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Ashtanga in India

March 7, 2011

I’ve always felt nervous about India.  The images I‘ve had in my head have usually been a little scary – dirt, beggars, poverty and over-population.  And the thing is these images are absolutely correct.  The only feature I didn’t have right was the soundtrack – it’s loud and twenty four hours a day!

I booked myself on a flight to India impulsively, firstly to meet up with my best friend who married a man in a far off cold place, and secondly to immerse myself fully in my two year old Ashtanga habit.  So it was Mysore and Ashtanga for five weeks.

Mysore is far bigger than I imagined and far louder.  In fact India is in every way more than I imagined.  It’s a vigorously alive place, where every sound, sight and smell fights for your attention, usually leaving you feeling over-stimulated and overwhelmed, (and sometimes clutching a toilet bowl).

We practiced with the diminutive and iridescent Sheshadri, who is famous for his adjustments and his mind-blowing strength disguised by his tiny stature.  His adjustments are indeed incredible and there is something about the man that gave me enough confidence to let him stand on my hips in Urdhva Dhanurasana and put my hands on my heels in Kapotasana, (without sobbing into my mat).  He exemplified calmness under duress.

I would’ve loved to come home as GI Yogini, but being able to drop-back would’ve been fine too.  The truth is no asana is suddenly easier in India and I still can’t drop-back.  Some days I feel stronger and more flexible but I think the most important thing I learnt in India was to be highly conscious of my body and its story.

India rules out most thoughts of home. There is no to-do list.  There’s yoga and food and sleep – life in an alternative universe. I could fully concentrate on how I was feeling.  Some days I felt exhilarated, some days I didn’t feel good – at all – and some days I really didn’t want to feel anything!  My body ached from strong adjustments and a six day a week practice, my digestive system felt topsy-turvy from spicy food, I felt generally grimy most of the time from scooter rides in the polluted air, and I felt over-stimulated and overexposed.  I became aware of where my emotions sat in my body, and when I felt sore or heavy I’d be prompted to ask ‘why?’

India is a chaotic, frustrating and sometimes obnoxious place, but at the same time allows complete freedom to feel, to escape and to integrate one’s parts that get lost, hidden or censored by ‘western’ life. It’s unapologetic in its aliveness and it makes for an extremely present practice.  The challenge lies in bringing that home and incorporating that awareness into the average day on my mat in Johannesburg.


The owner of Friends with Jenny (a fashion studio and label), a freelance writer and avid blogger, Ashtanga won my heart two years ago and makes juggling so many different balls a little less problematic – I’m definitely a calmer and nicer person once I’ve got off my mat!  Now it’s just a matter of resisting India’s persistent call to return! |


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