Read another overview of the different schools/styles at Yoga
Meticulously detailed, highly didactic approach stressing fine points
of alignment. Emphasis is on holding individual poses for long
durations, and stopping rather than flowing between them. There's much
use of "props" like belts, blocks, ropes, and sandbags to help the
inflexible derive benefits from poses they'd otherwise be unable to
manage. Teachers do lots of talking and explaining, and circulate to
correct alignment. Good for beginners, as it really gets your
fundamentals together to avoid injury. Some prefer this approach to
systems where you're left on your own to try to emulate the teacher's
example, but others complain that the fussiness harshes their mellow.
Teachers are extraordinarily well trained (these are the people to go
to if you have special physical issues), but can often be arrogant,
condescending hard asses (there's not much heart opening work in the
Iyengar system), so don't expect much in the way of love-'n-light.
BKS Iyengar is the guy who first popularized yoga in the west (via his
classic book "Light on Yoga"). He's a brilliant egomaniac who
encourages a partisan attitude in his followers. His daughter, Geeta,
who will take over when the old man dies, is a character straight out
of a Lina Wertmuller film, and her anger issues seem at odds with,
hello, the entire point of the practice. But Iyengar is earnest,
honest, and unparalleled in his knowledge of the human body. His
contributions will likely be remembered for centuries (skip, though,
his recent philosophical writings, which are not his forte). And Geeta
possesses a lot of the underlying knowledge. The American teachers,
though (even the luminaries), tend to repeat Iyengar's directives
without fully understanding their energetic underpinnings. The Iyengar
family is quite stingy with the source materials.
Ashtanga yoga practitioners say that the verbosity, the niggling
attention to detail, and those darned props make Iyengar practice more
physical than spiritual. Iyengarites say that precision focuses the
mind, and careful alignment clears the nadis (energy channels) for
Anti: "First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga
Romance" by Elizabeth Kadetsky, a warts-and-all account of the Iyengar scene (plus a silly revisionist view of the history of yoga).
Ashtanga yoga is the polar opposite of Iyengar yoga - surprising, given
that founder Pattabhi Jois studied from the same teacher as BKS Iyengar
(the estimable but tyrannical and opaque Krishnamacharya). Ashtanga
Yoga (the term for this specific school as well as the general term for
Patanjali's system) offers much less in the way of instruction and
correction, and few props are used. You flow from pose to pose without
pausing, the goal being to master increasingly difficult sequences.
More doing and less thinking encourages an immersively meditative
experience. But scant concern for alignment and fundamentals plus peer
pressure to get through the series (classes are synchronized) combine
to make injury a serious risk. This grueling practice can seem a bit
sink-or-swim, and the striving physicality can entrap the
goal-oriented, but those who dive deeply into it find that the smooth,
breath-timed sequences become mantra-like, with attention undistracted
by concern with details. A good number of Iyengar students, having
acquired a proper understanding of alignment, are attracted to
Ashtanga, and a good number of Ashtanga students are attracted to
Iyengar to nurse their wounds and gain deeper insight into asana and
Classes are highly regimented; everyone works and breathes together
with military precision, so there's little room for individual needs or
modifications (note that there's another way to teach Ashtanga
yoga: Mysore style, which involves much more self-direction and
individual attention; definitely watch for such classes!). Iyengarites
say that the huffing roomfuls of students muscling themselves through
inflexible sequences make this "power yoga" practice more physical than
spiritual. Ashtanga people insist they're all about the flow.
Final word on Iyengar vs Ashtanga: though to the
observer the two schools would seem to be yin fairly begging to be
reunited with yang, both venerable founders (who nurse a caste/lineage
feud stretching back centuries) vehemently insist that it would be a
grave error to study both simultaneously.
Founded by John Friend, this popular vinyasa-based system (flowing
poses) tries to integrate the left brained alignment of Iyengar yoga
with the right brained flowing release of Ashtanga, while emphasizing
an opening of the heart chakra. This is a very fast-growing system
which serves as a meeting point for battered, poorly aligned Ashtanga
students and Iyengar students trying to shake free of minutiae. At
worst, it's Iyengar-Lite, but there's tremendous variability among
teachers, and some are very well respected. Anusara is loosely aligned
with Friend's guru, Gurumayi of the Siddha movement, but there have been few or no allegations of any Siddha negatives creeping into this system....yet.
Founded by T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya. He didn't
show much interest in yoga until relatively recently - when,
coincidentally, yoga started to become popular and there was gold in
the family name. Catty (and perhaps baseless) allegations of
opportunism aside, Desikachar may not have been his father's most
accomplished student, but he indisputably put in time, and that makes
him worth taking seriously. In stark contrast to the inflexibility of
Ashtanga Yoga, Viniyoga stresses adapting the practice to the
individual student. And there's lots of non-asana work (meditation,
chanting, etc.) and emphasis on breath in postures. Viniyoga
concentrates on the health-giving aspects of asana practice, and the
viniyogis in India have put in much research time, and they'll trot out
kitsch charts and dubious "studies" to prove it. There'a pall of
pseudoscience over the whole thing, and they're considered a little
eccentric, but you won't hear these guys out-and-out ridiculed much, as
there's some good material here. Desikachar's book "The Heart of Yoga",
though, is disorganized and poorly focused.
MacYoga. If you're looking for a yoga-like workout, head down to your
nearby Bikram franchise. All the yoga schools are competitive, with
endless rivalries and jealousies, but you'd be hard pressed to find a
single yogi outside Bikram's system with anything respectful to say
about founder Bikram Choudhury or his teachings (exception: his friend,
Amrit Desai). Bikram is quite the businessman,
though (if you eventually spot a trademark symbol next to words like
"Patanjali" or "Trikonasana", you'll need look no further to find the
registrant), and would say they're all just jealous of his success.
He's a proponent of practicing in a hot room, so your muscles are more
flexible. Perhaps the next step might be tendon-loosening laser surgery
to allow a full back bend within a week or your money back.
A picture contains 1000 words, so drink in the elegance and serenity of an accomplished Bikram instructor in
[nb link updated, now only found in Archive.org]. The dapper fellow
needs to relax, lower, broaden, and even up his shoulders; straighten
his right leg and rotate it the OTHER way; relax his jaw, forehead,
eyes, and neck; create an arch in his left foot and uncurl his toes;
and stop collapsing his chest and "cheating" via his right hip!
Anti: Yoga Journal
The indefatigable Amrit Desai, kicked out of Kripalu - his own ashram - after a repugnant scandal
Advocateweb.org) and, apparently still blithely amoral and remorseless (see
is rebuilding - apparently trying to emulate a bit of the branding
flair of his friend Bikram Choudhury. But Amrit Yoga doesn't seem to be
spreading very quickly, and whispers of further improprieties circulate.
Ethical issues aside, watching Desai do his posture flows can be,
according to all reports, a mind-blowing, shakti-spewing experience.
Unfortunately, he's not yet found a reliable method for passing on the
Amrit Yoga FEEDBACK
Back when Amrit Desai ran Kripalu, before the current yoga boom,
Kripalu was an early proponent of posture flow, a freeform and
spontaneous approach that contrasts with the rigid sequences of
Ashtanga Yoga. Since Desai's departure, the center is still going
strong and there are still many teachers describing their teachings as
"Kripalu yoga". The thing is, though, that nobody is quite sure what
Kripalu Yoga actually is at this point. Expect tremendous variability
among teachers, and little lingering Sahaj tradition from Desai's guru
(and Kripalu namesake) Swami Shri Kripalvanandji. For more on
Kripalvanandji (he was the undiluted real deal), see akyc.org.
Followers of Swami Satchidananda built their yoga teaching network
decades before "the competition", and attending an Integral yoga class
makes you understand why it took the work of others to make yoga catch
Integral Yoga teaches an integrated approach, combining hatha with
raja, japa, karma, bhakti, and jnana yogas, but they should have paid
more attention to their asana teaching, which can be unrigorous and
vague; you are to try and ape the teacher's actions as s/he keeps up a
spacy, breezy patter ("and NOW you move your RIGHT hip outward, and let
your body feel the pleasant stretch UP the thigh"). Don't interrupt the
patter with questions. Don't expect corrections. Don't worry, after a
few years you'll maybe manage to figure out how to actually do things,
and then you, too, can do your daily practice in front of a room of
students and get paid for "teaching".
Swami Sivananda's Divine Life Society
If you're interested in kriyas (esoteric purification techniques),
you'll get little information from most yoga schools. The Divine Life
Society covers this bizarre world well, however. Have a look, if you
dare, at this fascinating page: Pranayama.htm
Schiffman wrote a superb and influential book called Moving into the Stillness. Another integrator, like John Friend (see
Schiffman had a lot of Iyengar training, but he, too, tired of the
endless minutae of alignment and the Iyengar system's inflexiblility.
Schiffman urges students to listen to their bodies - hardly a
breakthrough (feckless instructors have been telling this to clueless
beginners for years), but Schiffman actually shows them how to do it
(learn to feel the prana, and let it gently guide the alignment).
Apparently not entrepreneur enough to institutionalize his teachings
and build up an official network of teachers - much less to franchise
into a chain operation, à la Bikram, Schiffman has perhaps missed the
gravy train, but remains a very popular teacher and travels giving
programs (and there is an ad hoc quasi network of teachers influenced
by him). He was also an intimate of J Krishnamurti, which gives him
deeper philosophical insights than most teachers - many of whom could
stand to forget their hamstrings for a while and get a wider
perspective. Though he's by no means a lightweight, there is a style
issue to be considered: California huggy-ness may turn off those who
don't dot their "i"s with happy faces.
Ex-Iyengar teacher, now non-sectarian. There've been sex scandals, but
he's an excellent teacher, if a bit proud of his yoga studmuffin image
(that's him with pectorals bulging and nostrils flaring all over the
ads in Yoga Journal).
More and more an ex-Iyengar teacher (the Iyengarites are increasingly quick to
purge non-doctrinaire teachers, and Patel, though ever respectful of his guru,
has an irrepressible maverick streak). Not well-known to the masses, he's a
yogi's yogi with an avid following, very respected for his singular (and often
humorous) insights, especially regarding therapeutic yoga - which he adamantly
insists he knows nothing about (see his web site for testy disavowals).
Yogani is the first yoga eGuru, having come to prominence on the
Internet. He thinks a critical mass of spiritual seekers has been
achieved, so it's time to lay all the tools and secrets on the table.
And he's done so via two courses freely available online (one for
sexually-retentive enlightenment and the other for tantra) or from his
book. It's mostly kundalini, but of particular interest are his
explanations of esoteric practices so arcane that you'll hardly hear of
them elsewhere (e.g. how to do home surgery on your tongue so that -
after years of excruciating work - its tip can probe up the nasal canal
to the sinuses, where it will complete a cosmic circuit and deliver
unimaginably blissful states and stuff).
Yogani is anonymous (though he's said to be responsive to email),
rejects followers and money (he's hawking a book - "Advanced Yoga
Practices: Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living" - but also offers the
teachings therein for free via the web). His motives appear pure, his
erudition is obvious, and his generosity is indisputable. His goal is
to a do-it-yourself roadmap to empower the multitudes to reach
enlightenment, and the focus is on practical practice with a minimum of
philosophy. He's stripped down the path of kundalini awakening (and
beyond) to the physical and neurological essentials, writing in
extremely plain language - cordial, well-humored,
down-to-earth straight talk (in those rare instances when Yogani
waxes poetic, one wishes he'd stuck with narrative).
Three potential problems:
awakening is tricky business and, like brain surgery, is perhaps not
best pursued via home study (Yogani, of course, disagrees). Read "Jerry's Kundalini
Story", [Sarlo: Jerry's story is not
one of myriad level-headed reports from non-hysterical people about the
enduring ill effects kundalini can bring to even sincere, healthy
seekers. If you have no teacher, where do you go if there's a problem
or you need a reality check?
2. Since all the information is
laid out and accessible, there's nothing to prevent the impatient (i.e.
just about everyone) from rushing or skipping around the lessons
(missing preparatory practices which mitigate risk), or from students
feeding their spiritual materialism, or from any of the other myriad
dangers and pitfalls which have, for millennia, persuaded teachers NOT
to accessibly lay out all the information.
3. The sheer embarrassment of confessing to friends and loved ones that you're pursuing enlightenment via
material you found on the Internet.
Practices See also Clarification