Sitting under the palm trees in my spacious garden watching the monkeys play this morning, I felt strangely, happily at home. Mysore has been a place of refuge for me for years. It’s a strange place to seek refuge: it has grown into a big city with hustle and bustle. Much of this is due to the technology wave that exploded Bangalore in the past decades, but also the local yoga phenomenon has injected massive amounts of money into this community. At one point Pattabhi Jois was noted as one of the wealthiest men in Karnataka, the state that is home to Mysore.
Pattabhi Jois is gone now, since one year. And though Guruji’s legend lives on, his lineage has changed. His small studio in Laxmipuram sits like a historical monument while the masses that flock instead to Gokulam now practice in a space that holds 80, instead of the original 12.
There are other changes. Joseph is gone. I met Joseph here on my first trip 13 years ago, and we developed a warm friendship over the years. It was thanks to him that Guruji started touring the world so widely, and for years he was a fixture in the Jois’ family home. At some point that changed, yet his devotion never waned. When I came to Mysore last year, just 2 months before Guruji’s death, I stayed with him. He was in the habit of visiting Guruji every afternoon as was the custom from the Laxmipuram days, and one day in March last year, he took me with him. I was so thrilled and happy to see Guruji again that I spontaneously got up to offer him my respects. Somehow I knew when I lowered my head to the ground in prostration that this would be my final meeting with the guru.
These days I don’t practice at the shala. Instead, I practice at home, then meet daily with BNS Iyengar, an old-timer here in Mysore, for pranayama practice. It’s nice to have some new input and inspiration, and he is very entertaining in that way that only seasoned teachers can be. And I spend time with my heart-teacher, Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois.
An old friend is here, and we remarked yesterday that few of our old friends are here. There has been a changing of the guard, bringing a new wave of students. And while the practice may be the same, the approach to Ashtanga yoga seems to have changed. As with everything in life, impermanence renders what was familiar into a memory. It’s tempting to judge the evolution of things, but simpler not to. The main thing is to keep practicing, and to find a suitable path.
But one thing that has not changed is the simplicity of life here in South India. I live in a spacious house with cold running water that I have to pump every few days, no telephone, no internet, no television. I make simple meals on a gas burner, practice on the marble floor, write each morning on the terrace, listen to the palm fronds shake. Afternoons I take the scooter out to meet a friend for a mid-day South Indian thali, preferably home cooked, each day at a different place. It’s a good life here, and I am seduced by it every time. The excess of the West is absent here, and the result is a vast sense of space and time in which to watch the mind settle. And in the end, regardless of the method, isn’t this the goal of practice?