Our morning Vinyasa class has become so intense. For the past 2.5 weeks we have all sweated like we have sweated before. When we enter the Shala at 5.00am it’s already sticky in the room. It’s as though there is no air, (and often there isn’t as the windows are kept shut). As I’m usually the first in the Shala each morning, I open all the windows to let some fresh air in - temporarily. As class starts, one by one we hear the windows being closed. It’s like an impending doom each time you hear another close. The heat is so intense, it’s like doing yoga in a sauna. There is, however, a very specific reason for this, which is all to do with the pranic body. Also the more advance you become in your practice the more sensitive you become to the elements, so it’s best to always practice indoors. But prana or no prana - it’s certainly a challenge on all parts of the body to get through the morning classes. Physically you’re exhausted and slipping off your own skin whilst mentally you just need to keep it together and not give in to the heat. Remain focused on every movement, every breath and just surrender completely the practice.
People are so hot you can hear them slipping off their mats - sometimes quite hard too depending on the asana they’re working on. Some have even bought cotton mats to put on top of the rubber mats to give some grip. I’m considering doing the same. When you’re hands and feet are in puddles of water, it gets difficult to hold the position.
By the end of each class, not only is my hair and clothes soaked, but I always have prune fingers. It’s honestly like no other ‘workout’ I have ever done before and yet I’m training in a 1.5 metre x .5 metre space. I have jogged, I have done weights training, every gym class under the sun - and never have I worked as hard as I do here, using my own body weight. Fascinating. I’m so excited to share this experience with other people when I get home. They’re going to love it!
On that note - today was one of those ‘emotional’ days for me. I seem to be having more and more of them the closer I come to leaving. I found myself in class crying on my mat this morning, just thinking about different responsibilities I will return to back in Australia. Bharath was concerned, as he’s never seen me upset before, and came to speak with me. I was quite distracted during class initially but once I regained my focus, I ended up doing one of my strongest Sirsasana’s and Chakrasana’s ever. By this point i was telling myself not to allow these external issues/worries hold me back. To control my thoughts and change my perspective. Turns out that’s quite a powerful message to repeat to yourself. Try it!
After class I chatted with Bharath in the Shala on his mat, especially about my sadness to leave. He reminded me that nothing is permanent, not even this Earth and therefore I should not become attached. He also reminded me that I can come back each year to do the advanced refresher course with him, and that he will always be not too far away. He’s right. He then did something unexpected. As we stood up, Bharath put his left arm around my shoulders and pulled me close to console me, and rested his head against mine. Let’s call it a side hug. It was a really special moment for me. I truly felt like he cared. Not that I ever doubted that he does, but he would usually only give a pat on the back or knee etc. But to give me a hug, as he could see I was quite upset, was a really lovely thing to do. I’m not sure how I’m going to say goodbye to someone who has played such a fundamental role in my life - and in such a short time. How lucky I am to have met this man.
Anyway - enough about that. I’ve got it more together now! Just one of those days I guess.
So, I’m now fasting in preparation for tomorrows Kiryas: Jala Neti, Sutra Neti and Vamana Dhouti. I will be sure to give an update re what it’s like to induce power vomiting on the side of the road for all to see!
And with that thought, I shall say goodnight.
My meal for the day - probably didn’t need the ‘double’ size…
So, whilst doing this technique I noticed my belly only tucks in properly on the right side. The left doesn’t seem to tuck as far. I asked Bharath why my belly is lopsided and he said it’s nothing to do with my belly. It’s the Scoliosis in my back. Gently he explained my alignment (in my back) is quite off and he can see it quite obviously in my Sirsasana (head stand). This explains why I have to work that much harder to find my balance in this asana. He tapped me on my shoulder as if to say it’s ok, assured it can be fixed and gently smiled at me before walking away.
I’m not sure what it was that Bharath said, or if it was how he said it, but I had to hold back the tears as he walked away. Never before has the Scoliosis upset me like that before. I’m not sure if I felt as though someone felt true empathy and compassion for me, or if I just felt immensely safe with this man in that moment? Or quite possibly that I was letting him down in some way by not having this perfect back (which is absolutely not the case - I’m talking from a deeper level here that I can’t even seem to explain to myself!). All I know is the way he spoke, the kind eyes he looked at me with combined with the most gentle but assuring touch really moved me. Even writing this now I have tears in my eyes and I’m still not sure why. (Owen has this problem with me often…). I must be going through one of those “fluctuations” Bharath always warns us about! They are meant to become more intense during this part of the course so that’s quite possibly going on under the surface.
Do the Chakrasana Walk!
Not only is the Shala becoming a sauna the more Mysore heats up, but our training is heating up also. I love our evening classes. Bharath calls the evening classes an “Innovation Series”. Essentially this is the time to learn the more advanced asanas like Pincha Mayurasana (which I spoke about late last week). As we have been working with Chakrasana (back bend / wheel) for sometime now, Bharath offered for those who were comfortable to bring their practice to the next level by walking the length of the Shala in Chakrasana. Only myself and one other girl attempted this. With legs already shaking from the 2 repetitions we had already completed on our mats just moments before, I went to the wall at the back of the class and prepared to walk. My legs are getting very strong the more I work here. In Chakrasana in particular I am becoming quite sturdy. I lifted myself off the ground and after a few steps to get the rhythm, I relatively quickly walked on my hands and feet from one wall to another and then back again, using the lines of the tiles as my guide for where to go. I swear the room quadrupled in size whilst I was doing this! It was quite an achievement I thought. Toward the end of the walk my arms and legs were shaking and my breathing was becoming louder and harsher. I wanted to give up about mid-way on the return, but in my head I just kept repeating, “keep going, do not give up, you’re nearly there, this will be an awesome achievement, focus, breathe, almost there.” So far I am the only person in the class who can do this (not that that means anything - just awesome to be able to do it).
We’ve also moved into our handstands. Bharath said I was very good at these. My problem is I don’t know how to leave the wall, but Bharath assured that is coming. By this point, in tonight’s class, my arms were turning to jelly. I was exhausted - as I am now.
So, after a cold shower (not by choice) I’m in bed and praying to sleep through for once. I have more work to do with my thesis, but the plan is an early night. I’m unusually tired at the moment so i need to listen to my body and rest it well. I also need to try and manage these ‘fluctuations’ - God knows I don’t need anymore of these!!
Some pictures from my day. I always take time to try and ‘see’
Again, where to begin. It’s been a long day filled with so many inspirational moments. It’s near impossible to list them all. Today has also been filled with many physical and emotional challenges. The tempo is being raised and my body is certainly aware of that! Maybe I shall begin there.
Our bodies. They are incredible machines. As Bharath said, “…they are the most beautiful computer in the world.” It’s so very true. During asana practice, whilst holding a position sometimes I can’t help but notice those around me. It may be out the corner of my eye whilst trying to maintain focus on a grain of sand on the floor, or it could be someone directly in front of me. Regardless, it’s so interesting to notice how other people can move in their bodies, where their strengths are and where they are more challenged. For example, I have seen people fly into Sirsasana (headstand) or fold beautifully into Paschimottanasa (west facing intense stretch / lying flat over your legs which are extended in front), but then you move to an asana like Chakrasana (wheel / backbend) and they can barely lift from the floor. What I’m getting at is how incredible our bodies are, how different we all can be. The most flexible person may have zero strength and vice versa. Sometimes it may be a coordination thing or possibly fear. Whatever it is, and however we move, we truly are incredible machines. And what’s more beautiful, is how we can work with our bodies to attain those asanas which initially we are challenged by. With correct mindset, breath and awareness of body, anything is possible. I’m nearly doing the splits for goodness sake! Now that is testament alone to the practice and how it can make your body fly!!! ;-)
My hips and knees are playing up again, but I’m committed to working through this pain. I work really hard to draw my focus away from the uncomfortable, burning sensations and, with a smile and concentration on the breath, I can temporarily relieve it. This is an ongoing battle of the mind, but it’s something I will keep working at. Little by little as Bharath would say.
Philosophy class today brought with it many enlightening concepts, as per usual. I really do love this class. Today, I really appreciated learning about what it means to be a true yogi. That he is the person who remains still even when the unexpected happens. He who can remain in control when things don’t go to plan. I can’t say I’m there yet but it’s certainly a way of living which I want. God knows I need to be this type of person to manage the life I tend to bring upon myself! Like right now - I have found ants in my makeshift kitchen and I am doing my best to remain calm in the face of that………… “Find where they’re coming from, and just deal with it Jessica…….”
I also liked the concept of Buddhiyoga which is essentially saying there are two types of work. Those who go to work and make no effort to improve the system or understand how the machine works etc. They just accept their job as it is, do as they’re told and make no effort to add to it. Whilst there are those who are always looking to improve something, to work out new ways of doing something. For example, we all have mobile phones and we accept that they will work with all the latest technology, but we only have the phones because one man used his Buddihyoga, his mind, to create them. To build them. The rest of us have done nothing to understand how it works or how to improve it. Really important point I thought.
We have a thesis to write as part of our final assessment, and although we have access to a ton of information on the internet to guide us, Bharath wants us to use our own mind to write this, not rely on that which has already been written before. Point taken.
As a final comment, I thought I would mention a lovely comment which came from Brittany tonight. Long story short, she has an awful cold sore under her nose, and she who is a little vain to say the least, is clearly struggling with this. Last night, whilst chatting with her I assured it wasn’t a big deal, explained that I get them too and hated how painful they can be. They’re just the worst. And tonight, whilst walking home, she ran to catch up with me and thank me for what I said (last night). She said she had been so upset by it, and embarrassed, but I somehow made her feel much better. She appreciated my ‘compassion’. I’m only writing about this as I think it’s a good example of how our words can impact a person on an unexpected level. This can be good or bad. So it’s important we take care in how we communicate with one another. Using Brittany’s words, be compassionate. Be mindful of what you are saying as who knows what impact you are having on the other person. Just something to think about.
With that, I shall say good night and I shall see you again tomorrow. I have some ants to get rid of!
The last of my Oranges birthday fruit basket - yes oranges. Translation - mandarin
6.30am I arrived in Bogadi. The sun was yet to rise and I’m already sitting, waiting to see the famous Amma - ‘Mother of the World’. It was recommended by another yoga student, who met Amma last year, I arrive early as I needed to get a token to see Amma. Knowing there would thousands of people here to see her today, and finding out she will be giving hugs until about 1.00am the following morning, I decided I would take the advice and come ultra early. Let’s just say, that advice was not exactly correct. But I will come the that in a bit. Surprisingly, there were large numbers of people beginning to arrive at this crazy time also - for Amma and also other ceremonies which were to be completed prior to her arrival at 11.30am.
Walking into a huge shed across the way from Amma’s temple and ashram, with blue time slip in hand (required before you can get a token - you exchange one for the other later in the day), I moved to the front where people were chanting a buddhist chant. The deep guttural sound of the 5 or so men on stage chanting was almost a little unnerving. One can certainly see how you can enter into a sort of hypnotic state whilst focusing on this one repeated sound.
A group of helpers were working to place mini ceramic bowls full of oils, incense and other small offerings onto each chair for the next ceremony which was to take place. The poonja (I think). As I was coaxed into paying to attend this ceremony, I sat with my little chair of offerings in front of me and decided to join in. I had no idea what was being said, but by copying what others were doing, I was able to follow along. Each item on my chair had a special purpose: I circled the flame in the oil around my chest and head three times, then the leaf with a small offering was circled around my crown three times, I dipped my small leaf into the single pot of oil and dripped this into the top of the terra cotta pot about 50 times (as this was done in time with a chant they repeated over and over), I near set myself on fire when I lit the little kerosene cube (which had a dangerous resemblance to a sugar cube), and then coated my entire body in the smoke of the burning incense stick and fumes from that little sugar cube. At other times I stood and turned in circles three times. Why? I don’t know?
To complete the ceremony, everyone carried their little terra cotta pot in their right hand on top of their head to Amma’s temple across the way. In a line of about 500 or so people, it took a while before I reached the temple to do whatever it was people were doing with their pots. With shoes off, I eventually entered the small temple steps where I then had a better view of what was going on. Inside the temple, on a small platform, men dressed in white linen robes were throwing the water of all the pots onto a statue which sat in the middle of the platform. It was a little dark in there and I couldn’t see what the statute was. All I knew is it was something important to all these people so I was happy to respect the tradition and offer my bowl of water and oil to the shrine also.
People were pushing their way through to have their pots taken from them and offered to the God within (I’m assuming), so I learned early on this morning that it’s important to be a little pushy also. Otherwise, I’m getting nowhere! As I walked out of the temple area I was sprinkled with water from the bristles of a tree branch, handed a small edible offering (which i haven’t dared eat), and given some die to put on my forehead. Quite an experience.
With hours to kill until Amma arrived, I decided to find a toilet. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of traditional Indian style toilets…. Not only is it a hole in the ground, but it’s like a bath in there. I nearly died when I saw women walking in bare foot. Oh, it’s a different world to what I know. Not saying mine is better - I just know this isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. But, it’s an experience nonetheless!
I sat in the isle where Amma would walk as she enters the huge shed turned temple we were in. In preparation for Amma’s arrival, a human barricade of people holding hands was created - about 70 or more metres at least. I was a part of this barricade, and found it to be quite a fun experience. The excitement in the room was beginning to grow. We were, however, holding hands for about 30 minutes prior to her arrival as I think someone got over excited and gave the cue a little early! And then before we knew it, surrounded by another barricade of people all dressed in white, Amma powered past me headed for the stage.
Sitting on a round pedestal on stage, Amma opened the session with one hours worth of singing. The first three songs were really exciting for me, but then it just became quite tiring to listen to. I was starting to dwindle by this point as I had already been there for over 6 hours. Next came another two or so hours of preaching (which I didn’t understand a word of) followed by meditation. Although I appreciated being in Amma’s presence, I was a little over it by this time. The ceremony seemed to go on forever. I was also a little concerned I was going to be one of the poor people who has to wait until 1.00am the next day for my moment with Amma. For as it turns out, there was no need to come early and get a ticket. There was no order whatsoever when it came to exchanging the ticket for the token. Ridiculous.
When that time did come (to get my token - which is a letter and number of the alphabet, e.g. B5), the entire place erupted into a mosh pit of people scrambling to find one those men who were handing out the tokens. It really was a matter of first in best dressed with getting a token. But then I noticed the people handing them out were selectively giving people tokens in the Z category or the G category - whatever they felt like it seemed! The Z people will be there all night.
With my new skills of pushing, I pushed my way through masses of crazy people to a man who eventually agreed to exchange my ticket. I ended up with G1. I was devastated. This meant I was going to be there for another 3-4 hours waiting for my hug. This would not do. So, in Indian fashion, I asked around about how to exchange this token for one which was earlier in the queue. Although told I could not change it, I was determined to find a way. I was directed to a man in an orange robe who was a helper of Amma’s. I explained I had been at the temple since 6.30am this morning and would really appreciate if there was a way to see Amma sooner. After some clarification of what I was asking, (as I think the man was originally trying to pretend like he didn’t know what I was saying), he exchanged my token for C5. Magic! I was instantly taken into the queue and within 30 minutes my face was in Amma’s breasts!
The chaos surrounded Amma up on stage. She had many helpers around her, which made this confined space that much more overwhelming. But the energy getting close to Amma was incredible. Knowing I was finally going to meet this woman, even though just for a moment, was certainly exciting and a little nerve racking. I noticed she hugged some people ever so briefly whilst others she would hold tightly, almost appearing as though they were being suffocated. Whilst holding people she would be talking to her helpers before kissing the hugged person on the head and sending them on their way.
After having my forehead patted down to remove any sweat before hugging Amma, a man in an orange robe to Amma’s left (my right) asked what language I spoke. I’m not sure why as it made no difference to how I was spoken to? Then, before I knew it, I was suddenly grabbed from behind the head by Amma herself and pulled into her right breast. And there I stayed for the next 20-30 seconds or so. I’m not sure why she held me for so long, but it was certainly nice to have the extra attention.
The gift Amma gave me: A little lolly and some red dye. I’m also holding flowers a helper gave me which Amma had touched and used in her
Amma’s hug was not what I expected. She smelled of fresh flowers and her clothes were soft silk. She held my head tightly toward her and in those moments I knew no one could touch me. I was a little awkward though. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my hands, whether to put more weight toward her… I was a little overwhelmed really. I began creeping my arms around her plump waist and returned the hug. But again, I was a little unsure what to do! I was also expecting to be pushed away sooner but I kept hearing her muffled voice, as my ears were squished, talking to the people around her. Was she aware I was down there? Or was the conversation more important? Was she talking about me? Who knows? After this short while she then pulled me slightly away from her chest, whispered something into my right ear in Hindu (I’m assuming), kissed my head and then released me. I was then just another one of the masses of people trying not to fall over the thin railing of the stage as people pushed their way to her.
One of Amma’s helpers, a Frenchman who I met during the ceremony, ushered me to go and sit on the stage behind Amma for sometime. To take in the energy from there. So I did. It was a much calmer feeling being behind Amma, knowing i didn’t have to wait until the early hours of the morning to see her and could now just observe. I watched on for about 20-30 minutes or so before it was time to allow others to sit on the stage also. I also had a chance to watch some young children perform traditional Indian dances on the other side of the stage, which was quite beautiful to see.
After all of this, I was ready for home. Starving and in need of a toilet, a western toilet preferably, it was time to go.
Upon reflection of today, of course I am glad I went. It was an experience like no other. What I feel is unfortunate, however, is how people are treating Amma as though she is God herself. I don’t think this is how she sees herself at all but the followers look to her as though she is this divine, supernatural power. In my opinion, this almost weakens her teachings. I can relate to the human but not the God, if that makes any sense?
Essentially, Amma preaches that people must look within to know thy Self. That there is nothing external which will ever help someone to achieve this knowledge, and if we rely on the external world then we shall always suffer from unhappiness. Love and compassion is another big concept she preaches about. But supernatural powers are not who or what she is. Not from what I could gather. Yet so many westerners (who made up 70% or more of her helpers today) seem to kiss the floor she walks on, looking to her in this way. I respect this powerful woman for the messages she is bringing to the world. Good messages full of truths. But, I cannot look at her like she is a Goddess. Should I? Am I missing something? I feel I can appreciate her teachings without having to become completely obsessed by her unlike so many others - so it seems. Each to their own I guess.
So, if ever Amma is in town and you want to go and see her, my recommendation is to arrive just prior to the ceremony, get your ticket and then brace yourself for the moment when you exchange your ticket for a token. Use elbows if needed, because I can guarantee everyone else will be!
Thank you Amma for our moment today. It was one which will remain with me for a lifetime.
With every excursion I take here in Mysore, I am exposed to more and more of what India is really like. Here in Gokulam, we are in a lovely bubble where we are safe, have nice restaurants designed to meet the needs of westerners, and the equivalent of luxury accommodation. At first, I was shocked by the state of living.. how naive I was. Out there, in the outskirts of Mysore is a whole other story. The poverty is so terribly sad. Whilst headed for, and returning from, the Sandalwood Oil Factory and Silk Factory, I kept thinking the standard of living couldn’t get any worse. But it did. I was taken through back streets which exposed the harsh reality of what it’s like to be poor and live in this country. Children playing in dirt, people sleeping in gutters, makeshift tents which are rotten and barely standing act as someones permanent home. The homes which are actually made of cement are crumbling, rotting and like something out of a war movie (after the war has destroyed everything). People are always dirty. There is never an opportunity to be clean. Even to dry clothes, they are scattered on the sides of roads, in the dirt amongst the rubbish. I’m not joking. This is the only ‘space’ they have to dry them. That ,or on the sides of a fence or wall if they have one. As chairs are not a necessity to live here, people tend to sit in gutters as they wait in hope for someone to purchase a tomato or flower from their stand. This is their life, day in day out. Signs of malnutrition are also everywhere. Grown men with thighs the size of my wrists or deformed men and women whose legs or arms are missing or mangled surround you. It’s horrific to see in one person - but to witness an entire city which seems to be sharing the same misfortunes, is such an eye opener. Nothing short of a tragedy. And the animals - they too seem to be rotting just as the people are. Roaming the streets aimlessly - not even bothering to look for food as there is none, they too are starved and live hopeless, helpless lives - and there is nothing to be done either. If people cannot afford to feed or care for themselves, then how can they care for these stray animals? They can’t.
For me, traveling in a rickshaw through these parts of Mysore, I am unable to take my shawl away from my face as the fumes are intoxicating. But for the locals, it’s normal to breathe such polluted air. It’s literally like being within a bad dream, hoping that when I wake up the world couldn’t possibly look this way - anywhere. And for me it is something I will be able to fortunately walk away from, but the nightmare continues for millions. This is their life.
It is these experiences which open ones eyes to reality. Yes, we can all keep ourselves in lovely little bubbles where we go on luxury holidays and remain oblivious to some of the tragedies happening in the world, but I feel it is through witnessing reality - by throwing my rosy coloured glasses on the floor and crushing them - that I shall grow as a human being. To become a more empathetic and compassionate person, a more aware person.
What is more amazing, and equally heartbreaking, is how beautiful these people are to talk to. So polite. And then I think about some of the petty issues back home people complain about, or how rude we can be to one another - we should be ashamed. They have literally nothing, and yet they keep their smiles. We can learn a lot from these wonderful people.
I also felt terribly sad about the money being paid to my rickshaw driver. A young, handsome man, dressed in his best for his work, drove me all around Mysore - to the places I wanted to go and also to a fantastic shop he recommended (selling gifts and yoga clothes). He spent about 3-4 hours with me in total, much of it waiting whilst I looked in shops/factories. All this effort, for a measly $6.50AUD. I really liked this driver. He was a safe driver, a patient man and wanted to take time to get to know me. He was also happy to accept whatever money I thought was fair for the trip (believe it or not, I would have overpaid him today) which you would never normally see here as people are desperate to scrounge every cent they can. He is booked to pick my up on Saturday morning (7.30am) to take me to Chamundi Hill. This will be a bigger fee however I intend on paying him a large tip for being just a nice, honest person who is helping me to enjoy my time here. I am truly grateful to him. Somu is his name.
As a thought - I wonder if any of our politicians have seen these parts of the world???? Hmmm…
I guess this ‘reality check’ leads in nicely to my next thought. Whilst practicing yoga today, back in my little bubble in the world, I found myself having a slight existential crisis. Asking, “what’s is the point in all this work? The effort we go to?” I chatted with Owen about this tonight, and we agreed that if one can know themselves better, understand the only body they have a little better, be more aware in life, find a sense of calm or centredness, then what an amazing gift. As Owen reminded me of a quote by Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” it certainly brought everything back into perspective. Again, always grateful for these deeper conversations with him. They can really help me to make sense of my mind which often makes no sense at all…
And finally, on a lighter note, as i mentioned earlier I was lucky enough to visit the Sandalwood Factory today (Silk Factory was on a lunch break when I arrived). It was nothing like what I expected. I felt as though I was walking into a haunted concentration camp to be honest. A dilapidated old building which is committed to making the finest, 100% pure sandalwood oil and soaps in the world. Incredible. With ancient machines to complete this mammoth task, I was quite impressed. Unfortunately pictures were strictly prohibited inside so this is something one must see when here. I have a new respect for sandalwood after being here. It is the basis for all Ayurvedic treatments as the healing properties are incredible. The guide (for myself and an Italian man who happened to have the same idea) explained passionately about the power of this oil when used. Aromatherapy is one of the best ways to experience such benefits. As they will not be selling oil for another month (and at $40AUD for 5ml I wasn’t too worried to be honest), I purchased some of their soaps and incense, which they are most famous for. These will be a nice reminder of this eye opening day.
Thank you for reading. For me, my lessons are; to be grateful for the amazing and fortunate life I am living, more compassionate and empathetic, more understanding and a more aware person. Good things can only come from this.