From the kitchen to the deck
As the Retreat Chef, I’m usually knee deep in turmeric, cashews and banana flour while everyone else is on a journey of self-discovery on the mat. However, fresh out of our recent Bali yoga retreat, I’ve decided to embark on a three week Ashtanga Yoga Mysore immersion at the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre (AYBRC). I’m in the very capable hands of the globally regarded and super lovely, Team Pradha, Anthony ‘Prem’ Carlisi and Heather ‘Radha’ Carlisi.
Mysore immersion at the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre
Named a Research Centre to pay homage to Pattabhi Jois’ original Research Institute in Mysore, the AYBRC takes yoga to be a science of self-study. With this in mind, this blog hopes to log and evaluate some insights from the practice to discover valuable nuggets of yogic wisdom for the onward journey.
So I’ve donned my pink, ladies, elasticated, porn pants and I’ve put my hair in a double man-bun. It’s time for the chef to flex.
The dense, black jungle beneath the balcony is alive with insects, frogs, bats and what weirdly sounds like a heavily inebriated monkey stumbling around in the big rambutan tree across the way. There’s a special sense of anticipation in Ubud. Like something is coming. We’ll see.
At any other period of my life, waking at 03:30, I’d have said it’s the middle of the night. But close to the equator in Bali, where it’s dark daily from around 6pm, it’s different. My natural circadian rhythm calls me from slumber with the energy of the jungle and the very first suggestion of sunrise at 5.30am every day. So it just feels like I’ve just woken up a little earlier than normal.
An Ashtanga Yoga immersion at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Centre in Bali
I’ve practiced twice thus far as part if this immersion. I practiced on Thursday and Friday morning from 8-10. Saturday is a dedicated rest day and my 3rd Mysore practice will be at 8am today. Despite only practicing twice, it feels like my body is already responding to the method, and frankly, I was glad for yesterday off after just two days. This method feels more intense and physically tailored than any other yoga experience I’ve yet had. My upper back in particular is feeling like it’s had a good work out. I’m looking forward to seeing the changes in my body over the course of the program.
This immersion will mean taking a Mysore class every morning for three weeks, except for Saturdays and also moon days (days when the the moon is full or new), which are observed as holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga calendar. Don’t ask me why Ashtangis take these off yet, it’s only day 4.
The Ashtanga opening chant
We start each morning with an opening chant in sanskrit . I haven’t memorised it yet so maybe by writing it down here will help me to learn.
vande gurudam charanaravinde
sandarsita svatmasukhava bode
samsara halahala mohasantyai abahu purusakaram
sahasra sirasam svetam
The translation I’ve been given by the course leader is:
I bow to the lotus feet of the guru
who awakens insight into the happiness of pure being
who is the final refuge – the jungle physician
who eliminates the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of samsara.
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali who has thousands of radiant white heads and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man holding a conch shell, a wheel and a sword.
Catchy, huh? I should have no problem memorising all of this by 8am.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga Yoga has six series of asana (poses). As a newbie to the method, I’m working with what’s called the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series which is the basic start point. The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series consists of surya namaskara A (sun salutation A), surya namaskara B, standing poses, sitting poses, back bends, simple inversions and simple binds. Asanas get funkier and more challenging as you progress with competency through the series.
What do you do in an Ashtanga Yoga Mysore practice?
For the moment, my practice is simply completing cycles of the surya namaskaras and some of the early standing poses. Once I develop a level of competency in theses asanas, I’m advised I’ll be given new poses by the teacher. You work on the practice you have available to you and the teacher observes and tells you where to work to. Advanced students practice beside me in all sorts of crazy binds. It’s not like a led class where students of all abilities do the same thing regardless of advancement or fitness.
Repeat to embed
It might sound boring, completing cycles of the same thing over and over. I thought it would be at first, but on the contrary, it feels disciplined. It feels like it’s a natural way to embed the practice and remember the sequence. With the teacher wandering the class, there’s an added incentive to maintain a strong ujjayi breath, posture, and to keep going. Deep in my own practice, where I can work to my own breath, to the fullest expressions of each pose, without having to worry about what anyone else is up to, I can really focus inside and work my body.
Do you have to have a regular yoga practice to do an immersion?
Everyone is at a different stage of their practice at the shala. You book your spot in the shala and you turn up. Day 1 for you might be day 145 for someone else, so everyone is rolling in and rolling out. Some, like me (the lowly retreat chef), are practicing for the first time. Some have a regular private practice and have come to find a teacher. Some are on a yoga holiday. Real hardcore Ashtangis have come to seek subtle adjustments or new motivation and guidance in the method.
Who goes on an Ashtanga Yoga immersion?
There’s a sense of community with our new Ashtanga buddies. We’ve shared breakfast post-practice with Liam, a sound engineer from Liverpool, Nathan and Rachel, an interesting couple about to be married who live and work in Cambodia, and our Slovakian friend who we met in Penestanan, Bora (pictured below). It will be nice to develop these relationships and also to find out more about the other interesting people we’re practicing with as we continue the immersion. There is a real quiet guy who we haven’t met yet and some people from New Zealand, Aus and Canada. It seems new people will be turning up as the days roll on too. People come from all over the world to be taught by Prem and Radha.
It’s important to look after yourself
Collette tweaked something outside of her knee on Friday during practice, so she is wisely taking today as an additional day of rest. I’m on my own today, which for me and yoga, is really quite something. I have some awesome new bamboo shorts, the cocks have started to a-doodle-do, there’s a really progressive, techno birdsong that’s just kicked in in the jungle and the cloudy sky is becoming a patchy pink. Let’s see what day four of this Ashtanga thing brings.
Read about my sweaty Jesus porn pants in Day 1 of the immersion.
Our Ashtanga Yoga teachers
Read about Prem’s journey here.
Read about Radha.