What should a description of a Mysore class include?

I came across this description of a Mysore class/program at Ashtanga Montauk, which admittedly is a spot more on my radar for surfing than yoga:

Mysore Style Classes

are Ashtanga Yoga classes, as traditionally practiced in Mysore, India, the home of the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. The Mysore class is a group class where students have a self-paced practice, with verbal instruction and hands-on adjustments from the teacher. Because the instruction in a Mysore class is highly individualized, it is appropriate for both new students as well as more advanced practitioners. This unique combination of individualized pace and instruction within a group class gives each student the ability to work at his/her own level, while enjoying the inspiration and energy of a group. Each student is taught and supported by the teacher as he/she memorizes the sequence and develops a personal rhythm to the practice. This class is appropriate for students of all levels and is an excellent opportunity to develop a practice that can slowly build over a lifetime. Knowing the sequence of postures is not required, just being open-minded, curious, and receptive to learning.

We’ve got housed on our site a link to Yoga Workshop’s briefing on Mysore. It has a nice mix of irreverence and information. This one seems to do a pretty solid job, as well. But I wonder: Is there anything you think is missing? Anything that ought to be included in any Mysore description? Something more on the asanas and how they are likely to be approached? Maybe the one thing that seems to be missing, as opposed to most, is a semi-requirement that a student commit to the first month and a certain number of days per week.

Anything else?

Posted by Steve

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

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

It took a bit longer, but February is full in Mysore

Just to tie up loose ends, as of November 14th, applications to practice in Mysore closed for the month. As noted earlier, it seemed to be taking longer this time — whether because there were finally fewer students rushing in or just because it took longer to make note of it, well, I’m sure someone knows. I’m just looking in from the outside.

Here’s the update on the site:

Sharath’s class is full for DECEMBER 2014, JANUARY and FEBRUARY 2015. We will not accept any more registration forms for these months. Online applications for March 2015 arrivals will not be accepted until December 1st. If you submit your form earlier, it will be automatically deleted without further notice.

I can’t help but feel like March is forever from now. But I suppose to get ready to spend at least a month in India does take some planning.

Alternatively, of course, you can just go online.

Posted by Steve

It’s Oct. 3, so you know what that means: Another month full in Mysore

If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, we can lay it out clearly: If you want to go practice in Mysore, you need to send your application on the very first day of the month. Because, once again:

Sharath’s class is full for OCTOBER, NOVEMBER, DECEMBER 2014 and JANUARY 2015. We will not accept any more registration forms for these months. Online applications for February 2015 arrivals will not be accepted until November 1st. Likewise, online registration for the March 2015 batch will begin on December 1, 2014 (3 months before your start date). If you submit your form earlier, it will be automatically deleted without further notice.

Sounds a little looser if you want to practice with Saraswati — but you still have to apply three months in advance.

Posted by Steve

If you aren’t already going to Mysore in 2014, you aren’t going to Mysore in 2014

There’s news at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute website that the December batch of classes are full — just four days after applications were accepted.

That means beginning October 1, you can try to apply for practice in January 2015. And — perhaps in recognition of how quickly the classes with Sharath are filling up — the website already mentions applying for February 2015 — that starts November 1.

In other words, time to start planning ahead. (As the website notes: “If you submit your form earlier, it will be automatically deleted without further notice.”)

Or maybe you’ve been practicing this week with Sharath in Los Angeles or are going to be doing so next week in New York.

Posted by Steve

Iyengar and the dawn of modern yoga

OK, so this will, I hope, be the last link to a piece on Iyengar we post. Bobbie told me today — while, I suppose I can “boast” we climbed Runyon Canyon in LA after our regular Ashtanga practice, a thoroughly LA experience that only could be made more so had we definitely seen a celebrity or it had been January, and most of our fellow Ashtangis freezing cold in the inhospitable climes of some place like New Hampshire or Boston — that she has a post percolating about Iyengar.

This post may be in part to pressure her to write it.

Anyway, if you otherwise don’t see it, the New Yorker — and, yes, you’re forgiven if you’re surprised we’re in LA and not NYC — has a remembrance of Iyengar that situates him (and to a lesser extent Pattabhi Jois) within the creation of modern yoga. Here’s the link and a little taste:

When Iyengar was sixteen, in 1934, he was sent to live with his sister and her husband, Krishnamacharya, in Mysore, a green, temperate city not far from Bangalore. He arrived at a time of enormous ferment in the development of modern yoga. Indian nationalists were particularly taken with the global vogue for “physical culture,” in part because British domination was often justified in terms of physical superiority. As the nationalist movement gained steam and Indians turned away from foreign imports— replacing Western clothing with homespun khadi cloth, for example—nationalists found in the old hatha yoga the basis for a physical culture that was distinctly Indian. Krishnamacharya, a brilliant scholar who had sacrificed respectability to pursue the outré path of hatha yoga, was at the forefront of this renaissance. At the invitation of the progressive Maharaja of Mysore, a patron of traditional Indian arts and an avid sportsman, he ran a yoga shala at the palace, where he taught yogic physical culture to royal boys.

The piece calls Iyengar the most influence of Krishnamacharya’s students. I suppose I ought to argue that point, but I don’t think it is arguable. It also neatly sums up how hatha yoga was treated before Krishnamacharya’s effort to revive it or, perhaps we could say, revise it.

For those keeping track at home, if you read the New Yorker piece, check out the way Mark Singleton’s scholarship is couched. Pretty interesting for those in the know.

Oh, and I hope you enjoy your Moon Day.

Posted by Steve

Act fast! Too late. Mysore’s full until December already

If your Ashtanga practice is teaching you to be calm and patient, that may be working to your disadvantage.

Because the second month of this year’s practice time in Mysore already has filled up. Here are the details from the institute’s website:

Sharath’s class is full for OCTOBER and NOVEMBER 2014. We will not accept any more registration forms for this month. Online applications for December arrivals will not be accepted until September 1st. Likewise, online registration for the January 2015 batch will begin on October 1, 2014 (3 months before your start date). If you submit your form earlier, it will be automatically deleted without further notice.

It’s starting to feel like the old concert days, where you had to get up early and get in line if you wanted seats to the [fill in your favorite artist] show.

While we have your attention, just another reminder from Mysore (I don’t think anything is new here):

For students applying to study with Sharath, please note the following:
1. Students must start their practice within the first 5 days of every month (e.g. Oct 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th). If you cannot start on those dates, you should wait and apply for the next month. This also means that in-person registration at the shala will only occur between 1st to 5th of every month.
2. Students must pay by cash when they register in Mysore, and full fees are expected from the start date. Our fee structure has changed. Click here for more details.
3. We do not entertain any cancellations or change of dates, once the online registration has been submitted. Extensions of stay will also not be granted. Students may practice with Sharath for a minimum of one month and for no longer than three months.

All clear?

Posted by Steve