Two Coconuts

November 21, 2012 § 12 Comments

Balcony view, 4:30pm.

I’ve started measuring the intensity of the practice based on the number of coconuts I inhale right after. Last week was a 1 coconut practice week. Intense, but manageably so, and warm, but not in a sweat-dripping kind of way. This week is a whole other story. I have started discovering sweat glands that I never knew existed, like under my forearms, for instance. By the Prasaritas, I’m practically raining, trying to maintain drishti while beads of sweat trickle into my eyes and my nostrils. Hardly the most comfortable of sensations. I’m usually a sweat hog at home, regardless of the season, but practicing here brings that title to a whole new level. Today was the second day in the row where I began wondering if I was going to make it through the full practice all the way to backbending. I’ve been plagued with a cough for two days now, after a couple of nights of restless sleep. My energy levels are low, the muscles are fatigued and the damp heat of the room makes it hard to take big deep breaths. But somehow I made it through, by taking it slow and doing 8 breaths instead of 5 in the seated postures. I’m starting to see the importance of really tuning into one’s energy levels and managing it wisely here.

Energy. It’s a word that crops up alot in conversations here, predominantly when talking about the practice room. The quiet, focused energy turns the room into a sort of a vritti deadzone, where your wandering mind is deprived of vritti-enhancing oxygen, making it easy to really tune into your breath, your energy and the power of this practice.

I’m still not quite sure if I like or dislike this place, and I don’t know if I’ll feel either way by the time I leave. But I do know that I like Sharath enough to respect what he’s doing for Ashtanga right now. I particularly appreciate how he doesn’t have a diva air about him at all, and the light-hearted way in which he takes down the ego a couple of notches. In conference last Sunday, somebody sought his view about students who practice Ashtanga two or three times a day, to which he replied, “Only crazy people do that”. In a practice like this where it’s too easy to get caught up in external markers of progress, his constant reminder that “yoga is a spiritual practice” is timely and absolutely essential.

Mysore is disappointing for folks who come here expecting to forge a strong student-teacher relationship with him, as measured by the number of adjustments at practice, or trying to see if he acknowledges you at all. On my first day here I met a girl practicing at Mysore Mandala in Lakshmipuram, who felt that she got better “value for money” there compared to KPJAYI, simply because of the smaller class size. There is logic in that. But I will also say that this logic, along with the expectation for receiving a certain level of attention from Sharath himself, is missing the whole point of coming here. There is immense value in practicing in a room packed with people who are strongly dedicated to this practice, turning up everyday to give it their all. And to have a teacher who creates and holds this space, allowing you to really delve into the practice and allow it to work, now that’s invaluable. And that’s why I’m here. For the practice, not for Sharath.


I just realized that my blog has spammed a couple of your blogrolls – sorry about that! Password has been changed, so no more hacks, hopefully.


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§ 12 Responses to Two Coconuts

  • Fiona Hynes says:

    I love this post. That is exactly how I felt about Sharath in Encinitas the first time I met him. He does not run around the room adjusting everyone and making new friends. What he does is hold the space for us to experience the Joy of practicing Ashtanga in a room full to the brim. He holds that space so well. Can’t wait to hear more Danielle.. Sending Thoughts.

  • grimmly says:

    “And to have a teacher who creates and holds this space, allowing you to really delve into the practice and allow it to work, now that’s invaluable”.

    I’ve felt for sometime that if Sharath didn’t exist we would have to invent him. The Mysore shala may not feel relevant to me at this time but I’m glad it’s there in the abstract and I really enjoy reading about peoples first trips there, especially the first trips……but then I like reading about peoples first trips to Italy too.

    Despair at the description of the rush for mat space though, hope I’d be the same as you and just practice in the loo or the foyer or …out on the steps.

    “vritti deadzone” : )

    • D says:

      Interesting take on the need to invent Sharath – can you share more?

      Actually, for a home practitioner you may appreciate the independence that comes with practicing here. You get the group setting without too much tweaks and assists….of course, it depends on what you’re looking for as well. I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that I’d love to read about YOUR first trip to Mysore sometime πŸ˜‰

      If I am well enough to make it for led class tomorrow, I’m zeroing in on the foyer!

      • grimmly says:

        “…need to invent Sharath”….what DO I mean? I don’t know, that there is a given, an approach to practice that everyone knows of and recognises as having some justification, that this was how SKPJ ran the practice, the room at the end of his life and is being continued. It kind of allows us to explore the practice somewhat, our own ,and other approaches from different periods of SKPJ’s teaching through teachers that practiced with him at different times. You can go off into exploring and experimenting with origins, meanings, different elements of practice and if you take a wrong turn, go up a blind alleyway, you can still come back to Sharath and the room or the idea of the room and reset you practice before renewing the investigation. I often come back to his primay DVD and practice with it for a month before messing with the breath, or the drishti, the sequence, long stays, pranayama in asana…
        Something like that perhaps.
        Have been tempted by BNS Iyengar across town but currently I’m leaning towards Chennai and Mohan.

      • D says:

        @Grimmly: Sharath as the benchmark, the true holder of SKPJ’s orthodoxy from which we can get our bearings. I love that…never saw it that way, so thank you for expounding on it. I think it’s absolutely helpful to have something to go back to once we get lost with our own experimenting. Of course that assumes some desire for authenticity, which is not everyone’s priorities…

        From the looks of things, he is taking that role pretty seriously as well. Just look at the whole discussion around ujjayi breathing during practice. I’ve heard his explanation umpteen times (that it’s free breathing with sound, not ujjayi, which is a pranayama exercise) and yet he still gets questions about it. Almost as if he’s had to clean up Guruji’s somewhat more flexible and laissez-faire use of terminology. Sharath is more precise.

        Whether you go to Chennai or Mysore – I am still looking forward to reading about your experience!

  • Nobel says:

    Vritti deadzone… I like that. We need more such deadzones in our practices πŸ™‚ Glad you are having all these experiences at the KPJAYI. I feel pretty much the same as you do about practicing with Sharath, although I’ve never met him. I think this “holding the space” thing is very much a trademark of Ashtanga teachers in a Mysore room. And in my experience, the further you go along in the practice, the more your relationship with the teacher becomes about holding/sharing the space, and less about being chummy and chatty and all.

    Sorry to hear about your blog getting hacked/hijacked. When I first saw that post about making money through surveys, I thought it was some kind of profoundly subversive political message from you πŸ™‚

  • Monika says:

    Dear Danielle, that ‘vritti deadzone’ is amazing. I really do feel like addicted to that, now I know the name, cool name πŸ™‚ and I have that not-knowing mind about teacher-student relationship on general, so your post is an opener for me. thank you πŸ™‚ Monika from Poland

  • grimmly says:

    Yes Sharath got himself in a pickle with the Ujjayi issue, should probably have left it alone. One particular and narrow definition of pranayama would indeed suggest kumbhaka (breath retention) and his grandfather never seems to indicate any breath retention in his presentation of Ashtanga. An equally narrow definition of Ujjayi would require kumbhaka also, therefor as SKPJ’s Ashtanga doesn’t include breath retention you can’t call it Ujjayi….by these narrow definitions.

    Krishnamacharya of course did include breath retention in his ‘original’ Ashtanga, which particular kumbhaka and how long would depend on the posture, he would refer to pranayama within asana, not just the usual seated pranayama postures. All that has been lost sadly in current Ashtanga despite the fact K. was teaching this way in the period he was teaching Pattabhi Jois.Seems a shame.

    So pretty much evryone else, in and out of Ashtanga, calls it Ujjayi, and other lineages deriving from Krishnamacharya are exploring limited pranayama within asana, given that it’s a breathing practice it seems an interesting and fruitful area to explore in our practice.

    One of the drawbacks of orthodoxy I guess,

    I’ve always liked Ramaswami’s approach, rather than say one way is right or wrong he just says ,

    ‘…this is how my teacher taught me. I tried other ways but prefer the way I was taught’.

    that leaves it open to the student to explore within their own practice.

    Need to go somewhere at least and have adventures to write about.

    • D says:

      Gave myself a few days to think about your comment πŸ™‚

      The whole practice is on its own journey of evolution, isn’t it? K passed it onto SKPJ who made his own changes, and now Sharath’s taken over and adding his own spin to it. How much are we looking for authenticity when doing ‘Ashtanga’? The answer to that depends on how curious the student is I suppose. K’s version sounds pretty advanced to me….or perhaps that statement’s just a product of the current Ashtanga mindset that pranayama is only for ‘advanced’ students. I think it’s good to know about how things were done previously and to explore them in our practice, but I can also see Sharath’s view where setting one ‘standard’ makes it easier to keep everyone in line, given the scale at which Ashtanga is practiced today and the number of students he sees. Yet despite the orthodoxy I’ve found enough breadth within the practice to do my own explorations….not to the point of doing retentions in asana, but small stuff like taking more breaths, inserting ‘bandha exercises’ (lift ups) and such. Nothing too experimental that would render a shoutout πŸ˜‰

      I like Ramaswami’s approach too!

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