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How to find your practice

A couple of people have recently asked me what type of yoga they should practice; with the myriad of methods available it can be confusing and time intensive to find a class style and teacher with whom you can relate. Choosing a method that resonates for you is a personal choice, and it often changes over time. My advice is to go to a lot of different classes and see what feels right. So much of relating to a particular class and style has to do with how you interact with the teacher and what state of mind are in when you go to the class. Try to withhold judgment while you are in the class and let the experience settle before ultimately deciding if you’ll return for a second try.

There are a few basic styles to look for:

Vinyasa Classes (Ashtanga; Jivamukti Yoga ) – a flowing sequence where postures are generally not held longer than 8 breaths. Vinyasa (vi-order; nyasa-conscious placement) means practicing an ordered sequence, where the breath acts as a linking mechanism from posture to posture.  Classes are often referred to as dynamic and encourage strength and flexibility. There are many variations of these classes, offering anything from limited or no spiritual spiritual aspects of the practice to chanting, scriptural study and/or linking intention with the breath.

Iyengar Classes – focus on alignment and structure. Postures are held longer in general and props are often used to emphasize precision of alignment and utilization of specific muscles. Many practitioners who are not regular Iyengar practitioners attend Iyengar classes to recover from injury and to deepen their knowledge about anatomy and asana structure. The spiritual component is usually present but subtle.

-Restorative/ Longer Breathcount Classes (Yin Yoga: Sivananda Yoga )- focus on creating a feeling of balance and openness throughout the body. Poses are held longer to emphasize a slow release of held tension in muscles and tissues to deepen the overall experience of each asana. Spirituality is dependent upon the method and teacher.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of yoga styles; nowadays in a big city you can find anything from laughing yoga to naked yoga to yogalates, but when looking for an asana class one of these basic categories should be available.

Keep in mind that a part of the yoga practice is learning to detach from our preferences; reigning in our likes and dislikes of one style of yoga, one teacher or even of one studio over another. Nonetheless, when choosing a yoga class, it is always better to choose a class you can enjoy! Sometimes becoming aware of our preferences and how they affect us and change over time is enough.

On a personal note, I started out practicing yoga without knowing what method I was learning. As it turns out it was Sivananda style, which seemed to help me relax but didn’t make me feel inspired or more joyful. I moved on to try Ashtanga which appealed to my athletic side and my desire at the time to compete with myself and to sweat. I tried Iyengar as well, which helped me to understand alignment and breath technique, but something was still missing for me. On a whim I tried a different studio where there was a woman chanting with a harmonium. I hated it. At the time I didn’t understand how the chanting related to the asana practice and my frustration and need for physicality sent me straight back to Ashtanga. A year and one back injury later, I gave the same studio where I had experienced the harmonium another shot and voilà! I was hooked. Something within had changed during that past year enabling me to perceive the experience differently. The class had a profound affect on my life, ultimately changing me personally and professionally. The class I took was based on the Jivamukti Yoga method. I went on to become a Jivamukti yoga teacher, however, I enjoy practicing many different styles of yoga with different teachers at different studios. There is always something to learn.

Coming soon: what makes a good yoga teacher? My response to this article…

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