By Mara Healy
We each come to the ashtanga practice hoping for a remedy of some sort. The motivation that spurs each person to take that initial step into ashtanga is typically a physical one. Yet, after a few weeks of doing the work of memorizing the sequence, committing to the gazing points and listening to the breath, a great reveal occurs. It’s the revelation that the ashtanga practice is fundamentally healing for much more than the body. Pretty soon, we come to the practice so that we can give ourselves over to its emotional and mentally curative powers as well. After years, the realization dawns that it’s the challenging nature of the practice that becomes a protection against all the challenging storms and adverse conditions of life.
“Yoga Chikitsa” is the Sanskrit name given to the primary series and literally means “yoga therapy”. The word “therapy” itself comes from the Latin root meaning “attend”. So, when we come to ashtanga, we are supposed to attend to the repair and restoration of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that come up in practice, rather than try to escape them. The brave amongst us might even come to the practice truly physically broken, emotionally shattered or feeling mentally frail, and we are supposed to engage those problems head-on.
As if that is not difficult enough, we expose these normally concealed burdens in an open forum called “the mysore room” where you can’t just hide in the herd. No, you practice at your own pace revealing what you don’t know and what you can’t do, every step along the way. The mysore room has a particularly special feature – it starts at 5:30am. That is no accident. It is designed to function in the wee, early hours of the day when our defenses are mostly disabled.
By voluntarily marinating in our individual weaknesses, we learn to reassemble our own inner haven. The mysore room therefore supports a delicate process – how to be the skillful architect of our own inner temple – the place between our two ears. That inner temple can be a heaven or a hell, depending upon the materials (thoughts) we choose to use for its construction. That subtle, unseen metamorphosis needs a distinct kind of space in which to be supported.
Since it isn’t easy getting the body, the breath and the mind to work in a happy harmony, the space in which this careful work is accomplished must be treated like any sacred, healing place. It’s the (w)holiness of the space that supports and protects the fragile nature of our inner renovations. Looking through the glass doors and watching the hard-working individuals inside, it’s easy to treat that room like an ordinary yoga class. But when step into the tranquil hum of audible breathing set against the backdrop of a resonating quiet, you realize it is no ordinary space. So we treat this room like something special.
Here are 9 tips for entering and being in the mysore room.
1. Respect the quiet energy. The folks already there are busy building their personal, inner sanctuary. Come in as you would enter any cherished and revered space.
2. Leave haste, speed and any habits of rushing outside the doors. Allow this room to be a space where you are free of time pressures when possible. If have to be somewhere, shorten your own practice time so that you can feel unhurried within your own practice. Leave time for closing!
3. Go to the front of the room. The front of the room contains high energy. The back of the room contains the exit. As you begin your practice, you can both benefit from and contribute to the energy of climbing, building, and expanding and not be distracted by those leaving.
4. Contribute to the quietude whenever you can. That means, refrain from the unnecessary chatter, jokes and sounds that you engage in during the normal course of a day. It’s okay to talk to the teacher, but try to use a voice that just you and she can hear.
5. Use Samasthiti (quiet, upright standing) as your “help” signal. Once the mysore teacher sees you standing quietly at the top of your mat, they will know that you need her to come over. No need to shout or wave.
6. After backbends, pick up your mat and go to the back of the room. The energy at the back of the room contains the power of completion. It’s where you negotiate your own inner truce after any struggles in your practice.
7. Use the ending mantra and final sun salutation as a personal rite of gratitude. It’s a quiet time for all that made your practice possible. Gratitude engenders a feeling love and grace. Your willingness to embody those feelings penetrates the whole room and contributes to its preservation.
8. Lie down facing the back of the room. It is a long-held yoga tradition to refrain from displaying the soles of the feet to the altar at the front of the room. By swinging our feet to the back of the room before we lie down, we express appreciation, respect and humility to the lineage holders, both past and present, who made it possible for us to benefit from the teachings contained in the tradition.
9. Stay in Savasana as long as you can. The purpose of the final pose is to restore your own expended energy. This practice should not leave you feeling depleted, drained, or worn out. By concluding with rest and taking as much as you need, you end up supporting your own ability to deal with the rest of your day skillfully and effectively.