When I heard that Sharath Jois (grandson of Sri K Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga) was going to be teaching in Ubud during the months I was in Bali, it felt like a sign from the Gods! I had been dreaming of travelling to Mysore to study with him but hadn’t quite plucked up the courage yet. I figured a week of attending his classes would help me decide for sure if a trip to Mysore should be on my itinerary.
The workshop was in the form of one week of daily counted-led primary series classes (the ones where the teacher counts the breaths out loud and everybody practices the series of postures in unison – I’ve written about Mysore style yoga in a bit more detail here) and one lecture on the final day.
There was an option to register for either a 6am or a 7:45am start time but I knew waiting until 7:45 was not an option for my hunger levels (you can’t really eat before class) so I went straight in for the 6am class which meant a delightful 5:15 alarm for the week!
On the first day I woke with my alarm and it was absolutely chucking it down with rain. Armed with my waterproof poncho I made my way down to the shala in the pitch black, slipping and almost tumbling into a river at one point.
About 100 students were sat around chatting in the room eagerly awaiting the Guruji. Everyone was being asked to squeeze closer and closer together to make room for the students who were still arriving. I’d only ever practiced Mysore style classes in London in a comparatively spacious room before so I was feeling awkward (being British I don’t really like to be too close to other human beings).
“Why you rushing?”
Sharath arrived and kicked us off with the opening prayer and sun salutations. There was such an awesome energy in the room, it was like I could feel the collective respect everyone has for this practice and all the benefits it has brought to them. (I’ve written more about the benefits of Ashtanga yoga in a previous post).
As we went through the sequence I started to notice that Sharath’s counting of the breaths in most postures was extremely quick; I would only count 2 and a bit deep breaths and we were already moving on to the next posture. I suppose we only had 90 minutes before Sharath had to teach the second class so perhaps he was just conscious of the time…
But with certain dreaded postures like Navasana and Uttpluthih, the counts were extra long, much to Sharath’s amusement! I actually counted about 20 breaths in Uttpluthih when it should be 10…
And if Sharath caught any of us moving through the vinyasas ahead of his counts he would pause and ask “Why you rushing?”, giggling while the rest of the class waited in chatvari. I could ask you the very same question Mr Jois! I did like his cheeky and playful approach to teaching though, it made the tough postures more bearable!
My stiff upper lip was soon forced to soften as we went through the postures and I discovered just how close I could get to the guy next to me – in Supta Padangusthasana B his foot was literally resting upon my face. I obligingly returned the favour when we switched to the other side.
In Garbha Pindasana we all had to kind of turn different ways to avoid rolling on top of one another, same with Upavista Konasana. I’m led to understand this is all completely normal in Mysore style classes, but it was certainly a new experience for me!
The fact that everyone I met at the workshop seemed was so lovely (I now have 5 offers to stay with people in Australia!) made it much less awkward when I had to stick my bottom in his or her face 🙂
On the second day of practice just before Uttpluthih, Sharath said he would teach us his favourite pranayama technique, which he prescribes to students suffering with anxiety-related conditions. He said he has watched it completely transform those students’ lives over many months of practicing.
The practice is called Anulom-Vilom, a form of alternate nostril breathing. Another teacher had taught me this practice before but it was a lovely reminder of the importance of integrating pranayama into your yoga practice and not making the mistake of focusing solely on asana.
Sharath prescribed 10 breaths through each nostril every day just before Uttpluthih and I fully intend to keep up this practice! If Sharath Jois tells me it’s a transformational exercise, who am I to resist?
It’s so easy to forget that asana is only a tiny part of what yoga was intended to be – if we are to reap the full benefits of the practice then pranayama exercises (amongst lots of other things!) should also be a key part of our daily routine.
I read a great article about the importance of alternate nostril breathing on Gregor Maehle’s blog if you would like to know more.
These are a few of the questions that have been circling my mind throughout the workshop and since, if any more seasoned yogis have the answers then please enlighten me!
- How are some people able to put their hands through in Garbha Pindasana without using a water spray? Do they just have skinnier/sweatier legs than me? Or is it to do with the openness of the hips?
- How can anyone move from Supta Kurmasana back to Tittibhasana and Bakasana with such sweaty legs?? I would usually use a towel to dry myself off but I didn’t have time during Sharath’s fast counting!
- Same question but for Marichyasana D – if I am wearing leggings then it is easy because they absorb the sweat but if not, my arms and thighs just slide over each other!
- Where do Mysore students learn the other aspects of yoga? Do they have separate pranayama/meditation classes? Sharath taught us the one technique but I know that might not be as beneficial to others as it would to me, for example.
I have to say, despite my complaints about the breathing counts it was an awesome experience to be around so many Ashtanga lovers and to all be jamming together under Sharath Jois’ guidance.
Sharath has dedicated his whole life to Ashtanga yoga and it was an honour to receive both his physical adjustments and all of his yogic wisdom during the lecture. Just being led by his counts was inspiring enough for me (even if a little quick!) that I felt stronger in my asana practice.
I’m still only at the very start of my yoga journey so I still have a lot of questions to ask, but taking part in this workshop has given me a confidence boost to get my butt to Mysore and start finding the answers for myself.