Early Spring, many full moons ago, I was shopping for a class in the yoga Mecca of Prahran. The teacher was Indian so I figured he must be good, coming from Yoga’s heartland. His fair-haired, honey-tanned acolyte wore a kind of loin cloth (probably just daggy shorts), according to my apocryphal memory. But I do recall being rigid with panic as the whimpering girl beyond my buckled body’s sight asked the teacher to release her from a posture, and he refused.
I’ve done hard-bodied yoga with a humourless teacher and gently coo-ing classes with a sweet despairing one, flowing postures with an Earth Mother and cocooned myself in the comforting routine and community of one tradition. If you’ve lapsed over winter and are keen to get your mat rolling with a new class this Spring, here are some shopping tips…
Tradition vs fusion
Let’s divide yoga styles roughly into tradition-based and fusion styles.
Yoga traditions have a spiritual guru or master teacher who develops a style and adheres to a philosophy which is passed down through a lineage. They usually have a hub that nurtures the student/teacher community, providing a like-minded social network and workshops on say, “yoga for back pain” or “stress”, for students as well as teacher graduates. They may even hold full moon meditations and solstice celebrations. Some long standing traditions in Melbourne include Gita International in Abbotsford, Krishnamacharya Healing Yoga Foundation (KHYF) in Middle Park and Yoga in Daily Life in Richmond. While the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions have loads of teachers here, they have no central hub.
Having said that, many teachers with an entrepreneurial spirit and a rented space create active hives for students.
Fusion classes came about as teachers continued professional development beyond the tradition in which they qualified. Many explore the vast world of yoga styles here and overseas, slowly developing a personal “best of” compilation of teaching influences, styles and philosophies. Many fusion teachers simply advertise themselves as “hatha” yoga, while others have codified their new style and branded it, like Shadow yoga, Anusara and SomaChi.
Format, Pace & Props
Class formats vary hugely but most include some floor work and standing work and transition from one posture to the next (holding each for a minute or so). Breath work and relaxation are generally key elements.
Vinyasa classes meanwhile, offer flowing posture sequences performed in perfect harmony with the breath.
Some styles, like Iyengar, also use props (bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets) to ensure you get the best alignment for your body in each posture. It requires some mucking around between postures, but you might enjoy that micro-break, or find it unutterably tedious and prefer the simplicity of straight mat work.
Consider the pace of the class too. Some styles whip through 25 poses or more in 60 to 90 minutes, which makes working safely difficult for newcomers. It can take years to crack the best alignment for your body in popular classes where teachers are unable to offer sustained individual attention. You may find it more rewarding to consider a smaller class, or one that spends more time in fewer postures, until you build a stable foundation and confidence.
What do I need?
In her search for a terrific teacher, my friend Sal came across plenty with hot bods, outfits to match and the bendy cellular structures of ex-dancers. But, says Sal: “One of my fave teachers of all time was a woman in her 70s who wore spangly old leotards.” Ask yourself, do I want…:
A yoga coach or spiritual mentor?
A class that challenges me, or restores me because I’m a total stress head?
A few private classes to gain confidence and technique?
A studio that offers a variety of classes, ability levels and teachers?
Or a teacher who offers smaller groups and individual attention?
Is personal development and spiritual philosophy important?
A community of yoga buddies with whom to enjoy all things oogie-boogie (spiritual)?
Excuse me, but …?
Ask the teacher:
Are your classes dynamic, or more restorative?
How many postures do you do per class?
What’s the format? (eg: Breath work? Mostly standing postures? Any relaxation?)
Are classes level-specific, or of mixed abilities?
How is your yoga different to others I’ve tried?
Do you offer spiritual philosophy and what are some of your key concepts?
Do you offer individual attention?
What do people say they like about your teaching style?
Search a class
Try these websites for different styles of yoga in Melbourne
Lisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.