Many students who are new to Ashtanga get confused by class names. This post is meant to help demystify some of many ways those who practice Ashtanga refer to different kinds of classes.
First, we wouldn't be doing service to the long history of yoga and the Ashtanga practice specifically, if we didn't discuss the city of Mysore (or Mysuru) in India. Mysore is located in the Karnataka state and is located in the southwestern part of the country. It even has a beautiful palace as Mysore was the seat of power and served as the capital of the region from the 14th to early 20th century. You can find out more about the area from Encyclopedia Britannica and see beautiful pictures of the palace. It is also the birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga and you will find many shalas and studios to practice if you ever have the opportunity to visit. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya known as the father of hatha yoga and guru to Sri Pattabhi Jois, father of the Ashtanga method lived and taught here in the 1930s and 40s. I'll do a deep dive on Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois in another post soon. Now to understanding what you’re signing up for when you take your first class.
When signing up for an Ashtanga class for the first time you may be confused at the class description or the verbiage used to describe the class. A few terms to know are provided below:
Mysore-style: Mysore style is a class that will not be led by a teacher. Instead, you come to the shala or studio at the appointed time and take practice. You can bring notes if needed or see if your studio has handouts available. You can practice primary series or ask your teacher about postures from other series as well to see if they think you are ready to try them out. During class, your teacher observes your practice and may provide physical or verbal adjustments and you can leave once you've finished your practice for the day.
As you become more adapt in your practice and understand the primary (or intermediate) sequence, you can essentially "practice what you need" on a given day. Some studios close on Moon Days (i.e., days with Full Moons or New Moons) as a way to honor the energies of the earth as well as to give students a physical break from their practice. Mysore is one of my favorite styles of class to take as I really appreciate the self-paced nature of these classes. When I'm working on a complicated posture and have questions or I'm working through an injury or illness I find these classes particularly helpful in that regard.
Led-style: Led style classes can take two forms (short or full). A short (sometimes referred to as Half-Primary) led primary class may have the teacher practice alongside the students and in other shalas or yoga studios, the teacher may call the postures and count in Sanskrit and provide verbal and hands-on assists and move around the room observing while you practice. A full led primary class will typically last 75 minutes while a short form class may last anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour depending on the number of postures the teacher calls.
Ashtanga-Blend: Some studios have taken some liberties with the primary series and add music, heat, or speed up the traditional practice for more of a "vinyasa" style feel. These classes are great for beginners as they feel much like a typical yoga class. You may not get much tradition in these classes, but they are fun!
One thing to note, traditional Ashtanga teachers (I count myself as one of these) will follow the same format in class regardless of whether the class is Mysore, short or led. All classes start with an Opening Chant/Invocation, followed by Asana (Postures), and class will close with Savasana followed by a Closing Chant. You are not expected to know the chant as a first timer but in time you may find yourself becoming fluent in a few words of Sanskrit, which is pretty neat! I'll be doing a blog post on the chants and their translations in a future post so keep an eye out for that one. For now, know that the opening and closing chant are meant to do two things. First, chants call the class to order and at the conclusion of the opening and closing chant you will hear Om sung three times. This is when you know the asana portion of the class is about to begin. Second, chanting (singing) creates vibrations in the nasal and throat cavities which has been shown to be beneficial in a myriad of ways. I like to think of chanting as the workout for my throat BEFORE the working out of my body and I find it very calming. There's no right way to chant, just give it a whirl! Your mind will thank you!
My style of teaching is Mysore, Led Primary, and Short Form Primary so if you'd like to explore these styles, head on over to my booking page to schedule!