Yoga Grad School.
For the last three months, I’ve been extricated from my comfy little urban bubble and placed smack dab in the middle of Gokulum, a dusty little hamlet on the out skirts of Mysore City, India. I’m doing my daily practice and study at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, where the founder of Ashtanga Yoga taught for more than sixty years. Located in deliciously humid South India, where every yoga is hot yoga, I’m here to study with the Jois family in what my mom calls “yoga grad school.”
Sharath Jois isn’t much into his students gettin’ their exercise on, so even if Mysore had a CrossFit box, I’d not use it. In the interest of devoting myself fully to my practice, I’ve taken a sabbatical from my normal hobbies of CrossFit and running. I do my best to keep yoga my spiritual practice, and let my hobbies and playtime be my outlet for fitness and competition.
Add to that the notable challenge of staying mostly paleo, you’d think that I run this risk of coming home a bendy 500lbs shut-in—but never fret friends, I’ve found some totally surprising way to stay in shape while abroad. Here are six sneaky ways I’m staying fit in India:
1. Complimentary Cleanse
Free with every visit! Perhaps you’ve heard of the master cleanse? The juice fast? Maybe known some people to just chew chocolate laxatives while drinking champagne? Yes, friends, the end results is always the same (I was tempted to make this one #2!). The easiest five pounds you’ll ever lose is yours—whether you like it or not. Remember the toilet paper (they don’t use it here!)
2. Carrying Water
After the cleanse, you’ll inevitably want to get a nice big jug o’ drinking water. You know the kind—every soul-sucking overly air-conditioned office has a water cooler. If you’ve never been the lucky grunt who has to change the jug, let me assure you: they’re a bit heavy. Weighing in at roughly 42lbs, they have to get from the water salesman to the apartment somehow. Oh, sure, you could hire a rickshaw to carry it for you, but after years of Farmers Walks with dumbells, why not put some of that functional training to work! C’mon, slacker, its not that far.
…over prices. India has many beautiful arts: devotional painting, stone and wood carving, dance, chant, tapestry—and haggling. I had no idea the amount of energy this expends! And calories are just a way of measuring energy, right? So, this must burn a ton of calories. My father sold used cars when I was a young man, so I presumed that I was prepared for this fine art. Remember the aforementioned Rickshaw? They’re like diesel golf carts capable of doing nearly 40 mph—not a bad speed. Even faster? Being separated from your rupees by a silver-tounged Rickshaw driver (affectionately called a tuck-tuck). A lesson I learned: “Underestimating others usually goes along with overestimating oneself.” Carry your own damn water.
I want to congratulate everyone who raised money for Cupid’s Undie Run by participating in Dodgeball this year. I have deep respect for your abilities to duck and cover. You see, I’ve been playing what can only be described as live-action frogger. If you choose to walk anywhere past your own porch, you’ll at some point dodge a few (if not all) of the following (please note: I’m not kidding): Busses. Scooters. Rickshaws. Cows. Goats. Herds of pigs. Dogs. Ponies. Chickens. Geese. Bicyclists. Cart pushers. Angry Sari-wearing wenches. Smiling Sari sporting sisters. Men with bricks on their head. Little kids, demanding any one of the following; candy corn, pens, rupees. Oh yes, and cars. And don’t presume for a second that there are lines to be followed in the road. Nor crosswalks. Nor turnsignals. Nor really any signal of any kind that would let you know that you’re walking straight ahead to your death. Except for the omnipresent horn. You may as well jump each and every time you hear a honk. Your life depends on it. To train for this, I highly recommend doing boxjumps before coming to this lovely subcontinent.
5. Hill Climb Stairs for Time
I’m not exactly sure how they do it, but there is an order of holiness to the hills of India. Mysore is lucky to sport the fifth most holy hills in all of India. Or the eigth. Who knows. I can’t read the language. I do know that there are more than 1100 steps to the top of this holy hill, with a gorgeous temple awaiting you upon completion.
Okay, fine, you caught me. There is nothing sneaky about yoga in India. It is, after all, why I’m here. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga uses the body as a tool for exploration of the inner and outer world. Like any good tool, it needs to be honed and trued to do it’s job with accuracy and precision. That’s why we work so hard to balance strength, flexibility, the nervous system, and focus. And so, with our practice of Ashtanga, we begin to calibrate our instrument for higher awareness. Much like NASA’s work to get to the moon gave us such fabulous byproducts as the microwave and tang, so to does yoga give us some bitchin’ side benefits: sexy shoulders, a strong core, and mental clarity under pressure. If you were paying attention to the previous five sneaky benefits, you can probably imagine how helpful these byproducts are.
Michael is a yoga teacher in Washington, DC who believes in the powerful transformative effects of practicing yoga. When not on his mat, you can find him volunteering at not-for-profit farms, running marathons around the country, doing CrossFit, or climbing the occasional tree (or statue). You can follow his blog at midcityyoga.com/blog.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul