What is “Mysore style” ?
By Paul Dallaghan
The traditional practice of yoga was handed down from a teacher to a student, guru to shishya. This is how it has passed down over the centuries. The teacher observed the student’s level and gave him specific practices appropriate to that. The teacher would initially show and explain the practice and thus in that way teach it to the student. The student would then continue to practice that till a certain level of competency was reached. As the student would grow and become stronger the teacher would be able to add on more so it followed its own path of evolution based on the needs and growth of the student. Of course, what the teacher would give the student was specifically for their growth, to help pull them out of the rut of conditioned routine that our own minds have formed. Initially there is that resistance from the mind but realizing that, acceptance and letting go, is the solution the student could then benefit from the taught practice and see things open up before them. So we see a process in a way, guided by the teacher and based on the effort of the student. If the student is fully giving, open and sincere about it then it is guaranteed that he will grow. Each student will be different and the effects over time will vary but that is where the experience of the teacher comes in. So then we see that the teacher is someone who has tread the path, fallen, got up, resisted, let go, practiced and experienced. This entitles him to then go on and teach others at a level appropriate to his experience to date. His journey into teaching will most typically come from a ‘blessing’ to teach by his teacher. And so it is passed on. The value and importance of the tradition and method is also highlighted here, in traditional terms known as ‘guruparampara’. From this vast infinite well of experience, growth and learning, evolution over time, the teaching and practice of yoga has been passed down, ideally keeping the truth and integrity of it untouched. The teacher is a messenger of a glorious message for our ultimate well-being. It is up to him to ‘read’ it clearly, as given, not impinge his ego upon it, express it as his personality allows, but not change the ‘words’ to suit his whims or limitations. If such a clear mind can be kept then the teachings can be passed on with integrity. As such it implies much time in learning, practicing, growing and experiencing.
Everything just described is still alive in the yoga tradition today. But a student has to look carefully and dig deep. It is in this above context that ‘mysore’ style can be understood. Mysore is a city in south India. It is the home of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois and his family. Sri Jois has learnt the yoga practice in the above way direct from his guru Sri. Krishnamacharya. Following the tradition of Patanjali, the true art and science of yoga, the practice of yoga is taught following the limbs he prescribed known as ashtanga. The primary or initial one to be taught and learned, and that leads to a tremendous foundation, if done with sincerity, regularity and over enough time, is that of asana.
Asana is very popular today around the world. Part of that popularity has come from group classes, that a student can walk into and take pretty much anywhere. It is a good introduction but one has to go further to attain growth and what yoga actually prescribes. In this modern environment the approach of teaching direct to students in the way described above, seemed different or new, even though it was the classical and most effective way. As it was being done by Sri. Jois in Mysore it became dubbed ‘mysore’ style. So behind this term we find classic practice of yoga.
Why do it? The practice of yoga leads to revealing, an unveiling, a transformation in the student. It is very clear from all the texts, borne out by experience, that the student’s effort and involvement in the process, predominantly on a mental level, is essential for this growth. Hence, the student is taught, as in this case, the asana with its vinyasa, sequence of steps with breath in and out of the asana. He then practices it until competent to a certain level. The asana with its vinyasa will lead to a growth and change, opening up the way for progress. It will show physically but the real change is internal, mental, spiritual even. This progress builds one up through the asanas sequentially. The initial learning could happen in a group environment, led type class, where the students together follow the directions of the teacher. This approach is also helpful to clarify the vinyasas and ‘stretch’ the students’ ability. Ideally from it one can take that and then progress in their own practice. If one is constantly led by a teacher through the asanas the scope for growth will be limited. This self practice or ‘mysore’ style empowers the student. A student left to their own devices will usually plateau and slack off. Only the super dedicated or disciplined avoid this. But typically the ‘mysore’ style is self practice with the teacher present, adjusting when needed, advising as necessary, and advancing when ready. With this the student graduates from being dependent on the commands of the teacher to now working within under the watchful eye of the teacher. The yoga sutras highlight abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment or non-dependence) as the specifics to achieve yoga. We see this inherent in a ‘mysore’ style approach. Practice is definite and the student works within decreasing outer dependencies. And just when the student thinks they’ve gotten somewhere the teacher is there to cure that delusion by taking them on in practice.
So in a nutshell, to follow this teacher-guided self-practice is to tap into the rich tradition offered by yoga, the centuries of experience, and to feel this empowerment is really just the beginning of your own inner growth. Practice then becomes a mirror for the mind, reflecting our inner attitudes, how we approach it, our clarity of mind or not, our level of joy or less. You may be nervous at the thought of such a step but this is just the mind and its tricks. For anyone interested in growing and benefiting from yoga then following the ‘mysore’ approach is a most excellent way. Of course, as mentioned above, make sure the teacher has learnt it well, spent their time, and are teaching appropriate to their current level or experience.
So practice and be happy !