Ashtanga Yoga

What is Mysore style yoga?

I talk quite a lot about Mysore style yoga in my posts so I wanted to write this for anyone who is a little intrigued and might want to find out more or possibly even give it a try themselves.

What is Mysore?

Mysore (or Mysuru) is a city in India in the state of Karnataka and it is the birthplace of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

Way back in the ’40s an Indian man named K. Pattabhi Jois developed Ashtanga vinyasa yoga after about 20 years studying under some amazing yoga gurus like Krishnamacharya.

He set up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (known as the KPJAYI ) in Gokulam, Mysore, and taught there daily for the rest of his life, attracting students from all over the world who flocked to India to learn from him.

You may have heard of some famous yogis such as Kino Macgregor and Laruga Glaser who studied at the institute.

Since he died in 2009 his grandson Sharath has resumed the running of the shala and continues to attract Ashtanga practitioners from all over the world.

So what’s the Mysore style of practicing Ashtanga yoga?

In most yoga asana classes in the UK you would expect to be led by an instructor, i.e. he or she would talk through and demonstrate every move as you and the other attendees practise in unison.

Although these kind of classes do exist for Ashtanga yoga, it was actually designed as a self practice.

Students who came to Mysore to learn from Pattabhi Jois were taught a series of postures (asanas) that they would then practice together daily under Jois’ guidance at their own pace. Day by day as their strength increased, he would introduce the student to a new posture until they eventually learned the entire primary series (that’s the name of the entire sequence of postures).

Jois would walk around the class and assist/adjust the students where necessary to help them advance their practice. There are also intermediate and advanced series which were taught once the student was fully proficient in the primary series.

Mysore style Ashtanga yoga

Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath teaching Ashtanga yoga in Mysore, India – source of the photograph is unknown!

Traditionally, students practiced 6 days a week with a rest day on Saturdays and moon days (full or new moons).

This form of teaching and practicing Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is still very popular in the West and is affectionately known as Mysore style yoga.

Personally I think this a great way to encourage students not to rely on their teacher to practice – once they know the sequence off by heart (which certainly doesn’t take long if you’re practising 6 days a week!) they can practice on their own even if they can’t make it to a class.

What’s a Mysore style yoga class like?

Although I myself have not had the opportunity to visit Mysore yet, my teacher has spent many months at the KPJAYI and still returns every year to keep her knowledge up to date so she can maintain the traditional teaching methods at her classes in London.

I turn up at the studio in East London at 6:30am – my teacher is already there having lit some candles and making her daily cup of green tea. There is usually a group of between 5 and 10 of us there to practice but we arrive at any time between 6:30 and 7:00.

We all roll out our mats next to one another and begin the primary series in our own time.  The instructor wanders around the room and correct you if she notices any misalignment and she will often do some hands-on adjustments if she thinks you could push yourself a little further in the posture.

There’s a lot of focus on breath in Ashtanga yoga so when you walk in the room you will be able to hear everyone breathing deeply and calmly – it’s a very relaxing sound and it’s a helpful reminder to breathe deeply yourself! It’s also very warm in the room as our mats are generally quite close to one another and we are all sweating a fair bit.

It takes me anywhere between 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete the primary series depending on how slowly I breathe and how many times I have to re-attempt certain postures!

Once a week we also have a “counted led” class where our teacher will actually call out the names of the postures and counts the breaths for the entire primary series and we all do the sequence at the same time. This is a great way to remind us how long and slow our breaths should be as well as teaching us not to count too quickly during the most difficult postures (navasana for me!)

Is Mysore style yoga suitable for beginners?

Before attending a Mysore class, you will need a basic understanding of the structure of the sequence, otherwise you will just feel a bit lost.

First try attending some guided classes where the instructor will take you through the structure of the sequence and help you to learn the basics off by heart. It won’t take you long until your teacher will be encouraging you to join the Mysore class!

So there you have it – a taste of Mysore style yoga in London! Is this similar to Mysore classes in your studio? Namaste x x x

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