Much the way recent college graduates meeting for the first time ask each other, "where did you go to school?"; yoga people meeting each other ask, "what kind of yoga do you do?"
Yoga is very personal and almost private for me. My home practices are the heart of my yoga. Although I love attending yoga classes, I tend to find more comfort and spirituality in my personal practice. I never know what my practice is going to look like until I'm doing it. Sometimes I get on the mat and stay in child's pose for 15 minutes and then sit in meditation for an hour. Other times I roar through 20 sun salutations, sweat like crazy, take savasana and a few rounds of pranayama. Today, my feet were cold. So the first 20 minutes of my practice were all postures I could do with socks on until my feed warmed up.
I am not loyal to one tradition of yoga other than the yoga sutras guidance of finding steadiness and comfort (sthira and sukka) in every movement and posture. However, I draw on many traditions when I'm teaching and practicing.
Call me jack-of-all-yoga, master-of-none or yoga mutt, I pick and choose from lots of traditions. And I'm fortunate to have teachers who encouraged me to try all sorts of yoga and develop my own style. So to answer the questions of what kind of yoga I do, we'll ahhm, it depends on the moment.
Here's a sample of the kind of yoga I "do" and what I like from different disciplines:
- Viniyoga is my strongest influence, and where I've had the most formal training. I love the emphasis on individuality, modification of postures and that it is ok for each of us to look different in the same posture. I know I'm in the vini-zone when I'm teaching and I look out at the class and no one is looking at me and everyone is in a different place in a sequence.
- Ashtanga sequences usually start me off when I'm doing a vinyasa (flow) practice. I welcome the predictable flow of Surya Namaskar A and B (sun salutations). And when I'm teaching vinyasa to a class of "experienced" vinyasees, the energy of the collective practice gets strong when we begin with powerful, familiar sequences like the Asthanga warm-up.
- Yin yoga is a gift from the universe like no other. Long held (5-8 minutes), gentle, passive postures intended to stretch our bodies' connective tissue (fascia, tendons, ligaments) and bones can enhance our meditation practice and give us tremendous releases in our bodies. It is rare that I teach or practice without incorporating at least one yin posture into the session.
- Kundalini yoga is invigorating and a fantastic change of pace for a yoga class full of Type A Power Yogis! Some of the Kundalini exercises are wild and involve chanting. Any time I sense a class is feeling uptight or overly focused on getting things "right", I throw in a Kundalini move to break the tension. Usually, this gets people to stop taking their practice so seriously: standing with feet wide, inhaling arms over the head and with a loud exhale through the mouth, quickly fold forward with bent knees and yell "HAH" as you let both hands hit the floor loudly. It is a great stress reliever! I also love, love, love Kundalini music and use their mantras and chants for most of my practices.
- Iyengar is where I go to learn new postures. I don't care for the way most Iyengar teachers design a whole practice around one type of postures (e.g. the whole class might be to prepare to do a shoulder stand). But I have never walked away from an Iyengar class without learning something new about a part of my body I'd never paid attention to (for instance, my sternum). And I know I'm a better teacher for learning postures from teachers who are so steeped in knowledge of the anatomy of yoga.
- Buddhist meditation and the practice of awareness are staples in my teaching and my practice. The reason I don't plan my practices or my teaching in advance is because I believe the practice should evolve with each moment based on our awareness of our body/mind/energy needs at that particular moment. Although a disciplined planned practice can be nice for our bodies, I find that a hatha yoga practice without awareness/mindfulness/conscious breath can easily turn into exercise. While exercise is great too, it is not necessarily a union of body and mind.
I'd love to hear from teachers on what inspires your teaching and from students on what types of yoga you're attracted to and why.