Why Mysore? The Student Perspective

As The Shala moves into a new phase of growth and development, I found myself thinking about how there is to so much share about the Mysore style of learning Ashtanga Yoga.  This is in fact the traditional way in which to learn this method of yoga.  Our program is expanding substantially the week of June 8, to accommodate more students that have started their Mysore journeys.  As such, I felt it quite appropriate to dedicate a 3 part blog series to the topic of Why Mysore?  This first of the 3 part blog series features exerpts from students at The Shala, answering this question:  Why do you practice Mysore style?  The pure love, reflection, simplicity yet complexity, exploration and expression of their words warms my heart yet erupts goosebumps on my skin!  I hope you enjoy reading the whole hearted intimate feelings that they have volunteered to share with you, the reader.

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Commitment, Dedication, Consistency, Discipline.  The Big 4.  Qualities I've admired my whole life and qualities I struggled with cultivating until I landed in a Mysore room 3 years ago. 

I am a wildly blessed free spirit who lives and laughs easily.  I was the kid in school who got good grades and was a teacher’s pet while also in trouble for talking too much and not following directions.  These qualities followed me into maturity and helped me live great adventures off the beaten path.  And also left me wanting more stability and structure, which I have found access to while practicing Ashtanga in Mysore programs. I've been practicing yoga for 15 years, the past 3 years I've been practicing the Ashtanga Primary Series in the Mysore self-led teacher-guided style. And finally I feel like I'm on my way in cultivating the Big 4 with the stability and structure I seek.  What I cultivate on my yoga mat, I carry into other areas of my life. 

Mysore is different than other asana classes because the teacher isn't there to lead me through a sequence of postures, in Mysore that is my job.  The teacher is there to help me deepen the experience in postures and to help guide me gently past the edges of my comfort zone.  I love this.  I love that I am in charge of the Big 4 and the teacher is there as a guide, supporter, cheerleader or challenger depending on what I need in a posture to access deeper lessons in the experience of being there and doing the work. 

 -Lizandra Vidal, Student and Teacher at The Shala

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 The most obvious benefit/differentiator is the personal touch of a skilled teacher, the adjustments and attention that you get to assist improving your practice.  This helps with humility and ego, as you work through wanting adjustments, or not, depending on what you think of your practice and poses, on that day. And the actual adjustments are key; the only way to get better is to practice, but the feedback is important to ensure that you are doing it right.  It’s one thing to tell me to square my hips - it’s another thing for Laura to adjust me into the position so that I can feel what it’s supposed to feel like, even if I can’t get there yet on my own, to use that memory each practice to improve.  But in a supportive manner - there are times when Laura walks away after an adjustment so fluidly that I am not sure she’s gone.  

Mysore forces my focus inward to my practice, forcing me to concentrate on my poses; if my mind wanders, my practice suffers. At the same time, you have to be aware of your surroundings, to be in the moment but not distracted.  The energy that fills the room is supportive, and the ujjayi breathing is a subtle reminder to keep your breath through the more difficult poses (where I have a tendency to hold my breath).

Finally, patience and ego.  There is no shortcut to doing the work, meticulously; this allows me to work on patience as I have to work within myself to improve, given where I am, where my body is, at this time.  Some day I will float, but not any time soon!  Mysore keeps ego in check and allows one to work with humility, to get better but accept where you are now. 

 I have been practicing Mysore for about six months; prior to that I did very little organized yoga.  I am sure that yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and mysore style in particular, have already made me a better person and I look forward to continued personal, physical and spiritual growth and learning.

Gwendolen Pechan, Student at The Shala

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 I've only practiced Mysore style Ashtanga twice but I'm hooked. Everyone kept telling me how wonderful it is but until I tried it I didn't understand. I challenged myself to attend the early morning practice and was amazed to feel the energy and openness last all day (until I got home at 9pm!) Being in a room full of people just breathing and moving on their own is liberating. I love it because I can go at my own pace while still being observed and assisted by my teacher. If I have a question about a particular pose in the sequence it's never a problem to ask. The teacher is there to help you improve your personal practice. Learning the sequence means you can practice on your own whenever you like as well.

I will continue to come back to this method because of the relationship I'm building with my teacher. This is such a great method to build self-discipline, cultivate self-care and self-love, and bring patience into your practice.  I've already noticed the choices I make off the mat are different and influenced by this method. I keep my commitments I've made to myself and others and give 100%. I can't wait to see the changes and growth after one month and longer!

Grace Kosko, Student at The Shala

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There is only one destination for the yogi, but there is no one way of arriving there. In our practice, both on and off of the mat, we make wrong turns and plenty of detours. The turns and detours that I make are entirely different from those made by my fellow yogis, and Mysore allows each of us to pause where we need an extra breath and when we need those extra moments to find grounding, to find space, and to focus on our alignment. Mysore is both humbling and empowering. When you lead your own practice, you are better able to turn your concentration inwards to allow your body, breath, and thoughts to flow with a balance of effort and ease. You lead your own practice, yet, you are still able to connect to the vibrant breath and energy of your fellow yogis and to receive skilled touch through assists from a trained teacher who is aware of your needs, your limitations, and your strengths. Mysore is a practice in presence and patience, and it is a community that provides supportive, slow change as we journey together towards self-remembrance and freedom.

Love and light,

Nicole Zinsser, Student at The Shala

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I like the way that I can take my time moving through the Ashtanga series at my own pace at the same time the person next to me moves along to theirs. This allows for a meditative space as the teacher gently guides or adjusts the body, encouraging a consistent breath.  I've had a number of injuries and a regular Mysore practice has helped me learn that pain and injury are my body's way of helping me learn how to modify so I can grow stronger and more flexible. Mysore is a more personalized instruction than you get in a led class, and it's helped me learn to focus on breathing as the central part of the practice. 

Kim Beck, Student at The Shala

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As an Ashtanga student who is also a teacher by profession (I teach biology to 9th graders!), the Mysore method makes a lot of sense from a pedagogical standpoint. In the classroom, some of my toughest and most rewarding work is to build my students' capacity for doing challenging work independently. This is exactly the type of work that I am encouraged to do as a Mysore student. 

 Speaking for my own practice, there are three main points of contact for learning: 

1. Learning through what we school teachers call "direct instruction," i.e. a led class. 

2. One-on-one teacher-student contact through personal adjustments, assists, and verbal feedback.

3. Self-study from being with my own body and breath throughout a particular day's practice.

Most yoga students enter the practice through the first avenue, a led class, and experience personal adjustments and feedback from their teachers in such classes as well. However, the most transformative work of a yoga practice happens within the confines of your own body and mind. Often in a led class, there is little space for self-study because our minds are busy receiving information from the teacher. In a Mysore-style class, the student is given a much greater share of the responsibility for his or her own practice and receives personal assistance and feedback where it is most needed. In school teaching, we call this "differentiated instruction," offering personalized instruction for each student based on strengths and needs. 

For me, Mysore class has served as a great bridge for building my home practice since it has helped me to be more comfortable working independently and in my own, often awkward, headspace. I also always have specific things to work on (I'm looking at you, tight knees and hips!) through the feedback I get from my teacher. An Ashtanga practice, which for me includes led classes, Mysore-style instruction, and independent practice at home, really emphasizes this quiet, personal exploration of one's perceived limits, and how these limits change over time. 

Margot Goldberg, Student at The Shala

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Participating in a led class can be an invigorating experience - strong energy is generated through the collective efforts of syncopated breathing, movement and point of focus. Acting as one, the led class offers a common experience - even when it involves individual groans, grunts, sighs, mutterings, and joyful exhalations.

While a led class can be a very outward facing experience; Mysore practice is a very inward facing time.  Mysore is my time to quietly investigate and inhabit the body, mind and spirit through its various ebbs and flows. It's a time when I can draw in and pay extra attention to facets of Ashtanga I am trying to understand: Where do I need to relax or strengthen? Is it really possible to quiet the mind through drishti? (try, try again!) How can I better maintain my steady breath when encountering a pose that frightens or tires me?

When my focus is within, Mysore is always a new experience. For me, it's the never-ending reveal of body and mind that brings me back to the mat at every possible opportunity. With each new posture, with each new lesson, there is something special waiting to be discovered.

"I must enter into all that I do with a spirit of love."

~ San Miguel Febres Cordero

Laura Z, Student at The Shala

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I went to my first Ashtanga class nearly 15 years ago in Encinitas, CA where Tim Miller was teaching in his former E Street studio. Curiosity brought me to my first class: what was this challenging, exacting, ujjayi-breathing (what?!) dynamic style of yoga all about? Previously, I had been a runner for years. Could Ashtanga be for me, without the constant punishment to my knees? After my first Ashtanga Basics class, I was stunned. Again and again, week after week, I went back to class. My teacher worked with me and progressed me at the points I was ready. I felt physically and mentally stronger after each time I got on the mat. It just worked. 99% practice, 1% theory clicked. *Lightbulb*

My personal Ashtanga journey hasn’t been a smooth one. I’ve moved multiple times within the country and internationally, I’ve flown a lot for work. Sometimes, I just haven’t had access to Ashtanga teachers or studios. My nightmare! So I’d try to get on my mat and do the best I could on my own, until I found myself running again. When I experienced illness, I practiced ujjayi-breathing. A lot of it. Even during my unintended breaks from Ashtanga, its physical and mental benefits stayed with me. The positive impact Mysore style practice has made in my life is what keeps me coming back. I love being able to practice Ashtanga via the Mysore style method here in Pittsburgh with my husband, my awesome teacher Laura, and fellow practitioners who inspire and encourage me.

 -Nora Boyd, Student at The Shala

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Who wakes up at 5 AM almost daily, practices yoga for 1-2 hours, then goes to a stressful, more-than-8-hour-day- job? Me!  I cant imagine not doing it.  It's all because of Mysore.  Since I've been attending an early morning Mysore class on a regular basis for about 9 months, I've progressed on a physical level AND, I feel calmer, happier, stronger, and more focused. I've been practicing Ashtanga yoga for a long time...here and there, when I could find a led class (which I also enjoy). Often practicing on my own, so easily distracted.  At times, I'd be lucky enough to find a Mysore class. Finally, here in Pittsburgh, we have an Ashtanga Yoga Mysore program!!! 
Mysore-style, which is the traditional way to learn the Ashtanga yoga method, gives the opportunity to learn yoga in a safe and individualized way, yet in a group setting. There is assistance and support from the teacher for everyone. Yes. Every. One.  The room is full of quiet but intense energy. No teacher talking at the front of the class. The only sounds are the rhythmic meditative sound of each others' breath and maybe a chuckle, groan, or sometimes a cheer.  It's a lot of fun! We are each doing our own practice, at our own pace, following the Ashtanga method under the hands-on guidance of a teacher. Some beginners, some with more experience, supporting each other. All of us taking on the intensity of the daily Ashtanga yoga practice, facing the challenges in the  postures on  the mat to help face the daily life challenges off of the mat.

-Susan Wassick, Student and Teacher at The Shala