Somewhat like personal style, over time a yoga practice evolves. And if I’m being true to myself, these practices become more and more a personal expression of my stage of life and learning. Which is to say they might be an expression of you, too, because if you’ve been practicing yoga long enough, you start to realize that the lines are very blurry on how we’re actually different and how we all need very similar things in slightly different ways. I digress… ;)
In getting to know several new-to-me studio spaces, I’ve been asked what style of yoga I most resonate with teaching, especially when I’m invited to teach. Is it Yin? Restorative? Ashtanga? Vinyasa? Iyengar? Hatha? Katonah? Anusara?
And, for many years without missing a beat I’ve always said Vinyasa. No question. Now? I'm not so sure.
In our culture, the Vinyasa style of yoga is synonymous with “Flow Yoga.” It’s known as a series of postures that are built upon each other in a pattern that [hopefully] intelligently transitions from one movement to the next. It can be quicker paced or slow. Your heart rate may accelerate throughout a 60-75 minute class or it may not. I’ve often said it’s similar to a dance on the yoga mat (and I still believe this).
In reality, Vinyasa simply means to place in a special way, linking breath to movement. That’s it. Not necessarily “flow.” No loud, pounding music (unless you want it, which sometimes I totally do). Not power yoga or a defined sequence. This style of teaching has always given me the freedom to do what is needed for the students that are in front of me. However, sometimes I think Vinyasa [and maybe yoga overall] has a branding problem.
Simply saying I teach “Vinyasa” doesn’t really feel right to me anymore. As I’ve explored my own style of movement over the years, studied over 400 hours this year alone in yoga therapy, led a handful of teacher training programs, taught hundreds and hundreds of students, and now have been a guest in several studios around Rhode Island, I realize there is a difference in the Vinyasa I might want to share with you and the Vinyasa that is mainstream right now.
Is your head spinning yet? Mine has been. Perhaps the yoga I teach simply can’t be defined within the constraints of a 100 character class description:
The yoga I want to be known for teaches you how to come back home to yourself.
The yoga I most resonate with is one where I meet myself and each student where they’re at, allowing them to have as close to a spiritual experience as they can as they breathe, move, and eventually come to stillness on a mat.
The yoga that I teach pulls heavily from the modern dance world and invites the body to move in ways it wants to, welcoming in yoga postures and sometimes movement that looks nothing like yoga, but inevitably frees the body from tension and unveils the inner wisdom and desires of the heart.
The yoga I continually hope to share honors the earliest days of the practice, of actually listening to the needs of the individual(s) in front of me and giving them a little of what they want and a little of what they might need in alignment with the 8-limbed path.
Maybe that’s Vinyasa some days. Maybe it’s Hatha others. Maybe it’s nothing but pranayama (breathing practice) and pratyahara (what could be known as mindfulness). For fellow students (of which I think makes up every reader here), I want you to know that yoga can look completely different for your body and your unique needs day to day and, if in a class setting, a good teacher will honor that. Yoga is meant to serve the individual and the students in the room, not necessarily always the class we as teachers might have put together. These are complex discussions - that fact is not lost on me.
What I will say, is as my self-study continues, something unique is emerging. A practice that is as elegant as it is challenging (and I mean that in body - mind - spirit). A practice that weaves together the freedom and grounding and expression of dance with something softer and sensual in form, all seen through a very yogic lens. It’s nourishing. It’s therapeutic, physically and emotionally. It encourages us to see the way we move on the mat as the same way we move through life. It challenges everything we believe in, too.
I share all of this to say that your way of practicing yoga does not have to look like anything you see in the mainstream culture. I also share this to say that if you need to do something different in a group class than…well the group…then that’s more than okay. Yoga is about taking care of YOU. If you’re a fellow teacher, I share this to challenge you in your own teaching - How do you want others to feel as a result of your guidance, rather than what do you want them to do? And, I challenge us all to step outside of the “clearly” defined boxes of these different styles of yoga and simply get on our mats, move our bodies, maybe shake our butts, and note how this connection with our worldly vessels might in fact remind us of our otherworldliness. Yes?
Drop me a line if this hits you somewhere. I’d love to hear from you.