Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. When not teaching, I enjoy learning and writing (my blog) about both eastern and western approaches to body-mind union.

Have you ever stepped into a yoga Shala during a Mysore class, thinking its a chaotic class that the teacher seems to have given up on and just walked out?

Well at first, it might look like that. But there’s logic to the madness…

The Ashtanga tradition started in the city of Mysore with K. Pattabhi Jois and his teacher T. Krishnamcharya. Jois popularized this tradition with the practice called Mysore style. 

The students have to memorize the sequence and practices together but on their own. The teacher, instead of leading the class, observes, helps and accompanies the students during their practice. The teacher tells the students where they stop their practice and step by step, the more the students evolves, the deeper they can go by adding on the next level from the series of Ashtanga yoga. 

There’s so much complexity in the Ashtanga practice and so many layers to look through. Often we mistake this practice for the “modern yoga” and physically focused. 

But when you step into the Shala, instantly there is an atmosphere. I would even say, there is a silent agreement. 

You lower your voice and there’s a feeling of reverence, a sacred feeling. As if we all knew that there is something special about to happen. 

Usually, I’m very verbal and musical in my classes. I like to talk and try to bring my students from point A to B within a class. I want to take them on a journey. It goes from how I introduce the class, to what I say during it and the music that I choose for this bit on their path. But maybe this is a way to decorate the work. It’s helping them on the way, so that they stay with the practice. I know it works that way because many students come to me after class to point this particular thing out. To tell me that it has taken them further in their practice when I TEACH them how to. In a yin class, I will keep talking with visions and meditative practices so that students don’t float off in their day dreams and just sit there without discovering the beauty of the yin within them. 

Ashtanga is more of a tough love kind of teaching. It is not helping you on the way at all. Traditionally there is no music and no talking more then instructions for poses ( and no “yogic voice” telling you to open the heart to the sky or the ground in those beautiful poetic ways that we have often gotten used to in western classes). The students are responsible for their own involvement in the practice. 

So there will be days when you don’t get it, when you’re not “there”, not able to do what you usually do, when you feel frustrated… And that is when you learn because that is what life is too. 

This leads to how to take your yoga off the mat. 

It starts with the encouraging feeling of commitment, of showing up. It’s the dedication to the practice, to your wellbeing, to your life. 

Then there’s the apprehension of what is to come, do I have the strength today for the next two hours of mental and physical focus? 

You’ll be flushed with joy of flowing through the sun salutations and then gratitude and appreciation of finally folding forward for ten breaths. 

You notice if your body responds to your commands, to your personal cues the same way it did the day before, if you’re smoother in the transitions or if it feels harder. 

It is a journey, every time. And there you are, in a room full of people and there are SO many things going on at the same time. Yet, not a word. Silently traveling together. 

So many thoughts run through your head, so many fluctuations of the mind! 

The distraction of someone placing their mat next to you when you are already half way towards the finishing sequence. The synchronicity when the person on the next mat is practicing in the same rhythm as you. Catching someone’s eyes for a second in their half way lift, in ardha uttanasana while you’re in adho muka svanasana (downward facing dog). The mind travels and then it is brought back to its center, to its focus, to your drishti (the gaze) as you move to another asana (pose). 

It is truly a beautiful moment to observe the ways of your mind. The stories you tell yourself, the reflections you then have on your own thoughts and then maybe, just maybe; the letting go of it all.

You walk out of there, with a consenting smile to your fellow practitioners. 

There are many ways of looking at this practice and everyone has their opinion but I can just go back to what my teacher Swamiji Abhishek Chaitanya said:

“If yoga is only physical to you, it is because you are on a physical level of yourself.  Let the journey begin there. Later you will grow more sensitive to your own presence. Yoga will still your mind and a calm mind is capable to respond to life more appropriately. There is no such thing as a physical confusion. It is on the level of the mind. Ignorance is the root to all suffering and yoga is the instrument that removes the suffering.  When you understand that the root is ignorance, you are at the dawn of knowledge”