My plan is to spend a month in Mysore, the Ashtanga yoga capital of the world. What brought me here is yoga. There is no other reason aside from that. It’s the same with most Westerners I have met here so far. Most of them are carrying yoga bags and are decked out in colorful hippie-esque attire. I needn’t even ask. It’s obvious.
Mysore is a laid-back city in southern India. At least, it is laid-back relative to the crazy swirl of wall-to-wall people, cars and pollution found in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore. Gosh, how those cities kept me on edge. There is still a general chaos in Mysore, where beeping tuk-tuks and wandering cows share the roads. However, it lacks the overwhelming atmosphere of noise pollution and in-your-face poverty that most associate with India. I am grateful for that. My sliver of this city is actually quite residential, where children play in the streets and old men sit on porches talking and watching passersby. Some people smile as I walk by. Some want to practice their English with the generic, “How are you, madame?” But most ignore me. I have only been solicited for money twice since arriving here four days ago. As a nearly six-foot-tall white girl, I am typically the most obvious walking dollar sign around. It’s nice to be able to walk down a road without emotionally preparing to be approached by the poverty-stricken, considering my experience in India two years ago. The only people who approach me in Mysore are tuk-tuk drivers looking for a fare, and they can be easily dismissed with a “No, thank you.”
Back to yoga: I paid 10,000 rupees (roughly US$165) for a month of classes at Sthalam8, where I now begin my asana practice at 6 a.m. each morning. Saturdays are my only days “off.” The teacher is Ajay, someone who came recommended to me by a few people from the Moksha yoga community in Chicago.
I like Ajay already. After just two days, I find his approach challenging and assertive yet steady and thoughtful. He can be critical at times, like a disappointed parent who knows how to change his tone just so without raising his voice. But I like to believe that this happens because he is passionate about what he does and wants his students to overcome whatever might be holding them back. I don’t take it personally, just a nudge to grow. So far, he’s not throwing too much at me. Not yet anyway. One student compared getting compliments from Ajay to getting Christmas presents. Well, given he’s tossed a few gifts my way already, in the form of positive reinforcement when breathing correctly and following his cues during an adjustment … so I am initially relieved. I don’t feel like a total yogini loser and can actually keep up with the 10 or so other dedicated yogis in my 6 a.m. class. (Yes, I did have my doubts before stepping into his yoga shala. Phew to those unfounded anxieties.)
While yoga is my reason for being here, I have an entire day to fill once my morning practice concludes. Unlike my time at the yoga ashram in Nepal, my days here are not that regimented. I have a lot of time to explore. A lot of time for introspection and extraversion. After breakfast at 9 a.m., my day is a blank canvas to paint In brilliant colors.
Pun intended …
Because I signed up for painting classes! Monday through Friday. From 10 a.m. to 12 noon. For the next month. For less than US$100. That price includes all materials. An insane bargain by U.S. standards. I remember paying way more for paint alone when I took an art class at Northwestern University.
The course is with a local artist named Anand who is apparently well-regarded in India. He was commissioned to do a gigantic painting that now hangs in the Bangalore International Airport — which took him six months, at 12 hours per day, to finish — and is currently working on a painting commissioned by an Indian palace. I decided to study with him because he has kind eyes and speaks in metaphors. For instance, he encouraged me to slow down my drawing of flowers (an exercise to train my hand before I am allowed to pick up a brush to paint Hindu deities), as I can absorb more from life by slowing down. I don’t do the exchange much credit, as he put it way more beautifully and in an Indian accent. Point is, the painting class at that point turned into a philosophy class. Intuition told me this would be a great experience. If anything, painting is just another form of meditation — it requires complete focus, concentration and steadiness of breath. With all of this in place, it’s easy to just “get lost” in the act of creating.
I w ill be attending this painting class with two new friends from the Sthalam8 yoga shala: Mathilde and Fatima. Both ladies are energetic, colorful spirits with interesting stories unfolding as I get to know them better. Mathilde is a 6-foot-3-inch, 50-year-old French woman with Bohemian flair and an attitude that suggests that she doesn’t give a damn about what people think. She is fabulous. Mathilde was the one who introduced us to Anand because she had taken art lessons from him before. Fatima is a thirty-something yogini and hairstylist from Chicago. She is part of the Moksha yoga community, although we are meeting for the first time in Mysore. She has a fierce tattoo of Kali on her left arm and wears a nose ring — tough chick armor — but goes gaga-eyed when she talks about her latest love currently living in Paris. She is incredibly sweet even though external appearances might suggest otherwise to the ignorant and snap-judgmental folk at first glance. Both ladies have a wonderful sense of humor, so I am glad to have them as comrades for painting class this month.
Now, how will I fill the remaining afternoon and evening of my days? The flow I am finding here in Mysore is bound to send forth new currents … although I want to be careful of over-scheduling my days. That would only mimic my approach in Chicago. And that is a no-no out while in Mysore.