We are delighted to have been featured in Om Yoga and lifestyle magazine with an article about our recent workshop ‘Moving to Mysore’… Moving to Mysore ‘Come to the other end of the room today. You’re ready for self-practice.’ So began my journey from the comfort and security of a guided Astanga practice, to the inner focus and self-reliance of practising Mysore-style. I remember my alarm when my teacher Sarah Vaughan, founder of The Yoga Hutch in Surbiton, first coaxed me away from my safety net many years ago (how on earth will I remember the sequence? Everyone else knows what they’re doing!) and I also remember the lightbulb moment, 90 minutes later, as I lay in Savasana. This was how the practice became an embodiment of concentration (dharana). This was how it became so instinctive that it could evolve into a moving meditation (dhyana). This was yoga. Mysore Style ‘Mysore-style’ owes its name to the Indian town where Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois developed and taught his Astanga yoga method. A practice intended for ‘householder’ yogis – ordinary folk for whom Himalayan cave hermitage was a tad impractical – Jois originally taught students individually but within a group setting. The postures were given to each student gradually and sequentially, allowing each person to develop their practice in their own time and with individual attention from Guruji. At first, a student might learn only Sun Salutations A before finishing. Then they would be taught B, before progressing, one asana at a time, through the standing and seated sequences. These days it’s more common to learn Astanga in a led class, where the teacher guides students through the entire sequence whilst offering hands-on adjustments throughout. This has the advantage of creating a shared energy within the room as everyone flows through the sequence together. It’s a good way of learning the structure of the practice, and instils discipline or ‘tapas’. The disadvantages of practising in this way are that the teacher has a very limited amount of time in which to assist a student in a posture – most asana are held for just 5 breaths, and the teacher can’t abandon guidance for the rest of the class – and that students become reliant on being led. As the aim of yoga is to turn the attention inwards, steady the mind, and ultimately meet with moments of Self-realisation, this reliance can easily become an obstacle to progression. That’s a good time to go back to Astanga’s roots, and move to Mysore. Why Mysore Senior Astanga teachers Andy Gill and Sarah Vaughan recently held a workshop in Surrey called ‘Why Mysore? Unlocking the Power of the Self-Practice Method’, aimed at helping regular Astanga practitioners to make the move to the independence of self-practice. It’s only natural to feel some apprehension when we step out of our comfort zones, and encountering resistance to change is all part of the process of progress, both on and off the mat! Andy began the workshop by explaining that all of the ideas we would explore were presented as a sharing of his and Sarah’s extensive experience, and were not to be held up as ‘truth’, advising that both this workshop and Mysore practice as a whole are a process of self-enquiry (svadhyaya). Such a refreshingly non-dogmatic approach to teaching is occasionally lacking in the Astanga world, and this humility opened the door to a wonderfully thoughtful group discussion of some of the big questions: what is the purpose of yoga? What are we doing and why? How does it work? Far beyond popular-media concepts which water yoga down to exercise and relaxation, the overwhelming agreement was that our practice brings us a refuge from mind-chatter; a sense of peace; the opportunity to look after and look at ourselves; the ability to find a moment’s pause before reacting and so make better choices; a feeling of mental space; and a sense of selfcompassion which in turn extends to others, to name but a few of the shared perceptions. These are the first-hand experiences which lead us to an awareness of who we are beyond the labels; an awakening to our true nature; to, ultimately, freedom.Moving inwards So how does this magic work? As yoga students gradually discover, it works by bringing us into the present moment. Normally, our habitual thought patterns, memories and unique experiences all combine to form a lens through which we see life; our individual map of the world. As we all have different components in our impressions (kleshas), we all navigate life from a different map. And whilst our maps are necessary to function in the world, problems arise when we become slaves to them – when we operate only from our place of conditioned thinking, and react to the world accordingly. When we derive meaning from our conditioned thinking, then we are continually creating our future from our past. But… if we can become present, then we have the opportunity to create a future free of the past and its conditioned thinking. To respond to what actually is, rather than react to what we think is, and to begin to see life more clearly. As the very first of Patanjali’s sutras says: ‘Yoga Begins Now’ (Atha Yoganusasanam). Now: in every moment, the only moment which ever exists. So how does this relate to Mysore? Well, a led practice, by its very nature, will tend to lead the senses outward; to the sound of the teacher’s voice, the language of the instructions and then to the process of interpreting those instructions with the mind. That might set up all sorts of thoughts, reactions and tensions; you might struggle to maintain the pace set by the teacher, or find it so slow that you can’t moderate your breath and meet with your flow. In a led practice it is of course possible to be present with your internal experience, but it can be a hard thing to do. If the senses are drawn outward, as by definition they are, then it’s much easier to become distracted.