Monday, February 20, 2017

Interview with Shashikala, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore

Interview with Shashikala, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore

Shashikala is a female ashtanga yoga teacher in Mysore, India. There are actually only two female teachers in Mysore: Saraswathi, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois daughter, and Shashikala. Shashikala practiced with Pattabhi Jois for about 15 years, from 1994 until 2009 when he passed away. She now teaches ashtanga yoga at The Three Sisters Yogashala near Lakshmipuram.

Shashikala is the youngest of the famous three sisters. For many years they have been offering different services to yogis who come to practice ashtanga yoga in Mysore. This is what their webpage says about them:

"We are the Three Sisters -- Harini, Shashikala and Akka. We are long time students of the Jois family and we have been serving the Ashtanga community in Mysore for over 20 years.

We offer Ayurvedic oil massages (castor and sesame) as well as home-cooked sattvic lunches for 250 Rs (per person). If you would like to bring a group please book ahead of time. We can accommodate parties of 16 or less and up to 25 for special occassions..."

George, a friend who knows that I like to make interviews for my blog suggested that I should meet Shashikala. Another friend, Andy, from the UK, also recommend her to me. He said that she is one of the few Indian woman taught by Pattabhi Jois.

Andy has been practicing ashtanga yoga for about 14 years and he has practiced with all the main western teachers around the world, and many local teachers in India. So I take his advice seriously.

Enrico and Claudio, two yogis who have recently practiced with Shashikala and who kindly provided the photos for this article, say about her:

"It is always an amazing experience when we have the chance to practice with great teachers with great names. We admire their knowledge, their energy, their attitude, their utter dedication to the practice and their ability to leave a mark on us. Despite Shashikala not being widely known we found in her all these great qualities and a deep respect and devotion for her guru, Pattabhi Jois. We were really happy to join an excellent teacher, with a wonderful family and a great talent who's carrying on with humility the true tradition of ashtanga."

Shashikala, Female Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore
Photo courtesy of Enrico and Claudio

So I decided to follow George's advice. I went to meet Shashikala on a Saturday afternoon, a day off at her shala. As I entered the shala she and her sister Harini welcomed me. Showing respect to her sister, Shashikala sat on the floor while her sister was sitting on a higher ground.

As I requested to record the interview to be able to easily transcribe it later, Shashikala turned back to consult with her sister. Harini then explained to me that it is their policy not to allow any recordings of any type in their shala, even for an interview. I insisted a few times but at the end I had to accept to simply take notes.

Once I started asking some questions directly to Shashikala I was surprised to see her sister taking the lead to answer all the questions.

They have been on this journey together right from the beginning and although Harini doesn't teach yoga they both practiced with Pattabhi Jois, so she was more than qualified to answer all the questions. But I did want to have a direct response from Shashikala.

I realized that this must be something related to their culture and tradition. So I asked Harini, as respectful as I could, why she was answering all the questions. She confirmed my thoughts.

She explained that it is because of respect to the elders. "If my mom would be here I wouldn't answer anything but remain silent" said Harini. Another reason I guess is that her English is more fluent than Shashikala's. But after this enquiry of mine she encouraged Shashikala to answer directly my questions.

Shashikala, Female Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore
Photo courtesy of Enrico and Claudio

Shashikala, Female Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore


While Shashikala was a student at the university she used to suffer from migraines. Her father knew Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (guruji) so he asked him for his help and guruji agreed.

This is how Shashikala started her journey with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. After six months practicing with guruji her migraines disappeared and they never returned.

This motivated Shashikala to become more serious about her yoga practice. After completing her university studies she dedicated herself fully to the practice under the tutelage of guruji, which lasted for about 15 years.

Shashikala, Female Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore
Photo courtesy of Enrico and Claudio


Remembering guruji

One anecdote that Shashikala and her sister like to share was guruji's dedication to teach yoga. Although he was very sound financially while he was teaching to his western students in Gokulam he would never abandon their Indian students who earn him very little money in comparison.

On one occasion, when Pattabhi Jois' driver didn't show up, he decided to take a rickshaw to drive to Lakshmipuram to reach the class with his local students. Both Harini and Shashikala where surprised to see guruji arriving late to their class in a rickshaw. They remember this incident with a lot appreciation and respect.

Shashikala also remembers guruji as a great scholar who was also very knowledgeable about ayurveda. She recalls with gratitude that during the yoga classes he would often share his knowledge about the deeper aspects of yoga, explaining a few things here and there. The western students didn't have this privilege since most of them didn't understand the local language.

About injuries

When I asked Shashikala about her approach towards injuries, which are common in ashtanga yoga, she said that in all her time practicing ashtanga yoga with guruji she never had any injuries, "not a single one," she said. Guruji taught her very clearly that if there is proper alignment then there are no injuries.

But whenever a student with an injury come to her shala she will first observe their practice, and then, based on what she has observed, she will decide how to work with that particular student.

Shashikala also said that Pattabhi Jois always recommended to all asthanga yoga practitioners to use castor oil once a week and to consume 24 gms of ghee (clarified butter) every day to keep the body free of pain, healthy and supple.

About pranayama

Shashikala teaches pranayama in the same way as guruji taught her. Her students are introduced to pranayama when they are halfway of the second series. This is to make sure that they are physically and mentally prepared for the practice of pranayama.

She said that guruji used to teach pranayama earlier during the practice but some of his students complained because of having uncomfortable symptoms or side effects. For this reason guruji decided to teach pranayama only after the students had a certain level of experience and development with the asanas.

"Pranayama helps to clean the internal organs and they keep the mind in a very clear state," she said. "You'll feel like a bird, flying happily in the sky," she added.


If you would like to know more about Shashikala and her sisters I can recommend you to read this other blog: The Three Sisters

This is what a friend commented on FB right after I shared this interview

"Seeing this article made my Day! I've known these Three Great Sisters for Many years and they are such talented, healing, lights in the community! Harini with her famous massage (the Best in Mysore) Akka with her fantastic meals and smoothies and now sweet Shashikala has her yoga Shala open and she is teaching Ashtanga Yoga!

I'm so deeply proud of these Three Strong and Successful Women! I have no words to express what they mean to me. My husband and I have only the fondest memories of visiting their home and spending time in their great company 🙏🏼 We will see you all again one day." Tracy, USA.


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Contact Details

M.G. Shashikala Govinda teaches ashtanga vinyasa yoga in the morning around 6 am and in the evening around 4 pm. Every Sunday she gives a yoga anatomy class and she is also available for private yoga classes. The best way to contact her is by phone.

Three Sisters Yoga Shala
# 366, Chaluvamba Agrahara
K.R. Mohalla (Next to Kaveri Hotel)
Mysore 570004. India
Google Maps Link

Website: www.mysorethreesisters.com
Facebook Page: facebook.com/3sistersyogashala
Phone: +91 821 252 2788, +91 948 390 1359
(call for yoga classes, massages or sattvic lunch. For lunch minimum four people required)


I hope you've also enjoyed reading a bit about Shashikala. Thanks for sharing this interview with whomever you think might be interested, and if you've practiced ashtanga yoga in Mysore with Shashikala please don't hesitate to share your experience in the comment section below.

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