Pattabhi Jois’ shala is located in Gokulam, which is a small town about ten minutes outside of Mysore. There is a real sense of community here. It is small enough for neighbors to know each other and everyone knows about the yogashala and the steady flow of foreigners who stream in for a month or two at a time.
Today was a day of community for me, it began with practice in the shala followed by breakfast at Om Café, where I eat almost every morning largely due to the amazingly friendly manager Bruno, who knows everyone’s name and who is more generous with Chai then he needs to be.
Om Café is a swirl of spiced teas, herbal elixirs, palm sugar, curd and yogis discussing the cumulative successes or failures in their practices. Some mornings we celebrate a fellow student’s success like yesterday when a four-time Mysore veteran was bestowed the title of ‘authorized’ by Sherath. This honor is reserved for those who have visited at least four times, can complete the primary series and are deemed worthy of the title by our teacher.
Other days we support friends whose practice has slipped, who have lost a posture – that is to say that Sherath told them to go back to an earlier asana in the series and to work on that before they are permitted to move on to complete the series. Here you have to perform each asana to it’s specifications before you can move on to the next. I am allowed to perform about ¾ of the series before I skip ahead to the finishing postures. I have already gained one new asana while I have been here which I feel really good about. But for others, losing a posture is equal in misery to my elation at gaining one.
After breakfast my days are filled with random wanderings or socializing poolside at one of the local resorts that allow the yogis to sunbathe for a nominal fee, or courses in anatomy, meditation, yogic chanting, etc. Today I decided to wander aimlessly for a while which led me to a spa where I had my right hand/forearm tattooed in henna.
I was supposed to meet friends at the pool but I emerged from the spa with an arm full of henna paste and strict instructions to let it dry for at least two hours. As I stood next to my scooter wondering how I could possibly get it home without the use of my right hand two women approached me.
– Do you know by chance where we could find ….
They had just arrived in Gokalum and had not yet had the chance to get their bearings. I looked down at my arm and my bike and said:
– Well I have to let this dry for a few hours so if you have time, I’ll give you a walking tour.
They had time and for the next hour I strolled with them past all the places that are now second homes to me – Barista the coffee shop, the coconut stand, Loyal World – the grocery store, the gelateria, and then back to where we had met and to where my bike was parked. Two weeks ago I was just like them and I had friends to show me the ropes, so I renewed my karma yoga bank and welcomed the ladies from Canada to the Gokalum community.
During the supple light of the twilight hours I wandered some more photographing those everyday settings I have come to love. Cows lounging in the middle of streets unprotested, cars which are newer, but look like they came out of a 1930’s British spy film, purple flowered trees lining the main road, women in brightly colored saris, bedazzled with bangles, diamond nose studs, gold chains and ropes of long black, coconut oil glistening hair.
I ventured down to the slum – what there is of one in this affluent town – to take some sunset photos. I paid a woman and her daughters in carrots and turnips for the privilege of photographing them. They were kinder an more patient with me than they needed to be.
As I was getting ready to head home I spied a group of young boys playing a game. I photographed them and climbed back on to my scooter. One of the boys came over and looked at the bike, he placed his hand on the electric ignition switch. I thought it was sweet that he was so intrigued by my ‘Scooty’ bike so I let him push the starter.
When the engine came to life he covered the break with one hand and gunned the throttle with the other, I went flying backwards. I steadied myself just in time to cling to the left break with all the force I could muster. I locked eyes with him and he grinned a maniacal grin - he knew exactly what he was doing. I forced his deceptively strong but thin arm aside, regained control of my bike, scooted myself back into the saddle and took off.
It happened so fast and for a moment I let it erase all of the beauty I had seen this day. I sunk into a sadness and mourned for the serene little world I have been lulled into seeing here. A few blocks later I decided to accept that as part of the day, but to not let it define the day. In fact this little act of mischievousness made the day all the more real for me. The smile returned to my face as I scooted along the road back to my flat.
Because practice at the shala is limited for most to a month or two, someone new is always arriving and someone is always leaving. Friday, Melissa leaves. She is from Telluride, Colorado and is a kindred soul in many ways. Tonight was her going away dinner and we girls all dressed up in new Indian tunics for the occasion, Each of us put on makeup, dolled up our hair and applied hindu bindis (bejeweled third eye decorations) to our foreheads.We ate at the Green Hotel and there were at least twenty of us at our long table under the stars. Ten minutes in, the power went out and we all sat in rows, candlelight flickering off the rhinestones on our foreheads and Orion shining down on us from the heavens. It was magical and I fully lived in those moments.
After dinner I strolled home with Melissa who is staying just up the road from me. I said goodnight but before leaving she turned and said “wait two minutes and then look uphill from your roof“. Out of the inky black Indian night I saw flashlight signals from her rooftop, halogen well wishes for a night filled with sweet dreams. Tonight I go to sleep reminded of how rich my life is and of how I’m here mostly because of yoga. I go to bed filled with gratitude, love and a too full belly, which will undoubtedly make it nearly impossible for me to touch my toes in the morning or to out maneuver shifty nine-year-olds. I go to bed fulfilled and eager for the morning.
Begin at the Beginning
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