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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

inhale . . . . . exhale. one.

inhale . . . . . exhale. two. inhale . . . . . exhale. three.

according to A Simple Guide to Contemporary Styles of Yoga found on the santosha.com website, the most popular contemporary styles of Yoga are:

Anusara: Founded by John Friend in 1997, Anusara Yoga is a hatha yoga system that unifies Universal Principles of Alignment with a non-dual Tantric philosophy that is epitomized by a "celebration of the heart." Each of us is regarded as essentially good, so there is a lot of acceptance and allowance in this system for difference and deviation.

Ashtanga: Taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga research institute in Mysore, India, this method of Yoga involves synchronizing the breath with progressive series of postures - a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.

Bikram: Bikram Yoga's twenty-six posture exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as Nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well-being will automatically follow. Bikram Yoga is named after its founder, Bikram Choudhury, who studied Yoga with Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda.

Hatha: The Sanskrit word hatha is thought to be the combinates of two words ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon" and thus Hatha Yoga is said to balance the opposing energies of the body - sun and moon, male and female, etc. Hatha Yoga is most often identified with the practice of physical postures (asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama).

Integral: Sri Swami Satchidananda described Integral Yoga as: "...a flexible combination of specific methods to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It is a scientific system which integrates the various branches of Yoga in order to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the individual."

ISHTA: ISHTA stands for the Integrated Science of Hatha (the physical practice of yoga that creates balance), Tantra (the yogic philosophy that recognizes the perfection in all beings), and Ayurveda (the Indian science of healing). Developed by Alan Finger and his father Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger, it is a tradition with roots in teachings by Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.

Iyengar: Iyengar yoga was developed in India by B.K.S. Iyengar and responds to individuals with varying limitations and capacities for accomplishing postures. It emphasizes posture and the development of balance and alignment. To support students' explorations of postures, Iyengar yoga makes use of a wide variety of props: belts, blocks, pillows, and balls.

Jivamukti: Jivamukti, a Sanskrit word meaning "liberation while living," was developed by Sharon Gannon and David Life and combines a vigorous physical practice with an equally strong foundation in ancient spiritual traditions of Yoga. Its distinct style integrates the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of yoga practices into a modern lifestyle without losing sight of the ancient and universal goal of the practice - liberation.

Kripalu: There are three stages in Kripalu Yoga. Stage one focuses on learning the postures and exploring your body's abilities. Stage two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage three is called "Meditation in Motion," in which movement from one posture to another arises unconsciously and spontaneously. Kripalu Yoga was developed by Yogi Amrit Desai, who was inspired by his teacher, Swami Kripalvanandaji, a Kundalini Yoga master from India.

Kundalini: Kundalini Yoga in the tradition of Yogi Bhajan, who brought the style of Yoga to the West in 1969, focuses on the controlled release of kundalini energy, thought to reside at the base of the spine. This style of Yoga pays particular attention to breathwork, which aims to get energy moving quickly, but it also involves classic poses, coordination of breath and movement, and meditation.

Power: Power Yoga is a muscle-shaping, mind-sculpting workout that crosses all borders and appeals to any person who has the desire for true and permanent changes in his or her body and life. The most well-know proponent and teacher of Power Yoga is Baron Baptiste.

Restorative: This is a gentle, therapeutic style of Yoga that uses props to support the body to deepen the benefits of the poses. It is a soothing and nurturing practice that promotes the effects of conscious relaxation. Judith Lassater is perhaps the most well-known proponent, teacher and author on Restorative Yoga.

Sivananda: Developed by Swami Vishnu-Devananda and named for his teacher, Swami Sivananda, Sivananda Yoga follows a set structure that includes breathing, classic asanas, relaxation, as well as principles of diet and positive thinking.

inhale . . . . . exhale. four. inhale . . . . . exhale. five.

during my ongoing tour of the yoga landscape, i've made an attempt to try out the different styles, not only to satisfy my own curiosity, but to learn more about what the different yoga "gurus" believe is most important about the practice itself.

some stress the physical, some delve into the spiritual, some are light-hearted, and some are extremely rigid. maybe one style will work best for me in the end, but until i get a chance to try them all out, i'll never really know.

because they're taught in various studios all over town, i've managed to take classes in the anusara, ashtanga, hatha, iyengar, kundalini, power, and restorative yoga styles. i've even managed to find the sivananda vedanta center hidden away in some corner of marina del rey just to get a taste of that form of yoga.

what i was left with were bikram, integral, ISHTA, jivamukti, and kripalu.

finding a nearby bikram studio wasn't a problem for me; getting yelled at if i couldn't do a pose properly while feeling lightheaded in an overheated room was. once i get more confident in my balance poses, i'll give it a shot.

the closest integral and kripalu yoga classes i could find were in the san francisco area.

ISHTA classes were even farther away; they were taught only at alan finger's studio in new york city.

that left me with jivamukti, which is available in los angeles, but is supposedly taught by only TWO teachers: liz hage and krysta close.

inhale . . . . . exhale. one. inhale . . . . . exhale. two.

on monday, i showed up for liz's class at liberation yoga in west hollywood. it was on my way home from my jury duty responsibilities in downtown los angeles. very convenient.

the classroom was in the "garden studio", located in the patio behind the building. there was no door that closed off the room to the outside. during the summer months, it probably is a beautiful space to practice in, but when it's colder (like it was that evening), it got pretty drafty. fortunately, space heaters scattered about the room kept the temperature relatively comfortable.

liz started the class with a spiritual reading and some chanting. then she led us through a variety of yoga asanas. granted, her sequencing was a bit different, but for the most part, all the poses were fairly familiar. at times, she would play music while we were moving along in our poses; the music was a good blend of traditional yoga music and mellow contemporary hits.

call me slow, but it wasn't until we were about 20 minutes into the class that i realized liz was chanting the same mantra over and over again.

inhale . . . . . exhale. three. inhale . . . . . exhale. four.

not only did i realize that i was supposed to be breathing in time to her chant, but that i was supposed to be breathing in each time she said "inhale" and breathing out each time she said "exhale". duh. strangely enough, i seemed to find myself inhaling every time she said "exhale". ugh. at least i was breathing, which is more than some of my other teachers can give me credit for! note to self: something else to work on...

the class ended with savasana, meditation, and a prayer that she recited that everyone else responded to with "jai!".

ok, so jivamukti wasn't like ashtanga because we didn't turn ourselves into pretzels. and it wasn't like iyengar because we didn't use chairs and blocks. it wasn't restorative because it wasn't gentle and restive. we didn't chant enough to make it kundalini-like. and i didn't get that "happy" feeling that anusara gives me. but it did seem very much like hatha yoga. let's see... there was some inspirational reading. there was some chanting. there was a lot of asana practice. and there was time for rest and meditation. but i've done all of that in various hatha yoga classes. so did i miss something somewhere?

another jivamukti class appeared to be in order.

the next day, in the midst of a raging rainstorm, i made my way through bumper-to-bumper traffic to get from downtown to golden bridge yoga in hollywood for krysta's class.

again, the class began with a reading based on her selected theme of the day. then some chanting and some Kapalabhati pranayama (rapid nostril exhalations). while we were flowing through the asanas, krysta started up the music. and started chanting that familiar mantra...

inhale . . . . . exhale. one. inhale . . . . . exhale. two.

i was beginning to see a trend here.

inhale . . . . . exhale. three. inhale . . . . . exhale. four.

then savasana. meditation. OM. and once again:

Om bolo sat guru bhagavan, ki. Jai! God is the only teacher. Alleluia!

here's how www.jivamuktiyoga.com describes it:

"We promote the educational aspect of the practice and give students access to where these ideas have come from. Each class focuses on a theme, which is supported by Sanskrit chanting, readings, references to scriptural texts, music (from the Beatles to Moby), spoken word, asana sequencing and yogic breathing practices. The average Jivamukti student is more educated about the philosophy of yoga than most yoga teachers."

i still don't see the difference. maybe i have to pay a visit to the jivamukti center in new york to get the definitive answer... in the meantime, can i go back to breathing normally again?