As someone who has loved and practiced yoga since 1998, I have a huge beef* with today’s mainstream yoga ‘industry’. (*with apologies to the vegetarians and vegans out there)
My beef is this: these days, far too many yoga studios pander to what’s in vogue and trendy, jumping on the bandwagon du jour to give their customers what they think they want.
Sadly, this seems to be at the expense of giving their customers something ‘different’, while educating, informing and inspiring the ever-growing population of yogis and yoginis that there is a whole world of yoga out there beyond Hot Yoga, Ashtanga or Power Yoga.
I’m on a mission. And my mission is to help you identify if in fact you’re in a yoga rut; to help you break out of that rut; and shake things up by introducing you to a bright shiny world of yoga, beyond what you’re probably currently doing.
My personal experience/history with yoga started with my first Hatha class in 1998, in a non-descript little studio in a suburban strip mall. Back then, yoga was still quite fringe and not that ‘trendy’. The owner and teacher, a middle-aged Englishman who had clearly spent a large part of his younger years hanging out with yogis and gurus in India, gave me what I know now to be my solid foundation and profound love for yoga that continues to serve me today.
And over the past 15 years, I have tried several other types of practice – Ashtanga, Kripalu, Iyengar, Restorative, Bikram, Jivamukti, Anusara, Kundalini, Moksha, Power, and Yin – feeling a natural affinity for some… and a complete aversion to others (just because it’s yoga, doesn’t mean that it’s all great!)
I share this fact not to impress or dazzle you, but because I feel that most yoginis (and yogis) today are doing themselves a huge disservice.
Yes, I’m thrilled that you’re practicing yoga, but are you stuck in a yoga rut?
Here are 5 easy questions to ask yourself to spot if you are.
- Do you only ever go to Hot Yoga classes, or high-intensity Ashtanga, Power or Vinyasa classes?
- Did you jump straight into the world of yoga through Hot Yoga without trying any other type of yoga beforehand?
- Can you name 5 other different types of yoga? Have you tried one or more types?
- Do you know how and when different types of yoga can benefit you (your mind, body and soul) and why?
- Do you know where to find these classes in your city?
Not only is variety the spice of life even in yoga, but shaking up your regular routine and practice is a wonderful way to get in sync with what your mind/body/spirit needs on any given day, which is never going to be the same from one day to the next.
For instance, if you’re feeling sluggish, a vigorous Ashtanga or Vinyasa class is exactly what you need to get your energy going.
In the Fall when it’s cold, windy and wet and you’re chilled to the bone, there’s nothing better than the warmth of a Moksha or Hot Yoga class.
And if you’re a driven, intense Type A personality and have just done an intense 60-minute spin class, the best thing for your body would be a gentle yet highly effective Restorative class, or even a Hatha class, to gently stretch out your muscles… and not a 75-minute Hot Yoga class!!
Don’t get me wrong. I love my Moksha (Hot Yoga) practice, but there are many days that, and in spite of living in a major urban center, I wish I had easier access to a Kripalu, Restorative or wonderful ‘old school’ Hatha class when I felt like it, and within walking distance. Unfortunately, it all boils down to demand and supply. Fewer people today are clamoring for Kripalu, Hatha, Kundalini or Restorative classes than they are for Hot Yoga or Ashtanga/Vinyasa/Power yoga classes.
In an effort to help you break out of your yoga rut, here’s my personal ‘playlist’ of 5 different types of yoga for you to explore and shake up your routine.
The key here is to try a different type of yoga class and see how it resonates with you, and then moving forward, remember to tune in to what your mind/body/soul needs on any given day, by opting for one of these instead of doing the same-old-same-old type of class week after week, which not only puts repetitive action stress and strain on your muscles and joints, but also limits the magic and postiive impact of your yoga practice in your life, on and beyond the mat.
Historically, Hatha Yoga describes any of the physical practices of yoga. Today, a class marketed as Hatha generally means that you will get a gentle, slow-paced introduction to the most basic yoga postures, with no flow between poses. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a Hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving the class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed. A Hatha class is a good place to learn beginners poses, relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with yoga in general. It incorporates foundational asanas (postures), pranayama (regulated breathing) and meditation.
Kripalu is called the yoga of consciousness. This gentle, introspective practice guides practitioners to hold poses to explore and release emotional and spiritual blockages. Kripalu is 180° away from goal-oriented Power or Ashtanga practices. Striving is discouraged and precise alignment is not as important as in some other yoga traditions. There are three stages in Kripalu yoga. Stage One focuses on learning each posture and exploring your body’s abilities. Stage Two involves holding postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage Three is like a meditation in motion in which the movement from one posture to another arises unconsciously and spontaneously. It’s simply blissful!
In a Restorative yoga class, you’ll spend long periods of time lying on blocks, blankets and yoga bolsters in passive poses that allow your muscles to relax. It’s an absolutely delicious way to way to melt away stress and soothe frayed nerves, and is also highly beneficial if you’re recovering from an injury or illness. Contrary to what you many think, these passive poses are extremely powerful and effective, without having to exert the kind of effort you would in another type of practice. That said, a good Restorative class is more rejuvenating than a nap. Studios often offer them on Friday nights. What better way to shake off a stressful week and energize yourself for your weekend.
Yin yoga is a quiet, meditative yoga practice. It is also called Taoist yoga. Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yogas (the more physically exerting muscle-forming Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Flow type practices) Yin poses are passive, but not in the same way as Restorative yoga. With Yin, you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. Full disclosure: in Yin, you can expect to hold the poses for a long time, 5 to 20 minutes in some cases. Not only does that create space as well as restore and expand your range of motion, but it’s a great opportunity to practice meditation and quieting the monkey mind. One of the amazing things about Yin yoga is that it enables you to release those deep, intense bundles of tension that most of us hold in our key joints: ankles, knees, hips, the whole back, neck, and shoulders. And the outcome is increased flexibility while appreciating your body’s individual abilities.
Kundalini practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises. What you can expect is constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release the Kundalini (serpent) energy in your body. Most people aren’t aware that they even have it – that is, Kundalini energy. The easiest way to think of it is as an energy supply, coiled like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened and tapped. And the Kundalini practice aims to do just that – awaken and pulse a powerful prana/life force energy upward through the body. What you can expect from a Kundalini practice is an amazing yoga buzz, breathing that will skyrocket your energy, and postures and meditation that will keep you grounded and focused. It’s more than just a great workout; it’s great for anyone seeking greater spiritual and mind/body awareness.