Mysore: Day 5

It’s day five of mysore practice, and the little lessons just keep on coming.  Yes, I’ve been given a few more poses (all the wide-legged forward folds today…lots of “where do I put my arms again?” moments), but there are learning opportunities to be had outside of the asanas as well.

I had heard the term “drishti” before, but the concept seems to be emphasized more in Ashtanga than in other yoga practices.  Drishti is simply a gazing point, something on which to fix your attention during an asana.  For example, in Triangle Pose, the drishti is the upper hand; in forward bends, it usually the big toes.  All said, Ashtanga yoga uses nine specific drishtis, all of which correspond to particular poses.

Since learning more about them a mere five days ago, I’ve found that the asana doesn’t feel complete until I’ve fixed my attention on the appropriate drishti.  And more than complete the pose, using a drishti really allows me to hone in on my own practice, as opposed to gawking at the much more accomplished Ashtangis around me.  I think we’ve all been guilty at one time or another or sneaking a peek at our neighbors, either to check out their pose or their yoga attire (I admit it: I dig yoga clothes).  But working towards a drishti allows you to recenter and to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.  Plus, it’s more difficult to be satisfied with your block-supported wide-legged forward fold when the gal next to you is doing the full splits.  Or maybe that’s inspiring?  I don’t know.  Either way, the practice of using drishtis has personalized my practice, helping me to come back to me.

Interested in learning more about drishtis?  Check out this article from Yoga Journal.

Mysore: Day 4

It’s interesting how Living Social and Groupon always seem to know exactly what I want.  I have been interested in Ashtanga yoga for quite some time now, and although I recently discovered an Ashtanga studio in my town, I hadn’t quite worked up the oomph to sign up for an introductory class.  Then, lo and behold, Living Social offered an amazing special: five Ashtanga classes at said studio for $27.  Hello, affordable yoga!  I’ve always been amazed at the exorbitant prices studios can get away with charging, but that’s a rant for another time.  Needless to say, I jumped on the deal, and a few weeks ago, I found myself in my first Ashtanga class. 

The studio, an unpretentious, cozy little number that’s conveniently situated above a pizza joint, offers several levels of Ashtanga practice, along with some more general classes such as Power and Restorative yoga.  After taking an introductory class, the teacher suggested that I try the Level 3 Primary Series class, assuring me that I was ready for the rigor.  I went in a little intimidated, but left completely exhilarated.  The class proved to be just the right level of challenging: I didn’t feel like a complete noob, but I also found an appropriate amount of difficulty in nearly every pose. 

After the class, I spoke with the instructor about signing up for an introduction to mysore, which is the traditional way of teaching the Ashtanga tradition.  Instead of attending led classes, students gather together to work on their own particular sequence at their own pace.  This isn’t to say you just do whatever you feel like doing.  On the contrary, you work within an appropriate sequence as determined by your teacher.  Students just starting out may only do Sun Salutations A nd B plus the closing Lotus postures, while more experienced students will complete the entire primary series, which includes some seriously challenging poses.  The whole idea is that the student grows slowly based on his or her readiness (again, as decided by the teacher) and will wind up memorizing the entire sequence in the process. 

Here I am on day four of mysore, and I’ve learned a great deal about practice, patience, and surrender.  For me, the most difficult part of learning in the mysore style isn’t necessarily the physical postures; it’s putting all of my progress in the hands of a teacher.  For years, I’ve been my own coach, plotting my own course through exercise and pushing myself further whenever I feel like.  Mysore practice, on the other hand, requires surrender to a teacher who will only allow you to progress if he or she feels you are ready.  And the practice grows slowly.  So slowly, in fact, that it’s tempting to simply move on through the series, foregoing instruction.  Today was my fourth day of practice, and I’ve only gone as far as both Sun Salutation, six of the fundamental standing postures, shoulder stands, and the final Lotus postures (well, half-Lotus, in my case).  My practice, including Savasana, is no more than 30 minutes long.  I find myself looking ahead to the next postures and thinking, “I can do those!”  But restraint and surrender to my teacher has kept me from “cheating,” and has helped me to honor the mysore tradition.  Mysore has been a great place to remind myself that I don’t know everything, and that seeking guidance is a good, healthy thing. 

I’ll check in as my month of introductory mysore practice continues.  Has anyone else out there tried mysore?  What was your experience?