I was introduced to yoga six years ago by a friend and I was hooked instantly to the asanas. I loved the way yoga made me work and I loved the way it made me feel.
I was going to classes quite frequently, three days a week on average. I found it hard to keep the discipline of going to class, life and work got in the way, and sometimes I would miss weeks at a time. I remember missing a couple of months and I was so upset. During that time I was lacking energy, I felt tired and sluggish, both physically and mentally. It was the end of October, and I made myself a promise. I said “in November I’m going to go to yoga for 30 days in a row.” It was challenging to find a class that fit my hectic work schedule everyday but I did. For me the hardest part was getting myself to the studio, once I was there the only thing left to do was practice. That was the first time I understood the effects of daily practice and self-discipline.
My 30 day challenge was the beginning of my life long journey. I would attend whatever class suited my schedule on that particular day. Classes ranged from Hatha, Vinyasa, Anusara, Yin, Restorative, Power, and Ashtanga. I picked up on some of the differences between these styles but I never actually knew why they were different or where they came from. I remember being confused a lot of the time by different instructors correcting me in different ways while I was in the same pose. For example in downward dog an instructor would tell me to let my head hang and relax so in the next class I would be following that instruction, but a different teacher would adjust my head so that my neck was in line with my spine. My curiosity got the better of me and I began to question why this was happening. Where should my head be in downward dog? What was the correct way? Why were there different instructions for the same pose? Why do I have to change the way I practiced based on who is teaching me? What do I do to learn more? These types of questions arose often but the last one is the reason I decided to do a teacher training. I wanted to learn more and also wanted to be a teacher.
Three days a week in the studio gave me a certain amount of progress but then I hit a plateau, and if I continued in that way I would no longer learn anything new or take my practice any deeper. I decided to do an Ashtanga based teacher training in Thailand without even actually knowing what Ashtanga was. Let that sentence be as eye opening to you as it is to me. I was going to have a certificate after only one short month, to teach something I knew nothing about. One month, two hundred hours, this is standard.
During this training I began to learn the Ashtanga system and Mysore practice. I was fascinated. Firstly because it is a “system” there are rules and consistencies. Secondly it is a daily practice; this means six days a week, which is very important to create real change. All of these things lead to constant progression. I struggled every single day with the physical demands of the practice. Sun salute B was absolute torture, my heart would be beating out of my chest and I had just gotten through the warm up! I watched people around me bind, float and drop back meanwhile I’m struggling to hold chaturanga. I never let it discourage me, I learned to be where I was and work on my own practice. We are not all the same, in fact every aspect of who we are mentally, physically and emotionally are vastly different. So, how can we possibly expect to learn and move at the same pace? Not to mention we all enter the practice at various stages of our lives. During that time I could never imagine my body being able to do these things, and I was sore all of the time. The structure of the practice is what made so much sense to me. I was no longer a “jack of all trades” but a master of one (not a literal master). I knew the Ashtanga method was the only practice for me.
In Ashtanga you should only have one teacher, for me that person is David Robson. David’s teacher is Sharath Jois who is the current lineage holder of the Ashtanga tradition which is studied in Mysore India, Sharath is the only person who can grant a student authorization or certification to teach Ashtanga yoga in the tradition and lineage of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Studying this practice from the source is what brought me here to Mysore India where I’m currently writing this blog hoping to share a little about my experience.
Everyone’s experience here is different. Some come for one month, others for three. For some it’s their first trip (like me), for others their third or fourth. Some people like to socialize a lot and others keep to themselves, but there is one thing we all share and that’s the Ashtanga practice.
The shala has a wonderful energy. I’ve been able to do certain things here that were just out of reach before and I believe it’s because I put the greatest amount of effort in to every practice. That’s my only job here after all.
For me, being here feels familiar. I’m lucky to practice with a very large community in Toronto and that my teacher models his studio to match the shala in Mysore. It’s been an easy transition from there to here. That being said everything I’m used to is amplified ten times, there are around three hundred students here practicing at the main shala, and Sharath teaches from 430am to about 1030am.
Sharath is a man of few words which means when he chooses to speak you listen, very carefully. He only fixes what needs fixing, and his instructions are very direct. Even though we are all doing the same practice we are not the same, everyone’s bodies are different shapes and sizes and none of us look identical in any asana. The emphasis here is to get into the pose, not necessarily how you get in to it. The “how” is important but is something you will discover over time and with practice.
To study with Sharath you are required to come to practice 6 days a week and attend chanting class 3 times a week. Since practice takes about an hour and a half and chanting a half hour I’m left with a lot of free time in Mysore. Luckily it’s very nice here. It has a real city vibe, movie theatres, some great restaurants and there are even a couple of pools people go to. My day here consists mostly of eating, drinking coconuts, relaxing, reading and spending time with friends. It’s nice to be around like minded people who share the same interests. It’s also nice to be submersed in total relaxation. It sounds simple but most people find it difficult to let go and relax. Think about it, how many times have we been in Shavasna just willing it to be over because we can’t enjoy it. We can’t relax. The Ashtanga practice works to purify the body and mind. Your mind becomes sensitive to your environment and instead of having an aversion to relaxation you become drawn to it. It has been productive for me to use this time wisely for self-reflection while in Mysore.
I’m certainly blessed to be here and would recommend it to anyone who was interested in practicing Ashtanga. I know that I’ll be back here again and again to learn and practice. I’m a student first, forever, and always but what I look forward to the most is teaching this practice to others when I get home. I want to inspire others to adopt what is not only a practice but a lifestyle. And who knows maybe some will take their own trip to Mysore one day!