The Ashtanga Pilgrimage: Journey to Mysore
Mysore. It’s the name of both a style of Ashtanga yoga practice and the place in which it originated. While the individualized, supervised self-practice that takes its name from this South Indian city is practiced world over, every year hundreds of practitioners make the pilgrimage to study in this mecca of Ashtanga yoga. Some return year after year, making the effort to spend time in this special place a central part of their lives. What draws yoga practitioners from around the word to make the long journey to Mysore?
For the modern yoga practitioner, especially those in the Ashtanga tradition, Mysore is a place of amazing history. In 1924, under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnamacharya set up a shala in the Vishnu temple next to the Jaganmohan Palace, in the heart of downtown Mysore. Sri K Pattabhi Jois studied with him here for many years, before the master left for Chennai in 1957. Pattabhi Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in 1948, teaching the dynamic yoga sequence he had learned during his time with Krishnamacharya. For the modern practitioner, then, the city of Mysore is steeped in powerful history and mythology. There’s a magic in driving your scooter past the Jaganmohan Palace, imagining a young Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar practicing inside. In the in-home eateries around Lakshmipurum, run by loving women who’ve been keeping decades of foreign yoga students fed and happy, practitioners delight in sipping the same chai today’s senior Ashtanga teachers drank as young men and women. It’s an inspiring energy, invigorating to the students who travel here to soak up as much as they are able.
For most foreign travellers, stepping off the plane into India is like waking up in a whole other world. The colors, sounds, and smells of this unique country can be overwhelming for the senses and the spirit. While there’s plenty in India to fall in love with, and every difficulty is worth it for the opportunity of discovering all this culture has to offer, there are days when life in India can be a trial. India runs on its own logic, and learning to navigate that logic can be a mind-expanding experience. Some days there will be no power. Some days you’ll find yourself arguing with a rickshaw driver over the price of a ride, or crammed like sardines in a rush hour bus. At some point, in all likelihood, every visitor will find themselves ill. Yet, even though no path in India is a straight line, this joyful, colorful culture is a wonder to experience – and a fantastic place to learn the yoga of day-to-day life. Living in a world where nothing seems to run smoothly is a hands-on lesson in how to take things in stride. What better place to practice equanimity than amongst surroundings that continuously knock you off-kilter? India has a special way of teaching Ashtanga practitioners that the two hours they spend on the mat is only the beginning of their yoga practice.
Beyond anything else, for many Ashtanga practitioners, Mysore is a place to escape. While at home yoga practice is a side project amongst the demands of day-to-day life, Mysore allows the visiting Ashtanga student to immerse themselves completely in practice. The Yoga Practice here is an intense experience, in part because it is, for a change, the largest demand on the practitioner’s energy. With no work or home life to attend to, it’s possible to give your all to daily practice. It’s a unique opportunity, an exciting privilege for any avid practitioner. Practicing yoga in Mysore allows you to build (or rebuild) a focus in your yoga practice that you can carry back home, bolstering your practice for many early mornings to come.
A Worldwide Yoga Community
For the average practitioner, the day starts with yoga practice, followed by a return to the “real world,” largely populated by those for whom Ashtanga is a mysterious concept. Mysore brings together practitioners from all over the world, fostering a unique community linked by the common experience of practice. There is something truly special about the understanding that exists in this international community of practitioners, and the support that can be felt while temporarily living in this idiosyncratic world. There’s a buzzing energy that builds when you bring this many devoted Ashtanga practitioners together, both on the mat and out in the world. This vibrant community, combined with the history, culture and focus found here, makes practicing in Mysore a powerfully inspiration experience.