How My Body Became My Guru- Part One: Why I Hated Mysore

Via Kimberly Johnson
on Mar 12, 2011
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Hauling Myself to Mysore

When I was going to India, after 5 or 6 years of practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa, I felt like it would seal the deal of me not being a real Asthangi if I skipped out on Mysore. Basically I felt like I would officially be a half-assed Ashtangi, or worse yet, an insincere seeker, if I did not make a pilgrimage to Mysore to practice.

generations of yogis
Pattabhi Jois and Sharath, his grandson

My teacher, Richard Freeman, was going to be there for Pattabhi Jois’ 89th birthday, and I was attracted to the idea of being together with my teacher and his teacher and to be drinking from the fount. I imagined the power of practicing in the city where Krishnamacharya first taught both Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar.

I thought my doubts (or what could retrospectively be labeled intuition) about Mysore not being a good fit for me were based on weakness and fear.

Why I Hated It

Exiting the Bangalore airport, I was astonished not to be haggled in the North Indian fashion, and got a cab to Mysore. The interim details are not that important.

I hated Mysore. It was one of the most challenging months of my life. Any Ashtangi reading this will say,“exactly, you did not stay long enough. To get anything out of Mysore you have to stay for at least three months.”   Or “”You were cleansing your nadis and left in the middle of the process.” Or “you did not see the process through and you just don’t get it.”

Because anyone who doesn’t have a good experience in Mysore is presumed to just not get it- to be

Mysore Palace- where Krishnamacharya taught the Maharaj

weak, avoiding, in denial or afraid.

I will say that my ego was severely dismantled and so was my body.

Getting injured in Mysore does not an interesting article make. Few have gone to Mysore and have not gotten injured. I left Mysore without being able to walk, which is only one of the reasons I hated it.  I was surrounded with a lot of people who were there to escape their lives. No one had much to do except practice and take a Gita or chanting class. Those two things take about 3 hours max. So the rest of the day seemed to be about shopping, and anti-inflammatories (prescription-grade conveniently sold over the counter in India). I have never been around so many people medicating in order to practice. The shop talk was all about what pose you got to in the series, what adjustments you got, and then what weird diet you were on. (like did you drink your own urine?)

Anyway, a lot of people love Mysore.  I know that it can be a powerful and transformative place.

Is Your Body Real?

Ramana Maharshi

I’m writing because part of the cult of injury is that the body is just a transitory object and not real.  Pattabhi Jois is from the Shankaracharya lineage of Vedanta that believes that nothing as we see it is Real.  What’s Real is defined by what does not change. Since the body changes, it is not real- it is a manifestation and projection of the mind.  Therefore, feeling bad (injury) is no more important, interesting, or noteworthy than feeling good.  None of this is real, so why have preference for injury or non-injury.

A month after my arrival to India, I limped into the Ramana Ashram questioning everything. I spent the first two days reading books and trying to understand what I was supposed to do if there was nothing to do. (It felt kind of like the first time I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and then tried to sit).  Each day I felt more disconnected and depressed and confused. Then one evening I walked by two men talking and one asked me if I wanted to try the first mango off the ashram tree. Before I knew it we were connecting over American jazz, I was chanting all the Sanskrit I knew, and getting schooled in the subtleties of the yoga sutra.  And he was explaining the philosophy to me in a practical way. Things were already starting to make sense.

Sort of.

Go here for Part Two- I Slept with My Guru


About Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson helps women find their way back to themselves after giving birth. She herself was rearranged by childbirth in almost every way, so she loves sparing women the unnecessary surprises of the post-partum period. She is a a longtime yoga teacher, bodyworker, doula and somatic educator and a Certified Sexological Bodyworker. She loves helping women reclaim their erotic lives through somatic sex coaching, Somatic Experiencing tools, and holistic pelvic health. She created the program, Forging a Feminine Path: Bridging Women's Sexuality and Spirituality. The next one starts March 14th!


37 Responses to “How My Body Became My Guru- Part One: Why I Hated Mysore”

  1. Please welcome new contributor Kimberly Johnson to Elephant Journal.

    In addition to articles about Yoga, like the one above, Kimberly is also going to open up the burgeoning Brazilian yoga scene to Elephant readers, and introduce Elephant to Brazil.

    It's great to have you here, Kimberly. We look forward to hearing more from you.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage and to the Elephant main Facebook page.

  3. Jason Gan says:

    Practice X3

    • I should have added "Practice, Practice, Practice" and "Practice and all is coming" to the expected responses.

      For me the question is not more practice. But what practice and to what end? Can we be sure that one practice is right for all people? Is repetitive injury a necessary outcome?

      • Yogini5 says:

        Almost never.

        Did you like getting your knees skinned when you were a child?

        Did you feel you were not your body then?

  4. Carol Horton says:

    Having always thought of (and experienced) yoga as a healing practice, I find the idea that students were routinely injured in Mysore and that this was accepted as unimportant shocking. Really?! What happened to "the wisdom of the body" and all that??

  5. Martine says:

    Loved this article! Looking forward to Part Two.

  6. Andy says:

    I'm just curious what sorts of injuries are being sustained in Mysore that are so common?

    • kajyoga says:

      Hamstring tears and SI displacement and pain are the most common.
      Also a lot of knee pain and rotator cuff injuries.

  7. rhonda green says:

    i too have been to mysore. i spent three months with guruji. and yes, i saw a lot. some things were definitely disconcerting. i can empathize with you. in short, however, i chose not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    thanks to richard freeman, mary taylor, and my own experience with the practice, i truly believe and teach a more contemporary interpretation of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. one based on the middle-path, mindfulness, alignment and internal form. an approach that teaches the practice in levels, free of dogma and ego. an approach that embraces and honors the body and its strengths and limitations.

    please keep an open mind on how the interpretations of ashtanga vinyasa are good and deserve respect.

  8. boulderwind says:

    I love the ashtanga practice, have been practicing for almost 17 years now, yet I have never been to Mysore (though did spend about 1 month with Guruji all told doing led primary). I probably would not do so well there either. As one gets closer to the epicenter of spiritual practices, groups, ashrams, etc., I personally have found some of the most narcissistic people in the world, along with some true seekers, (and sometimes the act of seeking can be tinged with narcissism when the "goal" of enlightenment trumps being a decent, honest, polite, socialized, responsible human being…. .). Practicing in the west has been very good for me as there seems to be more balance and acceptance of the limitations of the body, work schedules, family life, etc, etc, etc. I have also learned that the service of raising a family has done more for my personal evolution than all the years of asana and meditation combined… though I would also say that the meditation and yoga has certainly helped my parenting abilities.

    • kajyoga says:

      I would love to know more about how meditation and yoga have helped your parenting abilities. I can't tell from your post if you are a man or a woman, but if you are a woman, would love to know if you think yoga helped you during childbirth. I am interested in how women who already have a developed spiritual practice before giving birth, how it evolves for them through birth and the post-partum period.

      • boulderwind says:

        I am a woman. I do think the udjayii pranayama helped me through labor and the "strong sensations" of labor are analogous to the strong sensations one gets in asana practice and how one learns to breathe through. Now some women are probably rolling their eyes at me comparing labor pains to, say the stretch you get in pashimotanasana… but I think the skill of breathing through the stretch is adaptable to other circumstances… And learning to be present in the moment…. And personally, I am a much nicer, more even keeled person thanks to my yoga and meditation practice and that transfers into being a calmer , more patient parent (most of the time, anyway).

        • boulderwind says:

          But I also want to add that my homebirth went extremely well and was relatively short. Was that due to yoga, genetics or the bodywork I received during pregnancy? I do not know. I know several more advanced ashtangis who had to have C-sections or could not get pregnant at all…. so maybe it does not work across the board….

          Maybe, since despite having practiced ashtanga for many many years now, I am not what one would call an "advanced" practitioner…. maybe that worked in my favor? I will never really know the answers, but am still grateful for the practice and what it continues to give me…

  9. matthew says:

    Great post, Kimberly. One question: given that injuries-through-adjustments at Mysore are so common, at what point should or can it become a malpractice issue, as it would here? If there was a shala in San Francisco or New York that routinely injured clients, it would be shut down very quickly, and it's owners would be in court for a long and painful stint.

    I know that my question is simplifying a complex terrain of cross-cultural expectation and legality, but do you have any general thoughts on this?

  10. I had a hard time also in Mysore (see my post about it somewhere on EJ: "how i was humiliated by yoga". But ultimately I appreciated several things:
    A) studying with such great practitioners
    B) having Saraswati and Sharath as teachers. they are the best in the world so always a pleasure to see that kind of passion in action.
    C) sweating so much. I sweated like a pig in each session and I hated every moment of it. But now I appreciate what that sweat did for me.
    D) meeting friends outside of my normal workspace. People who were interested in health and spirituality. Its rare for me to come by that in my normal day.

    I understand completely why you hated it. For myself, I went back and forth on it. But I'm looking forward to going back.

  11. Paula Self says:

    Obrigada Kimberly pela sua voz. Lembrando a todos a pensar … e acreditar no que sentimos. Com saudade.

  12. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  13. kajyoga says:

    Thanks for chiming in instantkarms and sorry for the generalization that did not include your experience.
    Did you not like it because you didn't get as much out of your practice there as you do in New York?
    Do you enjoy India in general?

  14. […] I first started doing Mysore, the self-guided version of Ashtanga yoga, I could barely do low cobra without back pain while […]

  15. great post — honest and raw just like mother kali. xoxo

  16. […] I Slept with My Guru (How My Body Became My Guru- Part 2) (click here for Part One) […]

  17. […] How My Body Became My Guru- Part One: Why I Hated Mysore […]

  18. […] How My Body Became My Guru- Part One: Why I Hated Mysore […]

  19. […] my eyes to the intertwining functions of the 2nd chakra and its practical application in life, as a sadhaka (yogic practitioner on the path of liberation) and as a counselor of yogic […]

  20. […] Here in Brazil I have been called Kimberland, Kimbee, Kimber-lie, King. There have been many more blank stares where mispronunciations might have been. My own daughter pronounces my name Kim-barrrrrr-lee. I have traveled with some spiritual folk in the ashram scene. Hell, I even had a guru. […]

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