Mysore practice is the traditional method of learning Ashtanga yoga. Named after the town in Karnataka, India where Sri K Pattabhi Jois established his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in1948. Today the word Mysore, in yogic terms, indicates a self-practice style of working through the Ashtanga series of postures.
This form of yoga offers a one-to-one experience, within a group setting. The benefits of this include a more personalised approach, where each student works through the sequence of postures at their own pace, only moving onto the next asana when they have obtained sufficient stability in the previous pose.
But it can be incredibly daunting to attend your first Mysore style class, without having the guidance from a teacher leading you pose by pose through the practice, you really are forced to find your own focus and to memorise the sequence too.
Here are some tips to see you through that first class:
Be organised. This is an early morning practice, so you need to be prepared the night before. Leave out your yoga clothes, pack a breakfast and change of clothes and head to bed early. It’s best not to eat before practice, but you will probably be starving afterwards, so be prepared.
Breathe. Slow down and breathe. You are here to practice yoga, to stretch and strengthen your body and your mind. Set an intention to let the practice be whatever it needs to be on this particular day, and then let it unfold naturally, with no expectations or judgements. Take as many slow, deep breaths in each pose as you feel you need to – this is your time, relax into it.
This is your practice. Other students will be working through THEIR own practice, and may be working on quite advanced versions asanas. Let this be an encouragement to you, a source of inspiration of what can be achieved with regular dedication, but don’t lose your focus on what you are working towards on your own mat.
Prepare to be stopped.You may have been attending a full led Primary Series class for years, using modifications to enter some of the asanas, but this doesn’t work so well in the Mysore room. Your teacher will probably stop you and help you to work on the pose you find most challenging. This is where your yoga practice begins, and the virtues of patience and satya (honesty) become more important.
Try to memorise the sequence. Most students who are new to this style of yoga practice will be given a ‘cheat sheet,’ which lists the poses in the correct order. From your first class, try to memorise the asanas by repeating their names as you enter each posture. This will help you to relax in the practice, as you can slowly begin to focus on the breath, instead of trying to remember what is coming up next.
The most important aspect of a Mysore practice, is that you show up on your mat, and work through the sequence. Some days this might mean touching your toes, other days you may feel so stiff that your back feels like a surf board. This is all part of the process, and part of the beauty of a regular yoga practice. If in doubt, ask your teacher. Their job is not just to adjust and help you in postures, it is also to encourage you and help you feel better about yourself. This is the real reason why we get up so early and practice yoga every damn day!