Ashtanga yoga in the tradition of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois is practiced and taught according to a certain method, in what is called the Mysore style. Named after the city in southern India where Krishnamacharya and Guruji (Pattabhi Jois) taught for decades, and which is still the world center of Ashtanga yoga today, Mysore practice is the foundation of this school of yoga. While guided or “led” classes may be the rule once per week, on other days practice is largely self-directed and nearly silent in the early morning Mysore shala. The benefits of practicing in this way are many.

In the calm but energized atmosphere of the Mysore room, the gentle sound of Ujjayi breath predominates. Occasionally the teacher may make suggestions or give verbal cues, but generally the mood is meditative. This quiet, dedicated space encourages Ashtanga practitioners to develop enhanced breath awareness and proprioception, that is, consciousness of the alignments and actions within the body. Perhaps most importantly, Mysore style practice promotes the cultivation of a deep internal focus. With external distractions minimized, the true practice of yoga can more readily begin.

Because the class is not verbally instructed per se, the pace of the practice is determined by each practitioner as he tunes in to his own steady, even breath. He may chose to spend more time working in certain postures that could benefit from further exploration or require more attention, or perhaps just feel particularly good at the moment. Alternatively, the teacher may encourage the student to keep to the correct vinyasa count as closely as possible. Interactions between student are teacher are personalized. Students receive one-on-one attention within the group setting.

The teacher is present to assist, adjust, and advise practitioners on an individual basis. In the Mysore room, the teacher is freed up to thoughtfully observe each student, and to provide the hands-on adjustments which are an integral part of this style of practice. Individualized guidance is communicated via touch that may be very light or at times quite firm. Deeper adjustments, when deemed appropriate, may be safely and productively given by a knowledgeable teacher who has had the opportunity to observe and consider the tendencies, patterns, and capabilities of that student over time, as well as in that moment.

Why Should I Practice Ashtanga Yoga?

Many people experience Ashtanga to be thoroughly transformative mentally, spiritually, and physically. With regular practice, Ashtangis may find themselves advancing through increasingly complex and challenging postures such as are seldom taught in led classes outside of Ashtanga. The body becomes strong, flexible, and light. Concurrently, the level of concentration and internal calm continues to deepen.

New students are encouraged to come to Mysore practice while becoming familiar with Ashtanga. The open structure of the class allows everyone to practice as it is appropriate for them, and provides space for beginners to work on establishing the basics. Progress through the Ashtanga series is systematic, and as proficiency is gained in each posture, subsequent postures are learned. Thus, each student can practice safely, at a suitable level. Well-guided Ashtanga classes are also crucial for learning the proper vinyasa and techniques. These classes are often held once a week, when all levels of practitioner come together to practice the Ashtanga Primary series.

Regular attendance in Mysore class is the foundation of creating an Ashtanga sangha (or community), that is, a group of people dedicated to practicing in this tradition. Ashtangis tend to form a relaxed and friendly community around our common interest, while also maintaining the sense of privacy and solitude needed for an internal, meditative practice. The energy generated in a Mysore room by a group of Ashtanga practitioners is amazing and unique. It supports, upholds, and inspires the day-to-day practice of each individual, and meanwhile serves to preserve this amazing lineage of Patanjali yoga.

Practitioners of this school understand the importance of respecting and preserving the correct method, although simply experiencing practicing in this way can be enough to inspire the yogi to continue, because the benefits are so immediately apparent. The centered, quiet mind and strong, vibrant body that can result from regular practice in this way are proof of its efficacy. Mysore practice also helps to foster the discipline and self-motivation necessary for spiritual practice, and indeed physical fitness, to flourish. It’s all very simple, really. Perhaps Guruji summed it up best when he said, “You! You come take practice!”

Recommended Ashtanga Literature:
[Photo by Matthew Ragan | CC BY]
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