I could tell you what you already know: You’ve seen the social media-filtered world of magical mysore in pics of post-practice bliss and fresh-from-the-slashed-coconut sips, the obligatory shot outside the shala gate, the kaleidoscope of colors at the market, the paradise of practice in this amazing place. Yes: I could tell you about the wonderful food I ate for less than an American dollar, the joy of practicing everyday in the energy of the Shala and Sharath — and oh how I’d love to share the one time I floated away after hearing Sharath say the words “very good!” But I’m not. Instead, I’m going to tell you a different story of my time in India, the tale of a complete and total f*cking mess, a.k.a.—
Oh wait, we’re not supposed to be good at those?
II.3 These obstacles- the causes of man’s sufferings–are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aersion, and the desire to cling to life.
No wonder why I suffer. Yes– call me the klesha klimax, ground zero for keeping up with the klesha-nanigans. Cute phraseology aside, India brought my demons to the surface faster than a scroll through Instagram will reveal the top five Rumi quotes. How was India? Forget the chai and chapatis, India destroyed me.
Before I even arrived.
My trip began with a panic attack. I am ashamed of this fear: It is fear that comes from living a privileged, sheltered existence, the kind where “travel” means hotels, climate control, room service, or at least REI-decked out backcountry camp sites. My insides turned before I ever stepped foot in India, unleashing a paranoid anxious algorithm. I arranged to be on a flight with someone I knew, to share a ride; Bangalore loomed ahead of me like the orange planet of Mars. I feared the people and especially the men, imagining myself sticking out like this vulnerable female, blond-ish target. If I was conspicuous, however, it was not because I was so “different” but because India was different from what I anticipated. Being there revealed real people, not faceless bogeymen. Put another way, if I stuck out, it’s because I was not who I thought I was, either — India exposed my undefined, who-the-fuck-am-i, untethered fear-dripping innards.
Unpacking at the Anokhi guesthouse, I was disheartened to find OCD, an unwelcome stowaway from my past. No doubt OCD weaseled its way in because it never really left. It’s just that after years with my partner by my side, or adulting for the sake of my child or dog, I suddenly sat alone with myself. This, perhaps, was the most foreign part of my trip– and by “this”, I mean me. How apt and yet awful to be immersed in yoga, waiting for your turn to practice, with the tell-tale heart of robotically repeated worries pounding through your head.
As for Shala-asana, I should cop to crying in the finishing room every single. damn. day. after final backends the first week. Yes, this bodacious backbender cried– because I did not get the deep final backend I wanted. Indeed, Sharath wanted us to “take it easy” the first few days; i.e., no catching. Sad!
Yes I wanted backbends. And yes, all I did was want. All I got– what was a lot of what I didn’t. Too hot. Too cold. Too much primary. Can I get another pose, please? Can you bring me all the way up to kapo, so I can show I got the goods (never mind the pit stops in my jump backs….) I don’t like this spot in the room (too distracting) or this spot (too airy)– and this spot (too close to the door). Life outside mirrored life on the mat inside: I bought every variety of coffee available in search of the perfect cup– I even ordered it online from a local Indian roaster. Yes, there is nothing that gets in the way (or falls outside the purview) of my aping gaping wanting soul. I’m salon highlighted goldifreakinlocks, busting through other people’s homes and breaking their chairs on my constant klesha magical mystery tour in search of life porridge that is “just right.”
I’m going to resist the temptation– or obligation– in this glitter doped yoga world, to resolve this trip as neatly as a twitter tweet. Ian Grysak’s blogs about his time in Mysore speak to me:
even when the struggles and pains of practice and life are publicly acknowledged, they are often glorified and spiritualized as necessary sacrifices on the road to the reward of enlightenment. Superficial analogies are made to the battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita or other misinterpreted teachings where our pain becomes our noble cross that we have to bear on the path to personal salvation
Mysore exposed me; India, with the way it forced me to cover my shoulders, nevertheless rendered me visible: it was not pretty and not Instagrammargific. I glowed unbecomingly under your black light, an ignorant, fear-slathered, OCD/anxiety egotistical bermuda triangle wrapped in a boundless sargasso sea of wanting. And while I’d like to say I slayed these demons Beyonce-style, the truth is a less wonder womanly story. Sure I practiced through worries over that weird rash on my calf and watched my mind as I did surya namaskar next to an open window and I even learned to love the spot next to the men’s bathroom. But the victories, the growth, the progress –if any– mirror that on my mat: small yet huge, forward but back and, while peppered with pretty, still pretty damn difficult to watch.
Sharath said in one conference: The Yoga is within you.
I’ve emerged a new person; I feel I can hop on a plane and go anywhere by myself. The world is bigger and smaller. As I tracked my flight home I traced the screen, looking at all these countries I’ve never seen but on a map, wanting now to meet the people who live in worlds different from mine. I’ve reconnected to myself, the me apart from my husband and child– both the good and the bad. This isn’t small given how many years I’ve spent in the cozy carapace of partnered-off, good fortune-laced life. I’m again aware that dealing with my OCD anxious mind is a constant battle– even (and perhaps especially) when it isn’t acutely at the forefront. As for practice, It turns out that all that primary brought me to my (second and a bit of third series) practice at home stronger than ever and prepped me for dealing with injuries yet to come. I hated primary at the time; now I see it’s invaluable value.
Maybe the greatest work is not in what pose comes next, but in working with what you have now.
In my sutra class notes I wrote: “if the kleshas are present it means your practice is not strong.” I suppose that India, along with a month of predominantly primary series with Sharath, exposed all the ways in which my practice — in which I — was weak. And in that sense–
Mysore made me strong.