There were about five other guests at AshtangaLanka when we arrived. Jacob, an ashtangi friend of owner Fred and his partner, Mira; Hector, a Miami-based Cuban ashtangi; Alberto, a Paris-based Italian artist & ashtangi; Nicolai, a German juggler-engineer with an interest in yoga; and at a few meals: Stephanie, a Parisian ashtangi who’d come to visit Alberto; and Katrina and Ben, friends of Fred who had a gorgeous house a few beaches over.
Hector, Alberto, and Stephanie were all on visa runs from India, where they’d been practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore. Indian visas are good for six months, after which many yogis head to Colombo to apply for a new one. It takes a week, so some go to the south coast to continue their practice at AshtangaLanka.
Together with Fred, Jacob, and Cathy (the teacher), they’d talk on and on about the Ashtanga scene, Mysore, the Jois family, etc. When it wasn’t terribly boring, it was fascinating. Long before Sri Lanka, I’d done a bit of Ashtanga in a small shala. There were never many people there, so I didn’t realize what a scene it was. They talked about the ashtangis of the 70s, who they studied with, where they stayed in Mysore, what the practice was like, what it meant to them. On and on.
While ashtanga is amazing, this chatter was more interesting to me from an anthropological standpoint—much more than the yoga gossip itself. Jois’s shala in Mysore attracts hundreds of students from around the world, who take up residence in Mysore to study Ashtanga at the crack of dawn (they said class was at 5am), then have the rest of the day to conduct themselves as they like. It’d be fascinating to go there and see what percentage of the town they impact. Or is it just the small area around the shala?
It might also be quite annoying. When I was in Pune (in India) years back, out of curiosity I went to the Osho ashram (or the “Multiversity” as it now seems to be called) for a tour. The neighborhood of the ashram had a western bake shop, many stalls selling maroon robes and Osho books, and lots of white hippies roaming about. It creeped me out. I happened to take the tour with a group of visiting american christian missionaries who asked probing questions like, “why do you insist commune members take an HIV test before they are allowed in?” Osho was known for his questionable sexual practices and group orgies were thought to be common. Osho is the guy who had the 20 or so Rolls at his commune in Oregon before he was deported for tax fraud. This has nothing to do with Ashtanga other than my wondering what Mysore is like with all the international yogis. I suppose it fascinates me because yoga usually adapts itself to the culture it enters (like Chinese food, as yoga teacher, Mona Anand, says). But astangis from the US, europe, isreal, australia, japan, etc, all come together to practice as Jois has laid it out (see the videos in the last entry). That must be interesting. My friend Jamilya, in Kyrgyzstan, is very into Ashtanga. She went to Thailand for a retreat and training recently. You get the idea.
Ashtangis aren’t hippies, for the most part (though Fred certainly is/was). Hector, who overlapped our stay for only a day before he went back to Colombo to pick up his visa for his return to India, is in real estate in Miami, and teaches vinyasa on the side. He told great stories about his kids, India, and life in general. Alberto and Nicolai were there almost our entire stay. Alberto is a serious ashtangi and a fine artist based in Paris. When he was in the mood to talk, he was quite funny and opinionated. He was known to take off on long ocean swims followed by juice and espressos at the Amanwella next door, and often did not return until after dinner started. Nicolai is a quiet German engineer who would wander off and juggle when the chatter became too much for him.
He had never done ashtanga before, but had taken many holidays at different yoga places in India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. He avoided going into town, but did so to get skirts and other gifts to take home for his daughter. He lives a 9-6 life (the only person we met there, I think, who did) in Germany and isn’t happy with it. He deals by taking vacations. Most of us know this doesn’t work (but haven’t figured out another way). Ben & Katrina are Brits who work in antiques. Ben bought a place on the beach a decade ago, and they holiday there whenever they can. We didn’t learn much about Stephanie other than she prefers to take local transport to Alberto’s private cars, likes a bit of exploration to Alberto’s beeline to the beach, and doesn’t look forward to trying to find a job in Paris when her money runs out. (There’s a theme building here.)
The characters at AshtangaLanka inspired me. It was wonderful. In the three weeks I squeezed away from work, teaching (2nd job), and training, I met people who reminded me that there are much, much more interesting ways to live a life. Maybe not easier, but much more alive. I realized how disconnected I feel, grinding my days away to put 56% of my primary income toward rent, running uptown and downtown, almost always too exhausted to give my best to what matters most, when I’m able to give anything at all.
March is the last month of the season in southern Sri Lanka. The rains come and the ocean gets too rough in April. As we were settling in, the others were leaving. After everyone else took off, it was only me, Andrea, Fred, Mira, and Cathy. With fewer stories to hear (over and over), a strange family dynamic developing, and no curtains on our open bungalow windows, we opted for some couple time. After ten days, we moved on and explored Sri Lanka. Thank heavens we did.