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'What kind of yoga do you do?' by Sally Lander

Schools of Yoga as Represented using Popular English Biscuits (and Madonna, who isn't really a separate school) Illustration by Jon Lander

I first wrote this blog on Yoga With Your Slippers On in 2012, and things have changed a little, so I'm going to edit it. New bits will be in bold.

‘What kind of yoga do you do?’

This is a question people who do yoga get asked all the time. Some have a nice simple answer: 'Ashtanga yoga' 'Iyengar yoga' 'Bikram Yoga' The original teachers of all three schools have been accused of various levels and types of abuse since I wrote this, though they continue to have many adherents, and there is a lot to be said for each of the systems. Another popular answer is 'The kind of yoga X does'. Insert celebrity name - it's often Madonna, who is reported to have done Ashtanga and Bikram, or Gwyneth, also a fan of Ashtanga, I read.

I reply with 'Have you done any yoga?' to get a starting point. I don't like it when the answer to this is 'Hatha Yoga' because that switches me into an annoying mini-lecture. Ok, since you've asked. 'All the physical yoga we do in the west is Hatha yoga - there are other branches of yoga which are not physical. But Hatha yoga has come to mean something like 'gentle, not too specific, a bit of this and a bit of that, nothing that could hurt you' and I have a pedantic reaction against this use. The 'proper' use of the word Hatha would be a biscuit to encompass all the other biscuits. Including the Madonna biscuit.

Anyway, back to the main question. At a weekend workshop with Peter Blackaby the other month (I mean in 2012) my yoga was described as 'Post-Scaravelli' which I was pretty thrilled with at the time but I don't think I'll be saying that when asked by a stranger. It's a little esoteric. Vanda Scaravelli was an Italian woman who worked with some of the Indian teachers who were in the vanguard of popularising yoga in the west in the second half of the 20th century. She then trained a small group of teachers who have since trained a larger group of teachers and her work, or her style, is increasingly recognised.

Perhaps the kind of yoga I teach is about integrating breath, body, awareness. Many kinds of yoga answer to this description, so it's not specific enough. Perhaps my kind also includes response to gravity and ground. Perhaps it’s about a lineage from Krishnamacharya to Desikachar and Iyengar through Scaravelli and Mary Stewart to Chloe Fremantle and Catherine James. Perhaps it's experiential yoga - giving you some ways to understand yourself and your own body and what is good for you in various ways. Perhaps it's just what I find interesting and entertaining and useful. In the eight years since I wrote this article I think I've been increasingly influenced by my students and by what they need and want and I think we've gone down an interesting route together.

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