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Mysore style Ashtanga demystified

ashtanga yoga townsvile north queensland

When I first practiced Mysore style yoga it was with David Keil as part of my teacher training back in 2005. I was living in Glasgow and David (our anatomy teacher) was coming over from Miami to take us through the anatomy and physiology of yoga module. He was also taking a week-long Mysore intensive – which I had no idea what it was but I was hooked on anything ashtanga yoga so of course I was going to attend. I didn’t know the sequence very well but I could just about do most of the primary series – I had only attended led classes up until then. I didn’t know the posture names and I wasn’t really focussed on my breath. During that week I discovered a new way to learn. A way where I got one-to-one assistance and attention from the teacher to help me with exactly what I needed help with. It was like having a week of private sessions with one of the best ashtanga teachers in the world for a fraction of the price. Adding to that, was the energy of the group all practicing together going through the same experience. No one gets left behind and everybody gets exactly what they need. It was intense but it changed my life! It was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I will never forget! I progressed in my practice so much in just one week. David gave me the confidence, the knowledge and the adjustments to do what seemed impossible. I remember walking to work across town on day 4 feeling like a new person! Since then I have practiced in this same way with David many times (he even came out to visit us here in Townsville!). I have travelled to Mysore, India 4 times for a few months at a time where this is the main method of learning with Pattabhi and Sharath Jois. Every teacher I seek and learn the most from teach this way – David Keil, Matthew Sweeny, Eddie Stern and Kino MacGregor to namedrop a few! – all have taught me so much by being in their mysore room. I am passionate about learning this way and teaching this way but people are still scared of it. Mysore style is the real deal. So I am here to demystify the Mysore class

Mysore method

The Mysore style of learning in Ashtanga is what sets it apart from other modern styles of teaching. It is in my opinion far superior and is where I have learned the most in my own practice and witnessed the most progress in my students’ practice. 

Ashtanga yoga is a physical yoga practice based on a set sequence of postures. The sequences are organised into different series, each of which having their own focus/purpose. Traditionally, practitioners are to work their way through each series in order, with the guidance of their teacher. The teacher deems the student ready to move on and work on the next posture one by one. There are seven series in total:

There are 7 series:

Primary (first) series : Yoga Chikitsa means yoga therapy and has a focus on opening the hips and hamstrings and jumpbacks to develop and maintain upper body strength. It is considered the most important of all series 

“We appreciate the true importance of the first series when something relevant and important occurs in the subsequent series, even years later. We don’t feel well, we are unsettled by a critical event in the family. These factors bring us back to the ‘queen’ of the series.” Lino Miele. 

Intermediate (second) series : Nadi shodhana means cleansing of the nadis (energetic channels) and has a focus on opening the spine with extension, flexion, lateral flexion and rotation. This series is geared towards the inner layers/the unconscious. This series is dominated by postures named after animals. This series is more intense than the primary series because of its peak and trough nature and focus on moving the spine in all directions. 

Advanced A B C D (third, fourth, fifth, sixth) series : Sthira bhaga means strength and grace (for demonstration purposes only). 

Seventh series : the most challenging of all. Family life!

Each series increases in level of difficulty and energetic demand. Every series starts and finishes the same way. To start : Sun salutations the 6 fundamental standing postures. To end with backbends and finishing sequence (shoulder stand and headstand etc)

There are many more details and nuances to the above however for this blog I will keep it simple.

Why is it called Mysore style?

Mysore is the city in India where the Ashtanga Yoga Institute (now called Sharath Yoga Center) is located. It’s not because you will be sore afterwards which is what I get asked a LOT! To practice at the shala in Mysore is an absolute honor and I am so grateful for the many trips I have taken to study there. There are a lot of details and nuances of practicing in Mysore too (like shala time, nothing new on a Tuesday and conference to name a few!)

What to expect in a Mysore style self practice class at LBY?

Come in quietly and place your mat down where the teacher says to. This may put you near where the teacher can help you best or perhaps near someone practicing nearby that you can follow. Everyone will be moving at their own pace and will start when they are ready. The teacher will guide you through the postures in the sequence one at a time and possibly have you take modifications that are right for you right now. You may be asked to repeat postures to help you remember the sequence and the modifications. In the beginning you will get lots of assistance to practice as there is a lot to learn. 

The class will begin with chanting the opening invocation chant. Then it’s time to practice. At first, it’s about learning the sequence of the postures including learning the right modifications and options for you. Then it’s about learning how to flow from one posture to the next and then getting the breath to match that movement. Then when you are ready more postures will be added for you to practice in the same order each time. The teacher will guide you as to when to move to the finishing postures and give you enough time to relax. The teacher will chant the closing mantra and bring everyone out of relaxation together.

Guided v Mysore (self practice)

In the guided class the teacher is the driver and you are the passenger. The teacher will guide everyone through the sequence at the pace she sets. Depending on the level there will be a limit on modifications and options (or teachers do their best to accommodate all because we are a small studio)  Everyone will practice together and the teacher will be trying to maintain a healthy balance of rhythm and directions for the majority. Everyone starts and finishes at the same time. This is the westernised form of learning yoga.

In the self-practice class (mysore style) everyone practices at their own pace. Generally, everyone is doing the same sequence however depending on experience and need for modifications, they will go at their own pace. The teacher will walk around the room assisting each student as they need it, giving them one-to-one support and guidance.  The students can ask questions for the teacher during the session. Students start and finish during the allocated time and can practice from between 20-90 minutes as they wish.

Why is it great for beginners and injuries ? But not one-offs….

This style of learning is perfect for beginners, those with injuries, illness, pregnancy because you get so much attention, support and guidance from the teacher. However because of this you must commit to taking this style of class every week.

Attending a Mysore style yoga class just once is not recommended because this practice emphasises individual progression and self-paced learning, which require consistent attendance to develop. One-time participation does not provide enough time to understand, appreciate and integrate the personalised guidance and adjustments that are key to mastering the ashtanga sequences. Additionally, the teacher’s attention might be disproportionately directed towards newcomers, potentially detracting from the dedicated guidance regular attendees need for their ongoing practice.

What you MUST know!

  1. It’s not about what the teacher can do – it’s all about the students
  2. You don’t have to be advanced – in fact the led class is for more advanced students to know their own modifications
  3. You don’t have to know the sequence – the only way you learn it is to practice at your own pace
  4. You can ask questions
  5. You can repeat postures
  6. You can start and finish when you like
  7. You will not do the whole sequence in one session
  8. You take the driver’s seat – this is the way you will progress in your practice
  9. It’s quiet and friendly – on days when you are needing to take it easy you can. On days when you want to go for it you can!
  10. Everyone of every level practices together at the same time so no one gets left behind and no one is better than anyone else.

How to prepare

  1. You can just show up to this class if you are willing to learn as the teacher will take you through everything step by step.  
  2. To make your debut easier it would be great to learn the sun salutation A (attend a few guided classes to do this). 
  3. The teacher will give you a cheat sheet if needed – you could ask for one beforehand to start to familiarise yourself with the sequence. 
  4. Be brave and commit. No one will be looking at what you’re doing as they will be focussed on their own practice. 
  5. Watch these to get some more info and inspo

What is Mysore About? (Ashtanga Yoga) Part 1 – with David Keil

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the source – 1 (youtube.com)

Miley Cyrus Gives Jimmy an Ashtanga Yoga Lesson

Lessons from David Keil of Yoganatomy – Live and Breathe Yoga

Hope to see you in a Mysore (self-practice) class soon…..

Allison

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