One of the defining features of Ashtanga Yoga is its organisation into series of postures, where practitioners follow set sequences and learn each posture once they have mastered the previous one.
Usually, the teacher is the one to decide whether a student is ready to proceed; and ultimately, for students who travel to Mysore, Sharath Jois is the authority on where each student is up to in their practice.
There can be resistance to the idea of adhering to a sequence and waiting to proceed, but the method has a few intentions behind it.
When seen in its entirety, the Ashtanga sequence is based on postures that build on each other or balance each other.
Within each series, postures act as preparation for the next pose, and the series build on each other, from a more therapeutic and preparatory focus (Primary Series), to accessing the nervous system (Intermediate Series), to building on greater strength, flexibility, focus and resilience (the advanced series).
Additionally, in each series there are ‘gatekeeper’ (also known as ‘gateway’) postures that signal a student’s readiness for the next sequence. For example, in Primary Series there are postures that seem disproportionately difficult compared to the others, such as Marichyasana D and Supta Kurmasana. However, they are crucial postures to master if one is to proceed safely to Intermediate Series.
Similarly, the requirement to drop into Urdhva Dhanurasana and stand up unassisted signals that the student has not only the flexibility but also the strength for the intense backbends of Intermediate Series.
Waiting to be given the next pose can be hard, especially given the striving, achieving nature imposed by the culture we live in, which can make us impatient to wait and work hard for things we want.
But deferring to a teacher teaches us a rare humility, which can be more valuable for our lives than attaining a new posture.
The pace of our physical progress through the Mysore sequence also sheds light on internal work we need to do on our personal development.
This all contributes to making following the Mysore sequence in yoga a complete package of physical, mental and emotional self-study.
About Dr Dani Ceccarelli:
With a deep knowledge of Ashtanga Yoga, Dani is a direct student of Ashtanga Yoga Guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and more recently his grandson Sharath Jois, and has travelled regularly to Mysore, India, since 2001. Dani has their official authorisation as a Level II Ashtanga teacher.
Dani has practiced yoga since 1996 and taught since 2000. “I discovered yoga after the birth of my first son in 1996. I practiced Hatha and Iyengar Yoga until 1998 when I went to my first Ashtanga Yoga workshop. It was ‘love at first sweat’, and since then I have been committed to daily practice.
“Even though it is a dynamic practice, it can be made accessible to many levels of physical ability. To learn how to adapt the practice to students’ needs, I have extended my studies to include Iyengar, Yoga-Synergy, Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga, and hold certification from the International Yoga Teachers Association and Australian Ashtangi Matthew Sweeney.
“I feel the strong physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga has the potential to open the heart and calm the mind, enhancing self-awareness and overall wellbeing.
“Yoga pervades all aspects of my life, from parenting my three teenage boys to working as a marine biologist and making time for music and art.”