Monday, September 26, 2011

Studying Yoga in Mysore India: A Day

Not everyone comes to Mysore to study yoga. In addition to being the mecca of the Ashtanga yoga cult, Mysore is a recommended stop for any tourist in Southern India. Guidebooks suggest visiting the Majarajah’s Palace, the temples of the Chamundi Hills, the silk factories, and any of the satellite villages with ruins from the 10th century Hoysala Empire.

Obviously, the yoga student's day looks pretty different from that of a general tourist. I assume that the casual traveler is still soundly sleeping at 5:00 AM, which is when I report to the yoga shala. But even amongst the yoga crowd, and to narrow it even further to the Ashtanga crowd, everyone’s day looks different. In addition to the famous K. Patthabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI), there are many other yoga schools to choose between. Some people study at Mysore Mandala, or The Mystic School, or with the cornucopia of very talented instructors hoping to make a buck off the Ashtanga brand name. After physical practice, the multitude of related cultural and philosophical classes fill the day. Sanskrit, chanting, philosophy, Ayurveda, massage, dance, and classical Indian music classes are some of the top picks. There are so many topics to study, and many people choose to keep themselves so busy with classes, that Mysore is deemed by some as “India University”.

My day starts at 4:15 AM when I flail at my alarm clock through the veils of my mosquito net. It is still dark out, and unless the house dog starts barking, it is the only time of day in India that experiences near silence. The roads are still clear of rickshaws, bicycles, and buses, and the air is clean and chill. On clear mornings I look up at Orion’s belt stacked neatly over the coconut palms, and marvel how few streetlamps there are to allow the stars to shine so brightly.

The corner streetlamp by the yoga shala casts orange shadows on the gate and the short flight of stairs where everyone leaves their shoes. I like to be early, so I can put my mat where I like it. A quirk about the shala is that time runs differently there- like an oasis in reality, the shala clock runs almost, but not quite, 20 minutes fast. Like all first time visitors, I arrived 20 minutes late to my first class.

During practice I like to watch sky make its slow transition from black to velvet blue, lavender, and finally grey. By the time around 6:30 AM it is fully light. The mornings are misty and cool, aided by the swathes of smoke from charcoal stoves cooking breakfast. People are just starting to move about; the only place open is Guru’s Coconut Stand, where Indians sit around drinking Chai and the western yoga students slump gulping coconuts. Guru hands each arriving yoga student a water coconut without their needing to ask.
I’m a little chilled by the time I go home, but there’s no hot water yet. Other people have apartments with hot water around the clock; but I don’t get hot water until 8 AM or so when the landlord turns on the heater. You get what you pay for. I do my Sanskrit homework and then go find some internet; either at Rishi’s internet café, Santosa vegan café, or Anuki’s Garden. A pineapple juice costs 50 rupees at Santosha or 75 rupees at Anuki’s, so more often I go to Rishi’s; where I can use the internet for 10 rupees every 30 minutes. Much cheaper for the likes of me.
Chanting and Philosophy
Next on the schedule is chanting and philosophy classes with Jayashree and her brother Nirasimhan. It’s in downtown Mysore in an area called Lakshmipuram, about an hour and 20 minutes’ walk from Gokulum. So I’ve rented a bicycle for only 15 rupees a day. This way it takes me only 25 minutes to get to Jayashree’s, and I can keep an eye out for the elusive Jackfruit. 

Jayashree is a famous Sanskrit scholar, if you run in those circles. She and her brother, Nirasimhan, have written several books on various philosophical texts and even have a CD to help students learn sanskrit chanting. She goes on tour on occasion, and will be attending the Telluride Yoga Festival in Colorado this summer.
Sugar Cane Juice
Only one block from Jayashree’s is my daily addiction: Sugar cane juice!! Oh Boy.
This is Garesh, the sugarcane guy. There are sugar cane stands all over Mysore, but I like Garesh’s stand the best. For one it is cleaner than some stands, which are crusted with browned sugar crystals and swarmed by small bees. For two, Garesh uses more ginger and lime in his juice, which I love. And Garesh always smiles.

My last class of the day is Beginning Sanskrit with Laksmis, the resident Sanskrit and chanting instructor at KPJAYI. Don’t tell him I am missing his morning chanting sessions to go see Jayashree. Sssshhhhh. 

After a long day, it’s time to get one last coconut. Then its bedtime at 8 PM. I hear stories of yogis out at night, but I think it’s just a myth.


  1. Hello!
    I'm curious about the eating choices in Mysore while training at the Shala. Can you tell me about that?

  2. Very interesting! Sounds like you had an amazing time in Mysore.


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