Mysore Style Ashtanga

What is Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga?

The first thing to strike you when you walk into a Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga class is that it seems like total chaos. Here’s one student doing a headstand in the corner, while another is coming into the triangle posture and a third is struggling to balance on her arms. What is going on here? If you stay a while and watch closely, you start to notice a pattern emerging. Everyone seems to be on a path, following a precise choreography. Also, compared to other yoga classes, the silence is striking. Occasionally the teacher will whisper something to a student, but the dominant sound is the collective breath. You’ll notice the teacher move swiftly from student to student, giving adjustments as appropriate. Here’s a poem describing Mysore-Style classes:

In Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga
Postures are given
One by one
By the teacher
In charge.

If you have an existing Mysore practice you are welcome to drop in for a morning class at YiY.

If you do not have an existing Mysore style practice but would like to start, we recommend one or the other of two options. The first option is to start by attending on of the intro to Mysore style workshop that we offer on a regular basis (please check current listing) that will properly prepare you for attending this class. Additionally you pay a reduced rate for the first month of Mysore practice if you enjoy this option.

The other option is to plan to come and observe the class any morning at 800 am for 1/2 hour. This is free and will give you a better sense of the class and how it works. Having observed the class for this time you decide if you would like to commit to a week of practice you can pay $50 to attend daily classes for one week’s time. The teacher can arrange a start time with you either that day or another that is convenient for you.

If you have any questions about starting a Mysore Ashtanga practice at yoga is youth email AnneFinstad at gmail dot com.

In Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga

Mysore is a city in the south of India (see map) where Ashtanga yoga has been taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois since the 1930’s. This traditional style of Mysore has students learn postures in a fixed order using a special movement-breathing technique called vinyasa. The vinyasa links the postures together in the dance of the breath.

Postures are given

Each student is given their practice according to their ability. Since each posture is designed to prepare you for the rest of the series, beginners tend to have a much shorter practice than more experienced students. As they gain strength, stamina, flexibility and concentration, additional postures are given to the student. The sense of the word given in this context comes from how the practice is taught in India, where a yoga practice is something that a teacher gives to a student as a spiritual practice. In the West, people are accustomed to learning a lot of postures at once, such as in most led yoga classes. The downside is that some postures may be inappropriate for certain students, increasing the risk of injury. The advantage of the Mysore-style format is that it is for everyone because it teaches yoga according to one’s individual capacity.

One by one

Postures are given, one by one, but in a certain sequential order. The structure of the class depends on the teacher being able to keep track of what every student is doing with a quick glance. If you attempt something out of sequence, the teacher will have a harder time helping you in the appropriate way. If you have trouble with a particular posture, the teacher can offer you a modification that is consistent with the intention of the practice. One by one also means that once you are given a new posture, you practice the sequence through until you get to that posture, then wind down your practice with backbends (if appropriate) and the finishing sequence. The teacher will give you the next posture in the sequence when she feels it is appropriate for you.

By the teacher

When you practice yoga in the Mysore-style setting, it is important to wait for the teacher to give you each new posture. The act of waiting gives your teacher the opportunity to teach you the posture correctly or adjust you in it. Waiting also is an opportunity to express respect for your teacher and the practice. The longer you do this practice, the more you will realize that yoga knowledge is a gift from your teacher—the way that yoga is a gift to humankind from the sage Patanjali.

In charge

In India, a student has only one teacher or guru, so there is no issue of which teacher is in charge. Here in the USA, visiting teachers are often invited for workshops which provide a glimpse of what’s ahead and often inspiration. A visiting teacher may allow you to progress farther in the series than you have in your daily practice. However, your regular teacher is usually the more accurate judge of the dedication and intention of your practice, so it is better to follow her instruction when you return to your daily practice . Likewise, when you travel and attend Mysore-style classes taught in other yoga studios (see the list), the protocol is to stop and wait for the teacher to give you postures beyond the Primary Series.

If you get confused about the correct sequence of postures or need help with a particular posture, you should let your teacher know at any point during the practice. We are happy to help, no matter how many times you ask. If you are new to Ashtanga or accustomed to led classes, the Mysore-style setting can seem strange at first. But with commitment and a little patience, you will be amazed at how quickly you can learn to do yoga as a self-practice!

About commitment to the practice

The practice room is open between 6:00am and 8:30am during the week, however instruction starts at 6:30am. The Ashtanga method is intended to be a daily practice and students are encouraged to make a commitment to practice at least 3 times a week for a month at a time. Traditionally, we practice every day except for Saturdays and Moon Days, which occur about twice monthly. It may be very difficult at first to commit to a daily practice, and it often takes one or two years to establish this. So don’t be discouraged if you’re “only” practicing twice a week at first. Regular attendance is encouraged, although in some cases 2-3x’s per week combined with a self-practice at home is sufficient. Drop-ins are fine for brand new beginners and out-of-town visitors with an established practice.

Cheat Sheets

If you have a diagram of the Ashtanga yoga postures, we encourage you to review and study the postures at home instead of bringing it to class. Over time, you will memorize the flow of postures by doing them regularly in class under the guidance of your teacher.

Anne and Philippe

To see Moon Days (rest days) click on the schedule page for the pdf. For a more detailed description of yoga, check out our What is Yoga? page.