‘All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.’

Mysore room, post-practice

My Mysore sanctuary, post-practice on a recent Sunday

I had dinner with a good friend the other night and we were talking about led classes versus Mysore classes. She, like me, grew up (in that yoga coming-of-age kind of way) in an environment of power/vinyasa classes mixed in with accents of led Ashtanga classes. She — like me, before I found my Mysore sanctuary at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor — didn’t quite get all the nuances of how a Mysore room operated. I used to suspect that I would have foundered had I learned Ashtanga in the traditional Mysore way. I envisioned Rose in a parallel Mysore universe having gotten frustrated from being stopped and fleeing the whole yoga scene, never to return.

So funny to realize now how welcoming and deeply nurturing a Mysore room actually is — how “getting stopped” is the way our go-go-go Type A culture describes the very compassionate philosophy of not pushing you faster than you should go.

Enter the Mysore SF blog, with a new post titled, “How to learn Ashtanga Yoga. Led Class versus Mysore class?”:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room. By the way the Mysore room is the big sister to vinyasa classes. She is the mama from which vinyasa/power and all its hybrids come from so if and when you’re ‘ready to deepen your practice’ Mysore is the inevitable truth for you…my sincerest apologies.

“All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.” I love this concept, and in fact, I’ve been going through an unlearning curve for less than a year as a Mysore student and, more recently, as an apprentice of Angela Jamison. It’s a fascinating process unlike any other I think I’ve experienced.

(And one of these days when I haven’t worked 11 hours and when I’m not trying to beat the clock to bed so that I can get up early enough to practice — well, one of these days, I’ll have to write more about it.)

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10 thoughts on “‘All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.’

  1. I really liked this post. At our humble, non-Ashtanga-centric shala here in Flagstaff, Arizona we only provide a few Led 1st Series practices. I encourage people to practice whenever they can, and the Led format is a good way to learn the basics of the series’. However, as you suggest, the Mysore style practice is where the detailed learning and temperament of ego develops. I was just at Tim Miller’s shala for a few days. What an eye-opener to all of my little, sloppy, bad habits. This kind of “learning” is exactly what keeps so many people away from the Ashtanga/Mysore practice style, too. Many people take offense at being told to “stop, go back, do it again, correctly”. I love it!

    I wonder. Is the Led format alone, a bad way to introduce people to the Ashtanga practice, without the Mysore method? Can people start with Led, and eventually find a suitable Mysore shala, or will this only set us up for suffering? How is the Led approach best used as a learning tool?

    Thanks for the great posts!

    • Thanks for writing, Wyatt. My apologies for the delayed reply — returning from the yoga retreat meant that I had to dive back in, and deeply, into keeping up with my daily life, and work has been intense for the past five weeks. :-)

      What a great question. I wouldn’t say the led format is “a bad way.” But in my experience, having only learned through the led format for so long, when I started experiencing the practice in a Mysore setting, I realized how limiting — on both the physical asana front and on the level of the understanding I gained about the nervous system — the led format alone is, when compared with the Mysore setting.

      That said, perhaps someone like David Swenson might have some interesting perspectives on this. In this interview, David echoes what he often speaks of in workshops:

      …there is a definition of a yogi and it sounds like: ‘A yogi is a person who after his leaving makes the place better than it was’. Nobody says, that yogi is a person who does certain practices or difficult asanas. Yogi is a person who makes this world better, simply being present in it. All our actions in this world create certain impulses of energy and these impulses can be either positive, or negative. And each of us can ask ourselves a question: ‘whether we make the world better by our presence.

      In that light, a led practice, if practiced consistently in a way that helps us evolve on some level, seems like a perfectly fine approach.

      Btw, how wonderful to get the chance to spend some time in Tim Miller’s shala!

      • Sounds like the retreat was superb. Timji’s is always humbling and inspiring. Exactly what he intends (I think). I like your (and David’s) thoughts. Tim Feldman has told me in regards to what is “right practice” — “do what You can, with what you have. Find what works”. I like that :) Keep the good writing coming! shanti~

  2. Although I have a home practice now, my very first day of doing any yoga at all was a led Primary series class, the entire primary series. needless to say that while I “completed” the class i could hardly do any of the postures (I could touch my toes in paschimotanasana for example) and it was overwhelming. That said, I didn’t hurt myself either.

    I wouldn’t blame the led class format for any injuries, its most often a student either forcing something or lacking body awareness. Ashtanga isn’t inherently injurious, we students are usually to blame when soemthing goes wrong. 😉

    I’ve injured myself twice doing yoga, both fairly minor, and both times it was doing mysore-style practice … and both times i was pushing something i shouldn’t have been pushing because by-God I was going to get into that posture the way I wanted to. I learned a lot from it and my practice is better for it now.

    Thanks for this blog, i enjoy it.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with injuries (or lack thereof) in a led vs. Mysore setting. So true about the consequences of that “by God!” pushing.

      And congrats, seriously, on establishing a home practice! I know from experience how challenging that is. Any advice, based on your experiences, for folks who are trying to start up their own home practice?

      • Rose-
        ONE of the fastest routes to injury seems to be inconsistent/irregular practice, especially if you are “trying” hard. Injury from asana is exactly what motivated me to A. develop consistent practice and B. to develop my own personal practice. Much happier now! :)

      • Hi Rose,
        Thanks for your kind words. i don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice but one thing I would share is having a dedicated space to practice yoga in was helpful for me.

        The other thing I would suggest is to set a schedule/rules, and insist to yourself on keeping it. For example, on Sundays i have a rule that I cannot eat until I practice. I practice in the AM before work during the week and while I do have to miss a day very rarely because of work travel or other obligations, I have also gotten up at 2am to get my practice in and still catch a 6am flight. I guess you just have to decide “I’m going to do this no matter what” and then not worry about the 5 or 6 days a year you miss while on vacation or whatever.

    • Jeff-
      I like the notion of practitioners taking responsibility for their own practice and well being. I also think that is a difficult concept for some people to fully come to terms with, especially at shalas that do not offer Mysore-style. Many (maybe even most) shalas emphasize a softer, touchy-feely approach to ‘yoga’, without a substantial emphasis on strict fundamentals and dedicated(daily), focused practice. Some degree of pratyahara and strong internal awareness is requisite in order to be in touch with what is actually going on internally, both emotionally and physically. Without this awareness, asana can be dangerous. Mysore lends itself to this cultivation of internal awareness, but it is personal practice where this will bloom most fully, I think. Thoughts?

      Breathe on!

      • I think your point about a self-led practice potentially leading to more self awareness is a good one. That said, sometimes it takes “mistakes” to increase awareness. For example, while you would never purposely push yourself too hard if you never did it, you’d also have no idea what pushing too hard might look like.

        At the end of the day, if people are practicing that’s what seems (to me) to be important. The how is less important. I think by practicing one has the potential to learn what we need to learn. Perhaps that’s what Guruji meant when he said “practice and all is coming”?

        • Word. I totally agree. It was exactly that; my mistakes, led to some nasty habits and injury, which led me to seek good teachers (Timji), and then to develop a dedicated practice, with regular check-ins with our elders. Much better now :) xoxo Love this Blog!

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