Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trying out different yoga styles

I may be a bit sexist here (apologies in advance), but if I were a guy, I'm not sure if I would have continued with yoga after that experience. It would be so much easier to dismiss yoga as a silly activity and move on to more masculine pursuits. However, since I'm a girl, and every girl I know seems to do some sort of yoga, it would be seriously lame to tell people that I've tried yoga a few times and it's just too hard for me.  So, for the next little while, I tried out every style of classes that the studio offered:

I started with the least active - Yin yoga, where you hold each deep stretch for something like 3-10 minutes, which supposedly allows the muscles to release their engagement so the deep connective tissues (tendons, fascia, etc) can release and stretch. This class requires no exertion of muscular energy, but brings up all sorts of not-so-pleasant emotions (anxiety, annoyance, anger, boredom, impatience, panic, to name a few) as you lay in some deep hip opening pose, trying to breath deeply for what feels like forever and trying not to throw something at the teacher (yes I have emotional violence issues). The class builds patience though, and encourages me to practice the concept of surrender.

Then there are the Core and Pilates classes, which are not yoga classes but they strenghten your core muscles to aid with the yoga poses. In my opinion every yoga studio should offer these classes because so many people do not have strong cores, but they mistakenly think that they can't do many yoga poses solely because they are inflexible or have weak arms and/or legs.

Then onto Hatha classes, which basically means any of the physical practices of yoga asanas (including all the Power yoga styles). However, in yoga studios it seems to be a label reserved for yoga classes consisting of beginner asanas, with no full vinyasas, arm balances or inversions.

And then, staring at the scariest description for a yoga class:  "A challenging class containing arm balances and inversions in a room heated to ~32ÂșC", I asked the front desk receptionist how many months should I practice yoga before I would be fit enough to try out a Power yoga class (I could not do inversions or any arm balances, let alone doing them in a heated room only several degrees cooler than hot yoga). She assured me I could give it a try right away, so I gingerly walked into this class, hoping I could make it through the full hour. My downward dog still sucked, but the teacher gave extremely detailed instructions on how to engage muscles in different parts of my body, and assured me that my shoulders and arms will get stronger if I keep practicing this pose (so it's a strengthening pose before it becomes a resting pose?).  Half way through class, some students were balancing their body weights on their bent arms, which looked like crazy gymnastics/break dancing moves that I figured I'd never be able to accomplish.  At least the teacher didn't make fun of me for not being able to attempt them. I was allowed to just sit and watch these girls do their thing with genuine amazement/admiration.

Seeing that I had survived my first power class without declaring defeat half way through, it was time to go back and conquer Hot yoga.  I picked one fine day, brought a 2L water bottle to my office, gradually transferring all that liquid into my body as the day went by.  I carefully timed it so that I finished eating 2.5 hours before the class started, and walked into Hot yoga room, ready to take on this feat. With a different teacher guiding the class, the poses seemed nowhere nearly as challenging as I remembered them on my first day.  How did that happen? Turns out that, as Murphy's Law would have it, I picked my first hot yoga class with a teacher who likes to combine postures to increase the difficulty of the class (eagle pose straight into airplane pose; Utthita hasta padangusthasana C for ~10 breaths, then directly transition to warrior III, for example).  He is now one of my favorite yoga teachers, but for a first yoga class, it was more than a little overwhelming.

I could keep going with the other types of yoga classes I have tried after that: Kundalini, Restorative, Iyengar, Anusara, etc etc etc. I enjoyed them all, and continue to take these classes whenever I can since I am extremely fortunate to have access to truly superb teachers specializing in each of these styles.  However, I'm just going to cut this post short and blurt out my favorite yoga style: Ashtanga yoga rocks!!

There, I've said it. It's out. I feel better now.

Next post: why I am absolutely in love with Ashtanga yoga.


  1. Nice post. Yes, Ashtanga absolutely rocks!

    Before I discovered yoga, I used to do Pilates. I found many of the core exercises to be very useful, especially because I was so out of shape at that time, and developing core strength definitely helps me to move more easily and in a more supple manner. But then I discovered yoga, and found yoga to be a more complete system(I'm not quite sure how else to describe this) than Pilates. I somehow got the sense that Pilates felt very hodge-podgy, like somebody had gotten a whole bunch of movements/postures from different places and put them together. Actually, that is also in a sense true of Ashtanga yoga, but it's somehow different.

    In a way, I'm glad I didn't start with Ashtanga in the very beginning, when I was so out of shape; I think I probably would have been so intimidated/discouraged. But now I sometimes wonder if it would have been different than I thought anyway: After all, in the ashtanga sequence as it is traditionally taught (mysore style), one posture builds upon another, and the student is not given a particular posture until he or she is strong enough in the previous one. So there is a very real sense in which ashtanga is designed for beginners.

  2. Oh, and feel free to disregard this, but I have a small piece of feedback to offer about the layout of your blog. You know that google ad that cuts into the text of your blog post? I find it absolutely distracting. Is there a way to move it to the side, or maybe even get rid of it altogether? (I'm not sure how many blog readers would be interested in game cheats anyway...)

    Just a suggestion. Excuse the strong language. As I said, feel free to disregard.

  3. I think Mysore style is perfect for students ready to devote time to really learn yoga. I knew nothing about yoga when I started so I wasn't ready to commit to any style regularly. I do wonder what it would be like to build body strength from scratch using the Ashtanga system (I assume it would take a few years). Personally I think I enjoy Ashtanga (led class) perhaps more than the other beginners because I came in with relatively solid core strength, which allowed me to start "flowing" in my movements pretty quickly. I feel quite blessed in this sense.

    I got rid of the side banner.. sorry about that. Still playing with the Blogger functionalities so there maybe glitches here and there for the next little while.

  4. Hehehe! I starting reading your ooooold posts and really enjoy them. Reminds me of myself in many ways!


    1. It was so much fun starting yoga... what a good time that was back then!