Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Never-Having-Been-to-Mysore Angst

This post is divided into two parts: The nice part, and the not-so-nice part. If you want to just read the nice part, and ignore the not-so-nice part, I totally understand (The not-so-nice part consists of my own rather self-indulgent feelings about things, and may be a bit of a downer).

The Nice Part

Going to Mysore a.k.a. The World Capital of Ashtanga has emerged as a big topic in the blogosphere in the last few days. Quite a few people in the blogopshere are either in Mysore right now, or are going soon. As of right now, Skippetty and Inside Owl are in Mysore, and Claudia is going next week. The Mysore napper, who lives there, is also there. It's so wonderful that so many blogosphere inhabitants are going to be in Mysore at the same time! You all are my inspiration. Please continue to blog and share pictures and stories while you are there. Since I cannot be there physically, I will have to be there vicariously through your words and pictures :-)

The Not-so-Nice Part

A few months ago, Jason from Leaping Lanka wrote a blog post titled "Mysore Guilt", in which he reflects about his thoughts and feelings about not having gone back to Mysore for 5 years. Well, I don't suffer from Mysore Guilt, for the simple reason that I have never been to Mysore! But recently, I discovered that I suffer from Never-having-been-to-Mysore-even-though-I-have-been-practicing-Ashtanga-regularly-for-a-couple-of-years Guilt (damn! There must be a shorter way of saying this...).

Maybe "Guilt" isn't quite the right word here. "Guilt" suggests being guilty at having done something wrong or highly inappropriate, and I haven't done anything wrong or inappropriate as far as the practice is concerned (at least not that I know of). So maybe something like "Existential Angst" would be more appropriate. So, allow me to re-diagnose my condition: I suffer from Never-having-been-to-Mysore-even-though-I-have-been-practicing-Ashtanga-regularly-for-a-couple-of-years Existential Angst.

At this point, I can see the unsympathetic outsider (see my December 30th post for more details about this character) saying, "What are you Angst-ing about, you self-indulgent fool? Okay, so you haven't been to Mysore... but so haven't many other people who have a regular Ashtanga practice, and they aren't less complete people for not having done so. So what are you whining about?"

Indeed, perhaps some of you out there may be thinking the same thing, and I totally understand. But let me see if I can explain myself further. I have been entertaining the thought of going to Mysore since mid-2008, when I went to Tim Miller's workshop in Miami. At that time, I was in grad school in Florida, and even though the desire to go to Mysore was there, certain other factors were weighing against it: Can I afford to take so much time away from school when I was so close to finishing my PhD? How am I going to navigate the potential immigration hassle (I was on a student visa, and if I left the U.S., I would have to apply for a new visa back in my home country (Singapore), and then try to get myself to Mysore in time from there, and then try to get back to finish my PhD in a timely manner... arghh... my head spins just thinking about this. Sorry to bore you with these details. But I did warn you that this was going to be not-so-nice, didn't I?)

And then, in May 2009, I finally got my PhD. But then I had to find a faculty position, and leaving the country in that state of immigration limbo between student and worker would make re-entering the country very very difficult. So again, no going to Mysore. Finally, I found a one-year position in Milwaukee just weeks before the academic year started. I also had the good fortune of finding and practicing with my teacher in Milwaukee, who encouraged me further to go to Mysore. But since my position was only for one year, I had to find another (hopefully tenure-track) position before the year was out. Thankfully, I found another position (my present one in Minnesota). But my present position isn't tenure-track either. So I am on the job market again this year. Which means that going to Mysore this year will again be quite difficult to work out. I don't want to say it's impossible, because there's always a chance that I will get my job situation squared away in the next few weeks, and then I might have the summer free to go to Mysore (well, even then, there will still be issues: I'll still have to figure out a way to move to wherever my next job is going to be and take care of the assorted logistical details before I head out to India. And does Sharath even teach in the summer?)

Again, I apologize for boring you with the nitty-gritty details of my life. But I don't know of any other way to talk about the full gravity of what I'm facing. I suppose one might respond to all this by saying, "Look, Nobel, all these obstacles to Mysore that you perceive being in your life are just Maya, or illusion; they are there to test your faith. You must set a strong intention and take concrete action. And then the Maya will melt away like dew before the morning sun, and your road will be clear. So go register, and get a ticket to India right now!"

Well... I must not have the ability to see through this Maya, because as far as I'm concerned, what I'm facing and going through in my professional and daily lives right now is very very real, and as much as I try to tell myself that all this is just Maya, my brain just won't buy it!

Somebody else might also say, "What is so important about going to Mysore, anyway? So you have never been to a certain physical location in this world (Mysore, India) and practiced Ashtanga there? Big deal! And besides, it's not as if you will suddenly morph into some other-worldly being or receive some siddhi or other after you go to Mysore. So what's the deal? How do you know that your desire to go to Mysore is not just a manifestation of spiritual materialism? You know, it's like you have a "spiritual checklist": Doing Primary Series? Check. Binding in Marichyasana D on both sides? Check. Binding in Supta K? Check. Doing Kapotasana? Check. Gone to Mysore? Check. Being adjusted by Sharath? Check. And so and so forth. If having been to Mysore is just one of these many "Checks" on the list, what's the big deal?"

Well... I honestly don't know if I am a spiritual materialist. But there is something (call it a gut feeling) that tells me that my desire to go to Mysore is not mere spiritual materialism. To use a very cliched example, this is how I feel: If one wants to seriously study, say, fashion design, one would want to study with the top fashion designers and be immersed in the culture these designers live and breath. So one would want to study in Paris or Milan at some point in one's career (I really don't know if aspiring fashion designers today still want to study in Paris or Milan, or if they have found another new place to study in; I know nothing about fashion design. I told you this is a very cliched example.) So, by way of a very crude analogy, if one wants to seriously study Ashtanga Yoga, one would have to study with the "top" Ashtanga practitioner (Sharath) in the World Capital of Ashtanga Yoga at some point in one's career, right?

I can go on and on about this whole thing. But I shouldn't tax you any further with my self-indulgent rambling (thank you for reading so far). I guess I'll leave you with a few questions:

(1) Have you been to Mysore?
(2) If you have, how have your Mysore experiences shaped and informed your practice?
(3) If you haven't been to Mysore, do you feel it is important to go there some day? Why is it important (or not important) to go?

I look forward to hearing about your views on these three questions, or about anything else related to this whole issue. 



  1. 1) no
    3) no

    Ooh, that was easy! I have no desire to go to Mysore, but then I also never used to have a desire to get intensely sweaty and pop my feet behind my head in a whole room full of other people, so hey, this could change!

    I do like your analogy about fashion design though, and I do absolutely see why people would want to go, why it would seem absolutely imperative to some. I just don't have the desire to go, plus I don't like change, travel, hot weather, the distance from friends and family, the intensity of making new friendships, the build up and the come down to a trip of that nature. So I'm sure going would be very good for me to be encouraged to embrace all that stuff! I suppose really my curiosity is far, far outweighed by the fact that I don't believe I'd enjoy it.

    I think also that 'curiosity' sums up how I feel about much of Yoga in general - the spiritual side of it. I am interested in it, have a lot of respect for it, but am not choosing to immerse myself in it.

  2. 1) Yes
    2) Mysore is awesome. Guruji was special and Sharath, well, I adore Sharath. My second trip to Mysore inspired me to move to my current location to study with a certified teacher.

  3. 1) No
    2) See 1
    3) You want to go and that is a good enough reason to go. By the time you make it there the Mysore airport will have direct flights AND you will have a tenured gig you like!!

  4. Thanks for your answers, everyone.

    Ragdoll, I actually totally understand your not having a desire to go to Mysore. I grew up in the tropics, and I HATE the heat and the humidity. Honestly, I probably would have no desire to go to India if it weren't because of this whole Ashtanga business :-)

    V, thank you for your response. The part about Guruji and Sharath is very inspiring.

    fft, thanks for your encouraging answer to 3). I feel very inspired to do something now.

  5. Haven't been to Mysore, but would like to go once at some point. I totally understand where you are about the "going to Mysore" thing. My mental processes have been similar over the past few years. Various job related things have suggested it wasn't the right time. Potential to make the trip is looking better though, maybe within the next 2 years.
    ...and am totally with you on the existential Mysore related angst...I just add on the layer of "should I really be teaching this if I haven't been to Mysore, even if my authorized teacher has given me his permission to teach??"...arg! :)

  6. Nobel, you know my answer... I just wanted to say congratulations on the p.h.d., I had not realized that you finished already, and that now you are just teaching, what an accomplishment!!!! Tks for the mention, liked the consciousness flow without censorship, honest, loved it

  7. 1. Yes, twice once to practice with Pattabhi Jois and Sharath, the second with a different teacher as sadly Pattabhi Jois was no longer teaching.

    2. I got a a lot out of it. The best three things were direct mulabandha instruction from Guruji, quite a surprise. Always very interesting meal conversations with ashtangis from all over the world. To be in the culture where yoga sprang from does add depth, especially if y ou are coming from a western country...

    You'll get there, there's no rush now. I dashed there as I felt I just had to meet Pattabhi Jois, and was lucky to be there for the last few months of his teaching. Since then the desire has lessened slightly. Interesting in what you say about the 'top' practitioner, what makes this so? Personally right now I am in dilema as to where to go study next, with whom, am thinking Dharma Mittra ....even though I am a devout ashtangi, something about New York, perhaps Eddie STern in the mornings and Dharma later on....any thoughts?

  8. Good timing with this post Nobel :)
    I haven't been (yet), though I spent the first half of last year working towards going to Mysore in 2011 (i.e. I would have been there NOW! With everyone else!! Ok best not to think about this...). Then in May, I was having a chat with my boss & had this giant realisation that the time was not right in my life to go to Mysore, even if it might have been right for my practice. It would have been crazy to quite my job & head to India for 3 months considering the situation between my career and the job market.So there and then I decided NOT to go, realising that the only reason I was planning to go this year was that it was soon, not that it was right. I know (hope!) that at some point there will be certain shifts in my life that will make it possible, and whenever I choose to go, it will be the right time - and I'll look back an be glad I didn't go at any other point. I'm sure you'll feel the same way when you do get the planets aligned so that you can go :)
    I can only explain my desire to go as being in line with your Paris thoughts (though having worked in fashion, I think it's London and NYC which tend to lure designers now)...the lure of the mothership is strong.
    Oh and I think Sharath will be on tour this summer (hopefully in London!).

  9. Dear Nobel
    You may have a bit of unnecessary angst. It's good to know you're from 'spore. Hua Ren. Would like to meet you some day. Your work situation comes first. The Mysore bit will come in time. Once you have tenure, a faculty job would probably be one that would more likely give you the time to study in India or anywhere else. S. is not the only teacher, as you know. There are many wonderful senior teachers in other parts of the world. For me I think going to Mysore would be a novelty. But because I'm from a different generation, there are other teachers that I would be more inclined to seek out first. People in your generation gravitate towards studying with S. People in mine don't.

    I'm not even sure spiritual materialism is a bad thing. It's at least a motivator isn't it?


  10. Many thanks for your honest opinions and feedback, everyone.

    Christine, thanks for relating to how I feel about going to Mysore. Hmm... now I'm feeling a little bad about causing you to add on the layer of "should I really be teaching this if I haven't been to Mysore, even if my authorized teacher has given me his permission to teach??"

    But you know, I've been thinking about this a little more, and I think the important thing is to set a strong intention to go to Mysore, and then one will be able to find a way to wiggle a way to Mysore through the many responsibilities and mundane tasks of daily life. In a way, it's kind of like doing a very difficult asana, isn't it? (right now, the difficulty level for me is even higher than kapotasana on a "bad" day :-))

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Esther (Is my Nihongo correct?). There is a part of me that regrets not having met Guruji while he was alive. But I try not to think about this: Regrets get one nowhere.

    I referred to Sharath as the "top practitioner" by way of a very crude analogy. I suppose I meant "top" as in "best in asana". But maybe even that is not true: For all I know, there might be people out there who have more asana prowess than he does.

    I can't say anything about Dharma Mittra (although I've heard nothing but good things about him), but I've actually studied with Eddie Stern before. I went to Eddie's shala (AYNY) for a few mornings of mysore last winter when I was in NYC. Got a couple of adjustments from him (in Baddhakonasana and Supta Kurmasana). The energy in the shala was so amazing: Kapotasana felt almost easy while I was there! I actually also learnt a couple of fine distinctions from him: It turns out that if you do Supta Kurmasana with your feet behind your head/neck, you are actually doing a different posture called Raja Kurmasana! (who knew?) In the "standard" Supta K, the legs do not go behind the head. I honestly don't know if Sharath would endorse this story, or if this is some "old school" thing, but it's interesting asana etymology nonetheless, don't you think? Okay, I need to stop now. I'm degenerating into Mega-Yoga-Dorkdom...

  11. Daydreamingmel, I empathize with your feelings and with your struggle to try to get to Mysore while managing your professional life. Thanks for sharing. I honestly am not sure if I buy that getting the planets aligned thing (I'm not big on astrology), but I get what you are saying. I'm going to set a strong intention to go, and try to find a way to move the universe in that direction (huh, maybe I do believe in astrology after all...) But please don't give up. Keep working on it!

    Arturo, yes, wo shi huaren (I am Chinese). Recently, I have been having a lot of issues with the cultural and emotional baggage that being identified as huaren brings up. But I guess this is something for an entirely separate post. Yes, I really hope that we can meet in person some day. I really feel that what you say is very wise. And at the risk of buying into a cultural stereotype, I would even add that it is very pragmatically Chinese in spirit :-) And yes, you might very well be right in saying that spiritual materialism may not always be a bad thing. Sometimes I think that Chinese people have a very strong spiritual materialistic streak, what with the highly syncretistic nature of Chinese folk religion. Actually, I myself may be a case in point: I am a Chinese person living in America who teaches western philosophy, who is Buddhist, and who practices yoga to the point of having existential angst!

    But all this is neither here nor there. The pragmatic part of me totally agrees with your suggestion ("work situation comes first"). But here's the deal: Have you ever noticed that so many people put off so many things that they hold dear in life in favor of some more "important" thing? Students, for example, tell themselves that they will start this new activity or go to such and such a place AFTER the semester is over. Working professionals tell themselves that they will "reward" themselves with this or that or with a trip to such and such a place AFTER they get that raise, promotion, new job, or whatever. And similarly, I have heard so many colleagues say that they will start working out more, or taking care of their house more AFTER they have gotten this paper published, or AFTER they have gotten tenure. More often than not, I suspect that AFTER all these people get whatever it is that they need to get done done, some new important thing comes up, and then they promise themselves that they will do whatever it is that they want to do AFTER they have squared away that new important thing. And they never get around to doing whatever it is they want to do. Sorry if I come across as being a little confrontational, but don't you think this is sad? I just don't want going to Mysore to become one of these "AFTERS" in my life, if you know what I mean.

  12. Wow, this is an interesting post. Loved every bit of it. To answer your questions, I've never been to Mysore and right now, I'm more curious about the prospect of travelling there rather than feeling 'compelled' by a deep love of the practice. I really enjoy this practice and learning more about its philosophical foundations, but Mysore doesn't have any attraction for me, at the moment at least. Perhaps this will change over time.

    As for your existential angst, I have a feeling that your trip will happen when the time is 'right', for lack of a better word. I know it sounds all airy fairy and 'woo woo' but based on what you shared, it sounds like the circumstances in your life made it impossible to make the trip, not excuses that you made to yourself (like those you cited in your response to Arturo). I wouldn't angst too much over this...all is coming :)

    And Sharath is coming to the US this Spring, NYC from April-May and Encinitas in May (http://www.joisyoga.com/workshops-sharath.html)

  13. Dear Nobel
    I see your point and agree, that you see people putting off things until this gets resolved, until that gets resolved and so on. If you want to shuck the responsibility pragmatic part, and have the means to support yourself to pursue a dream, then do it- as long as your family or support network supports your dream. But it's a sacrifice. My first teacher is always intending to sometime only teach. He would very much like to continue going to Mysore, but can only go every 2 to 3 years at most. He's an engineer and needs to work in his field to sustain himself. My thoughts are that it depends on what you do for a living. Someone who is incredibly able to do all the yoga stuff and teach it - as well as having some other way of supporting himself or herself - should probably go to Mysore. If you're challenged by the yoga system, then making that sacrifice is not going to make a lot of sense. Or the pace of doing so should be slower. Not everyone is cut out to be a yoga teacher, although all are cut out to be students. Maybe you should inquire whether they need western philosophy teachers in India, eh? haha.

  14. "Not everyone is cut out to be a yoga teacher, although all are cut out to be students"

    Couldn't agree more with that!

  15. Danielle, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think you are right about the time being "right" part, although like you, I can't seem to give it more concrete expression.

    Arturo, hmm... yes, I totally, totally see your point about the responsibility/pragmatic part. Maybe I need to make myself a little clearer: My aim in going to Mysore is not to get authorized (although it would be nice if I do eventually get authorized, but that is not something within my control). But of course, if I do not necessarily want to teach yoga for a living, then what difference would it make whether I go to Mysore now or say, 10 years from now? Good question. I'll think about this some more.

    V, I agree with Arturo's statement too.

  16. Arturo, if you're still following this thread, I would like to seek some clarification from you about what you said. You said, "Someone who is incredibly able to do all the yoga stuff and teach it"... By "stuff", do you just mean asana? Or do you mean other...stuff? Just curious.