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Is Mysore Ashtanga right for you?

mysore yoga

At a Mysore Ashtanga class, students direct themselves through the rigorous sequence

On a recent morning at The Shala Yoga House on Broadway, a room full of students moved independently—a chatarunga next to a triangle pose next to a downward dog.

The scene was typical of Ashtanga yoga, a style developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and known for its signature Mysore classes in which students memorize several series of poses and move through them at their own pace, adding more difficult poses as they progress.

Ashtanga has been flourishing in New York City for years at studios like The Shala and Ashtanga Yoga New York (AYNY), but self-guided Mysore-style classes are still a foreign (or frightening) concept for many yoga students. While focus is essential for any yogi, it’s crucial without the comforting cues of an instructor leading you through every vinyasa.

Eddie Stern

Eddie Stern's celebrity students help raise awareness for his charity of choice, Bent on Learning

But Eddie Stern, New York’s most well-known Mysore instructor, who recently co-wrote a biography of Pattabhi Jois, says the gradual nature of the practice makes Ashtanga just as accessible as other styles. It just takes time.

“All the great practitioners through the ages have maintained a practice—that is how they excel,” he says. “They don’t drop into classes when it suits them. So we have to determine our level of commitment, and apply ourselves accordingly.” Barbara Verrochi, co-director of The Shala, says that most Mysore devotees practice daily, or almost daily.

“I like what the practice has taught me about dedication, devotion, and perseverance,” says Ann Abel, an editor and a Shala student, who has been practicing Mysore Ashtanga for a year and a half. “It’s taught me to make peace with poses that aren’t my favorites, whereas in Vinyasa classes I used to hope the teacher wouldn’t include them.”

As I moved through the poses with Verrochi at my side, I wondered if Mysore Ashtangis miss the rhythm of a group class or the surprise of varied routines.

Turns out, repetition is one of the things some Ashtangi’s, like Rachel Winard, love. The creator of Soapwalla has been practicing Mysore with Stern for six-plus years, and says there’s something really meditative about it. “I also love that my practice is a part of me—I can take it with me, roll out a mat anywhere, and practice,” she says.

Barbara Verrochi

Barbara Verrochi of The Shala supervises Mysore classes filled with some of the city's most self-motivated yogis

But isn’t it difficult to memorize all of these sequences? Not if you learn them slowly and methodically, says Stern. And both Abel and Winard confirm that with the right instructor, it comes naturally.

So who is Mysore Ashtanga right for? While some say it draws Type-As or introverts, it seems like it’s more about being comfortable in your own skin and being able to draw on an inner personal strength that motivates and propels you. It’s for yogis who value gradual development, and enjoy creating a personal practice. Stern has a simpler way of seeing it: “If you want to do Ashtanga,” he says, “then you are the type of person this practice is meant for.” —Lisa Elaine Held

To take a Mysore class (first-timers receive instruction), visit the schedules at Ashtanga Yoga New York, in Soho, www.ayny.org or The Shala Yoga House, in Union Square, www.theshala.com

Do you have what it takes to be an Ashtangi? Tell us in the Comments area, below?

11 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. February 3rd, 2011 at 10:14 am

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  2. February 3rd, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Mysore is great for beginners (in the right studio) and advanced practitioners but the “in-betweens” may have a tough time.

    Admittedly, I am a “Type A” personality, so Mysore is appealing and I have been practicing all kinds of Yoga for 15 years. It’s nice to mix it up and shift gears trying all “kinds” of Yoga classes. The regimented discipline, consistent focus, and requirement to regularly practice 3-5 times a week required in Mysore Ashtanga can empower anyone with a great set of principles and motivation for life, in general.

    A great way to learn the primary series is to take Led Ashtanga Classes. I am not saying this is the right way, but it’s helpful. I know Eddie Stern and AYNY offer classes on Friday’s and Saturdays and I believe Yoga Sutra on 40th has some good Led Ashtanga classes. No, I am not their publicist….Just a fan.

  3. Well+Good
    February 4th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks, Marni! You make a good point: going at your own pace means it’s good/safe for beginners, despite popular thinking that it’s just pure toughness.

  4. August 16th, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    [...] she is about staying on her game.YOGA Madonna dabbled with Bikram but ultimately devoted herself to Ashtanga thanks to Sting, who introduced her to guru Danny Paradise. She’s been rocking forearm stands [...]

  5. October 31st, 2011 at 6:31 am

    [...] taught the founders of other top New York yoga studios, and a master of both Iyengar and Ashtanga.West recently opened Yoga Union, a bright and spacious studio in the Flatiron that boasts the [...]

  6. April 30th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    [...] Ashtangis expect from your Mysore sessions?RR: If you’re dealing with a challenging practice like Ashtanga, there are a lot of fundamentals. Students have to have a strong, stable foundation to work from, [...]

  7. April 30th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    [...] yogic philanthropists represented were Bent on Learning co-founder Jennifer Ford, Ashtanga master Eddie Stern, Russell Simmons and his Czech-model girlfriend Lenka Dayrit, Lady Gaga’s yoga teacher Tricia [...]

  8. October 2nd, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    [...] beloved teachers: West will be joined by Kula’s Nikki Vilella, ISHTA’s Alan Finger, The Shala’s Barbara Verrochi, and more, at Yoga Vida’s Noho [...]

  9. October 24th, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Thank you!! Mysore has always seemed so mysterious for me. This helped. I’m just starting a new part of my yoga journey and started teacher training. But I find I’m becoming even more connected with the spiritual side of my practice. I don’t think I’m at this level of commitment but we’ll see what the future holds.

  10. November 30th, 2012 at 10:02 am

    [...] The Ashtanga Yoga Shala has been an East Village institution for nearly 15 years, drawing yogis to Thompkins Square Park for the rigorous, almost-daily practice of Mysore Ashtanga. [...]

  11. December 21st, 2012 at 6:17 am

    [...] to practice yoga in my mid-50s. I was married to Ted Turner at the time and I was referred to an Ashtanga teacher who traveled with me. I did Ashtanga every day for four years. Wow! Yoga is not just about [...]

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