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For this yoga class, ‘a certain level of brave’ is required

Students in the mysore yoga class at the Ashtanga Yoga Centre on Yonge Street practise at their own pace and receive one-on-one help from instructors, July 5, 2012.

Galit Rodan/Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

After a late night and non-stop day, I consider cancelling my first Mysore session at the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. That is, until a little research turns up the fact that the centre's director, David Robson, gets up at 3 a.m. to practice Mysore-style – the traditional way of learning Ashtanga, which involves progressing through an increasingly difficult series of poses – five mornings a week. He then spends another five hours working with students at what has become the largest Mysore program outside of India. I decide to suck it up and stick with the plan.

After I slowly slide open the door to the small studio, two things are immediately apparent. One, there's no new-agey music. There is, however, a lot of deep breathing. And two, it's more than a little sweaty in here. The temperature – which typically hovers around 30 – is largely self-generated.

There are 15 students of varying ages and body types. Two instructors constantly move between mats, gently easing a back bend here or a downward dog there. (Note: This is a very hands-on studio.)

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"I quickly realized that if I wanted to teach Ashtanga right, it had to be Mysore-style," says Mr. Robson, who became enamoured with the method a decade ago after travelling to the Indian city of the same name. He admits it can be intimidating to walk into the studio for the first time during its drop-in hours – "You've got to be a certain level of brave to come here," he says – but maintains that the level of one-on-one instruction makes it ideal for beginners.

For the record, Mr. Robson – slight, soft-spoken and prone to such pronouncements as "I would never give up on you" – is about as non-threatening as it gets, especially for a fledgling yogi like myself. What's more intimidating is the time commitment. Beginners can get away with one or two 30-minute sessions a week, but more advanced students ideally require an hour and a half, six days a week.

Unlike most group classes, Mr. Robson and his team of instructors know most of the 120 students who come through each morning – as well as their injuries – and spend as much time as necessary guiding newbies through their poses. I've never had this much individual instruction in a group setting before. It's almost like having my own guru.

Mr. Robson starts me off with sun salutations. I do five repetitions of salutation A, followed by five repetitions of salutation B. After talking me through each pose, he encourages me to attempt them from memory – a central component of Mysore. (This enhances the meditative effect of the practice, he says, because if your mind starts wandering elsewhere – say, to the shirtless Beckham-type in front of you – you'll quickly come to a halt.) We move on to three sitting poses before it's time for shavasana.

I drop by for a second session at 7 a.m. on a Thursday, and the studio is already packed with wall-to-wall mats – nearly twice as many as my evening session, with an additional instructor making the rounds. As the series grows progressively difficult, it takes longer to master a pose before I can tackle the next one. "It's at your own pace, you don't have to keep up with anybody," says Mr. Robson. "If you need to stay longer on a certain pose, you need to stay longer." Case in point: he was once stuck on the "reclined upward foot diamond pose," which involves rolling your body upward whilst holding your foot with the opposite hand – for more than two years.

Instead of being bored by so many repetitions of so few poses – as opposed to the non-stop progression of a regular, instructor-led group class – my overloaded brain embraced the monotony of Mysore. And the perfectionist in me took pleasure in honing the most basic movements. With Mr. Robson correcting my form when necessary, I wasn't constantly checking it in the mirror. (There actually aren't any in this studio.) Nor was I risking injury by trying to force too-advanced poses. And after two 30-minute sessions, my downward dog has never been better.

Yes, I could just practise on my own, but that would mean missing out on the sense of community, not to mention constant access to an instructor. Would I try Mysore on a more frequent basis? I'm intrigued, but can't imagine committing to six days a week. "That's the ideal, but anything is better than nothing," says Mr. Robson. "It's just whether or not you want to change that much."

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