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I spent most of my time in India studying yoga in the southern city of Mysore, renowned as the home of Ashtanga yoga. There are indeed many yoga schools to choose from there which is great. People from all over the world flock here to practice yoga. Funnily enough, there really aren’t any Indians practicing at the large commercialized shalas(studios), I suspect cost being the major factor. You may have seen Mysore style Ashtanga offered at your local yoga studio. In Mysore style there is no instructor at the front leading the class, you go through the routine yourself at your own pace and the instructor is there to occasionally align your posture and assist you through some sticky spots. I was first introduced to this style at my home shala,Yoga Mala, and going into it I thought it was a bit of a gyp as no one was guiding you through step-by-step. I changed my mind after the first session and have embraced it ever since as the most effective way to advance my progress. As you might expect, Mysore likely has more of the namesake-style classes than anywhere else ergo practicing in Mysore=good advances with your yoga. Another advantage of studying in Mysore is that there really isn’t a lot to do besides yoga, leaving little to distract you. It felt like the city was shut down by about 10 PM and there was generally an hour or two power outage in the early evening that curtailed activities even more.
The shala I studied at was the Mysore Mandala Yogashala in the Lakshmipuram area of the city and I believe I made the right choice for my skill level (around intermediate). The first thing I liked about the place is that you can do a drop in class to check the yoga out, unlike most other places where you have to commit to a month first. There weren’t any forms to fill out or tons of rules and regulations. I liked the instructor, Mr. Chidananda, whose style is quiet but confident, with many adjustments. The average 6 AM class size was about six, which gives plenty of space to get into asanas(poses) and lots of instructor attention . Another thing I like about Mandala is they offer many other classes besides asana, such as pranayama(breathing), ayurveda(Indian medicine) and yoga philosophy to name a few. They even have BNS Iyengar (the other Iyengar) instructing. He is still working hard at 84 and very feisty. On the downside, the shala is rather rustic and there are many mosquitoes. Also, I wish they occasionally offered led Ashtanga classes in order to help get beginners up to speed.
I did manage to get in some yoga at Goa, another Indian yoga hotspot. I was staying at Granpa’s Inn which has Brahmaniyoga operating on it’s grounds with two spacious shalas, tres convenient! The yoga here was good but to me it felt like a place for “holiday” yoga and not a place to make great advances in your practice, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Throughout Goa it seems like there are dozens of yoga joints so I am sure there is something out there for everyone, you just have to find it. Unlike Mysore though, Goa has a lot more distractions.
I also went to Kerala in the far south of India for one week of training with Lino Miele. He is a long time disciple of Pattabhi Jois and literally wrote the book on Ashtanga. I wanted to check it out because I heard he is very good teacher and I wanted to get a feel for what it is like training in P. Jois-like atmosphere. It turns out Lino is a good teacher and a warm, humorous man to boot. I definitely did not care for the format though. There were about 60 people practicing at a time so Lino had three or four helpers going around helping adjust postures. With that many people and the mats only one foot apart I felt cramped at times. A friend of mine had a apt name for the workshop, Linopalooza. Lino was mostly busy with the more advance students but the few adjustments I got from him were great, some of the best I ever had. The helpers unfortunately were not as good and it seemed like each one of them had a little different style so you never knew what to expect. To their credit the helpers did get me to focus more on proper breathing, something that was lacking in Mysore. I would consider studying with Lino again but only in a smaller group.
There are a couple of roving “western” instructors that you should definitely check out if you have the chance. To many it may seem counter intuitive to go all the way to India and be taught by a non-Indian but the communication just seems to flow so much better when it is westerner to westerner. Tashidawa is an Australian with a strong Ashtanga background and great teaching skills. I took some training with her at Mysore Mandala and she also teaches in Goa. Paddy McGrath has diverged from her Ashtanga background to do her own very organic “yoga pad” routine. Her specialty is unbuttoning the spine and she has come up with some great techniques of doing this which give immediate results. You are more likely to find her in SE Asia. In fact she is having a workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand this weekend which I will be attending, YAY!
I have been in Chiang Mai for two weeks now and my focus has been on getting some quality Thai massage training (and gaining back the 5 Kgs I lost in India, hehe). My first week of training at Nerve-Touch Massage was quite good, both challenging and enjoyable. I was pleased to discover that my yoga training really compliments Thai massage and helps my movements flow better. This week I have started training with the amazing blind Thai massage master, Ajarn Sinchai. He has a more therapeutic style of Thai massage. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to gain some of his 40 years of massage knowledge.