Drat! I was late again. I had woken up at an ungodly hour, endured an animated soliloquy in Kannada by a cabbie who didn’t believe in brushing or rushing and begged and pleaded with a middle aged morning walker who ran screaming the moment I jumped down from the car to ask her for directions, all to no avail. I had missed my 5am class with the legendary Yogi, Sri Pattabhi Jois.
While I waited in the courtyard for the 6am class, my thoughts went back to Ms. Morning Walker. She was wearing a monkey cap and an overcoat on top of what must’ve been at least a couple of sarees. I broke into a sweat just thinking about her. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that this was June and the thought of all those layers of clothing on a fairly warm day just seemed unbearable. Soon enough though, other equally well wrapped morning walkers passed by. That’s when the Mysorean’s weather view dawned on me. In a part of the world where the weather didn’t seem to change much, the Mysorean apparently dressed for winter early in the morning, breakfasted in spring, lunched in summer and so on I guess. Charming folk, I say!
My thoughts returned to the bolted doors of the yoga studio beyond which the man I had come to meet, the nonagenarian Jois, Guruji to his students, held court. At an age where it is usually difficult to blow out candles on a birthday cake, here he was leading students younger than his grandson through reportedly one of the toughest workouts on the planet. Very impressive! By 0530hrs, students for the 6am class started trooping in - a bunch of beach-burnt Brazilian girls, a Korean, a Judi Dench type Brit stiff, upper lip and all, and a host of others. Some looked like hippies, others like geeky violin players. There where a couple of tattooed ex-convict types too. I struck up a fairly lively conversation with the Brazilians but the Dench dame raised a plucked-bare eyebrow and wagged a disapproving finger. Made to feel like naughty five year olds, we shut up and endured the awkward silence till Sharath, Guruji’s grandson opened the doors to let us in.
As the students took their place on the mats, the hall filled up with about 50 of them. In a white tee and black shorts, Guruji chanted. His face glowed, his eyes sparkled and Sharat, who assists the legend, set the class rolling. This was a ballet. Beautifully toned bodies moving in sync with Sharat’s instructions, standing, stretching, bending, balancing and breathing, most with the serene expression of a mother looking at a new-born child, while some looking a bit like the mother’s husband who just discovered that the child wasn’t his. But it was their breath that blew me away, almost literally. The breathing was in concert and the sound was such that if I had been blind-folded and brought here I would’ve thought that I’d stumbled upon Godzilla as he slept. Suddenly Sharat urged, “spread your legs!”, and even as I wondered what was to come next, 50 odd pairs of legs were unfurled, balanced on, if such a part were there in the yogi’s anatomy, “the tip of the butt” for a perfect Upavishta Konasana. Incidentally, the “yoga-butt” (said to be one of most admired examples of the human posterior), claimed a student, is one of the main attractions of yoga (and you thought it was only good for enlightenment).
Class over, I asked the students why they had traversed continents for a morning’s workout. Nakamura, Japanese, said “Yoga is a complete psycho-spiritual workout... the root of all martial arts”. Andrew, 50, a gigantic Australian vegan, who often benched 400lbs, claimed “Yoga’s my best bet for living a longer and healthier life.” Guruji’s other famous students are Sting and Madonna. “Ashtanga Yoga is real yoga, the only yoga! Essential for every Indian, every country!” said Guruji, and went back to playing with his great grand daughter. Someday, I too would want to be able to play with my great grand daughter after a sweaty workout with Madonna and Sting, or if I’m asking for too much I’d be happy with just the great grand daughter bit. Wouldn’t you?
The slip stream
AshtangA - the root
For long yoga has been associated with ageing men and women, who want take it easy and still get a workout in the autumn of their lives. In the hope of easing blood pressure and curing hypertension, geriatrics have usually been the most enthusiastic yoga practitioners. But an ancient practice rediscovered by the West threatens to give yoga’s middle-aged image a makeover. It’s called Ashtanga Yoga and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, his grandson Sharat and celebrity students like Madonna have made it one of the most popular workouts in the world. But this new rage traces it’s roots to an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta and a Yogi called Ramamohan Brahmachari who lived in the mountains near Tibet. When he was more than a 100 years old, he taught Ashtanga Yoga to a young man called Sri T. Krishnamacharya who in turn taught a young Pattabhi Jois the nuances of the art.
Jois remained unknown in India but when his students took Ashtanga yoga West, it exploded. So if you think you are too good for ‘middle aged yoga’, flex those spiritual muscles and try out an Ashtanga yoga class if you dare.