Choosing a Yoga style or Going Eclectic

There is debate in the yoga community about whether you should stick with one yoga style or whether it is okay to mix styles. The traditional yoga ethos is pick a path and stick to it and that mixing of styles is “an indulgence of the senses” that takes you off track.

One teacher whose workshop I attended used the analogy of two sides of a mountain with one side being hot and dry and the other being snowy and windy. Climbing from either side will get you to the same destination, but the way you get there and the techniques and skills you need will be different. Trying the hot and dry approach when the conditions are a snow blizzard would be inappropriate. I suppose these conditions are things like your own personal aspirations, physical limitations and how much a style resonates for you.

Personally I think the journey in itself is interesting and I have learnt much from life by taking divergent paths. It has meant that it takes me longer to get to where I am going and there is sometimes some backtracking, but it has provided interesting and new perspectives and deepened my inquiry.

Many a time I feel like Piscine from the novel The Life of Pi who wants to go to the Mosque on Fridays, the Synagogue on Saturdays and the Church on Sundays:

“But he can’t be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. It’s impossible. He must choose.”

“I don’t think it’s a crime, but I suppose you’re right,” Father replied.

The three murmured in agreement and looked heavenward, as did Father, whence they felt the decision must come. Mother looked at me.

A silence fell heavily on my shoulders.

“Hmmm, Piscine?” Mother nudged me. “How do you feel about the question?”

“Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.

Same for yoga. There is no “one” style of yoga that is the ultimate. The decision to stick with one style, to mix styles and to add in your own style is very personal.

My journey in yoga began with Iyengar yoga and I stayed with that style for 15 years and developed very fixed ideas about precision and alignment which is an emphasis of this style.  Since then I have tried other styles which have thrown into question some of the things I was taught in Iyengar. Not any of the philosophical principals. These remain consistent right across. What is different is the physical instructions, temperature, the structure of the class, the language used, the ambience, the protocols, the use of mantras and meditation and visualisation.

For me the delving into other yoga styles has not stopped me on the journey to the top of the mountain, rather it has provided some interesting paths along the way, helping me to better understand why somethings are done in a particular way and provided new perspectives on others.

Trying other styles and mixing and matching them, has asked me to question what I am trying to do when I do yoga and whether what I am being asked to do and what is being said in a specific class meets my intention. It has allowed me to be more discerning.

Yoga was traditionally taught as a one on one instruction and the instruction was adapted to meet the environment and the aspirations and abilities of the individual at any one given time. Practicing yoga in a way that resonates for me has meant taking from a mix from styles and it is the closest I have got to any individually tailored approach.

When I first moved to Canberra I stuck with Iyengar. It was what I knew and there were not the choices of other styles that we now see.  A few years later a new yoga studio opened near home that taught “power yoga”.  Convenient location, convenient time – I was keen to give it a go. The classes were taught in a heated room and were very physically oriented. My first impression was it was aerobics meets yoga! Unlike Iyengar where you enter the room quietly this class encouraged talking and interaction.  Unlike Iyengar where you held the poses for a long time, there was often one move per breath and there were oh so many chatrangas (crocodiles) and upward dogs. I also tried Bikram which consists of 26 postures taught in a regulated sequence and done in a very hot room, again completely different. I also tried the more gentle classes that called themselves Hatha classes and once tried a Kundalini class which was the most extreme in difference where you chant mantras and do moves I had never seen before. This exploration help me recognise that my preferred styles of yoga were those that were physically oriented and mixed in meditative quiet moments with strong physical challenges.

Probably the safest term to use, if I had to pinpoint the style I practice would be Hatha. (Ha means sun Tha means moon). It has the most open meaning and although it is now associated with gentle basic classes, other physically based styles like Iyengar, Astangha, Vinyasa are also Hatha classes.

So in choosing to stick with one style or mix and match, the most important thing is to avoid dogma and to find a practice that suits you, rather than trying to suit the practice. Exploring different yoga styles is definitely worth the adventure and given that we are not static beings, our preferred approach may change over time.

BKS Iyengar says the purpose of yoga is:

to connect and to balance through yogic practices the intellectual intelligence of the head with the emotional intelligence of the mental heart so that these two intelligences unite and become one.

For Iyengar “intellectual intelligence” means using your powers of discernment. So as long as you use your discerning powers along with what feels right in your heart when choosing how to practice yoga at any given time, you are still climbing that mountain you just need to remember that on some days there might be a blizzard and on others it may be hot and dry….sounds a little like Canberra weather.

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