I went to a yoga class last week for the first time in six months. Yoga has been a huge part of my adult life and I deeply love it and have learned much of how I cope with the disappointments of the world from it. So, once again, I am mystified at how it happens that six months has gone by since the last class I went to, but nonetheless it happened. The studio that I’m taking classes at is a vinyasa studio in the heart of a super hip town, where parking is always a challenge. Kitty corner from it is a bikram yoga studio. In between are a Thai restaurant and two bars catering to craft beers and the younger set. There are boutiques and a needlepoint shop. It’s that kind of place. It was fifteen degrees out and tough to park, but we made it on time anyway.
It was an excellent class. I had been having an unusually bad day and I hit the studio brimming with energy that needed to be burned off. And this was the perfect recipe for finally understanding what vinyasa is all about. My yoga background is hatha and kundalini. In kundalini yoga, the focus is on holding poses for such a length of time as to make it really challenging. It’s not uncommon for a five minute pose to be introduced into a class. When you’re balanced on your sacram, holding your feet and arms in the air, five minutes is a really, really long time. Vinyasa, on the other hand, focuses on constant movement. It’s rare to hold a pose for half a minute, let alone five. This was a challenge for me, because the first yoga teacher that I really bonded with was a former ballerina. She focused really strongly on the technique behind a pose. She really helped ungraceful, unathletic me learn how to move minute muscles, without just powering through a pose. This has been invaluable to me in studying yoga, because now I have a foundation of how to move a million small muscles.
In vinyasa, that gets thrown to the wind because of the speed of the movements. There are no mirrors in this yoga studio, which really threw me, because now I couldn’t rely on a visual check to see if my arms really are parallel to the floor or if I’ve gotten lazy and have one drooping behind. So much of yoga is dance for me, by which I mean the enjoying the beauty of doing a graceful movement, that it was a difficult adjustment. Then, the other night, about halfway through class, when I was thinking about how much better I was feeling for the energy I’m burning, I realized that if I adjusted my thinking to compare it to an aerobics class, it suddenly all made much more sense. And suddenly I understood the impressive athleticism of the teachers at the studio. While no yoga teacher is out of shape, there’s a certain level of nearly competitive acrobatics that I had never seen before. But when strength training is combined with cardio and stretching in the way that it is in vinyasa, it’s not surprising that it creates such powerful bodies.
It’s not that the yoga isn’t there. It’s just a different form of yoga than I practiced for the first ten years of study. And there is good in it, even if the dance is now a quicker number.