It is hard to escape the trend in North America nowadays of the popularity of yoga. One encounters images and references to yoga in subways, popular magazines and at the gym, to name just a few instances. The popularity of yoga is unquestionable; the question may be why and how do I make my way through all of the many unfamiliar terms, styles and forms that are being offered. To an unfamiliar eye, the mystical and somewhat curious world of yoga certainly may appear daunting and in some cases, confusing.
In my experience, once we have an understanding of something, take out the perceived threat and explore it with an open mind and contextual reference, we stand to gain from the potential that lies therein. Consider it analogous to traveling to a foreign country, initially not knowing the language or the customs, and then eventually relishing in the discovery of a new world. Studies continue to affirm yoga’s multitude of health benefits, and everyone from athlete’s to movie stars, to high powered executives are incorporating yoga into their fitness regime. Interestingly the physical benefits are often the motivation to practice yoga, which eventually leads to a deeper mind-body awareness and connection. Yoga offers that to you and more, due to its physical, mental, and spiritual attributes. For those of you scared off by the word or notion of spiritual – don’t worry, from the world of yoga, spiritual simply refers to the fluidity of your Self, or your ability to fully embrace and express your life-force, which is essentially a state of bliss, a state of non-suffering. Self-realization was the sole purpose of practicing yoga. Yoga simply means the union of Self or perhaps more accurately the re-union of Self -because we all start off in this world as quite blissed out babes. It is the journey back to that state of peace and joy about life, about our self, that is the path of yoga.
It is a fact that no one has realized this state, which for reference we will now call the Soul, without using the body, the mind, the intelligence, and the consciousness (which are all parts of nature), as a means to realize it. When these attributes are cultivated, they become refined and merge in the Soul, this integration of body, mind and spirit is wholeness, one, also referred to as atman or nirvana, and represented by the sound and symbol OM. It is the state of non-duality, where there is no longer conflict and misery due to illusions and distortions, but peace and ease. Sounds like something we could all use a little of, don’t you think?
To begin, we must start with where we are. For most, that may be at a place which initially has no concept of what I have been talking to above, except that you may feel conflict, or you may be suffering in one way or another. Or you may just simply want to get in shape and have herd that yoga is a fine way to tone your body – which is great; the body is the vehicle through which we experience it all. So let’s begin there and demystify all of the various forms of the physical practice of yoga (Hatha Yoga) and discover which form is the right one for you, right now.
Begin by clarifying your purpose or motive to want to practice yoga, this will help you narrow down the range of what is available to a “short list”. For instance you may need deep relaxation, you may want a sweaty workout, or you might desire a more philosophical direction, you may need help with recovery from an illness or injury, or you may want to explore and dabble, not really sure what style you are drawn to. Luckily you are born at the right time, as it just so happens there is just about every form and style available now in the popular culture, whereas 30 years ago, yoga in North America was still very obscure and unfashionable.
Next you will need to find a teacher or studio where you can explore your options. If you are clear what your needs are you can “interview” or query a teacher or studio as to which classes would best meet your needs. Remember during this process that each teacher is a unique personality, which will influence the nature of the class even if the style is depicted a certain way, for instance you may enjoy one teacher more than another even if they are teaching the same style of yoga.
Traditionally you would study with the same teacher for a long period of time, nowadays with the advent of yoga becoming Americanized, we are witnessing many drop-in style classes. This is good in its own right – diversity, interest, and availability, however there are benefits to studying with one teacher, such as familiarity, consistency, continuity and progression. It is something, which you now have a choice about and the best advice I feel is to trust your instincts and educate yourself. So here we go on the mini course of the various styles of yoga.