“Mysore Style” Ashtanga Yoga — The Art of Observation.

by Oct 4, 2013

I have been thinking lately about the reasons that I so prefer practicing and teaching in the traditional “Mysore Method” rather than sessions that are Led. The main thing that I value in the Mysore method is the opportunity it gives me to take my time and observe. There is no need to listen to someone’s voice or to keep up with someone else’s pace. You work to the rhythm of your own breath, which means that you have to be aware of your own breath. This requirement to be aware of your breath and through that aware of your body, without thinking, but instead, carefully observing is crucial to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice. Of course you have to have had the discipline to have practiced enough that you do not have to think about the sequence because it flows out of you.

My own experience is that it has been by careful observation of what my body and breath are telling me that I have made the biggest discoveries, the biggest breakthroughs. It is important to heed the messages our bodies send us and to always be willing to self adjust, to move, to look for the space in each asana, to remember that a stable and comfortable asana is a good asana. I have always found this easier to achieve when my head is not being filled with another person’s voice.

It is this desire not to fill my students heads with my voice that also informs my teaching of the “Mysore Method”. I was lucky enough to serve an apprenticeship with Peter Sanson when I first started teaching. He was adamant that I should not speak to the students. He would even yell at me across the room to not engage the students if he saw me talking to them. This taught me the greatest asset of a Mysore style teacher and that is that I learnt to talk with my hands. I learnt to speak to people through my adjustments and I firmly believe that this is by far the best method.

For instance, if someone is sitting in Dandasana and their back is a little curved you can say to that person, “straighten your back”. This immediately engages their brain and they think about what is happening and how they might do what you are telling them. Their mind has gone away from the breath and away from their body and they have lost the flow of their practice. Alternatively, you can gently press your hand into the person’s back and they will feel what you want them to do. It is the difference between thinking and feeling that is important.

In my 6 trips to Mysore to study with Guruji I could count on the fingers of both hands the number of different words he said to me in the shala. “Breathe”, “relax”, “why”, “slowly”, “correct”, “just do”. He never interrupted the flow of my practice to fill my head with instruction. Sometimes when I am teaching I try to get through a class using only 5 different words (excepting peoples’ names), and these are always the classes I enjoy most and in which the energy seems to flow best.

I have also found that by not talking other than a word or two of gentle encouragement this allows me to observe through my hands where the students body is at. I can then tell if a person’s body is ready to make an adjustment, ready to move in the direction I want it to. I have found in the past that spending time explaining to someone where their body should be when their body is not ready to make that move is largely a waste of my energy and a counter productive distraction for them.

In this age of mass media there is so much opportunity to fill your head with information. You can watch videos of teachers who hyper analyse every posture. You can attend workshops where each posture is analysed to the nth degree and the teacher never stops talking. Sometimes this seems to me to stem from our desire to speed the whole process up by finding any short cuts we can. I can’t help thinking this is a bad thing and counter to the “slowly, slowly” Mysore Method. The longer you spend in the process, the more time you take to feel and observe and learn things in your body not in your mind, the better.

Remember,”yogas citta vrttinirodhah”. Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuating states of the mind. Yoga is emptying your mind.

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  1. Maudie Brady

    I love this blog post! So essential. I am able to translate the knowledge you share here with what I am currently undertaking in my studies in art practise – learning through the body. It has so much to teach us, way beyond what our mind can recognise. Thank you Mike.

  2. Mike

    Thank you Maudie. All the best with your studies. Cheers, Mike

  3. Aylaxus

    Charlie Brown . That’s it !The current yoga class that I got to have teachers who talk nonstop. I knew it did not feel right but had no idea why it was not right. Thank you for the post. At the end if the classes my head is full of thoughts , of what they told me to think. I kid you not I did think of taking some ear plugs, it is so bad.
    Am certainly changing classes. Thanks

  4. Samantha

    I may be going to the same class as Aylaxus. The teachers who teach at my class constantly talk of bliss and inner happiness and finding the fairy and things that happen to them during the day while the practice is on. Couple of them actually read from books.
    Mike, is this more to do with a particular style of Yoga than a teacher ? I have tried about 5 different people at this place and EVERY single one of them talk too much. Am doing Power Yoga as this is more American they seem to want to “sell” it to you while you are doing the class.

  5. Mike

    I think that there are teachers of Ashtanga Yoga who also like to talk a lot, even in the traditional “Mysore Style” classes. It depends more on the teachers personality and how they have been taught to teach than the method of yoga although, obviously a Led class is going to have more talking. Keep looking for the right teacher for you.