The Responsibility of a Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.

Via on May 26, 2012

What does it take to be a really good Ashtanga Yoga teacher?

I love Miami. I love the sunshine, the sandy beaches, the open vibrancy of the people and the flashy sense of style.

Since I run a yoga center on Miami Beach, I get to see many people move in and out of the city, and sometimes even settle down to become a native. We treasure our long-term teachers and have worked hard to cultivate a solid teaching staff. But one question that inevitably comes up when some of our best teachers move away is:

What does it take to be a really good Ashtanga Yoga teacher?

The Ashtanga Yoga method relies on a style of teaching called Mysore Style.

In this method of teaching, students memorize the series of postures in the Ashtanga Yoga method and the teacher guides them deeper when appropriate. This method of teaching is named after the South Indian city where the founder of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois lived and taught for the majority of his life. His grandson, R. Sharath Jois, now continues directing the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore.

One distinguishing feature of the Ashtanga Yoga method is the Mysore Style practice. In order to teach Mysore Style, a far deeper level of personal experience and education in the field of yoga is required. There is really no training program that makes you into a Mysore teacher. We have developed a long term apprenticeship with teachers who are a part of our community, who we think are ready to teach Mysore style.

The first qualification for us is a good foundation in the practice and the method itself.

The teacher must have gone through healing and personal transformation through the Ashtanga Yoga method over the course of many years. Direct experience, called pratyaksa in Sanskrit, is the highest form of knowledge and it is from this space that Mysore Style teachers ideally teach from.

The practice is best done for many years under the guidance of a qualified teacher, which means someone who has spent a great deal of time close to the lineage of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Ideally, Mysore Style teachers have gone through a kind of deeply individual journey where the obstacles to true practice have presented themselves and the teachers have used the practice itself to work through these difficulties. Sometimes people have a beautiful practice just because they are good at asana, but they have not experienced a healing journey through the practice.

One of the key tests for an Ashtanga Yoga Mysore teacher is an injury. Many students love the practice when it’s easy, but a true teacher is one who knows how to work with the practice when it’s easy, difficult and average.

Working with injury in your own body helps build the direct personal experience that gives you compassion, information and technical tools to help students heal and work through the same types of things. The best teachers understand how to work with the Ashtanga Yoga method when students have energy and potential, pain and injury, and balance and anxiety.

Kino teaching Mysore Style at Balance Yoga in Taiwan

All the physical components of a sound practice must be there such as, in-depth anatomical information, study of primary yoga texts–like the Yoga Sutras—and practice of at least into the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. But a good foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga method means more than just jumping through really well, doing deep backbends, holding a handstand or completing a certain series. It means understanding the true depth and power of the Ashtanga Yoga method as a science of healing for the body, the mind and the soul.

The next crucial thing for a Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga teacher that we look for is integrity.

The solid character of the teacher is something that inspires faith in the student. Even now when I think of my teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, I rest in the full faith that I have in his integrity as a teacher. Some people would say that he was too interested in money or that was too friendly with women, but there are lines that he would never cross in no uncertain terms. As a student, I never witnessed or experienced anything that would call his integrity into question as a teacher of the Ashtanga Yoga method.

In the Mysore room, students go through deep personal transformations and they rely on their teacher to be the guide through the darkness into the light. The yoga room holds the potential for evolution because it is a like a temple erected in honor of the sacred space within. Students have to trust their teacher to be a guard of the consecrated grounds of the inner body.

In order to teach Mysore Style there can be absolutely no murky aura around the teacher. The teacher must clearly and brightly hold the space of the lineage with grace, power and strength.

If there is competition in the room between students on a physical level, the teacher must address these issues both within themselves and between the students. There is no room for flirtation or anything that could be misconstrued to be flirtation.

In order for the student to trust the safe space created for their personal journey, they have to trust the intention of the teacher every step of the way. If there is even a hint of flirtation in the interaction then the student may doubt the teacher’s motives or the teacher may take advantage of their position of power over the student and manipulate the student for their own gain. Power can be addictive and destructive. It is the moral responsibility of the teacher to keep their intentions pure when in the Mysore Style room.

The eight limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga includes a precise emphasis on the moral and ethical guidelines of a yogic lifestyle and it is crucial that, at the very least, the teacher does their absolute best to embody the moral foundation of the yoga tradition while teaching. Ideally, the teacher lives the full yogic lifestyle while teaching, practicing and throughout their entire life.

But yoga teachers are not saints. We get angry, frustrated, depressed and anxious just like everyone. We eat too much chocolate, fried food and have our sins and vices. The key is to understand that, as yoga teachers, we have a responsibility to honor and represent the best of the lineage in every instance possible.

Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga with Kino and Tim at Koh Samui

The teacher is someone who asks a lot of the student, pushes them where they need to be pushed and takes them to places they would not otherwise go. When that happens, an emotional release often follows and the teacher must be there for the student every step of the way.

As one of our Mysore teachers at Miami Life Center, Patrick Nolan said, “If you make someone cry, you have to give them a hug.”

It is a simple notion but one that can be hard to put into practice. As a teacher you want to create a space where students work hard, but you have to be as compassionate as you are engaging. All Guruji had to do was be in the room and I would work harder and go deeper. But he was also always there when deep backbends brought up challenging emotions. The teacher has to be someone who the student knows will make them work really hard and someone whom the student can also trust with their most tender spaces and vulnerabilities. In essence, the teacher must epitomize the balance that is at the heart of the Ashtanga Yoga method, which is to be soft and strong at the same time.

When considering if you are qualified to teach Mysore Style it is important to check your intention. Your reasons and intentions ideally spring forth from a desire to share the lineage that has changed your life with others. While yoga teachers need to make a good living, the basic motivation to teach, especially Mysore Style, is about spreading the sacred flame of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. Good teachers can certainly earn a good living, but if you are looking to get rich quick there are probably faster routes to material wealth.

The last responsibility of a good Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga teacher is to remain an eternal student. Sharath recently said that for many he is a teacher, but he will always be a student. It would be too easy for a teacher to maintain a pretense of authority and an expert’s point of view. Having ample time each year to be a student frees the teacher of the need to know and opens up the humility needed to walk the path of Ashtanga Yoga with strength and grace.

~

Editor: Brianna Bemel

About Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The youngest woman to hold this title, she has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series. After seven years of consistent trips to Mysore, at the age of 29, she received from Guruji the Certification to teach Ashtanga yoga and has since worked to pass on the inspiration to practice to countless others. In 2006, she and her husband Tim Feldmann founded Miami Life Center, where they now teach daily classes, workshops and intensives together in addition to maintaining an international traveling and teaching schedule. She has produced three Ashtanga yoga DVDs (Kino MacGregor – A Journey, A Workshop; Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series; Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate Series), an Ashtanga yoga practice card and a podcast on yoga. Her next book, The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, is set to come out in the spring of 2013 from Shambhala Publications. As a life coach and Ph.D. student in holistic health with a Master’s Degree from New York University, Kino integrates her commitment to consciousness and empowerment with her yoga teaching. She has been featured in Yoga Journal, Yoga Mind Body Spirit, Yoga Joyful Living, Travel & Leisure Magazine, Ocean Drive Magazine, Boca Raton Magazine, Florida Travel & Life Magazine, Six Degrees Magazine as well as appearing on Miami Beach’s Plum TV and the CBS Today Show. Find her at: kinoyoga.com.

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32 Responses to “The Responsibility of a Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.”

  1. Thaddeus Haas Thaddeus1 says:

    "The teacher must have gone through healing and personal transformation through the Ashtanga Yoga method over the course of many years. Direct experience, called pratyaksa in Sanskrit, is the highest form of knowledge and it is from this space that Mysore Style teachers ideally teach from."

    This, in my mind, the one thing that truly sets the teachers of ashtanga apart from other styles. Thank you for such a candid explanation.

    Posting to Elephant Ashtanga. Be sure to Like Elephant Ashtanga on Facebook.

  2. Anouscka says:

    Thank you for your writings. It is also a reminder to all teachers no matter what "style" or lineage. You can only teach or share if you practice and are on the journey as well….walk the talk and be responsible and caring towards your fellow students, being a life long student as a teacher or rather facilitator.

  3. Michelle says:

    Kino, this is beautiful, inspiring and eloquent. It's relevant not only to those who follow the lineage of Ashtanga Yoga, but to teachers of all yoga lineages and practices. Thank you.

  4. Joanne says:

    This is brilliant. So inspiring and super explanation Thank you.

  5. [...] to read more about what makes a good teacher?  Read Kino’s recent blog on the responsibility of being a good teacher. « Previous post Related [...]

  6. Ruth Zive says:

    Beautiful post Kino. So grateful for my teachers at the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto

  7. Shivin says:

    nice read …. well few things that I thought I’d write here (comes with a tinge of negativity though)… if someone said the many who turned up to the shala at mysore werent materialistic then I must ask isnt posting all pics of shala with the teachers there on FB some sort of marketing one’s yoga studio?

    I’d been in Mysore this Jan for learning yoga – simply because I couldnt find a good Ashtanga yoga instructor here in the outskirts of Mumbai city (India) – ironical that the land where Yoga was invented doesnt have as many instructors at every nook n corner :)as they find in the West.

    And its then that I got to know that for a middle order Indian aspiring to learn at the Shala, the fee is kinda outrageous (when converted to INR currency). So my conclusion here , to learn Yoga at the Shala is Expensive. Though I perfectly understand that Yoga teachers do need a normal lifestyle too with steady income, but looking at the living standards of the many in Mysore and other parts of India, Id have certainly appreciated if there were subsidized fees for locals. One would have then seen an equal number of Indians among the many outsiders who visit the Shala for studies.

    I had resorted to study from a different institute at Mysore with affordable fees and approachable teachers. No regrets! But yes to add something here : during a short conversation with a student of the Shala, I was told by her that its only the Jois’s shala that teaches the proper Ashtanga Yoga system like no one else does. Though I sort of gave a grin half agreeing she was correct and half wondering – if all the other institutes teaching but the wrong methods?! How about the Yoga Mandiram run by the lineage of Krishnamacharya in Madras (Chennai as its called)? I had another thing round up my nerves – its all about how many of them considered Yoga to be like some sports accessory where one would only think of Puma or Nike and no local brands. If Yoga were about a life transforming journey as its spoken in the article here, then such ego-headed ones shouldnt call themselves yogis and yoginis is what I would suggest.

    Another thing – about integrity of a Yoga teacher. Well I never met the grand old man coz even back in the year 2009 when he passed away, the only name i knew was of Iyengar when I got to a bookstore and picked up the first book on Yoga written by Jois’ contemporary and fellow student.

    I recently happened to view a picture on an FB group – quite an old one – of the Grand old man touching the female students in kind of awkward manner. To see how the women here in India react, I called upon a few to check their reactions. And aah they sort of had nothing positive to say about the picture. So I understand while the teacher knows how to take care of students, guide them through the practice, there must be a code of discipline even in simple things like how do you choreograph a posture specially if its a male teacher to his female students. I am not posting that picture here, understanding that it would be kinda humiliating the soul who’s otherwise called a treasurehouse of Yoga by the Ashtanga community.

    While I agree with a couple of things here, I must say that the commercialization of Yoga has resulted in creating a bunch of fads and myths and wrong notions among the practitioners here. End of the day the question to be tossed forth should be “What does it take to be a good yoga teacher and garner respect out of one’s contribution to the community of learners?” and not “What does it take to be a Mysore teacher or Sivananda teacher or an Iyengar instructor?”, isnt it?

    • Kino says:

      This is quite a lengthy reply! First, as I understood at the KPJAYI there is a class for local students in the afternoon that is at a very affordable local rate. Did you inquire about that? Second thing, many people who go to study yoga in Mysore are not yet qualified to be teachers. The purpose of this article is to address the question of what it take to be a good Mysore Style teacher which is more than just checking a trip to India off the bucket list. Of course there are many great yoga institutes in India, such as the one that you mention in Chennai, but I am only writing about Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Third, to judge Guruji's whole life's work by one photo is, in my opinion, exceedingly unfair. There are many pictures of me that if circulated on their own would be damning–perhaps you also have one such photo hiding in your closet (or iPhoto trash) somewhere? What I meant to say about Guruji is that even if a hand ended up somewhere closer to the bottom than you'd like there were lines that he would never cross in no uncertain terms, e.g., he never engaged in any type sexual relations with the students at all, ever.

      • alyson says:

        Excellent response, Kino, to Shivin's comment. I was just about to address it and saw that you did a much better job than I could have.

  8. Tobey says:

    Excellent beautiful article! And is a great reminder to all yoga teachers out there no matter the style they choose to teach in. Thanks for such an inspiring read.

  9. hos says:

    Great post and i agree it transfers across many styles. I gave up yoga for yrs cos of what i called "competitive stretching"/visibly bored teachers/bad atmospheres in shalas. there was no yoga, no compassion, no journeys. just people pitting against one another to be thinner, and stretchier and of course the dancers always "won". I even left a yoga workshop once because a very very famous yoga teacher spent the whole class flirting with a student in a really inappropriate manner. It was really disheartening, i had all of his books which went straight into the charity bag. Thankfully a great friend persuaded me to return to yoga and I found great teachers again but I'm glad you are reminding people of what is important.

  10. Dearbhla Kelly Dearbhla says:

    Great article Kino.

  11. Sara Jean Deegan Sara Jean says:

    Dear Kino,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful wisdom! You are my favorite yoga teacher, ever! We've never met–unfortunately, I don't always have access to a terrific teacher–one I can admire and trust–your tutorials have given me the tools and resources to always be my own teacher first. It is my dream to one day finally get out of California and study with you…but you know how hard it is saving your pennies when you can't afford rent and a meal. I am a yoga instructor in my small town in Cali, but one day I really hope to deepen, cultivate, and share my yoga practice b/c ashtanga yoga renewed my faith in life. Thank you again, for your beautiful soul and inspiration. One day i hope I receive the good fortune to study with you. But until then…Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said "Yoga is 99% practice 1% theory," which also reminds me of one of my fav quotes: “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy” -Friedrich Nietzsche. Namaste, Sara Jean :) (lots of love xoxoomm)

  12. chiara_ghiron says:

    Hi Kino

    although I started my yoga journey with ashtanga vinyasa, I feel that following T Krishnamacharya' lineage in the TKV Desikachar tradition is more appropriate for me, although I still enjoy looking at your tutorials and learning from them, so thanks for taking the time to put them together.
    I enjoyed reading your post but like many other have already commented… why should all you wrote apply especially to ashtanga vinyasa?
    I must admit one of the reasons why I moved forward is that the self-intonated 'ashtanga is special' refrain can become a bit tiring. Yes, it IS a great school, but apart from some deviant cases all yoga teachers, whatever the lineage, should follow integrity principles!! and whatever the lineage yoga IS a transformational journey!

    Thanks
    chiara

  13. [...] years after college and then finding my way into the corporate world after. All along the way I was discovering yoga and that I wanted to be a yoga teacher no matter what I had to go through to do it. And here is [...]

  14. Lynda says:

    Hi Kino

    when will you come to Australia? I subscribe to your clips on Utube and newsletters and would love to attend a training of yours. You are so motivating, inspiring and a great instructor who delivers the message and instruction so well.

  15. Anuj says:

    Great thoughts Kino. As Sw. Iyengar says: "it will take a few lifetimes to know yoga".
    Well, you ARE an inspiration , as in the B.Gita Lord Krishna says:" one begins yoga where you have left it in the previous life".
    Alas, there are many who are good in asanas but rare is a teacher who the philosophy of yoga…I like your thoughts on integrity and wisdom. In pure light & joy, Anuj. Pune,India.

  16. Adam Wade says:

    Thank you for this beautifully-written article Kino! I am an ashtanga teaher in NYC and this really resonates with me. Also, I love your videos and am excited to practice w you at MLC someday. Would love it if you came to NYC sometime, we need more of the likes of you here to fan the ashtanga flames.

    Namaste

    -Adam

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  21. alaynet says:

    This is a great article. Thank You. I've been a long time practitioner of yoga, and I try to really live it. Recently, I've been trying to learn the Ashtanga method. I've been learning from your videos, which are absolutely wonderful (YOU are wonderful) and reading a lot. However, I live in a small town in Alaska where we don't have any Ashtanga teachers or a community of practitioners. I wonder how I will be able to develop my practice and transform while I don't have the support of a good teacher to interact with. I don't want to uproot my life. I'm a high school art teacher in an amazing community. I love my job, my life, my job, my relationships,etc…… Is it possible to grow with a teacher from afar? Any suggestions?

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