“I’ll never be a yogi,” I told my husband one evening as I was making dinner. Right then I should have caught myself with the word never. I’ve always said, “never say never,” because what you say never to is usually what you end up doing. I think that’s God’s sense of humor.
Have you ever met a yoga snob? Well, that was me. Not because of how great I was in my practice or what I knew about yoga, but more out of ignorance. All I knew of yoga was the “hip” classes. I did hot yoga, vinyasa flow, power and yin yoga. I did a form of yoga that the instructor named after himself.
I tried it all, except goat yoga and a self-led yoga class called “Mysore.” Just the names of those two definitely didn’t appeal to me; goat yoga for obvious reasons and Mysore sounded pretty painful. Would I be more sore afterward? Didn’t sound appealing.
I would migrate to the middle of the room attempting not to stand out. As I’d sit on my mat waiting for class to start, the yoga posse of women would start poring in. I’d begin to feel uncomfortable and self conscious watching them warm-up with poses that I’d be lucky if I found at any point during class.
I didn’t fit in. I felt like, and definitely looked like, a fish out of water. So when I told my husband I would never be a yogi, this was the experience that I was basing my belief on. I snubbed the whole idea. Yoga just wasn’t in my wheelhouse and I didn’t have a desire to be in the yoga posse.
I went because I felt it was something I should be doing alongside my Kettlebell and Battle rope classes. I was in the process of building back the strength I had lost while I was sick and felt yoga would be a nice balance; stretch the muscles to increase flexibility. Get in and get out, however, was my motto.
Never Say Never
Just when you think you know what you’re doing and why, life tends to throw you a curve ball, just to shake things up a bit.
Mysore, the class that I thought sounded terrible, was the only class I could get to this one particular day. I could blow off working out or give this class a try. I didn’t have to go back and at least I could say I tried it.
I have to admit that I’d always been curious about it. The class description read “This is a self-led yoga class. The student goes at his or her own pace, connecting breath with movement. All levels.”
I visualized the yoga posse in the room doing all their crazy poses. This was where the experts went to practice. After all, it’s self-led. The “All levels” didn’t make sense, but whatever. I was at some level, not beginner but definitely not a pro.
When I opened the door and stepped into the room, my mental walls to this strange practice came tumbling down.
No Yoga Posse Here
What I didn’t see was the “typical” yoga student. There were several folks over 70, a middle- aged mom and her daughter, and several men and women whose age ranged between 30 and 60; just average looking people. There was even one of the instructors from another exercise class that I had taken.
Everyone was doing their own thing, or so I thought. A woman in her 70’s walked up to me and asked me if this was my first time in Mysore. I later found out this woman was an assistant teacher and could “out yoga” me any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
“Yes,” I replied. She explained to me that Mysore is a self-led practice based on the Ashtanga method. She might as well have been speaking Chinese to me. “Go ahead and open your mat. I’ll start you off in your sequence and when Jennifer gets here, she’ll tell you how to proceed.”
Now I was getting a little nervous. She directed me through some Sun Salutations and various standing poses. I had to repeat that sequence until I had it memorized. Definitely more challenging, I thought, than being led. I actually had to think about where I was going next in my movement.
She had me “connect my breath with my movement.” Some movements you inhale, others you exhale. This was an added challenge to memorizing the sequence I was given.
When the teacher walked in, she came over and introduced herself to me. “Hi, I’m Jennifer. Just continue with what you’re doing. I’ll be over in just a few minutes to add on to your sequence.”
The next few postures I was given I had done a lot in other yoga classes. I knew how to do these, no problem. She instructed me into Triangle Pose. I knew how to do this; I didn’t really need to listen to her instructions, or so I thought.
As soon as I was in the pose, she brought blocks for my hands, adjusted my hip and arm placement, told me to unlock my knees and extend through the chest. What!? No one had ever corrected me before in this pose or really any other pose.
When I questioned her teaching style and class structure, what she told me changed how I viewed yoga ever since.
I invite you to come along with me into the world of Mysore and Ashtanga yoga. In upcoming posts, I’ll briefly discuss the history of ashtanga before we dive into the actual practice itself. We’ll cover everything from the importance of having a personal practice and how to start, proper alignment and benefits of individual poses, to injury and stress management.
It is my hope that you’ll experience the transformation of mind, body and spirit that grows with an Ashtanga practice.