I am often asked what kind of yoga I teach. My answer is Hatha Yoga with an
Iyengar influence. But what does that mean? The word ‘yoga’ is often translated
simply as ‘union’, referring to the union of body and mind. Hatha in its simplest
definition means ‘force’ since it is involved in breaking habits of the body through a
certain level of exertion but the word also refers to the power behind the force itself.
Hatha is the general system of yoga poses (asanas) and breathing techniques
(pranayama) from which all modern yoga schools stem, and is made up of word
roots reflecting the union of opposites.
Ha – signifies the sun, the right side of the body, the masculine principle and energy.
Tha – signifies the moon, the left side of the body, the feminine principle and
Hatha yoga is included within the 8 branches of Ashtanga Yoga, an ancient system
of practices that was compiled and elucidated by the Indian sage, Patanjali, in the
Yoga Sutras in the early fifth century CE. All forms of yoga today originated as part
of this comprehensive system that includes ethical discipline, somatic purification
practices, textual study and meditation.
Over the centuries, the postural and breathing techniques of Hatha Yoga began to
gain popularity among the laity outside of the ashrams, and eventually it emerged as
its own discipline. Even today, in India, when someone says they are doing yoga this
is generally what they mean. It wasn’t until the 20th century, that yoga began to sub-
divide into the different schools that we see today.
Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) and Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) both contributed enormously to reviving interest in yoga in India that had waned after a peak in the middle ages. Swami Satyananda (1923-2009) founded the Bihar School of Yoga, the lineage in which my own teacher, Sri Surinder Singh, was trained. Around the same time, K. Pattabhi Jois developed a modern version of classical yoga, called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
But it was B.K.S. Iyengar who perhaps had the greatest influence in bringing yoga to
the West. He founded his own yoga school in the 1950s, emphasizing precision
alignment and the use of props such as blocks, blankets and belts. One of his most
famous students was Yehudi Menuhin who was so convinced that yoga improved his
musical abilities that he liked to refer to B.K.S. Iyengar as “my favourite violin
Today, there are numerous other yoga schools, and some are controversial, so it’s
good to do some research beforehand. There is Bikram Yoga (sometimes called ‘hot
yoga’ because it’s performed in a room at temperatures up to 40 Celsius), Anusara
School of Hatha Yoga, Integral Yoga, even Kundalini Yoga that claims to awaken the
dormant energies at the base of the spine. And with the West’s love of endless
categorizations, more yoga schools seem to be popping up all the time. Lately, I have been incorporating more Somatic Yoga into my classes (see DSM’s September
issue) with gentle flow through movements that work to reprogram muscle memory.
What type of yoga you end up doing will be based on a number of factors, including
accessibility and your own personal motivations. The best way is always to get a
recommendation from someone you know and trust and don’t be afraid to try out
difference classes. There are a number of yoga teachers in the Deux-Sèvres so you
might find one down the road! And it’s worth remembering that not all types of yoga
will suit everyone. Find the style that works for your own body and mind. If you feel
happy when you leave the class, that’s the best indicator!
For information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Respect yourself, explore yourself