I have a confession to make: I’ve been running around all over town with different yogas. For several years I was exclusive with ashtanga yoga, but then I started flirting with other styles. I found myself attracted to vinyasa, lured by its playful creativity. Next I noticed yin yoga beckoning me over; it seemed intriguing, and like a nice way to balance my usual "yang" practice. Then I did a viniyoga teacher training, and my eyes opened to a whole new world of yoga and an understanding of yoga as highly individual therapy. I still hang with my old friend ashtanga, and we’ve even taken it to second series by now, but I’ll never be a one-yoga woman.
Like a lot of people, my first yoga experience was a vinyasa class in a gym. I was living in Australia at the time, and when I joined a health center with an all-inclusive package, I figured I’d sample a few of their offerings. Circuits? Hmm, not for me. Pilates? Tried it, it clearly works, but it didn’t light me up. Then I tried yoga, and in an instant my life changed forever. It was love at first down dog. I wanted to run around the room shouting "I’ve found my thing, I’ve found my thing!" (In fact that’s exactly what I did when I got home, in front of my somewhat confused husband.) At the end of class the teacher came over and said that, as crazy as it might sound given it was my first ever practice, she had a strong feeling I was going to teach someday. A seed was sown that morning.
I wanted to run around the room shouting "I’ve found my thing, I’ve found my thing!"
A few months later, I moved back to my native England. I tried a few different classes that weren’t the right fit for me, but eventually found my place at a small ashtanga studio near my home. I started going there four or five times a week; I loved the discipline and focus of the practice, the way I felt "wrung out" but energized at the end, and the fact that there was so much to explore and work toward in each class. Eventually, the teacher gave me the little push I needed to come to Mysore classes and break away from a led practice. Soon I started practicing and meditating by myself at home, and gradually it became something I couldn’t imagine living without.
But then, after a few years, I began to struggle. My work in the music business meant I was away on tour a lot, and though my mat always came with me, I missed the energy of practicing in a group. The rapid pace of my travels made it tricky to find classes that worked with my schedule—and that’s assuming I was even in a country whose language I spoke. So I started exploring classes online, just to have a virtual group experience. That's when I rediscovered vinyasa.
I found I enjoyed the variety and playfulness offered by a less structured approach than ashtanga. Alone in my hotel room, I tried things I had never done before—exciting inversions and arm balances which sometimes made me laugh out loud with delight as I discovered how creatively my four limbs could be arranged.
Then came yin yoga. Who knew that these long, slow holds had so much juice in them? I learned to observe my mental reactions in these deep, passive postures; when did my mind wander? When did the self-judging start? Where did I try to escape? Thanks to this inward journey on the mat, I began to cultivate a greater self-awareness off the mat. My practice held up a mirror to my habitual behaviors and reactions. In yin class, I learned to explore my "edge," and in getting familiar with discomfort (and learning the crucial difference between that and pain), I was gifted with an incredible life tool, the ability to simply "be" with a challenging situation instead of running away from it. Feeling rather than fleeing. This has allowed me to expand my horizons and my comfort zone.
Eventually, that first teacher's prediction came true. Since my initial practice, I’d had a quiet and intuitive sense that yoga was going to become a huge part of my life. And as my practice grew, I wanted to share this life-enhancing experience. It was time to learn to teach so that I could safely and effectively help others to reap yoga’s benefits too. After some searching, it was a viniyoga training in Bali that spoke to me. It seemed like a comprehensive, well-rounded yoga education with a soul, and going away for an immersive training—especially in a beautiful setting like Bali—worked well with my nomadic lifestyle.
There I learned how to adapt postures for different purposes and different bodies. I learned, as Krishnamacharya said, to teach yoga not as it applies to me, but as it applies to the student. And I learned to listen—really listen—to my body.
In the years since that first class at the gym, my practice has journeyed and evolved. There is no typical practice for me—I trust my intuition and listen to what my mind and body need. I am incredibly grateful for ashtanga, which has taught me the value of perseverance and given me so many gifts—insight, community, a strong and flexible body and a steadier mind—and we still get together regularly for the discipline of a well-trodden primary series or to explore exhilarating new postures in second series. Ashtanga is a no-nonsense friend who is always consistent. I visit when I need a kick in the pants and a clear path to stay on track with my purpose. Sometimes, though, I need the long, slow surrender of yin—my friend who knows when to say nothing and instead simply listens, who can hold space and is comfortable with silence. Sometimes I need the nourishment and loving embrace of a restorative practice; this is the friend I go to when I need to be held, comforted, wrapped in a blanket, and told that everything is going to be okay. Sometimes I crave creative, playful vinyasa—my buddy who is always upbeat and ready for a new adventure. And viniyoga...well, viniyoga is my therapist. Its wisdom touches everything I do. I reap different benefits from each of these styles, and I love them all.
Many yogis would disagree with my approach, and instead favor staying with one school of yoga. For brand new yogis, I think that perspective has much wisdom. A solid grounding in one type of yoga is important for getting a good grasp of the basics, an introduction to the eight limbs, and an appreciation of the body’s quirks, imbalances, and areas in need of special attention. Hopefully, after a year or so, the practitioner will become very aware of the deeper benefits of yoga as a whole. Benefits like a quieter and more disciplined mind, improved sleep, the ability to access one’s own intuition, and the ability to take a moment’s pause before reacting. And once you reach that stage and feel confident in your practice, I think there's something to be said for exploring different styles. After all, many things that we pick up from one style can be helpful in another.
Many yogis would disagree with my approach, and instead favor staying with one school of yoga.
For example, the tapas (discipline and persistence) I’ve cultivated in ashtanga yoga assists me with patience in yin. The creativity of vinyasa keeps my mind, which loves rules and frameworks and plans, from becoming too rigid in ashtanga. Delicious restorative yoga has taught me when to go easy rather than take every challenge offered, important for my pitta personality. The highly adaptive viniyoga approach reminds me to address my own imbalances every day, no matter which style I'm practicing—for example, spending longer in an asana on the tighter side of my body.
There is so much choice out there, and "oranges are not the only fruit," so why not go on a new adventure? Maybe you’ll explore and then return, devotedly, to your original practice, but you’ll return more knowledgeable, a little wiser. Maybe you’ll stay with one practice for years, decades even, and then diversify—after all, what works at age 20 isn’t necessarily of benefit at age 70. For me, I’m going to continue to love and honor all I have learned so far, whilst romping through the fields of my yoga life, shouting delightedly, just like I did all those years ago: "I’ve found my thing, I’ve found my thing!"