My 20-year-long love affair with yoga has been a body-flexing, mind-expanding learning curve. It has taken me around the world, from draughty church halls and sweaty studios in East London, via Bali, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Goa and the Himalayas; I’ve faced mats with some of the world’s best gurus and experimented with a multitude of styles. But when I found myself scrolling through 30-plus yoga types and some 300 teachers listed on the website of one internationally renowned yoga centre, the choice seemed overwhelming.
So, how did we end up here? Modern yoga first appeared in the 1930s, when physical culture became popular in the West and began to merge with Indian yogic techniques. One legendary yogi of that era, named T Krishnamacharya, is widely credited for making Hatha – the physical aspect of yoga – accessible to us all. His star pupils included Indra Devi (cited as the first Western female yogi – who went on to teach the post-war Hollywood elite, including Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson), BKS Iyengar and Sri K Pattabhi Jois – whose teachings directly shape today’s styles.
“All physical yoga is Hatha and generally there’s either a flexibility or strength bias to every class,” explains Naomi Annand, IKIGAI’s yoga expert and founder of the popular Yoga on the Lane studio in East London. “Flowing Vinyasa, where postures are linked by the breath, comes from the flexible, energetic Ashtanga style of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Classes which involve holding postures and doing handstands derive from strengthening Iyengar.”
The emphasis on fitness and flexibility with some relaxation (and maybe a little meditation) in today’s packed classes means it’s often forgotten that traditionally, postures (asanas) would be passed individually from guru to student as just one aspect of a rigorous spiritual training, which also included meditation and chanting – the ultimate goal being self-realisation. However, the fact that yoga has shaken off its asceticism has been good for us urbanites looking to reconnect with the innate stillness we have as humans, regardless of faith, sex or body type.
That we have such a choice of styles is reflective of the individualism of yoga; anyone can do it, we just have to set our intention (see below for some inspiration). There’s no need to be baffled by jargon, swayed by marketing, or slavishly follow celebrity teachers – great yoga is available everywhere.