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Yoga definedA wise man once said, “There’s no right answer to a wrong question.” These words echo each time someone asks what style of yoga I teach. I usually explain, “Style is ‘a fixed, recognizable form or manner,’ while yoga is a fluid, adaptive healing art.” The questioner, expecting a one-word answer such as kund-ashtang-usara, begins to glaze over and fidget impatiently. At the risk of creating an army of glazed, fidgety readers, I will continue.
Yoga is a holistic system of self-care, one of the six formal darsanas (philosophies) extracted from the ancient Indian Vedas. This elegant spiritual psychology offers profound insights and numerous strategies for reducing the duhkha (discomfort) that accompanies daily living.
Yoga’s foundation text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, maintains that suffering is universal, created by the mind’s clinging to fixed patterns, habits and beliefs, misperceiving the nature of things and ultimately confusing reality’s changing—though solid—form with its ever-enduring—albeit ethereal—essence.
Nowhere in the Sutras is there mention of styles of yoga. On the contrary, Sutra III: 6 uses the word viniyoga, or special application, to describe the need for individual adaptation and modification.
The roots of style
Historically, the whole notion of fixed-form styles is a very recent invention. Traditionally, the closest concepts were yoga’s four general approaches: Siksana, Raksana, Cikitsa and Adhyatmika.
Siksana is yoga for healthy children and young adults. Usually taught in groups, this approach emphasizes vigorous, athletic asana to strengthen the physical body and increase stamina. To improve mental focus, Siksana employed fixed sequences and/or precise classical form. T. Krishnamacharya, the great yoga master, introduced this largely asana-based approach to the young BKS Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois. Siksana yoga, though limited in depth, scope and subtlety, is totally appropriate for the still-developing body and simpler mind of a young person.
Raksana yoga is for healthy adults. Presented in the context of a dedicated student/teacher relationship, this approach is best taught one on one. Raksana is a more holistic, interactive yoga, which respects the student’s age, health, occupation, needs, goals, strengths and weaknesses. The highly individualized, prescriptive practice employs the full range of yoga’s tools, including asana, pranayama, sound, gesture, visualization, reflection, meditation, ritual, counseling, etc., all integrated into the student’s daily regimen. To remain effective, the practice is continually adapted to accommodate life’s changes and reflect the progress it is helping to create. Rather than perfection in posture, the more sophisticated Raksana is aimed at enhancing the adult student’s relationships and quality of living. As the majority of yoga practitioners fall into this healthy 20- to 60-year-old category, Raksana is the appropriate style for most modern students.
Cikitsa is yoga therapy. Based on a multidimensional model, such as the five mayas (illusions) or seven chakras. Cikitsa uses the interconnections between the body, breath, mind, personality and emotions to promote wellness. Cikitsa yoga integrates highly modified asana with pranayama, visualization, sound, ritual and prayer, as well as diet, herbs, massage and many other tools commonly perceived as Ayurveda. Cikitsa’s aim is to treat specific health problems by increasing the student’s sraddha (confidence) and overall vitality.