So there is a myth of the Mysore visit, that used to travel around both long ago and today. In this myth the first month of your trip to Mysore you arrive, the second month you are broken down, and in the third month you are in some way reassembled for your trip home. Obviously life, and visits to India, rarely fit into cliques so simply, but as well, cliques usually have some basis in truth, and this theme of the breakdown is something woven into every visit I have ever made to Mysore to practice.
The breakdown can be in the asana practice itself. As I waited for our first Led Intermediate last Sunday, I realized that perhaps for the first time ever I wasn’t actually trembling with fear of the class and what could happen in there. This is a development as of late. And I have to say that after the class I wondered if indeed I should rather have been trembling after all. I still walked away from class that morning with the feeling my innards had been ground into a pulp. But I finished the class. Luckily it didn’t need to look pretty.
Ironically people have come up to me and said how elegant that class appears. Ironic because, I think like most folks, I go through the inside of the posture, and it takes a long time for it to feel easy, or be simple to do the series. It actually feels pretty broken a lot of the time. This week’s led Intermediate was instead an experiment in how many poses I could fall out of, to the point of Sharath laughing, as I fell to the floor on his count of five.
But that is the point, to me, as far as I can see, from everything I have experienced in Mysore. It’s not to have it be easy, or elegant, or float. If it’s easy for you they will just give you more postures, as many as it takes to make it harder. And Sharath says over and over he doesn’t really care whether one can do a handstand. But to be at that place, where you are on your edge, where you are falling down, but getting up, then they will help you. And you will grow.
I do remember being here, my first time, and I remember how hard on me Guruji would be. You jump. You go. You do. And me being very sore. I remember questioning why I was there, what was spiritual about him wanting us to practice so intently, and being so fierce with us. Isn’t there supposed to be all this love around the teacher, from the teacher?
And then several times over the last few weeks, I have particularly noticed Sharath not helping someone who is advanced, or capable of an asana, but helping people who weren’t. He is there helping the person who’s having a really rough time. And in that case, he isn’t hard, he is kind.
This is the flip side, and it’s why I come back here, to practice here, not because of what one can do, or what asana they give you or one gets to. I come because this practice, and what Sharath is attempting to teach us is more subtle than the asana itself. It has taken me years to really become solid in the depth of the truth, that they push you, and are kind to you each in measure, and while this can make one advance through postures, the greater goal, the greater intent, is where they can take your mind.
If you are cocky, or ambitious, they are the first to knock you down. If you are hurt, they will help you get up. You have to do the getting up, but they don’t leave you in the dust. Usually they don’t.
Sometimes they do. Sometimes for no apparent reason you will be held to a posture, held to a place in the series. This is another form of the breakdown, especially if you are used to being able to do more, to go further, to being able to show everyone what you are capable of. Sometimes it’s for an obvious reason, you are sick, recovering, hurt, etc. Sometimes it’s not for so obvious of a reason. Sometimes they are testing you. Sometimes, there’s just a lot of people in the shala and you have to be here a while to get your turn.
And sometimes the breakdown isn’t in the shala. Sometimes it is your landlord. (Someday Hannah will tell you her landlord story from this trip.) Sometimes its the Rickshaw driver, who rips you off by overcharging you 200 rupees past what is generous. Sometimes it’s the fifth time you get the sense that the price has doubled on something you need because you are a Western person.
And sometimes you can see things here that are so sad they will twist your heart in two. 🙁
And then after that sometimes, the one that breaks your heart, something else will happen, you will get a call from your landlord, asking you to visit his house, or he just does something that is incredibly kind. Or sometimes the Rickshaw driver will take your kid from you, and swing her around and hold her, and take her picture, after she has spent an exhausting morning melting down about her coconut shell that couldn’t be used as a shrine for the gecko anymore.
Sometimes your friend’s Rickshaw driver will invite you to a family wedding and you will be swept away by their generocity and kindness. It will remind you that India still has a heart, under all the dirt and grime, and beauty, there are still people who are kind, incredibly kind. I could tell you stories, upon stories, and I’m sure many other’s could too, of how kind people here can be.
Ultimately, the goal is neither, not the breakdown, nor the experience of kindness. The goal is to keep practicing, to keep getting up, to keep showing up, for the asana practice, and more importantly for the life practice. This is to grow. This is to become steady. This is to allow tapas to come and make one anchored not in the day to day fluctuations, but in the part of yourself that survives it all. This isn’t book knowledge. This is the yoga of personal experience, this is the yoga of the heart.