My Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga Part Six – A (Yoga) Idiot Abroad by Matt Ryan
I read this music magazine called Mojo – it’s a bit like an old man’s guide to music but I’m 46 now so I’m not that far off to qualify as an old man. In every edition they have this interview thing with the same set of questions each month to a different music type bod and the final question is ‘tell us something you’ve never told anyone else before ‘. Usually the musician answering the questions comes up with some totally unbelievable cock and bull story that anyone with half a brain cell would never believe in a month of Sundays. But the answers are usually pretty funny and I always think about what I would say to that particular question. And what I’m about to tell you always comes into my mind as my answer. I can’t actually believe I’m committing this 100 % true story to print ( well , blog) it’s worthy of an award given to the biggest dumbass in Yoga (if there was such a thing ) anyway so here goes …
I’ve documented my rather colourful journey into the whole world of Yoga thing before so I won’t bore you again with the whole story. But in a nutshell I used to be a DJ (at the world famous and hipper than hip Hacienda Nightclub in Manchester), I went off the rails and went a bit bananas so I decided to hang up the headphones and booked a flight to Mysore to study Ashtanga Yoga with Guruji and several years later here we all are.
As mentioned above before I got Yoga cosmic I was a DJ and well you know I thought I was pretty well educated in matters of the ‘street’ – the University of Life as it’s called – was for those people just like me who were a bit too ‘fore and aft’ to go to any academic institution. Anyway I was down with the kids, nuff said.
So it turns out being street wise in Manchester doesn’t mean necessarily that the same rules would apply on the bedraggled boulevards of Mysore. It was January 2000 and I was outside the old shala with about 200 other folk waiting for Guruji to rock up so we can pay him a whole lot of moolah and get our yoga freak on. All the Yoga Stars were there including (the now excommunicated from the Shala for reasons I won’t go into here) Lino Miele alongside Count & Countess Jivamukti.
Anyway after what seemed like forever of hanging about in a heat hotter than the sun, this black 4 x 4 car thing with tinted windows arrived. The passenger door window whirred open and Guruji’s face appeared complete with black sunglasses and more bling than Iggy Azalea on a night out with her chums. YES GURUJI !! My first impressions of the Ashtanga legend were pretty darn good.
Prior to this first sighting in person of Guruji I’d read only little bits and pieces on t’internet and to be honest with you I didn’t really know that much about him or his history – I just knew the postures of the Primary Series in the correct sequence. And I knew he was going to be in Mysore January 2000 – a fact a mate of mine didn’t check up on when he went to Mysore a few years earlier only to find Guruji was away for the month – big yoga fail!.
Finally with Guruji in the building it got to the ‘booking in’ stage where everyone waited patiently in a queue to give him our payment. So I’m sat on the stairs in the old shala that lead up to Guruji’s little office room , I’m like 192nd in a queue of 200 – so plenty of time to come up with some Manc style pleasantries and work on my Manchester handshake of a fist bump . Whilst I’m sat there I can’t help but overhear two lovely ladies 191st in the queue chatting quietly on the step above. They talked about having an amazing aura which I thought was some new street name for ecstasy, they were also talking about the traditional Hindu greeting that one does when they meet their Guru. The feet were mentioned a couple of times and perhaps a kiss if you knew him well enough. They went on a bit more but were then ‘shushed’ into silence by the Shala Police*.
At this point I’m sweating buckets – not only coz it’s like the hottest place I’ve ever been to in my life but I’m now really unsure of what protocols to carry out when I’m face to face with the Big Guy. I guess the fist bump was out of the window. ‘NEXT’ came Guruji’s gruff voice from behind the office door. Shiz I thought to myself I’m next – my heart was pounding.
So I nervously go through the door ( Ok nervously is an understatement; I’m absolutely bricking it) and without realising what I was doing I had thrown myself on the floor in front of Guruji and I was kissing his feet – yes I repeat I was actually KISSING his feet. In that moment in a very small office in Mysore , South India the acronym W.T.F. was born , or should I say physically manifested as Guruji looked down at this buffoon from Manchester getting jiggy with his feet. I stood up gave him my money and my name and walked out. No bells, no whistles no instant enlightenment.
So that was that for the moment. It wasn’t until a few days later when I was actually in the shala doing my practice when I saw one of the yoga students performing some kind of foot ceremony thing with Guruji’ s feet. To my amazement or should I say horror , there was no kissing involved. Just this rather elaborate touching of the Guru’s feet then bringing the hands to the forehead 2 or 3 times. That same day I rather hesitatingly threw into a conversation I was having with another yoga student what was the deal with the foot thing? I was told the following..
“Touching feet is one of the forms of pranam (there are others, ranging from the namaste/namaskar gesture of palms together to bowing with forehead touching the floor). You might even hear someone say, “Pranam!” as a greeting, especially to their guru.
A gesture of respect, foot touching is reserved for someone worthy of respect (such as a priest, guru, or deity).”
Ok so he might not have said it quite like that – I just found that explanation on the Cyber Guru Mahatma Google and pasted it in – but you get my drift – NO LIPS NO MOUTH NO KISSING! And no of course not I said NOTHING to this bloke about what had happened in Guruji’ s office. In fact at that moment I made a small promise to myself that I would tell ABOSLUTELY NO-ONE about ‘kissgate’!
So the next day after practice I decided to correct my extremely embarrassing ‘first pass’ of engaging with the Guru. As I approached Guruji there was a rather worried look in his eyes – kinda like ‘Oh no here comes that weirdo foot fetishist’ but very slowly and methodically I went through the correct procedure touching his feet with my hands then bringing my hands to my forehead. I looked up and there was a huge smile of relief on Guruji’ s face– we both laughed and I left the building rather bloody happy with myself. The Indo -Mancunion relationships had been salvaged.
When I got back to Manchester I was telling a friend of my experiences and about the feet touching tradition (nothing about kissgate) (obvs) , and he recoiled at the thought of touching some old Indian bloke’s dusty feet. I tried to explain why I did it, but I couldn’t really. I guess I had done it to show I wasn’t out of place in the Shala and maybe to fit it. Every time I went back to Mysore I continued to touch Guruji’s feet – I finally realised exactly why I was doing it. Not to fit in or look cool or to be down with the Shala Police but to show my enormous gratitude to Guruji – also to Guruj’s teachers (and their teachers too) for this amazing practice that took me out of the dark and into the light.
And that’s what a true Guru does, a dispeller of darkness as one translation puts it – or another which I’ve just found which I absolutely love is ‘heavy’! Guruji was well ‘heavy’ in more ways than one and even though he’s not around anymore his Ashtanga Yoga is now our Guru.
Ok so if you’ve been to Mysore you know exactly who I am talking about when I say Shala Police. They are basically a bunch of holier than thou busy body yoga students (bloody idiots is closer to the truth) who take it upon themselves to make sure everyone falls in with Shala etiquette. Very spiritual.. NOT!
Read Matt’s other ‘Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga’ ..