By Inna Costantini
Inna has been practising yoga for over a decade and teaching since 2008. With a background in media, anthropology and a stint in PR, she experimented with a variety of yoga paths, before deciding to trade her desk for a yoga mat, and embark on an intensive yoga training course in India. Inna is fascinated by yoga in all its forms, its effects, and the intricate links between physical and mental well-being. As a teacher, she loves seeing the changes in people, being a witness, an observer and sometimes a guide, and inspiring students and friends to practice, evolve and grow stronger on so many levels. Inna is also a freelance writer and loves sharing her passion for yoga, travel and the environment both off the mat and across the globe.
A word on the practice….
Traditionally, Ashtanga yoga was only taught as a self-practice. Complete beginners are first taught the Surya Namaskar A and B series, with additional postures being gradually added on according to the student’s abilities, both physical and mental. While most practitioners spend time studying the primary series, some eventually move on to the second (or intermediate) and then third or perhaps even fourth. The last two series are somewhat mysterious and only a select few have ventured beyond the fourth.
In Mysore, the ‘home’ of Ashtanga yoga, led classes are now taught twice a week (on Fridays and Sundays) and partly serve as a guide for students: breath counts, rhythm, drishti (focused gaze), focus, etc,. These are high energy – for beginners and advanced. Experiencing a led class in Mysore is a powerful moment – the room breathes as one, moves as one, gazes steadily to a single point in each pose, like a moving meditation.
The traditional way of doing this practice ‘Mysore style’ is to follow the self-practice method: it starts simply, breath by breath, posture by posture. It is a perfect practice for beginners as well as the more experienced, as the shala (school) in Mysore will have new students doing their practice alongside senior teachers.
If you want to learn some of the many reasons to do the practice then read on…
1. Personal attention: Like a private class within a group, each student receives personal attention and guidance from the teacher. There is space and time for the teacher to observe students in their practice and give adjustments when needed. This personalized assistance is tailored to the students’ individual needs, which happens less frequently in led classes where generalized instructions are given.
2. Increased concentration and focus: This is a much more personal and internal way of practicing yoga. When confronted with our own practice, we have to face distractions, discomfort and the wandering mind. The physical practice aims to bring us back to that focused state, rather than passively listening to a teacher or watching others. This is a more meditative aspect of yoga.
3. Move at your own rhythm and pace: Spend more time on postures that are challenging and place a greater emphasis on making the practice your own. Besides, everyone in a Mysore style class is going at a different pace and practicing different asanas, so perhaps there can be less comparing and competing.
4. Group dynamic: There is something special about practicing in a room full of people. This may be hard to describe in an objective manner, but there is a sense of ‘energy’ in a Mysore style self practice room. A space where one simply hears the sound of breath, the movement of bodies and senses the body heat. This magical ‘energy’ often carries you on through the practice.
5. Portable: It can be practiced anywhere, anytime, by anyone. You don’t need props, belts, walls or even a mat. As long as there is space to extend your arms up and your legs back, then you can practice. This can be a reminder that yoga is not bound by material ‘stuff’. You don’t depend on anything apart from yourself – a breathing body, that’s all.
6. Deepen your understanding of the practice as it is. Feel the breath, bandhas and drishti – pay attention and cultivate awareness. There is also more potential to come into a meaningful relationship with the teacher or guru.
7. Stay in control: It allows practitioners to further refine their own practice. This is refinement in a self reliant way.
8. Watch yourself, not your neighbors, teacher, feet / toenails / pedicure. Observe your thought patterns, habits and just be a witness. A self-practice environment enables one to hear and feel body (and mental) sensations more clearly.
9. Inspiration: Although you don’t want that drishti to wander around the room, or a competitive streak to kick in, seeing other practitioners on the mat can be a source of inspiration and joy.
10. Explore… the possibilities, the layers, the depths of the practice. Be playful, but not too much, it’s Ashtanga after all…
Photographs taken at the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mysore by Coni Hörler.