We’re nearing the end of February which means I’ve been in Mysore for two months now with (only) one month to go. It’s kind of surreal thinking of it and it’s definitely surreal being here – it’s such a privilege. It feels as if I’ve been in Mysore forever, yet at the same time it’s like time flies. We’re already two months into the year of 2013 and when I get back to Sweden winter will be over (I hope…) – it’s like it never happened :).
I’m enjoying my practice here, spending time with like minded people who don’t think I’m a nut case for turning myself into a pretzel every morning at 4.30 am (and thus going to bed at the early hour of 7.30 pm so that I have the energy to actually put my legs behind my head). It’s wonderful to feel normal for once although being here is like living in a bubble where one is shut off from the worries of daily life back home. However, at the same time life here is an emotional roller coaster created by all that the intense practice and the experience of India brings up.
That said, Gokulam – the neighbourhood where the shala is – is a bubble itself. It’s a rather posh part of town so it would be wrong to say that it’s the “real” India. Yet then, what’s the real India? The posh side is also part of an India which is getting wealthier and more modern, but it’s also true that we’re a bit shielded off from the tougher parts of life here. We have all that we need in abundance – yoga practice, chanting/philosophy/Sanskrit/anatomy-classes, organic produce and cafees, coconuts, coffee, fruit, spas that offer massage and ayurvedic clinics etc etc. The choice for western yogis to further educate or pamper themselves is endless. But also – even though it’s peanuts compared to back home – it is pricey for Indian standards. And the neighbours of KPJAYI have definitely understood how to benefit from the influx of foreigners.
But that’s not what my posting was supposed to be about. I actually wanted to write about my practice and why I get up at 3 am every morning (night???) to go to the shala and roll out my mat. Although that means doing the same set of asanas every day it is actually not about asana. The practitioner who comes to Mysore with the hope of advancing in the number of postures he or she is doing will be disappointed. Here, everyone will have to start from scratch when visiting the first time (irrespectively of how far one has practised before or for how many years) and then gradually build up the different series when Sharath considers that one is ready. This means that the seasoned practitioner will work on well known postures for quite a while. Which – as a fellow yogi nicely put it – is an excellent opportunity to work on ones awareness in each posture, to work with and observe the breath and to create further depth and steadiness in each specific asana. And it is only through this refinement,by relishing each asana and by submersing oneself in the asana that the practise will become meditative. When our asana practise is steady and comfortable without too much struggle the mind will be totally absorbed and there will be no more duality between the mind ant the divine, Sharath said in his conference last Sunday.
Asana practice is the doorway to spirituality. Most of us first get attracted to the posture practice, Sharath also said on Sunday. But it’s through this practice that we slowly become interested in the spiritual part of yoga (that doesn’t go for everyone of course, but it’s very common). Asana practice changes something within us and inspires further questions. It makes us stable physically and mentally, preparing us for dhyana – meditation – and the mind is gradually stilled. Practising asana will slowly remove all the obstacles and disturbances around us and in our mind. It’s like removing the shells around a pearl – where our mind will eventually become as pure as the pearl.
Stability in body and mind leads to dhyana, but for this to happen we need to apply Mula Bandha – the root lock. Mula Bandha is the KEY – the source of stability of the breath, body and mind. If not applied or not strong enough both breath and body will be unstable. If breath and body are unstable so will the mind be – thus Mula Bandha is the source for controlling the mind. I find this to be absolutely true. The times that my mind wanders in practice I have difficulty carrying out the postures, or breathing properly. However, if I focus on Mula Bandha my body will get lighter and stronger and my mind will be free of though. Only then I can carry out the more difficult postures with less strain.
Consistency in practice is also important and once one has achieved some regularity it is difficult to be without it – both for body and mind. Even Sharath admitted on Sunday that if he doesn’t get to practise he gets depressed. He also said that his practice has to suffer when the shala is open during high season because of the hard work of lifting hundreds of people and supporting them in back bends every day. Consequently his practice would be better or worse some days. However, Sharath said:
It doesn’t matter whether you have a “good” or a “bad” practice -what matters is that you do your practice.
It is natural that there will be a kind of attachment to the practice Sharath added. This kind of attachment is healthy compared to material or other emotional attachments. And I have to say that I feel the same. If I cannot do my practice I feel as if there’s something missing and my mood does go down. Practice definitely makes me a more stable person and it helps me face difficulties in life. Through my asana practice I’ve learnt to deal with negative thoughts and I’ve become more friends with myself. By facing challenges on the mat – whether physical or mental – I’ve become less fearful in daily life. On the mat I’ve been able to do things I never dreamed of doing and that has taught me that I’m able to accomplish even the impossible.
Today was another one of those moments where I challenged my fear and my ever chattering mind and won over it. I managed to calmly and stably get up into pincha mayurasana although I had close neighbours on both sides of my mat and a cold stone floor in front of me. Even if I’m stable in this posture at home (where I’m practising alone and on a much softer wooden floor) I’ve had night mares about doing this posture in the KPJAYI shala. The fear of falling in this posture and it’s neighbour Karandavasana, is actually rational in my case since I have a condition called osteopenia (a pre-stage to osteoporosis), which makes it easier for me to fracture my bones should I fall. And I have fractured bones in practise before unfortunately.
Yesterday, I had finally worked up the courage to go and see Sharath and tell him about my medical condition. He seemed quite puzzled but after some further explanation and discussion he suggested I change my practice spot to the front row and the left of the shala where there’s generally less people (oh my God the front row where everyone can see…). But it worked. I was clearly able to focus better and so the fear could not take over my mind. It felt so empowering! Yet I know that with this asana it can go from success to failure within less than 24 hours. It is the only asana I’ve been scared of where the fear doesn’t disappear with years of practice. Each day the practice will be a challenge and the outcome will be different every day – but that’s much like life in general I guess…..and it doesn’t matter whether it’s “good or bad” – the important thing is that we show up; at our mat and in our life.