Walking towards the KPJAYI for practice at 5:40am I’m greeted by Sharath’s familiar and unwavering voice: “three…four…five. Sapta come through…” It is Sunday, and he is leading the 4:30am class through the Primary Series. We wait in still darkness on the terracotta steps. Our group will practice the Primary Series at 6:00am, and one more class will roll their mats out for Intermediate Series at 7:30am. Like living gargoyles, we’re perched on the steps in between shoes, potted plants and mat bags. Finally we hear the students inside begin their closing mantra and while they om, we reanimate, ready to take our places for practice.
Pattabhi Jois open his first yogashala in 1948 in the Mysore neighborhood of Lakshmipuram. There, at his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, he taught Indians and westerners traditional asana and pranayama practice for many years. In 2002 this beautiful new shala was opened in Gokulum. It’s a slate grey colored, multi-level building, like many in the residential neighborhood. Something about it’s angular design permeates a stern yet welcoming energy. Inside, on the ground floor, the studio space is filled with pictures of Guruji and his wife Amma, Sharath and his family, Krishnamacharya and Ganesh. Striped Indian rugs cover the tile floor and a small stage in the front of the room still displays Guruji’s favorite chair.
This time of year (November) the shala is very busy. I believe it is filled to capacity! Students from all over the world study here: I’ve met people from the U.S. Canada, England, Sweden, France, Portugal, Australia, Japan, Korea, Mexico and other parts of India. Sharath also teaches a smaller group of locals in the afternoon. His mother, Saraswati, also continues to teach her students in the shala and at another location in Mysore. In order to reserve a place, you register with the Institute online several months in advance. Once in India, you register in person during an afternoon before your first practice. Sharath will give you an ID card, a Mysore-style (Monday-Thursday) start time, and assign you to one of the Friday/Sunday led classes. As a first time shala student during this busy time, I’ve secured a lovely Mysore practice time in the last batch of students at 8:15am. The more experienced students and Mysore regualars practice beginning around 4:30am.
Once in the building for our led class, we each place our mats and rugs at the ready, and then head to the locker rooms. There are small lockers on the upper level of the changing rooms, and I always secure my belongings. These led classes on Fridays and Sundays are a bit hectic because large groups of students are trying to move about at once…during the week, in Mysore-style practice, the flow of students in and out is a lot more fluid.
Back out at top of our mats, Sharath calls us to samastitih and we’re off and breathing! His family lives on one of the top floors of the shala, and often his wife or daughter will be around and in and out of the practice room. Currently they’re building a new home two doors down, so soon the entire shala will be a study space. But on this particular Sunday his irresistibly adorable son, Sambhav, stops by to see dad at work. As Sharath counts us through the vinyasas his son takes a go at it, mimicking his father.
After an hour and a half of sweat, good quality family time, and what seems like an hour-long utpluthih, we’re back in samastitih chanting the closing. Fresh coconuts meet us outside; their water re-hydrates our drenched-in-sweat bodies, and we smile and go about our day. Some of us take rest. Some might choose to sightsee. A few students will work on their lap-tops for jobs “back home,” and some even have jobs here in Mysore at one of the café’s in the area.
Most Sunday’s Sharath holds Conference at 4:00pm. He talks about the Yoga Sutras, practice, devotion and distractions. Lakshmi, a Sanskrit teacher, gives us our chanting lessons three times a week at 11:00am. This week, I’ll start in his Beginner Sanskrit class in the evening.
As I walk towards a fruit salad breakfast at Anoki Garden, I think how blessed I am to be able to study this lineage at the source, to witness its evolution and find stillness in its tradition. This really is an extraordinary place and an extraordinary practice…