Mysore the social leveller

Just back from a great session of Mysore-style self-practice at my local yoga studio (the wonderful Stonemonkey) after a bit of time away from group classes and I was musing about why I love the Mysore approach so much.

For those who don’t know, ashtanga yoga originated in the city of Mysore in India, and was created by a yoga teacher called Pattabhi Jois. It involves a set sequence of postures that the practitioner gradually works through – so you move through the same sequence each time you get on the mat. The postures follow each-other in an intelligent, systematic way, each one preparing for the next, and gradually opening up the body. Traditionally the teacher gives you the next posture in the sequence when they feel you have ‘mastered’ the previous one (not that we ever ‘master’ a pose – but that’s for another post). There are actually a few sequences (called ‘series’), which include progressively more difficult postures (although that’s not to say the first sequence is easy!). You start with primary series, move on to intermediate and then some very dedicated practitioners may move onto Advanced A, B, C and D. 

Anyway, with this approach, it means that a group class can be held despite everyone being at a different stage in the sequence, and indeed this is how ashtanga was and still is traditionally taught in India, hence being called ‘Mysore style’. Basically, you turn up, roll out your mat and do your ashtanga practice, no matter where you’re at with it. You can be a complete beginner or on one of the advanced sequences, but you’re all in the same room at the same time. The teacher just moves around the room assisting where needed.

You might say that this seems a bit of a cheat – why pay to go to a class that’s not led? Where you’re just doing all the work yourself? But really, it’s the complete opposite. Whereas, in a group led class, the teacher can’t easily get round everyone in each pose and it’s hard to focus on individuals, in a Mysore class, you get individual, personalised attention at the points in your practice where you really need it. It’s like having a one-to-one class in a group setting. And if you go regularly the teacher will come to know your practice so they will look out for the postures that you require assistance with, or if they haven’t spotted you flailing around, you can just wait patiently until they do notice. And then the teacher will take time to guide you through your ‘sticky’ bits with dedicated personal attention. It really is a brilliant way to develop your personal practice.

So why else do I love it? I love the fact that the little mat-shaped pools of individual focus around the room conversely generate a collective energy that helps to carry everyone through their practice. I love that it is, fundamentally, a room full of people working hard, intent on their personal development, chipping away, grafting. I love that it’s a social leveller – you can arrive in a sports car or an old banger but once you’re in the room you’re all measured by the sweat you drip, the breath you take. I love the smell of incense, the oceanic sound of ujjayi breath, the comforting warmth. I love the way my body tingles and my mind soars as I lie in savasana afterwards, lulled and bouyed alike by the breathing of those still in full flow. I love that something so individual, personal and special can be enhanced by the shared experience; we humans are sociable creatures at heart… 😉


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