Monthly Archives: April 2009

ashtangalanka

Rocky Point is also called AshtangaLanka. Ashtanga is a type of hatha yoga (physical yoga) that draws a very dedicated following.

Ashtanga is hard. Students come together in a school/room, called a shala, and do a series of poses. Instead of calling out the poses, the teacher individually instructs each student on the postures and the order they are done. When practiced this way, it’s called Mysore-style, after the city where guru Pattabhi Jois has his shala. Ashtanga is also practiced as a class (though not traditionally).

The series are memorized by daily practice, usually early morning, rather than reading about them or writing them down. As each student moves through the series at her/his own pace, the teacher walks around, teaches, and corrects. First the primary series is learned, and when that is mastered, the secondary, and so on.

Ashtanga was created by Krishnamacharya for his student, Pattabhi Jois (featured in youtube link above). Krishnamacharya taught the three Indians whose styles of hatha yoga have had the biggest impact internationally: P. Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar.

krishnamacharya-162x300Many Ashtangis, including Jois, claim that the series of postures weren’t created by Krishnamacharya but are ancient and were outlined in the Yoga Korunta, which no longer exists. The lore is that this ancient text was written on palm leaves, and after Krishmacharya learned it, the leaves were eaten by ants (source: Enlighten Up!).

It’s argued by others that the system isn’t ancient at all, and that sun salutations were adapted from Indian martial tradition in the late 1800s, when the Hindu masculinity movement was strong (Joseph S. Alter, Yoga in Modern India).

I imagine the truth in somewhere in the middle. Yoga postures have been done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The seminal text on physical yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written in the 15th Century, and texts on yoga as a classical philosophy existed before the Common Era. (Yoga is not simply physical postures and breathing exercises. This is only hatha yoga, a bit part of yoga, one of the six classical systems of Indian philosophy.) Edwin Bryant, a scholar of Yoga and Hinduism at Rutgers, believes that, “The origins of yoga are in primordial and mythic times.” I like this. Yet physical yoga as we know it, even the more traditional schools taught by Indian gurus who demand a certain orthodoxy, is certainly a very modern phenomenon.

Because of this orthodoxy and the intensity of the practice, Ashtanga attracts some interesting people. Ashtanga Lanka was founded by Fred Lewis, a once-hippie septuagenarian from California. He bought a guesthouse in Sri Lanka ten years ago and expanded it. About five years ago he added the shala (yoga room/school). He brings in a teacher when he’s there for the tourist season from November through March, and lives in California during the off-season.

Next: ashtangis and other guests

first night, first day at ashtangalanka

goo.RP.mapWe left home (NYC) at five on Tuesday morning and reached Tangalle around eleven Thursday night, after an unplanned but mostly refreshing day in London due to a mechanical problem and missed connection. Our first night in SL was a horror. There was no mosquito net on our bed at Rocky Point. I should say beds, really, as a double bed is something of a luxury in SL and at all but one of our accommodations (The Galle Face) we slept in two twin beds pushed together, under one not-quite-big-enough net. The beds were nowhere near the ceiling fan, which is not only meant to keep things cool, but to discourage mosquitoes. We were mauled. So many itchy bites. So hot. We got up and pushed the beds closer to the fan, which helped a very little bit. “I was more comfortable and slept better on the flights over,” I thought repeatedly. Ugh. We both wondered what on earth we’d gotten ourselves into.

nicolai.cocoAfter almost no sleep, we got up at 6:45a and walked over a few bungalows for ashtanga yoga. This was how we greeted the next 10 days. The hot and sweaty (demanding, hard, fun) practice somehow helped me recover from the sleepless night and our first full day in SL was amazing.

Our schedule at Rocky Point was beautiful. Its absence from my life makes it almost painful to recollect now that I’m back to the grindstone: We woke around 6:45am. Yoga from 7:30am to ~9am. After yoga, a quick shower, then a snack of fresh coconuts. First we drank the juice, then cracked open the shell and ate the flesh. “It’s delightful,” said the venerated coconut. We shared this ritual with the owners and other guests at Rocky Point, before heading to Silent Beach for a swim.

sanju.cocoBy 11:30a, we returned for breakfast. After a few days of trial and error, Andrea and I settled on the “Sri Lankan omelet” and the coconut pancake with treacle (kithul palm syrup), which we shared, with toast, jam, and two lovely bowls full of papaya, pineapple, banana, and mango. After breakfast, we sat, drank tea, chatted with other guests, read, and relaxed until three or four, when we prepared for a swim and surf at Palm Beach. This joy lasted until dusk, when we returned for dinner, usually an amazing spread of veggie Sri Lankan curries with rice. The bugs became unbearable by 7:30, so we were rarely outside past 8p. And because we’d moved the beds to be under the fan (which Samantha, the Sri Lankan manager, thought very wise), we were nowhere near the reading lamps, nailed to the wall by what had been the sides of the beds. They gave us a mosquito net, which somewhat solved the bug problem, but it was too dark to read in the room on the bed, under the protection of the net, and we couldn’t take more than an hour of the mosquito swatting required while seated on a chair under a lamp. We were usually asleep well before ten.

Next up: the yoga.