" Perhaps because of the physical challenge, Ashtanga appeals to "type-A, overachiever kind of people," says Andrea Varalli, a freelance graphic designer from Maui and student at the Institute. Yet even people who push themselves, he says, soon realize that, as in all yoga practices, "the physical part is just an entry" into enhanced mental well-being.
Classes start at 5 a.m., but many students arrive earlier to find choice spots for their mats. Five days a week, sessions are "Mysore-style"—that is, students work at their own pace while Sharath, who goes only by his first name, and his mother, Saraswati, move around the room, correcting students' poses and demonstrating new ones. On Fridays and Sundays, classes are taught to the group as a whole. Beginners get separate instruction for part of the day. Class ends at 8:30 a.m., after which many students adjourn to nearby cafés. Whatever they order must be vegetarian. Alcohol, too, is off-limits.
The strict regimen doesn't seem to be a problem for the students, according to Marcus Fontoura, a senior research scientist at Yahoo! Research in Sunnyvale, Calif., who is on his first pilgrimage to Mysore. "I practice at 5 a.m. in California, too. I'm used to it. Everyone is."
A month's tuition is 26,900 rupees (about $600), with additional months 17,900 rupees (about $400) each. There's no weekly rate since the school requires a one-month commitment—no refunds if you leave early, either, and some students do. The Institute is open from January through March and June through December, except for a short break around yearend.
When the school is closed, Sharath travels abroad. His workshops in New York, London, Sydney, and elsewhere have been attended by a host of celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, and Mike D., drummer for the Beastie Boys. Sonya Jones, wife of hedge-fund magnate Paul Tudor Jones and a close friend of Guruji and Sharath, has made a few low-profile visits to Mysore, too. "