Today it is my 31st birthday and I just had my first MySore class. Before going into details perhaps you wonder what on earth MySore is? It’s both a city in southern India where Sri. K Pattabhi Jois taught Ashtanga yoga from 1930 until 2009, and the name of a self-paced practice of Ashtanga yoga. In reference to the picture, Krishnamacharya is seen as the “father” of yoga as of how we westerners know it. Jois was his student together with Lyengar, another famous yogi.
What is Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga MySore style yoga is a bit different from other modern yoga. First of all, the class is not led, the yoga space is open normally about 2-3h and students can come when they want. It’s a guided self-practice where you follow the sequence from the Ashtanga primary or secondary series. (Or more advanced for very advanced yogis).
I’ve been intrigued by Ashtanga yoga for a while now, actually maybe all of my life. When I tried this type of yoga as a teenager I had no idea what it was, just that it was very hard and everyone seemed to breathe very heavily. My yoga teacher here is an Ashtanga yogi and with fascination, I listened to everything I learned. Below, you can see the chart of the primary series which is seen as a beginner sequence. That said it can take years to master all of the postures…
So you do this order of asanas, postures at your own pace. More advanced students do all of them, or you can do half and then as far as you remember. The class is quiet with little talking and no music. The only thing you can hear is people’s breath, very soothing as a sound. Quite animal but brings us back to the base, something as just breathing by a group of people is very grounding in the morning.
You use something called “Ujjayi” breath, which is a strong breathing technique from the diaphragm and so the inside of the throat vibrates. It sounds quite heavy and deep and is supposed to warm us up from the inside. It’s also easier when you do something very challenging to get through the pose using this breathing to not get out of breath.
Traditionally you are supposed to do this practice for 90 minutes, 6 days a week with Saturdays, full and new moon days off. That moon thing we will talk about another time, otherwise I get too caught up.
“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.”
– Shri T Krishnamacharya
Remembering the sequence
So how did it all go? I’ve been working hard to even be able to show up to this MySore class. I’ve downloaded and studied charts, I have been doing a home practice of Ashtanga since a few months 2-3 days a week. And once I went for a trial class for a beginner led Ashtanga class. Finally, I found myself “ready” to go. I was a little bit nervous at first, would I remember the sequence? How would the class be? I though it is now or never, I’ll never be ready and it’s just best to practice.
I arrived and found that the room was already half full. Maybe they open earlier and the teacher comes at 7:30. I would actually go earlier than that if I can to not rush to work. Of course I forgot a few postures here and there, some that I actually know but then I got carried away, trying to remember by looking at some other students. Then I realised that some were doing the intermediate series so I got really confused. Really just have to stick to my own thing.
The teacher was very nice, a Chinese calm guy. He helped me with a few things where I got it wrong. Of course I didn’t remember everything, I got it wrong and mixed up in a few places but it wasn’t such a big deal. When the teacher saw I skipped something he kindly reminded me. It was just me and all the Chinese bendy ladies and one very advanced guy. Even an old guy came in towards the end, Ashtanga is for everyone!
It’s amazing what a change of setting can do to your practice! Home–practice I find quite hard. First of all, I need to set up the room. Then the bed is just next to the yoga mat so quite hard to wake up so early in the morning. It’s cold so need to put on the heating, feed the cat, make lemon water. I like to have some candles, incents and sometimes music too. After all this set up I find myself sometimes “cheating”, I don’t push myself that hard. I get distracted by someone or the phone, or I think of what I need to do after. Not great. In these months, I’ve maybe had 1 home practice that felt great.
What I like maybe most of all is the warm room and the floor heating. It just changes everything, I feel safe and not scared that I will hurt myself because I’m not warm enough. It’s a cold winter in Shanghai and I’m always cold at home and at work, so nice to sweat in the winter when we kind of hibernate.
It’s also just so nice to wake up early and see the sky changing colour and experience the city before the morning rush. It’s so calm. Time to study some chanting stuff and review the sequence, tomorrow I’m ready for day two!