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August 2010 Which Style of Yoga?

Dear Yoga Friends,

This topic comes up regularly in yoga magazines and other publications, so I'd like to take a crack at it as well. After your first yoga class, you may have thought "Ok, so this is yoga. I was wondering what yoga would be like, and now I have a feeling for what it is about." Then after a few more classes, hearing from others who practice yoga, and reading an occasional article here and there, you realize that a particular yoga class reflects a teaching tradition or multiple traditions in which the teacher was trained, filtered through the sensibilities and interpretations of the particular teacher. The possibilities for the experience are therefore wide-ranging.

With all the styles and methods being practiced and taught - Iyengar, Astanga, Vinyasa Flow, Bikram, Kripalu, Jivamukti, Anusara, etc. - it is understandable that people will try different styles and classes to figure out what works for them. My first yoga class was an Iyengar class. I flirted briefly with other methods, but there was something about the structure, precision, range of poses, systematic yet creative ways of working in them, sequencing, therapeutic resources, and the extraordinary achievements and inspiration of B.K.S. Iyengar that spoke to me. There was very little searching; I was on the path.

Beyond the appeal to me of the method that I practice, and more significant, are the palpable effects and impact on my life. When I am faced with life's challenges and stress (which I am at this moment, and who isn't?), my yoga practice provides a source of centeredness, strength, and calm that can carry me through a tough day. And though yoga may not guarantee me excellent health, I am sure that my health is better than it would be were I not practicing yoga.

At the same time, we are all unique, and I recognize that there is no "one size fits all" solution for anything that is important in life, especially when it comes to personal evolution. I was moved by Eric Shaw's article "35 Moments" in the latest edition of Yoga Journal. In just a few pages, Eric manages to convey the vast landscape of yoga stretching back thousands of years, framed in terms of prominent events, teachers, and achievements. So what I do is just a drop in this ocean of yoga. Well, it may be a tiny drop, but it's great to be a part of that ocean.

If someone new to yoga asks me to recommend a class, I will of course tend to steer them to what works based on my own experience. But at the same time I am well aware that there are many teachers and practitioners going deep in other yoga traditions. What I do firmly believe is that in any mind/body practice, some rewards do come early with a modest effort, but the real fruit comes only if one goes deep into it. To paraphrase another popular water metaphor, you can dig a few wells, but eventually you have to commit to one and dig deep enough to find water. If you dig a lot of shallow wells, you will become very tired and thirsty.

Good luck with your yoga journey and I would love to hear your views as always.



Patanjali, legendary author of the Yoga Sutras

Chad Balch