The Many Branches of Yoga

I suppose yoga is the same as almost anything in life, the closer you look the more there is to see.  So too, is it a constant evolution in terms of finding what is right for you; which in many instances of life can take a long time on a convoluted path.

I first toyed with yoga when we were living in Greenwich, CT. Suddenly, after those first frantic years of child rearing, I had a few precious hours of free time on my hands and wanted something meaningful to do with them. Delivering shirts to the laundry I noticed a flyer on a community advertising “Gentle Hatha Yoga”.

Eureka.

Completely ignorant of almost anything about yoga, let alone the meaning of “Hatha” I purchased a mat and wound my way up a steep hill towards a house perched like a birdcage, precariously teetering at the summit. The studio itself was filled with glorious light thanks to a glass wall beyond which an idyllic garden monopolized the landscape. The setting itself assured me that if nothing else I would find peace in my new métier.

As it turned out, the yoga happened to be a little too gentle for my needs although the teacher was delightful and the surroundings serene. I do however fully credit the elfin 70 year old teacher with inspiring my yogic journey and ultimate goal of becoming a teacher myself.

Having ruled out Hatha until a later date, I followed my nose, literally, into the depths of a basement studio under a swanky shop on Greenwich Avenue. For many months I had noticed women emerging from the underworld, drenched, puce-faced, yoga mats rolled under their arms. Taking in their clearly exhausted profiles I figured that this form of yoga might well be worth further exploration.

Bikram Yoga is a practice of 26 postures, each repeated twice, in a sequence that never changes. The postures and their associated rigors aside, the intensity of the heat is quite simply – extreme. Being a native of a sweltering climate I had little problem with the temperature, even somewhat relishing it as the snow fell on the street above. I flushed my body with litres of water and cleansed myself literally and figuratively. I could almost see the toxins sliding down the sweating length of my arms. I still practice Bikram occasionally when the mood grabs and am ever comforted that no matter how long it has been since I took a Bikram class, I know exactly how the 90 minutes will be spent.

Eventually, as we moved further south in the States, a new studio came into my life, although the temperature remained hot. For a long time I practiced Power Yoga in a heated room which resulted in the same soggy clothes but more leeway and range of poses. I found the fast pace and intensity of the practice addictive. I thrived on the flow and the loud decidedly un-yogic music, but realized that I had taken a somewhat unconventional sidestep.

Since moving to Toronto I have been fortunate to discover Anusara Yoga, which has slowed down my pace allowing me to focus microscopically on principles of alignment. This in turn has taken my own practice to a new level. Where once I thought I had mastered a pose, I now know I was merely moving through it without understanding the fundamental principles. To add zest to the yogic recipe I take a Flow class once a week, which satisfies the dancer deep within, and allows for posture play.

The point I’m trying to make is that yoga is made up of a multitude of options. And just like finding a mate there truly is a practice out there for each and every one of us. It’s just a matter of trying until you find a combination that fits your needs on and off the mat. Best of all, if you find a teacher who can open you mentally and physically to the benefits of a regular practice, it won’t really matter what you call it, it’ll become just plain yoga, and fulfill all your needs.