Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute

»Ashtanga Yoga straight up«

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You're living in Mysore, India. You wake up in the dark of night to join the gathering of students on the cold steps for the best spot in a 6am class. The class is led by the indomitable Sharath Jois, who has already been up since 2am doing his own practice. This is the elite Ashtanga Yoga Institute, where the style that has been adopted by millions was born.

  • What we love
  • This is where Ashtanga yoga was (re)invented
  • Being taught by Pattabhi Jois' own daughter and grandson
  • Meeting other Ashtangis from all over the world
  • What to know
  • Most sessions are self-led, in the Mysore style
  • Challenging yoga, not for everyone
  • No accommodation or food
  • Why go
  • Pure Ashtanga
  • Elite learning center

For an Ashtangi, saying you have studied at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute is a little like a pianist saying they have studied at Julliard. Exacting, punishing, infinitely rewarding.

Pattabhi Jois harnessed and developed the Ashtanga style beginning in the 1930s. Eschewing elements of yoga like philosophy and meditation, Jois focused completely on challenging physical movements and breathing. His philosophy was very simple: Complete the movements and the rest will naturally follow. The style has taken the yoga world by storm, and Ashtanga is one of the most easily recognized terms, along with Iyengar and Bikram.

In the hot sweaty environment of an Ashtanga session it's easy to see Jois' logic. Concentration on the breathing is so intense that it pushes all other thoughts away. Accidental meditation, in a manner of speaking. The movements are so vigorous that the body's temperature increases dramatically, the sweat eliminating toxins and the muscles heating to a point that they 'melt' into the poses. This is why a Jois-trained Ashtangi will do nothing but asanas for years. Only when the body is as primed as possible do students move on to more of the 'eight limbs' of yoga. So important is this aspect of studying Ashtanga that newly arrived students at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute are asked to sign an agreement that they will not study any other aspect of yoga, or any other style, during their stay.

A course of study here is limited to three months, and there must be a six month gap before applying to return. The minimum stay is one month, a drop in the ocean compared to the years it may take to perfect the asanas. Applications are only accepted through the center's website and any that are submitted within 60 days of the arrival date will be automatically rejected. The shala is open year-round, with the exception of moon days and Saturdays, which are days of rest.

There is no accommodation on-site, and students often share apartments in the surrounding neighborhood.There is a slightly competitive feel among students at the Ashtanga Institute – the same kind of friendly rivalry that may be seen among a group of athletes on the same team. Certainly, this is a center that holds itself apart from others: the students are almost all from outside India, some traveling half-way across the world to study under Saraswathi Jois and Sharath Jois, the daughter and grandson of Pattabhi Jois respectively.

Forget gentle, loving yoga with the strains of Kumbaya playing softly in the background. This is yoga boot-camp, and the stern tones of Sharat Jois fill the shala as he pushes and challenges the lithe bodies around him. This is during the Friday class, the only one to be led by a teacher. In the Mysore style, all other sessions are self-led, meaning that each student conducts his or her practice in their own way, at their own pace. Sharat Jois also holds weekly Sunday gatherings, purely for discussion, and only for the more advanced-level students

Mornings are for practice. During the afternoon, the shala is deserted. This is an austere style of yoga for a very particular type of yogi. And the type that is drawn here is not disappointed. Although confronting for a newcomer, and there are very few newbies to the style arriving on the doorstep, the learning that can be found here is deeply satisfying. Give yourself over to the wisdom of Sharat Jois, and to the unique nature of India. Aum.

About the area: Mysore

Mysore was once the hub of India's economic existence. While that title has been taken over by Bangalore, Mysore is still a relaxed and very pretty place to visit. There is an old-world feel here, a gentility that seems to be a holdover from 19th century India. Considered to be the incense capital of the country, Mysore's open-air markets are a sweet-smelling and completely unique experience. The ten-day Dhussera festival, held in October each year, is a city-wide celebration of a mythical triumph of good over evil. The city comes alive, and the main parade is a great chance to make the acquaintance of some of the city's holy elephants. Apart from monsoon season (June – August) Mysore is climatically pleasant year-round. Although summer temperatures can reach 39 degrees C, the humidity is low enough to make the heat bearable.

Image credit: Coni Hörler Photography

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