Ambition Tightens Hamstrings 

Thus ends my first ever month of early mornings on a mat, bending and stretching at a yoga shala. To be honest, walking towards the shala that first day, I would of laid a bet on my attendance being 50%, tops. 

“I’m so happy that you’re joining me for yoga”, the GF smiled me that smile. 

“I’m proud of you”, she added with earnest, “and actually, it’s kind of romantic”. Wink, wink.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Romantic, but I am also a realist. Surely there would be atleast one sneaky sleep in, a handful of hangovers and a couple of can’t be f**ked’s throughout the month. But, 30 days later, I can honestly say that I went the distance, and I’ll also let you know that it was neither a problem nor a big deal, but a real pleasure and a lot of sweat.

I started as a COMPLETE novice (I now consider myself a beginner), but I was able to pick up a thing or two about yoga along the way.

Firstly, yoga is not just for girls or the incredibly athletic posers of Instagram. Gawking around the shala on my first day, the diversity of students was obvious. People from all over the globe, of every shape and size, every age and colour, all together sweating and bending their way to bliss. Some stretching with the finesse of a Russian gymnast, some struggling to touch their toes (me). There is an oft quoted saying thrown around Mysore, “Yoga is for everyone, that is everyone EXCEPT lazy people.” 

Also, yoga is not a religion, nor a cult. Yep, there’s chanting in a dead language, Sanskrit of all things. Weird right??? Any weirder than ten thousand blokes standing around every Saturday at Stamford Bridge, all in unison yelling, 

“Blue is the colour, football is the game. We’re all together, and winning is the aim.” ???
Not really. 

Sure, yoga is full of philosophy and advice on how to live a better life, much like religion. But, hey, I’m always open to suggestions. As Alain De Bottom noted in his book, Religion for Atheists :

Some people can remain a committed atheist and nevertheless find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling.” 

And so it is with yoga. I’m open to ideas on becoming more mindful of how to eat, consume and act. I’m not too proud to acknowledge that I need some good advice every once in a while. Yoga offers a great opportunity to hang out with a lot of flexible, considerate and super healthy people.

As the GF always says,”Be part of it. practice yoga”.

Mysore in September


(Photo KPJAYI Main Shala, Mysore. Courtesy Instagram@briana.nicholson)

Back in July when organising flights from A to B, the GF pointed out that since we were flying over India anyway, we would be mad not to touchdown for a yoga fix in Mysore. The GF is full of good ideas, and I was happy to agree.

“This time, you should practice yoga with me,” the GF added, after the flights were booked.

“Hmm……”

Well every healthy relationship needs some give and take, and always willing to try something new, I bought myself a mat, a pair of Lululemon shorts and jumped on the yoga bandwagon. In for a penny and all that. I was to learn that we had signed up for a month of Ashtanga yoga, at the ‘source’, KPJAYI. 

If you don’t know what Ashtanga is (I didn’t) I won’t bore you with the details other than to let you know that it is a flowing set of moves (asanas) that stretch and bend you for about an hour a day (longer if you’re better). But, you NEED to know the moves, so before jumping on the plane a crash course in Ashtanga was needed. Thanks YouTube!

Arriving in Mysore in the ‘off’ season the GF and I realised we had stumbled on a secret. Gokulam, the suburb where most of the yoga shalas are situated, is super quiet. Tranquil even. We had been here before, in the high season when the town is busting at the seams, with lines for restaurants, hotels over booked, Insta-famous yogis everywhere. Not the zen place that you’d expect. But now……well ‘shhh’, don’t tell anybody, because it’s bliss.

The head of Ashtanga’s lineage, Sharath is out of town. He’s touring abroad, but his mum, Saraswathi is still holding class. Both classes are packed to the rafters over the high season. Sharath holds class in the main shala, a big, beautiful room that is the epicentre of Ashtanga, a place where yogis worldwide need to wait and wait and wait to register for a place months in advance to get the chance to practice and improve. Saraswati has another shala around the corner. But with the head honcho outta town…. 

The GF asks Saraswati, “Are we practicing in the main shala for ALL of September?”, a little over excitedly.

“Actually”, Saraswati replies, “it is MY shala. I just let my son use it when he is here, but he is not here, so we will practice in MY shala”. 

Big smiles all round.

Month in Mysore

 (Photo: Instagram@briana.n.yoga)

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??