Monthly Archives: June 2006

Want to Try Mysore-Style Classes?

Despite prior knowledge of the Primary Series and taking a few years worth of led classes and even though I knew the teachers I’d be practicing with quite well, I was still a little nervous about participating in the Mysore-style classes for the first time.

Mysore-style classes turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. If you’ve hesitated, I just want to take a brief moment to say, JUST DO IT!

The individual adjustments and the friendly community in the Mysore-style classes motivated me to attend regularly, and the regular practice and advances I made made me want to practice even more.

In Mysore-style class, each student starts the Ashtanga yoga sequence whenever she arrives and the teacher walks around adjusting students as needed. It’s a silent class and students practice at their own pace.

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a Mysore class at Yoga is Youthfulness, Mountain View, California

My main fear in trying a Mysore-style class was that I wouldn’t remember the sequence of postures. I did forget the sequence a few times, however Philippe has assured me that no one has ever been kicked out of a Mysore-style class for forgetting a posture.

Fortunately, the teachers at the Yoga Is Youthfulness studio in Mountain View, California have written a friendly and thorough description of Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga, which is just right for curious or apprehensive Ashtangis.

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Morning Mysore at YiY

The description is based on the following poem, written by a YiYer:

In Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga
Postures are given
One by one
By the teacher
In charge.

I recently started taking Mysore-style classes at the new YogaStudio San Francisco with Catherine Shaddix. If you have the opportunity to visit, do – it’s a stunningly beautiful studio and the class is great. More on that later.

Please share your thoughts on Mysore-style class for the benefit of hesitant Ashtangis by leaving a comment.

The Anxiety-Inducing Effect of Ujjayi Breathing: Health Benefits of Yoga (part 2)

From a medical perspective, Uddiyana Bandha (the abdominal lock) combined with Ujjayi breath (the breath we use in Ashtanga yoga) should in theory increase anxiety.

The Ujjayi and uddiyana bandha practices are the virtually the opposite of what anxious patients are taught in order to reduce their mental anxiety. From the perspective of western medicine, the therapeutic mechanism of Ujjayi breathing and uddiyana bandha may be through a kind of behavioral conditioning… beginning Ashtanga yoga practitioners are frequently exposed to anxiety-inducing moments of chest-breathing and oxygen-hunger, wondering “how can I get enough air … I’m going to explode!” This repetitive exposure to a stressful situation conditions the practitioner to other physiologically stressful situations.

While much of the research and anecdote indicates that yoga does have a calming, focusing effect, I have seen little that explains how such stress inducing breath could lead to such benefits.

Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and Ashtangi, in his thorough article called The Healing Psychology of Ashtanga Yoga developed a compelling theory.

Yoga practitioners who are breathing smoothly and shallowly though their noses, while simultaneously experiencing a racing heart and air-hunger, are training their bodies and minds to react smoothly and calmly when they are in a similar physiologic state in another context. For example, a non-yogi who is terrified of public speaking, and who has no practice with controlling racing thoughts and shortness of breath before a speech, is likely to perform poorly when compared to a similarly terrified speaker who is a yogi. The yogi has successful experience working through these same feelings in yoga practice.

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Rich enjoys one of the therapeutic
effects of visiting Mysore

In this article, Richard uses his extensive medical education to theorize about possible psychological effects of Ashtanga. He also cites 36 sources; 28 of these are from scientific studies or medical journals. Because of his educational background, because he cites his sources and because of his scientific approach, I have confidence in Richard’s conclusions and think his article is a great resource.

Plus, Richard has written this article out of his love of and curiousity about Ashtanga and psychiatry; he’s not earning money from yoga therapy or anything like that. To top it all, how many medical articles end with “Practice, and all is coming”?

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Rich Peterson, Mysore 2004

About Rich Peterson: I’m currently practicing with John Berlinsky and Lea Watkins at YogaStudio Mill Valley (California). I go about 2 times per week currently, down from 4x/week following the birth of our baby girl 5 months ago. My wife and I trade baby sitting duties. I learned Ashtanga in Mysore in 2004 at AYRI. Our blog from that trip is here and the Mysore section is here.