What is Mysore practice? The short answer is that it’s a method of practicing Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. A small group of students meet with a teacher. The teacher helps each student memorize a part of one of the Ashtanga sequences. What the sequence looks like depends on each student’s familiarity with practice and what their body is ready for. Anyone can practice Mysore style. It’s a personalized yoga practice. No matter how young, old, flexible or stiff, in a Mysore style class, a sequence can be tailored for exactly where the student is right then. Anyone can start Mysore practice right now. A key part of Mysore practice is that everyone has the space to move at the pace of their own breath.
The breath is a compass for one of my favorite aspects of Mysore style practice, which is the opportunity to look in rather than out. It’s an experiential practice. The breath drives the experience. Among other things, Mysore practice is a practice for cultivating balance. The Yoga Sutras describe asana practice this way: “stira sukham asanam”. “Posture must have the two qualities of firmness and ease” (Maehle translation). If there is excessive effort, it’s not yoga in the broader sense. If there is excessive ease, then it’s not yoga either. Both too much aggressiveness and sluggishness can result in a lack of focus and clarity.
So how to do Mysore practice with a balance of effort and ease? The Ashtanga practices gives us a barometer for this in the tool of the breath. The sound of my breath says a lot about the quality of my movement in any one moment. At the moments where the sound of the breath fades away, I’ve often lost my sense of energetically moving in practice. At the moments where my breath is short or forced, I’m often pushing from the outside of the posture rather than looking for it from the inside. The breath can be a tool for creating balance in other ways. Cultivating an equanimity of inhale and exhale has meant, in my own practice, learning how to maintain alertness when I feel comfortable. If I get too comfortable, I sometimes get complacent and stop paying attention. The other side of that is the ever-present opportunity to find and cultivate ease when I’m uncomfortable. It is a choice and while practicing that choice on the mat has not made it easy to be graceful when uncomfortable, it has made it at least easier to do both on and off the mat. It’s the sound of the breath that I use to direct me back to a space of balance when I have veered off.
Curious about Mysore practice?
I invite you to drop into the Mysore room and experience the Mysore practice for yourself.
We’d also love for you to share your own favorite things about Mysore practice in the comments.