Somehow this holiday also became a holiday from ashtanga Mysore practice. I am exploring new things in yoga after a challenging experience last year on Bali that subconsciously dragged down my willingness to adhere to the practice. I confess I have practised very little since then. And before this week, I have only two (very unpleasant) lead vinyasa flow experiences under my belt. Performed in a gym with instructors who lead us like we’d be doing aerobics. But now I am signed up for a week’s vinyasa flow, once in the mornings and once in the evenings.
Ashtanga Mysore is an individual practice, where you accept one main instructor into your life, and where that instructor gives you poses (asanas) when he or she feels you are ready for a new challenge. And in the meantime you repeat the same poses in the same sequence, at your own pace of breath. Ashtanga Mysore is about learning an order of poses so that it becomes muscle memory and there is no need to think, only to be.
Vinyasa flow is a class where the instructor calls out poses and shows how to flow from one new pose to the next one. Flow being imperative, although I mostly feel like a stumbling elephant. Even with spending some 30% flowing through the sequence we’ve learned that week, every class is different and thus I find it difficult to focus on breathing and stillness of my mind.
In Mysore practice one must be a good student and only try out new poses given by the teacher, in the same order as for everybody else. Here on Zanzibar I have tried entirely new poses: Cow, Half-Moon, Dancer. I move my body in different ways, finding out things I thought I could do but cannot, and things I did not think I could do but can.
And so here I have gone from almost no practice for an entire year to 3 hours of daily, new practice. Considering the starting point I am doing well. It is obviously not thanks to strength (which I do not have) but thanks to the good foundation I have been given by my Mysore teachers. Tackling new poses is easier when I have a sense of alignment and body awareness (when is my body part horizontal or vertical), and the focus on channeling strength into every poses. I see people try to just bend into the right-looking shape with movements that look risky, and even if I love our teacher she does ask us to do things I know are bad for most knees.
Ashtanga Mysore is the form of practice you can injure yourself at most easily. But it is also the practice you are taught how to protect yourself and move in a correct way. Vinyasa flow has an entirely different risk of injury because the teacher does not correct every person’s detailed movements, hand placement, alignment etc. He or she also does not teach us how to safely set up a pose. Most injury comes from doing things in the wrong way once too many times, not from doing a new thing wrong once. Perhaps the nature of the ever-changing, lead class protects from highly repetitive activity, where injury might happen more easily.
But here the pace is unhurried and meditative. We begin with shavasana, the last pose of ashtanga Mysore: just lying down on our backs, calming down our minds, and setting an intention for the practice. In the morning we continue with pranayama, or breathing exercises. Our lovely teacher sings to us some nights, as we lie down in stillness, listening to the waves crash against the boardwalk edge.
(Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)