Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yogasana Schools: a Definitive Guide

My definitive (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) guide to the different styles of yoga. A lot of lists will tell you that a style combines "a focus on the breath" and "alignment" and "flow," and they all end up sounding exactly the same. But I'm here to lay it out for you. Of course, let me know if I'm way off base, because I'm always interested in learning more!

imageAshtanga: the beast that started it all. The popularity of "vinyasa-style" and power yoga all come from lineage in ashtanga. Developed about one hundred year ago an popularized by Sri Pattahbdi Jois, who died last year. Adherents refer to hum affectionately as "guruji." Modern asana-based yoga practiced had two daddies; one is B.K.S. Iyengar. The other is K. Pattahbi Jois. Every practice follows the same pattern: chant, 10 sun salutations (5 of A, 5 of B), an opening sequence of standing forward bends, then a series of balancing and seated postures interspersed with "vinyasas" to keep you nice and sweaty throughout. You end with closing sequence of shoulder stands and variations lotus. 

As if an intense series of forward folds and full and half lotus variations weren't enough for a liftetime, there are Intermediate and Advanced series. And depending on who you talk to, there are FOUR levels in the Advanced series. So, yeah, this is a style for overacheivers. Perfect for people with OCD, people who wake up eary to run 10 miles, etc. 

imageAnusara: A combination of vinyasa-style and alignment-obsessive styles. You'll here the phrases "keep that" and "melt your heart" and reference a lot of "spirals" mentioned. The guy who started it ripped off a bunch of employees and had affairs with witches. The teachers are a giggly bunch. 
Bikram: Same type-A's who like Ashtanga and repetition (again, this style is the same series of poses), but also are into S & M and think most yoga is too touchy-feely. Suck it up, buttercup! This is the style that made swimming in a pool of your own sweat popular. People tend to think this is a calorie-burner, but that's only because they're sweating like there working hard, even though they're not. And the guy who created it is the douchebag who is suing other hot yoga studios. 
Hatha: All the asana-based classes you attend are technically hatha yoga, so this is kind of a catch-all term, but tends to describe classes where the focus is the poses without all the vinyasas. Generally a fairly gentle style, but again, this is a fairly non-specific denomination, so you could end up standng on your head for 30 min and then blame me for saying this is a gentle style. 
Iyengar: Takes alignment obsession to the next level. This is the the yin to ashtanga's yang, but only in the sense that vinyasa and surya namaskars are not emphasized. Studios actually have rope on the wall and encourages adherents to hinge violntly at the hips to get the blood flowing. Hmmmm. Not sure about that. This is a good foundation/basic style. Because it focuses on the "right way" to do a posture, it generally is the best approach for those with pre-existing injuries or anyone predisposed to them.... so really anyone. This style will teach you everything you need to know about how to do the pose, but personally, once I know, I prefer modern vinyasa/flow styles to get in and out of them. 

Jivamukti: Started in the eighties by Iggy Pop and Morticia, this is a style that's pretty similar to the Ashtanga/vinyasa way of doing things, but with a pretty hefty dose of veganism and New Age politics. This is NOT a school to recommend to your Republican friends. If it weren't for the vegan sanctimony, I would actually suspend more disbelief and really get into this, because they emphasize spirutuality and meditation more than your typical most vinyasa-based physically demanding practices. SO you get your physical AND mental workout, which is similar to my own practice. Sharon was rumored to be having an affair with one of the couple's celebrity clients years ago, but at this point, what yoga guru HASN'T been in a sex scandal?
Kripalu: Not as much a style of yoga as a school of yoga. Another place plagued by guru's who couldn't keep their pants on, the founder resigned in 1994 for having sex with followers and failing to pay employees. Are we seeing a pattern here? Now it has redesigned itself as an center for holistic and alternative medicine. The yoga taught tends to be in the gentle camp, so pretty much low-key hatha. Very into meditiation and mindfulness during poses. 
imageKundalini: This is not an asana style, this is a style based on kriyas. Kriyas are distinct from asana in that they are generally repetitive movements performed with some rapidity rather than static poses. Like asana, can be an incredibly powerful experience, but can feel very wacky to the uninitiated. This is a style that CAN attract some intensely hippy-dippies who believe in crystal healing, which, I have to say, is the epitome of New Age bullshit.

imagePower Yoga: Developed by Shiva Rea, Power Yoga was one of the earliest attempts at translating yogasana for a Western body-concious audience. The argument could be made that it went to far and distorted the original intention of the practice, with DVDs entitles "Yoga for Abs," but anyone who's met Ms. Rea (as I can) can tell you, she is pure positive energy, and if she didn't emphasize the spiritual component of practice, its because we weren't paying attention. She's also helped the popularization of kirtan, and essentially creating a mash up of a large group yoga class and a late 90's-rave. Instead of being hopped up on goof-balls, everyone's hopped up on yoga.

imageSivananda: One of the earliest schools in the U.S., this is a style that follows the popular format of seated opening prayer and pranayama, the sun salutations, followed by a series of 12 asana plus variations. How the heck is that different than any other kind of yoga school? This style is almost like the photo-negative of Ashtanga; where Ashtanga tends to place inversions towards the middle or end of the practice, Sivananda leads with those posture, starting with headstand and shoulderstand plus variations, ending with a standing posture (trikonasana). Where Ashtanga likes to intersperse postures with vinyasas, Sivananda typically focuses on resting between postures. The sequences start and end with pranayama, savasana, and meditation. While the variations can be quite advanced, this is a relaxation and breathing focused practice.

imageVinyasa: Another catch-all term, but a good descriptor for intensely paced classes that can not only get the heart racing with lots of vinyasas, but also tends to feature teachers who love inversion variations and arm balances. May or may not include spiritual components and chanting, depending on the teacher. Not all that different from power yoga except the teachers like to use sanskrit and at least PRETEND that their classes aren't about firming you butt. 

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