Blog highlight: Mysore cheat sheet

Note: While we are in India, we intend to post new items if we have the Internet access. In the meantime, to keep our mojo going, we’re running some of our most popular posts.

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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

 

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “Blog highlight: Mysore cheat sheet”

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. For the 35 years that i have been practicing an eclectic blend of Yoga, i was not aware of some of these Ashtanga rules. i will be more mindful the next time i attend an Ashtanga class. Namaste’

  2. I once went to a Mysore class (I had only been to a few previously and it had been awhile) and I took a little cheat sheet of poses that I had actually gotten at Manchu’s workshop. I knew all of the poses but had a little trouble remembering the sequence. Anyway, there was a nazi ashtanga policewoman as the instructor and she absolutely refused to let me use the cheat sheet in class. She kept turning it over face down so I couldn’t look at it. It was RIDICULOUS!! One thing ashtangis need to do a little more often? LIGHTEN UP! And don’t take yourself so seriously. That’s my tip!

    1. I agree totally Jami – I am horrified at some of the stories I hear – we want EVERYONE to do Ashtanga, not just the type A’s (which I am NOT!). Cheat sheets are totally fine in mysore. Love the comment: nazi ashtanga policewoman – hahahahahahahaha!

  3. you really need to remove the bad man/lady comment – it turned me off so much the first time I read it, I almost did’t read any further – and I love this blog! no one is bad if they don’t know or don’t want to do the chant. Like Jami – I really dislike militant ashtangis, it only attracts militant intolerant judgemental students. And we are all going to get old and not be able to do everything we used to, it’s okay. Just ask David Williams and David Swenson.

  4. That “bad man/lady” line gets some flack–but I’m letting it slide for a couple of reasons. One, all my teachers have said some version of it, in humor. Tim says “bad lady” to me all the time, with a smile. Which brings me to reason number two: He’s quoting Guruji, who always seemed to say it dead serious, which of course made it more funny. There’s a video of Guruji teaching a lead intermediate with all the heavy hitters, when one of them grabs a towel for a quick sweat-mop. You can hear Guruji’s firm “bad man” in the background!

    1. yes, sacrasm does not fly well on facebook. However, the point was made at the Mela that if you teach in the South – you have to be extra careful about Christianity – I am not defending this, just stating it as fact, cuz it is. Sometimes I chant, sometimes I don’t. I don’t want my students to get their panties in such a bunch just because we didn’t do the chant, not a good foot on which to start practice. You can always say it to yourself silently anyhow!

    2. It’s not funny, it’s judgmental and borders on bullying. What I notice is how the ashtangis launch into a dissertation on non attachment to poses, accepting where you are in the practice etc. and yet the cult like followers accept these type of negative comments.

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