With the occasion of Tracy’s post on the benefits of learning Ashtanga yoga in a Mysore-style setting, I thought I might share a few observations on what it takes to set up a Mysore program at a yoga studio. Anne Finstad and I went through this experience at the Yoga is Youthfulness studio starting in December 2001 with one class a week. This humble beginning has blossomed into a six-day a week program with more than 20 students attending daily.
Several factors make starting a Mysore-style Ashtanga program more challenging than a traditional, teacher-led yoga class, be it Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram or Vinyasa:
- It’s best to practice Mysore-style Ashtanga in the morning: there are many reasons why Pattabhi Jois’ classes start before dawn (more on this in another post), and that can be a big hurdle to overcome. Our classes were always starting around 6:30 in the morning, and at first it took a lot to convince prospective students to get up early to practice.
- The class is silent: Most students are used to a teacher leading the class verbally, so the silence of a Mysore-style class can be very intimidating. Most teacher-student settings we are familiar with, such as school, college, music lessons, and sports coaching, involve a lot of verbal exchange of information. In a Mysore-style class, a lot of information is passed on via the teacher actually putting the student into a posture, so it is much more of an experiential learning, and thus it feels a bit strange to many students.
- There is no clear starting point: This looms especially large for people who have never tried yoga and may wonder “what do I do in a silent class? I don’t know how to do anything.” A similar objection I hear from experienced students is, “but I don’t know the sequence, so I don’t think I am ready.” I’ve spent a lot of time convincing Mysore-style newbies to try it. The bright side is that once they experience one class, they’re usually hooked.
- There is no clear start or end time: A student can walk in at any time as long as there is enough time left in the class to finish her practice. Newer students who have shorter practices may finish in less than an hour and say “but I have paid for 1.5 hours of yoga”. Eventually, these students may take the entire 2-3 hours of the practice time.
- Students are given postures and asked to stop at a point determined by the teacher: the Mysore-style setting requires the students to closely follow the teacher’s directions, perhaps more than is customary in other teacher-student relationships. This can be bruising on the student’s ego and a factor in some students leaving the class. It also requires the teachers, if there is more than one, to confer about appropriate posture at which to stop a student.
- It takes place nearly every day (apart from Saturdays and Moon Days in some studios): students most often start doing yoga once or twice a week. Doing it up to 6 times a week is a big commitment and is foreign to most student’s idea of “doing yoga”. It is also a huge commitment for the teachers.
- There needs to be a certain population density near the studio: I have heard of quite a few stories of very experienced teachers tyring to establish a Mysore-style program in population centers of 10,000 or even 50,000 and giving up (the one exception I can think of is John Scott in Penzance, Cornwall, United Kingdom with a population 20,000, but that is John Scott after all). At Yoga is Youthfulness in the San Francisco Bay Area, we were lucky to have 2-3 million people within a half-hour drive.
- Most importantly, you need to have an experienced teacher: nowadays a teacher should be authorized to teach by Sri K Pattabhi Jois (see the criteria for authorization on Ashtanga.com). Usually that takes a solid practice of at least 5 years.
So, with all these hurdles, setting up a Mysore-style Ashtanga program is not the easiest thing to do. It could take one to two years before the program is “profitable”, meaning more than 10 students daily. This implies there must be strong backing from the studio owner to stick it out during the lean period.
We were fortunate to have the full backing of a committed studio owner, Joseph Hentz (thank you, Joseph!). The alternative is to open your own studio, which, of course, carries its own costs and risks.
My next post will be about how the Mysore-style Ashtanga program at Yoga is Youthfulness blossomed over a five-year period into a wonderful community of committed practitioners.