The Ashtanga Yoga method is built around the ‘Mysore Style’ class, so named because yoga was taught this way by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, in Mysore, India, and continues to be taught this way in traditional Ashtanga Yoga schools around the world. In Mysore Class, the student is taught a sequence of postures through one-on-one instruction. The correct movements, breathing, and other aspects of the practice are learned gradually, in a step-by-step process accessible to anyone. This method allows each student time to practice and memorize what they have learned before adding more. Students are able to practice independently and at their own pace while surrounded by the energy and inspiration of other students in the room. The main teacher and assistants are able to work with each student individually. Initially, students may require more attention, but as they become proficient in their practice, they are allowed more independence, receiving adjustments and assistance only when required.
When starting an Ashtanga Yoga practice, it is recommended that one starts in a Mysore Class from the very beginning. The best way to answer any questions about the Mysore practice and how it works is to come and observe a class for half an hour or so. Most questions are answered by observing the class, and then anything unanswered can be discussed with the teacher. All our teachers have learned Ashtanga Yoga using this method and we have great faith in the results of its practice.
In your first class you will learn the basic techniques for breathing and movement – called ‘vinyāsa’ – and guided through the opening and closing sequences of the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Your first practice may only be 15 to 20 minutes long. It is important not to learn too much in the beginning as this method relies on memorization and becoming proficient in what has been taught before progressing further. This approach allows you time to adjust to a new daily routine.
In subsequent classes, new postures are added to what has been learned. Over time, the length of your practice will gradually increase as you are ready for more. In order to establish a stable foundation in both the body and mind, the Ashtanga sequence should be learned one step at a time, paying close attention to breathing, posture, movement, and gazing. Learning gradually allows time to adjust as you develop more strength, flexibility, and familiarity with the practice. Doing too much too quickly can bring the risk of injury and imbalance to the body, and can be unsustainable. For that reason, students are taught little-by-little and at a rate appropriate for each individual.
Ideally, practicing five to six days per week is recommended, even at the beginning, taking only one or two days off per week to allow the body to rest (traditionally, women also rest for 3 days during menstruation). If possible, your practice should be done at the same time every day. You will appreciate the routine and the body responds better to the practice. Although you may find that you are a little sore in the beginning, the regularity of a daily practice removes the soreness in the muscles and invigorates the body each day. If a daily commitment to the practice is not possible, many benefits can still be found from practicing as little as two or three times per week. Please come to practice as you are able.
Each week on Fridays a Led Primary Series class is taught in place of the regular Mysore style practice. Led class reinforces the proper vinyāsa system – when to inhale and when to exhale as we enter into and out of each posture. Guruji emphasized the importance of this by telling students, “When vinyāsa is perfect, the mind is under control.” For both new and experienced students, led class is an important compliment to a regular Mysore practice. It’s an opportunity to ensure that each vinyāsa is being learned and practiced correctly. Furthermore, surrendering to the teacher’s count and pacing, is an opportunity to increase both our internal and external strength, and our relationship with the traditional lineage.
Ashtanga Yoga and Parampara
‘Parampara’ literally means an uninterrupted succession and denotes the direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. Traditional Ashtanga Yoga is founded on parampara and a commitment to its established instruction. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois took this method from Mysore, India and disseminated it all over the world. Guruji’s teachings are now continued by his family: R. Sharath Jois, R. Saraswathi, Manju Jois, and Sharmila Mahesh. Surrendering to the lineage of Astanga Yoga is to enter a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that masters, past and present, have followed into an ocean of knowledge and wisdom.
‘Ashtanga Yoga’ means ‘eight limbed yoga.’ It is an ancient system that can lead to a deep connection with our spirit or ātman. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (aṣṭāṅgayoga) can be described as eight disciplines. They are yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi. Of these, the third limb, āsana (yoga postures), is the most important for us to practice, and through it we can understand the other limbs. Though in appearance an external and physical discipline, through consistent effort we find many layers, more and more subtle, which need to be experienced directly and can lead to the experience of the last four limbs. Yama (restraints) and niyama (observances) should be observed at all times, otherwise yoga āsana practice is reduced to a purely physical pursuit. Specific prāṇāyāma (breath control) should only be taught after mastering āsanas, when the nervous system is strengthened and prepared for more rigorous practice. It should be understood however, that the deep even diaphragmatic breathing taught as part of the āsana practice is in essence prāṇāyāma and has a profound effect on our system at many levels. The last four limbs are pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the senses), dhāraṇā (concentration), dhyāna (meditation), and samādhi (union). These final four are considered ‘internal limbs,’ meaning that they arise spontaneously as a result of practice of the first four and lead to experiential spiritual knowledge.Through āsana we can access higher levels of yoga and, over time, bring both the body and mind to a state of stability, a state of peace. With consistent practice of āsanas, changes become apparent on many levels, physical, mental and spiritual. A deep sense of contentment and inner peace arises, and it is then that we can begin to more clearly understand the other seven limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.
Adjustments are meant to correct alignment and form. They can also provide physical and energetic references for students to integrate on the mat. In a Mysore room, students can expect to receive hands-on adjustments from the teacher. Students should not expect to receive adjustments all the time. The teachings happen through the practice and not by dependence on the teacher. Generally, as most students progress the need and desire for adjustments decreases. In fact, most advanced practitioners may find them unnecessary.
* some content used with permission of Caroline Simpson at ashtangabristol.com