Ashtanga: The Mysore Method

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Ashtanga yoga is one of the most well-known methods of yoga practiced in the world. Millions of people, including celebrities such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and William Dafoe, have embraced this method. 

A Mysore class is the traditional (and current) way in which ashtanga yoga is taught. Originating in the city of Mysore, India, this method was used by Sri K Pattabhi Jois and passed to the current lineage holder Paramaguru Sharath Jois.

In essence, the method involves the student doing “self-practice” whilst being guided and instructed by the teacher. Though it may seem rigid in its prescribed postures and sequence, it’s a highly personalised approach where you will be provided with individual attention and guidance in your practice. This method of instruction is, at its heart, a private class, albeit one in a group setting. 

There are two types of classes in the Ashtanga method – led classes and Mysore classes. Led classes involves the teacher calling the names of the poses and the vinyasa count with students following. This class requires students to have basic proficiency in Mysore classes prior to attending. This is because led classes are conducted at a faster pace without much opportunity for the teacher to correct every individual’s alignment. 

Mysore classes are conducted in an entirely different manner. They usually start in the morning, typically from 6:30am, and last for at least 2.5 hours. Many people are initially put off either because they don’t know what it is or they don’t fancy the idea of a 2.5 hour class starting at 6:30am. In fact, you can drop into a Mysore session at any time and stay as long as you wish within the class timing. For beginners, this could be 45-60 mins and for more advanced practitioners up to 90-150 mins. 

Students are first taught the sun salutations in detail and progress through the sequence in a gradual manner, where they are taught small and manageable portions of the sequence at a time. Once the current pose is learned, students will progress to the next one. This facilitates a thorough understanding of each pose and allows the student to gradually build their stamina and strength. 

This step-by-step manner of teaching makes this practice ideal for beginners. Instructions are given to students according to their physical abilities (taking into account any injuries) and are highly personalised. You will be addressed by name and the teacher will know your body and your practice inside out. 

Experienced students just show up for class and get on with their practice up to the last pose given by the teacher,  whilst the beginners are taught to memorise and internalise the sequence one pose at a time. If you forget, the teacher is there to help you.  Good teachers in the Mysore tradition typically have at least 5 years of experience as an apprentice before they conduct their own classes. You can therefore be assured they have the necessary expertise to guide you in both simple and deeper postures.

Practicing in this manner provides one with the space to focus and draw attention inwards, transforming your practice into a meditative one. Further, in moving through the sequence, the cue to move to the next pose comes from your own breath as opposed to the teacher’s instructions. This enables students to work at their own pace, and also allow them to repeat and spend extra time with the teacher on poses they find challenging. 

Sessions are characterised by the sound of the breath - “sound breathing”, a powerful and rhythmic heating breath. Aside from verbal instructions, the class is quiet. Everyone is working at their own pace and it appears to the newcomer that everyone is doing something different. This eliminates the culture of comparison and competition which could potentially occur in group exercise where people are doing the same thing at the same time. 

Finally, hands-on adjustments are a quintessential element of a Mysore class. This involves an experienced teacher assisting students in poses so that they can learn and create awareness of the pose from their own body instead of imitating from a teacher’s demonstration or the person next to them. Some poses also require adjustments to get into the full expression of the poses. Yet other poses need to be guided by hand when performed the first time, such as inversions, headstands, or dropping back and standing up from a backbend – such poses cannot be initially attained by oneself and requires a helping hand.

Mysore is considered by some to be one of the most effective ways to learn yoga – for both beginners and advanced practitioners alike. It is a deep and transformational process which expands one’s boundaries and shatters any perceived limitations one has about their practice and themselves. Like any significant and deep change, this process may take time, but will set a solid foundation which will take your practice to new heights.

Please click here for FAQ for Mysore classes. 

By Sita Chia

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