Updated: Oct 14, 2019
These days there are many styles of yoga out there, including hot yoga, cold yoga, colour yoga, and more radical variations such as goat yoga or naked yoga (no link - sorry), and it can be hard to know which approach is likely to work best for you. I must confess that I have not tried all of the styles listed above (in fact I have not tried any of them), but I have taken a variety of yoga lessons over the past 20 years or so. These include Iyengar yoga, named after the master BKS Iyengar, which focuses closely on precision and alignment in each posture; ashtanga yoga, which involves a more dynamic approach to the yoga postures and makes you sweat; and yin yoga, a slow, restorative practice which has grown in popularity recently as an antidote to the increasingly hectic pace of modern life.
However, I always come back to hatha yoga as taught in the Sivananda yoga centres all around the world. This is a vibrant community of students and teachers who have been trained according to the understanding of yoga laid down by Swami Sivananda and developed by his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda. I have been fortunate enough to have trained under several of Swami Vishnudevananda's own close students, and never fail to be deeply inspired by their accounts of the man's humour, energy and vision. He also had the humility to name the organisation after his teacher, not himself, and was committed to bringing about a positive change in the world through spreading the message and practice of yoga.
After a famous early meeting with the master Sivananda (during which he hid up a side street because he saw people prostrating in front of this turbaned giant of a man, not wanting to bow down himself, at which Sivananda turned down this same side street and knelt down to prostrate in front of him), Swami Vishnudevananda became the first 'professor of hatha yoga' at the ashram established by his teacher. He later travelled to the West in order to share the message of yoga, and established an astonishing number of yoga centres and ashrams throughout North America, Europe and India, and founded the first yoga teacher training programme of its kind in 1969 (legend has it he also introduced the Beatles to yoga).
He synthesised the ancient teaching of yoga, as taught to him by his teacher, into five basic points, which form the backbone of the hatha yoga taught now in centres the world over. These are proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet and positive thinking and meditation.
This is the yoga that I offer to my students here in the fine city of Norwich, and will explore some of these points in more detail in forthcoming posts. Yoga means union, and the practice of it gradually reveals to us the underlying unity of life, and our integral part in the whole. There are many ways up the mountain, and the view from the top is the same, regardless of the path chosen, but the key to success is picking one path and sticking to it.