My first Mysore-style Ashtanga class was at Tim Miller’s. I was petrified, even though I’d been practicing in led classes for quite a while. Over the years since, I’ve had friends make the leap (Steve was one of them), and I always sympathize.
Eventually, I wrote out a crib sheet for friends going for the first time (handouts are my thing—I am a writing teacher, after all). I find myself encouraging my new Ashtanga students to move from my led class over to the morning Mysore. “What’s ‘Mysore’?” I was asked last night. “You come any time during that time period, roll out your mat, and do your practice. The teacher adjusts you while you practice.” She looked at me with a combination of disbelief and freaked-outness. So, in an attempt to allay those fears. . .
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Mysore Practice But Were Afraid to Ask
What’s in a name? It’s called “Mysore” after the city in India where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught the Ashtanga method. The first “Mysore” classes were in Mysore, so it’s really just short for “Mysore-style Ashtanga.” It’s expected that you, like all those who preceded you, will at some point make the bad joke, “Boy, am MY-SORE.” (Heartfelt groans ensue here.)
Don’t be stinky. Shower before you go, avoid perfumes, and make sure your gear is funk-free. You are expected to be clean for practice, as someone you respect will be twisting you into shape. You’ll also be inches away from a fellow mortal, and smells get magnified in a hot, moist room.
Shhh! Enter (and leave) the room quietly so you don’t disturb the concentration of those around you. Although in theory I’m supposed to be practicing non-reaction, why tempt fate with your loud SMACK as you roll out your Manduka inches away from my ears?
About face! Each Mysore instructor has different preferences on which way to orient the room. Some face all one direction. Some face each other in rows. Very often this has to do with space logistics so teachers can move about. Follow your fellow students on mat placement.
Speaking of space. Remember there’s lots of adjusting in Mysore-style practice. Keep floor clutter to a minimum (bags, clothing, etc.) so teachers don’t trip.
Liquid faux pas. Do not take a water bottle into the room. You’re expected to hydrate before you come. If you think about it, there is no “break” in the practice in which to take a drink, so leave it outside.
Thank Pantanjali. Before you begin, it’s traditional to come to the front of your mat and recite the opening prayer. You can say it quietly, or silently, to yourself. Your instructor will begin the entire Mysore session with the prayer before he/she starts adjusting, but you’re still expected to begin your personal practice with it (same with the closing prayer at the end).
Don’t know it yet? Bad man/lady! There are a number of online resources (including iTunes). Download an MP3 and sing along until you get it.
Love thy neighbor. As you practice, be aware of others close to you. Show space courtesy. In a crowded room, this may mean modifying a pose (such as raising your arms in front of you instead of out to the side in the suryanamaskars) or even changing your routine (if there’s no room for chakrasana, then don’t do it; if you can’t swear you won’t hit anybody in the eye if you try it, think twice).
Move it on over. Be prepared to move your mat during practice to make room for others. Be cool about it!
Um… If you forget which pose is next, come to the front of your mat and wait for the instructor to see you so you can ask (quietly). It helps if you have a befuddled look on your face.
What’d he say? It may be that when you ask, your instructor will tell you the next pose’s name—in Sanskrit. Yes, you are expected to learn the names of the poses you do. Eventually. But in that moment when you have forgotten what comes after ardha baddha padma paschimattanasana, and you catch your teacher’s eye and ask, “What’s next?” and he replies, “Tiriangmukhaekapada paschimattanasana” and you know what to do, you’ll thank me.
Magic hands. Adjustments are made in relative silence. Tell your instructor if an adjustment is going too far (quietly—don’t wait until you have to scream), but keep talking to a minimum. Ask questions quietly and minimally. When the adjustment happening, stay focused on your breath, bandhas and drishti. (You are not expected to look at the teacher or thank him/her for the adjustment. Just keep breathing.)
What now? Your teacher will adjust you in both sides of the pose. Don’t rush, but don’t delay, either. It’s helpful to hold the adjustment for a breath once the teacher releases you (to help the body “remember”).
No dinking around! Avoid the temptation to rest (also known as “stalling” and/or “avoiding”). The goal of Mysore practice is to move consistently, but at the pace of your own (controlled) breath. Stopping, towel-wiping, etc. operates as a sort of flag on the play, since you are supposed to be practicing the “mala” of Ashtanga without pause.
The honor system. If you forget a pose, and suddenly remember, it’s quietly expected that you will go back to it, do it, then continue with the sequence from there. This may mean you have to repeat a few poses. Or quite a few. But that’s what you get for your flagging attention, isn’t it?
Greed is not good. You should always stop at the pose that ends your normal practice (if you’re not sure, stop after navasana). Do not presume to continue past that pose, and do not ask for more poses. Once your teacher feels you are ready for the next pose, she/he will teach you the pose.
Tradition! In some Mysore rooms, students move their mats for the closing sequence. This also came from Mysore, India, where there were so many students waiting in a line outside that practitioners had to make room for others by doing the closing poses upstairs. Some instructors (somewhat dogmatically, if you ask me) have students move their mats to the back even in a small or mostly empty room with no students waiting. Some folks just do this automatically. Ask the instructor if you’re uncertain.
Namaste. When you are finished with your practice, you can quietly thank your teacher and assistants if it won’t interrupt them as they teach others.
Sweat. Rinse. Repeat. Come back tomorrow! Ideally, you practice six days a week. Take Saturday off, and check for Moon Days—Ashtangis don’t practice on the new or full moon. But that’s another story…
Posted by Bobbie