Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga
Firstly, Mysore is not a ‘style’ of yoga but a city in Karnataka, South India, generally considered to be the home of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Mysore was the home of Sri Krishnamacharya – known to many as the grandfather of yoga – and more recently Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the modern guru of Ashtanga Yoga who died in 2009 at the age of 93. Thousands of students each year still travel from all over the world to study Ashtanga Yoga at its source in Mysore.
Traditionally Ashtanga is taught in a Mysore Style environment, where each student practices the sequence according to their own individual capacity. Although ‘led’ yoga classes are the most common form of class offered by teachers and studios, these classes are actually a very modern invention conceived as a way to deal with the sheer quantity of yoga students wanting to learn the practice.
Led classes can feel like a perpetually moving train journey where poses are only held for a relatively short period time before the train begins to move away from the station on its way to the next pose. As such many students can feel like they are struggling to keep up with the train, whereas an other might feel the train is moving too slowly!
A Mysore class more closely mirrors the ancient one-to-one guru-student relationship through which yoga was traditionally passed down from generation to generation. Although there may be many students in a class, each student is treated like an individual. Each students practice is based upon their physical ability, so it accommodates all levels – from the complete beginner to more accomplished students. Beginner students will likely have a much shorter practice than more experienced ones, and then slowly, when the teacher sees that the student is ready, additional poses are added to the routine, building stamina, strength, flexibility and concentration but without overexertion or risk of injury.
The prospect of taking responsibility for their own yoga practice in a ‘self-practice’ environment (rather than being led) can seem like a scary proposition to many new yoga students. So it is no wonder that beginners often assume that Mysore classes must be for more advanced students that know the sequence, and so prefer to attend led classes where they can be guided by a teacher. The same students may also assume that they will learn more by attending led classes, where the teacher is guiding the class all the time, than from a Mysore class which is conducted in silence.
So, are Mysore classes ‘better’ than led classes?
In truth you will learn more about your yoga practice in a month of attending a Mysore style class than a year spent attending only led classes. This is because the Mysore way of practicing empowers each practitioner by asking them to explore what they are taught rather than blindly follow instructions.
The self-practice method is essentially based around cultivating the dialogue between mind and body through the ‘mediator’ of the breath.
Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga is a personal journey for your own answers at your own pace. There are no perfect poses, nor are there definitive yoga experiences, there is only what can be found in the present moment from where you are right now. These classes nurture the seed of self-awareness in a way that led classes can’t. In many ways led classes satisfy the human effort of striving towards, achieving goals and escapism. Whereas Mysore style classes nurture the seed of self-awareness and presence. Consequently students wishing to learn yoga and experience the benefits of the practice are better supported by a qualified teacher in a Mysore style environment than attending weekly led classes.
Led classes are considered far more advanced than Mysore classes. They can be very useful for maintaining the discipline of the practice and cleaning up the vinyasa’s, but the real growth occurs outside of that environment, where there is space and time for your personal practice to blossom.