Before 28-year-old Scott Heerman got acquainted with Mysore, he was sure it was only meant for the “yoga elite,” those mysterious creatures who have memorized — and mastered — every pose. Ellie Clarke, 28, worried that other students might laugh at her and that her instructor would constantly bark “No, you can’t do that.”
Even Peg Mulqueen, who teaches Mysore, once wrote it off as “some exclusive club for really strong people or responsible people.”
But Mysore is really just the traditional method of teaching Ashtanga, a series of athletic poses that demand both strength and flexibility. Rather than have students go through his prescribed list of postures together, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (whose school in Mysore, India, is now run by his grandson) had them work at their own pace, offering one-on-one guidance when needed.
“If you’re used to a regular class, and you peek into a Mysore class, you ask what’s happening because everyone’s doing something different,” says Debra Perlson-Mishalove, owner of Logan Circle’s Flow Yoga Center, one of several local studios that have recently put Mysore on their schedules.
The boom has made Mysore accessible to Washingtonians, who are demanding a deeper connection to their practice, Perlson-Mishalove says. And although it can be intimidating to folks used to following the leader, people are getting hooked on the style.
“The best reason to try it is that it’s a private class in a group setting,” says Keith Moore, owner of the year-old Ashtanga Yoga Studio D.C., which runs Mysore classes every morning. “It’s tailored to you like a couture suit.”
First-timers get personal training in a few postures, starting with five rounds of sun salutations, and that may be all they do. As they return to class and master that section, the instructor adds on. Advanced students can complete the beginning of the series, but at some point, even people who can hook their legs around their necks need an assist, a modification or a pep talk.
It’s that customization that persuaded Heerman to try Mysore at Flow after a hamstring injury. He could focus on his postures, his breath and his ability, and in that sense, he realized everyone in the room was doing the same thing whether they were “on one foot or barely standing.”
Clarke, another Flow student, quickly learned that it’s never embarrassing to forget the sequence. That’s what teachers are there for, she says.
Still, Mysore might not be everyone’s cup of tea — or coffee, which many students drink in order to wake up in time for class. As in India, it typically starts before dawn, and the goal is to come as much as possible.
“If you can, start with three days a week,” says Faith Scimecca, owner of Woodley Park Yoga. “Any less than that makes it harder to memorize.”
Getting up early becomes part of the practice, says Antonella Accinelli, who runs Quiet Mind’s Mysore program. The schedule encourages students to make a commitment and alter other habits that get in the way.
Not a morning person? It’s possible to arrive near the end of the class, particularly for newbies with a short practice. And Little River Yoga in Arlington also offers early evening classes. The window works well with hectic schedules because students can pick their start time, says owner Stair Calhoun.
And there’s no reason to be scared, says Tiffany Rogers, 35, a new Mysore student who initially got the jitters just opening the door to the studio at Flow.
“Now it feels like home,” she says.
Six D.C.-area studios offer Mysore classes:
-Ashtanga Yoga Studio DC 5117 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 5:30-8 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8:15-10:45 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; $20 drop-in; Aysdc.com
-Buddha B 1115 U St. NW; 6-8 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 8-10 a.m. Sunday; $17 drop-in; Buddhabyoga.com
-Flow Yoga Center 1450 P St. NW; 6:15-8:30 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8-10 a.m. Sunday; Monday classes start May 13; $18 drop-in; Flowyogacenter.com
-Little River Yoga 6025 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 6:30-9 a.m. Monday-Friday, 4:30-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8:15-11:15 a.m. Saturday; $20 drop-in; Littleriveryoga.com
-Quiet Mind Yoga 3423 14th St. NW; 6-8:30 a.m. Monday-Friday, 7:30-10 a.m. Sunday; $16 drop-in; Quietminddc.com
-Woodley Park Yoga 2625 Connecticut Ave. NW; 6-9 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8-11 a.m. Sunday; $17 drop-in; Woodleyparkyoga.com