If you are new to yoga and trying to figure out which class to take, you may feel a bit overwhelmed since there are more than a dozen different schools and styles to choose from Vinyasa, Hatha, Kundalini, Restorative, Power, Yin, Functional, Aerial, Ashtanga, Hot, Flow, Shakti, Mysore, and the list goes on and on.
I was lucky I didn’t have that problem, or unlucky because I didn’t have that “choice” (depends on how you look at a half-full glass of water) because when I took my first yoga class in 1988 most of the classes I found were just called “Yoga” or “Hatha.”
As veteran Yogini Lisa Brunette recalls, there were no yoga studios back in 1994 where she resided, St. Louis, Missouri. The only yoga available to her was either on PBS or videotape played on a VCR at home. It may be hard to imagine how it was like before the Pandemic but now you might find it “normal” after numerous Zoom classes this past year.
I enjoyed my Hatha practice for many years until one day I couldn’t find anyone offering “Hatha” near me; all the classes were labeled with different names that I wasn’t familiar with. In the 90s, like crocus popped up in early Spring, the trend of inserting style distinction in the class schedule surfaced. So many new names I had never heard of emerged and it hasn’t stopped since. Once a while a new style or approach was created, for example, Aerial Yog and Functional Yoga, hence my yoga sampling journey began.
I did a fair share of Vinyasa/Flow when traditional Hatha was not available to me. Neither of them has a fixed set sequence and teachers can be as creative as they want to be. But Ashtanga and Bikram Yoga are different; they both have a fixed set sequence. Bikram Yoga is the father of Hot Yoga. Bikram Choudhury created a room heated to 105 °F (41 °C) with a humidity of 40%, intended to replicate the climate of India. Although I love Bikram’s fixed sequence of 26 postures, devised from traditional Hatha Yoga techniques, I couldn’t tolerate the high humidity due to my birth defect, Mitral Valve Regurgitation. Luckily I found a class that practiced the Bikram’s fixed sequence in a regular room. From there I got to experience the beauty of a set sequence yoga practice.
Once you know the sequence and three repetitions for each posture, your practice becomes a moving meditation because you can move without your thoughts being preoccupied with worries like, “what’s next?” I also remember when I first started this practice I couldn’t hold my foot and lift the leg to 90 degrees without a struggle. After a while, it became a piece of cake to accomplish this challenge because I was doing the same pose in every class and you can easily see improvements over time. “Through repetition, the magic is forced to arise.” — Alchemist precept
The first time I heard of Anusara Yoga was through my favorite teacher I met in Taipei city in 2000. It made perfect sense since John Friend created Anusara Yoga on Iyengar’s system of alignment in 1997. Iyengar Yoga is a type of Hatha yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, and other objects as aids in achieving the correct postures. In the late 80s and early 90s, none of my Hatha teachers used props and hands-on adjustment.
It might be the probability of the chance that I didn’t pick teachers who taught in Iyengar style or perhaps the alignment-based style wasn’t as popular. I don’t remember the exact year when I first got adjusted and used props but I have been forever so grateful to those teachers. I have had enough shares of injuries and operations that made this particular style very critical to my continuance of yoga practice. I learned how to modify poses to accommodate my condition so I can rehabilitate myself and keep enjoying yoga.
In the past 20 years, while dealing with thyroid cancer, arthritis, broken meniscus, frozen shoulders, sciatica, herniated disks, and stiff person syndrome and etc., I relied on therapeutic yoga styles such as Restorative and Yin Yoga to carry me through my immobile time. Restorative Yoga was originated from the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar and later popularized by his student Judith Lasater in 2007. It brings deep relaxation and balance to both the mind and body by allowing the body to slow down and relax in a small number of poses. Opposite from Restorative Yoga’s “active relaxation,” Yin Yoga, is an “inactive work.” Originally created by Paulie Zink, a martial arts champion, in the late 70s, Yin Yoga is also known as “Taoist Yoga” because it is rooted in the Chinese Taoist philosophy according to the Founder.
The Yin Yoga we know today has been further developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers who fused Indian yoga asana, human anatomy, and kinesiology, with TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) theories of energy maps of the body, the 12 meridians. Yin Yoga, widely available since 2009, and Restorative Yoga have differences but there are many similarities, for example, they both are slow-paced, gentle and hold each pose for a long period of time. I especially love the peaceful long hold because it gives me time and space to observe the subtle changes in my body, mind, and spirit alignment.
I have done some “Sufi grind” here and there over the years but I didn’t really know Kundalini Yoga until 2015. That summer I had a massive eye stroke (aka Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion) combined with macular degeneration, so my doctors told me to avoid inversion since it would increase the eye pressure. So with a wrong perception of Kundalini Yoga, I decided to try it (maybe I was guided by the Universe?) Little did I know that decision transformed my life!
Unlike present-day you could find Kundalini yoga classes in many studios; back in 2015, there was only one yoga studio offering Kundalini Yoga in Bergen County, NJ. I fell in love with this crazy yoga after the first class because something touched my heart and my tears were coming down like a broken pearl necklace during the entire closing mantra. I felt I found a home, home for my heart.
Although sometimes I had to sit and do nothing in class because of my eye condition, I still went because of the beautiful music and mantra chanting which is my favorite school of yoga, the Naad Yoga. Kundalini Yoga got everything I wanted in one: pranayama, asana, movement, mantra chanting, dancing, rest reset, sound healing, and meditation. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is mine.
My personal yoga experience is like a grain of sand on the beach, but I witnessed how much the yoga scene has changed over the past 33 years. It always made me smile whenever I saw “Hatha” reappeared on another studio’s class schedule. Recently I noticed many references to “Chinese Yoga.” “Excuse me? Which Yoga Now?”