Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New York City Yoga

A week ago, I had my first taste of yoga in New York City. Not that we don't have some wonderful yoga studios here on the west coast, especially in the Seattle area, but New York is after all New York. They have just about everything there including what I imagine will be a hot new trend: anti-gravity yoga.

Move over Hot Yoga, you are about to be displaced by yoga practiced three feet off the floor in what are known as "hammocks." Hammocks are actually large pieces of soft but sturdy fabric that are suspended from the ceiling. They are wide enough to lay completely flat in Savasana, but compact enough to allow students to hang upside down in cobbler's pose.

While the poses aren't much more physically challenging than in a normal yoga class, they are more mentally challenging. Anti-gravity yoga is an excellent way to confront any fears of being trapped or heights. At the end of the class I commented to the instructor that it was definitely an exercise in trusting yourself. She agreed and said, "It's not that you can't physically do the poses, it's that you have to get past any mental blocks toward them."

In case your wondering, no, I don't plan on introducing anti-gravity yoga in my studio anytime soon. It would cost too much to reinforce the ceiling and yoga practiced on the floor has enough challenges to last a lifetime.

Besides anti-gravity yoga, I had an opportunity to take a traditional Iyengar class at the Iyengar Institute of New York. It had been a long time since I had attended such a class just as a student and not as a teacher at a training. While the instructor was great and very knowledgeable, I walked out of class feeling a bit disillusioned. Was that it? Just structure and correct positioning?

At the same studio where I took the anti-gravity class, (Om Factory) I also took a Vinyasana class and found it more to my liking. In fact, the instructor's method was more like mine. Her focus was not just on doing the poses correctly but on enjoying yoga.

This experience left me wondering if I could still call myself an Iyengar teacher? While I loved the style when I first started practicing, now I find it almost too ridged and devoid of joy. I've heard it said that the Iyengar style is much like tuning your instrument but never playing it. I'm beginning to believe it's true.

I'm thankful to the Iyengar style for teaching me the correct body alignment in the poses and the use of props to make the poses more accessible. If you are going to work with your body to change its shape and tone it's essential to do it correctly.

That said, alignment isn't everything. Putting it altogether and making not just a practice but an art is the true beauty of yoga. Yoga is about balance and harmony of the mind and body. To be so focused an alignment that everything else is pushed aside is to miss out on that beauty.

Conversely, to whip through the poses, quickly and haphazardly, is dangerous and can be stressful. Yoga wasn't meant to be a cardio-exercise. Run, walk, swim or ride a bike for aerobic exercise. Yoga should be done slower and more deliberately than what is necessary for a good cardio workout.

I suppose I should have seen my departure from Iygengar coming a while ago when I stared gravitating to Anusara and therapeutic yoga classes. Anusara was developed out of the Iyengar style but has more flow and heart to it. There's still precision in the poses and the use of props, but to me it feels like it all comes together better in Anusara.

So where does this leave me as an instructor? What style do I teach? I'm not sure I've decided that yet, but for now it's a blend of Iyengar, Anusara, therapeutic yoga, pilates and anything else I've picked up along the way. Almost ten years of teaching yoga has taught me that I don't have to dedicated to one particular style. Sometimes it's better to glean the best from all styles, embracing the philosophy of, "If it works, use it. If not, throw it out."

I guess I'm not as "Type A" as I used to be.

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