Lately, I’ve been getting the question more and more: “What type of yoga do we practice?”
The question is most valid and sometimes if asked, I also do not know how to respond. For practicality’s sake though, something has to be said.
So here are two basic answers to consider: The long(er) philosophical one and the shorter, contemporary version.
Let’s start with the latter: The shorter, contemporary one.
Suppose we are riding the super subway, or leaving a crowded movie theater, or talking to someone in the car next to us at a red light, and the question comes forth: “So tell me, what type of yoga do you practice?” (And believe me, I do get this question at red lights!)
Our reply will be: “Vinyasa.”
Vinyasa yoga is a broad term that denotes “flowing”, meaning when one pose flows into the next. That is the way or style in which our classes are led.
FYI, as a global society we are still adjusting to the use of Sanskrit on the international stage; thus, there are two very correct ways to say vinyasa. Both are fine. There is the 2-syllable or 3-syllable version, depending on whether we pronounce the last “a” or not. Both pronunciations are acceptable.
Vinyasa then is the short simple reply to the query, “What type of yoga do you practice?” And it works fine: Truthful and accurate.
If we examine the arena of contemporary yoga, there are so many different “types”: Kundalini yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, Para yoga, Hot yoga, Anusara yoga, Bikram yoga, Power yoga, Yoga In Hammocks, and the list goes on and on. There are so many types of yoga – and this list is growing each and every week. In our contemporary yoga movement, all these types carry a certain meaning. They offer a reference point – a way of communicating. So they have value.
Yet none of these actually represent yoga, or the totality of yoga. They are different approaches to one piece of yoga.
Nowadays, we forget that yoga and meditation are one and the same and that the whole essence of yoga is to make a connection between finite and infinite.
In this greater definition, there are not multiple types or styles of yoga. Yoga is that practice which helps free us from the bondages (diseases, selfishness, feelings of inferiority, partiality, and more) of the relative plane so that we may proceed onwards along the path of supreme benevolence, wherein all differences dissipate and a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us prevails.
The one and only name of this type of yoga is Raja Yoga. In Sanskrit, raja means “king” and raja yoga is the king because it incorporates all 8 limbs of classical yoga or astaunga yoga, of which the yoga postures or asanas are but one step, i.e. limb #3.
Raja yoga recognises that yoga is a meditation-based practice that includes all kinds of lifestyle approaches including diet, fasting, pranayama, overall restraint, philosophical knowledge, kiirtan (devotional chanting), seva (service), concentration techniques (dharana), morality (yama & niyama), yoga nidra or restoration, many more approaches, and ultimately surrender.
In our approach we try to offer gateways into the many different components and limbs of raja yoga. No doubt, many of our classes are asana-based, in the vinyasa style, yet within that framework and through our meditation circle and seminars we aim to explore what the vast world of yoga has to offer.
All the many different labels of yoga in today’s western yoga movement are primarily different names for how they pursue their physical yoga practice. And that is fine. Let everyone come and be attracted in a way that suits them. Internally however we should recognize that yoga is far more than stretching and flexibility, or strength and balance. It is about gaining an outlook that brings connection between ourselves and the world around us, wherein a greater emphasis is placed on psychic and spiritual endeavors than materialistic gain.
Indeed, the world of yoga is vast – it is big enough for everyone. Everyone’s mind can become expanded, leaving all pettiness behind; and everyone can experience the boundless joy and happiness of tapping into their inner-self, and flowering into something they never ever thought possible.
Yoga is about making the unknown known, making a link between finite and infinite,and leading a life on this earth that is consistent with those aims. A person may call this whatever they wish. In yogic parlance, it is called raja yoga or even raja-dhiraj yoga. And that path is one, an all-inclusive journey for everyone.
That is what we aim to practice and share with all.
While we may not be able to impart this entire reply to the driver next to us at the red-light, so simply saying “vinyasa” is fine. Internally however, we should all keep in mind the greater aims of yoga and march forward arm-in-arm, encouraging everyone to proceed along the path of benevolence.