More on Mysore style Ashtanga yoga. . .
At the KPJAYI (Shri K Phattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Insititute) from Monday through Thursday each student does self-practice, on Fridays and Sundays are the counted (or led) classes. In this context, the counted class is to keep the student accountable to the pace and rhythm of the breath count, and the energy of the group practice. The student stops in the counted (led) class in the place that he/she would stop in their self-practise and picks up again for the finishing sequence. In the self-practice class, the student learns the Ashtanga sequence pose by pose, from memory, only progressing to their next pose once the teacher (Sharath) sees proficiency in the students' current pose. The reason for this is that each pose leads to the next, providing the student with the necessary strength, flexibility and skill, to progress to the following pose safely and efficiently. The Mysore practice allows each student to progress at their own pace and practise at their own breath pace. Advanced students and beginners can practise next to each other. The class is quiet with only the sound of the breath audible, the teacher moves around the room helping students individually, whilst being mindful of the meditational aspect of their practice. It's very non-verbal and experiential, with an emphasis on self-exploration and autonomy, though of course you are corrected and helped where necessary.
In each series there are what I call the "deal breakers". These are poses often placed in the middle of the sequence that are incredibly difficult for the average person (easier perhaps for those trained in gymnastics or dance), and often followed by much easier poses in comparison. This is how the temptation to skim forward is sometimes justified. So often do I hear students say "oh but I can do the next one...." etc..! The "deal breakers" are where the magic happens - the inner work that is the truly transformational stuff of Ashtanga yoga. Just when we were doing so well, and thought we had got it all covered, up comes the most impossible pose. Students sometimes spend years on poses such as these. It is during this times that we are forced to face ourselves, our ego, its' self-deprecating thoughts and limiting belief systems. It can be very uncomfortable being stuck in this space. But once we break through the barriers (physical, psychological, emotional) and master a "deal breaker" a huge shift can be seen in both practice and even in who we are, especially as with time and the dedicated ritual of coming to our mat and facing ourselves, we gradually (hopefully) become better at it, more at peace with it and less drawn into the negative dialogues of the mind. For me it's this aspect of Ashtanga yoga that is priceless and totally unique. It can be a challenge not to skip ahead, especially in our Western world where we like immediacy. It is also a challenge not to give up. And often it can be a challenge to accept where we are. The reward is a thorough, enriching practice and an ultimate trust in the higher parts of oneself - this transfers off the mat and into one's life.
Each day we come to our mat we are different, but the framework of the practice is the same. It becomes like a container within which one can see and experience oneself. As we become more experienced the practice grows deeper. Students always ask me "does it get easier?" It is my experience that he practise never gets easier, but we get better at it.