Why Mysore Style Practice Is So Darn Special

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The other day at a Barre class, I overhead two women talking about Ashtanga Yoga. Neither had practiced much, but they were interested in learning more. I bopped into their conversation and couldn’t stop myself from doing a bit of the Ashtanga cheerleader dance – I just love this practice so much!

By the end of our chat, after I told them about our group here in Denver and how we have Mysore six days a week, both women basically said something like, “Oh, I’m not ready for that…I don’t know the poses well enough…I need a led class.” Sigh… that discussion again. I know many other posts and articles have been written on the Mysore vs. Led discussion, but here are my two cents anyways:

Mysore is an incredible method for building a practice that lasts. Learning the poses, one by one, makes them stick in your brain and your muscle memory. The repetition and the consistency brings you to a place of ease and comfort with the asanas over time. You get to know the poses well and your body in them. A self-led practice breeds discipline and a type of focus that just isn’t as accessible in a led, talking class.

Every pose counts, every practice is unique and each time you come to your mat, you are growing in your yogic evolution, even on the short or stiff days.

Personally, I first learned a few Ashtanga poses from Thad while we were nomads in the summer of 2010 (at that time I was a Vinyasa/Kundalini gal) but I officially started my Ashtanga practice in a Mysore environment when we moved to Charlottesville that fall. I learned Primary Series pretty quickly and was surprised by how easily I was able to memorize the sequence, despite my initial nervousness. It’s a lot of poses to remember, but when you are being taught each pose individually and specifically, it is much easier to remember the order than a newbie might suspect.

I firmly believe that Mysore-style practice is the ideal way to learn Ashtanga. It provides the space to be learn directly and almost privately from a teacher, but within the context of a group environment. A student is introduced to the practice at the appropriate pace for them. Poses are taught in a way that is right for that specific body, with its own limitations and strengths. It’s a very individualized process, yet firmly rooted in a tradition and a community. Mysore offers the opportunity to be inspired by other practitioners, of all levels, without practice becoming a competition, since everyone is practicing the poses that were given to them, at their own pace.

The more I practice in a Mysore setting, the more I love it and know that this is the right practice for me. I love that I have the freedom to do my own practice, modified or shortened occasionally, or extended with extra repetitions and “workshopping” on other days. I like that I can stop and ask for help, without it feeling like I’m disrupting the whole class. I like the personalization of the practice; I love that I feel like I am alone, doing my own thing, while simultaneously feeling supported by the group dynamic.

Most of all, I love the sounds of Mysore. I love the swoosh of bodies, the plunking of feet jumping, the creaking of wood floors, the thick textured oceanic breathing, the occasional giggle or groan. I love the lack of words! Yes, occasionally there’s a bit of talking, but the silence is much more pervasive. Because of this, I can turn my attention inwards much more deeply and intentionally than in a led class. Practice becomes meditative and deeply introspective. That is what I’ve come to crave in my yoga practice.

I appreciate this quote about Mysore from Eddie Stern that I came across today…

“This yoga encourages independence, it encourages self-reliance, it encourages a particular type of dedication and willpower to be able to figure out how to make it work on your own, once you’ve learned the basics.”

I so relate to that! That’s why I feel like I am always learning about myself and my body in my practice – no one is telling me what to feel or think, instead I must experience it for myself, in all its many facets.

So…my dear ones, if you are new to Ashtanga and want to learn this practice, do not be afraid of the Mysore room. It is waiting for you with open arms!

Love and Blessings,

Frances

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15 thoughts on “Why Mysore Style Practice Is So Darn Special

  1. Love this! As a teacher of ‘led’ classes, I often allow moments for students to flow silently to their own rhythm. To me, these are the moments the practice can sink beneath the surface.

    • Thanks Lybsta. Grateful for your readership and support.
      When I taught led classes (vinyasa or intro to ashtanga mostly) I too tried to let my own experience and preference for silence and inform my teaching style. I totally agree with you – in between the instruction, there lies the space for students to integrate, be present and have a real authentic experience in their practice.

  2. I teach both led and mysore but I like teaching mysore better because not everyone’s on the same pose so I can get to more students to adjust. I think they’re both amazing. my teacher Nancy Gilgoff, taught me that both are important. in a mysore class you can connect to your own breath and rhythm . I found that in my practice that’s when my breath becomes my mantra and my mind clears and I am pure energy. but Nancy says the student must be able to surrender to the teacher in a led class giving up or having to adjust their rhythm that of the teacher. this is important in learn to tame the ego which can easily be inflamed by the power of Ashtanga yoga.
    so if I read correctly you first learned Ashtanga in a led class but now think its would be better for others to learn in a mysore class…?

    • Hi Merritt.
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing that info from Nancy.
      At my old studio we did Mysore 4 days a week and then led on Friday and Sunday. I really enjoyed the Friday led especially because of the rhythm and speed of moving through Primary Series as a group. It was a nice change of pace from the Mysore practice in the days preceding. But now I’m practicing just Mysore, as that is what is available to me currently.
      I first learned a few poses from my husband while we were traveling but I began practicing for real in a Mysore environment and I think that’s a great way to learn the Series.
      F

  3. Brilliant article, and sums up exactly how I feel about self-practice vs any kind of led class. To my mind, self-practice is the only true form of asana practice, the rest is just circus.

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