Which style of yoga?

Perhaps you’ve been thinking for a while that you’d like to try out this yoga thing that everyone else seems to be doing and talking about. You’ve finally made your intention to give it a go..

So, you’ve been thinking for a while that you’d like to try out this yoga thing that everyone else seems to be doing and talking about. You’ve finally made your intention to give it a go: you go online to look for a class and.... whoa, hang on a minute, there are over ten different types of yoga to choose from here. Some of them have got funny Indian sounding names and you’ve no idea which one to choose or what you may be getting into. Will you be sat around burning incense and listening to Ravi Shankar or will you be locked in a heated room at 36 °C, being subjected to rigorous physical exercise?

There are now more styles of yoga to choose from than ever before and for the newcomer (or even seasoned practitioner) it can be tricky knowing what each one is all about.

So perhaps a bit of history will help.

The styles of yoga that are most widely on offer today (in our culture) are variations of a yoga path called ‘Hatha Yoga.’ Hatha means forceful and is characterised by an emphasis on physical postures, cleansing techniques and breathing exercises. Hatha yoga has been practised in India for at least a thousand years. The other important paths of yoga (that are much harder to find in our culture) are Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Raja. Although modern styles may borrow or be informed by these other paths, they are, in the main, drawn from the hatha yoga tradition.

In the early part of the twentieth century, three yoga masters began teaching in India: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and Swami Kuvalayananda. A number of their students went on to become great teachers in their own right. They developed distinct methods for teaching the postures and breathing techniques of Hatha Yoga to large groups of students. These teachings began to spread to the west in the 60’s and 70‘s, each bearing the stamp of their respective lineage. It is from these great teachers that the popular, modern styles have evolved.

Whether you go to an Anusara, or Ashtanga Vinyasa class, you are still essentially practising Hatha Yoga: just a different approach to the practice of postures. Originally, the postures themselves were one component in a range of other practices aimed at complete spiritual liberation. The idea of exclusively practising postures is a relatively new development in Hatha Yoga.

So I guess what I am saying, is that its all variations on a theme. If you go to the shop to buy a new ‘Hoover’, you could choose a ‘Dyson’, a ‘Henry’ or a ‘Panasonic’ but they are all basically ‘hoovers’ that will do the same job of getting your carpet clean. Hatha yoga is the same. Whichever style you choose, if you practice regularly, you will experience improved health, flexibility, strength and clarity of mind. Your carpet will be cleaned!

Having said this, there are definitely some styles that are more suitable for certain temperaments and levels of physical mobility than others. The application of a posture based practice can vary greatly in its intensity. Some people may be more suited to an extremely vigorous, physically demanding practice, whilst other folks may prefer a bit more of a sedate pace.

So we are back to square one. We still have this question of which style to choose from.

What I would recommend is: initially, try out a few classes in various styles taught by different teachers and see how you feel during and after each one. Which class did you enjoy the most? Which teacher do you feel most drawn to? Personally, I believe it is much more important to find the right teacher than it is the right style of yoga. The first teacher I trained with was an Iyengar teacher and, although I never pursued that style of yoga, it was her initial inspiration and encouragement that got me interested in yoga and led me to begin a regular practice. Whats really important is the skill of the teacher and their ability to convey the teachings in a way that resonates with you.

Yoga means union and is all about the interconnectedness of all things. A yoga teacher is someone who can point the way to finding that connection. The teachers may have slightly different maps but the territory itself remains the same. The crucial thing is that the teacher is able to clearly and safely show you the way, regardless of which map they are working with.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different styles and teachers. You will know when you have found the right teacher for you. Once you find a teacher you like, I suggest you stick to them like glue! Learn as much as you can from them.

If it is your first time going to a class then try not to be daunted by the range of options on offer, the words you don’t understand or by thinking that everyone else knows so much more than you. Yoga itself is very simple, but as human beings we love to make things very complicated. If its your first time going to a class, check beforehand that the class is open to beginners: and if you haven’t already contacted the teacher, seek them out at the beginning of the class and let them know its your first time.

Good luck and enjoy!
Hari OM
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