Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are big with thick, furry coats. Some are small and practically hairless. Some have long snouts. Some have smashed faces. But despite these sometimes extreme differences, we learn from a very young age that all of them are lumped under the title - dogs.
Similarly, there are many different kinds of yoga - and all are grouped under the very broad category of yoga. Some styles are more traditional with storied histories and lineages; some have only recently come on the scene. Some are physically challenging; some are super relaxing. Some styles like to hold single poses for longer periods of time; others like to flow from one pose to the next - more like a dance.
Since I've started teaching, I've had the privilege of being exposed to many different styles - including Vinyasa, Budokon, Bikram, Iyengar, CorePower, YogaFit, Structural Yoga Therapy, and Ashtanga. Though there are many similarities in these styles, they do have their distinctive qualities. Some teachers prefer to teach only one style - surrendering to a single lineage or sequence of poses. Other teachers, including yours truly, prefer to offer a unique fusion of many styles.
In a non-dog analogy, some teachers prefer to revolve around an established system in ways much like the planets of our Solar System revolve around the sun. The Bikram or Ashtanga styles have fixed sequences for their teachers to offer their students. These teachers stay in orbit around their style(s) of choice, and many find success in both their own personal practice and their teaching careers with this approach.
Perhaps in rebellion to my orthodox religious upbringing, or because of my aversion to commercial brands, I have prefered a different approach to practicing and teaching yoga. Instead of revolving around a single tradition, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I prefer not "to be warped by an attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system." As a matter of principle, I enjoy my autonomy and freedom to integrate, experiment, deviate, explore, and expose myself and my students to the many varied and effective ways of practicing yoga.
So what style is it? Well it varies from class to class and client to client - but almost every session I teach will include the following 5 elements:
- Focus on the breath: The breath is the bread and butter of yoga. It is a way to calm or energize your body and mind. In any given session or class, I will give constant and repeated cues to breathe in various ways and feel your breath, be present with your breath, and appreciate your breath.
- Strengthening: Yoga will make you strong. The isometric holds in poses such as High Lunge (see photo) will build plenty of strength and muscular endurance, but without the bulk. Sometimes in class your muscles will scream out for mercy, but no need to worry. That just means they'll be ready for more next time.
- Stretching: Just about everyone knows yoga makes you flexible. After just a few sessions, you will notice your limbs become light, lithe, and limber. Your spine will have greater range of motion and you'll inch ever closer to touching your toes - or even palming the floor.
- Balancing: I love yoga's many balancing poses, so guess what? That means I teach them too. This means balancing on tiptoes, one leg, and sometimes even two hands or one hand (as in Side Plank Pose). These poses are crucial for stimulating your mind and body connection as both elements have to work together to keep you upright. The better balance you have, the less likely you are to fall and injure yourself.
- Relaxing: Yes I may be a Marine and I may be a guy, but don't let those things fool you. I love to relax - often before, during, and after a yoga session. Just as life has it's constant fluctuations between movement and stillness, vigor and torpor, action and inertia, so too should a yoga session. Just like a long full day of work makes for a sweet night of rest, so too does an active session of yoga allow for a deeper relaxation than might otherwise be experienced.
So there you have it. Of yoga's many styles and lineages, in my classes and sessions, you'll get to experience a balanced blend, harmonious hodgepodge, and concordant conglomeration of yoga poses and styles. As I continue to broaden my yoga scope and learn more going forward, I will integrate what I find valuable into my practice and my teaching sessions so you too can experience the best and most effective of yoga's many styles and approaches.