March 12, 2012

Early to Bed & Early to Rise & Repeat: New to Mysore-style Ashtanga Practice ~ Jasmine Gill

Over the years, my yoga practice has taken many twists and turns, experiencing both peaks and valleys.

Recently one of these turns has led to my first Mysore-style class (Mysore-style class will be written as Mysore for rest of this post). In a Mysore class, instruction is one-on-one within a group setting, with each student responsible for practicing their own prescribed portion of the Ashtanga Yoga sequences as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. The teacher adjusts and provides specific instructions to students on an individual basis. Each pose within the practice builds onto the next, and the teacher will make a determination as to how far into the sequence the student should practice on their own in class. While I came to this style of practice out of an interest to learn and practice the Primary Series (the first series of poses within Ashtanga Yoga), as well as due to pure logistics (the 6 AM start time has now become the only time I can consistently attend a class), there are several aspects of the Mysore class that I was not expecting and have ended up falling in love with.

 Just a quick caveat – the following applies only to Mysore classes that I have experienced in the Tampa Bay Area in Florida, and may not apply to all Mysore classes in both the US as well as in Mysore, India. Please feel free to comment below if you have had different experiences!

1. A deeper connection with the teacher

In the Ashtanga tradition, it is recommended to practice physical asana (poses) six days a week. This means if you are fortunate enough to attend Mysore classes almost every day of the week, you will see the same teacher (or in my case – two alternating teachers) up to six times a week typically between an hour to two hours. This daily space of the practice means you can foster a deeper, stronger connection with the teacher.

The teacher will see you practice the same poses every day, therefore will be more apt to remember any difficulties you are having, any injuries you are experiencing, and just the simple nuances that come standard with each and every body. This type of relationship is certainly possible in a non-Mysore class (as I have experienced it in both); however it seems to go just one level further with the Mysore class. Trust of your teacher becomes an essential foundation, and with the style and frequency of interaction with your teacher, and their understanding of your practice and where you are at individually, that trust can flourish and lead to a deepening of your own practice.

2. Personal responsibility for your personalized practice

Ever hide in the back of a yoga class and not push yourself to your own personal edge?

This would be difficult to do in a Mysore class. Since you have a deeper relationship with your teacher, they often have a good idea of your capabilities as a student. This does not mean you will be chastised if you do not the full version of each and every pose every single class; however it means you are less likely to cop-out of your own practice. Additionally, you will start to remember the sequence on your own, practicing up to the prescribed pose in the sequence where you are properly challenged but you should not proceed further for some time. This method accommodates a wide level of students in a single class challenging advanced practitioners without jeopardizing beginners. Trying to remember the correct order of poses in the sequence is part of the challenge.  Hello early morning memory game!

3. Adjustments

Since each student practices their own prescribed portion of the sequences, the teacher does not have to focus on making sure the entire room of students is coordinated and in the correct pose at the same time. This aspect of teaching typically takes a relatively large amount of concentration and energy (finding the most accurate simple cues to provide students verbally that will guide them into a pose as well as demonstrating said poses).

Since a teacher in a Mysore class does not have to do this, they spend their time and energy on specific individual instruction and adjustments. As a student, this means the teacher will be giving instructions directly to you and you alone, and adjustments tend to be more frequent. The adjustments should help emphasize the key actions of the pose that you are doing, helping you gain a deeper understanding of the pose itself. Additionally the adjustments will push you, (of course they should not push you into injury–communication is a must), aiding you in finding your true personal edge, at times an edge that you were not even aware of.

4. Ability to ask questions

If you are not in a workshop style of class or teacher training, generally it is not common to be able to ask a specific question about a pose in the middle of a class (and would probably be considered rude). In a Mysore class, if you have a question about a specific pose you are about to do, you can actually wait until the teacher is done with another student and ask them the question directly (and it is encouraged if you unsure about what you are doing). Oftentimes the teacher will show you right then and there, watch you do the pose and adjust as necessary. This type of back and forth interaction means you know exactly what you should be doing in the pose, helping prevent injury due to incorrect guesswork.

5. The Ocean as a soundtrack

When I first thought about transitioning to a Mysore class, I was wondering how I would enjoy practicing without music. Many teachers have killer playlists, sometimes even live music. In one of Shiva Rea’s classes last fall, Donna De Lory practiced with us in class and then serenaded us while we were in Shavasana (final relaxation or corpse pose) and it was simply beautiful. While I believe music can have a tremendous positive effect in class, I was interested to see what silence in a regular practice would be like. In a Mysore class, there is no music and it is relatively quiet. Besides the teacher’s voice and sometimes a student’s response, the predominant sound is truly the ujjayi breathing of yourself and other students practicing. I have found personally this has allowed me to keep a closer connection with my breath, as well as foster a deeply meditative practice.  Since I am a music fanatic I cannot see only practicing in a silent practice all the time, however it has been an excellent way to subtly start the day.

6. Early to bed and early to rise and early to bed…

If you are attending an early morning (5:20 AM alarm setting) class with consistency and longevity, you will start to get on a schedule where you are going to bed early and waking up early. This may sound like a bit of a downer to some, but the part of me that I want to foster absolutely loves this aspect of the practice. I have found it to be a nourishing way to start out my day–an early morning, quiet, meditative but physically and mentally challenging practice.This sets the tone for the rest of the day as well as encourages healthy decision-making (hmmm that big glass of delicious red wine might mean you won’t feel like waking up tomorrow to practice in the morning…).  The early morning practice allows you to carry a certain physical ease in your body all day and helps cultivate a state of mind that prepares you for whatever your day might bring.

These are just a few of the unexpected occurrences that I have experienced in the short time I have been practicing this method of asana practice. I am quite certain over time, like everything else; it will be dynamic and evolve.

What have your experiences been? Are they different? Similar? Feel free to comment below.


Editor: Tanya L. Markul

Jasmine Gill has been practicing yoga for about 10 years, although only “seriously” practicing for the past two years. She is a 200hr RYT certified in Prana Flow Energetic Vinyasa and recognizes that the teacher training was just the beginning of a lifelong of learning and practicing. She currently lives in Tampa, FL with her boyfriend and two puppies, longing to one day return to living in the mountains.

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