Mysore Ashtanga – Beginners more than welcome!

By Ann Lee

Hello from Mysore! For the uninitiated, Mysore is a city in southwest India, the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga, and it is here that I am writing this blog post.

Mention Ashtanga and images of strong, sweaty, heavy-breathing practitioners come to mind, so it is no wonder it is not a style of choice for beginners to asana practice. Most ashtanga classes are offered in a led style group class, meaning a teacher instructs and/or demonstrates while students follow the poses in a sequential manner. This could be overwhelming for beginners but there is another way to be introduced to the practice, and that is the Mysore Ashtanga style.

Parampara and finding the right teacher

Traditionally in Mysore, Ashtanga is taught from teacher to student one asana (pose) at a time, at a pace suitable for the student. This is perfect for beginners as it allows him or her space and time to grow and be comfortable. According to the Yoga Sutras 2:46, sthira sukham asanam, the asana practice should be steady and comfortable. To achieve this, one needs to practise consistently under the careful guidance of a right teacher.

Parampara refers to the passing down of knowledge from teacher to student from a lineage. A good teacher should have studied extensively and consistently with another teacher guru from a yoga lineage. The right teacher is like a sign post on an unfamiliar road – he or she points the student to the right direction but the real work must still be undertaken by the student.

Drawing your senses inwards

‘But I am a visual person and I need to follow someone!’, ‘I feel stressed; I cannot remember the sequence’ – these are valid concerns I often hear from new students. The beauty of Mysore Ashtanga is exactly that – you don’t have to keep up with the class. Every student practises a set of poses given by his or her teacher at his or her own pace. Drawing your senses inwards, there is no need to hurry and there is no room for comparison. There is just you, your breath and your movements. As for remembering the sequence, it will come naturally with time as it has with generations of practitioners before you. Your duty is to turn up on the mat and the rest will follow. Done correctly over an extended period, your breath and movement becomes one and the mind is steady and calm (and perhaps a fitter body too).

Detachment from outcomes

With devotion to the practice, the student may observe some changes to his or her mental and physical well-being. It is easy to be attached to the positive outcomes of the practice. But life is never a bed of roses. Just as you attain some positive returns, there too will be obstacles you need to face. And it is easy to return to the mat when you’re feeling strong and happy, but it is the trying times that you need the practice the most. Yoga teaches us to be indifferent to both the good and the bad. If you manage to bind in Marichyasana D on a good day, that is fine, and if you struggle to stay focused on another day, that is also fine. Both practices are neither good nor bad, but they are both equally valid and will make a difference to you in the long run. So the key is to practise without attachment.

As I write to you from the beautiful source of Ashtanga, it is easy to be distracted with the dizzying sights and sounds happening around the community. I, too, must be reminded to keep to my practice.

Love and light be with you always.

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