Thanks to everyone who responded to my yoga practice survey (and there’s still time to take it if you have not already). Here is one of the questions I received:
I continue to practice a variety of styles of yoga - mostly when I go to classes. I realize I can become more expert in one style if I practiced one style. However, what are your thoughts about sticking to one style of practice regarding personal and spiritual growth?
The phrase regarding personal and spiritual growth guides my answer to this question. The decision to stick with one style of yoga or not depends, I think, on your intention for your practice.
If you do yoga to feel good in your body, or to explore new and different ways of moving, then I would say go for it and take advantage of all the wonderful variety that’s out there.
Likewise, if you are interested in using yoga for physical fitness you might benefit from practicing a variety of methods that work together to enhance strength, flexibility and endurance. Some styles of yoga offer this variety within the method itself. Poses can be practiced at a fast or slower pace, or sequenced to emphasize different components of fitness so that overall, you are getting everything within one method. Other styles offer a more narrowly defined set of practices and prescribed sequences so would need to be combined with other approaches to optimize fitness.
However, if your goal for practice is personal and spiritual growth, then I do think sticking to one style, at least for a while, is the most effective way to go.
Most of us begin by trying out different methods, the “window-shopping” phase of practice. At the beginning it’s important to experience different approaches, teachers, studios, and settings like home practice, gym practice, and studio practice to find out what resonates.
If we think of the path of yoga like a highway, it’s clear that we all have access to an incredible variety of turn-offs, detours and alternate routes. Choosing to go down all of them would distract us forever. At some point, if we want to get somewhere in terms of inner growth, I do feel it is most effective to stay on a chosen route, at least for a while.
Committing to one style is a way of focusing our attention and therefore our energy so we can turn it inward toward our own self-development and growth, rather than outward toward exploring, trying out and experimenting.
The familiar argument for sticking to one style, if I may switch to another image, is the “digging one well deep” analogy. If we dig one deep well, the argument goes, we will strike water sooner than if we dig a lot of shallow wells.
Instead of spreading out our attention and effort toward getting a little from a lot of different places, in committing to one style we allow for a kind of vertical, or inward, deepening that is key if we are interested in yoga as a path of personal or spiritual development.
The vertical deepening also ensures that we will encounter our own inner, rocky terrain in the form of blocks, questioning and resistances along the way. By sticking with it, we give our selves the precious opportunity to work through challenges rather than shifting our attention outward. In this way, the method itself provides a framework for growth and serves as a crucible for inner shift and expansion.
I don’t mean to say there isn’t a place for variety in practice or times when it is necessary and appropriate to shift the way we practice. Practice evolves. I think it is definitely beneficial and often important to change up the way we practice and also incorporate other movement modalities to enrich our usual practice. Experimenting with different ways of moving can be informative, helpful, fun and invigorating. It helps us keep an open mind and not get too rigid. Variety helps to keep our practice fresh and inspired, and ultimately supports our chosen path of practice.
As always, thanks for asking and thanks for reading!
November teaching events:
Handstand workshop at Yocomo, Montreal’s Yoga Festival on Sunday, November 13, 8:30-10am
I’ll be in Halifax for the YTT at Grow a Lotus Pad and while I’m there I’m offering 2 public events at TAYS:
Sunday, November 20, 10am-12pm Supported Backbends Workshop
Sunday, November 20, 12:15-1:30pm Public talk on Evolving your Yoga: How to Deepen, Expand and Integrate Practice – all students and teachers are welcome!
Excited to return to Eliot Acuna's lovely studio for 2 events:
Saturday, November 26 10:45am - 12pm Public talk on Evolving your Yoga: How to Deepen, Expand and Integrate Practice – all students and teachers are welcome!
Sunday, November 27, 1-4pm Embodying Spirit: 5 Essential Teaching of Yoga