"Mysore practice is like being the driver in a car on a trip to somewhere new for the first time. Led practice is more like being the passenger in that car. You may be able to find your way back to the destination a second time having been either the driver or the passenger, but chances are good that you were paying more attention if you were doing the driving."
-paraphrased from Beryl Bender Birch (unfortunately, I didn't write down her exact quote in class)
Okay, last and final post on practice styles, for awhile anyway. Next week will include a daily post on the each of the 5 days of the Mysore workshop with David Keil...so I guess this still isn't the last word exactly...
so a few more ramblings about practice styles...
-When you memorize a sequence of poses to practice, then you can practice anywhere! Nothing is holding you back.
-Muscle memory of what is next in the sequence removes the need to "think". I have found more space to keep awareness on what I'm feeling in practice when I don't have to think about it. Since in my day job I'm a biologist, I already spend quite a bit of time "in my head" analyzing things. It's been very liberating to have some small bit of time each day where I work less analytically and more intuitively.
-I cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I'm just not a talented multitasker. So, if I'm listening to a teacher guide the class, then I'm not listening to my breath. Same thing happens to me visually. If I'm watching a demonstration by the teacher then I'm not keep my eyes steady on the gazing point for the pose. Only when the outside stimulus is minimal am I able to shift the focus from the external to the internal world. I am hopeful that this skill to will build in the same way that the physical practice grows over time. I would love to see that day when I can keep steady concentration no matter what's happening! Until then, I have lots of practice to do and in my own practice I need to minimize the external stimulus to learn the skill of paying attention....which means mostly Mysore practice for me.
-I have become far more aware of the pace and strength of my breath when I'm initiating the pace. There is more room then for the normal daily variations in pace and strength.
-A different kind of relationship has developed with the teachers that have worked with me in a Mysore class. I have been less apt to take suggestions as criticism when they are offered one on one with very specific intent. A greater level of trust has developed which has given me more confidence to "dig a little deeper" in practice.
There is often a tendency to place something we are familiar with, say aerobics class, around something unfamiliar, say yoga, and make it fit. I've found the greatest benefits from yoga when I stopped trying to force it into an "aerobics class" format and worked at it more like I learned to play the piano as a kid. The same analogy would work with sports if you're not a music person. To learn any new skill, you begin with the fundamentals, not with the flamboyant. In piano, you begin with scales not Bach. In order to someday play well, there is lots of daily practice. It is finally when you can stop thinking about the small details like what notes come next, that you can express larger themes of the music intuitively.
That is really my best explanation of Mysore style Ashtanga yoga practice.