What is Mysore?
Mysore is a style of class modeled after the original Ashtanga Vinyasa classes taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, South India. These classes, which are still taught by the Jois family in Mysore today, provide an opportunity for students to listen closely to their bodies, and to connect their movements to the rhythmic flow of their own breath. This connection is vital to the Ashtanga practice. It brings the practitioner into a state of focused awareness from which meditative insight can arise.
So in Mysore classes, practitioners work quietly and independently on whatever particular part of the Ashtanga sequencing is appropriate for them. And this allows them to look deeply into the practice, without the interruption of another person’s voice, and so to connect with the finer dimensions of the experience. The Mysore teacher is there to assist, adjust and quietly discuss particular difficulties or concerns with individual students during the class.
How do I learn?
There is no better place to learn than in Mysore itself. The method of instruction is simple and relaxed. On your first day, we show you a sequence of breath and movement called Sun Salutations. You take time to explore the sequence and absorb it into your body. When you return, you repeat the sequence again, and if you are comfortable with what you have learned, we show you more. In this way, your practice slowly builds, without the effort of memorization.
This method of learning works directly with the natural intelligence of the body while pointedly suspending the involvement of the intellect. It inures the body gradually to the sequencing through measured repetition, slowly conditioning the currents of the subtle breath to flow into the unique patterns of the practice itself. As those patterns become second nature, so the postures flow spontaneously, as visceral expressions of an internal unfolding.
Here is a window into Mysore class at the Yoga Workshop. This film was made without staging in one of our regular afternoon Mysore classes.
Questions and Answers about Mysore
Ujjayi breathing is a central aspect of the ashtanga system. It can be recognized by its distinctive aspirant sound, which is made by breathing with the lips closed and gently closing the back of the throat. It’s kind of like whispering. Sometimes people get overly enthusiastic and may begin to breathe with too much force, but generally it is a smooth, even and non-aggressive sounding breath. The breath is intended to be a means of capturing the mind and inviting the practitioner into a state of meditation while encouraging the movements to be smooth.
Assists in yoga are intended to help educate the practitioner about correct alignment and form so they may embody the more subtle internal aspects of the practice. Sometimes assists can be aimed at giving the student a physical experience of what a posture might feel like or how to work towards being able to do the posture. Verbal assists give the student a more clear understanding of the form or the benefits of the pose. Some assists might seem extreme while others are very subtle. Teachers at the Yoga Workshop always work with students where they’re at and we do not push people beyond their limit. Self practice is a way for student and teacher to work in concert together, but ultimately in self practice, it is your practice. So please, if you have an injury, be certain to tell the teacher. Poses and assists can always be modified to accommodate an injury and to facilitate healing.
The ashtanga vinyasa system of yoga is based on a number of specific series of postures that are practiced on a regular basis and which are learned over the course of time. Beginning with the “primary series,” students gradually work through and memorize the sequence of postures. After becoming proficient in one series, the next series is slowly introduced into the practice a few postures at a time. In this way, yoga becomes a “practice” which is done individually (like meditation, or running or playing the piano) through which the joining of the two ends of the breath, feelings, thoughts and sensations may be observed.
Different series are designed to address different and particular aspects of an integrated yoga practice. The primary series, for example, is grounding; the intermediate series is said to “clean the nadis” or calm the nervous system, and the advanced series develops core strength.
Following the prescribed sequence serves several functions. First, the series are designed to prepare the body for the postures that follow. Becoming grounded through the primary series makes the practitioner ready to begin opening into deep backbends (which are in the intermediate series) without becoming mentally scattered, emotionally imbalanced, or ego driven—which can happen if back bending is practiced without proper grounding.
Also, following a series insures that the less appealing postures are part of the repertoire. It’s always a temptation to skip postures we don’t like and often these postures are the very ones that will actually benefit us the most.
Finally, by doing the same sequences repeatedly and by practicing on a regular basis—ideally every day—the rhythmic and meditative form of the practice characteristic of ashtanga yoga automatically arises.
As a general rule, inhaling (prana) is associated with expansive, opening, spreading, lifting types of movements. Exhaling (apana) is associated with contracting, dropping, grouding and curling types of movements.
All sorts of people from beginners to long-time practitioners practice in the Mysore classes. The ashtanga system is perfect for young, athletically oriented people. At the same time this practice is something that can benefit you when you’re any age and at any phase of health. You’ll find that any given class has a wide range of age, experience, flexibility and strength in attendance.
It can appear when you first walk into class that everyone is advanced, because people seem to know what they’re doing and because they are practicing on their own, but many beginning students practice in Mysore classes.
Yes you can. The teacher is there to help you with such things. Teachers are usually scanning the room to see who needs help, so usually if you just stop in your practice the teacher will immediately notice. And of course if you feel you need something, you can always wave the teacher over. But please do it in a gentle and humble manner. And please do not walk over to the teacher to get their attention. Stay on your mat and attempt to make eye contact. They will see you.
Yes. It is advisable to separate the asana practice and pranayama practice by at least 45 minutes. If you are coupling pranayama and asana, it is probably best to do the asana first and after about 45 minutes to practice pranayama. Sitting can be practiced immediately before or after asana if desired. Spreading the practices out over the course of the day—some in the morning some in the later afternoon is a good solution if time and scheduling permits.
However if your yoga, pranayama and sitting practices begin to infringe on your “real life” (eg your work, your family and other responsibilities), then you might be getting addicted to your practice in an unhealthy way. Yoga practice should make you more normal, more ordinary and more able to function in a healthy way in the world.
It’s part of the traditional approach to take time off during the new and full moons. This is partly due to the Indian astrological belief that it is not auspicious to do certain things on moon days. Because we are part of this lineage, we have chosen to honor the moon days in this way.
In addition, once you practice on a daily basis (six days a week is recommended), you’ll notice that being invited to take a day off is a luxury. The body can rest (after all the ashtanga practice is physically demanding) and on moon days you feel like you have a huge chunk of unspoken for “free time” when you’re used to daily practice.
No, you don’t need to be able to do any of these things in order to begin Mysore class. In fact most people can’t do these moves when they first start practicing at Mysore classes. But with time, many of these things just naturally come. That’s why it’s called practice.
Our morning Mysore classes do run for four hours, but you’re not expected to be there the entire time—in fact it’s not advised. We open the studio over a long enough period of time to provide ample opportunity for early birds and late risers (relatively late, that is) to attend class.
Most students practice for about 1½ to 2 hours which is the amount of time it usually takes to complete a full series. However students who are on a tight schedule, who are working with a therapeutic loop to help with an injury, or those who are new to ashtanga yoga often practice a partial series or an alternative sequence which may only take 45 minutes or so.
If you have a shorter practice, you plan your attendance for that. Even though we start and end the class as a group, students come and go during class. If you are not there for the opening invocation chant (that’s how we begin the class), then you simply chant silently by yourself (if you so choose) and begin your practice once you’re settled on your mat. If you finish your practice before the official end of class time, then it’s fine to quietly roll up your mat and leave—so long as you leave before the beginning of the group savasana so as not to disturb others while they’re in the corpse. Group savasana begins about 12 minutes before the official ending time of the class and teachers start announcing how soon savasana is scheduled to start so that if you need to leave early you’ll have time to gather your belongings and leave without disturbing the class.
In any case, during the morning practice, all students have a shorter practice than the full class time. Some arrive right when the doors open and leave within an hour. Others arrive later and finish just as the class ends. It’s set up to be a fluid system that will accommodate the needs of students in all phases of their practice.
Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and the patron saint of Hatha Yoga. With his huge belly and elephant head, he reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.
- Enter quietly and be mindful of others.
- Sign in before class, as part of the ritual.
- Roll out your mat in line with others, and square to the shape of the room. This will help you stay balanced as you practice.
- If you can make space for someone else, please do. People are usually shy about asking.
- If you must walk about during class, please do not step on other people’s mats.
- Do not wear perfume, aftershave, essential oils, or scented lotions, shampoos, or conditioners of any kind.
- Bathe before class, as a courtesy to yourself, the teacher, and your fellow practitioners.
- Return any props that you have used back to their proper place after class.
- Do not leave during the final period of rest. Help us cultivate quiet and stillness during that time.
- Be generous and kind.