What kind of yoga do you do?

I don't have a concise answer to this questions and it seems to bother people who ask it of me. For a number of years it bothered me too as I strove to find a yoga "identity".

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:
  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
So if you practice with me sometime, you're sure to have centering at the beginning, savasana at the end, mindful movement throughout our practice together....but other than that, who knows what will come out?  Certainly not me!  And the best part about it is that it's your practice.  Whether it's with me or elsewhere allow it to always be your practice and think of what the instructor says as "suggestions" rather than "instructions".  And enjoy whatever kind of yoga you "do".

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.

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Bob Weisenberg said...

I love this post, Deb. You and I both celebrate the diversity in Yoga, and this is a great description.

As you know the same fascinating diversity exists on the spiritual/philosophical side of Yoga which is my particular cup of tea.

I also like your description of the way you just go with the flow in your own home practice. I'm now in the habit of just scattering 15-20 minutes asana, meditation, and breathing sessions throughout the day, as my mood dictates.

Bob Weisenberg

Florian said...

Thanks, Bob. Am I sensing a guest post in the works from you on the diversity of yoga philosophy?? Hint, hint...

Lyn-Genet said...

I too have had this question to always silence me for a moment. I have been practicing yoga for over 30 years (since I was 11) and yoga has meant different things to me at different times.
My practice is viniyoga, anusara with some old school hatha.As I have gotten older and more yin, I have veered from astanga which was surely my passion 15 years ago.

It is only in the last few yrs in which I lost the need for extreme athleticism that I consider kirtan and chanting a yoga practice as opposed to a separate "thing". Ironically as I have lost the need for the "workout" of yoga, I have become more lean and muscular...

On another note I shared the 30 day journey with all the students of my yoga studio. I found it to be wonderful and on some days just what the holistic dr ordered!


Florian said...

Lyn-what a beautiful descreption of hoe your practice has changed over the years. Thank you for sharing. And...I'm so happy to hear you shared the yoga journey with your students. Deb

Yogabon said...

Your is a really thoughtful post to a tough question.

I found yoga just after 3o. I was drawn to the Vinyasa style with it's strength and stretching flow. I built wonderful strength and flexibility going into my child-rearing years.

Approaching mid-life, I am also coming to a real appreciation for a deep Yin in practice.

I've been teaching for 10 years now and try to accommodate my students' needs, and interests. So my class will differ by what kind of needs are dominant in the room.

I pull from Erich Schiffman, Rodney Yee, John Friend, Suzie Hurley, Shiva Rhea,Patricia Walden, Lilias Folan among many others world known and local.

My overarching goal is to help each student fall in love with Yoga as I have and find their own path.

Scott said...

I was thinking about this and I have a friend that only does Bikram Yoga. He is very into the poses and although I sometimes think that he is missing the point, I believe that it is working for him, reducing stress, reducing internal rage, losing some weight and I thought that I might be missing the point. My friend looks like a linebacker for the New England Patriots and is a Boston firefighter that could use all of the yoga he can get, Bikram, Hatha, Iyengar, who cares it works. He is the moment, he is not living in the past or present. I recently received an email from a yoga studio in New Jersey who told wrote an essay about what is yoga ( classyoga ) and what is not. We all fell into the category of non yoga. I thought of my friend the linebacker, it works, it is Bikram, and who are we to question him.....

Bob Weisenberg said...

Scott. Just ignore people who try to define Yoga. People didn't agree from the first recorded history of Yoga.

And see my latest post on my wife Jane's Yoga practice:


Bob Weisenberg