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.
Visit here 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.
Getting into Mysore-style
Mysore-style may sound like some kind of youth slang, but it’s been getting me up very early in the morning to practice yoga, so it must be good. It’s the traditional way that Ashtanga yoga is taught, and it’s called Mysore-style because Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who developed the Ashtanga sequence, was based in Mysore, India, and people from all over the world still go to his shala there – which is now mostly run by his grandson Sharath Jois– to practice in this particular way.
What happens in a Mysore-style class is that everyone starts their practice and works in their own time. So, unlike a normal class where the teacher calls out the postures, you just work your way through the sequence at your own pace. The teacher comes round and adjusts you in your postures, either helping you with your alignment, or to go deeper with a particular pose. It’s a bit like a one-on-one class in a group setting, because you get a personal engagement with the teacher, but you also reap the benefits of being in a group with other people, which really spurs you on. If you don’t know which postures comes next or you get stuck, you can just wait and the teacher will come over and help you. It’s a really nice, relaxed way to practice.
I’ve been practising yoga for about three years now – I’m still very much a beginner really, but I was bitten by the Ashtanga bug, so when I found out about the early morning classes Matt was running, I was keen to try them out. I can remember asking Matt whether he thought I’d be good enough to go along to them – I thought of it as something for more advanced students, but I soon realised that anyone can go regardless of how long you’ve been practising; it’s actually a really good way of learning the Ashtanga sequence and getting more deeply into your practice, regardless of whether you can reach your toe in trikonasana, or if you can bind in marichyasana D (which I really can’t!).
We start early – 6.00am, and do some breathing exercises, and then we go into the practice until about 7.45am, but I promise you, it’s worth it! Afterwards you feel so good and ready to take on anything. There have been lots of days where I’ve done the Mysore-style practice and then gone straight on to work. When you get to a meeting at 9.00am and everyone else looks half asleep, but you’ve been stretching since six, it really makes you feel like you can take on the world, and any difficult queries your boss or a client has got for you.
For details of the next Mysore-style intensive, click here
Watch the video below to see a Yoga Manchester Mysore Class in action