And that’s a great thing—it means we can continue to try out new forms of yoga and enjoy a diversity of experiences, ultimately finding the one that suits us best. For many though, these seemingly unlimited options can also be daunting.
As a yoga and meditation instructor, students often ask me what type of class they should attend. There are many ways to answer this question, but I often think of yin and yang, the Shakti and Shiva, or feminine and masculine.
Many yoga forms are heavy on the yin and the Shakti—the feminine. This means light, undisciplined, closer to nature, cool, more organic and free flowing, somewhat passive and slower. On the other hand the yang or Shakti, is masculine, fast, hot, rigorous, disciplined and regimented, and usually with set poses.
But yoga is all about balancing. Balancing the Prakriti (the external form) and the Purusha (pure consciousness), balancing the male and the female, the Shiva and the Shakti, the yin and the yang. So while you might be an extremely disciplined person and think a yang form of yoga would be right up your alley, in reality, you’re better off trying a yin form, to balance those two elements of your personality.
Here are five archetypes and their potential yoga matches, which should help guide you in choosing a practice that suits you best.
1. The Flake
Are you constantly late for everything? Is your day free-form? Do you sometimes literally forget what day of the week it is? You might be the archetypical flake: the creative, free-flowing type. Undisciplined, but super fun to be around, able to keep agile, because there’s no real structure to anything.
If you lean toward more structured forms of yoga like Bikram, which favor the yang elements, you might invite a little more discipline to your freewheeling ways. Bikram is a widely popular synthesized form of traditional Hatha yoga, developed by the highly publicized Bikram Choudury. All Bikram yoga classes run for 90 minutes, the same set of 26 postures are practiced within a heated room at 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), with 40 percent humidity. It’s not for the faint of heart, but is structured, organized yoga, which will structure your life in ways you could never have dreamed of experiencing.
2. The Militant
Are you uber-disciplined? Do you wake up at the same time every day, and follow a set routine, which covers exercise, food, work and play (if you get to play, even your play is disciplined). Do you make lists in the morning and then make sure everything is ticked off by the end of the day? Do people accuse you of being too rigid, too stick-to-the-plans, or unable to take a risk? You might be a little heavy on the masculine end of the spectrum, the yang.
If you’re a lady you might like to try Tigress yoga, a women’s Tantric yoga class. Started by Devashi Shakti, a teacher from Melbourne, this Tigress yoga is about cultivating the sacred feminine. This means you can wear just about anything you like to class (although clothes must be unbinding i.e., nothing too tight or rigid). The classes are unstructured and free-flowing. Sounds are often used as a way of releasing your orgasmic energy, and helping you to move more freely. Classes are dynamic and invigorating—but gender specific, so not one for the lads.
Men might like to try Yin yoga. Yin is a slow-paced yoga, where postures are held for up to five minutes. It was founded by Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink in the seventies. While it still maintains structure, it’s a great way to slow down and focus on the meditative side of your practice, especially when life is often so fast paced.
3. The Trailblazer
Are you doing everything you can to get to the top? And everything is fast, fast, fast? You’re climbing the ladder, coming up with ideas, you’re beyond cutting edge, you’re leading, and as a result you're potentially bleeding at the same time. But innovation is your thing, and there’s only way to get to the pinnacle and that’s through a quick ascent. You’ve got no time to worry about your health… or sometimes the people around you. It’s all go, go, go!
Try Sivanada yoga, it’s an unhurried form which focuses on the same 12 asanas, beginning with Sun Salutations and ending with Savasana. Sivananda was brought to the west by Swami Vishnudevananda in the '50s. This style of yoga also focuses on meditation and chanting, bringing some structure to your trail blazing, but also allowing you to become closer to your core, enhance your health, and focus on the same 12 basic asanas over and over.
4. The Snail
Do you often feel like everyone around you has moved on and is living life while you’ve been left behind? You never achieved the milestones, the things you dreamed about when you were kid, but then, there was something always a little more ‘easy’ to do, like watching re-runs of Seinfeld, or having that third latte. Do you often feel like you just simply can’t muster the energy?
You might be a little heavy on a few ying aspects, you’ll need an energizing, flowing yoga practice, like Ashtanga. Ashtanga moves quickly through postures, and relies on breathing in and out as you go. It was first developed in Mysore India, and then popularized in the west by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It focuses on cardio, strength, and flexibility, and will put a real extra pep in your step.
5. The Skeptic
Do you think yoga is just an Eastern tradition that has swept the West because most people are flakes and easily influenced? Do you hear the word yoga and roll your eyes? Are you being dragged along to a vinyasa class by your significant other? Well, you’re likely to have become seriously disconnected from your Purusha (pure consciousness) and be too focused on your Prakriti (external form).
Why not really put yourself out of your comfort zone and try Kundalini? Kundalini is a series of invigorating, quickly moving postures, designed to realign the chakras and release the serpent within. Don’t think you have one? Think it might be ridiculous? Well, I’d like to remind you, we spin around in a universe, so anything is possible. The serpent energy is tightly coiled, like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, you can awaken this and spiral the power upward through Kundalini. You will experience an unmistakable yoga buzz. If you’re still not convinced, some of Kundalini’s most famous students include Christy Turlington and Russell Brand.
As a rule of thumb, remember to step out of your comfort zone. If your disciplined go free flowing, and vice versa. Yoga is all about balancing, and we can’t balance if we do the same thing we do every day, even in our yoga practice.
Photo by Ali Kaukas