(following written by Jo, student at Bayoga Studio)
The sun was a red ball in a hazy sky as I made my drive through the glorious Ashridge woods on a cold Spring morning today, at the early time of 6.00am. I could see movement in the trees, and sure enough there were my friends, the deer, all twenty of them waiting for the right moment to cross the road. Their timing is always perfect, just as I get to within a metre of them, across they go; forcing me to slam on my breaks and stop to admire their beauty. It is like they are playing a deer form of dare; seeing how close they can get to the redhead in a knackered silver car without hurting themselves, or me.
It is a lovely group in the morning Mysore class and we always greet each other with a massive smile; especially now the mornings are lighter. With such a glorious start to the morning, it came as a shock to me that as I bent down into the first forward bend of my practice, my feet were further away from my waist; a good foot I would say. I’m 42, surely I cannot have grown during my sleep and yet I am certain they were closer the last time I got on my mat. This is the beauty and one of the many challenges of an early morning practice. Your body is very different first thing in the morning than later in the day, the muscles have yet to wake up, making the opening sun salutations interesting. Yet, this is what I love about Ashtanga and self-practice; the sequence is the same every time I get on my mat and yet my body is different each time.
My first introduction to a self- practice yoga class was in a conversation with an old school friend and neighbour Sarah. After losing contact for several years, the wonders of social media got us back into contact and we were overjoyed to discover that we both practiced yoga. We had sat with our mums’ 1970s yoga book when we were little performing the lion pose with much jollity.
At the time I was practicing Hatha in various church halls and gyms in my local area, Sarah talked of Ashtanga and in particular a self practice class. My only experience of yoga had been with an instructor telling me which pose to attempt next, from their mat in the front of the class. The idea of a self-practice class sounded bizarre; what did they do turn up and throw some shapes before going home? I really had no idea, however, I nodded wisely and hid my ignorance. It was at least a year later until I encountered an Ashtanga practice and about another 6 months before I threw my own shapes in a Mysore self-practice class! I can safely say it was love at first down dog.
What does it bring? Why repeat the same sequence practice after practice? Doesn’t it get boring? These are some of the questions that get asked and indeed are ones that I asked Sarah when I realised she wasn’t just rocking up in a church hall and striking a pose of her choice.
A common misconception is that a Mysore self-practice class is only for the regular ashtanga practitioner with an established pratice, when actually it is the perfect place for a beginner to learn. The primary series is taught a posture (asana) at a time, with the new student only moving on when they are familiar with what they have learned so far. Yes it is physically demanding but because the body is learning the sequence and the movements are made with the ujjayi breath, after time it becomes a moving meditation; a connection between body and breath. Although each student is at a different place in thier practice during a Mysore class, unity is found in the sound of the breath which can be heard as a background note to the class. You can turn up knackered, grumpy, shaky (having narrowly missing a deer on your journey there) place your mat down to someone deep in their practice and before you know it, your mind is calm and your body is moving. The energy from the people on mats around you carries you through; you ride the wave of breath and movement.
I loved the Hatha classes I attented in various church halls, all yoga is marvellous and beneficial. However, the fact that I have to follow the same sequence of asanas each time I get on my mat with ashtanga means there is no hiding from the ones I find challanging. Bakasana (crow pose) was one where I would catch my breath in other classes. Because I was convinced I would never achieve it, I watched the other yogis in awe as they balanced seeming effortlessly, waiting patiently on my mat for an asana I could do. Now, i face this pose everytime I practice and after 4 years (FOUR YEARS), I can kind of do it – if you close one eye and squint through the other.
We face our fears on the mat, whether that be turning upside down or twisting our spines. All that has happened in our lives until this point, is stored in our bodies and in turn our body will reflect any tension we are holding physically as well as mentally. As Sarah puts it, repeating the same poses every day gives you a good insight in to where your body/mind is at that particular moment in time; some days you’re tight, tired, loose, scared, teary, happy, brave, whatever. Every practice is different and reflects what is going on in your life.
So if the opportunity to attend a Mysore class comes your way give it a go. Then you will soon realise why we all fall in love with this particular style of practice.
As Lucy Crawford Scott stated in a recent workshop I attended, the good energy created in the yoga studio flows out into the rest of the world; so not only are we making changes to our own lives but spreading that feeling to others.