Thank you Guruji. Thank you.

 
 

Dear Sir,

I’m writing to you as I wanted to share my thoughts about the most challenging, intimidating yet also rewarding months of my life. As I sit on my living room floor (where else would I be!) writing to you, reflecting about the month just gone, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace for having taught alongside you,Guruji, for the past month. Words cannot describe how important this was for me.

But before sharing these thoughts and feelings about the month just gone, I firstly wanted to recap about how we met.

At a time in my life when work was extraordinarily stressful and life had become mundane and dull, I came across a yoga teacher whose approach (to yoga) so inspired me that I knew if I was ever going to become a teacher myself, I would seek out the person she trained with. I knew they must be brilliant. That person was of course you. When the moment was right to begin this journey as a teacher, I sought you out and committed to three months in India. Leaving my entire life as I knew it behind me was extraordinarily challenging, but nonetheless exciting. Getting to know you during my first visit to Mysore was one of the most memorable and meaningful times of my life. Despite the intense physical and mental challenges faced through your training, life was becoming so exciting with the possibilities I knew lay ahead. Returning to Australia after spending so much time together in the Shala was the next challenge. I was nervous about no longer having your ongoing support and guidance (in person). I knew there so much more to learn from you and that a certification to teach would not suffice. My journey as a your student needed to continue. This was why I made the decision to approach you regarding the possibility of assisting with the upcoming TTC scheduled for March 2016. Whilst this would mean sacrificing being trained by you (as a practitioner), to teach alongside you would be the most incredible experience as I would be granted the opportunity to observe how you interact with your students; how you correct them; how you sequence your classes and more. With a commitment to being the best teacher I can possibly be, I knew this would be an invaluable experience - for whilst there are many brilliant yoga practitioners in the world, there are few equally as brilliant teachers.

Asking to assist was quite possibly one of my most vulnerable moments as to be rejected would have been so disappointing. However, whilst there were natural moments of doubt and fears of rejection, I knew it was important to take the risk and enquire. To have been accepted for this opportunity was quite possibly one of my greatest honours and your kind and welcoming support made this experience even more special.

The months leading up to the TTC were a rollercoaster of emotions. Worry, nervousness, excitement, gratitude… Observing my emotional state during these months was an interesting process. Ups, downs, round and rounds! Fluctuations as you would say.  I feared not having the stamina, mentally, to get through the month. I knew what was in store for the students (after having gone through it myself) and I questioned if I could go through it again - and more!  But worries aside, I knew I needed to be there and that I would find the courage to keep going when the time came. And of course, this time certainly came - over and over… and over again.

In March I flew to Mysore and I came to visit you the moment I arrived. I remember crying last year as I hugged you goodbye, feeling so saddened by the knowledge I would not see you again for sometime. But there I was, back again and now preparing to teach alongside you. How humbled and honoured I was to sitting and talking with you that afternoon. I shall never forget that conversation.

The following day, our month long journey together would begin. During that month I was challenged in every possible way. Physically, as an advanced teacher and practitioner, I was pushed to limits I once never thought possible. Pratima, who trained with me in between the TTC classes, certainly doesn’t settle for mediocrity with her practitioners! But physical challenges aside, this past month has been more a challenge of the mind. There were days when I felt totally drained, inadequate and lacked confidence. Whilst I’m too stubborn to quit anything I commit to (sometimes to my own detriment) there were days when I questioned my silly decisions to put myself through such an intense experience. But of course, the sane and logical part of me always pulled through and reminded me of what a life changing experience this would be. Of the honour it was to assist you, Guruji. So I kept going and gave 2000% to everything - my time, my personal practice and of course my support of yourself and the students…. There was absolutely no way I was going to let you, the students or myself down. This was far too important.

 
 

So as I sit here and reflect upon the month just gone, there are many special moments I shall hold dear for the rest of my life. It could have been just a simple nod of approval, a smile or sitting alongside you at the front of the Shala. Whilst to you or others these moments may have seemed insignificant, to me they were powerful and hugely meaningful.

So as a final word, I want to sincerely thank you for your ongoing guidance and support of my journey with yoga. For believing in me as a teacher and practitioner. I have learned more than I could have possibly ever imagined, and this experience has made me not only a better teacher, but a better student, practitioner and person overall. I cannot wait to return next year to continue this journey with you and step it up to the next level. Thank you Guruji. Thank you.

Much love,

Your student, Jessica.

 

Yogacharya Bharath Shetty

 

Chanting, Pranayama, Vinyasa and Kriyas - It's great to be back!

Yes, my alarm clocks (I have two set) and I were not friends again this morning as they exploded at 4.00am, but I can truthfully say these early mornings are so very worth it. This morning was our first class back and let’s just say it’s been a combination of joy, exhaustion, relief, calm, intrigue, doubting, not doubting… The list could on.

Class began a little differently than normal. All nine of us sat close to the front, in our perfect lines, and began by chanting unfamiliar chants with Bharath. Let’s just say we are not exactly creating music to the ears, but it’s always fun to learn these new chants (in Sanskrit of course). We then began our Vinyasa A and B practice. This is very new to me. You see a lot of teachers teaching Vinyasa Flow. Well, this is what I am now learning. What an incredible practice. We dabbled in it during our afternoon sessions last month, but I didn’t quite understand it, or like it for that matter. Now working through the technique more slowly and with all concentration, I think this is a practice I could really enjoy - and possibly teach also.

Not only is the temperature in Mysore heating up, meaning the Shala is heating up (all windows closed and no fans / air con), but the practice is intensifying. As we are now moving into advanced practice, we are to hold far stronger postures than we did in the first half of the course. This morning I watched sweat drip off my wrists and nose onto my mat, my hands were slipping from my ankles and my clothes were glued to my body. And it’s only going to get stronger (and hotter I might add!). Bharath moved us into postures and made us hold them until everything was shaking, near collapsing. This is when the will kicks in. I work incredibly hard to maintain focus on my breath and repeat over and over and over and over in my mind, “you can do this Jessica. Just a few more moments. Breathe. You can do this. Do not give up.” I’m not kidding - I literally repeat this to myself, like a mantra, and it gives me to strength to stay there. Bhujangasana B was an example where I needed to do this. Cobra but with your hands resting behind your head. My head has never felt so heavy in all my life!

After practice, we then moved onto Pranayama (my favourite!!). As I can sit for far longer periods now without pain in my knees and hips, Pranayama is becoming a more enjoyable practice. But today, we have begun introducing Kriyas - Agnisara Kriya to be specific. Take a look at this clip to see what this is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBlz5QHtVSE

With shirtless men around me and us ladies raising our tops up so our bellies are exposed, we are all hunched over working to push our bellies in and out. All sorts of sounds were being made in the room as each of us were trying to practice this. Quick breaths, grunts, forceful exhalations of air. Everyone is working with their own body to try and get the technique / rhythm of this practice down. Good fun but certainly a challenge for me from a confidence point of view. My stomach is my most disliked part of my body. I don’t have a lovely flat belly like most women. So exposing it was a challenge. But then I went back to remembering that yoga is not about what your body looks like, its about how your body feels. This is what’s important. So with this in mind, I too flashed my belly and did funny looking belly rolls with the rest of the class! Even with Bharath’s nose within a few centimeters of my navel (making sure im doing it right), I knew it was all ok. It was safe and i had nothing to be self conscious about.

Thank you yoga for teaching me this.

Namaste xx

Are teachers creating dependent students?

Today was my last day training Mysore Style. Upon reflection, it’s been a great week. I have been given an opportunity to truly deepen my practice, using this time to work hard at better understanding particular asanas, and how I move in, out and hold them. My Sirsasana, for example, has significantly improved by having more time to work on this; feel it, notice what is and isn’t working - both physically and mentally. Both teachers have also been very involved with the practice, correcting physically moreso than verbally, to help me (and others) improve our technique.

But with this approach to teaching, which is quite the opposite to Bharath, I noticed how people became dependent upon the teacher. (And they told me so also). Even I would unwillingly become dependent in particular asanas. Sirsasana was one of them, which is not what I wanted at all. Although the lovely woman who taught in the morning meant well by helping me to maintain balance, I was beginning to need her there. Thankfully her involvement became less and less as the week went on, but it made me think about how people come to ‘need’ their teachers. I can see why this would be great for business, but it’s not helping the practitioner to progress.

After class today, I was chatting with another student - a young woman from New Zealand. She was telling me how much she loved being physically corrected. I agreed it had it’s benefits, but in the long run it’s not good at all. This prevents practitioners from ever being able to do self practice in a technically correct way. It also minimises a persons ability to truly learn their body, how it works and what needs to be done in order to achieve a particular asana - whether that’s a micro movement of the hips, engaging the pelvis or a slight tilt of the chin. All these movements are important to feel naturally, not to be forced into. It will never come this way and it creates dependency. The same goes for using props; like straps, bolsters and blocks. Practitioners will never learn to effectively work with, challenge and explore their body whilst using props. I, for one, use to like using a strap for asanas like Supta Padangusthasana (lying down big toe = lying on your back with one leg raised in the air and holding onto your big toe). But now that I don’t use a strap, I realise how limiting this (strap) was to my practice. My flexibility and strength in my legs has significantly improved since working without it. My hips are also opening much better because I’m working through the asana more strongly, through feeling everything work together - arms, hips, thighs, calves, legs, abs, breath. The strap was just laziness (on my part anyway).

So, although it has been a great week in terms of my own development and deepening of the asanas, it’s been a real eye opener about what type of teacher I want to be. I want to offer people the opportunity to really explore their body, to see their body ‘open’ naturally and in their own time. This is a gift and I am excited to share it. I feel so overjoyed every time my body moves in a way I once thought was impossible, and I want others to feel this way also. I could think of nothing more rewarding.

On a completely different note, it’s Happy Holi Day here in India, which explains my slightly odd look! Seeing people drowned in different coloured dyes was fabulous fun. I just wasn’t game enough to bring my camera…

Namaste xx


My new favourite shop - yes, up those vertical stairs!

Happy Holi Day!!

Of course I went for the ‘double’ smoothie today…

…and finished it.

Welcome to the real world - outside the bubble

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.

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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.

Namaste xx


Sandalwood Factory

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Sandalwood Factory Outlet

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Silk Factory Outlet

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Closed for lunch Silk Factory

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Mysore Style, pampered and beaten - all in a day!

Today I began Mysore Style classes at the Shala. As I am here to train, I figure it’s important I keep up my practice during my holidays. This mornings class was led by a woman whose name I couldn’t remember if my life depended on it. Starting with “P” and followed by lots more letters, is as far as i know. (Terrible… I know). I needed to be really conscious of being open to a different style of teaching. Although she is trained by Bharath, of course each person will bring their own flavour to a class. So with this in mind, I needed to be open to learning from a new teacher rather than dismiss her (in my mind) based on nothing else other than the fact that she is not Bharath. As I have had so many bad yoga teachers over the years, it’s hard to accept someone new after working with someone as incredible as Bharath. But, I needed to let that go.

I worked through the Foundation Series (as Bharath had recommended), more slowly than usual to be honest. I think a combination of being watched by another teacher and feeling a little out of sorts with my body at the moment (I think that time of month is on its way), I felt I needed to pay a lot more attention to my technique. As predicted, the new teacher had some differing ideas about a couple of the asanas (even something as simple as how many breaths in between) but I surprisingly found her instruction very clear, supportive and encouraging. I ended up really appreciating having a woman guide me into and out of particular asanas. Just something about a womans touch I guess. I can’t quite describe it, and not what I expected. Note to self: Be open to new experiences and don’t be too quick to judge. There could be wonderful learnings to be gained.

As class was done by 10.00am, I had a new found freedom! I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my spare time. Considering I live in Gokulam and have seen very little of it thus far, I decided to go for a wander through the backstreets to try and find some of the little yoga stores and a silver jewelery shop I have been told about. Although I found none of these places, as the shops are usually within people’s homes with nothing outside for advertising, I did come across a little sign for a beauty salon. When I saw ‘pedicures’ on the list of things they do, I was intrigued. My toe nails have remnants of red nail polish which has been chipped away day by day. Not a classy look! Such a simple thing, but having feral toe nails has been a little embarrassing.

Walking into, again, someone’s home, I was greeted by a young boy and four other Indian women, the eldest being the owner. With a price of 350 Indian rupees to have my toenails done, I was in! They saw me right away as no one else was booked. It seemed like they must get quite bored in there, just waiting for people to walk in the door.

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After a short wait, I was led into the back room where two black leather salon chairs sat. One with arm rests and holes in the arm rests (why, I wasn’t sure - my whole leg could have fit through it) and the other was just a normal chair for cutting hair. A young girl with dark hair tightly pulled back with a frizzy ponytail rushed me through and sat me down in the chair, making sure I was careful not to put my feet in the bucket of water below me. Sitting on a small stall in front of me, the young girl placed a white towel over my thighs and one over her own.

The pedicure began with removing the remainder of my nail polish followed by filing my toe nails. She then applied cuticle cream on each toenail and asked me to dunk my feet into the relatively hot water below. As she worked, all other staff sat around watching. I felt as though I was a zoo animal where people come to stare as I look different. But with all my travels over the years, you learn to just go with it!

After a few moments, the young girl asked me to lift my feet out of the hot water, where I noticed the cuticle cream had hardened - like candle wax. Wasn’t expecting that! She then took care to scratch it off with all sorts of mini utensils. Next, she dipped her hands into some honey coloured liquid and rubbed it all over my feet. It was divine. By this point, I realised I was getting a little more done than the original intention, which was to just have my toenails painted. This golden syrup bubbled up and with a fingernail scrubbing brush she then started to scrub my feet - everywhere. The toes, the tops of my feet up to my ankles, my heels, under my toes. No part of my foot was left unscrubbed. One would have thought a brush as hard as this would have hurt, but although it was rough, it was actually a really lovely sensation. With a rinse, next came the huge foot files - two different kinds. I would have been happy with one, but clearly the job wouldn’t have been done right if the second wasn’t used also. I think it may have been a buffer. One of the other girls who sat by the wall watching, a meter or so away, kept bringing more and more creams, and liquids, and brushes over. I honestly thought this pedicure was going to go on for the rest of the day. I wasn’t complaining!

Some peach smelling violet coloured body scrub was then massaged into my feet and all the way up to my knees! At this point I was getting a full leg and foot massage also. I was amazed this tiny girl had such strong hands. With more scrubbing, then washing, my feet were then painted with an avocado green paste! The whole foot to my ankles. By this point, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself about the experience I was having - all this effort just to get my toenails painted. With green feet, I was left on my own for about 5-10 minutes whilst the girls cleaned up behind me. What this cream was, I have no idea. But again, I just went with it!

While waiting, I was watching the young male give a haircut to a man who walked in during my pampering session. Right when I thought the haircut was done, the young male hairdresser brought a spray bottle over and sprayed the customers head, followed by one of the funniest head massages I have ever seen. I watched on in amazement as this customer was slapped and thumped and just attacked overall by the hairdresser. Clearly this is a normal thing as I noticed the customer actually readjust himself in preparation for the beating which was about to come. Had this been me, I think I would have walked out of the beauty parlor with a concussion. The thud sounds were so loud it was as though he was literally being bashed. I had to turn away a few times to hide the hysterical laughter I was trying not to show. I had the tears welling in my eyes and it took every ounce of energy not to completely lose it. By the time I turned back, I notice the hairdresser is back with the spray bottle, but this time spraying the mans face - drowning him by the looks of it. To top things off , the man’s entire face was slathered with shaving cream. I’m not joking. Forehead and nose included. All that was left were some blinking eyes. Seriously, one of the funniest things I’ve seen for a while. Very entertaining. This hairdresser then shaved this man with a cut throat razor. That was very impressive to see. He was scarily quick too. I’m not so sure I would feel so comfortable with a knife that sharp, moving that quickly, next to my jugular! Ahhh, the experiences of another country.

With green feet now washed, I walked out of the beauty salon with lovely maroon painted toenails with pretty silver dots on top. My feet felt amazing. I felt amazing. And I was so proud of my new toe nails. It’s incredible how something so simple can make you feel so lovely - and clean!

After a lazy afternoon, I attended my back bending Mysore Style class this evening with Ragu. I really like him. We have gotten to know Ragu over the past month and he seems like such a lovely young man. I think he is only 22 years old. This is my first class with Ragu and to be honest, his teaching style is not what I expected. He is wonderfully involved in the class, but my goodness he is much rougher than Bharath. Whilst doing my best to hold a position, he would quite forcefully pull my hips back or tuck my chest in. Not what I expected from him at all. It wasn’t bad, but they way the realignment was done makes it a little harder to embed in the memory. I think it’s important to be realigned more gradually so you have time to notice/feel the adjustment. Instead I’ve gone from A to Z without really knowing how I got there. I think this is where the work of a master, like Bharath, shines through. He must know that students need the opportunity to feel how the body is being realigned so we can recall it for next time, rather than force it. A small point but I think it’s an important one. It is certainly something I will keep in the forefront of my mind when teaching my own students one day.

This evening I have spent relaxing at home. I got to speak with my Owen for a short while. Unfortunately the power outages seem to be happening more frequently the more it heats up in Mysore which often stops us from chatting. It can be quite frustrating when the power goes out, again, but what can you do! I use these little experiences to help improve my acceptance and patience in life. If I didn’t then these silly things would get me down. I won’t let that happen. Back home, we have no tolerance for power outages, but at the end of the day - it’s life. In saying that, however, thank goodness it’s not something we have to deal with daily (back home). We really are very lucky. Here - it can happen multiple times a day, anywhere from a few moments to hours. Life.

So my lessons for today are; always be open to new experiences and always look for the learnings and positives within them; live in the moment and appreciate the little things. This is what creates ‘meanings’ in life.

Namaste xx


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