Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gods & Gold, Mysore Art

As I write, Claudia draws and draws and draws. We are at the private residence of a local artist, Assand, who specializes in a Mysore style of painting deities. The flat, two-dimensional paintings are colorful, almost cartoon-like. They are images of the Hindu pantheon and mythology. They are appealing with its embossed gold leaf. They are very Indian.

In fact, for the first time in this trip we are surrounded by Indians. The artist, his assistant, the four fine older ladies in their colorful saris speak the local dialect while working. The ladies are painting their masterpieces, intricate pieces, so incredibly detail oriented its hard to believe that it will take them only one month to finish it. This will be Claudia’s secondary “occupation” for the next month.
He has started her in sketching key Indian iconography: the lotus, Shiva linga, hand mudras. She even has homework. For me, most importantly, her art classes put us in touch with Mysore locals outside the world of the shala.

It’s awesome being at Gokulam. The streets are orderly. The people are friendly. Westerners seem to instantly share a bond, however tenuous sometimes. We all love yoga. We’re all here for yoga.

Still, life in Gokulam is a bubble. And it’s nice to venture outside of it for the day. Already, we are invited for Sunday puja and to share a meal with the artist and his crew of mid-aged ladies. Claudia has been invited to a wedding—Assand is also a wedding photographer. And since Claudia herself is a photographer, he has invited her to help out. After Claudia’s first 2-hour session, we wander down the streets of Mysore. Have a chai at a corner store. Visit the city’s art gallery, which hold’s an impressive collection of Mysore painters and historical artifacts from the days of the Maharaja. By the time we get home, we are tired and hungry. We agree in unison a repeat at Tina’s—which was even more delicious than the day before. We rest early to prepare for our first led class with Sharath at 5:45am.

(Today’s Lesson: Make sure the rickshaw driver puts on his meter. This saves time haggling and being cheated an extra Rp10 or so.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Day of Surprises: the Shala and Finding Friends

Despite waking up tired from the loud noises from next-door; music, conversation and the cries of a particularly irate child went on till 11 to 12pm and sleeping lightly, a result also of the anxiety of the coming first day, I felt a heart full of excitement.

It would be a special day, our very first practice. We left the house early, taking into account that the shala clock is 15 minutes ahead, arriving a little before our start time. At the coconut stand in front of the shala we saw—incredibly—a familiar face: Ursula Scott, the friend who led us to make the decision to come to Mysore 10 months ago.

Ursh, who teaches in Osaka and who was my idol since my training with Alex Medin 2 and half years ago, was in Boracay last New Year to visit with friends. One morning, we had a breakfast that stretched out the span of half a day. I remember expressing to her my apprehension, the feeling that making the trip to Mysore felt too large, that my practice wasn’t as advanced as I wished it could be, that that… It seems I had a list of excuses that Claudia too shared. Her response: That’s silly, just go for it!
It’s funny how sometimes you just need someone to tell you off. We decided then and there that we would go before the year’s end. And now, there she was, the moment before our first practice at the shala. Crazy, amazing, and simply so nice to see her after all these months!

We rushed off to take our place. The lobby was tight with students stretched out on their mats finishing closing series and students waiting to be called in.

“One more,” Sharath calls. I turn to Claudia.

“One more,” I hear again from the shala.

Claudia whispers to me, “I think he’s calling you.”

I jump and scamper in through the doors. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed. The shala is packed, some 8-12 inches between mats. I look for a spot, finding one, I start to head to it.

I hear Sharath, “No, over there!”

I scan the room and see another free spot. I weave through the mats, nearly hitting some students and quite surely grazing others. I feel like an idiot. I put my mat down, along with my towels, and then run into the changing room, which was packed too with girls who were finishing. I take a breath, drop my bag in some corner and brave the shala.

Across the room, Claudia too was having her clumsy moment. She manages to quickly unroll her mat, thinks it’s upside down and flips it around, realizes that she was right in the first place and flips her mat right side up once again.

Together, halfway across the room we try to focus on our breath, on our suryas. But those first few moments, it was not so easy to focus. The shala is full—though some say it can be more maxed. The heat emanating from the early students, some already in more advanced poses made the room humid. The photos hung around the room make present Guruji’s spirit. The chair, Guruji’s chair, is still there on the stage. I wish I could have seen him in it—even asleep as he was apt to do in his later years.

I could not help but notice the two western women assisting Sharath in adjustments. This is proof that the shala under Sharath’s charge was changing. The night before our trip to India, the KPJAYI website was revamped as well. Having nothing to compare it to, I feel like the change is positive.

The energy in the shala is sweeping, and after some time, we both get into our own grooves. Though Sharath is busy around the room, I receive a fabulous adjustment from each of the two women, one in Kurmasana and another in back bending. My left hand is taken to my ankle, the moment is fleeting, but speaks of unending possibilities. My adjustor tells me, you can do it, you just have to believe in yourself.

In all, this first practice is surprising. I may have been exhausted from the trip, but it was a deep and pleasurable practice. I am loving it: being here, practicing at the shala, surrendering to the innumerable number of coincidences that continue to unfold even as I write this.

I know it’s early on. I know in time, I will be tired. But at this point, I am filled with so much gratitude. I am thankful for my Ursh telling us to just go already. I am thankful for the work that has made this trip possible. I am thankful for the support of my boyfriend who has made do without me in the mornings, 5-6 days a week and my crazy work schedule. I am thankful for my family who despite missing me have not given me a hard time about not visiting, so focused have I been for preparing for this first trip to Mysore. I am so very grateful to be here. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

On the way home, after having a coconut, we try an apartment on the way. We see it. It’s beautiful, though overpriced and too big for us. It is a 3-bedroom. Too bad we’ve lost track of Maria from yesterday. We tell the owner we have to think about it. By the time we have reached the front door, we turn to the landlord that we will take it. Maybe, we can find a third person later. Housing, check! We move in within a couple of hours.

Throughout the morning, we’ve been getting missed calls. I call back and it’s the shop owner who sold us our SIM cards. He needs us to return. Something is wrong with our application. I say, yes, yes, we will go back, but later. Not one minute later, Claudia gets a call. It’s our shop-keeper. She says, yes, yes, later.

We are directed to Anoukis by Ganesh, a breakfast place Leroi tells us about yesterday. We sit in the pretty garden setting and are joined by—coincidence or serendipity?—Ursh. And we finally catch up with her proper!

Our shop-keeper calls again. What is this, we start to wonder.

We eventually return to the shop. We refill out forms, resign, look through their selection of Hindu gods stickers when we hear an American girl asking about an internet café, something about the voice makes us turn.

Instantaneously Claudia and I look at each other, I call out as if instinct, “Jaime?”

Oh My God! It’s Jaime.

Some background: Jaime Hadfield found me on Yogafinder over a year ago, looking for yoga and kite boarding in Boracay. She joined classes at Boracay Yoga, and soon slipped comfortably into island society. Soon she was self-practicing with us as well. After less than a month, she was off and we were all sad to see her go.
We’d been in touch. I knew that her yoga journey had taken her to South America and soon to India. But she did not say that she was planning to go to Mysore. On her part, she thought I was going in early October.

We quickly took her to our place, showed her around, offered her the extra room if she decided to stay. By the end of our delicious and filling dinner at Tina’s Café (on Gorukulam Main Road, costing us each Pp100) she had decided to stay 10 days to study at Yoga India, another shala also offering intensive ashtanga classes. She should be moving in now! Again, coincidence or serendipity?!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ekam, Settling In

For us, India started at the Singapore airport. As we checked in, our visual senses were heightened by the colorful saris and bangles on many of the Indian women.

On the plane, during take off, the stewardess politely reminds the passengers to stay seated while the seat-belt is on.

By the 4th reminder, she had lost the cool monotone, she becomes aggressive with the same instruction.

A little later, a man comes up to the stewards area, the curtain is pulled close to shield the rest of us passengers but doesn't hide the raised voices between the agitated Singaporean stewardess and an irate Indian passenger.

Claudia and I look at each other and giggle...The closer we get to India, the orderliness of Singapore fades, replacing it, something that looks a little bit like colorful chaos.

Fast forward...we land rather exhausted at Bangalore airport at 10:30pm, 1am Manila-time. Luckily, our prearranged pick up is waiting for us (thanks to Ganesh,, 009845279513) with a sign and a smile. Thus starts our 4-hour drive to Mysore. It was a symphony of Indian pop radio mixed with permanent honking. It oddly went together.

Colorful lights flashed past in the dark, sudden speed bumps shifted us into wakefulness, as did our first chai tea in India from a tiny stall along the highway.

We get into Mysore 2:30am (5am, Manila time). We were zombies. Thanks, however, must be given to the lovely Laila, our landlady who met us with a big smile, a box of tea, extra blanket and who showed us the 1,000 some odd locks to the fortress/apartment that Ganesh arranged for our first 2 nights--which would give us time to find something more permanent.

8ish, we wake up continuing to feel like the undead. However, breakfast called. We got up, decided to stop at a little all-in-one store to quickly purchase SIM cards for our phones on the way. After various stages of applications, photocopying of documents, submitting and registering passport, visa, shala letter and passport photos, we were done, TWO HOURS LATER.

Still hungry, feeling three-fourths dead by then BUT still feeling the simple joy of being here, wandering the streets of Mysore, seeing...cows. Many cows.

So, off to breakfast we go. Then we meet Maria from Portugal. We stop to ask her directions only to find that she in new here as well, looking for an apartment. We get derailed into apartment hunting. At some point, Claudia put her foot down and said, "I am starting to get aggressive, let's eat something." If you know Claudia, the most non-aggressive person I know, you would understand that it was a serious situation...

In any case, it took still some time for us to get some food. We met and paid Ganesh for his services. Got introduced to Kiwi Leroi and Australian Kelly who knew of someone who knew of someone who knew of rooms, who we then sidetracked into breakfast at Santosha—a wonderful café/house currently run by a sweet Swedish couple.

(Aside: Claudia’s version of aggressive is totally not aggressive in my point of view. She continued to be a sweet and thoughtful travel partner.)

Breakfast was just what the doctor ordered: Spinach, cheese and tomato omelet and the most lovely home-baked bread—that Claudia is still dreaming about. We had bottomless chai—which I am still dreaming about—and an energy ball, a concoction of oats, chocolate, dates, nuts, and lots of healthy secret ingredients.

Having full bellies, we then returned to our house hunting which led us to Shiva and Krishna Murthy (Murthy is on the KPJAYI website, ), both really helpful and both of who specialize in helping set up accommodations. With their help we saw at least a dozen houses. It was a blur. Unfortunately, nothing stuck out.

The house hunting would have to wait for the following day as time had come to register at the shala (3:30-5:30pm daily). We were sure that we had the requirements: a passport photo, a photocopy of our passport and visa.

After hearing about Mysore for so many years, the stories about Guruji, the classes that he taught at the shala, stepping through those doors for the very first time was an emotional experience. From the lobby, we caught a glimpse of the Guruji and his wife’s huge portraits, decorated with garlands. You could feel the energy, the countless millions of vinyasa, this is the place where breath moves in a continuous motion. We were about to join it.

After the first formalities, we met Sharath, filled out our student passes and stamped them. I tried in earnest to get “Kaz” on my card, after he commented that I had a particularly long name. But with no result, he managed to squeeze in my 3 first names, the last name would not fit even. In the back of my head I thought, he will never remember my name now!

With further investigation of our student card, we realized that we were in fact in Sharath’s class. A happy surprise!

We stopped by the shala store. Bought a KPJAYI top each and a Sharradah towel for our 6:30am morning practice.

On the way home, we realized that all the breakfast places we knew were just that—breakfast places, and now it was dinnertime. Hmmm. What to do?! Whom to ask?! Like a fairy godmother, Radjni, an Indian woman with child in tow stops us on the street to tell us that her home is open for dinner for Rp100 per person, all you can eat. We make a reservation (9945699957), she tells us to go to Rishi’s Internet Café. There we had our first Indian vegetarian meal in Gokulam, it was home cooked as promised and very delicious! We enjoyed our meal there while using the wi-fi at a minimal additional cost—to blog!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

One step closer to Mysore: Singapore Stopover

I felt clumsy all day. All the pre-Mysore excitement makes me feel like I'm stumbling, bumbling as if in a dream.

For a week now, it has been so: last Sunday's farewell practice and brunch at Cath's house, Manila by Wednesday, remembering my first ashtanga teacher with classmate Joseph after practicing together at Yoga Philippines, partaking in Stillpoint's crazy beautiful energy for Friday mysore and brunch, my farewell dinner with my oldest Manila friends at Legend of India. Everywhere, there are well-wishes and good advice. Everything points to India, everything is heading to Mysore.

And thus, Claudia and I are, slowly, slowly making our way.

So far, its more than a little magical. Even the little bloopers lead us to the grander scheme. For example, this 1 day stopover at Singapore was unplanned. Our flight (Tiger Airways)was canceled then rescheduled to the following day. So we miss a day in Mysore. But we gain a day in Singapore, staying with my stepsister--who just moved here, playing with my niece, and getting fed the most delicious salad ever, the tastiest pasta sauce and ice cream by Ben and Jerry's. The salad was just so fresh, crunchy, tasting like the way veggies should taste.

Tomorrow, we get to meet up with our May training classmate Su-ching, sample a mysore class at The Yoga Shala on Yan Kit Road (, and have brunch. We get to shop for Claudia's replacement camera. Her compact digital camera just plain stopped working at last Sunday's brunch.

Everything fits into a big picture, thanks to our canceled flight, Claudia gets to document our Mysore trip with a new camera, a Lumix G2. I get to see family. We get to reconnect with a new friend. Life is good. Life IS.