Friday, December 6, 2013

Pure Yoga is Probably a Myth Anyway

I've never been much of a yoga purist. My first yoga experience was pretty traditional vinyasa, but I didn't know that at the time, and quickly enough I had segued into something more new-age, and well-suited to people moving their bodies for the first time in a long time. I knew I liked the first kind better. And then I wound up at Yoga to the People, where there is no seated pose, no oming, and no post-savasana closing of class. The first few weeks I kept saying I wouldn't come back...but I was wrong. They had me hooked. And I did my teacher training with them after two more years.

So then I knew was Vinyasa was, and that I liked it, and that I taught it, and I knew a very little bit about what Kundalini and Bikram yoga was, because we had taken one class of each as part of our training. And I knew there was some other stuff out there: Iyengar, Ashtanga...

I started teaching at a Hatha-Vinyasa yoga studio, so then I knew what Hatha yoga was, and Restorative yoga, too, though I didn't really know where all these different systems fit on the spreading Yoga Family Tree. I spent quite a while learning and growing with that studio, and I started to pick up on bits and pieces of Ashtanga before finally being shoved out of the nest.

It was after that that I stumbled upon the Candy Shop for Non-Yoga-Purists: Om Factory. I learned about Ashtanga, acro yoga, aerial yoga, some stuff called shadow yoga that I still don't actually know much about, and of course, yoga fight club. People were doing this stuff? Just willy-nilly combining yoga with other things that they loved? You could do that??

I also started teaching at a brand new studio, right from when it opened, and without even realizing it, took advantage of the unformed studio culture to play the music I wanted to play, and teach the yoga I wanted to teach: dumb jokes, super-challenging poses, and a firm focus on where this was all going philosophically speaking.

It felt good, like I was meeting myself as a yoga teacher for the first time, instead of just teaching other people's yoga.

It took a while longer, but I finally started teaching aerial yoga. And of course, it fit perfectly with the teaching style I had already cultivated.

And then the director of Bella Vita, the new studio I started at over the summer, wanted to talk about changing my schedule: she was canceling a Monday Yogalates class, and wanted to know if I could fill in the slot. With something similar. I've only ever taken one pilates class. I really liked it, but I'm supremely under qualified to teach such a thing. What about yoga with more toning, more core work? What should we call it? It'll be forty-five minutes long...

Suddenly I was staring the parameters I had always put around yoga in the face: how could I fit a complete practice in only forty-five minutes? What did toning–working hard to achieve a change in physical appearance–have to do with yoga? But I wasn't about to turn down a teaching opportunity over some qualms about how best to make this new hybrid work. I pulled together yoga poses, aerial conditioning moves, and some creative transitions, and started class with grounding and meditation, and ended with Savasana. We had fun...and my thighs were sore the next morning.

I do think there are compatibility issues with doing yoga when your goals are about changing how you look. It's hard to reconcile that with the goal of yoga: to quiet the ego, and find your true, good-enough self on the inside. On the other hand, there are so many roads for getting to that place...and teaching a class that will attract people who aren't already on that path to self-acceptance, and then introducing those ideas to them in a familiar atmosphere can only be a good thing. And there's nothing wrong with working your muscles, after all.  Exercise is really good for you, regardless of how it does or doesn't change your body on the outside.

I'm looking forward to seeing how my students change my ideas about what is and isn't yoga, again, through this new class. Come share your yoga with us at Bella Vita: Yogi Toning is every Monday from 3:15-4:00pm. Sign up at

What do you think about hybrid yogas? Which traditional school of yoga do you think is the most purely passed down through the ages? Does it matter?
Live Omily,

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