I have only taken one Ashtanga class before, and it was NOT a good experience for me. Nothing was explained, and I essentially had my ass royally kicked for 60 minutes with no room for breaks. I started to laugh when I couldn’t feel my arms anymore and the teacher instructed more sun salutations. The teacher did not offer any modifications. She did not try to really teach the newcomers. I left feeling incredibly unwelcome and defeated. It’s one thing to have my ass kicked during a workout or yoga class but feel I have room to improve. It’s another when you feel like you were an embarrassment to the whole class, which is how I felt as I dragged my feet to my car. I swore I wouldn’t do Ashtanga again.
Well, you know what they say about never saying never.
I now teach Yin Yoga at Super Yoga Palace, a studio that really focuses on Ashtanga and Mysore Ashtanga (developed in Mysore, India). Since I’m trying to show that Yin Yoga is a perfect complement to an Ashtanga practice, I knew I had to take a class eventually just to make sure I’m addressing the right things.
I went to one Mysore class this week, and right away, all of my preconceived notions of Ashtanga were thrown out the window. The teacher was ready to teach me Ashtanga as though I’ve never done a single chaturanga. She explained that Mysore is a bit of an Ashtanga for beginners to that particular style. The purpose of both Mysore and Ashtanga is to teach you a sequence where you can come in and do it yourself at your own pace. You need to pause in downward-facing dog a little longer? That’s fine. You need to catch your breath in samasthitih for a bit? No problem. You do your practice your way. Once the teacher sees how much you have progressed, she will come and add on to the sequences.
For instance, at the close of a Mysore session, you do three backbends of your choice and then either legs up the wall or shoulder stand. After my second session this week, my teacher said she was going to add on to my closing, to add in shoulder stand with knees by the ears and/or shoulder stand with crossed legs.
Do I do 60+ poses in one session? Absolutely not. It’s nothing like the Vinyasa classes I started with and love. It kicks my ass just like Vinyasa, but in a different way. I leave Vinyasa usually panting, sweating like a pig, and exhausted. My arms and/or legs will sometimes continue to shake long after the class is over.
In Mysore, since you hold each pose for five breaths, you can really get into what the pose is trying to stimulate. As such, I can feel the flexibility getting better and my arms getting stronger even after two sessions. The first session, I could NOT do 5 rounds of Surya Namaskara B. My arms could not handle it. My second I could do 5, although my knees were down for about 3 of them. In addition, I’m finally learning how to roll over my toes during the chaturanga to dog sequences.
Even better, it was thanks to Mysore that I learned I can do tolasana (scale pose), something that always eluded me unless I used blocks.
It’s a distinct possibility that I could have always done it. However, it was thanks to her instruction that I learned how to properly do it.
I seriously have a new addiction. I can see how I can get more flexible and stronger with Mysore than with Vinyasa alone. I’ll never completely give up Vinyasa Flow, but I think the slower movements in Mysore speak to where I am now versus where I first began with yoga. At first I needed the fast-paced practice. Now I need the more meditative, slower flows.