Nothing has pressed my buttons more than a Mysore-style practice and revealed so starkly my healthy, pesky and sometimes detrimental tendencies.
In March 2012 I took the leap from led classes and a romantic home practice (I.e. fancy postures I felt good doing and danced my way through) and stepped into a Mysore-style class at the much-loved Palatine Road venue with its single-glazed windows and rickety floors.
As Matt and the rest of the students began to sing the opening chant
, I stood on my mat feeling like I'd accidentally walked into a cult gathering with its special language and esoteric ways. Then I began the first salute and instantly felt exposed: where was the guidance, the instruction, the teacher? Oh mummy, I was in this on my own, but not like at home where there's no one to spot my mistakes; here, the teacher may see or hear me miss a posture or breath. And he did. As I was in my full stride, I vinyasa'd confidently from Purvottanasana to Janu Sirsasana A only to hear, "Where's the other two?" I hadn't a scooby doo what Matt was talking about, I'd never done those postures in the correct order before.
And this is where the beauty of Mysore-style teaching comes in. I was shown Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Tiryangmukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana and how to practise these according to my ability while the girl opposite me sat with leg behind head, and the chap behind stuck with standing sequence.
Still, I couldn't help but compare myself to those graciously folding forward while I struggled not to topple over in Tiryangmukha. "I'm so embarrassed, I feel like an eejit, I bet Matt's wondering why I bothered" came the mental rhetoric which was thankfully buffered by the stronger concentration applied to finding steadiness in crazy postures such as Marichiasana D and Bujapidasana.
It wasn't until shoulderstand I had a lucid moment of seeing my thoughts and reminding myself these were just a reflection of deep-rooted thought patterns (I learnt soon after these are called samskaras). Fast forward two years, a fair few Mysore-style Intensives, and a now unromaticised home practice, the mind space Mysore-style helps to gauge is becoming wider with each practice. The group energy helps to feed me when I really want to stop, and my self-criticism and comparisons are instantly exposed before they take root. And so a new, healthy pattern, samskara, is being forged: awareness of the self-judgement and the ability to form non-attachment, vairagya, to the oh-so addictive negative thoughts.
"It's like being transported into a parallel universe", a friend recently said, and while I get the sentiment, it would be more accurate to say "it's being in the actual moment", one that's more or less free from the projected mind stuff so long as the awareness remains and the asanas don't become another tool to beat oneself with. And sometimes I experience this too, but through the continuity of practice, I'm becoming ever clearer on all the internal crap that was rumbling on inside of me. So without it being too much about navel gazing, which can be the other side of the ego coin, I do my closest approximation of the postures, observe what arises, and simply move to the next without needing to find why such a thought or feeling is there.
Yoga can be a transformational practice: physically toning the body, but more importantly, steadying the mind so we feel 'whole' - Mysore-style is an acute way of accelerating this process. With its emphasis on the individual and your classmates, I suppose it could be likened to group therapy, however, the words are replaced with our expression of the asanas.
Yes, the intensity of Mysore-style can be daunting, but isn't all change? And that's what Mysore-style represents: the opportunity to open Pandora's box in a safe and supportive environment, so we can take what we've experienced on the mat to get rid of the stuff that no longer serves us, and reconnect with that which makes life simpler, more honest, and above all, happier.
Step out you're comfort zone. It won't be easy but it will be worth it.
for details of the next Mysore-style Intensive
Charlene teaches regular classes with Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express. Visit her teacher profile
for more information.