Travelling yogini Lavinia Tan talks about her first encounter with Mysore Ashtanga yoga.
A few weeks ago I made my first tentative foray into a Mysore Ashtanga class. Little did I know that the word 'tentative' was as preposterous a concept in traditional Ashtanga practice as it was to say, drink water in the middle of your practice (heaven forbid!).
Overcoming The Yoga Plateau With Mysore Yoga?
I had heard many stories from friends about the Mysore practice, most of them praising this method as a means of improving one's asana technique and generally evoking deep transformational change from within. Having practiced 'normal' vinyasa classes all my life (with the odd Ashtanga led class thrown into the mix), I definitely felt I had hit a plateau within my practice.
"Normal" Yoga Classes Can Be Too In-Consistent
What I enjoyed in my vinyasa classes were also the main areas holding me back from truly evolving as a yoga practitioner. The variety of asana sequences in these classes, whilst interesting and liberating, did not offer a consistent asana sequence to improve on one's weak areas or strong points. Secondly, the inclusivity of open vinyasa classes made modifications an accessible alternative for every type of yogi and I had begun to notice I was pushing myself less in my practice.
I had begun to crave the discipline, order and structure that had been synonymous with the Ashtanga method. This in turn led me through the doors of the only Mysore Ashtanga shala in my city.
Rest After Class. Get Up And Start!
On the first day of Mysore class, I had turned up with little expectation but the excited promise of developing my yoga practice. In reality, my mat became a metaphorical battlefield.
In reality, my mat became a metaphorical battlefield.
I had started in child's pose… 'no' said my teacher '. 'Rest after class. Get up and start!'. I was really cheesed off. I needed time to center and ground myself, connect with my breath, and all the things one does in a normal open class. 'Why do you need to center yourself? You just do it. You have so many poses to get through'. My inner voice raged with the indignation at being told this.
Uncomfortable And Sometimes Painful
When we arrived at the half-lotus standing forward fold I had re-signed myself to taking a modification. 'Why?' again asked my teacher and worked slowly and carefully towards getting me into the deepest version of the pose I had ever done. It wasn't easy or pleasant but I eventually discovered that the more I surrendered my inner monologue to my practice, the deeper I got into the pose.
...the more I surrendered my inner monologue to my practice, the deeper I got into the pose.
As the class progressed and we arrived at the seated poses, the same teacher insisted I jump through. 'I need blocks or props' I insisted. 'No props. You just do it!'. It was difficult; I felt ungainly and silly. My feet kept hitting the mat so often it was worn raw, especially in lotus.
All this was uncomfortable, painful sometimes, as I had to work with the pain of a bruised body and bruised ego.
This Definitely Feels Different Than Vinyasa
Although I was definitely feeling the difference in my body, a few lessons after, I wondered if all this Ashtanga was genuinely benefiting me. I had begun to feel very unsettle. At the end of each practice I often felt tense and a little on edge. I wasn't used to feeling this way. When most yoga classes left me feeling blissed out and calm, Ashtanga was leaving me feeling slightly manic and unsettled.
Raise Your Awareness Of Yourself And Change Yourself To The Better
After one of my lessons I had even attempted to begin some Pranayama exercises (alternate nostril breathing and the like) to calm myself. 'No, no pranayama... master asana first then Pranayama! Your Pranayama is just sitting there and breathing'. I approached my teacher with these concerns and he replied 'Ashtanga helps to bring all these deeply embedded emotions to the surface. It raises your awareness of yourself, bringing it to your attention so that you can then learn to change yourself for the better'.
'Ashtanga helps to bring all these deeply embedded emotions to the surface. It raises your awareness of yourself, bringing it to your attention so that you can then learn to change yourself for the better'
I walked away half-satisfied. I know the Ashtanga practice is highly beneficial for my asana practice and cultivates discipline, but I also know that other forms of yoga make me FEEL good.
The Mysore Journey Goes On...
Deciding at the end of the day what is the 'best' form of yoga for myself will probably take some time and experimentation. Though I am glad to have embarked on a new direction with Ashtanga, I still feel called to practice other forms of yoga if only to temper the residual highly charged emotions I feel after a Mysore session. Ashtanga is very firm in its 'way', having been around for generations and with many illustrious practitioners swearing by the efficacy of this method. Whether this rigidity is an advantage or detriment is another matter altogether and probably one that needs prolonged and sustained exposure to make a truly informed decision. For myself, I continue to attend my Mysore classes if only because I am curious what awaits me at the other end.