For my first 6-8 years of yoga practice I studied only with my first teacher, Janie Strickland, and this was all I knew. As Janie worked on her certification in the Iyengar style of yoga, which emphasizes precision in each posture, long holdings of the posture and a variety of props, like belts, blocks, chairs and bolsters, I found myself restless and I must admit, a bit rebellious. While this style is an excellent foundation for learning yoga, it became less nurturing and seemed less spiritually focused. I was also holding my breath a lot. I began to explore what else was out there.
Two things happened. First, every time I read through the Yoga Journal, I ended up looking at the ad for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training (PRYT), based out of Kripalu yoga. It was a gentle form of yoga and yoga therapy, with the focus on going inward to explore and release our inner emotional stresses. No kidding, they talked about why you cry during and after yoga, the connection of stress, yoga and emotional healing. If you read my earlier blog, you know they got my attention. They talked about accessing your inner Wisdom and then, having a career that embodies all your highest aspirations as a yoga healer. I had small children and no money at the time, but I signed up. The next few years were an amazing experience of Self-study and therapy. Those years of study were profound for me personally and influenced how I teach yoga.
At the same time, my yoga body was also going in another direction. I discovered the Power of Ashtanga Yoga. This yoga seemed to be the exact opposite of Kripalu and Phoenix Rising Therapy. It was relatively fast, hot, and intense (compared to any prior form of yoga up to then). Suddenly I understood how to breathe! And my 30something year old body craved the intense physical practice. The Ashtanga practice is a set sequence, vigorous yet the focus is on meditation on the breath. The breath is maintained in a slow, full, diaphragmatic way, even though the body is pulled into a variety of challenging positions. So the result is that the body is experiencing strong physical exertion while at the same time the mind comes into a deep meditative state. The whisper of the Ujjayi breath is the music you meditate upon. My favorite Ashtanga teachers were Beryl Bender Birch and David Swenson, though I studied with a few others as well. Both of these teachers were great at modifying the practice for individual needs and for keeping this great physical practice connected to the spiritual experience.
I will write next about how the Vinyasa style, and Joyflow in particular, came to be.