September 18, 2016

The Most Important Question that Shapes our Yoga Practice.

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A photo posted by Eoin Finn (@blissology) on

My friend and well-known yoga teacher, Rod Stryker, once said to me, “I like to get my exercise cross-country skiing, and then I can let my yoga be yoga.”

It’s an interesting point, because there is no question that can shape the feel of a yoga practice more than: “How much fitness do I want in my practice?”

The classes I teach on a retreat when people have surfed all day are usually way more mellow than the ones I would teach to a group of office workers who have been sitting at a desk all day. Those 60 to 90 minutes of yoga has to be their exercise and their yoga (“yoga” as in quieting of the mind) as they probably don’t have the luxury of time to squeeze a cross-country ski, a cross-fit class or a surf as well as a yoga asana practice into their day.

You may have witnessed the trend I see in yoga where it is becoming more about the fitness and less about the soul. I find this disconcerting.

But is there anything wrong with exercise? No. Is there room for fitness in a yoga class? Absolutely.

If you read Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body that traces the roots of Hatha yoga in India, you will see plenty of schools emphasizing physical fitness. The point is that it was not meant to only be fitness. What makes something yoga is the spiritual intention of an activity.

Energizing versus calming Styles: solar & lunar.

Regardless of what your preference for yoga is, it is important to understand how this question, “How much fitness do I want in my yoga?” changes the feel of a yoga class.

Classes that are meant to increase fitness feel different from more relaxing classes. It’s like day and night. In fact, let’s refer to these two types of categories as lunar and solar; the calming, relaxing ones (Gentle yoga, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga) we will call lunar and the energizing, invigorating ones (Vinyasa, Flow, Ashtanga, Power) we call solar. One is not better than the other they just have a different feel to it. Calm moonlight at night soothes us and it’s when we restore energy. Warm, bright sunshine energizes us and fills us with vitality.

Photo: Carin Smolinski (used with permission) http://www.bambiniportraits.com/

No Fitness intention here. We’re Just exercising our right to let it all go at the Blissology YTT Bali.

Lunar and solar times within a single yoga practice:

Of course, the lunar and the solar approaches don’t just apply to different yoga styles. Hopefully even the most vigorous Vinyasa flow classes still have times of relaxation and calm to balance the more vigorous parts of the practice.

It’s a lot like music. I’m dating myself here but think about a rocking song like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It starts with more gentle “lunar” energy with flutes, a slow, acoustic guitar and no drums. Slowly the song builds up into a crescendo of a legendary Jimmy Paige electric guitar solo, heavy drums and wailing voice that has been emulated by air-guitar aficionados for the last four decades. Finally, it winds down with flutes, gentle voice and mellow guitar. The drum track fades.

It’s a great musical example of the energetic arch of a Vinyasa yoga class—starting with centering time, then increasing intensity and finally chill out time at the end.

To understand the art of sequencing, just look at music. The pattern is strikingly similar with the major difference being that musicians have a pool of musical notes to draw from to create different feelings. Yogis have a pool of asanas to draw from.

Sure we may debate whether the hand goes to the inside or outside of the front foot in side angle pose (Pasrvakonasana), but by and large the asanas are all essentially the same from style to style. It’s how they get linked together that completely changes the feel.

Ask yourself: “How much fitness do I want in my practice?” Pay attention to classes you go to or your home practice. Open up the discussion in your own mind so you can find yoga that works for you. Answer that question in your mind now or discuss it with your friends, because it is powerfully informing the shape of your yoga.

Part 2 and more on the subject coming next week. 


Author: Eoin Finn 

Image: Carin Smolinski/Facebook, Eoin Finn/Instagram

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

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