Themed classes were new to me
Focusing on, say, the hips or back or even on a concept like letting go can make classes distinct and memorable. Themed classes in restorative yoga have helped me address my many injuries. They have also helped me to get through difficult times in my life. What is also distinct about themed classes is that they lead to a unique experience.
Yoga classes back home were not about a “created experience,” because for many of us, they were just something we did as part of our heritage. Generations have done yoga and continue to do it. People do their practice and get on with their lives. These classes are hatha classes, where the asana practice is preparation for seated meditation. Whether gentle or advanced, they are usually classes for the whole body
In my experience, unless you signed up for a themed workshop such as “Yoga for Back Pain” or “Yoga for Sciatica,” yoga classes in India generally did not focus on a theme. My teachers at Arya Samaj talked extensively of the benefits of asanas while we did them, so that if need arose to use them to address a certain condition we would know how. I still remember those recommendations and have used them for issues ranging from minor things, like a stiff neck, to major things, like surgery recovery. In both cases they helped me immensely.
Props are more common
In my youth, my personal practice at home was a no-fluff affair. I had no props and sometimes no mat either; I practiced anywhere and everywhere. That was and still is a great skill to possess. But I learned to use props in America because of the popularity of styles like Iyengar yoga here. Yoga blocks are now my best friends—I could never have imagined the variety of downward dog experiences I could have while using blocks. When I had stiff shoulders from an injury and the traditional pose was hard to do, I placed blocks under my hands during a down dog, which helped to alleviate my discomfort. At another time when I needed to build strength in my shoulders for carrying my baby, I placed blocks under my feet to give my arms a deep stretch that also built strength and relieved tension. In many ways, the use of props has revitalized my practice.
Yoga is more often treated as a workout
Yoga at first seemed rather athletic here in the U.S. The yoga I practiced in India was not meant to be a workout—perspiring profusely was not the goal. Some yoga teachers back home cringe at the idea of yoga being a workout. But now that my life is so full with a job, a family, and the general chores of adulthood, I have limited time to exercise. Under these circumstances I consider being able to turn yoga into whatever I’m up for on that particular day to be a great opportunity. When I have the energy, it is stimulating to do a physically challenging practice, and when I don’t have enough energy, it is quite okay to do gentle or restorative poses. This is my best taking from yoga in the West. I would never appropriate yoga to vulgarity but I have learned that in order to grow in my practice, I need to look at it with different eyes. That’s part of being a bicultural citizen—one learns and unlearns, and takes the best from both worlds.
Yoga fashion is a thing
I have a confession: My favorite aspect of yoga in America is the clothes. In India our yoga clothes were comfortable—not too tight and not too loose. I remember not worrying about what to wear, and that made life easy. But I love fashion and am absolutely head over heels in love with yoga fashion. My yoga drawer is overflowing with outfits that originally were paired by color, but then my collection grew so much that it now looks like a teenager’s closet! At class I am inspired by fellow yoginis’ clothing and am first to check out the current styles. I have subscribed to all athletic clothing websites to keep up with changing trends and especially markdowns, because I cannot afford these brands at full price. There is absolutely nothing like yoga pants; I could literally live in them! Be it stripes, the currently popular floral prints, or the classic black or gray pants, I love them all.
Call me shallow, but it actually makes me look forward to my practice. I did take a very cool name-brand outfit back to India one time, but it was too hot and I felt like a misfit in a class that wore completely different yoga gear, so I was back to my not-too-tight, not-too-loose clothing. (When in Rome…)
Online yoga is way more popular
The large offerings of online classes and courses has been such a gift to me. Initially I was hesitant to try online classes. I thought them impersonal, fast-paced, and unmonitored (and thus unsafe). I prefer to be under the direct guidance of a guru, as I was in India, but the reality of my life in the West does not allow that. Classes in the U.S. can be very expensive, and it’s much more affordable to practice online with teachers that you resonate with. When choosing a class, I look at the teacher’s experience and the theme of the class, and the most important thing for me is that the class is easy to follow and not too fast-paced. Some of the teachers I enjoy are Adriene Mishler, Luke Ketterhagen, Kat Heagberg, and Sandra Anderson.
In my new home of America, I deeply hope that yoga awareness continues to grow. Not in mere numbers, but in its true spirit of transformation, so that while being trendy, fashionable, and fun, we always remain aware of yoga’s power and yearn for a deeper understanding of its meaning in our lives. I believe we can gain so much from learning about the history and cultural background of yoga, and it’s never too early or late to start. I am lucky to have started so young. By introducing yoga to children in our own homes and communities, we can cultivate the seeds of a lifelong gift. I hope to always be a student, because a true student is one who never stops learning.