Are you a Yoga Flow-er or a Yoga mountain? Dynamic v Static Yoga09 Mar 2017
With the massive increase in styles of Hatha Yoga offered, if you are new to the scene, you might be forgiven for not realising that the ‘Yoga’ on offer in your local community hall could really be anything! There is heavy metal Yoga, Yoga which involves taking shots of tequila mid practice, Yoga from hammocks, Yoga for energy, Yoga for sleep, Yoga for babies, Yoga for those in their 80s. Yoga truly has become for everyone, for everything. So how do we navigate through the options available?
In the last decade, we have seen a shift towards 2 general styles of Hatha Yoga practice, those which are ‘dynamic’ flow styles or vinyasa styles (movement in connection to the breath), and static, stillness based classes.
Dynamic Yoga classes include Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, Seasonal Flow, etc. Each of these styles of class offer asana in sequences which move from posture to posture relatively frequently, usually after one to five breaths.
These classes are gaining great popularity as students are excited by the benefits to their fitness, their physiques, flexibility, cardiovascular health, lymphatic health, and more – they address brilliantly the issues of having a lifestyle where we spend our time sitting at desks, in cars, or on sofas.
Especially with the styles that emphasise breath, with regular practice, there also comes benefit at the level of the mind, and stillness can occur internally while the body moves. The mind focuses on the movement and focal points, and let’s go of other thought patterns. This is particularly useful for those who have not trained their mind, or have particularly turbulent minds, as it offers a crutch to lean on in the early stages when concentration is difficult.
So, what about the alternative? This is coined ’static’ Yoga. These include more traditional classes like traditional kundalini, and Sivananda Hatha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Yin Yoga, Drew Yoga, and more. In these styles, there may be a movement based warm up, including sun salutations and joint mobility etc., which is then followed by static postures which are held for a longer duration, minutes instead of breaths. The benefits here also include flexibility of the connective tissue, improved functionality of the internal organs, lymphatic system, etc. although there is less emphasis on cardiovascular fitness.
The focus here is kaya sthairyam- the stillness of the body, supporting the stillness of the mind. These practices usually work more directly with the consciousness and lead the practitioner inward in a deliberate way to promote connection with the subtle aspects of being. The calming and stress relieving properties of these types of practice are usually important to those drawn to these classes.
The static styles can prove tricky at first as the mind does summersaults and the body reals at the discomfort, but this is the traditional training ground for gaining conscious control of the movements of the mind – in the stillness. We see that the creators of the Hatha Yoga system were working with static Yoga, “Posture should be stable and comfortable. The correct practice of posture is accompanied by the relaxation of tension and the coinciding of consciousness with the infinite.” Per Patanjali, posture is essentially the immobilisation of the body. The profusion of postures for therapeutic purposes belongs to a later phase in the history of Yoga. (Georg Feuerstein – The Yoga tradition on the Yoga Sutras of Patanajali.)
Where does this leave us in our search for a class? It seems that the dynamic classes offer a lot to a beginner on the path of Yoga especially, however there is a possibility that the purpose of Yoga may be lost as the aim of the practitioner may body based and the deeper aspects of the Yoga system may never be explored or even known about. In addition, the classes may seem inaccessible for those whose bodies do not bend and jump and move like Madonna’s.
On the other hand, a new comer who has been recommended a class to help relieve backpain may walk out of a static class thinking never again as their mind screamed almost as loud as their hamstrings in the 3 minute forward fold.
When Hatha Yoga was founded, a very long time ago, its purpose was to assist in the gaining of freedom from the veils of mind that bind us. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest texts we have on the full practices of Hatha Yoga states that ‘Hatha Yoga is the greatest secret of the yogis who wish to attain perfection (siddhi)….’ V11
It is sometimes difficult to connect the inspiration of those who created the Yoga system, 1000s of years ago, with the exercise classes that we are so familiar with today. I often ask in the Seasonal Yoga teacher training sessions who of the teachers there have as their goal Samadhi, enlightenment, or the peace and freedom that is expounded by the yogis? Indeed, if you are a Yoga practitioner yourself, what is your answer?
As you can imagine, it is rare for somebody to raise their hands and admit to the room, let alone themselves, that they are brave enough to aim so high. However, to the founders of hatha Yoga, that was why these practices were created. To limit the practice to the physical benefits seems to be such a waste of potential, especially in a time when so many are hounded by mental turmoil.
It seems that every body, every life, has differing needs to help it move to a place where stillness can occur. When we perform asana mindfully, to gently open and strengthen the body naturally, the breath and mind will happily follow and settle down. Perhaps every class is the right class, as long as the practitioner finds themselves on a journey towards what Yoga can truly offer.