This piece is an extract from the novel ‘Stretching Truths: Travels of a Yogini’s Boyfriend’.
Landing in India is always exciting, and I had a blissful month in beautiful Mysore to start. You can always tell where the rich live in India because every second house is a private doctor’s residence and the locals have perfect teeth as there are dentists everywhere. Gokulam, Mysore is such a place, but with the added bonus of housing the famous KPJAYI shala, the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga.
There seem to be more foreigners than locals in Gokulam, visitors from over 60 countries come to practice, a figure the local guru proudly throws around. All are very fit and healthy looking, with the air of zen around them, a benefit that comes from keeping a dedicated diet and doing hard yards on the mat. My GF fits right in.
“Who are you practicing with?”, is the go to conversation starter in Gokulam.
“What? No yoga??”, a baffled bi-sexual beefcake asks in disbelief, disgust spreading over his radiant face. I realise a better excuse is needed to justify my excistence, literally as there are ‘Yoga Students Only’ signs on the front doors of some hotels.
However, there is a loophole in Ashtanga yoga that I will share with you. Ashtanga, the mantra goes, is 99% practice and 1% theory.
“I’m here for the theory”, just believable enough to blend in, the best way to get out alive when immersed within a gang.
The yoga tourist does have an interestingly different type of holiday. I dove further into their world by picking up some volunteer (read ‘unpaid’) work at one of the local cafes. A dedicated yoga student will start their day in the shala EARLY and sweat it out, sometimes for hours, building up an immense hunger.
The cafe is all low tables and pillows, with soft sounds of the rainforest playing through speakers, as the Yogi’s and Yogini’s arrive, carrying mats of questionable smell tucked under their arms and sustainable glass water bottles at hand. Breakfast is THE event of the day, after the actual practice of course.
Being a waiter gives me a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the daily life of the yoga tourist. Interestingly, although everybody is very health conscious, anal even, about what they eat, they consume a LOT for breakfast, an event that lasts for hours. The whole experience is a bit like watching floodgates open.
Just a soy chai and plain toast to start, inhaled as it hits the table, followed by ragi flakes with more soy milk splashed on top, another chai. Pause. Something scrambled, usually tofu occassionly eggs if you’re a beginner, and onto the first mug of black coffee. This is woofed down, ‘more coffee, please!’. Not a request, but demanded as the first hit of caffeine kicks in. Ragi pancakes follow, a dry heavy alternative to the fluffy style you may invision. This should be the end, even for the hungriest, but the glutten free chocolate cake comes out of the oven, and the crowd goes wild. Why the chef doesn’t bake two, or ten for that matter, is beyond me, but the cake sells out and those who missed a slice give me as evil a glare as somebody on a yoga high can muster. Not so much scary but INTENSE.
Eavesdropping is habitual for hospitality staff. Om shanti shanti, savasana, pinch-my-arse-ena, are all part of the lexicon. The dilemma of killing mosquitoes can become a heated discussion. The barriers to binding hands when your body is contorted in a box are high also high on the agenda. Kino McGregor’s latest Instagram post is always a hot topic.
The days can end after breakfast in Gokulam, as yogis have an afternoon rest, and then a liquid dinner at Anu’s, saving room for tomorrow’s morning feast.
Been to Gokulam? Did I forget something??