Sunday, November 21, 2010

Singing Praises for The Bhagavad Gita with James Boag

Mysore is a hotbed of yoga activities for even the most discerning of yoga enthusiast.
There are chanting classes (now a requirement, actually, at the shala) and Sanskrit. Some take cooking classes; there are several home cooks that offer their services to students. Some take anatomy courses. Some—like Claudia—pursue art as a meditation and sitting practice. Some take classes on yoga philosophy, studying texts like the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita or Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which is also taught at KPJAYI.

Some of those who don’t study at KPJAYI take asana classes with more than one teacher in other schools throughout the city. (We have signed away that right in order to study at the shala. The punishment for those that make a breach is expulsion.)

So far, I’ve been most drawn by chanting, kirtan and the study of the Bhagavad Gita with James Boag, a Brit studying Sanskrit in Mysore.

Most things happen by word of mouth in these parts. More than one person had mentioned kirtan with James as being an experience, which inspired a trip with with Claudia and Jaime our first week here.

James started by explaining what kirtan is. We were impressed by his eloquence and understanding. A teacher, he explained his knowledge in an easy to understand way.

Then he started chanting—

It was quite an experience, his wonderful voice, his style of leading kirtan—maybe more serious than I’m used to (back home, we’re usually led as if singing ‘round a campfire accompanied by Mo-ching Yip’s harmonium or Clayton Horton’s guitar playing) but the solemnity reminds me of church, and the Catholic school choir-girl in me was secretly delighted.

I was sold on taking up the 2nd chapter of the Bhagavad Gita with him.
I first read the Gita with Alex Medin when he came to Manila more than two years ago. Yoga was still very fresh for me then. It was this undefined space, brilliant and full of possibility. As I read the Gita in English, I felt like I was coming home. Many of the themes in the poem seemed to verbalize so many ideas that were brewing in my head. In Mysore, I looked forward to digging deeper.

The course is a wonderful combination of East and West. As is tradition we chant each verse, slowly building our store hold of the Gita. Chanting itself creates this amazing energy, vibrations. And with each new verse we learn to chant, James unlocks the meaning of the text, what each word means and the different nuances of each. I even feel that I am slowly building my vocabulary.

I half expected to be lost in esoteric stuff. Instead, what I’ve learned seems so practical to both my daily asana practice and to my life in general.

Some lessons that stand out:

Like Arjuna, we are warriors. James refers to Virabhadrasana. In the pose we have to be steady. Once grounded, we are able to expand, he says. As Arjuna’s fight is to be steady in conflict, it is also our role to fully interact with this crazy world, but with a steadiness, with greater discernment.

Or how Arjuna is a fit vessel to receive Krishna’s lessons of yoga when he falls silent, when he empties himself out and becomes still…

Or how the external battle is a metaphor for the fight within, how the true purpose of life is to recognize pure consciousness…

Truly, James explains it all much better. I really feel like I am getting a lot out of the course. The study of which feels like a perfect compliment to my asana practice, and visa versa. The lessons from the Gita class is helping me process the emotions and experiences of daily practice, it is reminding me to be more present and to find more ease in my own practice, it is inspiring me to reprogram my thinking, to take my practice beyond the mat and into the world at large.

If you’re interested to join, the course is designed so that you can drop in at anytime. James also has plans of offering other courses either on Ch. 3 of the Gita or the Yoga Sutras after this one. He also leads Kirtan twice a week.

Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 2
Monday 2-4:30pm
Thursday 2-4:30pm
Recommended donation: Rs500

Sunday 1:30-3:15pm
Wedensday 2-4pm
by donation

Located at:
"Vibha Dhara"
Small street off main street
Landmark: Behind the Palace Honda Showroom
Tel: 9591135031


  1. James Boag, in Australia, is a brand of beer!

    : )

    How wonderful to be immersed in kirtan.

  2. Kaz! Re-Living Mysore vicariously through your blog! Your experiences are wonderful! I'm so happy for you and Claudia that you made it there.

    Love and light to you both!

    Stay safe and open in your journey. It's going to be a most unforgettable one. xoxox

    PS. Hello to Shoaib and Ursula!

  3. will do for sure, irene! its fun to make the connections after all the stories friends have shared about mysore!

  4. The Gita and the sutras are two of the most profound scriptures that transforms my life. In Mother India, kirtan takes on its original form, and the seriousness is exactly the right tone. Here in happy philippines, we have to make it more friendly around the campfire style... adapting to culture. Namaste