One Yoga, Many Approaches
It's easy to see why many yoga teachers focus on one style of yoga. When you immerse yourself, you get a deeper understanding and are able to communicate it effectively. However, when you broaden your skill set to encompass more than one kind of yoga, you might find that both you and your students benefit. Although styles may at first seem disparate, each approach points to yoga's ultimate goal of union. Processing, integrating, and teaching in more than one style can both serve your students and enliven your own practice.
Johanna Andersson, who teaches yoga in her native Sweden and worldwide, has a packed weekly schedule that includes classes in vinyasa yoga, Yin Yoga, Forrest Yoga, hot yoga, yoga with kettle bells, yogalates, and dance. Such varied approaches can coexist in one week—let alone in one teacher's lesson plans—because, at the core, these are all variations on a single subject. Andersson says, "To me, it's all yoga! It's just different labels. We in the West have an issue with labeling things—saying this is that and not that, creating frames and boundaries to feel safe, to strengthen our identity, and to be part of a special group. The root of this is actually very beautiful: wanting to unite, which is what yoga is all about. But instead of uniting, this labeling only creates separation."
While the trend in yoga has been toward labeled or even branded style—Ananda, Anusara, and Ashtanga begin a list that contains more items than letters of the alphabet—many teachers draw on their study in more than one area to deepen their understanding of yoga. They can then teach classes with definitive titles tied to a particular style, or they can combine their experience into an eclectic approach, bringing their students exposure to more than one style. Teacher Chris Loebsack leads AcroYoga and restorative classes as well as vinyasa classes and classes for beginners, from studios in New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In her opinion, "a multidisciplinary approach honors the styles, expertise, and knowledge of different teachers and lineages, giving respect to all."
From a practical perspective, proficiency in many styles can improve your job prospects. "The ability to teach multiple styles makes for a more valuable and marketable employee, one with the ability to teach a variety of classes and fill in on a moment's notice, regardless of the style required," Loebsack says.
Various approaches can also be combined in one class. For example, Loebsack will insert some restorative poses after a rigorous vinyasa class or incorporate AcroYoga in an alignment-focused class. "A multidisciplinary background provides for an expansive bag of tricks from which to draw and meet the specific needs of my students," she says.
How can you teach in many different styles without seeming like a dilettante whose knowledge is broad but not deep? By continuing your study and your own practice. Only through continued work with master teachers and through self-study (svadhyaya, outlined in the Yoga Sutra) can you truly process each approach, sorting out what is most useful for you and your students.
Cora Wen, a teacher based in the San Francisco Bay Area, suggests you listen to each teaching, then check it out for yourself. "Don't just parrot back the answer," she says. "Teach what you know, not what you don't, and know it—don't just say it, know it."
Wen has assisted many Western yoga luminaries, including Rodney Yee, Erich Schiffmann, and Judith Lasater. "They're in the lineage of Krishnamacharya, so they do fit together in one very clear, precise way," she says. But at the same time, different teachers may have different opinions about alignment. Issues of alignment in poses as basic as Tadasana (Mountain Pose) can differ widely among styles. Wen recommends digesting each style of practice, seeing how it sits in your own body, then carefully observing your students to determine what is best for their individual bodies.
Loebsack agrees that her experiences as a student deepen her understanding of her own practice, and therefore of her own teaching. "Each new style I learn, each new class I take or teach, is part of a process of self-discovery and self-correction," she says.
This ongoing process of learning is what keeps the multidisciplinary teacher from being a "jack of all trades, master of none." Through the process of resolving contradictions among various styles, the teacher comes closer to an understanding of yoga as a whole.
Stocking Your Tool Kit
Exposure to many different styles will flavor your own yoga practice; it's similarly good for students to tour various classes. "We travel to different countries and get inspiration from different cultures," Andersson says. "Then we go home and season our dinner in a new way, with a twist, and we become creative! You can have a core practice and add principles from other styles."
After tasting various styles, you might then choose to study one thoroughly. Deep study in different styles will give you broad range and versatility as a teacher. Loebsack says, "You're not going to paint a masterpiece with a single brush. The best artists use different brushes to impart beauty and grace to their creations. They may use entirely nontraditional approaches, such as sponges, or even no brush at all. Having so many tools gives them the freedom to reach the highest realization of their specific potential."
You'll know you're ready to teach in a particular style when you feel well versed in its language—and, more importantly, when you see how it relates to the other approaches you've studied. Once you reach this awareness of a particular style, you can teach it with integrity. Your teaching will further deepen your understanding, creating a cycle of enrichment that will broaden your understanding of the practice.
Ultimately, it's all yoga. "Yoga is greater than one path—many waves, one ocean," Wen says. "Yoga is greater than one way."
Sage Rountree, an endurance sports coach and E-RYT, is author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga and The Athlete's Pocket Guide to Yoga. She teaches indoor cycling and Pilates as well as workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide; find her schedule at sagerountree.com.