The first time I went to a Mysore class I thought I’d try it out just once and see what the fuss was about (I wasn’t really up for the seemingly impractical idea of getting up at 4.30am regularly). However that was the tipping point at which I descended down into the Ashtanga rabbit hole, from then on I went to every Mysore week that I could, regardless of what time I had to get up. Before I knew it I was traveling across the world to the Mysore rooms of some top international teachers and now I’m teaching it myself.
For me it really is ‘where it’s at’ when it comes to developing the yoga practice both inside and out. Here’s a few reasons why, from my perspective as both a teacher and a student…
1. It’s like private 1-2-1 class…
Each student in the Mysore room works through the different series of the Ashtanga system at their own pace (starting with Primary), new postures are given if/when they’re appropriate for the individual. This individualised approach means students can progress in their own time and be challenged in ways that’s right for them.
As a teacher this means that I can work with each student on a much closer level than in a normal led class. Not every cue or posture in a led class is suitable for every student in the room, Mysore style gives me the freedom to spend more time with a student whether that’s giving them tailored instructions or hands on adjustments.
2. Move to the rhythm of your own breath…
We all have a different rhythm when it comes to breathing and moving and this in itself will vary during our yoga practice depending upon which posture we’re in and how we’re feeling that day. During self-practice days students will move through postures at their own pace and get more time to explore postures or parts of the vinyasa that they find challenging. Building a relationship with our own breathing patterns helps us to notice patterns in other (connected) areas such as the nervous system, muscular system and the mind – when we’re aware of the steady and fluid rhythm of our own breath we’re more likely to notice when it becomes interrupted and explore why.
The sound in the Mysore room mainly consists of ujjayi breathing – layers of breath contributed to via individual students, each with a different volume, rhythm and quality. It’s quite a beautiful thing to listen to. As the teacher doesn’t verbally lead the whole class they can devote more attention to listening to a students breath and feeling the breath move through their body – this provides invaluable sensory feedback on how a student is doing right there in that moment. (Other sounds include the odd verbal instruction, shuffle, grunt, thud, expletive, giggle and yes, the occasional fart – and that’s just the teachers.)
During the Friday led primary class, students follow the rhythm of the teacher’s count as opposed to that of their own self-practice. It’s an opportunity for students to revise the correct vinyasa count and there’s no faffing time – so we learn to be comfortable with the expression of a posture that were in at that moment, even if we don’t have time to bind in Mari C/D. As students, this continues to exercise our awareness as we must listen attentively and resist the temptation to fall into the groove of our normal rhythm by either jumping ahead or slowing down unnecessarily.
3. Space to listen…
Students don’t follow verbal instructions for the self-practice classes, they learn a sequence of postures one by one. Once the sequence has been committed to memory there is more space for them to focus their awareness internally – the practice becomes a movement meditation and this is where the magic really happens!
For a teacher, having space to watch students practice, read their bodies, their breath and get a sense of the subtle energies at play is really important and so much easier to do in a Mysore style setting than a led-class. Mysore style gives students space to be themselves and take ownership of their practice while it also gives the teacher space to get to know them.
4. Mysore brings people together…
Self-practicing at home is great and really builds self discipline but there’s nothing quite like the energy of practicing in a group and getting input from a teacher. The person to the right of you may look like they’re in Cirque du Soleil and the one to the left may be working towards touching their toes. Even though the stuff that happens on the mat and the internal experience is unique to the individual, being in that room together at 6am, breathing and moving, creates a fantastic sense sense of unity. You may never have spoken to half of the people in the Mysore class but we don’t always need to talk to feel connected to the people we’re around.
During the Friday led primary class students are moving and breathing to the same rhythm which is unifying within itself. They all start and finish at the same time and chant the opening and closing chants as a group. There’s a real potency in the sound of those group chants and contributing to the closing mantra at the end of a Mysore style practice week can leave you with a tingle!
5. Early mornings are great!
Yes, you did read that correctly… early mornings are great! There’s a host of benefits to practicing in the morning – often the mind is quieter, the practice sets us up (physically and mentally) for the day and you’ve done your practice so you can walk around feeling smug! There are also the added bonuses of travelling on quiet roads, spotting foxes and seeing the sunrise.
Getting up early can be like approaching a challenging posture – try not to get ‘the fear’ when it’s coming up and take it as it comes (have confidence that at least one of your three alarms will go off and go to sleep), be prepared (the body is prepared for a posture by the ones that precede it so pack your bag the night before!) once you’re in it its not as ‘bad’ as you thought it would be and over time you might like it.
Attending early morning Mysore style classes requires a fair amount of effort, from both students and teachers but the return on investment is invaluable. Cultivating the dedication and self-discipline to get up in the morning is all part of the practice and it is definitely worth getting out of bed for.
By Marie Harris