Mysore is the real thing
Who or what is Mysore?
To begin with, Mysore (spelled like “my sore“, which sometimes gives cause to more or less funny remarks) is a town in the Indian state of Karnataka.
It was in Mysore that Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), the most important propagator of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, led his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI), a place of pilgrimage for innumerable Yogis from all over the world.
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois had been given this particular Yoga method by his teacher Shri T. Krishnamacharya. He developed it further and divided it into series or levels of performance. It became hugely popular under the name Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois’ teaching style was such that the disciples practiced on their own, in their rhythm and at their own level, and he assisted them wherever needed. He “adjusted“ them, as they say, meaning that he corrected them in their Asanas, helped them getting further into them, gave hints, etc.
This method of assisted self-practice has been commonly known as “Mysore-style“ or, in short, “Mysore“. By doing it that way, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois did nothing more than to follow the teaching traditions as they had always been in place between Guru and disciple: The latter became a lesson or an exercice – be it a meditation practice, a Pranayama technique, an Asana, and the like – to learn and to perform it until he mastered it on his own. Then he was given the next task, and so on.
The Mysore classes all over the world proceed just like that: The practitioners work their way through the Asanas one by one and are assisted whenever needed. In case of problems with particular Asanas, they are given preliminaries, variations or workarounds to work on until they are ready for the proper Asana.
It’s not useful to skip particular Asanas because each of them has its place within the series and builds on the previous one. Similarly, the “opening“ of the body happens gradually. It’s a long-term project. Some Asanas may feel more comfortable with us, some may look more spectacular than others, some may become our favourites. But it wouldn’t help us much to only practice those we are particularly fond of because, as already mentioned, each of them has its particular function within the series. And then, the uncomfortable ones give us a good opportunity to reflect on our division of the world into Raga (attractive)/Dvesa (repulsive), like/don’t like, good/bad, and possibly to overcome it.
This Yoga practice has a number of advantages, among which the following ones:
In Ashtanga led classes the teacher is busy talking himself/herself through the series and has little capacity to pay attention to the specific needs of his/her disciples or to help them with their Asanas, which in turn may lead to not performing them correctly.
The teacher has his/her own tempo of going through the series which may be too fast for some, too slow for others. Whereas in the Mysore class, every disciple practices in his/her own rythm of movement and breath, in his/her own speed. They take the time they need and don’t have to follow someone else’s rhythm. The teacher assists them in their specific needs.
Mysore establishes a relationship between teacher and disciple: When they work together on a regular basis, the teacher is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his/her disciple, he/she knows where he/she stands right now, where to work on, etc., and acts accordingly. The teacher gives adjustments, makes corrections, helps the disciple to get into the posture, and gives tips and hints as to what to focus on. From the relationship between teacher and disciple, Mysore has a bit the character of a private class – but at a far better price.
A regular Mysore practice establishes respect, connection, and trust between teacher and disciple. Trust is indeed necessary when you are helped into postures such as Sirsasana or Buja Pidasana. Mysore is not a one-way street but a relationship between teacher and disciple in which both are senders and receivers at the same time.
Yoga lives through the people who practice it. It creates a relationship between you and the other practitioners in the room. You become more considerate towards the others. When someone needs more space, you will give it to him, both literally and figuratively. It can be quite comforting to be part of a community of people who take Yoga as seriously as you do.
Mysore classes are very quiet and concentrated. There is no talk-through, no New Age music, all you can hear is the rhythmical ups and downs of the Ujjayi breathing of your fellow practitioners, the sounds of jumping through, of moving on the mat, etc., and the occasional quiet talking between the teacher and some other practitioner.
Even though everyone practices for himself, sometimes we get the impression that everyone in the room has tuned in into a common rhythm. People who have visited Mysore classes all over the world say that the ambiance is quite similar everywhere. It’s a wonderful feeling to come to a studio for the first time and to hear the familiar sounds of a Mysore class!
Everyone who comes to a Mysore class for the first time will notice immediately that there is a pretty unique atmosphere of power and concentration. Each of the participants is involved in a particular posture, which, in contrast to a led class where everyone does the same, looks a bit chaotic. The teacher walks around from one to the other giving his/her corrections.
All the participants seem to be very concentrated, and the more advanced ones move through the Asanas in a rhythmical and powerful way. They appear to have overcome the natural sluggishness of the body, to be on their way to master mind and body. It is an interesting by-product of this intensely focused body work that it also gives insight into the inner workings of the mind. The miracle is achieved by synchronising the three levels of concentration, namely Asana, breathing/Bandhas, and Drishti.
Another beautiful effect of the Mysore class is that the mutual concentration and energy is transmitted to each of the participants.
The combination of power and concentration which is typical for Mysore classes has blissful effects on a physical, mental, emotional, and energetical plane.
Every Yogi who comes out of the morning Mysore practice knows that pretty unique feeling of well-being. You sit in your body like in a sedan chair. It has been stretched, worked through in all directions, and aligned. You can feel your body, and it feels well.
Prana flows freely and without hindrance through us, and the connection between mind and body which normally is pretty loose, is restored. It is a feeling of health and power, of “vibrant energy“, as they say, and of confidence. We have the feeling that whatever comes next, we can cope with it. Mysore is the real thing.
This feeling of plenty can help us to make our ego a bit smaller and to be less reactive to the outside world. We may dwell in ourselves and reach inner poise.
Whereas in a led class we might be tempted to just follow it passively, we can’t do that in a Mysore class. We have to literally create it ourselves. We are forced to be present, both physically and mentally. We have to be disciplined and focused, we have to motivate ourselves, and practice on our own. It’s more difficult than to follow a led class, but also more rewarding.
Yoga is exactly about that: It’s an exercice in concentration par excellence, and we can use a number of tools to achieve it. When we practice Asanas, we keep the concentration on three planes: the Asana; breathing/Bandhas (Ujjayi breathing; Mula bandha (lock of the perineum) and Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal lock)); and Drishti.
This set of instruments does not prevent us from being distracted, looking around, thinking about something else. But it is very effective in bringing our concentration back. Back to here and now, on and on. Just like Shri Swami Satchidananda said of Dharana: “When the mind is running, you bring it back. And so on and on. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you.“
No matter how often we practice Yoga, it will always do us good. But only a regular practice unfolds its lasting and truly transformative effects. It will help us to free ourselves from our entanglements.
The Mysore practice is a time devoted for ourselves, and as such it gives us, so to say, a bulletin, or a mirror or barometer of our current physical, mental, emotional, and energetical state. Where do we stand right now? Where do we stand in our Yoga practice, in our life? We will find this sort of communication with ourselves increasingly important. But we will also find out that it’s only available through a regular Mysore practice.
How do we proceed?
How do we proceed with Mysore? How do we practice it? Well, by going in the Mysore class. Quite easy, one would think. But it’s not. If Mysore is still a minority program in many Yoga studios, that’s because many just don’t know what it actually is, and what it might be good for. And secondly, there is a number of misunderstandings around it, such as the following ones:
Misunderstanding no. 1: I don’t know the whole series by heart.
It doesn’t matter – on the contrary! As mentioned before, it is the traditional teaching method of Yoga to get one Asana after the other by the teacher. You learn it until you master it, then you get another one, and after a while you know the whole series. By the way, we have schemes of the First Series at Yogawerkstatt which you can borrow or buy, and learn it at home.
Misunderstanding no. 2: Mysore is only for advanced practitioners.
No, everyone can come. The beginners learn the series under the teacher’s guidance, the well-versed Yogis practice on their own and are assisted whenever needed. It must be repeated that Mysore is a good way to start with Yoga if a beginners course is not an option.
Misunderstanding no. 3: Mysore takes too long.
At Yogawerkstatt, we offer Mysore classes of 2 or 3 hours depending on the day. It’s important to know that Mysore classes have a flexible beginning and ending, which means that you don’t have to attend during the whole time. You come and go as you wish!
Misunderstanding no. 4: People in the Mysore class look so serious, they seem to know what they are doing, and some of them are in rather far-out postures. This is somewhat irritating to me.
They look so serious? Don’t worry, they just look that way. In fact, they are highly concentrated and maybe a bit tense. They try hard because, yes, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is strenuous and hard. They know what they are doing? That’s right, but that shouldn’t discourage you and, as said before, the teacher is there to help you. Far-out postures? After a while of practice, you may well find yourself in just one of those. And in the end the oh so serious looks may well be yours.