Teachers must always be learning.
- BKS Iyengar
Everyone can experience great benefits from learning āsanas, breathing techniques and meditation from a good, qualified yoga teacher. With so many yoga classes available, it’s sometimes difficult, especially for the beginner, to know which class will best suit your needs. Below are a few guidelines to help.
First, determine your needs.
What is the reason you’re interested in studying yoga? Be clear on what your initial goals are. The ultimate goal in yoga is to pursue a spiritual path. Some simply want to engage in a more healthy lifestyle, find a way to relax, have a rigorous physical routine, become more flexible, or undertake a therapeutic process. Know the reason you’re interested in the subject of yoga. That will point the way.
It is very common for most people to be introduced to yoga in a yoga studio. It is important that one knows about what is usually taught in these yoga studios. In theory, hatha yoga is a self contained path of yoga that addresses the mind, body and soul. However, due to its emphasis on the physical transmutation of the body, this path has largely been associated with the practice of āsanas and prānāyāma. This is what is mostly taught in yoga studios. A spiritual aspirant who is interested in more than the physical benefits of yoga is encouraged to learn and pursue other yoga paths and resources described on this website.
It’s best to learn from a qualified teacher, especially for a beginner. Once we are on the path and have gained experience and advice, we can further explore on our own. If you live in an outlying area and there are no local instructors, a good DVD or book by a qualified instructor is a place to begin; if on your own, proceed slowly and methodically.
Next, choose a yoga style that suits you.
Visit some local studios, meet the teachers and ask questions. Watch or participate in a class before enrolling. A vigorous Ashtānga class isn’t well suited for an elderly person who just wants to learn to relax. The weightlifter or jogger who wants to learn yoga as an alternative means of fitness might not be satisfied by a Viniyoga class. It’s best to explore the kinds of classes that are available before enrolling in anything long term.
There are many styles of hatha yoga from which to choose. Some styles are wildly divergent. Some are classical, some are not. Some are hybrids. Yet, in essence, the differences are primarily on which aspects of the practice are emphasized. For example, some styles focus more on alignment, some more on breath.
Many styles share one lineage, that of Krishnamāchārya (1888-1989,) who was a guru at the Mysore Palace in India, and sometimes called “the father of modern yoga.” Krishnamāchārya was the teacher of BKS Iyengar, (founder of Iyengar yoga,) Pattāhbi Jois, (founder of Ashtānga yoga,) and many other important yoga teachers. It’s significant to note that one style is no better than the other; the most important element is the relationship between student and teacher.
Here’s a brief rundown of some popular styles of hatha yoga. There are many more styles. Find out about them by exploring your local studios, reading about them on the internet and delving into the many books written on yoga.
- Ashtānga – vigorous and physically demanding, Ashtānga yoga, developed by K. Pattābhi Jois, is for those who want a strong workout. Students work through a specific set of practice series, flowing in jumps from one pose to the next.
- Iyengar – comes from the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, and focuses on the alignment of the body through conscious awareness, treating sequencing as an art and science to create a powerful cumulative effect. Iyengar yoga is known for the use of props to make poses accessible to everyone.
- Kundalīni – was brought to the west in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan and concentrates on breathwork, such as Breath of Fire, while working with postures and meditation.
- Sivānanda – developed by Vishnu-devānanda, this style was named after his teacher, Sivānanda. Classes follow a set structure that includes postures, prānāyāma and meditation
- Viniyoga - pioneered by T. Krishnamāchārya and his son T.K.V. Desikāchār, this system develops individual practices for individual conditions. Integration of the flow of breath is an important element here, and function is considered more important than form.
- Hatha - Some classes are simply called ‘hatha yoga,’ which means ‘physical yoga.’ Check with the individual teacher to see what and how they teach.
Then, choose your teacher carefully.
- How often does the teacher practice? A teacher must practice almost every day in order to teach properly.
- How long have they been teaching? Someone with less than three years of teaching or training may not be suitable for your needs.
- With whom did they train, and for how long? Do they hold a certification?
- Do they continue to study yoga? According to the philosophy of yoga, anyone who teaches yoga should be continuing their own education by attending classes with more senior teachers.
- Do you respect this person’s behavior? Ethical behavior according to the yoga philosophy is of utmost importance.
- Do they have training in anatomy and understand the effects of yoga techniques?
- Do they separate yoga from religion? Everyone is entitled to their personal religious beliefs, and no good yoga teacher would ever try to impose their beliefs in class.
And of course, if you have any medical issues or any areas of concern, it’s always a good idea to see a medical professional before embarking on a physical routine, especially if you have cardiovascular disease, smoke, or have a family history of heart disease.
BKS Iyengar defines the practice of yoga as an art, a science, and a philosophy. He writes, “yoga is the path which cultures the body and senses, refines the mind, civilizes the intelligence, and takes rest in the soul, which is the core of our being. It is cellular, mental, intellectual, and spiritual.” Finding the right yoga teacher for you will help you glean these benefits.
- BKS Iyengar, The Tree of Life, 1998
- B.K.S. Iyengar, Light On Yoga, 1966
- Georg Feurerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, 2003
- H. David Coulter, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, 2001
Copyright Yoga Next, 2012
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