The Mysore Method
Students in a Mysore room are taught the Ashtanga sequence through one-on-one instruction. A new student’s first class will typically be about thirty minutes and consist mainly of Surya Namaskar and the closing three postures. The student is then expected to return the next day to repeat this practice. The next part of the sequence will be taught after a reasonable degree of stability is present in the poses that have already been learned. Day by day the student progresses through the sequence in this way. This methodical approach is safe and effective. It is suitable for students who are interested in developing a long-term relationship with a particular method of practice and teacher.
Some common misconceptions about the Mysore style of practice are that it is only for advanced students who already know the Ashtanga sequence, and that it is appropriate only for those who are young, flexible, and strong. These are both untrue. In a typical Mysore class, students of all levels – from the very advanced to absolute beginners – practice a sequence appropriate to their unique needs. It is an ideal learning environment for absolute beginners because they can be given the one-on-one instruction necessary for them to learn the sequence safely and correctly. Instead of teaching all of the students in the same way, the teacher can tailor his or her method to the unique needs of the individual. Initially, students require a lot of assistance, but as time goes on, they develop independence. As they begin to experience moments of stillness in the postures and connect to the rhythm of the breath, their practice becomes their teacher. This is when the real learning begins.
The Mysore room is generally silent. The only sounds typically heard are the breathing of fellow students and occasional verbal instruction from the teacher. This silence allows for deeper concentration and helps students to confront themselves as they are on each particular day in each particular posture. The teacher’s job is not to create a specific mood or vibration through the use of music, singing bowls, or uplifting language; instead, it is to create a neutral and supportive space where genuine self-encountering can take place.
It is recommended to practice five or six days a week. There are no classes on Saturdays and the days of the new moon and full moon. Women are advised to rest for the first two or three days of their menstrual cycle.
Students who are interested in learning Ashtanga yoga should commit to attending class at least three to four days a week. Anything less than this and progress will be limited. After the sequence has been memorized and the student can move between postures without needing to think of what comes next, the deeper benefits of the method can be experienced.
On Fridays, a “led class” is held. In a led class, the teacher guides the students through the Primary Series by counting out each vinyasa in Sanskrit. No other instruction is typically given. Attending led classes once a week is important for students whose main practice is Mysore style. By allowing themselves to be guided through what is already a familiar sequence, and being asked to follow each vinyasa as counted by the teacher, habitual patterns of movement can be recognized and changed if necessary.
Led classes are not ideal for first-time students due to the lack of instruction and the vigorous pace of the class. First-time students are still welcome to attend, but they will be stopped and asked to sit down if and when the teacher deems it appropriate. Students are better off spending some time in a Mysore class learning the sequence before attending a led class.