The Logic of the Six Day a Week Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Method by Kino MacGregor
In the Ashtanga Yoga method it is recommended that you practice six days a week. Traditionally the six day a week practice was meant to be done in what is known as “Mysore Style”. In this method of practice you follow your own breath and movement not the guidance of a teacher leading a class through the same movements. Named “Mysore Style” after the city called Mysore in southern India where the Guru of Ashtanga Yoga, K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught for his entire life, this method of practice is the safest and best way for students to practice. Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real goal of yoga. When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself. Once you memorize the sequence of postures that your teacher determines is right for you the entire practice transfers deeper into the subconscious level. Practicing in the Mysore Style method allows you to have days where you go deeply into your practice and also days where you go gently into your practice while performing all the same postures. This natural variation prevents injury, trains you to listen to the body and increases internal body awareness. Additionally, Mysore Style is the only place to safely learn the most advanced postures of all the series of Ashtanga Yoga since very few individuals can perform and teach these highly challenging postures. It would certainly not be advised to try these postures casually just for entertainment. The advanced postures of the Ashtanga Yoga method are magical, intense and worthy of the respect that only a dedicated Mysore Style practice can give them.
Even if you never expect to perform any advanced yoga postures, the logic of Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga is best understood in a Mysore Style setting. The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series builds sequentially in terms of flexibility and strength in order prepare you for some of the gateway postures in the practice. Starting with the Sun Salutation, aimed at both steadying the mind and warming up the inner fire, the practice opens the hamstrings, stretches and strengthens the back, increases core development and purifies the entire body. The test of the Standing Postures lies in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana where you must balance on one leg, lift your leg with its own strength, forward bend, suck in the lower belly and externally rotate your hip joint all in one posture. Once you can easily perform this posture the work of the Standing Sequence is generally well-integrated and it is safe to move onward in the series. The next series of postures that presents a gateway are the four Marichyasana postures that require a series of binds where you clasp you hand either behind your back or around your leg in a twisted posture and maintain either half lotus or a very strong extended leg. The careful placement of every posture that precedes this section of the practice is aimed at developing the internal strength and flexibility needed to perform these postures with ease. Marichysana D is the pinnacle of this portion of the series, being the most difficult twist and half lotus combination. Finally the grand crescendo of the Primary Series is half way through, Supta Kurmasana where internal strength, external rotation and forward bending are challenged to a high degree in order to get both legs behind the head. After this point in the series the postures help transition from flexion of the spine to extension so that Urdhva Danurasana or Backbending can be performed with ease. In this way the logic of the Primary Series builds up to certain postures that test alignment, inner strength and flexibility in order to make sure that the asana practice is solid and stable before moving on.
The recommendation to take on a six day a week practice is often hard to accept for new students, so new students can easily build up to a full six day a week practice by starting with three days a week. Then once that level of regularity is established one additional day a week can be added every six months until the full six days a week is within reach. One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week.
On a purely physical level a six day a week practice is both advantageous and challenging. You will perform the postures more often so will actually see results faster, building strength, stamina and flexibility at a far greater rate than if you were only to practice once or twice a week. In fact those individuals who choose to attend yoga class once a week are actually setting themselves up for an uphill battle each week where they must face the same weakness and tightness with little chance of hedging a path toward sustainability. It is no secret that if you do practice six days a week you will also be physically sore, but it will be a qualitatively different type of soreness than the once-a-week yoga practitioner. If you practice six days a week you are more likely to feel the pain or purification and learn the mental state needed to stay through the often uncomfortable healing phase. In Sanskrit the word for this type of endurance through challenging situations is “tapas” which literally means heat, but can be understood as the acceptance of pain that leads to purification. Practicing six days a week accelerates the rate at which pains that purify weakness and stiffness arrive and therefore also accelerates the rate at which the purified result of more strength and flexibility both in the body and mind also arrive.
On many of my trips to Mysore students would often share their elaborate stories of discomfort with KPJ and the majority of the time he would say “Pain good.” The second book of the yoga sutras begins with an axiom that defines a key element of yoga practice as accepting pain as help for purification, tapas. The only way that the inner fire of purification works is if you learn to stay in it and not run away. The natural human response to pain is fear, avoidance and denial, yet yoga uses pain as a method of awakening. By learning to accept pain within the safe space of yoga you learn to create a pause between the stimulus of pain and the response in your body and mind that wants to run away. In that powerful pause you are able to choose your course of action instead of being driven by reactionary patterns from the past. The store of accumulated reactionary patterns amount to what is called in Sanskrit the samskaras and these set ways of being, reacting and running create the negative karma that adversely affects our lives. If you are truly to use the yoga practice to whittle away at the store of negative karma and behavioral patterns then to practice as often as possible is a mandatory minimum requirement.