The Mysore style of asana practice is the way of teaching yoga as an exercise within the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga tradition as taught by K. Pattabhi Jois in the southern Indian city of Mysore; its fame has made that city a yoga hub with a substantial yoga tourism business.
Ashtanga (also spelt Astanga) means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, which refers to the eight limbs of yoga laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Ashtanga method stresses daily vinyasa flow practise using ujjayi breathing, Mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and Drishti. There are six different Ashtanga series, through which a student progresses at his or her own pace.
The Ashtanga method of asana practice was interpreted by T. Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from an ancient text called the “Yoga Korunta,” which they claimed described a unique system of hatha yoga developed by Vamana Rishi.
K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) began his yoga studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India at the age of 12. He became the leading practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga, which is a set series of poses done in a flowing vinyasa style. In 1962, he published his treatise on Ashtanga yoga, “Yoga Mala.” His first Western students began to arrive in Mysore in the early 1970s. Through them, Ashtanga spread westward and profoundly influenced the way yoga is practised today. After Pattabhi Jois died in 2009, his grandson Sharath took over the leadership role, including teaching the many students who continue to flock to Mysore to deepen their practices.
The first, or primary, series is described in “Yoga Mala.” The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. It is intended to realign the spine, detoxify the body, and build strength, flexibility, and stamina. The series of about 75 poses takes an hour and a half to two hours to complete, beginning with sun salutations (surya namaskara A and surya namaskara B) and moving on to standing poses, seated poses, inversions, and backbends before relaxation.
The intermediate or second series is called Nadi Shodana, meaning nervous system purification. It cleanses and strengthens the nervous system and the subtle energy channels throughout the body. This series is only introduced when the student has mastered the primary series. It follows the same progression (sun salutations, standing, sitting, etc.) as the primary series, but introduces new poses and variations.
The four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga, which means divine stability. Pattabhi Jois originally outlined two intensive advanced series, but later subdivided them into four series to make them accessible to more people. These series emphasize difficult arm balances and are only appropriate for extremely advanced students. There are very few students practising beyond the second series.
Many yoga studios offer led Ashtanga classes, meaning a teacher leads the class and instructs students in the order of the poses, usually in the primary or secondary series. Students often may also opt for self-led, or Mysore style practice. This is an opportunity to practice at their own pace and level of ability, but in the company of other students and with the encouragement and advice of a teacher, as needed. In the Mysore method, the student masters each pose in sequence and is given new poses to work on by their teachers as they become ready. Ashtanga can be an ideal foundation for home practitioners once they know the sequence of poses.
Ashtanga yoga is extremely popular and inspires fierce loyalty in its students. This vigorous, athletic style of practise appeals to those who like a sense of order and who like to do things independently. You may want to become familiar with Ashtanga vocabulary to help you feel comfortable with this style’s specialized terminology.