I am into my fifth month of teaching morning Mysore. Over the last several months I’ve had the chance to observe and contemplate things in a renewed way. Communicating so publically is not my natural tendency. However, I wouldn’t want people to misinterpret my fly-under-the-radar style as lack of interest or reflection. So here I am to share some thoughts.
The thing that I find myself coming back to repeatedly is this: The practice is the teacher.
I first started practicing ashtanga yoga 15 years ago. I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of Columbus’ ashtanga community, which has been around for at least that many years. Our awesome city draws the finest visiting teachers. We are home to passionate yogis who were dedicated to establishing ashtanga yoga here. This includes our very own, Martha Marcom. I’m forever grateful.
Because life as a medical student and resident often meant an inflexible schedule, my yoga practice early on incorporated a good amount of self-practice. I’d be on my mat at different random hours of the day or evening. Ashtanga anchored me through this intense period. I first met my teacher Maty Ezraty in 2004, who at that time lived and taught in Santa Monica at Yogaworks. I’d study with Maty every opportunity I could during trips to LA. Then I’d come home and practice on my own.
I still remember so clearly the feeling in her Mysore room. There was a deep, palpable focus in the room. Whenever I showed up, I would see the same students, steadily and mindfully practicing. Some students’ practices were quite advanced, but none of it ever seemed showy or dramatic or fancy. This is Maty’s teaching. I learned from Maty’s room about turning attention inward with equanimity.
The way I see it, much of what goes on in a Mysore room is cultivation of self-study. In order to reach the depth of self-study required for transformation and healing, one needs, in my opinion, to develop a strong self-practice. Getting on your mat is the first step, but then what? To me, this is the juice of Mysore. The practice is the true teacher. The ashtanga sequence is not going to change. You could practice whether the teacher gave you an instruction that day or not. You are there for methodical, internal exploration — to check in, not check out.
I will not lie. Perhaps you have heard. I can seem a little picky when I teach. Why am I this way? Here is my chance to tell you if you haven’t yet asked me. For one, I want to help you pay closer attention. I like to encourage you to engage at a deeper level. It’s in the subtleties. Concentration on the subtleties connects your mind to what’s going on and awakens the postures energetically to allow for greatest benefit. This ability to inwardly focus needs to be practiced, unquestionably.
I like to encourage you to work hard. Whatever that means for you. Some students tend to push 110% and approach postures aggressively. These students’ work is to soften the breath, and focus on compassion and ease. Others may mentally wander or tend to just hang out in the poses. These students benefit from waking up the muscles and exerting more physical effort. Some students need a gentle nudge of encouragement to take risks. Sooner or later, with regular practice, ashtanga yoga will expose whatever it is you need. The practice will show you. I want to be there to help guide and support you.
Transformation through any type of practice requires hard work, humility, and staying present. My hope is that your yoga practice creates a sense of empowerment to shift should you discover patterns that do not serve you. My hope is that you learn to face difficulties with equanimity, steady breath, and bandhas engaged. I hope that you experience moments of release and joy during practice. These things are possible if you are paying attention. The practice is the teacher. You can then take whatever it is you learn on your mat out into your life and your relationships.
I approach teaching as I do also because I want to help you practice in a way that balances your body without compressive injurious pain. Ashtanga should feel good in the body. I believe it is important to look at energetic lines. When I see an area that looks compressed, my instruction will focus on lengthening to avoid injury and promote freer flow of energy. If I see an area that looks “sleepy”, my instruction will focus on awakening to stabilize and allow for full energetic integration of the pose. It’s not about over-analytically creating the most beautiful appearing asana on the outside. It’s about building a healthy body and mind, and helping you create the richest energetic experience on the inside.
I love how ashtanga yoga is simultaneously universal and individual. Forward progression is part of this system. It keeps us interested. We strengthen and become increasingly proficient in the established sequences. Yet the process is highly individual. How perfect! Methodically, we keep practicing to find our edge, yet at our own appropriate pace. I love working with Mysore students in this one-on-one fashion. If you come to class, you hopefully now understand why I may push you. And I hope ashtanga yoga — this brilliant tool — creates the space for you for personal insight and discovery.
Linda Chun has been teaching Mysore style Ashtanga yoga at Yoga on High for years. She is also a general internist and pediatrician at OSU Center for Integrative Medicine and various Nationwide Children’s Hospital Clinics. She also completed the Helms Medical Acupuncture Course. Click here for more information on Linda.