New Mysore rule: Putting out the unwelcome sign

Since everyone is talking/writing/harumphing about the new rule in Mysore that one needs to have practiced with a certified or authorized teacher for two months before going there, I feel compelled to put in my two cents. More so, we continue to welcome yours.

Online, the reactions range from what I’d describe as “understanding” — based on the vast numbers, something that to be altered — to criticisms that this makes Ashtanga little more than a “pyramid” scheme: Mysore charges teachers to get authorized, those teachers send their students to Mysore, the system closes off. (You can see Bobbie’s thoughts here.)

Most seem to suggest a certain sadness. And mine is pretty much of that vein. It comes down to this:

This rule shuts the door, rather than swing it wide open.

That strikes me as wrong, and it strikes me — without knowing any of the exact rationale beyond being able to guess it has to do with the crowds — as opposite to how things were. I’ve heard stories of Western students showing up in Mysore and it being during a Hindu holiday. So Pattabhi Jois had to inform them the shala was closed two weeks. (I think this story was told at one of the first two Confluences.) When they returned the next day, things had been changed. The shala was just closed for a week. The next day, why, it turns out the shala just had to be closed for two days and it was time to practice.

And of course none of those students had practiced with an authorized teacher. There weren’t any.

I recognize the old days of maybe eight students and Pattabhi Jois’ being able to welcome any and all in are gone. But the spirit of that — of wanting more students to practice, to discover Ashtanga and what it teaches us about ourselves — thrives among the teachers I like and respect. This feels like it runs counter to that. (I know that new students apparently can still go to practice with Saraswati. That doesn’t change that the main draw, the one who can bestow authorizations, etc., is off limits to them.)

Perhaps my most construction response is: a fuller explanation from Mysore would be a smart thing. People guessing and wondering will only allow the most extreme ideas to fester. Those who have negative opinions about how Mysore is being run easily can find fodder in this rule.

I have one further reaction, too, which isn’t something I’ve seen yet. I have made it clear throughout our time having this blog that I have no intention of going to Mysore. Hunkering down in one part of India, surrounded by hundreds of other Westerners, just is not how I wanted to experience that country and explore the underpinnings of the yoga I practice. (See our two Yatras as an alternative way to do so.)

But I also never expected to go because I doubted seriously I’d get much out of it. My practice, physically, is always going to be limited. My practice is to seek out the depths in it I can and also to find in its resources that help keep me strong and healthy, both inside and out. It isn’t about Third, Fourth or Fifth series.

In my mind — and reinforced via social media and a circle of the authorized and certified teachers who are mostly younger than I am — Mysore wouldn’t welcome me. Six, seven years of practice and still difficulty in reaching my toes? Clearly, I’d just be taking up space better used by some bendy Third Series practitioner.

This new rule pretty much codifies that perspective for me. It is an unwelcome sign. Mysore now feels more like an exclusive place fit only for the advanced. We mere mortals need not apply.

The good news is, we mere mortals can continue going about our practices as we have been.

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

20 thoughts on “New Mysore rule: Putting out the unwelcome sign”

  1. Hello Steve. Maybe the mystery behind this new rule can be found in your previous (excellent) posts.About a year ago I remember reading that Sharath was going to stop teaching for a year. Then it changed and he decided to teach the whole year in Mysore as usual. At the time,I remember thinking “is there a yoga burn out coming around?”
    Leading so many classes per day may take a tool on him. The simple idea of doing this everyday sounds like being superman.
    So even if the rule seems a hard choice, it may just be that they are just trying to reduce the number of people coming over and making sure people will not get hurt for lack of attention (from the teacher as much well as from themselves)
    Thank you for your wonderful blog and please keep writing 🙂
    Magali

    1. That seems totally reasonable. It’s part of why I think a little more explanation would be good. Clearly there’s a lot of “what’s happening?” going on. Probably some people know; I’m off the opinion it is better to let the light in, but that’s me.

      I will push back on one thing, though, just because it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine: I know Sharath is doing a lot, but he seems to be lionized above all the other teachers who toll equally hard — maybe even harder, if you think about teachers who have to find every class possible to make ends meet. Certainly a blessing from Pattabhi Jois to his family is one of “external prana.”

      And thanks for the final, nice words.

      S

      1. I completely undersatand your point.
        I am not quite sure if Sharath is lionized by practitionner, but for sure he is the person in the spotlight and the one everybody knows about.

        You’re also right on the merit of teachers teaching the method all around the world, and sometime trying “to make ends meet” to keep a mysore program. It’s important to keep the passion alive for this practice and it’s also important to keep time and space to connect with your students as the practice is something quite intimate. I love the studio where i go in Lyon (France) exacly because of this.

        It may not be possible to do that if you get 6 or 7 batch of a hundred student each (not sure about the number though. Never been there either).
        And I do wonder how much it was of a choice for him to continue the lineage and how much passion you can keep if you face exhaustion everyday.

        Let’s hope we will get some explanation soon.

        And I really mean the nice words, your blog is a mine of information and the highlight of my day 😉
        Hope you keep the passion alive to write this blog. This is a hard work too! 🙂

        Magali

  2. I agree with Magali. One wise hint is, that as you say senior teachers like Nancy don’t even care. Even if there was a room as big as the YMCA in the Bowery in Mysore, teaching a Mysore style session in that kind of venue runs contrary to what Mysore style means. I study with a long time student of Tim Miller’s. She started at the same time Noah Williams and other long time students. She stopped going to Mysore when her parenting and other householder obligations increased.Never asked for authorization. She has maintained a daily practice with trips to Encinitas and yearly visits from Tim to her shala. Now 20+ years later as an empty nester she is returning to Mysore and thrilled to be at Saraswati’s shala. She probably would be very amused if she even noticed that this discussion is taking place. I feel you when you describe your practice, I have to decide every day between half primary and back bending OR full primary and faux bending. 1/2 primary wins 4 times a week and full wins on Friday’s and Sundays. I still think people like us can have a meaningful experience in Mysore. Although I am following your advice and doing the Yatra first this October. Great post Steve.

  3. Hi. I think there are a few points that should be discussed here:
    1. As you pointed out, YOU CAN STILL GO TO MYSORE: this new rule limits the students practicing with Sharath, but Saraswathi is still there teaching, ever present.
    2. If you add up the number of weeks you have practiced with Tim Miller (for example) wouldn’t it be more than 2 months? Well there you go, you too can practice with Sharath (I know you have no intention to, but you could).
    3. The days when people went to Mysore to learn Ashtanga “from scratch” and immerse themselves in the yoga culture have unfortunately become a thing of the past. In this world of YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and countless blogs, very few people just go to learn anymore. It’s a sad commentary on our world actually. What happens now is that Mysore is another thing for people to check off their list; yoga tourism. “I’m going to Mysore and practice at the KPJAYI so I can put it on my yoga resume” is what a lot of people do. This gluts the Shala with people who are not serious about actually learning the practice, they just go for a photo op. So how do you limit this? By saying hey, let’s actually see if you’ve devoted ANY time to actually studying this system. If people only go to practice with Sharath because they want the authorization then this proves the point that they aren’t going there to learn, they’re going there with an agenda, and if they want to be teachers then the least they can do is put in the time and actually practice with a teacher who can show them what Ashtanga is about, no?
    4. This actually puts just as much responsibility in the teacher as the student who wants to go. Their name is now attached to the student, I view this as a bit of quality control on the authorized/certified teachers, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing either.
    5. 2 months is actually a ludicrously short amount of time to spend learning with a teacher. How is it most people will have the time/money to hop on a plane to India but not drive 45 minutes, or whatever, to see their nearest teacher once or twice a week? If they have limiting factors, they could book the same amount of time they’d go to India for a month long retreat and establish a relationship with an authorized/certified teacher, and then see if Mysore is the right fit.
    6. You could call this a pyramid scheme, but I don’t see it any differently than what the Iyengar system does (except I think they require years of study with a teacher before being accepted to Pune) and everyone seems to accept this without issue. Or any educational system requiring that you have some basic comprehension of what you’re about to study (whether it’s a degree, a letter of recommendation, or practical assessment) before they accept you into a course. Some people pay for their high school degrees, most pay for college, grad school, continuing education courses…but somehow having to study with a teacher who has shown commitment and dedication to the Ashtanga system again, for 2 months, that is somehow a money making scheme?
    7. I don’t know where you were given the impression that you need to be doing 3rd, 4th or 5th series to get “anything out” of going to Mysore but that’s just not the case. Both Sharath and Saraswathi are patient and devoted to people of all capabilities. That there may be an overwhelming number of young, strong, flexible people there is not a function of how the Shala works, it’s a function of how people choose to focus on it. And in the 70’s there was also a number of young, strong, flexible people there (Tim Miller included), they just didn’t have blogs, Facebook, and youtube for the world to see it.

    All my best,
    Antonella, Authorized Teacher in Barcelona, Spain

    1. Thanks for the comment. Only thing I’d point out is I never called it a pyramid scheme; others are throwing that around.

      Oh, and I guess I’d add that this rule certainly sets a tone — looked at from afar, at least — that really only advanced students are welcome. Others are saying it will free Sharath up to focus on people who want to get authorized, etc. That’s fine, but it certainly is a change from how things have been. But all things change… or maybe I mean “all things must pass.” Sunrise doesn’t last all morning, etc.

      S

      1. I hadn’t realized that you were quoting someone re: “pyramid scheme”, my apologies.

        I agree, it’s change, and change is difficult (especially when it conflicts with our desires?). I also think that people idealize the past and gloss over all of the little things that drove them crazy because the memories are so nice. It’s in our nature, I think.

        I definitely don’t have any clear answers on how exactly the new rule will work or what Sharath’s intentions may be, but the rule, as written, only specifies two months of practice with a teacher on the list. By that standard, anyone, even beginners can go as long as they have a teacher.

        I hope, like you, that things will be clarified a bit in the coming months.

      2. there are a few things to look at here:
        studying for 2 months with an authorized or certified teacher in no way shape or form would qualify anyone as an “advanced” practitioner. sharath also has a very clear sense that ones ability to perform asana does NOT make them an advanced practitioner. he talks about it in almost every single conference he gives. for me personally, having students in the room that are restricted by range of motion but show up nonetheless inspires me more than anything else. it’s a clear reminder in case i forget that asana is a tool only.

        and antonella is absolutely correct in saying that many people come to mysore as a yoga vacation and to get a photo with sharath. and perhaps in enforcing this rule it may cut down even a small fraction of those students so the rest that come, whatever their physical abilities, can have a quieter clearer experience.

        i’m also a little confused why someone who hasn’t been to mysore nor has any interest would invest so much speculation. it’s like we are all an audience for your re-enforcing and solidifying your own argument against going. i personally don’t go to mysore to be “taught” in any traditional sense of the word, nor do i go for poses. what draws me to mysore and kpjayi in particular is shakthi. love and shakthi.

        i think we can all agree here that the good old days of showing up and letting beautiful and mysterious india pull us into her unpredictable winds had come to change. i too miss that very much, but this is how things are. and i’m pretty certain the intention involved at its core of this new decision, is yoga.

        thank you for your comments and consideration.

    2. Thanks for this detailed comment. Totally covered several points I wanted to clarify. Especially the idea that only advanced practitioners can practice in Mysore. I hear this rumor a lot. So false.

      Thanks for the detailed clarification! 🙂

  4. Well, Steve, i have around 7 students who just started their ashtanga practice with me 2 months ago. None of them have reached Janu sirsasana A yet (Some of them haven´t even made it to sitting sequence), 3 of them can´t reach their toes, and yet, all of them can go to Mysore, if they want. And funny enough, one of them want to. And you know what she told me the other day? “I know there are some negative talking about Mysore, but i don´t wanna get carried away by someone else´s experience, i wanna make my own opinion about it and have my own experience”. I think this is a very brave and mature attitude, which i honestly have to say i miss on this post. “Mysore now feels more like an exclusive place fit only for the advanced. We mere mortals need not apply” This is, to say the less, a little bit of a dramatic reaction to a rule which says nothing like that at all anywhere. To feel a place, Steve, you need to go there. Otherwise, what you feel is other people´s feelings, and many times those feelings are conditioned by too much stuff. THEIR STUFF. Otherwise, you are talking about something you don´t know. And that, my friend, is irresponsable. I know this is your opinion and i know you are just sharing how you feel, and i thank you for inviting me and allowing me to do the same.

    1. I’d obviously quibble with the word “irresponsible.” If only because we’re talking about a place in India to go for yoga; I don’t think the issue is *that* crucial or a big deal. But it is one worth talking about here, on a website about Ashtanga.

      I’m not going to tell people not to go. I’ve heard lots of stories and accounts that have helped inform my decision to choose a different way to experience India; this rule, for me, reinforced them. That’s all. And it’s why I wish there was a little more context and explanation, so we did have more info to base our responses on in this case.

      S

  5. If you had ever been to Mysore or spent much time with the people who go frequently, you would have noticed a level of dedication and surrender ( I’m fully aware non-visiting practitioners are dedicated also).
    We sacrifice anything that looks like a “normal” life and dedicate ourselves to the practice and being with our teachers. We surrendered to Guruji, now we surrender to Shararh, this is parampara, they are our teachers and this is the relationship we have with them.
    This is not a place for a “yoga holiday”, it is a place for dedicated practitioners to have a chance to be with their teacher and experience parampara. This is a place where we come and practice, where we can show our dedication to our teachers and our lineage.
    I started visiting Mysore when I was 23, I will be 36 next month, if I have learned anything, it is that things are always changing and we need to adapt to them and surrender to them, this is the real yoga, this is what we learn with our method and the way it is taught in Mysore. This is the path those of us have chosen who have formed our lives around the practice and practicing in Mysore (again, we all have our paths, I’m just speaking of the one I and my fellow Mysorians are on, no judgement or belittling to others, nothing of that sort).
    This rule is fantastic, it is not exclusive and I think it should be a bit longer. It is ensuring the practitioners who do come to the shala in Mysore understand the devotion and respect the ways things work there. This will save Sharath energy by the way of not having to always keep an eye out for people who are not respecting and limiting their poses to the ones Sharath has instructed them to practice. This will give him more of a chance to get to know us all, this will help keep the energy more focused. This is not excluding anyone, this is maintaining the energy and keeping the love for our practice, our teachers and our fellow practitioners in our hearts.

    1. I’m not trying to start arguments here, but isn’t saying that Sharath won’t have to keep his eye on people — meaning inexperienced or “non-dedicated” people — a way of saying it is exclusive? It’s excluding some people, which is fine. Sharath can make whatever rules he wants; and, yes, there’s Saraswati as an option, a potentially good one. (Or there are other teachers all over who are good options, too.)

      We occasionally get pushback about the word “Ashtangis.” I’ll admit to looking twice at “Mysorians.” Whoa. There’s another level of exclusivity. I might be an Ashtangi — a big might, I suppose — but I’ll never be a “Mysorian,” which I’m assuming is a way of judging me or excluding me. How else am I supposed to take that?

      Again, as I am saying on other responses, all that’s fine. We’re just responding to what we saw — and others saw, although not all others — as a notable change. It is a significant change from how things have been (and change is always hard), without much explanation as to why.

      S

      1. is it not fair to say that sharath not having to tell someone that padahastasana comes after padangusthasana would make for a quieter more meditative space for everyone to share? what you’re clearly not understanding here (and the truth is you won’t because you’re opinion is so distant from the subject matter having never had the experience of being in mysore), is that it’s NOT ABOUT proficiency in ASANA! I’m not trying to be snarky here but please read that sentence a few more times because its key.

        in my opinion, it’s completely without a doubt fair to ask someone to have been taught sun salutations and a few standing poses over a period of a couple months before coming to mysore. we aren’t talking about 3rd series here. your personal hang ups about proficiency in asana have no place in this discussion. i’m very happy for you that you’ve found a teacher who you’d rather spend time with over a choice to visit mysore, but if you were at peace with that decision yourself i’m not sure you’d feel a need to get involved in this discussion.

        and what’s the need for sharath to explain himself to everyone? he’s coming from a completely different culture that’s built on a guru/teacher relationship. do you think people were running around mysore asking guruji to explain himself with every decision he made? not a chance! you’re welcome to make up your own mind and do what’s best for you. that’s the beauty of all this silence…but if we’re spoon fed “information” where do we ourselves end up?

        for the record, this comment comes from someone who has nothing but love, respect, and deep gratitude for teachers like tim, richard, rolf and others who teach from a place of great devotion to practice and to their teacher. i’m also a student of many years with eddie stern.

  6. As one who has studied at the Institute I can promise that what they are trying to achieve is more than movement to the next series. Yoga need not be competitive… as you seem to have pointed out. However, after a trip to Mysore you’d likely experience what it’s like to touch your toes…and that any teachings you had come across from an authorized teacher would mean more to you than just an obstacle created to keep people out of mysore…

    1. For me, a week or two spent with Tim Miller, or traveling to South India temples for a month, is and has been more meaningful. Do I know that from *experience* of Mysore? No, but I am pretty confident in having made those choices based on what I do know.

      S

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