Mysore, South India. The home and heartland of Ashtanga Yoga. If you’re a student of Ashtanga, chances are you’ve heard about the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI). Maybe you’ve already studied there or perhaps, as I did, you’ve pondered the prospect for many years not really sure of how and when to take the plunge. In 2011, several years after visiting my first Ashtanga yoga class, I finally decided to make it happen and I set off for a four-month stay. And that’s when it hit me. I realised that the years of reading and hearing about Mysore had not only built up a buzz of excitement and anticipation but also a whole bunch of preconceptions. I’d heard many positive accounts but there were some that got me questioning why I was going. Was this the right thing to do? Is this trip really necessary for my own yoga journey? The Ashtanga community, it seems, is awash with myths, tails and advice about studying in Mysore. I was about to find out which, if any, really mattered.
Lost in the crowd?
Ashtanga’s popularity shows no sign of waning so it’s no surprise that the shala in Mysore can get a little crowded. Busy maybe, but disorganised? Certainly not. Here, students have different start times and practise the sequence of postures at their own pace while the teacher, Sharath, gives individual guidance and additional postures when the student is ready. This is where the term ‘Mysore-style’ comes from when talking about self-practice classes in the West. The ebb and flow of students through the shala was smooth, with everyone receiving due attention and guidance on their practice. That this happened each morning over the course of several hours is testament to Sharath’s devotion to teaching this method of yoga. It didn’t matter how many or how few hands-on adjustments I got – the energy in the shala was unique and I never felt ignored. Without doubt, my four months atKPJAYI contained some of my deepest lessons on yoga so far.
It didn’t matter how many, or how few, hands-on adjustments I might get – the energy in the shala was unique and I never felt ignored. Without doubt, my four months at KPJAYI contained some of my deepest lessons on yoga so far.
When compared to some approaches in the West, the style of teaching in Mysore may seem strict. Students are encouraged not to shy away from some of the tougher challenges in the practice and at times it can be difficult, of course. It’s also hugely rewarding. It’s a chance to delve into the deeper aspects of yoga, to explore its true meaning beyond asana, and to ask Sharath questions about the practice at his weekly conference. When it comes to asana, Mysore is a place to learn, embrace and honour the way the system is taught and practised. And that makes sense when considering that Sharath is teaching a specific system and protecting a longstanding tradition passed down by his grandfather, Shri K Pattabhi Jois. Expect to be challenged, for sure, but in the best possible way.
The pecking order
Practising alongside so many dedicated students of different levels of experience, cultures and backgrounds, the shala felt like a community – we were all here because of our shared passion for Ashtanga. The flipside is that some people feel it can be a bit elitist. For me, it’s an easy one really. It just doesn’t matter. There will always be those who are more experienced in asana than us and have spent more time in Mysore than us, and those who are less experienced. Sharath is fond of pointing out in Sunday conference that advanced asana does not mean advanced yogi. So it’s up to us how we interpret what we see. Do we want to be intimidated by more seasoned students doing more advanced postures, or inspired by those who have a longstanding dedicated practice?
As for the myriad of tales about what it’s like to stay in Mysore; well, you never really know until you do it yourself. Don’t worry about getting sick – it can happen and if it does you can get help easily enough (be sure to get your vaccinations). If you arrive on your own, you can make plenty of new friends in the first few days. If you don’t have an apartment or room lined up, don’t fret – talk to people when you get there and it’ll work itself out (it’s a good idea to book a hotel for the first night or two for a soft landing).
As for eating out, there are plenty of places to choose from in Gokulam, the district where the shala is located. Everyone has their own favourites so here are just a few spots to get you started and where you can meet like-minded Ashtangis…
For breakfast, there is the ever popular Anokhi Garden (408 Contour Road) and Santosha (398 3rd Stage Rd, 2nd Main, Gokulam), where you can get smoothies, pancakes, fruit salads and a range of brunch treats along with wi-fi. There’s also Vivian’s cafe (198, 9th Cross, 3rd Stage), which mixes Western and Asian style dishes, such as her famous peanut and vegetable roll.
For lunch, Anu’s Café (367 2nd Main, 3rd Stage) serves tasty Indian dishes buffet-style in a tranquil bamboo hut on the roof terrace and there’s also wi-fi. Sixth Main Restaurant (near Loyal World, 6th Main Road, 9th Cross, VV Mohalla) and Tina’s café (on Gokulam Main Rd) are firm favourites for lunch and dinner. More expensive but worth a visit is the Green Hotel (2270 Vinoba Rd) where you can enjoy your meal in the gorgeous colonial-style garden setting. There are of course lots more places to discover and it pays to search around for some hidden gems.
The truth is, everyone’s trip to Mysore will be different. You’ve probably heard various stories too. My advice is, if you’ve ever thought about going and you have a nagging doubt, just go for it. You can spend years putting it off for no good reason – I certainly did. You could be missing out on an amazing experience and if it turns out it’s not for you, at least you’ll know. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done. It could change your life.
Words by Chris Patmore who is a yoga student and freelance writer based in the UK.
Photography by Kia Naddermier except portraits of Chris Patmore in Mysore.