Ashtanga Yoga is the yoga I’ve enjoyed practising for the past 17 plus years and although it has a reputation for being for the super fit, competitive type yogis, in my experience Mysore style practice is suitable and beneficial for all students, from absolute beginners to those starting in their sixties.
Mysore style class is like a 1:1 lesson within a group setting and named as such due to this being the traditional way of teaching in the city by the same name in India where most of the yoga asana we practice in the west originated.
Students follow a set sequence and are given postures as they progress through the series, you may see a beginner beside someone doing advanced postures. The atmosphere is quiet and focussed and you are soothed by the sound of the breath and the teachers gentle instruction.
Practiced in the morning, traditionally 6 days a week, this practice will set you up for the day, and many students who get hooked make lifestyle choices for the better as they put their yoga practice as a top priority in their life.
The most important thing with this type of yoga practice is learning to connect with your breathing to realise how the breath and movement are interconnected. Through this focus one can also start to see the mind’s role in yoga and life.
It is by developing an intimate relation with the governing principle of the breath in the body and realising that from this the very energy that whirls around and animates our form, can be grasped, healed and restored. This is the subtle form of yoga.
This is a personal process and best done in quiet and reflective contemplation. This doesn’t mean you have to be slow and still, but for this very fundamental bedrock of the system to be slowly assimilated, self-practice yoga is an excellent method.
I am a staunch and proselytising advocate for the Mysore style class and one reason that for this is that the sequences are set and remain the same. So,with time, the individual will progress through the different sequences, at their own pace and ability-level.
As a teacher, it is possible to walk around the class and keep track of what everyone is doing, I know most students by name and know what is happening in their lives over the course of years in many cases. This deep relationship allows me to understand when to push them, when to encourage, when to try to get them to back off and when to simply let them be for a while.
Doing the same positions every day you develop a precise awareness for the inner techniques of yoga and allows you to turn off the mind, to go deeper into a meditation state rather than keeping the mind busy on being aware to learn which new posture will be next.
The Mysore self-practice keeps things very pared down and simple. This gives students of yoga a chance to get to grips with the much more subtle, inner workings of the body energy system which is what separates yoga from an exotic kind of fitness class.
When you take on the responsibility for your own yoga practice, and ween yourself off looking for the cues from the teacher at the front, it can be a daunting process. However, the thing that will keep one coming back for more, is the feeling that we are starting to get the hang of it, that we are working efficiently and not simply floundering around wasting our time, or worse, potentially injuring ourselves.
It’s good to start in a way whereby you are able to learn at your own pace and properly, which means you have to learn at your own level, and build up from the very simple building blocks to the complex, gradually, methodically, and sequentially.
With each individual body a slightly unique map is cast and we must learn to read our own, not the teachers, nor the fancy schmancy person who we had the bad fortune to be next to in class.
It’s imperative we pay close attention to ourselves and make the posture naturally, as the dictates and limitations of our current body advise. This will change and hopefully develop in time, but we have to take it easy and not rush ahead either. Patience does not always come naturally, bit as they say ‘a stitch in time saves 9’ and injury sets you back way further than developing in a steady and integral way.
This is why learning the form of yoga is so much easier to do in a self-practice environment. It actually liberates you from the need to be in a class, reliant on a teacher or video, you eventually can become your own teacher.
Like committing oneself to anything new, first it takes a bit of discipline; it’s useful to know the scales and learn to read the music-sheet. Later one can make the choice whether it’s rock or jazz that really suits us, you go over the same simple stuff in the beginning so you are set free ultimately into the domain of simply ‘music’, with that stuff in the hard-drive, you don’t have to count concentrate on it anymore.
With the curtailing of immediate freedom actually comes the fullest possibility of soaring into the realms for full self-expression and fulfilment, it’s all part of the same thing.