Interview originally published here:
Asthanga and Mysore, tell us more!
Our first retreat of the 2012-2013 season will be hosted by Krista Shirley and Elise Espat, an Ashtanga Adventure! We wanted to find out more about Krista, Ashtanga, and the Mysore teaching method. Get excited, their retreat will surely prove to be an amazing experience!
Krista: It all started at a World Gym in Altamonte Springs, Florida my junior year in College. I decided to try a new yoga class that appealed to me because it appeared to be quite a challenge. It was a modified led Ashtanga Yoga class and I loved it. After a couple of weeks of classes at the gym, my teacher introduced me to Winter Park Yoga where she practiced each day and where they taught traditional Ashtanga Yoga in the Mysore method. I committed to come six days a week for one month and then I was totally hooked. The transformations I went through mentally, spiritually and physically were truly life changing. The rest is history…I eventually started teaching this method because I live it each day and it seemed a natural progression for me to share this passion with the world. I love waking up each day and doing my practice, then teaching this practice to others. I feel truly blessed in this life to have this yoga to help me be the best me I can be, and to be able to do what I love for a living.
Xinalani: You teach Ashtanga Yoga. Can you tell us about this particular style of yoga?
Krista: Ashtanga Yoga is a 5,000 year old discipline that explores, develops, and integrates the body, mind and spirit. Ashtanga Yoga purifies the body, the nervous system, the internal organs, and the mind through the use of vinyasa (breath with movement), asana (physical postures), deep breathing, and drishti (looking place or gaze). Practicing Yoga Asanas purifies the body and strengthens and gives flexibility to the body. Performing deep breathing purifies the nervous system. Drishti is the place where you look while performing asanas, or postures in order for you to concentrate on one specific place; also helps to stretch the eyes. The goal of incorporating drishti to your practice is for purification and stabilization of the mind. Daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga promotes weight loss, vitality, mental clarity, stress reduction, deep relaxation, and overall health and wellness to the practitioner. Our beloved Guru, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois was the modern father of this yoga method and taught students from around the world in his home in Mysore, India until his passing in 2009. Now Guruji’s grandson Sharath is the primary lineage keeper of this yoga method and is my and Elise’s teacher.
Xinalani: How do Ashtanga and Mysore yoga relate to one another?
Krista: Mysore is a specific way to teach the Ashtanga Yoga method. Ashtanga Yoga is a specific ‘yoga style’ that consists of breathing, bandhas, drishti and a specific sequence of postures that make up the primary, intermediate, 3, 4, 5, and 6 series. This ‘yoga style’ can be taught in a led setting or a mysore setting. In a led setting a teacher will verbally guide an entire class from start to finish (Surya Namaskara A to final rest). Students must start at the same time, move at the same pace, and end together. Unlike led classes, mysore classes are very unique, very individualized, and truly the absolute best way to learn and practice yoga. This unique method of instruction is suitable for beginners as well as longtime practitioners because every student is taught individually. In other words, each student is given a one-on-one lesson in a group setting in order that he or she can progress through the Ashtanga Yoga series’ at their own pace and according to his or her individual needs. Timings are also flexible so people can come to their mat when it works for them and are not mandated to get to their local studio by a specific time. For example most mysore rooms will have a morning program from 6am to 10am, for example, and students can literally show up and start their practice anytime between 6am and 9:00am as long as they finish practice by 10am. This allows students flexibility in their schedule, and helps in the natural functionality of the mysore room because different students need help with different asanas and the spread out timing allows teachers the ability to help all students when they need help – if it were a led class one teacher could not help 20 students in drop backs in a timely manner but in a mysore room he/she can.
This is the way that yoga is taught by our teachers, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India and why it has come to be known as “Mysore Style” teaching. For more information on Ashtanga Yoga please visit
Xinalani: In the fitness world, experts often say you need to change up your workout in order to constantly challenge your muscles in new ways so they don’t become accustomed to the same movements. Why is Ashtanga different, even though you follow the same series repeatedly?
Krista: I’ll try to answer your question from a purely physical perspective: In Ashtanga Yoga asana practice you do repeat the exact same series of postures in the primary series until you master those asanas (postures) – until you are indeed accustomed to the movements and your body has not only physically mastered the ability to do the movements with grace but also mastered breathing fluidly without strain while doing the postures with grace. This is not cross training, this is yoga and one of our goals is to steady the body by training the body and breath so that we can then work to steady the mind. But it takes a long time for a person doing the Ashtanga Primary Series 6 days per week to truly master that series and be ready to move onto the next. During that period of working towards mastery the student is doing the same sequence each day struggling to find balance and agility, stamina, control, coordination, build strength and flexibility and much more. And over time, doing the practice consistently, for a long period of time, without break, a student will eventually become master over those movements that make up the primary series – as that is part of the process. If we took the approach of the general fitness world, we would never master any yoga postures– to me there is little benefit in that. While physical fitness is certainly a benefit of yoga practice, it is only one of many – the process should take us deeper and deeper, not keep us on the surface level. But please don’t mistake me, this asana practice is an intense physical challenge. Once a student does master primary series he or she will slowly build up second series postures and later 3rd and so on, and each series is progressively more challenging and demanding on the body. One thing that really makes this yoga method unique, even for fitness buffs, is that the student can gauge their own progress in their practice each day – as they get deeper into postures, attain more balance and flexibility they can see that on the mat because they are repeating the same sequence over and over until it is ‘mastered’ so that their body and mind is ready to embark on the next series of asanas to continue to challenge their body, mind and spirit.
Krista: Absolutely! I can guarantee that not one day is ever the same on your mat. Let’s say you are working to master primary and have three poses left in the sequence. Sunday-Friday you do your practice exactly the same each day, but on Sunday you focus on keeping with the Vinyasa count, Monday you are extremely tired and move much slower than the count and holding postures a few extra breathes, Tuesday you are short on time so you have to leave out your final three seated postures before moving to finishing, Wednesday your mind is all over the map thinking about a deadline at work and you are not very focused on asana but you show up and do anyway, on Thursday you are totally connected with your breath and bandhas and nothing in the world can distract you in practice and you attain a true moving meditation session on your mat, and Friday your teacher leads your class through primary series with proper Vinyasa count and you end in final rest with your eyes closed, clothes drenched in sweat, smiling knowing tomorrow is a rest day. Every single day is different and YOU make it what it is. You put in the effort or you don’t, show up and do or you don’t, allow the distractions in the room or in your head to affect your practice or not, go to classes outside your local studio when traveling or chose to roll out your mat in your hotel room…While Ashtanga yoga does not allow for creativity in sequencing of postures in the series, that doesn’t mean the practitioner cannot be creative within the structure of the sequence in each series. If Ashtanga did allow creativity of sequencing, then it would no longer be Ashtanga Yoga – it would be power yoga or flow yoga or power flow yoga or Vinyasa or any of the many names people have made up in recent years to describe their own creative diversion from this traditional Ashtanga yoga method. In Ashtanga yoga the creativity comes from within you. Each day is a blank canvas and you get to color it how you wish. I see my practice exactly the same way – my Ashtanga yoga practice is my canvas – I get on my mat and take my prescribed practice and the outcome of that practice is totally up to me – the lessons I learn, the stuff I release the thoughts I have or don’t have…New styles of yoga that ‘mix things up’ remind me of today’s toys for children. Toys today are so detailed and so intricate there is little room for creative freedom on the part of the child. Today’s yoga classes are so mixed up and flavored with this and that, there is little room for yoga practitioners to go deep within themselves to have their own creative experience. Simple is best – allows more room for growth, change, transformation and joy.
Xinalani: Each year you go back to Mysore, India to practice and learn. What are some of the more valuable bits you have taken away from your recent trips?
Krista: Ha, funny question for me personally because my most recent trip with my son (then 1 and a half), and the trip before I was six months pregnant with Kaiden. Regardless of my condition, I can say with certainty that India is a magical motherland that feeds your soul and each trip I make fills me to the brim with adventure, mystery, struggle, joy and faith.
I return to India each year to study with my teachers at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga institute to ensure my practice is progressing under the correct path. Doing my practice alone at home all year, it is a true gift to get to return to Mysore and ‘check in’ with Sharath for a few months, to be a student only, to surrender to India, allow myself to be vulnerable, and to soak in all that India has to teach me.
The valuable bits truly are the ones words cannot describe. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone, putting your faith and trust into a practice such as this, allowing yourself to be open to learn from every single interaction and experience – these are the things that make each trip so special. Be it India, Mexico, Morocco or anywhere on this globe that you consider an adventure or something on your bucket list, something that excites you or moves you – remember life is short and you deserve to live it to the fullest. So whatever it is you wish to experience, wherever it is you wish to travel – do it now! You might just learn something along the way!
Krista: Elise and I met in the fall of 2007 in Mysore, India. We were both studying at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore with Guruji, Sharath and Saraswathi. When I met Elise I loved her spirit. We hung out that year in Mysore, have stayed in touch through the years, and have met up when we can in India, New York and California. We cherish our friendship with one another, enjoy the chances we have to see one another, practice and learn together, and we both love travel and adventure. So when Elise came up with the idea of doing a retreat together I was totally on board. This will be our first of many retreats together because we know it will be a week full of fun, adventure, hard work, dedicated practice, relaxation, and exploration. We both love this practice, are both deeply dedicated to our teachers and this lineage, both own our own yoga schools, both work hard, play hard, and practice with devotion. We enjoy adventure, challenges, problem solving, and fun; we work well together and care deeply for each other and I know our retreat participants will benefit tremendously from our co-contributions as well as our individual ones. I am very excited about this week at Xinalani with Elise and am eager to share our friendship and passion for this yoga with our group.
Xinalani: What will your group experience during your Yoga Retreat in Mexico?
Krista: ADVENTURE! We will start each day with our Ashtanga Yoga practice followed by chanting. We will then enjoy a wholesome group breakfast. Participants will enjoy some free time to relax, explore, read or rest until lunch at 1:30pm. After lunch each day Elise and I will facilitate excursions for the group from body boarding, kayaking, shopping, mule rides, swimming with the dolphins, trekking and snorkeling. These excursions are optional so participants can join in or do their own thing. The group will reconvene back on resort property at 5pm for meditation, chanting, lectures and much more and we will end each day with a group dinner at 7:30pm.
After a week of yoga and adventure with me and Elise at Xinalani, our group will leave with some stellar memories, new friendships, and a new found or re-discovered love for travel and adventure!
Xinalani: What advice would you give from your own personal experience to our readers?
Krista: Don’t ever look back wishing you had done something…Do…and do without regret…even if the outcome is not what you envision, the experience is wisdom gained to carry forward to the next opportunity…So DO and by doing you will live your life to the fullest.