I like ashtanga yoga.
But what I really love is practicing it in the traditional mysore style. Here is why.
Mysore practice changes your body. Repeating the same sequence again and again. Meeting the edge of your bodie’s ability. For an hour or more, every day. Of course your body will change. You will grow muscles at places you didn’t even know there were muscles. Your ligaments will get longer, your breath steadier, your metabolism will adapt to exercising on an empty stomach, you will sweat less. You will feel healthier and stronger than ever. But more importantly, your enhanced body will open for you the doors of a different yogic experience. Not blinded by the physical intensity of the practice, you will find space to explore the deeper meditative aspects of yoga. This is where the journey truly begins.
Mysore practice comes with your own dedicated yoga teacher. When you go to a mysore class, the teachers will follow you, learn your body and adjust you to exactly the level that is adequate for you at this point in time. As you progress, the teacher will give you new asanas and new adjustments to deepen your practice and keep you on your edge. This level of dedication from the teachers will give you wings.
Mysore classes are drop-in classes. You don’t have to hurry and stress yourself up to get to the yoga studio in time so you can relax there. Instead, you can relax the whole way.
Mysore practice is highly portable. Once you know a serie, you can do it on your own. Anywhere. A mat and some time is more or less the only thing you need. It is a perfect match for busy people who cannot attend classes too often, such as parents to small children, like me.
Mysore practice will make you hate all other yoga classes. Once you get used to following your own breath and your own body, once you get used to focusing inward and closing yourself to the outside world, going to any other yoga class will hurt. It will take you outside of your comfort zone. You will find it extremely disturbing to have to listen and understand a teacher’s intentions, follow a different sequence, brush against totally unfamiliar asanas. You will stand there and you will think: ‘what am i doing here, when i could be somewhere else and do my practice’.
Some would say that mysore practice will hurt you. Neck pain, tensed shoulders, aching lower back, not to speak about the more serious injuries like ligament ruptures. Every ashtanga student has tales to tell of what their body has been through. But let’s be honest, the mysore practice itself is not the cause of your hurt, your mind is. Letting a strong will take over the practice and blindly forcing your body beyond its limit is not yoga. It is grasping. It is unskillful.
Mysore practice is a form of meditation. The series of asanas in the mysore practice are finely-tuned choreographies. Each moment in the serie combines the rhythm of breath with points of focus for your eyes and a complex map of activated and relaxed muscles, of movement and immobility. Getting every moment right is impossible. It is an utopia. But trying to get it right will occupy your whole mind, leaving no space for day-dreaming. It also requires you to be constantly aware of your body. In other words, the practice requires you to maintain both concentration and mindfulness, the two pillars of meditation.
Mysore practice changes your mind. Every time you practice, you are reprogramming your mind toward non-grasping, openness, acceptance and equanimity. Over years, this programming will become more permanent. You will experience states of mental emptiness, of calm and joyful bliss, of profound equanimity. Not too often, mind you, and not for free. Only by practicing again and again will you gain some control over those very addictive mental states.
Mysore practice will make you face discomfort and smile at it. Discomfort in asanas that will leave you wrenched and exhausted. Mental discomfort of having practiced with a grasping mind, leaving you all shaky and confused in your head. Shame of letting out a noisy fart in the middle of the room, as the teacher twisted you further in marichiasana. Discomfort of showing so much of your body to your fellow yogis. All this is intimidating at first, then humbling, then just beautiful.
Mysore practice is an intimate social experience. It brings up love and acceptance of other’s bodies in a way that may feel almost promiscuous to out-standers, but which reflects the coming to a place of balance and grounding towards the physical body. Going through this process in the company of others is deeply bonding. Your fellow yogis may not become friends, you may not even talk to them, but they will be special to you.
Mysore practice is always the same, yet always different. You show a cloud to a non ashtangi, she will say ‘This is a cloud. Great, I have seen those before. I am bored, give me something new.’. The ashtangi will look at the cloud and say ‘Wow, I have never seen this cloud before. And it changes all the time. I could watch it forever and it would show me all the shapes in the world.’. The same stands true of asanas. You can practice the same asanas, again and again, and yet regularly rediscover those asanas as your body changes and your understanding deepens, thus making the asanas forever new. In fact, many describe the mysore practice as a never-ending serie of cycles, in which every insight you gain makes the practice new and fresh all over again.
Mysore practice has no end. You stay at your edge and, as you progress, so will your edge. There is no end to it. No reward at the end of the path. The path is the goal. Every step is a reward. And since it has no end, it teaches you to stop grasping.