Benefits of a Mysore practice at a studio: Community

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Mysore class at SunMoon, Dec. 5

We held a Mysore class* at SunMoon studio for the first time in years last Thursday and guess what? Ten people showed up!! This is in Mankato! A Mysore class in Minneapolis might draw about 20 people on a good day, and Minneapolis is waaaay bigger than Mankato! Thanks go to Mona and Mel for building an Ashtanga community in Mankato since about 2003 — many of us who were around in those early years are still here, and still practicing.

I wanted to write a few posts that explain the benefits of a Mysore practice at a studio. I can think of community, assistance, and accountability. Today I will focus on community.

Think of those things you do both in isolation but also as part of a community. The first things that come to my mind are church and writing.

Most church-goers will go to church for an hour a week (maybe more during the Advent and Lent seasons). But that’s not the only time they are being spiritual. They pray silently at home and may have a devotional practice upon waking or before going to bed.

Writers have to write on their own. That’s the nature of the craft. But that work needs to be shared with trusted people — hence, the writing group. It’s a place to share work but also a place to share the ups and downs of the writing life.

Ashtangis have a Mysore practice at home, but when it’s possible it’s important to come together with other Ashtangis, just as spiritual people come together and writers come together.

A community allows you to share a space with like-minded people. The energy of a practice grows exponentially with others. You can find inspiration. You can ask someone about Marichyasana D or sirsasana and get ideas for how to obtain the asana.

A community provides a sense of belonging. Many studies show that being part of a community can improve mental health. Just look at the suggestions in this article. A Mysore practice fulfills about five points on the list! Be part of a community while at the same time making time for yourself, destressing, finding a purpose, and staying positive.

The Ashtangis who left practice last Thursday all had smiles on their faces. I received many comments of gratitude. But I am just holding the space for them. We are a thirsty Ashtanga community in Mankato, and this first Mysore class after many years is just the beginning!

Upcoming posts: the benefits of a Mysore class for receiving assistance, and holding yourself accountable.

* Mysore-style Ashtanga is done on your own. You should have a familiarity with the practice and have started to memorize the sequence before attending a Mysore class. It is called Mysore because that was the home of K. Pattabhi Jois, who popularized Ashtanga beyond India in the latter half of the 20th century.

Letting go is all good, until you miss out

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about my experiment this year — cutting way back on running mileage in favor of cultivating a daily Ashtanga practice and dedicating time to Ashtanga study and teacher training.

I will have a year-end report! But I recently opted out of a regular running event and it felt rather weird.

Since the Mankato Marathon and related races started in 2010, I’ve always done either the marathon or half-marathon (with the exception of 2012 when my niece got married that weekend). This year, knowing that I was running less, I thought I’d run the 10K to still do something and be involved.

I didn’t pre-register, knowing that it would be easy to register the day before. Or, as it turns out, easy to NOT register.

The week before the 10K was shaping up to be one of my busiest weeks of the semester. A lot of early mornings — rolling out of bed and immediately getting in the car to go to various destinations. A lot of late nights — writing, music, yoga. The thought of getting up early, once more, on a day where I really DIDN’T have to get up early — well, I wasn’t liking that thought.

So I decided to not run that day and guess what — I slept in until 8 a.m., something I haven’t done fore months. My body and mind needed it. I had a lovely morning and overall, just a lovely, relaxing day.

But I did have feelings of missing out, especially when I saw all the social media posts. I felt a little like a wuss — really, I couldn’t get up one more morning of the week? I couldn’t dig deep and get it done?

I could have, but I didn’t want to. As I get older, I know my limits. I know when I’m bleeding out energy all week in terms of teaching, I need to find ways to get it back. After an intense week of being with people, I couldn’t stomach the thought of race-day crowds.

Learning to “let go” is a relatively new concept for me. In our Western culture we are not encouraged to “let go” and take care of ourselves, lest it be seen as a weakness. I know people who view the world as a competition for who is busiest and who can get the least amount of sleep. I will let them duke it out — I’m not going to play that game.

Do you “let go”? Is it something you continue to work on? What choices have you made?

Teaching in order to learn

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My sanctuary a few times a month. 

Is it selfish to say that I teach in order to learn? In order to stay committed to my own practice?

This article explains how teaching others helps us to better understand something ourselves.

The 200-hour training I did in 2017-18 took a major commitment of one weekend a month. I committed to the training because I knew I wanted to teach Ashtanga someday.

Now I’m doing a focused training on teaching Ashtanga. This is even more of a time commitment, because it involves driving to Minneapolis 3-4 times a month to study with Lynn at OneYoga. I’ve been getting up early, between 5-6 a.m., hitting the road to drive 90 minutes to the studio, do my 90-minute Mysore practice, do an hour of training, and drive 90 minutes back home. Home around noon, then I head to the office at 1 p.m. and finish the day with either an evening writing class I’m teaching or the Ashtanga class I’m teaching.

I admit I sometimes think of the other things I could be doing in those 6-7 hour blocks of time — sleep, write, work, read, clean the house, make good food, pay the bills, etc. But I’m gaining so much knowledge and taking time for my own practice. I’m back at school,  so without an excuse to go to a Mysore practice it would be easy for me to forgo it in favor of something else. It would be easy to not read from Ashtanga texts. It would be easy to teach Ashtanga by resting on my laurels instead of introducing some new ideas to my class.

The training is helping me stay on the straight and narrow path, and this commitment results in positive improvements in other areas of my life. I’m more focused and more patient. I’m more attentive to my students at the university. I’m calmer. And I’m seeing more and more how alcohol does not fit into this path.

I see parallels in my university teaching as well. I need to write to keep my skills fresh so I’m better able to teach my students. When I teach a design class, I have a wonderful excuse to experiment with fun effects and designs in Photoshop and InDesign. I probably wouldn’t be doing many of these things if I didn’t have to teach them.

Is there something you like to teach in order to stay fresh?

Do you teach for free?

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Photo Credit: Loving Earth Flickr via Compfight cc

Do you work for free?

I’m not talking about volunteer work. I’m talking about using your skills in a day in/day out setting — do you do that for free?

I just saw a post today in which a university was looking for a yoga teacher to offer his/her services for free, once or twice a week, over the lunch hour.

I’ve seen other posts like this. I’ve been approached to teach for free. I’m also a writer and have been asked for free services over the years. Other artists I know have similar stories.

For a while, I would do writing gigs for free, to gain “experience.” If you are just starting out, this can be a legitimate choice. But I know I continued to work for “experience” long after I should have. Only when I gained more confidence in myself and my skills did I feel comfortable asking for payment.

Artists, writers, yoga teachers, etc., have spent hours on their craft and likely have gone through some type of training (school, teacher training, etc.,) that probably was not inexpensive.

When there isn’t a value attached to your profession, it’s easy to feel devalued as a person.

As a community, we can help each other by pushing back and asking questions.

  • If someone asks us to spread the word that they are looking for a free yoga teacher, simply ask why first.
  • Ask if there can be some type of payment or barter attached, explaining that yoga teachers have gone through training and should be compensated for their experience.
  • It may be perfectly reasonable that they want free services, but it’s our duty to inquire first.

How zero minutes turned into 51

The Light Head. Power of mind concept.

Photo Credit: atercorv Flickr via Compfight cc

Our minds are funny things.

I did the full primary series today — that felt awesome as always. Since that took over an hour, and I had several things to finish today, that was going to be my sole activity.

But I thought, well, I’ll at least take the dogs out. It was a nice day, and I usually like some type of outdoor break around lunch when I’m working at home.

When we got to the trail, I thought, well, I’ll take them on a slow jog —  it’ll be good for them! I hadn’t run for a few days so it would be good for me, too. I figured we’d go 20 minutes, and my Apple Watch will count 20 minutes which is good, since earlier in the day I had planned for zero minutes.

But I do like to close that exercise ring, so after I took the dogs out I thought about doing another 10 minutes of jogging on my own. Actually, I’ve been trying to get 40-45 minutes of exercise at a time this summer. So I thought, well, I’ll hop on my bike and go 20 minutes.

So I put on my bike shorts and headed out. When I got out 10 minutes, I thought I could turn around, but also, I could keep going and just do this 7-mile loop I had been doing all summer as a little time trial. The wind would be at my back going toward home, so that was a plus.

A day that started out with a plan to exercise for zero minutes ended up as a 51-minute day. Perhaps this makes up for all the days where I plan to exercise and end up doing nothing…

But I have only 15 minutes for Ashtanga!

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David Swenson’s Practice Manual offers short forms of the Ashtanga primary series of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes.

The complete Ashtanga primary series takes 90 minutes. The idea is that you would do the 90 minutes six days a week. Wow! Obviously that is not realistic for the vast majority of practitioners — we have families, jobs, hobbies, etc. Even David Swenson, one of the nationally known Ashtanga teachers, knows that such an intense time commitment is not practical for everyone.

“…it is not feasible to expect everyone to apply such a disciplinary regimen,” he writes in Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual. “Setting unreasonable goals creates a recipe for discouragement or self-doubt which may lead to giving up the practice altogether. It is much better to practice a small amount rather than none at all.”

Angela Jamison also offers advice for how to practice when you only have a few minutes. What follows are a couple of short forms that take only 10-15 minutes.

David Swenson’s short form:

  • 5 Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A)
  • 3 Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B)
  • Paschimottanasana B (seated forward fold, hands around outsides of feet)
  • Marichyasana C (seated twist)
  • Navasana 2x (boat)
  • Urdhva Dhanurasana (bridge or wheel), followed by Paschimottanasana B
  • Padmasana (seated cross-legged or lotus, with back of hands on knees, thumb and index finger touching, chin tucked)
  • Savasana

Angela Jamison’s short form:

  • Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A)
  • Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B) (do as many of each as you can)
  • The closing postures: Baddha Padmasana, Padmasana, Tolasana)
  • Savasana

However long your practice is, the important thing is that you build up energy and heat and then have a way for it to come down. You wouldn’t just do the first few asanas and then stop — you’d be stopping on a “high” without any counteraction. These short forms have the “bring up” and “bring down.”

What a month of Ashtanga classes taught me

And You Let Me Down

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

I had a stellar month of July in terms of yoga. Lots and lots of Ashtanga!

The final tally:

  • 5 Mysore classes
  • 1 led class
  • 1 weekend workshop

What I learned:

  • Face my challenges head-on
  • Structure pleases me
  • Regular practice = gains in strength
  • I love Ashtanga more than ever!

I live 80 miles from a shala that offers Mysore-style Ashtanga. That distance doesn’t make it practical for me to practice at a shala regularly. Instead, I have to be committed to a home practice (a woman I met at the workshop let me know about the Ashtanga Home Practitioners network on Facebook — that’s already been so helpful!).

But in July I started teaching a class on Monday evenings at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. So I started to think…I could stay overnight on Mondays and go to Lynn Thomasberg’s Mysore class at One Yoga on Tuesday mornings.

So for four weeks, that’s what I did. I was a little nervous the first day with my limited Mysore experience and being in a new space. But I clearly remember the moment during that practice when the endorphins released and I felt buoyant, energized, and happy. That feeling continued throughout the day.

I finished my last Mysore class yesterday and I was a little sad even before it began, knowing it would be my last one for a while. I will miss the addictive positive energy that comes from a challenging class. I’m already trying to figure out ways to make this work during the school year 🙂

(The fifth Mysore class I did was during the Angela Jamison workshop. That week I had done three Ashtanga classes — a first for me!).

Every time I take an Ashtanga class or attend a workshop, I’m newly inspired in my home practice. Thanks to all the practice I did in July, I have a plan for my daily sessions (prior to this I did whatever I felt called to do in the morning, but that was a little too fluid). I created a calendar in which I do something different each day. For now it looks like this:

  • Shortened Ashtanga series (30 minutes)
  • Kapalabhati/Bheemashakti
  • First half primary series
  • Full series
  • 2x sun salutations/finishing postures + workshopping particular asanas

What inspires you, in yoga or in life?