But, the model just doesn't work. :/
Every month or so, I get an email from a person who's looking for a Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga program in the Northampton area (I used to teach one for about a decade) and I have to give them the sad news that our program at Ashtanga Yoga Northampton ended in the Summer of 2020, and that there's no Mysore program in the Noho area, or really, at all in Western Mass.*
Well before the pandemic hit, I had come to terms with the fact that the Mysore program I ran was an unsustainable business model. (See this article from 2013 by Peg Mulqueen outlining why it's not as lucrative as teaching group classes.)
My husband, who is a very wise and successful businessman, would shake his head ruefully whenever I shared what I earned after expenses each month. I generally only shared what I made if it had been a good month - it was that disheartening for him. But, I'd laugh at his silent consternation, and gently give him a kiss of gratitude on the cheek, while saying, "Just consider that I'm running the nonprofit wing of the Ryan Family."
Admittedly, teaching Mysore style was exhausting: getting up 4 or 5 mornings a week in the dark, and driving 30-40 minutes to open the studio for the early students. On our busiest mornings, there'd be about 20 people who'd show up during the three hour window of practice time. On the slow days, only 8-10 people would come to class. We sold a lot of very reasonably priced unlimited monthly passes, which were very affordable - a steal really, if you came to class at least 3 times a week. And we had several scholarship students. Not profitable, not sustainable. But, very sweet, nonetheless. Oh well. Capitalism.
We soldiered on until the pandemic shut us down, finally. And I must admit, I was grateful for it: I was knackered out, exhausted from a decade of trying to make it work. But, I loved to teach Mysore, up until the very end, and really didn't want to quit. It took a global pandemic to shut us down: I am that stubborn.
James never quite understood that it wasn't about earning money for me, but rather, the "payment" came through the intense fulfillment of real human connections I made as a Mysore teacher, and especially, the dear, sweet sense of strong community - one built during quiet, silent moments of deep concentration, in instances of stress-relieving, lighthearted, shared humor, and in heartfelt groupwide appreciations or murmurs of support or encouragement. We gloried in our fellow practitioners overcoming a longstanding challenge, whether it be physical or emotional. And, we all "knew" each other's Ashtanga practices: the ways our bodies and minds were eased and challenged and molded over many months and years by the yoga. We were all in it together. Very sweet. True community.
All of this was possible only because it happened in a container of deep trust and commitment to each other, and because of our mutual love of the Ashtanga modality of yoga - really, of vinyasa, that glorious innovation of Krishnamacharya's: breath and movement melded in a grand and glorious unity, to create something sublime, to birth the state of yoga.
Yes, the postures were spectacularly challenging sometimes, but ultimately, the focus wasn't so much on "doing the postures", but rather, doing the postures *while* purposefully focusing more on the simple but profoundly transformative practice of breathing "freely, with sound".
(The word I said most in that room was "Breathe!")
But, alas, there is a tendency towards egoic hierarchies of domination that can potentially manifest in these same spaces, and the ableist and ageist pitfalls one can fall into, especially if one is a newer Ashtanga teacher, too. Nothing is perfect, if humans are involved, after all! But, these pitfalls can be easily avoided if we let our egos dissolve, and it's such a brilliant system, Ashtanga can and will do that for you, if you surrender to it, that is - ishvarapranidhanad va!
Sadly, this method of learning yoga, which is really quite traditional to how it's taught in India, pre-capitalist as it were, was soooo hard to explain to prospective students. It's almost impossible to help folks understand how the Mysore Ashtanga was absolutely so much better for those learning it or new to yoga, than an Ashtanga class that went through the full series all at once - that it slowed the learning process down into smaller chunks that most folks could grock more easily and safely - so much that it was a brilliant method for everyone, no matter how old, no matter how fit or not. "Semi-private yoga geared to YOU in a group setting" is as close as I got to explaining it -and still people would look at me in a pleased confusion when asked what it is I "did" for "work."
"Why not come to a class and watch?" I'd say, and the rare person who came to watch would be blown away by the sheer beauty of breath and human bodies of all kinds in motion - so unlike any other yoga class they'd ever been too - but, still, so intimidated they would be afraid to return.
No, most folks need sound bites and bullet points and pictures, and the anonymity of being lost in a group of practitioners all doing the same thing simultaneously, maybe with a little hip-hop groove added to numb the mind a bit, too. Nuance is lost in bullet points. Even what I am describing right now doesn't actually describe the deep, subtle, intense, lovely and profound experience of being in a committed and longstanding Mysore room with steady veteran practitioners and earnest newbies, all being shepherded by a wise, kind and sensible teacher/practitioner holding the space. Hence, why I still get emails from hopeful students, and while I still feel a bit brokenhearted when I have to tell them, "No, I don't teach a Mysore program any more."
*I think, but am not sure, that Sruti Yoga in Great Barrington, still offers a session once or twice a week. Go support them, if you can!