What’s the best type of yoga?
These days, I feel like lots of yogis are hating on the vinyasa style. Especially those that practice traditional types of yoga that have set sequences or move a little slower. Some claim that vinyasa classes differ so much from class to class that you can’t benchmark your progress on a particular pose, or they move too fast for practitioners to get very deep into poses or focus on alignment. Others maintain that you are more likely to hurt yourself, or that it focuses too much on the workout aspect of yoga and not enough on the meditative element, etc. These are all fantastic points, but vinyasa is one of the fastest-growing and most popular types of yoga in modern times, and if it’s getting people on their mats, who cares?
Before you behead me for suggesting it’s ok if someone participates in an activity where they may hurt themselves, consider that pretty much any physical activity that you do outside of sitting on your ass risks potential injury. Take me, for example. I’ve broken my arm (twice), tore my ACL (twice), sprained my ankle (twice) and broken it too (just once). One day I even required 14 stitches to my face. Not one of these injuries were sustained participating in vinyasa yoga, which I’ve been practicing for 8 years now and teaching for 3. How many injuries have I received as a result of yoga? Zero. Sometimes my wrists hurt from too many chaturangas, arm balances or inversions, but it’s those days that I give myself permission to back off until they’re feeling strong again. That doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself. But you’re just as likely to hurt yourself simply jogging (been there, done that).
Part of moving your body, whether it’s in a yoga class or participating in a sport, involves a human survival element. You’re not going to walk off of a cliff if it’s right in front of you (unless you’re crazy or fearless) and you’re probably not going to pop up into a headstand uninstructed in your first yoga class (unless you’re crazy or fearless). These people do exist, I see them all the time, but no matter how strongly I suggest that they don’t do something, their ego will convince them to do it anyway, until it results in injury.
This can happen in any type of yoga class, not exclusively vinyasa. Well, maybe not gentle yoga. It’s just that type-A people gravitate more toward vinyasa as a way to start a practice, because of the sweat factor. Anyone who maintains a consistent yoga practice over time, vinyasa or otherwise, is bound to have that Oprah light bulb moment where they realize that it’s not just about the exercise. They learn to listen to their body and the teacher, not their ego. They start to notice the meditative effects of moving with and connecting to the breath. The mind chatter will eventually start to quiet down, which is, according to Patanajali’s Yoga Sutras, pretty much the #1 goal of yoga.
I love vinyasa because of the infinite possibilities of creative sequences. I love taking a class when a teacher instructs a unique transition between poses, or even a single pose that I’ve never seen before. I love when a teacher gives cues to get into a pose in a way that I’ve never tried before. In fact, it truly is one of my pet peeves when a teacher feels there is only one tried and true way to get into a pose. For example, there are at least 6 ways to kick up into a handstand that I can think of, but I know teachers that will only teach one way.
I also love the variation of the one-breath-one-movement flow. It may be a result of my dance background, but whatever the reason I love to move, and then I love to be still after I move to feel my heart beat and prana moving. I also like to work hard. It feels good. I may not be the most bendy, flexy, perfectly inverted yogi, but I have indeed made lots of progress, and I’ve realized that I have the rest of my life to continue that progress, it’s no rush!
The best type of yoga is the yoga that YOU do. It’s the yoga that makes YOU happy. Whether that is Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Gentle Hatha, Kundalini, Anusara, Beemashakti, Jivamukti…you get the point. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that if you’re not practicing a certain sequence, a certain number of times per week, that you’re not a real yogi. Just get on your mat and have fun. If you’re not having fun — try something else.