possible way.

My assigned practice time was 8:45 a.m. I showed up at 8:10, 8:25 according to the shala clock, thankfully I had been warned about the clock being set 15 minutes fast and that it is assumed you will arrive 15 minutes early. This means you are expected there a half hour earlier than your assigned time. I was unsure if I was supposed to wait on the street or in the hall, so at 8:30 shala time I went into the hallway expecting to peer through the doors for a while to watch the others and hopefully learn the tricks of the trade before a space opened up for me to go in.

No such luck on this day – as soon as I walked through the front door, I was ushered straight into the shala and told to get to work. I laid out my mat, piled my things in a neat stack and sat down to take some centering breaths before beginning my practice. At this point I had already committed two cardinal sins. The first – only you and your mat are welcome in the shala – all your stuff has to go in a locker, I was unaware there were even lockers. Due to the number of practitioners and the relatively small size of the shala, it is kind of a get-em-in/get-em-out situation, no lallygagging... no centering breaths. You walk in, you begin Surinamascara A (sun salutation A) immediately.
Alright, lessons learned and I only feel mostly like a jackass, time to get to my practice. Inhale extend… exhale contract… lengthen… stira… suka, steady and comfortable. I was thinking to myself, I feel good, I feel like today I can touch my toes, maybe I am not a complete hack. Then he spoke.

– Rachel
– Yes Sharath…
– Are you a beginner?
– Um … not entirely.
– You look like a beginner

Right then, fantastic. This is the part where my mind starts hysterically laughing at me. You idiot, you just traveled around the world to come study with the masters, you are in WAY over your head. Here, once again I found myself drowning with no clear escape other than to complete the series under the watching eyes of Sharath and to try and shut my mind up.

I told myself over and over again… I didn’t come here because I am an expert, I came here to learn. I want to believe that being ‘a beginner’ means that I am that much more committed for doing this now, at this relatively early stage in my yogic journey. I like to think of myself as a middle-aged prodigy.

But pretty often my mind went back to the ‘you are a hack’ line of thought and try as I might I felt awkward in the remaining poses. I was relieved when I was dismissed to go complete the finishing sequence in the locker room on my own. Somewhere in the seated posture portion Sharath told me he would help me tomorrow, which means he expects me to come back for more yogic ass kicking. With any luck I’ll be able to touch my toes and I won’t cry.

After morning practice I went in search of longer-term accommodations. I am staying in a nice apartment/hotel which comes with a dodgy Internet connection, a nice bed, daily breakfast and the steep price tag of 1200 rupees or $25 a day – a fortune by Mysore standards. Claudia is here for another week and then the room she is letting is available so I am planning to move in there for 6500 rupees/month or about $130. While it lacks Internet and breakfast it comes with a very private rooftop setting, propane stove and did I mention it costs $130 a month.

After visiting Claudia’s rental I tagged along with her to breakfast. On our way to brunch Claudia asked me how my morning practice was and I told her about the beginner comment and subsequent internal head games. She said “oh that’s just his way of asking if you have ever practiced in Mysore before… are you a beginner means is this your first time here? His English isn’t perfect.” Lesson learned, perhaps that pile of ash was ignorance not ego after all.

I sat down for a few moments at the restaurant, ordered a snack and set out to work on rereading my teacher training manual. I was about two pages in when a red-haired man came out and yelled something about the last course beginning and room available, lada lada lada. Claudia and Jonika both looked at me and said in unison “you must go!”

Turns out the redhead was Noah a yogi/chiropractor/anatomy professor and he is offering his final yoga anatomy/therapy class for this season. I grabbed my hummus and tea and joined his class. In the afternoon I attended classes on Sanskrit and Yoga Sutra chanting. My days here can be very full, there are a multitude of classes and treatments available to choose from and for this first week at least I am already booked solid.

Tuesday I had my second practice and true to his word Sharath came over to help me get into Marichyasana D – a particularly contentious twist for me. I have never been able to get into it on my own, but as soon as he sat down he said, “I think you don’t need me” and with that he helped guide me, but there was none of the actually pulling and twisting on his part that I had required from past teachers to get me into the posture. I did it on my own.

My practices thus far have been amazing in that I am really able to meditate in them. I am in a room with about fifty other people, all breathing loudly, joints popping, sometimes grunting, there are cars outside beeping their horns, doors creaking , and peanut sellers singing the song that apparently alerts people there is a peanut seller outside and yet with all of these distractions I am able to focus inwardly more easily than maybe any other practices I have had. An hour and a half goes by in the blink of an eye and I leave the shala feeling an inch taller, five pounds lighter and a heap of consciousness stronger. It is truly beautiful.
A few days ago I met Appu the rickshaw driver. Since Thailand I am beyond wary of taxi drivers but Appu has soft eyes and I immediately liked him. Last night he took me to dinner and to run some errands. When he brought me back to my flat I asked how much and he said it was up to me. I handed him 150 rupees ($3), he handed me back 50 and said it was too much. My jaw hit the floor.

So today I called Appu and asked him to take me into Mysore proper for some shopping and lunch. He picked this fantastic India restaurant and showed me how to eat all of the wonders placed before me. Break this up and use it to eat from this container, pour this sauce over this rice, put sugar in this for dessert, and so on. I felt like I was two being spoon fed, but it was a much needed lesson for me and I was grateful to have him there.
Then we went to the market. I love visiting markets – oh the wonders of a new country laid out neatly in 5’ stalls. Appu helped me decipher which stalls sold decent items and which ones sold overpriced inferior sandalwood sprayed with scent to make it seem better. I bought a few malas, prayer beads, for gifts and took about a hundred photos of brightly colored paint bases and of the flower stalls.

Somewhere in the carrot section I realized why this particular market seemed so special. No meat. Every other Asian market I have ventured into has a fish and unidentifiable animal product section, whose smell overpowers all the subtle scents of jasmine and cinnamon. Not here, in this market you smell it all, the incense vendors, sandalwood, fresh papayas cut open to show their golden orange color, I could smell the palm sugar, the roasting peanuts and the marigolds – it was an olfactory smörgåsbord and I loved it.

I fell asleep that night with the smells still strong in my nose and I think that was when I realized, I love it here.

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Due to the untimely demise of my operating system I'm left unable to size photos for a few weeks, the next couple of posts will therefore contain full-resolution photos which will likely slow down their loading. Mac OS X apologizes for any issues resulting from it's failings.


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