Monday, June 6, 2011

Mysore in the City of Lakes: A little mysore class report

I did not post anything over the weekend because I was in Minneapolis, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the City of Lakes. Essentially, the highlights of my visit can be summed up in two words: Food and Yoga. Actually, I sometimes think that these two words also sum up most Ashtangis' daily existence. For us Ashtangis, daily life is a day-to-day challenge to (1) find the time to practice, and (2) find good food that nourishes the body without making it feel heavy, so that we can keep practicing.

Since this is a yoga blog (and also because I am not good at writing food/restaurant reviews and/or taking "food porn" pictures), I will write only about the yoga aspect of my Minneapolis visit in this post. If you are looking forward to some food porn, well, you may as well stop reading now :-) For the food part, suffice it to say that we (my fiancee and I) went to a few really good Indian and organic restaurants, and had a lot of really wonderful food, which made Sunday morning mysore at the Yoga House a bit more heavy-going and difficult. But well, you win some, you lose some, right? :-) If you would like some recommendations on places to eat when you are in Minneapolis, feel free to email me at siegfried23 at hotmail dot com.    

Now on to the yoga. On Sunday morning, I went to mysore practice at the Yoga House. To me, there is one thing about mysore class that is both very appealing and not-so-appealing: Practicing with other people. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a misanthrope. I love practicing with other people. I love the atmosphere of community and camaraderie and silent support that I intensely feel whenever I'm in a mysore class. It's also a very welcome change from my usual solitary home practice. But practicing in a mysore room also poses great challenges to pratyahara (sense-withdrawal), at least for me. For me, there are three major sources of pratyahara challenges:

(1) Drishti violations that occur involuntarily during practice, despite my best efforts to maintain drishti ("Wow, check out that guy's Karandavasana!", "I've never seen such a deep Yoganidrasana before!").

(2) The desire to impress some senior teacher. (For a prime example of this, see my guest post on Claudia's blog about my experiences at Kino's Chicago workshop last year).

(3) The desire or urge to keep pace with the person on the mat next to you, if that person is at around the same point in his or her practice as you are.

I know that (3) probably sounds totally silly to you (it is), but it has happened to me more than a few times. At my teacher's shala in Milwaukee, for instance, there was this woman who would rocket-speed through the primary series (talk about Rocket Yoga :-)). She would arrive at the shala when I was already well into the standing postures, and set up her mat a little distance in front of me. I would continue to plod happily through my practice. The next time I looked at her, she would be ahead of me in the series. And she didn't even look winded or anything, and wasn't even sweating that much (Full disclosure: I'm like the biggest sweat hog in the universe). Seeing her being ahead of me even though she started later would make me feel like I was going too slow (I probably was, anyway), and I would unconsciously speed up in order to "catch up" with her. Which is actually not a totally bad thing: Because of this, I tend to work faster and harder in a mysore class than when I am practicing by myself and going at my own sweet pace.

Anyway, the same thing happened during Sunday morning mysore at the Yoga House. I was in my third or fourth Surya A when this woman laid her mat down next to me and started her practice. Despite my best efforts at maintaining drishti, I found myself involuntarily checking out her practice using my peripheral vision in downward dog ("Hmm... she is quite flexible", "Her jump-backs and jump-forwards are quite neat too", "Wonder if she's been to mysore?", etc, etc.). And then, probably because I have this habit of taking these super-long, slow breaths in the Suryas and in the first few standing postures, I soon discovered that she had "caught up" with me. And I started thinking to myself, "Uh oh, got to speed up! Can't let her overtake me!"

I think this is a very guy way of thinking. At least, I have never heard any female Ashtangi mention having such thoughts before. Basically, whenever I start thinking like this, I kind of start treating the practice like the Monaco Grand Prix. Which is, of course, totally silly. Different people have different breath-lengths, and in the bigger scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter whether the person on the mat next to me is ahead or behind me in the series. But this is what my rational/Sattvic mind says. In instances like this, my ego/rajasic mind tends to take over, and I become totally hung up on trying to keep pace with the person next to me.

So this is what happened during Sunday morning's mysore. I found myself speeding through the standing sequence, and the first few postures of primary. And then, somewhere in the Janu Sirsasanas, she got up to go to the bathroom. "Yeah, time to engage my bandhas/engines full-blast, and take full advantage of her pit-stop. Full speed ahead!" I thought to myself (Aren't I ridiculous?). And so I basically flew through the rest of primary, which was no mean feat, considering the super-big Indian dinner I had the night before. And then I got into second. By the time I exited Kapotasana, I was totally winded. I continued on to Ardha Matsyendrasana, and then went into the finishing sequence. Meanwhile, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that she did full primary and was already well into the finishing sequence. Hmm... so much for racing.

Since there simply wasn't any point to racing anymore (besides, who races through the finishing sequence, anyway?), I decided to settle into a leisurely pace in finishing. As I was sitting in the finishing lotuses, she got up from savasana, came over to me, tapped me on the shoulder, smiled, and said, "I know you are still practicing. Take your time, but I thought I should say a proper hello." Proper hello? And then it dawned on me: She must be Ellie! (For the backstory on this, see my previous post). "Oh, are you Ellie?" I asked. She nodded. What a way to meet somebody whom I had never met before! How embarrassing, too, given the "racing thoughts" I had been having...

I chatted briefly with Ellie and the owner of the studio after practice. I also gave Ellie a copy of Claudia's book (Claudia: Are you reading this? :-)).

Well, that's it for now. I'm pretty blogged out right now, and need to go get something to eat. Hmm... I might just write a little review of the restaurants I went to in Minneapolis in the near future, after all. Stay tuned.        


  1. I am reading now!!! cool! thank you Nobel :-) I can sooooo relate with the issues of focusin in class, I had a very strong case of not being able to focus for a year, but then it went away, and by that time I started practicing more and more at home, I think it comes down to a matter of practice though,... you would have a ball in Mysore hee hee...

  2. i know what you mean by checking other people out. hee hee. Most yogis in my class are simply graceful and i'm like... bleack!

    oh do blog about the food :p i just had a full blown indian lunch yesterday too - minus the desserts!

  3. Last practice I was absolutely checking out someone's progress in Supta K - I tend to have more 'full blown' drishti violations in my usual classes, as I will notice if someone's made great progress, or seems injured, or has a new pose. I'm also getting extreme headstand envy but that's a whole post (or series of) in itself.

    And in the class before that I was practicing next to someone who was almsot at the same speed as me throughout seated, but after Supta K she moved to back bending and I had to struggle on alone! I felt weirdly abandoned. I wonder if the 'racing' is a more masculine trait? I am aware of others' speeds (I am s l o w) but don't feel any temptation to alter my breath in order to keep up.

  4. Ha! Love it. I had dristi violations too, you have a beautiful practice Nobel! Good thing I did my primary-only-after-traveling practice, as it would've been a train wreck rushing through intermediate. Kapotasana, yowza.

    And Claudia, I'm excited to have a copy of your book! I'm going to start it today. What a great idea!

  5. Claudia, I am so glad you are reading this :-) Yes, I think Mysore will be fun for serial drishti-violators like me. It would be quite something to see somebody like Kino doing her own practice.

    yoginicory, I think you are too unkind to yourself. I am sure your practice is beautiful, wherever you happen to be asana-wise. Yes, I probably will blog about the Indian food in a few days. Need time to digest all that sensory input (no pun intended).

  6. Hello Ragdoll, I totally empathize with your being abandoned feeling. And yes, I guess the whole racing thing is probably a masculine trait. Actually, come to think of it, it might also stem from a deeply-rooted fear of being left behind.

    Thanks Ellie. It is good that you adhered to the primary-only-after-traveling practice. I hurt myself really badly last year because I stuck to doing second series even when I was moving. And my teacher told me after the fact that Sharath says that one should do primary only for a couple of weeks after moving to a new place, in order to get used to the energy of the new place. Sometimes I wish he had told me before I moved. But oh, one lives and learns, I guess :-) I wonder why this piece of importance knowledge is not more widely known? At least, I had not heard about it before then.

  7. I have the opposite of your problem. If I pass someone who started their practice before me I start thinking that I am becoming careless, sloppy, cheating, not breathing deeply enough, not reaching my "edge" so I slow down and do terribly outside of my natural breathing rhythm. So many outcomes/consequences for dristhi violations...

  8. Yes I had that exact situation, there was Kino and then some other very advanced and graceful practitioners... but once in the room this desire to focus took over, and then you would just be in the zone like g says... i think you will be fine.. :-)

  9. Interesting, sereneflavor. It has not occurred to me that it is possible to have the opposite problem. Yes, there are indeed many outcomes/consequences for drishti violations :-)

    Interesting, Claudia. Now I'm really curious as to how I will be like in that situation ;-)

  10. #1, 2 and 3 happen to me too! For 3, it doesn't cross my mind to 'race', per se, but I notice that I start getting edgy when someone who arrived after me, 'overtakes' me at some point! So petty eh? ;)

  11. savasanaadict, it is very interesting (and comforting, in a way) to know that #1, 2 and 3 happen to you too! Yes, aren't we all petty Ashtangis :-)

  12. i had my second mysore class yesterday and i will have to blame you nobel ;-) for not being able to concentrate and just kept noticing people around me hehe i read your post and went into class thinking about 1, 2 and 3. i shall try harder next time.
    p.s. it was very cool to see people doing advanced poses for me - i have never seen anyone for real doing them! ~ ivana

  13. Ivana, hmmm... maybe I need to write a disclaimer at the beginning of every post from now on, saying that I am not responsible for any drishti violations/issues that arise as a result of reading my posts :-)

    I'm happy that you enjoyed your second mysore class, and that you got up to Janu B. Yes, gawking at other people's practices is fun. Just try not to be too obvious about it :-)

  14. ;-)
    p.s.thanks for the link