You are taught the poses by a teacher!
The most common misconception about Mysore style Ashtanga is that you are not taught the poses or that you have to know them before you get there.The teacher teaches you the poses! If you enter a Mysore class for the first time and the teacher just hands you a sheet of paper and walks off, roll up your mat and leave. They don’t know what they are doing.
Many descriptions of Mysore style ashtanga say “self led” or “self practice”. This is because you are given a set of poses and as you continue to come, you memorize them and flow through them while the teacher helps and assists you where needed.
Anyone can do it…..well except lazy people
Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, said that any man except the lazy man can do Ashtanga Yoga. It is for all bodies, all ages, all levels of fitness and health. The Mysore method is highly personalized to the individual. As long as you are willing to work, you can do Ashtanga.
You are taught pose by pose
The teacher will give you a few poses at a time and watch you as you work on them to see where you need help. Why?
- Its tradition
- It keeps you safe. The teacher understands that each pose builds on the next. The teacher will not give you the next pose until you are mentally and physically ready
- It keeps you from being overwhelmed
- The focus is on you and your development -It is not a one size fits all practice. By teaching you little by little, the teacher can provide individualized instruction
You have to learn to trust the teacher and the process
Because you learn the practice pose by pose, you need to trust that your teacher has your best interests at heart. If you cannot give your teacher the benefit of the doubt, the process will not work. It is important to find a teacher you can trust and surrender to the process.
You May or May not be Given a Cheat Sheet
A cheat sheet is a list of the poses of Ashtanga that is used to help with memorization.
You Will Not Do the Whole Sequence….For a Long While
Read two paragraphs above to see why
There Will Be People of All Levels In the Class With You
It is Hard…For Your Own Good
Don’t let the fact that you learn it pose by pose fool you. The physical practice of Ashtanga is dynamic, flowing and quick. Strength and flexibility are married together for a practice that is both mentally and physically challenging. Expect to sweat…..profusely.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
Ashtanga is a personal journey.Where you end up depends on you, your unique body and your unique life experiences. Comparing yourself to You Tube, Instagram or to other people in the room will only cause frustration and pain. Let it go.
Ashtanga is Vinyasa Yoga……Once You Memorize the Sequence
If you have to constantly stop because you don’t have the poses memorized, the practice will not flow. The magic of Ashtanga happens when you internalize it and make it yours. It is critical that you memorize the poses you are given as quickly as you can if you are to get the full benefit of the practice and if you want to progress.
The Teacher Will Leave You To Work Alone
The teacher will teach you a group of poses and possibly leave you on your own to complete them. This helps with memorization and makes you self sufficient.
We want to heat the body up not cool it down.
You May Be Sore Later
Even if you work out or you have studied other styles of yoga, the unique sequencing of Ashtanga will challenge your muscles in a different way then they are used to which causes soreness.
You Don’t Have To Stay The Whole Time
A traditional Ashtanga program usually reserves the space for a minimum of two hours. Bigger programs with lots of students, will even reserve the room for 3 + hours. The time on the schedule is a window. Typically, you can come and go between the hours that the room is reserved. Keep in mind that the class usually ends promptly at the end of the specified hours so you want to get there early enough to get what you need from the practice.
The Sequences are Set
Ashtanga sequences are set, however, each pose looks different in different bodies. The exception to this is people with injuries or unique physical issues that call for a specialized therapeutic practice. The sequences are set so that you get out of your head. The ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga is liberation from both conditioned thoughts and the pain that comes with attaching your happiness to things outside of your control. The sequences are totally out of your control! If you can find happiness on your mat in the midst of a difficult practice, you can take the skill off your mat and find happiness in the midst of a difficult life.
The poses were taught to Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga Yoga, by Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga. Pattabhi Jois then codified them according to how his teacher taught him. The sequences work both with the nadis, energy channels of the body, the mind and the physical body to create a strong purified being. In yoga philosophy, this is called a diamond body. When you develop this diamond body, you are primed for the process of awakening.
There is No Music…..Traditionally
You May or May not Get Any Assists
A good Mysore teacher is like a good parent. A good parent guides their children and keeps them safe but they give them space so that they learn to be independent and do things on their own. A good Mysore teacher does the same.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.