Thoughts on the New Rule for Study in Mysore

So as you may have heard, there is a new rule in Mysore, India for those who wish to practice with Sharath Jois:

Students who are applying for Sharath’s class must have studied at least 2 months with any of our Certified/Authorized teachers (mentioned in our teachers list) before coming to study with Sharath in Mysore Shala.

The other day I was visiting YogaWorks to practice with Maria Zavala, who was substituting for the Mysore class that day. Because it was YogaWorks, there were two students in the room who had never done Ashtanga before. One of them was even trying yoga for the first time. Maria patiently explained the Ashtanga method, and guided them through how to do a sun salute while also trying to juggle somewhere around ten or twelve other students in a wide spectrum of skills (and even series).

Maria was having to do it by herself—no assistant in the room. She was super busy, but maintained her patience, picked her battles, and taught. This is a Mysore room to me.

My first Ashtanga class was a led First Series class that had maybe seven other students in it. I was there only because the Iyengar class I’d wanted to take was full; so I thought, what the heck. I’ll try it. The teacher took me through a whole bunch of things I couldn’t do while flinging a bunch of Sanskrit at me that I couldn’t understand. I was hooked. I had to know more, and I never looked back. In this way, Ashtanga finds its future students.

Years later, as a student in Tim Miller’s Second Series Teacher Training, I took my notebook and sat on a pile of blankets to watch Tim teach maybe 25 newbies the basics in his regular weekly Intro to Ashtanga class. Tim Miller. Teaching an introductory class. To Ashtanga. And everyone was clearly having a great time.

There are a whole complex set of reasons why I don’t think this rule from Sharath is a good thing, but you can probably see the roots of those reasons in these three anecdotes: I believe it’s good for both the practice and the student to be introduced to Ashtanga for the first time by the masters of the practice. Sharath has basically said he’s done doing that now.

To my knowledge, this will mean that for the first time in its (albeit relatively short) history, that what was formerly known as the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute will no longer accept new students who have never studied Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga before. What if Sri K. Pattabhi Jois had this policy when Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams knocked on his door?

I’m also worried about the echo chamber effect that may have for the Mysore, India branch of the community. I’ve never studied with Sharath (although Steve’s taken a class from him), and didn’t have a desire to do so because the heart of the practice is in Encinitas for me. But I have many friends and fellow practitioners who do and have. Some of them also study with Tim or another senior teacher who is neither authorized nor certified by Sharath. They go to Mysore because their teachers have told them to go to India, see the birthplace of Ashtanga. They will no longer be allowed to do this.

Also there is this: Among the senior teachers, there are differences in both the philosophy and the mechanics of the various series. There are some variations in the methods and approaches to teaching, and to how to teach teachers, and I think that’s a healthy thing.

If it becomes increasingly true that you can only go to the teacher who does the practice this way in order to eventually get to practice with Sharath, and that in order to teach so your students can go practice with your teacher, Sharath. . .well, then, that’s likely to curtail innovation. It’s closing the system, imposing a kind of set of franchise-type rules for new teachers.

So, I’m a little sad for all the teachers I know that are not authorized or certified by Sharath. And for the many future students who may not get a chance to experience the excellent teaching of those not on the authorized/certified list in Mysore, because the message is implied to them that if you want to study the right way, with Sharath, you must study only with those that have Sharath’s stamp of approval.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on the New Rule for Study in Mysore”

  1. Hi Bobbie, Many excellent points here, thanks. I know you did not mention anything about the possibility for anyone, not just beginners, to apply to study with Saraswati. I understand it is not your intention, but that omission (not just here but in several other places having this same discussion) makes it look like ending up at her shala is some kind of demotion/humiliation or not worth the money and maneuvering required to get to Mysore. All of your other points about stagnation in communication with the senior teachers who have more teaching experience than Sharath, as well of the obstacles for progress and innovation through that free flow of ideas are important ones and absent in other conversations.
    Best to you and Steve,

    1. Hi Maria.

      It’s Steve responding. I have my own thoughts on this — whatever *this* is — and mentioned the Saraswati part. But one thought I had relates to what you say: How else should one take it that a beginner can go to her still? Isn’t that implying it’s the minor leagues (or whatever metaphor you’d like)? I think that’s another negative angle to all this. But that’s my interpretation… I suppose more to come in my post.


      1. I guess the perception of minor leagues can only change when Saraswati’s advanced students begin to proudly announce that they are HER students. I understand she asks experienced students to assist at her shala, so it is not that there aren’t any yet. Off to comment on your post.

  2. I think you’ve hit this one dead on with your usual clarity and compassion. But I think your statement “So, I’m a little sad for all the teachers I know that are not authorized or certified by Sharath,” misses the mark.

    It’s not just the teachers we should feel sorry for, but the students of those teachers.

    If I may be so bold to say so, many of the teachers who are not authorized/certified by Sharath (but WERE authorized/certified by Guruji do not care a wit about such a rule. Just look, for example, at Nancy Gilgoff — a master teacher if there ever was one — who is not on Sharath’s “certified” list. I really don’t think she cares and, given her extensive touring schedule around the world each year, I really don’t think any of her students care, either.

    And yet, this new rule means that her STUDENTS, including those with dedicated, daily practices on Maui are not allowed to come to Mysore. Huh? Further, I agree with your comment about stifling innovation. A conversation about Ashtanga with Richard Freeman or Eddie Stern or Deena Kingsberg will give a markedly different interpretations of this method… (perhaps even wonderfully contradictory interpretations!)

    And yet, I get why Sharath wants to bring some consistency to “the brand.” He needs to maintain the Institute’s authority as leader of the Ashtanga lineage in the face of “Rocket Yoga” teacher trainings, and the like, claiming to offer “Ashtanga Teacher Trainings” from here to Thailand. I think this is a legitimate business decision similar to what BKS Iyengar did with his 1-2-3 Level Teacher Trainings (i.e. only senior teachers got a chance to go to Pune to study with “The Lion” himself).

    I guess I just wish, with all due respect, that Sharath was getting better advice on how to achieve his business goals. It’s effecting a lot of people.

    1. “It’s not just the teachers we should feel sorry for, but the students of those teachers.” Yes, exactly.

    2. Regarding students of the ‘senior’ teachers who are no longer recognized as authorized/certified by Sharath (i.e. Nancy Gilgoff), I’d say that the majority of them have also studied under currently authorized/certified teachers for at least two months, fulfilling whatever requirement there may currently be. That being said…many, many of these students have absolutely no desire to ever go to Mysore, and are pretty vocal about that.

      As someone who has spent time living and practicing within the ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ Ashtanga communities, I find the division and strong opinions one way or another, a little disheartening. There should be more common ground and appreciation…we are all on the same boat.

      Regarding the way that a Mysore style class is or should be taught, and how beginners are introduced…there are ‘senior’ teachers who expect students to be at least somewhat proficient in the practice before joining their Mysore class. Beginners are directed to the led or guided classes. This isn’t just a Sharath thing…as the practice gets more popular and draws more students, other long time teachers sometimes have to change their approach to teaching in order to accommodate demand…even if it differs from how they were taught.

  3. Dear Bobbie and others,

    Thanks for taking the time to reflect and comment on this. I’d like to also share my thoughts from the perspective of someone who has been to Mysore twice and is studying with a certified teacher.

    First of all, Sharath rarely, if ever, admits complete beginners to practice with him. This rule is nothing new, it’s just explicitly stated now. The main shala, where he teaches, is always full with experienced students of which the vast majority teach yoga for a living. Admitting a complete beginner in such an environment is frankly, out of place and would take away from Sharath’s time in training his teachers/future teachers or serious students who have chosen to make the pilgrimage to Mysore. Such an experienced room would also be rather intimidating to the complete beginner and may work in the opposite way in inspiring a commitment to the practice. Saraswati’s door is always open and she’s very welcoming and nurturing to people with no yoga exprience. Does that brand her “the minor leagues”? One would hope to have her lifetime of experience and exposure to guruji’s teaching. Hardly minor leagues!

    In regards to Guruji, he was teaching under different circumstances with far, far less students so any parallelism with what Sharath is doing is misplaced, I feel. And let’s not forget that when David Williams first encountered him, he hardly ever even taught any foreigners. It was David Williams and his generation who “bust down the door”, so to speak. If a new student were to “knock on Sharath’s door” he would simply send them to Saraswati not turn them away 🙂

    Studying with an authorised or certified teacher is a great thing, not a futile exercise in rigidity. Mentioning Tim, Nancy, etc is rather misleading in my opinion as it’s not even a remotely representative sample of “unauthorised” teachers. You can’t possibly be comparing these ashtanga luminaries, apostles of our lineage, with 30 and 40 year long daily practice under their belt with Joe Schmo who teaches at Yoga Works after a generic teacher training with Joe Blow. Sorry to be blunt but let’s call things by their name here. And to take a wild guess, that’s who Sharath has in mind when applying this rule, certainly not Tim Miller! And by the way, this is as far from franchise as you can get, this is called PARAMPARA, my friend.

    Some people are happy with just getting a transmission of the practice without ever going to the source. This transmission, wether from “orthodox” or unorthodox channels (see authorised vs unauthorised teachers) is always derivative: Channeled through the individual and cultural filters and biases of the teacher, no matter how much time he/she spend in India with Guruji or Sharath. If you really want a first hand transmission from the source and want to put the practice in a cultural, social and religious context, go to India and keep your eyes open. If not, Yogaworks works too maybe but please, let’s not get it twisted, it’s not the same. This vitriol thrown against Sharath and Mysore from people who have never been or going is truly mindboggling!

    Over and out,

    1. beautifully put martinos. thank you for this. i’m totally dumbfounded as to why such a big fuss is being made of this “new” rule. if anybody were to visit kpjayi for practice it would be immediately apparent why this requirement made its way onto the very short list of rules for the institute. considering the accumulation of sacrifices most students make to maintain a routine daily practice for years on end, having to find ones way to an authorized/certified teacher for 2 months (less than a grain of sand on a beach) before going to the source, just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. and if i were a new student of a discipline i would want my teacher to be wise enough to know when it’s best for me to learn the fundamentals elsewhere first before accepting me as their student.
      again, thank you martinos for your considerate and well written comment.

  4. I wonder if this has anything to do with doing Titibasana or not during the first series. Ha! Don’t know if you read that one.

    This is my take. Mysore right now is a mad house free for all, a circus. I don’t see anything to widdle the population down. Its paramapara, no? I would have ventured into the time period of at least two years, if you came from a place that had ample teachers around.

    I also wonder what they would say to someone who stated that they had studied through the youtube videos which I find very effective. Is Patthabi Jois in his earlier years on video not considered to be a certified teacher??? I jest, I jest, but really…

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