Which yoga is right for you?
Different styles of yoga fit different needs
Pat Harpell, Eons contributor
The word yoga means “union” or to “yoke.” In some contexts it can mean, “discipline.” Hence, yoga is a discipline that helps unite your inner self (mind, body, and spirit) with the outer world. I’ve found that once the mind and body are “yoked” together, our true spirits emerge. And there’s good news: The nature of our true spirit is one of bliss, harmony, and deep peace. But finding the right yoga style for you can be a daunting prospect. There is Hatha, Iyengar, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Svaroopa, Yin, Power, Vinyasa, Power Vinyasa, Bikram, Sivananda — and on and on. How do you start?
First of all, if you have any health concerns about starting a yoga class, check with your physician. If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, angina, or one of many other conditions, some yoga positions may be off limits. However, many teachers have specific training for various dis-eases (hyphenation on purpose!) so don’t give up hope if you have a chronic condition. The Yoga Alliance (http://www.yogaalliance.com) sets the standards for teachers and schools, and can be useful in finding instruction in your area. If you’re a beginner, take a beginner’s class (sometimes called Level 1). One of the first things that the physical practice of yoga will teach you is how to check your ego at the door – so you can avoid hurting yourself on the mat. Many people who have been practicing yoga for years still prefer a beginner’s class. Bravo to them! Classes for “All Levels” generally expect that you have some familiarity with yoga so that the teacher can avoid spending most of her/his time teaching basic poses.
You’ll find lots of “power yoga” classes at health clubs, but more traditional yoga classes are specifically designed to be gentle and relaxing. Many instructors now give their class’ descriptive names such as Relax and Renew, Yoga for Athletes, Gentle Yoga, Yoga for Stress Management, and Yoga for Chronic Pain, which makes choosing a class much easier. If you cannot tell from the name, call and ask the teacher to describe the style and physical requirements for the class you’re thinking of taking.
If your first class doesn’t appeal to you, try another studio or teacher before declaring that yoga isn’t for you. You’ll be amazed at how it feels when you find the right situation. Better than comfort food. Try to attend at least one yoga class a week for at least two months. The first five classes can be the most difficult, as your body and mind get used to stretching, balancing and strengthening, and realizing their true potential.
If a physical practice is not for you, take heart. There are six branches of yoga, and not all of them involve bodywork.
Hatha yoga (http://www.yogajournal.com/newtoyoga/159.cfm) is the most popular form of practice in Western culture. Although it is far less challenging than the original practice, Hatha is “forceful” – i.e., physical – yoga. It comprises most of the styles of yoga mentioned above.
Raja (classical) yoga is the “royal” path that follows the 8 Limbs of Yoga (see my first blog) as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. If you can concentrate well and enjoy meditation, you may benefit from for this yogic approach.
Karma yoga is the discipline of selfless service to others. Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and many social workers, nurses, and teachers are Karma yogis. Community service is a form of Karma Yoga open to all of us.
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion and love for the divine, which is present in every person and thing. Bhakti yoga is best suited for those who are emotionally fluid and seek to cultivate an open heart. This form of yoga includes chanting (also called kirtan) and spiritual worship.
Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom through study of ancient scriptures. It is the form of the sage — the most direct but also the most difficult form of yoga, calling for a high degree of intellectual capacity and inner detachment.
Tantra yoga is the ritual path. It revolves around the axiom that there is no gap between the divine and the world – so we can achieve its ends in the midst of ordinary life. Tantric yoga has a bad rap in the West, as most people associate it with sexual rituals. However, genuine tantric schools recommend a celibate life style. Tantra yoga is best suited for serious students who have an inner relationship to the feminine cosmic principle and who enjoy a more ceremonial approach.
You will have no trouble finding Hatha yoga classes, but if you want to learn about and practice the other forms, you may need to do some research on the internet or talk to a yoga instructor in your area. Whatever form of yoga you try, try it with all of your heart. They all lead to the same place (joy, peace, inner strength) with practice and devotion.
Pat Harpell, Director of the Acton Yoga and Wellness Center, is a Registered Yoga Teacher. She is part of the Integrative Yoga Therapy program; a certified Hatha, Children’s and Meridian Yoga Teacher; and a Master USUI Reiki practitioner. A student of Qi Gong and Tuina healing arts, and Shiatsu therapeutic massage, Pat is also co-president of the Mass Yoga Network, a non-profit bringing the benefits of yoga to under-served populations through teacher grants.