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Travel

Living On Shala Time: Studying Yoga In Mysore, India

By Youngblood Roche
Published December 21, 2007

For many, the pilgrimage to Mysore begins with a tossed-off “Yeah, maybe one day,” during some morning post-practice chit-chat. But there has always been a buzz among Asthangis about this voyage.

For many, the pilgrimage to Mysore begins with a tossed-off “Yeah, maybe one day,” during some morning post-practice chit-chat. But there has always been a buzz among Asthangis about this voyage—it’s the next level of commitment towards a more serious yogic practice and lifestyle. And what often begins as innocuous change room banter can very quickly turn into hitting the boss up for 3 months off work (or quitting one’s job entirely) to follow one’s heart to where it all began.

My most recent trip was almost three years in the making. Finally, everything fell into place, and before I knew it, I was sitting on a Boeing 747 full of South Indians, busily forecasting the next 2 months in my head.

No matter what airline you fly, the closest you’ll get to Mysore by plane is Bangalore. You then have several options for the remaining 3-hour trek.

The Shatabdi Express leaves Mumbai and passes through Bangalore bound for Mysore once a day, except Tuesdays, and will run you around 500 rupees (just over $12). As trains go, it’s comfortable, safe and relatively quick. They even feed you a little boxed lunch to pass the time and keep you in good spirits.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might take the Bangalore-Mysore bus, but beware—anyone who’s ever written about bus travel in India does so as a warning. Sure it’s cheap (around 50 rupees), but buses are cramped and hot, with suspension systems that’ll bounce your kidneys up into your throat and nothing to cushion the landing.

Registration with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois—or Guruji as he is affectionately known by his students—is in the shala offi ce (offi cially, the Asthanga Yoga Research Institute) and takes place between 4:30 and 6 p.m., every afternoon except Sunday, when conference is called. This is a time for students to sit and listen to Guruji speak about the practice of yoga both on and off the mat. While these sessions used to be conducted every Sunday, they are becoming more rare, so make sure to listen each Sunday morning for an announcement of whether or not conference is on for that day.

On your first visit, you’ll no doubt walk away from registration with a little anxiety about what to expect—that’s normal, and part of the experience of practicing. A word of warning: wind your watch forward 15 minutes to “shala time.” Often, when people make plans, they will specify, “I’ll meet you at the coconut stand around 1:30 P.M. shala time.”

When you wake up the next morning to head in to practice, the best thing you can do is go with the flow of what’s happening around you. Watch what others are doing and try to follow suit. Wait in the lobby you’ll hear over and over again, “yes, one more you come!” until finally you will be the “one more” and it will be time to practice.

If it’s a regular weekday (Monday-Thursday), you’ll mat down, do your practice, be dropped back (a final adjustment) by either Guruji, his daughter Saraswathi or grandson Sharath, and then told to go do finishing postures in the change rooms. On Friday and Sunday, you’ll attend led classes where everyone is practicing together, and your start time may change, so listen carefully to any announcements Sharath makes during your practice about the timings for each of these days.

Make sure you arrive 20-30 minutes early to get a good spot. It’s very easy to show up late and end up squashed in a corner or on a bump where two carpets meet underneath your mat. On led days, as always when you’re in the shala, listen carefully to what’s being said. You’ll elicit a “BAD MAN!” or “BAD LADY!” from Guruji quicker than you can say “Suryanamaskara A” if you skip ahead of the count or come down out of a posture early.

So, outside of the logistics of practice, what can you expect of the experience? Well, each person takes away something slightly different, but it’s said that yoga practice in Mysore is more intense and focused than an