We live in a world of definitions, and yes, a palm tree is different from an oak because they have different requirements and grow in different climates. Therefore they have different names to distinguish them from one another. It is not kind to try and grow a palm tree in a cold and temperate climate. However, both are trees, growing naturally from their own environments and on an atomic level they are non-different. To say one is better than another is patently ridiculous. To like a palm tree better than an oak - or vice versa - is another thing entirely.
I do not believe in the supremacy of one style of Yoga over another: different styles suit different people, temperaments, body-types and conditions. The practice of Yoga - Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga or Bhakti Yoga - means nothing if it does not develop the basic qualities of consideration, compassion, self-knowledge and a recognition that there is a higher force than we can contradict at work within the play of this world.
It is not hard: we press the button when we press our fingertips together and watch the breath. Starlight and the sound of free-running water laugh at our preoccupation with gaining a foot-hold on the climbing wall of status. All we have to do is listen. The declaration that we eat only organic food is questionable - we only have to taste. The only forbidden fruit is that which tells us we are gods. We are human, with the confusing ability to experience the divine. Yoga helps. But remembering we are just human - that’s the hard bit.
My base practice is a fairly strong Iyengar Yoga practice, noted for its alignment and precise attention to detail. It suits my body-shape - and hands. Practitioners of Iyengar Yoga generally have big hands. Because I began with Pranayama, I have always experienced asana as the flow of Prana through the body. My lungs reached for Pranayama, and my copy of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama was worn out by the end of the eighties. Mantras have always sound in my head as I breathe through the asanas. What style of Yoga is that? It’s personal.
My first pregnancy began in Hong Kong. I exchanged Chi’gong lessons for Yoga with the Chinese man in resources at the British Council. The pregnancy brought with it an irresistible inner urge to spiral, to move from one posture to another with fluidity and grace, incorporating the transition as much as the action into the whole. There was clearly influence from the Chi’gung there, but it was not something outwardly learned so much as something inside wanting to break free.
I always practised the standing postures, and that gave me strength, but over three pregnancies, things changed. As I broke from the containing boundaries of my usual Yoga practice and explored other areas of Yoga, my fingers developed an urge to curl into Hasta Mudras. Mudras and Bandhas became the stops and flights on the energy flow within the body and an inner music began to emerge. There was always an undercurrent thought of: ‘When the hormones have calmed down, I’ll get back to the Scorpion,’ but I find, now that my children are all at school, that the urge to stand on my hands and stamp on my head with my feet has strangely diminished.