The rules and KPJAYI are quite strict. You need to sign up within 2-3 month before coming, but not earlier or sooner than a month, you need to arrive and register at a certain time before beginning practice, and you are not supposed to practice with any other teacher but your teacher (Saraswati or Sharath), otherwise the school has a right to kick you out. I have to say I did not know much about the school or teachers when I came, except for the fact that Pattabhi Jois was the one who started making yoga popular all over the world, which, I thought, was pretty cool and I liked the method, that is why I came.
I registered for class, received my card, and was told to always bring it when I come to Saraswati’s shala, which was on 3rd cross road, 5 min walk from my house. Next to an orphanage that had a “do not kill your children” written on the wall. Impressive, makes you realize people do actually kill their children here.
One thing that was not cool was that when you arrived, you were assigned practice time, and mine was 10.30. How am I supposed to start my day with a yoga practice at 10.30? I will have normally eaten by that time. Turned out I could pull it off – be lazy, wake up at 9, meditate and show up to my yoga practice. The second thing that was not cool – you had to wait in line. So normally in a Mysore class everyone is practicing on their own and the teacher comes up, adjusts and sometimes asks a question. Saraswathi calls in another student: “One more, one more again. One more come back” Come back means going to the back of the room. One other thing she will ask you: “What you did? What did you do?” And you have to say the name of the last asana you did, although I also heard people who did not know asana names simply showed the asana to the teacher.
The last thing that I thought was not cool – it does not say anywhere that a complete beginner cannot sign up for the class, and those people who sign up and have to do sun salutations over and over again, simply get desperate around the other practitioners. One day I felt this girl next to me was going to cry, give up, and never try ashtanga yoga again. Oh, well, ashtanga yoga has a high entry threshold.
There were lots of things that were cool about practicing in Saraswathi’s shala.
Once you enter and you see all those people practicing and sweating together, you immediately know you have no right to be lame here. You are ready to show your best practice every day, and the crowd motivates a lot. The crowd also distracts a lot, and gives you more ideas on how difficult it is to actually concentrate on your practice once there are so many interesting things happening around you – someone is doing drop backs into back bends, and someone is jumping through in their chakrasana without their head touching the mat, and others are practicing second series that I have never even seen before. Moreover, all this sweat and heat created by the group of people practicing together creates a special energy and hard-working atmosphere inside the shala, which feels great.
Saraswathi is a short cute looking woman, who can be strict at times, but when I saw her, I did not get any special feeling that she would teach me anything new. Later I learnt she was really a guru and in this one month a lot of love grew in my heart towards her. She normally has two teaching assistants, who help and study from her, and one of them was really good to me, helping me a lot to get into my Marichyasana D, and being really happy about tying me in a knot. I was also happy when she did it, and then one time she suggested me to come back to this posture when I was already in the boat position, but Saraswathi said no, tomorrow. I was a bit offended, but then realized my knee had been hurting and that it was really good to have a break on that day. That is how I learned how the real guru knows what is happening with all the students. One more thing I loved about Saraswathi was that she would go off into her office and listen to this one song, every day during practice, and then come back and sing it, and adjust with so much joy and excitement. I loved how much energy was inside this woman. She is very hardworking, her first students come at 4.30 and the last leave at about 11.30, which makes it a full working day that starts in the middle of the night. Moreover, she still teaches local students in the afternoon in the main shala, and always looks energized and full of life.
They say if you do not have much experience, you can find a local teacher for three times cheaper that in KPJAYI and he would have smaller classes and could teach you primary series in a month. I am sure it is possible and may be a good alternative, but I can also say I learnt a lot from Saraswathi in this month, even though I did not get adjusted as much as I wished.
Except for daily Mysore classes and Sunday led classes at the main shala, we would have chanting in the main shala with Lakshmish three times a week at 12.30, it was a great feeling to chant altogether. You can also sign up for Sanskrit classes with him, which takes place near the lockers of the women’s changing room, where the students inconveniently sit on the floor. I would say it is not really a Sanskrit Level 1 class that I took, but more like Sanskrit alphabet which was the only thing we learnt in those 10 classes, and also talked about the text of Hatha yoga pradipika. It is a good way to meet people though, so if you are looking for friends or looking for ways to spend time, go for it. Every Saturday Sharath had a conference in the main shala where he talked a bit about yoga and answered questions, almost everyone showed up and it was quite crowded. I was impressed to see Sharath as a very humble and down to earth man. To me he acted like a yoga guru should act.
One of the things I realized at his conferences, was that even though “yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice”, I still needed a lot of theory I was lacking. Reading the yoga texts is a very important aspect of motivating yourself and developing your yama and niyama. Bhagavadgita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika are still my list. Some other things we learnt from Sharath was that he did not accept yoga mats with Om signs, since one should not be standing on the Om sign, that you should not point your feet towards the guru in India, and about bowing to the feet of your master as the highest way of showing respect. I never really practiced that, but I did bow to Saraswathi’s feet on our last led class, and I am very grateful to her.