“Hot“… it’s the latest buzzword in yoga. So the logical question of a new practitioner might be, “Should I take hot yoga or not?” My answer would be any yoga is better than no yoga. The type of yoga one should practice depends largely on the individual and the best way to determine what you connect with is to try a variety of classes. Why not? It’s fun and there are many studios in Chicago to explore.
It’s your practice. In the end, there is no “right” or “wrong” yoga. You decide what you like and what works…for you. Having practiced all of the styles I mention below, let’s take a look at some basic information, shall we?
Hatha Yoga ( Ha = sun tha = moon): The mother of all yoga styles. This physical aspect of yoga with which Westerners are familiar (in otherwords, the yoga poses performed in class as opposed to some of the more philosophical elements of yoga) originated, of course in India. It arose from the need to prepare the body to withstand sitting in meditation for long periods. Yes, the original intent of yoga was to facilitate MEDITATION! Because the postures and poses were found to strengthen the spine and relax the muscles, increasing stamina for complete stillness, it was practiced to enhance the meditative state. Not to mention the inherent calming effect produced on the mind. So, all of the popularized forms of yoga—Ashtanga, Baptiste, Bikram, Vinyasa, Anusara, Iyengar, Jiva Mukti and others—practiced in the U.S. have roots in the thousands of poses and postures of Hatha Yoga. Yes, you heard it correctly…THOUSANDS!
Okay, here is a brief description of the most prevalent styles you will find:
Heated studios – an interesting example of fusing the American franchise concept with traditional yoga. What you will get is a Vinyasa flow-type class but it’s up to the teacher to determine what poses will be practiced so there is some fluctuation within each class. They list different heat levels for various classes. Throw in a retail boutique and mirrors and you have a studio that satisfies the the most demanding of urban clientele.
Bikram Yoga – this style is well established and you know what you are going to get in every class in every studio, every time: 26 poses in 105° heat and puddles of sweat. Some find that the heat helps to deepen the stretch and the pools of liquid on the mat satisfies the skeptic’s doubt as to whether yoga can deliver. Mirrors are part of the studio and you are instructed to look at yourself…so as to keep the focus on one’s own practice (ya know, lots of glistening bodies in bathing suits can detract one’s attention!). If you are looking for a highly consistent, sweaty class and you don’t like or want adjsutmets of any kind…this is it. All of the instructions are called out by the teacher who stands on a raised platform wearing an amplified headset so that each pose that is called out can be heard so that you keep in synch with the class. You will not do any arm balances, full inversions, backbends or core work as these are never part of the 26 poses as defined by founder of this chain of studios.
Un-hot Traditional Yoga – these studios all have slight variations on the Hatha theme. In fact, you will experience any one of a couple hundred or so mainstream poses over a period of time but that is still just the tip of the iceberg. It’s what drew me to this style in my own practice. It offers a never ending exploration that continues to challenge. Most of the traditional studios do not formally include a “heated” class perse, but most teachers recognize the importance of a warm space within which to practice. Mirrors are typically not included and instead the teacher will give verbal cues and will demonstrate the poses, giving adjustments that correct alignment or help the student go deeper into a pose. Each teacher will have a slightly different approach as well as varying sequences. Some of the independent studios tend to have more of a sense of community to them with a wide variety of classes and workshops. Some teachers will play music, some will burn a little incense, some might use a singing bowl for a vibrational sound effect. Some will give luxurious neck massages with a little lavender oil…some teachers will be more hands on than others in adjustments. In the end, it’s your practice and only you can decide what you like. Like a box of chocolates…you never know what what you’re going to get! So explore with an open mind…and your heart will follow. You will experience a moment of clarity, or bliss…a shift of perception. Or, perhaps, you will simply feel really great afterwards and want to go back to a particular classand/or teacher for more!
The concept of building internal heat as opposed to heating the room is a fundamental difference. You are doing many vigorous and flowing sun salutations at the beginning and so you may find your self removing that top layer you wore within 10 minutes of starting. Also, in Ashtanga, Vinayasa and other traditional classes you will be using the upper body with arm balances, push-ups into sun salutations and most likely some inversions with perhaps some core poses.
So, keep an open mind and explore the studios and you will most likely find a connection to a style or teacher. By all means, don’t let a few yoga experiences determine whether or not you will make yoga part of your routine or not. Try some classes at a different studio. You may be surprised! Enjoy the journey…and don’t forget to breathe…right now!
Take a deep breath…and exhale…namaste 🙂