Ashtanga Blog

Truths and myths about practicing in Mysore

What you need to know if you are considering practicing in Mysore - and the common myths not to fall for.

Tania Kemou in front of the Sharath Yoga Centre in Mysore, India

As my 7th trip to Mysore is slowly coming to an end I felt the need to clarify a few things and break some myths about practicing here. There is a big controversy about it and many people are confused and unsure whether they should come or not. Here are the main truths and myths about practicing in the birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga and in particular in Sharath Yoga Centre.

You need to be an “advanced” practitioner to come and practice here

Myth. If you have 1-2 years of daily practice under your belt you are more than ready to come. The only prerequisite is that you know the sequence, at least until Half Primary. So it’s only absolute beginners that cannot come. The beautiful thing about practicing here is that there are all levels of practitioners in the same room. You see people doing not even Full Primary practicing next to students who do Fourth. It is both inspiring and humbling at the same time. This is the very essence of Mysore style yoga: you practice at your own pace, guided by your own breath. Still, there is something magical about so many students of different levels, ages, backgrounds practicing together. We are all lifting each other up, getting inspired by one another. So no, your “level” of experience doesn’t matter at all.

It is very difficult to get in

Partly true. Thankfully they don’t have anymore the “first come first served” system, when you had to send your application in less that 2 minutes to get in. Now they leave a 12 hour window for students to apply and the selection is done randomly. It is true that as a newcomer it is not sure that you will get in at your first attempt. You have more chances if you apply for 2 months instead of just 1 and if the teaching season is longer and you are flexible with when you want to study. All in all if you really want it and you try you will eventually get in, if not the first time then the second.

Practice in Mysore will injure you

Myth. I have never been injured here. On the contrary, whatever pain and discomfort I might have when arrive, always goes away during the months that I practice in Mysore. The main reason why people get injured here is that they sometimes push themselves too much or do not communicate how they feel when adjusted. Many (not all) students come here to prove how much they can do and tend to ignore signals their body sends. I have never been pushed beyond my abilities and any pain I have felt here during practice or adjustments was related to opening and unblocking, not injury. We have to keep in mind that no one can know how we feel better than ourselves and if something feels off we have to say it. We also need to learn to slow down sometimes, even here. This is an internal practice and we should treat it as such, instead of a race.

You have to “catch”

Myth. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: “catching”. In the Mysore slang, this means catching your heels, ankles or legs in backbend, with assistance and from the air. Not everyone is capable of this obviously. Still many people do it. If you are not ready for it yet, they will just make you walk with your hands towards your feet, until the point where it’s possible. But if your body is capable of it and you have no injuries you will have to do it. If done correctly with skilled assistance and by a student who is ready for it, it can be beneficial. But no, not everyone catches or has to catch and this is really not a reason not to come practice here.  

You won’t get many adjustments

True. You only get adjusted in certain poses and only if you really need it. As assistants we learn to not interfere too much with the students and let them try themselves first and only after help them if needed. So if you expect to be adjusted a lot you might be disappointed. The reason for the few adjustments is to avoid getting people injured by over pushing them and also encourage learning as a self exploration process. The answers you are looking for will not be handed to you here. What you are being offered is an inspiring and peaceful space to inquire, listen to yourself, find your answers and ask more questions.

You need to wait long before you get to practice

Partly true. There are several batches, from 3:45 to 8:30 am. When you register you are allocated to a certain batch (the more times you have been here the earlier you practice). You need to be there 1 hour before your batch time, wait 30 minutes outside the Shala and then another 30 minutes inside for a spot to be free. Then you are called to place your mat there and start practicing. So yes, you will have to wait unless you are in the first batch which is reserved to authorised teachers. I always enjoyed waiting because there is a ritualistic part in it. It can be meditative and humbling. Also, while waiting inside the Shala I observed so much in the past, how adjustments are made, how people practice etc. I learned a lot while waiting and I think this time can be very valuable if we approach it in the right way.

If you practice here you will get a certificate

Partly a myth. Practicing here doesn’t work like a 200 hrs Teachers Training Course. You don’t get a certificate at the end of your trip. If you come several times, if your practice is mature enough and your attitude as a practitioner is considered the right one, you might get authorised. There is no guarantee for this though. Many people have come several times and have not been authorised. The reason is that not everyone is meant to be a teacher. Teaching requires both an innate gift and also many years of practice and self inquiry. It cannot be learned in 200 hrs and the Shala does not encourage those trainings at all.

The first time you come you will only do Primary Series

Partly true. If you stay only one month, your Primary is good and you can stand up from drop backs on your own you will most likely get Pasasana, the first pose of Intermediate Series, towards the end of the month. If you stay two months you will move on more into Intermediate. So it doesn’t matter how advanced you are back home, here you will start with Primary and rebuild your practice from there.

Only teachers who come and practice in Mysore are good

Partly a myth. You don’t automatically become a good teacher because you come to Mysore. But if you practice and aspire to teach Ashtanga I think it is very valuable to come and study at the place where everything started, at least once. It is like learning to speak and teach a foreign language and never visiting the country where it is spoken. You will never be as good as someone who has spent time there.

To conclude, many things are being said about Mysore, some are true and many are not. Many people spread misinformation that they have heard from someone else without even having been here.

Like everything in life it is not for everyone, some will love it and others won’t. But if it’s in your mind since a while and you are curious to see what it is about, just come. Mysore is a special place and it’s worth coming at least once, even if it is just to connect with the source of this beautiful practice. You might get hooked and keep coming or you might decide it is not for you. But at least it will be your own decision.