Ashtanga Mysore – What it Is, What it Isn’t, and What You Need to Know to Get Started

Ashtanga Mysore – What it Is, What it Isn’t, and What You Need to Know to Get Started
I’ve been working at Castle Hill Fitness for 4 years and practicing Yoga on and off for ten, but I’ve always been curious and a little bit intimidated by the Ashtanga Mysore class offered in the early-mornings. Not someone who dives into new things eagerly, I always wondered – How does it work? How will I know what to do? Do I have to be able to do upward-facing dog (because I’m terrible at it)!? This January, the class went from being a separately-paid program to becoming a part of our regular class schedule, which gave me the nudge I needed to make trying Mysore one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017. I’m happy to say that it’s been six weeks of regular practice, and I’m hooked! Now that I know how beneficial the system is, I want to demystify Mysore so others feel confident enough to try it out, too. I decided to sit down with Castle Hill Fitness’ Mysore teacher, Juan Anguiano, to learn more about the history of the system, his teaching philosophy, and answers to the most-asked questions we get about the Mysore program.


Kat: Hi Juan; thanks for chatting with me about Mysore today. To begin, can you tell me about Ashtanga Yoga and what makes it different from other types of Yoga?

Juan: Sure! Ashtanga is a system of yoga that was taught by the late Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois at his Institute in Mysore, India. It consists of sun salutations followed by a specific sequence of poses; the Primary Series is the first sequence and best known. The story goes that T. Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois discovered a manuscript written on palm leaves in a library in Calcutta. From this text the vinyasa method was described in detail and the system was passed on to Jois who was instructed to teach it. The goal of Ashtanga practice can be purely for the physical benefits, or as more of a reflective tool to learn about yourself and how you interact with the world every time you step onto the mat.


Kat: How does Mysore-style fit into the Ashtanga system?

Juan: Mysore-style is the traditional method of teaching Ashtanga. Students practice together in the same room, at their own pace, with one-on-one guidance from the teacher as needed.


Kat: How did you get involved with Ashtanga Yoga and how long have you been teaching?

Juan: I have always been interested in the body, anatomy, and movement. I was a Power Yoga instructor in the late 90’s and started attending Ashtanga classes on regular visits to San Francisco. I decided that it was something I wanted to learn more about, so I spent the next several years traveling all over North and South America and India to study with experienced Ashtanga teachers. I also did an immersion while on a 5 week sabbatical in 2001 with Larry Schultz – the “bad man” of Ashtanga Yoga – in San Francisco. I loved Larry’s work because it was a different perspective and he encouraged you to explore and play within the system. In my Ashtanga Yoga classes I teach the method taught in India, but I occasionally teach Larry’s Rocket series when I sub vinyasa classes. I’ve been teaching Ashtanga Yoga at Castle Hill Fitness since 2005; we have the longest-running Mysore program in Austin!


Kat: Who is Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga right for?

Juan: Pattabhi Jois said “Yoga is for everyone! The sick man, the healthy man. The only person who can’t do it is the lazy person.” Honestly, it’s for everyone. I’ve seen people with all kinds of illnesses and ailments do Ashtanga Yoga. A good teacher will be able to provide modifications or alternate work for the poses to accommodate different needs without losing sight of the intent of the original pose.

Kat: Do new students need Yoga experience to start Mysore-style classes?
Juan: Not at all! Students who start with little to no experience are the best candidates for Mysore-style practice because they are like sponges that easily absorb the instructions with fresh ears. Experienced Yoga students will be more familiar with the poses, but should be open to new instructions and ways of doing things from time to time.


Kat: What sort of commitment to practice should a new student be willing to make?

Juan: Students should be able to commit to at least three practices per week. If new students can’t come into the Studio that often, they should at least commit to coming 3x/wk for the first two weeks to allow me to work with them to build a foundation. From there, they can come in once or twice per week and continue on their own at home to keep the sequence fresh, sustain strength and flexibility, and not develop faulty movement patterns.

Kat: What can a new student expect when they come in for their first Mysore-style class?

Juan: During the first class, they can expect to have a conversation with me about their physical history, yoga experience and goals. Once we have that conversation, we’ll go into the studio and start learning the first sun salutation, with the intent that you start learning the basics of coordinating movement and breath together. My goal is to help you learn the routine a little bit at a time so that you can recall it and do most of it on your own. I’ll watch and help as needed, but I try to interrupt as little as possible. At the end, you should leave wanting to come back and learn more. Practice shouldn’t be so difficult that you leave feeling depleted. If that’s happening, let’s talk about it and figure out what to adjust.


Kat: What is the Sunday Led class and how is it different than the weekday classes?

Juan: Sunday is the Led Primary Series where I call out each breath, and step for all the poses and everyone moves at the same pace. You can start coming to Sunday class after the first week, because by then you know the sun salutations and standing postures. During the led class just follow along as I call out the postures, and when you get to the end of the sequence, I’ll either have you continue to see if you’re ready to move on a bit faster, or you’ll move to the back of the room to do the finishing sequence while the rest of the class continues. Don’t worry about being asked to stop. It is an opportunity to acknowledge personal limitations so that we can work on improving them in the Mysore classes. Also, this helps you to avoid injury.


Kat: What are moondays and why don’t we have class on those days?

Juan: Moondays are days of rest we take when the moon phase is new or full, in addition to our regular Saturday rest days. With the observance of the moondays we acknowledge our connection with nature and the influence of the moon on us during these transitions from light to dark and dark to light.


Kat: What myths about Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga would you like to dispel for people?

Juan: The number one myth is that you have to know the Ashtanga system to join a Mysore class. You don’t have to know ANYTHING – you just have to be alive! If you have a pulse, you can come. The other thing I hear often is that it looks “too hard.” People see things online or peek into a class and all they see are people doing advanced poses. What they don’t see is what that person looked like on day one, or all the daily work and instruction that went into getting them to this point. Everything in the system IS possible with practice.


Kat: Thank you, Juan, for shedding light on this unique program!  

TESTIMONIALS FROM CURRENT STUDENTS “I discovered Ashtanga Yoga at Castle Hill by accident seven years ago… Practicing with Juan has been awesome! He is very knowledgeable about how the body works and is able to give adjustments tailored to each individual… My life has most certainly changed for the better since practicing Mysore.” – Lauren “I love the Mysore program at Castle Hill Fitness. It is a welcoming place that allows you to be who you are where you’re at in your practice. Juan is a great instructor and excels at guiding you through a practice that challenges you, while teaching you to [understand] your temporary limitations… As the Mysore practice teaches: there is always room for growth and expansion. The program at CHF brings home this point.” – Hugo

 

Join Juan in his Mysore classes every weekday morning, and his Led Primary series on Sunday mornings. You can keep up with Juan on his Facebook and his Instagram.

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