June 11, 2010

What kind of yoga is this?

We humans have a funny need to categorize things.

“Militant atheist”; “liberal activist”; “observant Jew” — all these labels, and more, conjure certain images that may or may not match the reality or the complexity of what they’re meant to describe. I recently was using the bathroom at the house of someone who’d been described to me as a conservative Christian, and noticed a set of thoughts, penned by this person, posted up on the walls. Since the only words I otherwise ever see adorning bathrooms are of a very different nature, I took to reading it, and liked it. Although I’d use “Spirit” where they used “Jesus,” I could relate to everything that they’d written. Which, in my mind, made them mystical rather than “Conservative Christian.”

I think about this because a young woman asked me the other day, “What kind of yoga is this?” — as if upon hearing a neat, one- or two-word reply, she’d be satisfied and complete and that would capture all the nuances of me and this practice.

How do you answer something like that? Do you go, “Well, I could say Viniyoga or Kundalini or Anusara or Sivananda, but first, would you know what that means, and second, do you really think they’re separate from one another?” Do you further ask rhetorical questions like “Do you really believe all these styles haven’t cross-pollinated and enlarged each other in the past? Do you really think that yoga stays static through the centuries and doesn’t grow, like a language, with the people who use it?”

And at that point, are you not just a little tempted to put on your professorial turban and add, “If you look for a written tradition of physical yoga poses, you can’t find anything older than the mid-1800’s. And guess what — you wouldn’t even find Lolasana among the poses from that time.”

“Which one’s Lolasana?” your student might ask, if they weren’t already sorry for asking in the first place.

“Lolasana’s the one where you sit on your crossed ankles and push on your hands to lift off the floor and swing your knees back and forth. Guess where that came from?”

“Another style of yoga?”

“No. From the gymnastic practices of the British soldiers who were in India. Some yogis saw a good thing and borrowed it, just like some British saw a good thing in yoga and started practicing it.”

How indeed to answer “What kind of yoga is this?” Even though a long time ago I might have answered “Integral” or “Iyengar” or “Ashtanga” or “Kripalu,” today there is no catch-all name for the yoga I teach. The fact is whether we know it or not, whether we adhere to a strictly proscribed approach (like the Ashtanga series or the Bikram sequence), or we freely mix-and-match according to our intuition, idiosyncrasies and preferences, we’re all borrowing from a crosscurrent of influences and are practicing what could only be named fusion yoga.

So do I go for the wordy, quasi-scholarly answer… or do I look at the clock and see I only have two minutes before this class clears out and the next one comes in and say, “It’s a kind of flow yoga”?

I succumb to the temptation of the latter and, satisfied to have pegged me and the experience, the young woman walks off.

Little did she suspect what she was in for had the next class started fifteen minutes later….

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