By John Friend, courtesy of Yoga Journal.
I live in a community where it is only possible for me to take the same type of yoga class once a week. Should I continue to participate in various types of yoga classes or restrict myself to one type of yoga once a week?
--Diane, New Jersey
John Friend's reply:
There are pros and cons to taking a variety of classes in different yoga styles each week. On the positive side, assuming that you have good teachers for each class, you will learn something new in every class regardless of the style.
Each yoga system, school, and teacher typically emphasizes different attitudes, alignments, and actions in yoga poses. These are what I call the "3 A's," and they serve as the main categories differentiating the various yoga styles and schools.
For instance, some types of yoga focus on strong self-effort and serious discipline, while others focus on relaxing, softening, and playfulness. Some classes are very up-tempo, rigorous, and structured, while others encourage students to go slowly and explore, without a set sequence. Furthermore, some yoga styles focus on a great deal of precise anatomical alignment, while others emphasize inner feeling and the breath.
All of these aspects of various yoga styles have merit, so in each class you can gain something to improve your practice physically, emotionally, or spiritually. If you prefer one style, you can use everything that you encounter in each class to your advantage to help you grow and improve in your favorite style of yoga.
On the other hand, taking regular classes in different yoga styles can have a downside. One common problem is that the student gets conflicting technical instruction from different teachers. For example, in one class the student is instructed to breathe very quietly and not to engage the outer musculature of her body, while in another class the teacher wants everyone to make a loud ujjayi breath while keeping the muscles strongly engaged throughout the poses. In one pose, a teacher might instruct students to focus on external rotation of the legs, while in the same pose in another class, a teacher of a different style might instruct students to focus on internal leg rotation.
Additionally, another potentially confusing aspect of continually sampling various yoga styles is that the postural instructions are often based on different philosophies. Some yoga schools are based more on classical yoga philosophy, while others are based in Vedanta or Tantra. The main intention of some yoga schools is to get the physical body in good condition, while others are more focused on cultivating the spirit.
Each of these foundational philosophies can make a huge difference in the attitude and focus that the teacher expresses in her postural instructions. Invariably, you will tend to perform your poses even in your home practice with some of the attitudes that your teacher is oriented toward. You should consider what qualities of mind and heart you would like to cultivate in yourself, and then determine which style (or styles) is compatible with that intention.
After weighing the pros and cons of taking regular classes in differing styles, only you can decide what is best serving you. Good luck!
John Friend, is the founder of Anusara Yoga, which combines the celebration of the heart, the art of inner body awareness, and the science of universal principles of alignment. Visit John Friend's Web site at www.Anusara.com.
Please consult your physician before starting this or any exercise program.