Little Pieces of Yoga in India

I have been living in a city called Mysore, located in India, for almost two months now. Mysore is the third largest city in the state of Karnataka and is home to approximately 900,000. However, where I live it is hard to tell that this city inhabits so many people. My home and yoga shala are both located in the cozy district of Gokulam, just Northwest of Mysore’s city center.

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Enjoying breakfast after practice at Santosha Cafe

Gokulam is a very peaceful place and while spending time here it is easy to forget that this is India. Many westerners flock here in search of traditional or “real” Ashtanga yoga and to experience the yogic lifestyle. I’m currently studying with Saraswathi Jois, she is the daughter of Pattabhi Jois (the developer of Ashtanga Yoga). Pattabhi Jois also created the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, where I am currently studying. If you are interested in learning more about the definition of Ashtanga as a tradition, please visit the link above.

Six days a week I wake up at around four in the morning and prepare for yoga practice. There is something magical about practicing at Saraswathi’s shala during the early hours of the day. Focus and precision are so readily available, and it also serves as a personal check-in before the day begins, giving each practitioner the opportunity to ask themselves questions such as,

“How am I doing today? Is my mind clear and steady, or is it crowded with distracting thoughts and feelings?”

After assessing how the body and mind are feeling that morning it is then time to start whatever sequence of asanas (postures) the guru or teacher has designated to you at this time.

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Saraswathi and I after a Saturday lead class

At KPJAYI we practice “Mysore” style Monday through Friday, and on Saturday, Saraswathi conducts a “lead” class where she vocally guides us through the first or “Primary” series of postures. “Mysore” style Ashtanga indicates a self-lead practice, this is one major characteristic that differentiates Ashtanga from other traditions of yoga.

What self-lead practice means is that everyday the same sequence of postures is practiced without instruction and at your own pace. Adjustments and guidance are given individually to students as needed, and new postures will only be practiced when they are appointed at the teachers discretion. Some may view this as repetitive or boring, but the purpose is to free the mind of having to think about what comes next. This creates a greater awareness of the subtle body, and also allows new and different sensations to become more noticeable. Most importantly, practicing the same sequence each time allows the practitioner to gain a greater awareness of the transformation occurring within the self. When the body instinctively knows where to go next, the mind is left to witness thought patterns and explore what is truly causing feelings of discomfort.

After practice we leave the shala to enjoy a fresh coconut water (or four) before starting the rest of our day. Everyone is on different schedules here, some loaded with obligations, while others leisurely enjoy their “holiday” before returning back to their homes or continue traveling.

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Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

Either way, the physical practice enables the mind to think more clearly in any situation, particularly those that make us uncomfortable. By witnessing the thoughts rather than subjecting ourselves to them, we become more capable of having sound judgement and not allowing the mind to be controlled by irrational thinking and behavior. If it is possible to maintain a concentrated and steady mind while balancing on one leg in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended hand-to-big-toe pose, pictured, right), then hopefully this sense of balance and ease can be carried into daily life, even in difficult situations.

This is only a brief insight on my time spent in India so far and I plan on sharing a post that is more culturally related soon. There is so much more to this region of the world that makes it fascinating, but Ashtanga is what brought me to Incredible India this time, and will surely be a reason I continue to return.

Photo of the Week 3

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Here’s a recent photo from one of my favorite places in the whole world,

the window seat.

Flying allows people to witness the world from a new and incredible perspective that is otherwise unattainable. Passenger planes have only come into existence within the last century and with their creation travel has been revolutionized. Due to this invention, it is now possible to have breakfast in Uganda and Dinner in Los Angeles, making the world feel smaller and more connected than ever before.

Traveling by plane is one of my favorite forms of transportation because it has enabled me to see beautiful and remote parts of the globe, even if I have never stepped foot in some of these places. A few of my favorite and most memorable regions have been the snow capped mountains of Northeastern Russia, picturesque sunsets over the water in South Korea, rolling fields of grain in Italy, the lush tropics of Sri Lanka, and Bahrain’s city lights as they glittered over the persian gulf.

So next time you fly, try to sit in the window seat, you might be surprised at what your eyes discover.

Glacier National Park

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Brigham, Utah

Let me start by saying Montana is so underrated.  In August I went on a massive road trip across the United States. First I hopped a plane to Salt Lake City, Utah and met my long time friend, Max, at the airport. We headed to our friend’s house that live in downtown SLC that night and crashed with them after a long day of travel. Shout out to Kevin, Tyler, and Miller for letting us stay there! The day after we set out on our journey…

From there we drove 527 miles to Missoula, Montana and camped for the night, in the morning we had breakfast, bought groceries and got back on the road for another day of driving. Another 139 miles later we arrived at Glacier National Park! Even though the drive there from SLC was long, it was scenic and easy to enjoy with so much incredible landscape to take in. As soon as we arrived at Glacier it became evident that we were in for some unbelievable outdoor experiences; nestled in the Rocky Mountains this national park is beyond compare.IMG_8331

Over the next two days we trekked as much as we possibly could through this mountainous playground, exploring trails and staring in awe of the surrounding beauty. The pranic energy there permeates the trees, rocks, soil, and each drop of water as it cascades over cliffs into sparkling pools of melted glaciers. Each inhale is saturated with an invigorating sensation that instills a deep feeling of gratitude; just being there is a privilege and I felt extremely fortunate to witness this supernova of glacial creation.

While hiking the various trails in the park we saw so many meadows, flowers, waterfalls, lakes, and animals. The wildlife here is majestic and such a wonderful sight to behold. During my brief stay I saw mountain goats, marmots, rabbits, birds, deer, and even a moose! All of them were so peaceful and unafraid of the hikers that were passing through, it was obvious that the habitat there is well-balanced and flourishing.

IMG_8380One of my best experiences in Glacier was on my second day there. We hiked for about six hours that day and saw some truly immaculate scenery, afterwards we took a shuttle bus back to our campsite through the winding mountain roads. When we arrived I unrolled my yoga mat on the rocky, uneven dirt next to our tent; this type of surface would usually be distracting, but with my small sacred space surrounded by a glorious view of mountains and trees I felt ready to dive into my practice.

I’m an ashtanga practitioner, which is partially defined by set series of postures and the linking between breath and movement (vinyasa). Since I know the series without thinking it was easy to completely surrender my mind to this moving meditation, each breath I received was extra charged with immense strength and decisive movement. There was never a moment where I wanted to stop going or felt the urge to quit. Once the sequence was finished and I laid down to take rest in shavasana where I sank effortlessly into a deep state of relaxation and serenity. I have never felt such magnetic unity with the atmosphere around me before in my yoga or life in general. This was a truly unforgettable experience that I continue to cherish, and it happened in Glacier National Park.

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If anyone ever asked me if they should visit this ethereal place I would recommend it faster than they could finish the question. I went into my experience there with no expectations and left with a totally altered perspective on how intoxicating it can be to immerse yourself in nature and disconnect from the urban world.

Thanks for reading, to view a few additional images click on the thumbnails below, these will take you to a gallery. Or, just visit Glacier National Park! Click here to start planning your trip to this beautiful and unique destination.