The survival guide to studying Yoga in Mysore

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I am currently regretfully reaching the end of my second visit to Mysore. And what a beautiful and magical place it is. This time round I’ve stayed for four months- it was only supposed to be two, but something kept me here. It is the place where Krishnamacharya taught- where the young Pattabhi Jois ran away to, to seek his tutelage as a teenager. It is the place where the young BKS Iyengar began to hone his skills as a Yoga teacher, on a journey that was as agonizing as it was ultimately groundbreaking… You can walk around the grounds of the palace and imagine them practicing outside, inspired by the sacred scriptures, as well as gymnastics, rope acrobatics, all these elements blending together to create some of the Yoga sequences we know and love.

However, Ashtanga Yoga is thought to have its roots in a text called the Yoga Karunta, attributed to the sage Vamana. This was one of the texts that was taught to Krishnamacharya orally in his years spent living with his guru. In a nutshell, it is thought to be the key- the guide to Yoga for the householder, in a sense. The Yoga that could be taught to anyone willing to spend two hours a day practicing. Bearing in mind that in the India of years ago, two hours a day was nothing compared to hours put in by the full-time Yogis. Ashtanga Yoga-and I believe this to be true- when approached correctly and with an attitude of patience and reverence, is a beautiful, almost homogenized practice which incorporates all the eight limbs of Yoga- eventually. And that to me is why it is so very relevant. I believe that nearly everyone DOES have the time to practice, and can benefit from this system. Or we can find creative ways to make time for our practice- standing sequence early in the morning, the seated sequence late at night when the kids are asleep. We all have to work and we all have responsibilities so Ashtanga can really teach us a lot.

And Mysore is the centre of the Ashtanga world, the place where Pattabhi Jois started teaching and founded his world renowned Shala. I spent a month there in 2008 under the tutelege of Sharath his grandson and it was certainly interesting. However, there are many other great Yoga teachers in Mysore, such as BNS Iyengar who also studied with Krishnamacharya.

I have been practicing with Ajay Kumar (www.sthalam8.com) for the past four months and have found that my practice feels completely different. It has opened up somehow. It feels as if I expend less energy, but create more heat- if that makes sense. It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable- but having a teacher who will push you beyond your comfort zones makes all the difference. Nearly every practice has been a journey where something else becomes clear. Especially in terms of where the weight can be taken by the hands. How the back must be soft, the uddiyana bandha engaged, the mind soft, the attention engaged. I have learned a lot about the fine line between being patient and being unwilling to go further, and the fine line between impatience and pushing further in the right spirit. A Yoga practice is like a prayer- when you approach it as a means to align yourself with divine love, divine will, there is nothing to fear and no real pain. When you approach it as a performance sport, a way of furnishing some image you want to have of yourself you fall on your arse and feel pain. The practice forces you to review what motivates you. And its not always that comfortable I’ll be honest.

It is so beautiful to practice here, the atmosphere is so conducive. Theres nothing like walking down a moonlit street in the silence of the early morning to go and practice while the stars are still out. You meet some amazing people, both local, and travellers. The lifestyle is laid back, there is beautiful food to eat. Its a pretty easy place to be…
So I’ve compiled a few tips for the prospective Yoga student in Mysore which you may find useful…

1) Come here between September and February in order to avoid intense heat and/or the heavy rains- although many people say its fine all year round. The weathers not that extreme here but as I write this in January it is a very comfortable 22 degrees. Perfect.

2) There are some amazing Yoga teachers beyond the main shala. Go and hang out in the Mysore Mandala in Laksmipuram (mandala.ashtanga.org) to socialize and find out whats going on. They will also help out with accommodation, airport pickups etc. I have been practicing with Ajay Kumar who I wholeheartedly recommend (http://www.sthalam8.com). Try a few classes until you find the teacher that feels right to you. Also remember that Yoga does not begin and end with asana practice- I recommend BNS Iyengar for Pranayama- and have heard great things about his Mudra and Philosophy courses too. He can be contacted through Mysore Mandala.

3) Eat Mysore Pak. Food of the Gods- but only when you buy it from Guru Sweets, Bombay Tiffanys do great laddoo but the pak’s just not the same… The best ice cream can be bought in the Corner House in Gokulam who have their own generator to prevent defrosting when theres power cuts so its safe- otherwise never eat ice cream here…

4) For the best incense, go see Noor in the main market in town- hand rolled Nag Champa, it is so so so good.

5)Ladies- take an iron supplement. I recommend Spatone from the UK- a gentle water-based supplement that doesn’t make you constipated. Its shockingly easy to get mineral deficient here, especially if the pure veg diet is new to you and you do sweat A LOT. I got quite poorly the first time I came here and had no periods for nearly 6 months so heed my warning- you may feel great but you need to take care. Also you may not feel like eating so much in the heat so factor that in. I drink a lot of skimmed milk while I’m here for extra calcium and protein, and it doesn’t fill you up if you need to practice. For vegans enriched soya milks available in the supermarket. Also, have your coconut after practice- a natural source of minerals and low sugar natural goodness- very cooling after practice- give it half an hour and then slurp down one or two…

6) Best hotels to eat in- The Green Hotel, the Park Lane Inn, the Olive Garden at the Windflower- all of which also serve non-veg food and beer if you feel the urge. For great veg food I recommend Mahesh Prasad in Krishnamurthypuram and Sixth Main in Gokulam. If you want a hearty Western style breakfast, go to Santoshas in Gokulam or the Mysore Mandala. I personally prefer the Indian breakfast- dosas or idly- fresh, wholesome, tasty and about a fifth of the price of a bowl of muesli…

7) Rickshaw drivers will mostly try and rip you off- i find the best way to avoid this is to find out how much a journey costs and then when you get in the auto say nothing and just pay them when you get there- if you ask “How Much?” they’ll take the piss. If they give you a price thats too high just get out. And if they use the meter always give them a tip because its polite. And when the day comes that you don’t get really pissed off with an obnoxious rude rickshaw driver- you will know that you have attained Samadhi and your work in Mysore is done… And try and remember that its not such a big deal- if they want an extra 20 rupees when you’ve just spent 300 on a scarf, remind yourself that they probably have a family to support… And its easy and cheap to hire a scooter…

8) Learn a few words in Kannada- its polite and people appreciate the effort- “Namaskara” for hello and “Vandegalu” for thankyou.

9) Check out some culture apart from Yoga- theres some great Bharatnyam dancers in Mysore, as well as the Palace to explore and quite a decent Art Gallery where the curators will tell you all about the history of the paintings in the Jagamohan Palace Gallery.

10) Get a mosquito net from Dhanvanthri Road- Mysores not a malaria area but the bites itch like buggery. The best repellant is citronella Odomos available in supermarkets…

11) Clothes shopping- the best quality stuff is to be found in Badshas. And for tailoring go to Krishna Tailors in Gokulam as Lokesh there is a wonderful and creative guy who makes the coolest hats ever.

12) Power cuts- damn annoying and frequent- have one or two torches to hand in your lodgings and make a mental note of where they are and keep a stash of candles and matches too. |They normally last one to two hours…

13)Lone women may get more male attention than they would like but that tends to be irritating more than anything. Don’t make life harder than it needs to be by wandering round in skimpy clothes. Wear long loose cotton stuff- more comfortable in the sun anyway, and clothes are very cheap to buy. And if you get groped shout and make a fuss and give the perpetrator a good slap…

14) Bring your own sticky mat- the ones they sell here are pretty rubbish unless you want to part with serious dollars at the main Shala.

15)Do read ‘Yoga Mala’ by Pattabhi Jois and ‘Ashtanga Yoga ‘ by Greg Maehle. My favourite bookshop is Ashoka Books near the market in town…

16) Go visit the Swami on Chamundi Hill….

I think that just about covers the main bits… Mysores a pretty easy place to be on the whole, and a very magical place… If i think of anything else I’ll post it…. If you can, GO- go, go, go…..

4 Responses to The survival guide to studying Yoga in Mysore

  1. Julia February 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    Hey Victoria, loved this post… you've got some great advice in here.

  2. Sarah November 19, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    Hi Victoria,

    I stumbled upon your website while I was researching about Mysore. I was wondering why you decided to stop practicing at KPJAYI and go to Shatlam8. Was it a good decision? I’m having a difficult time deciding which Shala to practice and study under. I’m personally looking to learn ashtanga philosophy, chanting and Sanskrit. I think my physical practice will grow along side with all the other studies. Have you been back to Mysore since this post?

    • Victoria January 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

      Hiya,
      no I haven’t- I picked Ajay as smaller classes mean more attention and I instantly liked him plus he made me laugh. He is also a Sanskrit scholar and holds Kirtans and so I wholeheartedly recommend him. And for Pranayama BNS Iyengar is awesome 🙂

  3. Gary January 27, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

    Thank you for writing this article. You’ve included a lot of good, practical information about Mysore. I am planning to practice with Ajay for a few weeks in February and March and have read nothing but great things about him.

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