A long time has gone by (again) and I’ve had a few yoga journeys and big life changes happening. I spent 3 months in Thailand where I was dedicating a lot of time for yoga and trying new Shalas. One thing that I’ve been reflecting over is the energy in class with male vs. female Ashtanga Yoga teachers. Of course, this is a very personal experience and these are just my own reflections. In Bangkok, I practiced with a big and quite famous studio where many very dedicated yogis go. I was here for a month and even though I liked bits of it, there was this slightly competitive energy going on. The level was very high and I was probably one of the stiffer people in the room (despite a few years of yoga in the bag).
The two teachers were men and quite different in style but very knowledgeable and you could tell that all students looked up to them. Most practitioners were women, but so dedicated that it almost felt a bit like military style with a very masculine energy in the room. The few men who practiced were either very advanced or pushed themselves a lot. Because of this atmosphere (and a few other things), it somehow wasn’t a great start of the day for me.
Also, they had this weird rule that when you started to practice in the front or the middle of the room, once you started the finishing series, you had to interrupt your practice and move to the back of the room. Talk about disruption in the flow, not sure if this is something that comes from India? Haven’t seen that in any other Mysore studio. It’s one thing if one or two students move around but when the whole entire room is changing place it kind of disrupts the flow in my opinion.
Moving on, after 6 weeks in Bangkok, I went to Koh Phangan to hunt for the next Mysore Shala. I found this beautiful wooden house in the middle of the jungle, 15 min by motorbike away from the “city” which was basically a street with 3 cafes and a pharmacy. It seemed authentic and had good vibes about it. But.. Not my style then it turned out. The teacher was very strict, serious, and dedicated (which is not necessarily a bad thing). It was a smaller space with a few students. First, there was this new guy who was practically being tortured by doing sun salutations non-stop for an hour… Until he said he couldn’t hold his body any longer and the teacher told him to continue… I really felt with him.
Then there was this other student who was advanced and practiced the intermediate series and he pushed himself so hard that he started to cry and his whole body was shaking, a bit scary to me. The teacher also looked a bit concerned. I know that there are a lot of emotions coming up in yoga that is sometimes buried deep in our bodies and mental stamina. But there is a difference between pushing yourself too hard, and to deal with your ghosts of the day.
Practicing in this kind of energy environment where one student was being “tortured” and the other one in front of me with a mental and physical breakdown was not very nice. Also, it didn’t help that there was absolutely no oxygen in the room as all windows and doors were closed (and 35 degrees hot in a very humid Thailand). It became the house of hell to me, almost like in a scary movie. Again, this was another Mysore practice with a male teacher, maybe it wasn’t because they were males but these are the 2 experiences I had one after each other which got me thinking.
I decided this was not for me so I continued my search. I then found this beautiful place, a bit bigger Shala with different types of yoga with a nice cafe, amazing raw cakes, and good vibes. And voila, I found my dream Shala with not one, but two female Ashtanga Yoga teachers leading the Mysore practice in the morning. Everything changed here, the energy was calm, friendly, and inclusive with all kinds of practitioners. I strongly believe that yoga is for everyone and it should remain that way and not become this kind of elitist kind of sports or competition of fancy tights or bendiness. Breaths, jungle, stillness mixed with inclusiveness, firm but gentle adjustments and really a place where I could grow.
I realised how different I felt and how my whole practice changed just because of the energy that these two women were engaging and spreading in the room. This is how I realised how different Mysore practices can be and this was maybe more of a place for me.
After a few weeks of self-practice and having a hard time with self-discipline, here I am in Helsinki with a changed life. I’ve left the tropics for the sauna but with this thought it mind that I would like to find a similar space to practice in like in Koh Phangan. It turns out that it’s been my lucky week. On day 2 after my move, I headed for the oldest Ashtanga school and boom, by mistake, I accidentally entered the wrong class with a special guest teacher from India and a woman who organised it all. It was so nice there so I decided to give it a try. Day one was a full led 2h Ashtanga primary class, ouch, was a while ago I hadn’t done that but the teacher had such a presence and calm that just that could have made me do anything. Even though the teacher here was a man, he had some kind of calm aura around him, slow, steady, friendly and firm. And the woman who was assisting too was just amazing. Massaging slightly, pushing muscles, breathing right and it was just heaven.
Maybe the is the best combination of them all. Mixing male and female energies, yin and yang, Indian authenticity with Scandinavian determination and modesty. Everyone in their own space. We will see what happens in the Shala next week.