Archive for the ‘mysore style’ Category

Baby steps: practising after childbirth

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Louise and ArwenAshtanga practitioners are taught not to practise for the first three months after giving birth. That can seem tough when we learn to rely on the practice to see us through life’s challenges. Just when we face one of the biggest changes life brings, practice – that rock of stability and continuity – is off the menu for a while.

My daughter Arwen was born in May last year. When it came to it, those three months without asana practice flew by. I came to see that stage, not as a break, but as part of the practice. A friend said to me “You use discipline to practise every day – now it’s time to use that discipline to not practise every day.” That made complete sense. Sometimes not practising is part of our practice and requires the same processes – like commitment and non-attachment.

Finding (some sort of) stillness

At the same time, having a baby brought me the rollercoaster of hormones and emotions that all new mothers face. I needed a way to avoid becoming completely submerged in that, so I started sitting in meditation for half an hour each day. A major emotion I experienced as a new mother was sorrow at how fast life changes. Change often works in a more subtle way in adults, at least most of the time. But babies change before your very eyes. I was hit hard by that sense of transience and time passing – and sitting helped me find the sense of inner stillness and stability I needed.

When it was time to restart asana practice, I took it very slowly. As I practise at home without a teacher for long stretches of the year, I created my own ‘re-entry programme’ – starting with the standing sequence and adding three new postures a week. That kept things safe and stable and I experienced no injuries. I also found my body remembered the postures again quickly.

As much as I can do, every day

Arwen in Krounchasana In terms of finding the time to practise, I couldn’t do it without having a very supportive partner who keeps Arwen busy, happy and fed until I’m finished. But there are always days when I have to stop early. I’ve really learnt that ‘dailyness’ in practice is the key to everything – not how much I do.

I now stick to the Mysore schedule like glue, but many of these practices are shorter than they were. Before having Arwen, I would sometimes practise later in the day and switch around my rest days. Now I’ve got a stronger sense of the need for regularity and consistency – same time each day, as much or as little as I can do. If I miss that slot, there probably won’t be another chance. So if I want to keep up a daily practice it has to be first thing in the morning, straight after waking up.

Best start in life

Right now I’m in Maui practising with my teacher Nancy Gilgoff. It’s amazing to be here with Arwen, knowing that she’ll get to meet Nancy and maybe even see the yoga teaching room and the incredible work that goes on in there – when she’s still only eight months old!

– Louise Jolly

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Learning the language of Ashtanga Yoga

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Over the last two years there have been a lot of changes in my life on every level: work, love and even which country I call my home. I started a new company, got married and then moved to Mysore, precisely in that order. How is this all connected you may be wondering? Well, I’ve had to start learning not just one but two new languages. I’ve also found some interesting parallels with my own daily Ashtanga practice.

Learning Swedish

Keep Calm och lär dig Svenska posterMy motivation to learn Swedish came from meeting Leia who recently upgraded to become Mrs Andefors. Within a week of meeting her I had downloaded an app that taught me one Swedish word a day. I soon learnt very useful words like ‘säkerhetsbälte’ (safety belt) and ‘arbetsskada’ (work place injury).

I was not deterred by Leia’s roars of laughter when I tried these new words out on her by casually dropping them into conversation. I can’t think how I would have managed to drop ‘arbetsskada’ casually into any conversation, but it must have been pretty funny. About a month later I downloaded Rosetta Stone and began learning Swedish seriously.

Rosetta Stone, for those who don’t know, is a brilliant software programme for Mac and PC designed to help you learn one of 30 languages. Learning a language is multi-faceted and you need to cover core areas such as vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, writing and speaking. Rosetta Stone covers all these bases nicely. It’s very repetitive and can therefore get pretty boring the twentieth time you spell out ‘the boy is drinking juice’ but it does have a working method and you notice that all of a sudden that phrase allows you to build other sentences later on. So, like the Ashtanga practice, it’s highly structured and progressive.

Learning Kannada

kannada-alphabetWhen arriving in Mysore for the first time I quickly realised that most locals in Gokulam speak pretty good English, but as soon as you travel further afield this is not the case. I quickly started picking up phrases in the local language Kannada. ‘Thank you’ was the very first expression I learned, followed by ‘How are you?’, ‘I’m well’ and the very important and frequently asked ‘Have you had lunch?’ The way I learned Kannada was in stark contrast to the structured way I learned Swedish; it was through waiters, shopkeepers and neighbours.

Whether I was in Sweden or Mysore, it was very clear how much people appreciate it when you make an effort to speak their language. In Sweden I sometimes play a game I like to call ‘Pretend to be a Swede’. I go into a coffee shop, order a coffee in Swedish and see if the staff answer me back in their native tongue – and mostly they do! It gets a bit more complicated when they start asking about what food I would like or making conversation but I quickly learned how to say ‘card’ or ‘cash’ when asked how I wanted to pay. The game ‘Pretend to be an Indian’ doesn’t quite work for obvious reasons, but the happiness that shines in people’s eyes when I say a few words in the local tongue is even more obvious in Mysore than in Sweden. Stern guards and tired shopkeepers beam brightly or laugh and repeat what I just said with warmth or offer a new phrase for me to learn.

Language vs Yoga

Here are some interesting parallels I’ve observed between learning a new language and practising yoga:

  1. You are going to look silly: not always, but especially in the beginning or when learning a new or tricky posture or phrase. You will say something so wrong that people will laugh out loud! You might fall on your arse, face or arms – literally when it comes to the practice – quite a few times before you get it. You’re going to have to learn to be ok with this. You have to surrender to the fact that you’re still learning even if you’re not a beginner. You don’t know it all and you’re going to have to be humble. Learning a language and practising Ashtanga can both teach you humility (with the right attitude of course).
  2. Once you think you know it, something shows you that you don’t: you thought you nailed that grammar or that posture and then one day your muscles tell you something else, or you hear a new way of saying what you thought was the only way to form a sentence and you go back to point one and accept that we’re all beginners, even after years and years of practice.
  3. Keep at it: regardless if you’re learning from a book, a DVD, in a classroom or on the street, it’s important to keep it up otherwise it starts slipping away. Learning a few phrases is easy but to actually be able to build sentences you have to go deeper. It’s the same with yoga: we can all pretty quickly learn how to throw a few shapes around the room but if you want a deeper and more flowing practice, you have to practice, practice, practice.
  4. Do it with someone who is better than you: when I say better I mean someone more experienced. When it comes to language, a native speaker is always preferred – practice with them to get the right pronunciation and grammar. You can also surround yourself with native speakers and pick up a word here or there from what they’re saying, although this is harder. When it comes to yoga the same principle applies and it’s also a good idea to practice with someone who is more experienced than you and knows how to instruct in a way that resonates with you. Just like with the language, you can observe people who have gotten further than you and how they do things for inspiration and help, but beware you can also pick up on people’s bad habits!
  5. Overcoming boredom: getting good means you’re inevitably going to get bored, because by the time you’ve done enough repetition to become accomplished you would have done the same thing over and over again many times. Guruji used to say you had to do a posture 1,000 times to master an asana. I believe that the deep learning happens beyond boredom. Well that’s what I tell myself to keep going anyway!

A year in Mysore

Photo of Guy in Uthita hasta padangustasanaAs Leia and I are staying in Mysore for a year we’ve decided to start weekly Kannada lessons with a tutor so we can take our conversations with the locals to the next level. The Swedish lessons have taken a back seat, apart from a few sentences here and there with Leia, but we’re talking about moving to the northern hemisphere at some point and by then I will have plenty of time to practice.

When it comes to my yoga practice I’m making the most of being based in the heart of the Ashtanga world. I completed 3 months with Sharath at the end of 2014 and am exploring other teachers and places to practice in Mysore. Every day is an adventure here, even the days that are repetitive and a little bit boring, because at the end of the day life is all about practice, practice, practice.

– Guy Andefors

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Shala etiquette for Mysore virgins 

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

KPJAYI signLike many aspects of Indian culture, the KPJAYI shala in Mysore appears at first glance to run on ‘organised chaos’.

But underneath the apparent mayhem lies a set of clearly defined rules and regulations. Some are carried through from Guruji’s days, some have been newly created by Sharath and some are just plain old common sense. But if you’re new to Mysore and no-one’s told you the finer points of shala etiquette, you could find yourself getting flustered or even shouted at, which isn’t a great experience on your first day!

So here are my dos and don’ts to help you navigate the wonderful world of the KPJAYI.        

Mysore Style Class

Why you late? The shala clocks are set 15 minutes early, as Guruji liked students to be on time. Remember that all times given by Sharath or Lakshmish are on “shala time”. Don’t be late! (Or early for that matter.) “Why you late?” “Why you come early?” “You wait outside” “Punishment!”

One more! When you arrive, sit quietly and patiently in the entrance foyer, or on the steps outside if there’s no space, until you’re called in. “One more!”

KPJAYI no photos signNo mobiles Don’t use your mobile phone while waiting.

No photos Don’t take photos inside the shala.

No fighting Use your powers of observation and awareness to work out who’s ahead of you and behind you in the queue. And don’t push in – it’s not very yogic. “Come, no fighting!”

Babies first Let parents with kids go before you. “She first, she has baby.”

One more small Let shorter students take the small person spots. “One more small!”

No coffee, no prana When it’s your turn and you’re called in – move quickly, don’t faff about. “What, no coffee?” “You don’t want to practice today?”

Mark your territory When you get to your spot, lay your mat out first then go change.

Bag inside Don’t keep your belongings inside the shala; only in the changing rooms. “Keep bag inside.”

Switch it off If you do bring your phone to the shala, make sure it’s switched off or in silent mode. There’s nothing worse than an annoying ringtone reverberating around the changing rooms while you’re trying to relax in Sukhasana.

Keep it close Don’t forget your shala card – put it under the front of your mat in case Sharath asks to see it – you don’t want to be sent home to fetch it!

The 2 mat rule A new rule they’re enforcing is that everyone must have both a rubber/sticky mat and a cotton mat (rug or towel) – presumably in an attempt to absorb as much sweat as possible, as it can get pretty wet and slippery in there.

KPJAYI shrineKeep your drishti Try not to look around the room, or into the entrance foyer, no matter how many distractions there are. “Why you want to know what he’s doing?”

Love thy neighbour Again, use your yogic powers of observation and awareness to notice what’s going on around you (whilst keeping your drishti of course), and negotiate the space with your neighbours.

No karate Particularly check before doing any asana that requires more space, to avoid punching or kicking your fellow students. And please double check or scooch forward before doing Chakrasana – this isn’t a karate class.

Finish inside Unless you’re practising in the last batch of the day, take your mat into the changing rooms to do finishing. “Go inside for shoulder stand.”

Counted Led Class

No card, no watch If you’re watching the led intermediate class, don’t forget to bring your shala card, especially if you’re practising with Saraswathi. Sharath will spot you a mile off if he doesn’t recognise you and demand to see it. “Show me your card.”

Class card from KPJAYINo pushing Don’t push and shove each other to get through the gate. And especially don’t trample poor Prakash aka the shala guardian. There is (usually) enough space for everyone, even if you end up in the changing room or entrance foyer, which can make a nice change of scenery!

No throwing Don’t throw your mat from 20 feet away to secure a spot in the front row (yes this happened recently!)

No hurrying Try to stick to Sharath’s count even if you’ve only taken 3 breaths by the time he counts to 5. And don’t move through the vinyasa before he calls it. “Why you hurry?”

Remember to modify I know you want to do every posture to its full extent but I’m afraid in a led class at the main shala, you just can’t. Especially in the 2nd half of Suptakonasana. Don’t come crashing down on your neighbours’ legs, or take up all their space – it’s not very friendly.

No dominoes There are lots of asanas where you can stagger yourselves to get a bit more space. But if you’re at the far right hand side of the room, choose a side to move to for Prasarita Padottanasana and stick to it – otherwise the entire row will be shifting from side to side like dominoes!

No resting At the end of the practice, don’t expect a long Sukhasana. Usually after Sharath has said “lay down” there’s barely enough time to catch your breath before he says “Thank you very much, go home, take rest” – followed by a little chuckle!

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Letting go with Kino in Dubai

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Laurene Anstee and Kino MacGregor“Ashtanga yoga is powerful because it’s humbling. It asks the strong to become flexible, the weak to become strong, the bored to become inspired, the excited to relax. It is the perfect balance of yin and yang, and the equalisation of the two opposing forces of sun and moon” – Kino MacGregor


I arrive in Dubai late evening and after a quick walk along the marina boardwalk I head to bed with butterflies in my stomach. I’m here for a 2-day workshop with the one and only Kino MacGregor. If you haven’t heard of Kino then I have no idea where you’ve been! She’s all over YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In case you’ve been in hiding, Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author, blogger, vlogger, Producer of DVDs and co-founder of Miami Life Center. She is one of the few people in the world to have gained her certification direct from Sri K Pattabhi Jois himself and is currently working her way through the Fourth Series of Ashtanga Yoga with her teacher Sharath Jois in Mysore.

The fact that sheyoga mats laid out for Kino workshop blends the traditional yoga practice with modern social media makes her really accessible and approachable as a teacher and practitioner.

I don’t normally jet off across the world for a 2-day workshop, but seeing as I have a friend who also practises Ashtanga and lives in Dubai, this seemed like the perfect time to head out for some sun, friend and yoga time!

We arrive on Friday morning (the weekend starts on Friday in Dubai) at the Yoga Room. The Yoga Room is an Ashtanga school run by Joumana Saber, a student and teacher of the traditional Ashtanga method. The room is bright yellow, light and spacious. Well, spacious until 50 of us fill it up completely – you can’t even see the floor there are so many mats!

Kino walks in and the energy in the room changes. Nerves disappear and her presence is soothing and exciting at the same time.

We start the workshop with a guided primary series. The energy is immense and the heat we generate quickly fills the room. This is such a new experience for me – I’m used to morning practice in a Brighton studio where leg warmers are a must and the heating is always on to help soften the muscles and joints. But here the 24°C at 10am certainly brings the practice to a new level. I love every moment of it. My mat is a mess, my hair is indescribable, but the smile on my face as I lay resting at the end says it all.

After a lunch break in the sun (bliss) we come back for some backbending work.

Kino MacGregor teaching yogaThe word backbend makes most people shudder with fear but Kino has her own way of approaching this. She makes us all giggle with stories about crying over lemons after deep backbending, which releases emotions in all of us. She keeps everything lighthearted and approachable; she’s so down to earth and we can all relate to her. All 50 of us sit around her, laughing and crying, as she describes the emotional and physical journey that is backbending.

I thought I understood backbends, but after an afternoon of breaking them down and working with them deeply, I realise there’s a whole lot more to learn. I get back to the flat and collapse on the sofa, falling into a deep sleep. The next morning I wake up with cramps – something only us ladies really know the meaning of – but something I had not experienced in a long time.

“Backbending is a journey into the emotional self” – Kino MacGregor

In 2012 I had a couple of miscarriages and completely shut down emotionally. I never wanted to feel the pain of being a woman, particularly an expectant mother in that kind of pain, ever again. I stopped having a menstrual cycle and in the last 2 years have only had about 2 periods. Both times happened after an Ashtanga class, and the second one was the day after the emotional backbending session. I had let go, I had let the journey happen and stopped forcing it. It was amazing and still to this moment just thinking about it brings me to tears.

Kino MacGregor and Laurene AnsteeThat’s how powerful a session with Kino can be. She surrounds you with a light, a glimmer of hope in everything you do, and when she said “let it go and surrender” I truly believe for the first time in my yoga practice that I understood and just let it happen.

The second day was filled with hip work and handstands – breaking down the anatomy of each posture to really understand where the work should go and where the ego must be left behind. The emphasis was on how you felt in the posture as opposed to how the posture looked. I think this had a profound effect on each of us in that studio, as the excitement of wanting to look good in front of such a great teacher melted away with the sweat.

“The goal is to feel everything, the pose doesn’t matter. If you can feel the subtle movements of the inner body by simply lifting your arms up on Ekam, inhale then this is your yoga. The purpose of yoga is to feel the physical sensations that take you deeper through the emotional geography of the body. More postures don’t make you a good person” – Kino MacGregor

Laurene practising Ashtanga yogaBy the end of that second day I honestly felt my body and mind were truly opened and I finally understood what I was doing and why. Ashtanga yoga has changed my life; it’s a journey I look forward to every day when I step on my mat at home or in a class. This workshop with Kino affected me in a way I never thought it would; I found peace with myself and with my body.

After the workshop I had a day to myself to hit the beach of Dubai. I was alone with only my thoughts and, as I walked into the blue sea, I remember saying to myself “I let it go, I am happy and I am at peace” and plunged my head beneath the crystal water. I emerged out of the sea and suddenly felt like I was right where I needed to be. The right place in my life, in my practice, in my mind and in my body.

Kino and LaureneThe key word that covered the whole workshop when facing fears and anxieties is to remain equanimous. To keep a balance in the mind, a place between joy and fear, pleasure and pain. To remain calm in all situations – on or off the mat.

If you ever get the chance to practice with Kino, do it! You won’t regret it and you’ll never look at your practice the same way again.


– Laurene Anstee

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Mysore self-practice demystified

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

mad-hatter-mysore-roomTaking the plunge from your weekly Ashtanga class into Mysore self-practice can be daunting. Once experienced, the beauty of the Mysore room can be felt for oneself but for some of us it can take many years to try it out for the first time. I’d therefore like to answer some of the burning questions self-practice newcomers may have.

What on earth does ‘Mysore self-practice’ mean?!

Mysore is the city in Southern India where Ashtanga Yoga and its founder the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois hale. Self-practice is the method in which yoga was originally taught, directly from teacher to student. This would have been in small groups with each student practicing something different according to their experience and ability. This means each students practice is tailored specifically to them and the teacher is on hand to assist the student as and when they need help. And this is how a Mysore self-practice class is taught today.

Why should I come to a ‘Mysore Self Practice’ class over my regular yoga class?

By committing to a regular self practice  you are much more likely to deepen your understanding of your existing yoga practice, it will become more personal to you. And you can work on the things that are relevant to you and not be dictated to by a large group class.

The class runs from 7am-9am… thats a really long class! Do I have to stay the entire 2 hours?

The beauty of a Mysore self-practice class is you can come and go according to the time you have available and the length of your practice. You may start at 7am and finish at 8am. Or start at 7.30am or 8am. Its totally up to you as long as you are finished by 9am. This means its easy to fit into your morning schedule..a bit like going to the gym (but better!).

Do I need to know the whole sequence in order to join a Mysore self-practice class?

No… by coming to a Mysore self-practice class you will begin to memorise the sequence and commit it to ‘body memory’. Over weeks and months, through repetition it will become second nature, just like breathing.

I’m a complete beginner. Can I join a Mysore self-practice class?

Yes! As a beginner you will be taught step by step. To start with your practice will be short, around 30-40 minutes. You will start by learning the Sun Salutations and then begin to add the standing poses. It is very gradual, but still challenging! As you add poses your practice time increases.

What do you mean by the word ‘practice’?

As yoga ‘practitioners’ we aim to keep the yoga as a ‘practice’ rather than something we at some point ‘perfect’.  So this way we keep exploring  and learning rather than aiming to be perfect! As Shri K Pattabhi Jois said, ‘Practice, practice and all is coming’.

How many times a week should I come?

As many as your circumstances allow, although ideally start with two or three classes a week if you can.

Can you recommend a good video that explains further?

I love this interview with Eddie Stern by the New York Times

Sophie runs Ashtanga classes in Reading and Brighton. She is also one half of Ashtanga Brighton along with Guy Anderson.

Sounds great! What now?

Why not try one of Guy’s Mysore style self-practice classes held upstairs at the Mad Hatter’s Cafe? There’s an introductory drop-in price of £5/class until the end of April.



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