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Different Yoga Styles: You Got It All Wrong

As a blogger,  I receive press releases all the time. I received one yesterday that was really disturbing. It came from a major “yoga lifestyle brand”  aka retailer of cute and pricey non essential yoga ish. Don’t get me wrong. I have drawers full of cute non essential yoga ish. I love it.  I am just calling a spade a spade.  I am not going to name these people but you know them. They dominate Instagram. They sponsor challenges done by the most popular yoga teachers in the world. Some of which are Ashtangis.

The press release was disturbing because these people, whether we like it or not, are the tastemakers for Yoga. Influence in yoga used to  be determined by experience and knowledge. Now, if someone can do a handstand while smiling and looking gorgeous, no questions are asked.  It is assumed that this person is an advanced yogi. You may not make this assumption. I don’t…or at least I think I don’t. I do like a pretty handstand though. I digress. However, many people do make this assumption. Don’t believe me, check it out. Go and look up various social media accounts and You Tube channels and look at the numbers and likes. Go look at the people who have endorsement deals and are in ads. Take a look at the people with packed out classes and workshops. These are the people who represent yoga in your studio, your town, your country and your world…..whether you like it or not. upavishtakonasana731

The press release contained this wonderfully inaccurate guide for how to chose a yoga style. Underneath this guide, was pictures of two popular yoga teachers. One an Ashtangi. I will say this, neither one of these people probably  are aware of what was in this press release.  At a certain point, you have “people” who are supposed to be handling stuff like this. I would love to have “people” one day but hopefully my “people” are better then their “people”.

 

  • Hatha – Great for beginners – Hatha focuses on posture and is a greatintroductory class, as the routines are designed to loosen and relax your muscles. This style allows you to go at your own pace and practice in the comfort of your own home, especially after a long, stressful day.
  • Bikram (Hot Yoga) – Best for those looking to work up a sweat – Bikram is the only kind of yoga practiced in artificially heated rooms. The 26 different poses and heat aid in flexibility and detoxification. All Bikram 
 studios practice the same 90-minute routine.
  • Ashtanga – Best for those looking to lose weight – Ashtanga is an ancient form of yoga that focuses on breathing and rhythm with continuous, non- stop poses that are performed in a specific order. Ashtanga enhances flexibility, strength and breath control. Typically, this style lacks a spiritual aspect and meditation.
  • Vinyasa – Best for endurance exercisers or runners – Vinyasa, or ‘flow,’ is a type of yoga that mixes an intense work out with peaceful poses to strengthen your core and connect movement with breath. Silence is replaced with music, making it easy to flow from one pose to another.
  • Iyengar – Good for injury-prone people – Iyengar is one of the only styles of yoga that incorporates props into classes, including chairs, blocks, straps, ropes or bolsters. Because of the use of props, this style is meticulous and focuses on the correct alignment of each pose. Poses are usually held for a minute or longer to build extreme strength.

 

If you missed what was wrong with these descriptions, let me briefly point it out. Real briefly.

Hatha-First of all, all physical yoga falls under “Hatha” yoga so a Hatha class is anything and everything. It is for any level depending on how it is structured and who is teaching it. It may or may not allow you to go at your own pace.

Bikram-All Hot Yoga does not fall under the category of Bikram so having “Bikram (Hot Yoga)” in quotes as if all Hot Yoga is Bikram is inaccurate. It is not the only yoga taught in artificially heated rooms. If you live in any area that has a decent Winter, your teacher, at some point, will artificially heat the room.

Ashtanga- “Best for those looking to lose weight”. I just cant go there. Sigh. Anyway.  How can Ashtanga “lack a spiritual aspect and meditation”  when the word “Ashtanga” literally means, “8 limbs”. The 8 Limbs of yoga include meditation!!!

Some people like to make a distinction “Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga” aka Jois Yoga aka physical gymnastics and  “Ashtanga Yoga” aka Patanjali yoga aka spiritual yoga.  Evidence does not support this. Both the Yoga Mala, written by Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga Yoga, and The Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana, written by Sharath Jois, the current Director of the KPJAYI, include a discussion on the 8 limbs of Yoga.  The majority  of, if not all, the articles and videos with either Sharath or Pattabhi Jois being interviewed, include information on spirituality.  If you don’t believe me, search Google for interviews and conferences with Sharath Jois and Pattabhi Jois. Everyone I have ever talked to, who has attended conference with Sharath, says that conference is mainly about the spiritual aspects of Yoga. Anyone who spent a significant amount of time with Pattabhi Jois, especially when he was in the small Shala and was not as popular, say that he spoke often on spirituality.

The opening mantra of Ashtanga Yoga is also known as the Mantra Dedicated to the Sage Patanjali. Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is essentially a “spiritual” text.  The Ashtanga Closing Mantra is  the Mangala Mantra from the Rig Veda which is a “spiritual” book.

Vinyasa-Vinyasa is  not “flow” in Sanskrit. It is something closer to, “to place in a special way”. Many Vinyasa classes are done without music. Ashtanga is Vinyasa and it is done without music.

Iyengar-“One of the only styles to incorporate props”. Really? Almost every yoga studio in America has props and they are not all Iyengar studios. “Good for injury prone people”. Maybe, but to start off the the description like that leads people to assume it is easy or just therapeutic. Have you seen the pictures in Light on Yoga?

 

iyengarbks eka-pada-galavasana-bks viranchyasana-i-yoga-pose-bks-iyengar

 

A cursory search on Google would have been enough to formulate better descriptions. The only logical reason for, why this person sent this out without doing research,is that this person obviously felt that their descriptions were accurate.  I doubt they would send this press release out to Yoga studios, bloggers and teachers all over the world if they felt it wasn’t because they want to sell clothes, not  make enemies.

This is the reason I started the Ashtanga Picture Project. A few years back, I worked for an organization that forced us to take a particular teacher training. Ashtanga was a part of the teacher training and the studio we did the training at, had a huge flourishing Ashtanga program.  The woman who led the teacher training also led the Ashtanga program. When she started talking about Ashtanga, I was horrified.  In her mind, Ashtanga was basically gymnastics for people with certain types of bodies. The thought that, this woman was influencing hundreds of people a week, made me sick to my stomach.   Her inaccurate statements were not just limited to Ashtanga. She said crazy stuff all weekend.

On the first day, people tried to correct her but her students would get angry, take up for her and verbally attack anyone who contradicted her. She had essentially built a little cult. Eventually, she stopped taking questions. We were forced to bite our tongue or potentially lose our jobs. That weekend had a huge impact on me. I started the APP to provide information on Ashtanga.

I wrote the company who sent the press release. I probably won’t hear back. I wrote the two teachers whose faces and names were plastered all over the e-mail and referenced in the article. I probably wont hear back. I will say this. I won’t be buying from this company anymore.  If you can’t take the time to understand the population you claim to represent, you are not worth my money.

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

One Comment

  • Kelly

    Yes. As an Ashtangi, I’m insulted that anyone would claim my meditative practice as an attempt to lose weight. And, for the record, if I wanted to be a gymnast, I would have…gone to gymnastics. They have adult classes these days, ya know. And, Id be willing to bet you can lose a few pounds in a gymnastics class if you tried.

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