Shala Time: Practice in Mysore

We arrived in Mysore a week before I was scheduled to start practice at S. K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute.  Little did I know that once you show up and register, you start the next morning.  I started four days earlier than expected.  No big deal.  I was ready.  After all, that’s what we’re here for. Registration was a quick and easy process. Show up with your printed reservation, pay the fee, tell them what asana you practice up until, receive your ID card, and of course, read the rules. Each student is given a practice time, six days a week.  Start time, may be anytime between 4:30 and 7am.  You are to show up 15 minutes early and enter the Shala only when you are called. I have been given a start time of 7am Mon-Thur, 6am Friday led class and 4:30am Sunday led class.  Unfortunately Sharath, the grandson of Pattabhi Jois and my teacher for the next month, was not there when I registered.  This meant I’d have to wait until class to meet him.

My first morning was a Mysore practice. I showed up at 6:45, 15 minutes before my start time.  I entered the lobby and just waited, along with about 5 other people.  Next thing I knew, a voice inside says “One more.”  I guess that’s the call they’re talking about.  I was second in line.  After a repeated “one more”, I walked into the high ceiling, hot, surprisingly sweet smelling, sweat box jammed with practitioners.  I smiled.  Actually, I was a bit giddy inside.  This was all happening.   Having not had the opportunity to ask questions when I registered, I wasn’t quite sure what I should practice.  Do I do intermediate or stick with primary?  I decided to play it safe and go through full primary, then if it was appropriate, go into second.

I had heard loads of different stories about India and practicing at the Shala.  I chose to let go of everything I’d heard and just do my thing.  After all, if I do something wrong, I’m sure they’ll tell me.  Despite word on the street that you won’t be touched your first month, Sharath adjusted me my very first class.  Suptakurmasana.  Again, despite many stories of aggressive, painful and physically risky adjustments, he was confident, but gentle.  His energy was warm and welcoming.  As he said “lift up”, meaning press up onto my hands with my feet crossed over my head and prepare to jump back, I lost my drishti and looked up at him.  He had a genuine, playful smile on his face.  It was in that moment that I knew I was going to like it here.  I smiled back.  My decision on what to practice was validated by one of the assistant teachers.  Everyone practices primary series only their first week.   If it’s your first time practicing in Mysore, you don’t go into intermediate (aka Second Series) until Sharath tells you to.  Fine by me.  I had been preparing my ego for that for a month.  Now all I have to do is let go of it.

I met a girl named Christine after that first practice.  She had only been here 3 days, but had some good tips to share, and one vital one.  Shala Time.  The clock in the shala is famously set 15 minutes early.  That means you start 15 minutes before your scheduled time, which means you show up 15 minutes before that.  Yup, 30 minutes early.  It’s a good thing I was in the know, or I would have been very late for my first led class.

My first Friday morning, I got there on time to listen to Sharath count out the vinyasas for the finishing asanas in the 4:30 class.  There was a mob of people.  I couldn’t help but wonder how we were all going to fit through that tiny door, once it opened.  Not only that, but there is a class going on that is likely to have 100 or so people in it.  How are they going to get out?  It was a bit of organized chaos. Something like merging onto Lions Gate Bridge from North Van when there’s only one lane open. No one pushed.  We all just shuffled in, and claimed our real estate on the floor.  I was excited.  I’ve been practicing primary series long enough that it finally doesn’t give me any sort of anxiety.  I am at ease with it.  That being said, it had been a long time since I did a led class.  Sharath, unfortunately had to leave town, so we had a substitute.  A teacher-in-training, I’m guessing.  I felt sorry for the guy.  Could you imagine?  Showing up to assist and Sharath tells you “Your on”… in Mysore… in a shala so full that people are practicing in the bathroom?  Despite missing a sun salutation and messing up a few of the vinyasa counts, he did well, given the situation.

My first week was a bit of an easy schedule; a moon day, which means no practice, AND a holiday.  Ganesh Charturthi.   I did practice on my own that Saturday, but took the moon day as rest.  With the moon day on Sunday, that meant led class was pushed forward a day to Monday.  My start time: 4:30am.  I was a bit surprised that getting up at 3:15am wasn’t that hard.  I already had the plan to wait until after asana to get in my treasured pranayama practice.  Dale would still be sleeping.  The street lights guided my way to the shala.  I arrived at 4:05.  Remember, 4:30 really means 4:15 and I was supposed to be there at 4, so technically I was 5 minutes late.   But class hadn’t started yet.  We opened the lobby door, and it was full.  Students were practicing in the hallway.   Instead of climbing over each other and claiming a space in front of the toilet, we would return for the 6:00 class.  Day 3 and I’m already breaking the rules.

Although the 6:00 class is a led second series class, I knew it would be ok because it was the time Christine was to practice.   It actually worked out well, now I was able to practice pranayama first, which is my preference.  I got back at 5:30, and sure enough, Christine was there.  She said not to worry and just to practice beside her at the back and when Sharath counts Pashasana (the first pose in second series), just continue, mysore style.  Awesome I thought.   Besides being a little bit paranoid that the yoga police might come and kick me out for practicing at the wrong time, it worked out.  Who would want to come at 4:30, and virtually fist fight for a spot when there was oodles of space, empty rows of space at 6:00.  I don’t quite get it actually.  Could I manage to do this every week?  Likely not, I’m sure the yoga police would find me out at some point.

I was finally starting to loosen a bit after all the travel.  My primary practice, despite being a marathon, was light and fluid with one exception.  I must have lost focus and let go of my bandha for a split second.  I’ve heard numerous stories about what happened to me, happening to others in Upavishta Konasana A.  I entered as per usual…. exhale chest and chin to the floor…..inhale, exhale 1, inhale, exhale 2, inhale, exhale…3….then I heard it.  No one else did.  But I did.  Something went.  I felt a ripping sensation high in my leg, almost at my glute.  Fuck.  I kept breathing.  Maybe I’m imaging things.  It will be fine.  Nothing’s wrong.  Right?  Wrong.  Okay.  My anatomy brain kicked in.  Adductor?  Ok.  Magnus? Gracilis?  Or maybe a hamstring?  Semi-membranosous.  Argh.  I knew whatever it was I would have to proceed with extra caution.  I didn’t feel it the rest of practice, but I knew it was there.

The next day, I knew it was there too.  But I only felt in a few things, which I eased back.  It will require some patience.  I’ll keep you posted.  It is a bummer as I’ve just healed from a self-imposed SI injury, which I’ll write about at another time.

I welcomed the rest from the shala on Wednesday.  This meant I could be delinquent and practice the first half of second series.  It felt sooooo good.  Things had already started to shift.  I know the secret to where I struggle in second is to be found somewhere in primary.

My first full led primary series with Sharath was awesome.  I liked not thinking, just doing.  I got my ass kicked a little though.  It’s obvious I like to exit some thing early!  Namely, Navasana (boat pose), Sirsasana (head stand) and Utputihwhich Sharath is sure to count extra slow for.   Those three postures are now a focus for me, I’m working on holding extra breaths.  According to physiology, it should work, and next Friday I should find myself with energy to spare.

This is a mosaic of all the decals people draw out in front of their homes on my street… they are different everyday.

My second Sunday was an interesting go.  This time, I was there with time to spare.  3:50.  The gate hadn’t opened yet.  There were about 40 people there when I arrived, so I knew I would find a space no problem.  Which is why I didn’t walk with my elbows caulked to the side to get in.  It was strange, I got in the door, and the room was full.  Mats everywhere.  But I eyed my spot.   I went for it, no rush, stood in it and began to unroll my mat.  Then, Wham!!!  Some German girl decided she was more important than me.  She threw her mat down in front of me, rolled it out and said “ha, sorry.”  Yeah right you’re sorry… bitch, you’re just lucky it’s 4 in the morning or I’d strangle you, even if you are bigger than me.  Ooooooommmmmmmmmm. I did, however, point out to her that there was plenty of space if she moved her mat over, and the girl beside her did as well, I could fit between them.  I was right, and I didn’t care about the lumpy spot on the carpet underneath me.  The only crappy thing was that my energy was tainted.  I had to practice beside her for the next hour plus.   Part of me wishes Sharath was in the room for stuff like that — I mean, isn’t that where the real yoga happens?  Then again, when I nailed very single jump through with floating ease, as she struggled, stubbed her feet and plunked down, in the back of my head I said “Ha! Take that!” Nice conversation I had with myself, eh?  I obviously have some stuff to work on.

I actually try to avoid those situations, and certainly refrain from comparing myself to anyone else in that room, but there was just something about the whole thing that morning that didn’t sit well with me.  People like that make me sad.  Honestly, I’m at the point now, if I had to go practice in front of the toilet, provided I could hear Sharath, I don’t really give a shit.  Maybe that comes with practicing in the strangest of places over the last year.  Some people are so spoiled with their cork floor, perfect lighting, expensive air exchange that they’re OCD about space. They get here and the slightest wrinkle in the carpet below them destroys their whole practice.  Again, that’s not yoga.   They’re missing the point.

Yesterday and today I officially entered into the ebb and flow of practice.  Some days, like yesterday, are so unbelievably good that I feel like doing cartwheels when I leave.  And others, like today are a bit blah.  It’s all a part of the learning, the growth and most importantly, non-attachment.

Sunset from our balcony


8 thoughts on “Shala Time: Practice in Mysore

    • Thanks Lisa! Like most things yoga, this [injury] too shall have something to teach. First thing… stop listening to my ego that likes to place itself front and center of my mat telling me “you can put your head on the floor, you’ve done it thousands of times, it’s only a little pain.”

  1. WOW…. really enjoying your post. from India sounds like you are learning lots and having a wonderful adventure. Keep the info coming luv Gram

  2. Hi Arielle! 🙂

    It’s Andy – from Quebec city Canada!

    Thanks for sharing with so much honesty! Such a great read!

    Upavishta Konasana A!

    I has happened to me 6 years ago and it happened to me again while I was at Yoga Thailand! That’s why I didn’t practice much.

    Quick quote: Well, first, my patella was dislocated (probably from the fact I have flat feet – but magic happened – I healed it from paying attention to the need of the knee. I unconsciously started strengthening my Vastus Medialis Oblique – and found out later from an article that it is the method to use. Thanks to yoga!)

    While I was at Yoga Thailand, while bending forward and pulling a bit with hands to go just a touch deeper into Upavishta Konasana, it popped 3 times at my sit bone. I was a bit shocked.

    From what I understand, I injured my upper hamstring tendon. Here is an article that I found on Yoga journal for my first tear (which happened on the postures when the teacher laid on top of me).

    The pain has been nagging through the past years. It never healed completely. But surprisingly, from a teacher training I took in June at Pure Yoga Hong Kong with Patrick Creelman (who was Anusara Certified) – the pain disapeared. I feel that the Universal Principles of Alignment that he taught brought alot of integrity to my practice. You’ve adjusted me once and asked me to pull my legs back into the hips and you called it bandha – well Anusara calls it Muscular Energy, a drawing of energy from the peripheries into the focal point. And I think it is key to prevent alot of common injuries.

    Well I wish you a great stay in Mysore – I’ll keep reading your posts if you do them. You give me a desire to go there!

    Take care! 🙂 And I do want to take a class with you – you did some great adjustments on me.


    • Hey Andy! Thanks for that! So sorry to hear how you got your injury, adjustments can be strong and powerful, but have an essence of softness with them. Just pushing is never a good idea. This isn’t a posture I ever recommend giving what I call a “gravity assist” adjustment, it’s just too risky. Much more beneficial to verbally cue, and use tactile sense to bring the student deeper on their own while we, as teachers guide their spinal alignment.
      I’m confident it will heal more quickly than the year that others have mentioned. The pain is already 50% less, which is a good sign. Patience. Patience. Using practice as therapy, regardless of what style we practice brings deeper awareness and knowledge. I’ve spent years working with athletes who have come to me with a plethora of nagging injuries and as long as they just tried to push through it, it never healed. But if they really tuned into what was going on, they came out of the injury stronger from the inside out.

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