“This practice (ashtanga) creates within us a beautiful living paradox. It will make the student simultaneously strong and soft, steady and flexible, introspective and activated, bold, and yet humble. You will both love it and hate it. It won’t always be easy or enjoyable, but it will make your life better in more ways than you could possibly imagine.” – Harmony Slater
Intimidation. Fear. Inadequacy.
That’s what I felt when I first walked into an ashtanga Mysore class. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, where I was meant to go or what I was meant to do. I looked round the room and saw what seemed to be some circus show of the most flexible people on the planet, and I just wanted to run as fast as I could out of the room.
At this stage. I purely saw yoga as a physical practice and knew nothing about how it would soon change my life. Coming from a sports background, I could barely touch my knees – let alone my toes – and being surrounded by all these insanely flexible people was like walking into another world. But walk into that world I did, and it’s something that has changed me in so many ways.
For those of you who have never practised ashtanga Mysore style, it’s a self-practice of a set sequence that focuses on balancing strength and flexibility. Depending on your level, you will do different poses. So, for example, if it’s your first time to a class, you might only do sun salutations, but then you’ll be given more and more poses as your practice develops. The primary series focuses on forward folds and works on detoxifying your body.
There’s a few reasons people don’t perhaps fall in love with this form of yoga – the early morning start, the discipline, the repetition of the same sequence day in day out, the physicality of it. It’s often described as the hardest of all yoga practices.
And then there are the reasons people, like me, fall totally head over heels in love with the practice – the daily introspection, the adjustments, that there’s no specific start time, the progressive nature of practice, the physicality of it, the stilling of the mind, the surrender and release and, most importantly for me, the one-to-one attention that enables you to really and intimately understand a pose.
I’ve had so many profound experiences during my practice; countless feelings that have surfaced. I’ve been forced to face myself and learn how to release and let go of negativity. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve had countless bruises. I’ve released… and I’ve surrendered. I’ve learnt that how you practise reflects who you are as a person. As I’ve changed and grown, my practice has become softer – less forcing and more compassion, less thinking about where I want to be and more being in the moment, and less frustration and more patience. I still have a long way to go, but it’s always a work in progress.
One of the hardest things for me was being so inflexible. Some of the poses hurt so much. My hamstrings spent a year feeling tugged and pulled. I couldn’t feel the poses because all I could feel was the tension in my hamstrings. A forward fold was more a “let’s just try and sit up straight”, and I’d often have feelings of jealousy and envy watching all the insanely, bendy people in the room just melt into poses around me. But that’s all part of the practice – letting go of your ego, stopping the comparisons and being more compassionate to yourself and others. Twenty years of tightening my body through sport and sitting at a desk is not going to untangle in one week.
For me, my Mysore practice sets me up for each and every day. It calms me down and allows me to have some peace and tranquillity in this ever increasingly fast-paced world.
If you’ve never tried the practice, give it a go. You may not fall in love straight away – you may have to battle with those feelings of intimidation and inadequacy like me – but if you give it chance, you will be surprised with what might change you.
For me, the practice has enabled me to develop my best relationship yet – a kinder and more compassionate relationship with myself.
Interested in trying self practice? View all Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Classes on our schedule.