So what is this Mysore class that everyone is talking about?

by Clive Bratchell

‘Star wars’, ‘The Matrix Trilogy’ or more recently ‘Lucy’ – All these films describe a handing down of knowledge from teacher to student.

This is really the essence of the Mysore style yoga class and how yoga has been taught for 1,000 of years. So what is this Mysore class that everyone is talking about?

  • Are you sometimes frustrated in a yoga class that you do not know what is coming next?
  • Feeling your body tense up anticipating when the next pose is going to be given and how challenging it is going to be?
  • Maybe you have been practicing for a while and feel you would like more personal attention but do not want to pay for a private session?
  • Maybe you feel a little intimidated by the fast pace of the Vinyasa class you have dropped into?

There is a solution to this issue already out there… a beautifully crafted sequence of breath and movement customized to fit your body, each posture opening up or strengthening the body ready for the next. Challenging enough to keep you busy with it the entire rest of your life… want to know more and how it works?

Ashtanga Yoga taught in the traditional way – Mysore style

Ashtanga yoga was introduced to the westerners in the mid seventies attracted to it as a way to tone their bodies and calm their mind. The enthusiasm to complete as many postures as possible led to the creation of the ‘led primary’ class, this is where the teacher calls out the poses in this dynamic sequence and the students do their best to ‘keep up’. This led class is great for students who have learnt the sequence already but is often intimidating for a beginner. They are usually very busy & therefore there is less opportunity for alignment corrections or any adjustments to be made by the teacher.

BUT there IS an ALTERNATIVE!

Mysore self-practice is the traditional way of practicing Ashtanga yoga; it is magic! It offers the students a highly personalized approach without the cost of a one-to-one but with the group energy of a conventional class. The teacher will know your name, they will get to know your practice inside out, they will be there for you through all the ups and downs of your practice. The class is quiet, there is very little talking, no music, just the sound of breath and the energy of intense concentration.

The class is NOT 2 hours long. In fact, you can drop into a Mysore session at any time and stay for as long as you wish. So for beginners this maybe just 30 minutes or for the more advanced up to 1hr 45 minutes. It is a wonderful way for students to develop a self practice that they can take anywhere they go.

Mysore self practice is named after a beautiful city in south India, this is the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga created by the late great Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. In Mysore now his grandson Sharath Jois continues the traditional way of teaching as the world’s yogis come to explore their practice together.

Where do you start?

Your first challenge is to get to the front of your mat & attend a class!

Drop any preconceptions of doing lots of postures at the start. Learning the sequence of asanas (moves) and the correct breath takes a little time and patience, but you are learning it to have it with you for the rest of your life so I reckon 3 practices a week for 4 weeks should get you up to a level where you feel like you know what you are doing. The pace of learning is determined by your teacher and also by you – it is a joint process – new postures are given to you as you show more competency. If you forget one then the teacher is there to help you.

Practicing this way gives you space to focus. To find the true rhythm of YOUR breath. It allows you to spend some time in a posture that may challenge you or you have identified as a key pose to help unlock one further in the sequence that you have been stuck on (and repeat it if necessary). It is here that this system of yoga really works for you as you start to become your own teacher.

In the Mysore room all the students are working at their own pace and are so focused you soon realize they are paying you no attention. As everyone is working on a different pose it does cut down on the element of competition which can also be challenging in other forms of group exercise.

As you progress through your practice the teacher will help you. Having time to discuss how a posture works is a great bonus. Usually ‘adjustments’ are given, these are an important part of the Mysore self-practice. This is where experienced teachers use their hands to guide your body towards ‘correct alignment’ it is called deepening the pose and it is generally impossible to do this on your own at home! Trusting your teacher is the key to getting the most from these adjustments, the trust can only happen over time of course.

In time the mind starts to find stillness, facing distractions and coming back to a focused state instead of passively listening to a teacher or watching others. This makes it a more internal practice and the meditation is there in motion and breath.

When you master, even the start of this practice, the Mysore magic begins and each day of your life begins with an up beat.

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