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A First Timers Guide to Practicing in Mysore

Making the pilgrimage to Mysore marks an important milestone in any Ashtangi’s journey. Mysore, India, is home to the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institue (KPJAYI), the shala of the late Guruji Pattabhi Jois who popularised Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Whether you’ve known about Mysore for years or just heard about it, the day will come when you can no longer put off the pull of your first visit to Mysore.

A morning Mysore practice, cooling off the sweat by sipping chai and coconuts with your fellow yogis, midday chanting classes and afternoon naps  – life in Mysore is a set at a slower pace. My first time in Mysore was a transformational experience, but not in the ways I had expected. As with the practice of Ashtanga, nothing comes to those who don’t submit to regular effort and commitment to right action. The lessons I learnt did not come easily, and did not present themselves obviously. I had to dig pretty deep, learn to both let go of unneeded heaviness while sticking strong to my beliefs even if it went against the crowd.

Here are my biggest learning and offerings of advice to any other Ashtangis considering making their move to Mysore.

Prepare to blend into the background

Back home you may be a big shot, you may have students who rely on you and admire your practice, maybe you rack up a few likes on your Instagram poses or maybe you have a teacher who knows your name. None of that means a thing in Mysore. In Mysore you’re just another yogi breathing loudly and taking up a prized mat space amongst the masses of the KPJAYI shala. If you’ve grown used to attention, you will very quickly need to adjust to relying on yourself for motivation and praise. It is most likely Sharath and Saraswathi will not know your name, or memorise where you are in the sequence – how could they with so many students? There will also be incredible, dedicated and experienced yogis surrounding you – if you’ve been practicing seriously for less than 5 years, prepare to feel like an absolute newbie again!

Your practice may not progress

While many regulars to Mysore come to gain the next pose or piece of paper, first-timers may come away from their stay no further along in their physical practice. In fact, most yogis I met found their practice regressing. This may be attributed to pressures of practicing at the source, under the eyes of the lineage of holders of the tradition. There’s no skipping vinyasas between sides, no jumping in or out of head stands or half hearted NI asanas. This is the real deal and the combination of respect for these teachers and fear of being the one who the yelling of ‘wrong!’ is directed at, you begin to work towards perfection in the most basic of poses.

You’ll start to notice details in poses you haven’t focussed on in years. I found myself with a refreshingly fierce determination in Padangusthasana and Padahastasana. Instead of flopping there thinking I had the pose mastered and awaiting the challenging parts of the sequence,  I pushed and played around with the pose. I even found a love for Janu Sirsasana B – a pose I have long avoided!

It’s likely you’ll be asked to stop earlier in the sequence than your used to back home, or maybe you won’t be gifted a new pose or to progress onto a new series. Studying at the Shala has a unique way of taking pride out of your practice. There are so many wins to celebrate along the way, but they usually lay in the finer details of poses rather than big, showy progressions.

Saraswathi and Sharath Jois

Sharath, Pattabhi and Saraswathi Jois

Do not drink the Kool-Aid, remember what is real about yoga

Once you’re accepted in to KPJAYI you’ll be filled with adrenaline. It’s an exciting time and the anticipation of practicing at the source after years of practice is a precious reward for practitioners. However, don’t be too quick to drink the kool-aid. Both yoga students and gurus have their flaws, and it’s important not to loose your head with the hoopla of what has become one of the most famous and successful shalas in the world.

Unfortunately with all the hours we rack up on the mat working towards enlightenment, we all remain mere flawed humans. Read any popular yoga blog and the scandal and gossip is there. Unfortunately, the chatter in Mysore is even louder than any comment thread online. From the authorisation process, the amount of clothes people wear, the photos people share, the poses people can or can’t do, the amount of meals you restrict, the time you eat and many other petty topics which only solidify the stereotypes of Ashtangis as a-type, critical and aggressive personalities. Students push one another to get into the shala first – don’t be one of those people!

It’s easy to get caught up either being in the scene or bitching about the scene, both of which offer no yogic benefit. My approach was to stay far away from the politics of yoga, it can really get in the way of your practice. Yes there are many changes happening within the ‘industry’ and particularly in the Ashtanga tradition. The system has it flaws, but if you concern yourself too much with the circus of yoga culture you will loose your focus. Just show up to do your practice, observe conversations and let them flow over you. Everyone is on a unique journey so do your best to practice the yogic ethics of Ahisma (non-violence) in your speech and actions. This extends to yourself as well as others, do not be too harsh on yourself.

You’ll make some pretty big decissions

Every single soul I met studying in Mysore was in a huge transitional point in their life. A huge percentage of people have quit their jobs, relationships or homes to make the pilgrimage to Mysore. If you did have one of these at the start of your pilgrimage, you will usually end up deciding not to go home to what you left behind. It is a soul shifting place, and the practice tends to crack you wide open too. You’re alone, with nothing but yourself and a whole lot of spare time. You’ll quickly come to shed some of the false stories you have told yourself. Being in India is one big adventure, but trust me you’ll be in for even more once you leave!

Saraswathi Jois

Saraswathi Jois and I

Mysore has a unique magic to it, unmatched by other Ashtanga shalas the world over. It is a sacred and special pilgrimage that will allow you to rediscover your practice with the energy of hundreds of other devoted yogis. I’m so grateful for the multi-layered learning I gained from KPJAYI. The self enquiry you journey through provides insights into your practice that go much deeper than the training received at a teacher training program. If you hear the call – head to Mysore!

If you have any questions regarding KPJAYI or Mysore, simply comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

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