One by one students quietly and respectfully arrive at the studio, lay out their mats, and begin to practice. As the room begins to swell with students, the energy level and heat also swells. An ocean of breath gradually surrounds me. I stand quietly observing, scanning the room, reminding myself of who is practicing what and how far into which series. As the warmth increases and students have made their way through the first several sun salutations, I begin to make my rounds, gently moving in on students’ spaces and touching, assisting, helping them to deepen postures with every inhale and exhale. I move more quickly between students to catch them in a posture that needs work or more depth as they begin to progress further into the practice. Occasionally, while assisting one I will call out to another by name and say, “Lift your bandhas!” “Engage your quadriceps!” “Butt up! Higher……higher!” Sometimes I hear or am guilty of myself the occasional giggle. Two hours go by and I don’t even notice.
I am both an introvert and an empath. Surrounded by all these students in silence with only the breath and positive energy saturating the shala, I am truly in my element.
Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught Mysore style, as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. His grandson Sharath carries on the tradition today. In the Mysore method, each student has an individualized practice following the Ashtanga sequencing that is developed and overseen by the teacher. Postures are learned one by one, and as they are “mastered”, the student gradually builds a personal practice. Students practice together in the same room, but each student practices at his own pace. The instruction is “one-on-one” as the teacher walks around the room and provides physical adjustments and verbal instruction. The instructor also helps remind students of the sequencing, and advises students when to move on to the next asana in a sequence or when to close at a particular point in the sequence. The practice of Mysore style Ashtanga yoga teaches the student patience, diligence, and a self-dedicated practice. It develops a strong and intimate bond between teacher and student, one that is necessary for a student to not only practice yoga safely, but to grow as an individual through the practice.
Having the opportunity to teach in a Mysore class setting is not only a great blessing for a yoga teacher, but it is a continually enriching learning experience. Ashtanga yoga in general is different in that, if someone is teaching this method, he or she is likely (and absolutely should be) an avid practitioner of this method. While most yoga studio owners only teach a handful of classes, those that run Ashtanga Yoga studios are also the principal teachers. Why is this? Why have I chosen to teach this way? Why get up at 5am every day to arrive at the studio and teach from 2 to 4 hours (depending on the day)? Why not hire other teachers to teach this class?
I think that Kino MacGreggor eloquently speaks to these questions:
“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...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…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…The basic motivation to teach, especially Mysore Style, is about spreading the sacred flame of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition”
And to answer those questions I asked above in my own words...While it is important to stay well educated on the various postures in the Ashtanga sequences, there is no deviation from the sequence. I do not have to worry about spending hours preparing a “flow” or coming up with something “new and creative”, performing through speech, jokes, and verbal instruction as is often needed in a led class. When teaching Mysore style, I do not have to focus on maintaining the led pace, while at the same time trying to personally help students that I can see need it. Instead, in the Mysore classroom, I can conserve and use energy for deep assists and intimate personal instruction. I can personally observe each student, get to know his ability on the mat, and take him as far as he can go or stop him if he needs to work on something, and know that because that student has chosen this method of study, he will be okay with either. I get to celebrate each small success in the practice, help students release and then nurture those releases. I get to watch students make steady, inevitable progress, observe as their bodies and minds respond to or resist my words or touch, until they finally surrender and they are fully in an asana they have been working on for months.
In the Mysore class setting, I get to see the joy and empowerment that the practice brings to my students and watch them undergo personal physical and spiritual growth. Sometimes, I see the pain that the practice brings to my students, and I have the opportunity to reassure them, “This is a normal part of the process, it will happen again and again, I have been there. Acknowledge it but don’t dwell on it. It is part of the process and you will get past it.” There is something truly special and intimate about moving into a student’s space and providing a deep assist. It’s like I’m giving them a hug (although I’m sure it doesn’t always feel that way to them!!!), and together we breathe in and out, in and out, in and out, deeper into some aspect of the posture with each breath cycle.
My students energize me and motivate me, so that I am motivated to take my practice regularly as well. Before I taught Mysore style, this motivation came entirely from within, and you can imagine how that would go sometimes (like NOT go at all). I get to be a part of an amazing community that has literally built itself through hard work, dedication, commitment to and love of this method. I am inspired daily.
Teaching Mysore style every morning is hands down the best part of my every day. Enough said ;-)