Why Mysore Style?

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by Annie Davidson

When I went to my first Mysore class, I picked it because the time worked. I had no idea what Mysore meant (although in my American naïveté I thought it meant I might get sore!). I remember Kacey asking me if I had done any yoga before. I said, “Of course! I had done yoga for years and I ‘knew’ the poses.”

Over two years later, I can confidently say that Mysore has transformed my body, mind, and spirit - no joke, no exaggeration. Now, if you asked me, I’d say I am still learning the poses, even the very first sun salutation! I rediscover my body, mind, and spirit every day. I can do things I never thought this middle-aged body could do and still I have so much more to learn. 

For me, the biggest difference - as compared to how I practiced before with led classes - is that Mysore is MY practice. The approach allows me to truly own my practice and this means it has deepened me in every way. I can take it wherever I go - hotel gyms, visiting family, outside, inside.  I am constantly surprised by doing things I never thought I could - like standing on my head for extended time. And along the way I have never been injured or scared off because I get so much support from the amazing, wise teachers who have committed to this journey, too.

I’m deeply grateful to Kacey and Laura for their loving kindness, support and HUMOR in my first two years. I look forward to living the rest of my life with the practice. If you want to explore the universe that is you, step on your mat with the Mysore approach at Yoga Shala. 

The Art of Ashtanga

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THE ART OF ASHTANGA

by Shelley Zentner

When my yoga teacher, Laura Josephy asked me if I’d be interested in drawing every pose in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series for her teacher training manual, I jumped at the opportunity. I love drawing the human figure. The challenge of making 75 studies felt like an extension of my own yoga practice and an opportunity to deepen my understanding of anatomy. What I hadn’t anticipated was the profound nature of the journey, both artistically and personally. I’m learning so much from the repetition and discipline required to work with this much consistency. The fine nature of the drawing style requires a level of concentration and absorption I haven’t experienced since I was an art student. I have a yoga anatomy book under my easel, along with David Swenson’s seminal Practice Manual for reference.

Uniting other disciplines with art is not a new venture for me. I graduated from the University of the West of England in 1997, with a degree in Art and Visual Culture. The program was an experimental blend of studio art, philosophy, theology, politics and history. It suited me because I love ideas as much as I love making art. To me, they are inextricably linked. I’ve always had a very broad range of academic interests, and am not and expert at anything - I just have a childlike curiosity about things and find connections intriguing.

This curiosity has led me to combine art with many different fields of study, such as science and cultural politics. I also use my art for social and political activism and founded the local group Tahoe Activist Artists in 2017. The imagery that manifests in my work is usually centered on the human form although I like to spend time outdoors, communing with nature. I fill sketchbooks with observations of landscape and nature, working out ideas and emotions with words and images combined.

I first came to Ashtanga around 12 years ago, not long after I moved to Tahoe from Wales. My husband and I had met whilst bouldering our way around Canada and the US. I didn't have my work visa yet, so I took a few classes at Lake Tahoe Community College for something to do and to connect with like-minded people. I took oil painting and figure drawing with Phyllis Shafer and Ashtanga with Amrito Cross. I was too committed to climbing to maintain a regular practice though, and soon ended my daily practice after the quarter was finished.

I began practicing yoga again last October after I realized that I had to let go of climbing after 21 years. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and breast cancer in 2015, and the treatments, trauma and surgeries have changed my life. The transformative nature of the disease has presented me with what I call the ‘dark gift’. Meditation and a new spiritual practice brought me to the realization that I needed physical activity which nurtured my body and soul in a way that climbing no longer did.

Ashtanga initially attracted me because it reminded me of a long, technical boulder problem. Visualization, memorization of sequence, and fine, meditative, detailed work balanced with the big movements or gestures are the qualities of bouldering and art that I love. I find this again in yoga, with a different language that translates to the same thing.

When I can practice regularly, I feel at one with the world. The nature of Mysore style classes allows for a personal journey, supported by caring teachers. I feel part of a community again, and I also enjoy occasional Yin and flow classes. My body feels strong and supple, and I feel nurtured and empowered. The athletic nature of this practice satisfies my need to be physically energetic. The spiritual, meditative aspect of the practice calms my mind, makes me feel connected to the universe, and helps release the tension of my body.

I’m profoundly grateful to have found the Shala, my teachers, and to have the opportunity to explore my practice in more depth through art. It makes me happy to know that the drawings will continue in their journey as a teaching tool, and find purpose in the education of a new generation of instructors.

Shelley Zentner is a professional artist, wife, mother and instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College. Learn more at www.shelleyzen.us

Shelley’s Drawings will be available to view and purchase at our Art of Ashtanga event on November 11 at 6pm.

Manager Spotlight: Sally Sjolin

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Name: Sally Sjolin

Practicing Yoga Since: A long time

1). Tell us about the first yoga class you took?

I lived in San Francisco two blocks from the Guru Ram Das Ashram which is housed in a beautiful victorian. The Ashram was founded by a co-op community of students and teachers and is now known as the Kundalini Yoga Center. I remember walking into the building and being seduced by the smell of food cooking. I signed up for a beginner series and learned that they had a community meal each evening after class. At the time, I was living a stressful corporate lifestyle and was craving balance and interactions with mindful people. I went to class at the Ashram 2 nights per week until I moved from SF.

2). What do you remember of the first yoga class you taught?

Last January, I started managing the Shala which gave me the opportunity to be more involved with the yoga community that I love.

In June, I got very lucky and was accepted into Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Teacher Training in Encinitas. Because this door opened, I am currently apprenticing/assisting one day per week during Mysore class. I have become surprisingly unattached to the outcome. I love yoga and want to learn as much as possible. Thank you fellow Mysore students for allowing me to learn by pushing on you. ;-) I will also take the Tahoe Yoga Shala 200-hr teacher training which begins in April.

3). Who/what are your teachers? Why?

Laura and Kacey, because they are amazing and I love them. They offer a safe space to practice and grow. The Shala Mysore program is growing and thriving. It’s the shared commitment and the love and support from teachers and fellow students that motivate me to practice every day.

I’ve also been able to spend time with the wonderful teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas. It was eye opening to study at Tim’s studio with people who have been practicing and teaching for so many years. It’s not uncommon to see practitioners side by side doing 3rd series or others working on 4th. The community is inviting, happy to share space and teach no matter which series you are practicing. The energy at AYC is magical and inspiring, but there is so much to learn.

4). In what ways has yoga supported or impacted your life?

Yoga has been a part of my life for a long time, but did not become a lifestyle and spiritual path until recently. Practicing daily has had a huge impact on my body and mind. It has opened my heart, helped me gain physical and mental strength and has reduced anxiety. It’s meditation, spiritual movement, truth, love, and a path to peace. But it’s rarely that simple, because the practice meets me right where I am on any given day. It can be challenging to keep my mind calm when faced with fear, doubt or impatience. Yoga has become a comforting ritual and for me and is ultimately an act of devotion, trust and faith. When I become unmotivated, I remind myself that dedication is a choice.

5). What does your current yoga practice include? Why?

I practice Ashtanga Mysore Style 6 days per week. Mixed in with my Asana practice is pranayama, meditation, chanting and Sanskrit. Like many things in life, it started out of necessity. I was struggling with anxiety caused by a heart condition. I was told by my doctor to stop exercising and not elevate my heart rate, but yoga was ok. Obviously, that doctor had never done Ashtanga because it’s really not that easy. One of my earliest observations was that Ashtanga is a breathing practice and that focusing on breath during Asana would calm my mind and help reduce the anxiety. This was much easier to accomplish in the Mysore room with a self-led practice. Now that my heart is fixed and my anxiety is mostly gone, I still practice daily.

6). What currently inspires you?

My dog Lizzi who has been fighting cancer, but continues to love and make the most out of life despite what she goes through.

7). What is your favorite season? Why?

I love Spring. Mostly because there are baby birds, but also because it’s such a beautiful season in Tahoe.

8). What secret helps you to maintain balance and stay healthy?

Taking time for myself. This has been a learning process, but it’s one of the most important things that I do to keep myself balanced and sane.

9). A fun fact most people don’t know about you?

I love wildlife and have been known to do dumb things to observe them more closely. I wouldn’t say that these encounters were fun, but they were definitely exciting. I’ve been bluff charged by a Bull Moose in Canada, a Bull Elk in Yellowstone and a Male Lion in South Africa. I was trying to take photos and got too close.

10). What do you want to share with the Shala community?

I’m so grateful to be a part of the Tahoe Yoga Shala community. I’ve recently had the opportunity to take a class from each of the teachers at the Shala. What a great experience, they are all wonderful. We are so lucky to have such an experienced team of diverse teachers, each offering their own unique style. It was hard for me to step out of my Mysore comfort zone, but I’m glad I did. Try a different teacher or style of yoga, you might be amazed.

Intro to Mysore

Intro to Mysore

by Kacey Davy

Warning: Practicing Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga might be addicting; it will get you grounded, healthy, strong and flexible.

Mysore Style is the traditional way of learning Ashtanga Yoga. Named after the city in India where it originated, Mysore, is the source of this lineage based yoga method.  To practice Mysore Style is, for most, a different experience than what people think of when they go to a yoga class. The poses are taught individually in a group setting. The teacher is not leading everyone through the sequence at the same time. Instead, you will receive one-on-one instruction from the teacher. When you first walk into the Mysore room it may seem chaotic as everyone is doing something different. However Ashtanga is a set sequence of poses that you learn one-by-one, allowing you to commit the sequence to memory over time. Everyone begins the same way, first learning the sun salutations and then the standing poses, and so on. Repetition is used to help you develop a deeper understanding of the sequence each day and gradually you begin to feel at home in the movement-breath patterns. Then, through a dedicated practice, whether one or several days a week, you learn the entire Ashtanga Primary Series poses one by one. By moving slowly through the series you gain strength, endurance, and a sense of empowerment. Since this is individual instruction, the teachers can offer you modifications and personal feedback.

  The Ashtanga practice is all about the breath, learning how to move the body with the breath to take the shapes of the sequence, it is not about perfection of poses and achievement. The practice is all about keeping the energy moving. Yoga seeks to transform us, to build awareness of ourselves by connecting mind and body together. Ashtanga emphasizes the breath as the connection for self-awareness and over time the practice reveals the many layers and aspects of ourselves. 

The purpose of yoga is to bring peace and balance to our lives. Ashtanga is a sequence of poses designed to detoxify the body, the practice builds strength, stability, stamina, flexibility, and restores range of motion to the joints. It purifies the nervous system and, when done consistently, it helps you to feel balanced and grounded. Anyone of any age can learn Ashtanga. The 4-Week Intro to Mysore Series I am offering in October is an excellent way to learn more about this practice and integrate this style of yoga into your life. 

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Teacher Spotlight: Kacey Davy

Name: Kacey Davy

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Practicing yoga since: 2005

1) Tell us about the first yoga class you took. I had taken a class or two at the gym a few times but I started practicing regularly in 2005. My first class was a really advanced ashtanga class that was way over my head, but I didn’t let that scare me away. I was immediately drawn to the calming and grounding nature of yoga and loved the community environment as opposed to a gym.

Teaching since 2012

2) What do you remember of the first yoga class you taught? My teacher training program was actually an apprenticeship program that was ongoing for several years and so I don’t recall the “first class” I ever taught. My apprenticeship consisted of assisting with my teacher on a weekly basis and after about 9 months I began to sub classes, and then earned my own weekly class. What I remember most is supporting and being a part of our community on a daily basis and getting to know each student and their needs.

3) Who/what are your teachers? Why? My teacher is Zoe Mai, from Trishula Yoga in Collingswood, NJ. Trishula is a unique yoga school that offers traditional Ashtanga Mysore practice, yoga philosophy, Sanskrit and meditation practices.  I feel blessed to have the exposure to many aspects of yoga and a teacher who is established in these practices. I never imagined myself to be a teacher, yet Zoe saw something in me and for her faith, I am forever grateful. 

4) In what ways has yoga supported or impacted your life?  Yoga has completely transformed my life. I worked in the fashion industry and began practicing yoga as a way to balance out the stress from my hectic work life. Ultimately it’s because of the yoga that I transformed my goals and aspirations and ended up living in Tahoe! The practice of yoga brings awareness to your thoughts and behaviors and brings you closer to, or brings you back to who you really are. When I started to pay attention to my fast paced, stressed out lifestyle I started to change my career goals and eventually gave it all up to pursue a simpler, more active life in a community of like-minded people. Yoga supports everything that I do, it keeps me happy and healthy as well as strong and flexible to pursue all of the outdoor adventures Tahoe has to offer.

5) What does your current yoga practice include? Why? I practice Ashtanga Mysore style 5-6 days a week. I’m currently working on the third series – called sthira bhaga, often translated as strength and grace. Sthira means strength and the practice cultivates strength not only in the body but also the in the mind. It’s a challenging practice but it’s not about the poses. Every day is different and the practice is about keeping the energy moving so at least one or two days a week I practice the primary series. 

6) What currently inspires you? The students who tell me how yoga has changed their life inspire me. I often hear that the practice has given them clarity, or has helped to heal years of pain in the body. For some it helps to calm their minds and make them feel grounded. For others, it makes them strong and feeling good about themselves. I’m honored and humbled to be part of the process.

7) What secret helps you to maintain balance and stay healthy? My daily yoga practice keeps me healthy! Also, a short meditation at the end of my asana practice keeps me balanced and feeling grounded. 

8) A fun fact most people don’t know about you? I’ve walked over hot coals, twice! I participated in a couple of empowerment seminars that included a fire walk. I got burned pretty badly the second time and remember telling people at work that I cut my foot while walking barefoot outside for fear that people would think I was crazy walking over hot coals!

9) What do you want to share with the Shala community? I’d like to share that my teaching comes from a place of love. Love for each student in the moment, as you are, without expectation or judgment. I often hear that students are intimidated to try the Ashtanga Mysore method, because they ‘don’t want to think’ and rather be ‘told what to do’, the idea of having to memorize a set sequence seems like ‘too much work’. I’d like to share that there is empowerment in moving, breathing and learning the sequence on your own. Ashtanga also tells you exactly what to do, when to inhale and exhale and what comes next. You just need to memorize a little bit each time. And you’re not alone, we as the teachers work with you individually and help you to learn every step of the way. Every student has begun the same way, with learning the sun salutations and slowly adding on poses once they commit to showing up. Whether it’s once a week or more, the only way to progress is to actually show up and do the work. When you look at other students flowing, what appears to be ‘effortlessly’, through the vinyasas, what you don’t see is that they show up day after day, after month, after year and have committed to the practice.  They’ve struggled and persevered and keep showing up despite the challenges. This is a challenging practice however we modify and make it approachable for every age, and every body type. The Ashtanga method is a system for healing and transforming the body and the mind. The asana practice is a tool to quiet the mind and the stories that we tell ourselves. However it only works if you are willing to take that first step! Come try the Mysore method, there are no expectations, only love and support.

Ayurvedic Self-Massage

Massage is often considered a luxurious indulgence. But in fact, it is an important component of optimal health.  The sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda is a holistic health system for everyday life.  Abhyanga is the Sanskrit term used to describe Ayurvedic oil massage.  Among other things, the oil bath is a traditional Ayurvedic home remedy recommended to reduce excess internal heat particularly in the joints, liver and skin. This heat may show up in the body-mind as impatience, irritability, stiffness in the joints, redness in the skin, insomnia and/or indigestion.  Other benefits of Ayurvedic self-massage impart tone and vigor to the tissues of the body, stimulate the internal organs, increase circulation and decrease the effects of aging.

“In Sanksrit, the word “sneha” can be translated as both “oil” and “love.” In Ayurveda there is an inherent connection between enveloping the body in oil and enveloping it in love. Both oil and love provide a sense of nourishment and grounding. These qualities benefit the entire body, particularly the nervous system, and support the entire being - mind, body and spirit.”

Ayurvedic teachings recommend a daily self-massage, which need only take 15 minutes.  Pattabhi Jois, the Indian teacher who developed and popularized the Ashtanga Yoga method, recommended that students take an “oil bath” once per week on his or her day of rest. I have found it easiest to start this self-care ritual twice a month on the new and full moon day as these days are observed as rest days in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition.   

In India, the oil bath is customarily taken with castor oil.  Castor oil delivers the best results, but can be replaced by organic almond, sesame or coconut oil. You can purchase these oils at your local grocery or via a Ayurvedic lifestyle retailer such as Banyan Botanicals.  Banyan Botanicals offers a variety of specialized oils to support individual constitutions or balance particular conditions.

Here is a simple self-massage routine offered by Dr. Claudia Welch. Try doing this routine in the morning for a vital day, or before bed for a more restful sleep:

  1. Put about a 1/2 cup of oil in a 4 oz. squeeze bottle (I prefer a glass bottle).
  2. Warm the oil by placing the bottle in a mug of hot water.
  3. Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room on a towel. Consider choosing a towel that is dedicated for this purpose because over time the oil accumulation will ruin the towel.
  4. Apply the oil to your entire body.
  5. Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at your extremities and working toward the middle of your body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine, moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Massage the body for five to twenty minutes, with love and patience.
  6. Every so often, give a little extra time and attention to massaging the oil into your scalp, ears and feet. Apply oil to the crown of your head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm, but not hot. Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger or on a cotton ball and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (If you have any current or chronic discomfort in your ears, don’t do this without the recommendation of your healthcare practitioner). When you massage your feet and toes, be sure you don’t slip.
  7. Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Minimize the use of soap, and use only where needed.
  8. Wash the shower/bath area. The shower floor will be very slippery and the drain may be clogged a bit. Scrub the shower area well to avoid slipping and pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to keep it open.
  9. Rest over the next few hours, avoiding hard work, strong sun and swimming in or drinking cold water. Allow the body and mind to rest and rejuvenate for the coming week of practice, study, work and family life.

For the love of oil baths! ENJOY!!

To learn more about the benefits of Ayurvedic self-massage and view how-to videos visit Banyan Botanicals.

My Ashtanga: Mysore Style Yoga Path

Susan practicing Sirsasana - headstand. 

Susan practicing Sirsasana - headstand. 

by Susan Baker

For me Yoga is more of a path than a journey, I see a journey as having an ending point; a path as a never ending movement forward. My path started by taking a few led classes here and there: Flow, Yin and Hatha.  I loved them all but never felt a real personal connection.  Last January I was invited to attend the four-week "Introduction to Ashtanga: Mysore Style Series."  I accepted the challenge and I am forever grateful for that invitation and decision.

After my four-week introduction I began my path of Ashtanga: Mysore Style.  Mysore Style is more than yoga; it is a personal experience guided by yourself, your breath and your teacher.  This self-practice allows you to move and grow at your own pace (I must admit I was comparing myself to others in the beginning).  I have learned that I am strong, that I am capable of quieting my mind and that I can attain goals I never thought possible. Mysore Style practice is the window into your own personal possibilities.  My favorite experiences have been found in the community of other Ashtanga: Mysore Style yogis, the story telling, the chanting and the encouragement I feel each time I roll out my mat to practice.  I am becoming strong, compassionate, and a believer in peace amidst the chaos.

Consider the next Intro to Mysore Series invitation and you will be so pleased you did...

Learn More About Ashtanga: Mysore Style

Register for the Next Intro to Mysore Series

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Why Yoga?

By Hannah Ouellette

It wasn’t something I planned on, I had just come down off of losing a significant amount of weight and the gym got to be boring. I saw an advertisement saying “$10 for 10 days of Unlimited Yoga,” so I figured for $10 what could I lose. I say this and act as if I was not intimidated or mildly afraid of what I might find when I got to the studio, but really I had serious trepidation. That trepidation led me to call the studio and leave a message. The call I got back was kind, open, and interested. 

Laura Josephy, the studio manager at the time and now owner, took no less than 20 minutes of her day to talk with me about my body, my previous experience with yoga, and what I wanted out of my practice. It was like having a small therapy session in the best way. I was encouraged and excited, but like any new physical effort or practice I had preconceived notions. 

I came from a weird tangential background that was an amalgam of different sports and physical practices. I had loved Pilates because in some ways even when I was heavier I could get my body into positions of flexibility other people didn’t have. (Are you sensing that mild/moderate competitiveness?) But I had only done a yoga class in college where at the end of practice each week I would compare myself to other people who made more rapid progress mastering asana. I was stuck in the asana and what I thought yoga was. So it was with this complicated background I proceeded to the then Mountain Yoga studio. 

Finding whatever brazen woman that lives inside me, I decided to practice at a advanced beginner’s class taught on a Saturday. In complete honesty, I figured this was where I would have the best chance blending in. I was met by a bright sprite of a woman who radiated energy. I knew then I was in a special place. I rolled out my old mat that I had used in previous Pilates classes, thinking that I might look the part. Little did I know that back row has the heat of a small sauna, but what I noticed more was how many different types of people where in attendance.

Often when people say the word yoga, usually one of two scenarios come to mind: a nubile barely dressed young woman arching gracefully into something that makes you sigh in awe and cringe in presumed sympathy pains, or the wise and hardtack bodied old yogi who seems to levitate off his prayer rug. Of course because I am a slightly hyperbolic person I imagined both of these types of individuals and they also didn’t sweat. 

That wasn’t the case in this class. I found myself comfortable with not only my choice to practice but with myself in a new way. As the practice began the directions were clear and intuitive making it easy to try and not stare at the people around me. Did I get lost and confused at times? Obviously, but I became less of a critic and breathed. Granted, the breaths I took were mostly off-cue but at least I was trying something that I didn’t know about. 

As the class came to a close I felt warm and unified with my fellow practioner in a way I had never experienced at the gym or in other sports. I was so grateful, that I spoke with my instructor for a solid 15 minutes after class. Again, there was no rush because she wanted to provide advice and assessment that would help me on my way. 

Like with anything, a large part of my beginnings with yoga was spent comparing my asana practice to others and trying to make sure I broke a sweat in class. This began to cause a minor burn out because I was in a tangent of sweat and burn without breath. So as I continued to attend more and more classes I began to need something different. That is when Mysore came into my life.

The Mysore four-week program was where I really found my stride. The intimacy of small class and the sequencing became more important than comparing. It became about my breathing and how that resonated with the others practicing. The progression of movement was linked with breath, but I was also developing a community of people who loved yoga. Through that love of yoga, I found myself falling in love with the people as much as the practice because they were there breathing with me. Suddenly, I was practicing with people who had been working on asana for years, but they were grunting or deep breathing right alongside me. It was an eye-opening experience because yoga wasn’t about mastering complicated poses in that space. It was instead how unified breath with other people and the self created a conduit for a deeper awareness that where I could go on my own. 

Yoga is something people come to in different ways, but when you find a community of people who love it and want to teach more than the physical aspect of it, that is when you truly find yoga. I am glad everyday that I saw that advertisement and that the people Tahoe Yoga Shala keep embracing me. Every time I find myself losing focus, there is always a kind friend who tells, listens, or shows me a new facet of yoga and how I might bring that to my wheel house. 

Mysore Style FAQ's

Thanks be to the Yoga Workshop their guidance with this content.

You may have noticed the gradual increase of Mysore Style classes on the schedule. Most recently, Laura's Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. class has converted to a Mysore Style class.  What is Ashtanga: Mysore Style?  How may it benefit you?  Read on...

Mysore Style practice is the heart of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage. 

The room is quiet and people are in all sorts of different shapes. The teacher is moving from student to student offering individualized instruction and assistance.  The sound of the breath, the serious expression on people’s faces, the abundance of sweat, and the fact that everyone (except you) seems to know exactly what they are doing can provoke the urge to hightail it right back out the door.  Whether you are in South Lake Tahoe or any number of cities around the world; a Mysore Style class definitely leaves a first impression.  You need not be a yoga teacher or an advanced practitioner; once you understand what is going on and commit to the practice, you may discover that Mysore Style is an amazing forum for cultivating a transformative yoga practice. 

What is Mysore?

1). a city in Southern India, Karnataka State.

2). a format of an Ashtanga Yoga class. 

Pronounced as in: “My sore back is what got me into yoga.” or “Boy am I sore.” 

This style of class is modeled after the Ashtanga Yoga classes in Mysore, India taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. A Mysore class provides an opportunity for students to develop a “self practice,” which is an integral part of the Ashtanga Yoga method. Students work independently on the particular series of postures that is most appropriate for them. The teacher assists, adjusts and may quietly discuss particular difficulties or concerns with individual students during class.

What is the structure of the class? 

Students need not practice for 2 full hours and can come and go anytime during the 2 hour window as is appropriate due to schedule, energy level and experience. 

About ten minutes into the official start time of the class, the teacher leads the students through the opening chant.  Sometime students come a bit early and begin warming up with sun salutations. However when the teacher announces the opening chant, they come back to stand at the top of the mat in samastithih and chant with the group. If a student finishes their practice early, they take rest for at least 5 minutes in savasana, or final relaxation pose, before quietly leaving. Some students may also arrive later in which case they enter quietly and set up their practice space.

If there’s no teacher leading the postures, how do people know what to practice?

The Ashtanga Yoga method is based on a number of specific series of postures which are learned over the course of time and are practiced on a regular basis. Beginning with the “primary series,” students gradually, one pose at a time, work through and memorize the sequence of postures. After becoming proficient in one series, the next series is slowly introduced into the practice a few postures at a time. In this way, yoga becomes an individual practice through which breath, feelings, thoughts and sensations may be observed.

What if I forget what comes next in the series?

You can think of the Mysore teacher as a human cheat sheet (we have actual cheat sheets too). Students learn a little of the series at a time and use repetition to commit various sequence to memory.  The basic pattern is the same for all of the Ashtanga Series.  The practice always begins with 3-5 of both sun salutations, Surya Namaskara A and B. This is followed by the same sequence of standing postures. Next the postures that are contained within a particular series are practiced. This is followed, no matter what series has been practiced, by backbends and finishing postures. A minimum of a 5 minute rest in final relaxation pose concludes the practice. When you first go into a Mysore class it can seem confusing; like people are just doing their own thing or are doing random postures. But once you understand the basic structure of the series, it starts to make sense.

Never hesitate to call a teacher over. That’s what the teacher is there for. Teachers scan the room to see who needs help, so usually if you just stop in your practice and wait, the teacher will notice and come over when she has finished helping another student. It is not advised to walk over to the teacher to get their attention—but they’ll see you if you signal them.

Why are there series? Why not just do what feels good day to day?

Different series are designed to address different and particular aspects of an integrated yoga practice. The primary series, for example, is grounding; the intermediate series is said to cleanse the nervous system.  Following the prescribed sequence serves several functions. First, the series are designed to prepare the body for the postures that follow. Becoming grounded through the primary series makes the practitioner ready to begin opening into deep backbends (which are in the intermediate series) without becoming mentally scattered, emotionally imbalanced, or ego driven—which can happen if back bending is practiced without proper grounding. Also, following a series insures that the less appealing postures are part of the repertoire. It’s always a temptation to skip postures we don’t like and often these postures are the very ones that will benefit us the most. Finally, by doing the same sequences repeatedly and by practicing on a regular basis—ideally 6 days a week—a rhythmic and meditative form automatically arises. This process allows the students to practice deeply; to move beyond the external form of the practice into the patterns of thought and emotional that shape the body from the inside. As we give space to the inner recesses of our bodies, we slowly release ourselves from subconscious patterns of conditioning.  This is the practice of Yoga. 

What is so great about “self-practice?”

When there isn’t a teacher guiding a led class, the responsibility falls squarely on the practitioner to practice with authenticity and intelligence. This form of introspective practice allows the student to observe the feelings, thoughts and sensations that arise during the practice and to gradually stop grasping at the pleasant experiences while rejecting the unpleasant ones. It allows the student to cultivate a visceral understanding of change and impermanence and a meditative state automatically arises.

If I’ve never been to a Mysore class before, is it OK to just show up?

Yes! That’s actually a great way to begin the practice. It’s helpful if you have some idea about what Ashtanga Yoga is, but even if you’re not sure you’re up to speed, beginners are always welcome. Some students find it helpful to attend guided classes at the studio to get a sense of the Ashtanga system before checking out Mysore. We offer Intro to Mysore Series on a quarterly basis but this is not a pre-requisite if you want to dive directly into a Mysore class.

Who practices Mysore?

All sorts of people from beginners to long-time practitioners. The Ashtanga method is perfect for young, athletically oriented people. At the same time this practice is something that can benefit you when you at any age and at any phase of health. You’ll find that any given class has a wide range of age, experience, flexibility and strength in attendance. It can appear when you first walk into class that everyone is advanced, because people seem to know what they’re doing and because they are practicing on their own, but many beginning students practice Mysore Style.

How do I know it’s time to move on to a new posture or start a new series? 

Students work with the teachers individually to determine when it is appropriate from them to move on, modify or experiment with new postures. Students are encouraged to practice within their capability of focus, strength and flexibility. We do not encourage students to breeze through a series or skip postures ‘they cannot do’ or don’t like. 

Our Mysore teachers meet on a regular basis in order to offer a coordinated approach for students. We try to keep abreast of each student’s needs so that we can help the students from our own experience.  The decision to move a student onto the next pose is not purely based on physical ability.  The student's overall mental, emotional, energetic and physical gestalt is considered.  Mysore Style practice is a process that requires time, consistency, patience, curiosity, introspection and dedication.  It may take a year or more to learn the full primary series.  Ultimately the practice is not about the postures themselves but the internal process they reveal.  The mat the microcosm, is the laboratory where we run experiments and gather data about how we are predisposed to think, speak and act when presented with various circumstances. This data is then applied to the macrocosm of daily lifestyle practices and choices.

What is Ujjayi breath?

One central aspect of the Ashtanga system is the ujjayi pranayama — breathing with sound.  A sound that is made by breathing through the nose but from the throat.  A gentle contraction in the throat creates an audible whisper.  Sometimes people get overly enthusiastic and may begin to breathe with too much force, but generally it is a smooth, even and non-aggressive sounding breath. The breath is intended to be a means of focusing the mind and inviting the practitioner enter a state of meditation.  As a general rule, inhaling is associated with expansive, opening, spreading, lifting types of movements.  Exhaling is associated with contracting, dropping, grounding and curling types of movements.

What are the bandhas?

Bandhas are internal seals that contain body and lend it strength and grace. The three principle bandhas used throughout the posture practice are mula bandha, the pelvic floor lock, uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock, andjalandhara bandha, the neck lock. Bandhas stabilize potentially vulnerable areas of the body while imbuing the postures themselves with buoyancy and ease. With breath there is bandha. In general, the exhale is correlated with mula bandha and the inhale is correlated with uddiyana bandha.  

What does “dristi” mean?

Each pose has a preferred dristi or gazing point.  The gaze is another mindfulness training tool that encourages the student to attune to the sensations of their own body-mind. The gaze is soft and focused, never gripping nor darting. The most common gazing point is the nose, though some postures may have a gaze at the fingertips, the eyebrows, the hand or the navel. 

I feel like when I practice by myself I get stuck and I think too much.  Should I just go to a guided class instead?

When first beginning a self-practice it can be difficult to stay focused. That’s one of the benefits of memorizing the sequence slowly over time; by knowing what posture comes next and by simply keeping moving, the mind doesn’t have as much of an opportunity to wander. By keeping the gaze steady, the movement coordinated with the breathing, and by coming back again and again to the sound of the breath the mind gradually begins to release and relax and drop in.

Cultivating a meditative form of practice takes time and patience, but it is well worth it and cannot ever happen in a guided class to the depth that it can when doing self-practice.