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Is it better to only do one kind of yoga?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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I have a friend who I admire very much.

He's a yoga teacher, like me. But unlike me he went to the Yoga University in India (seriously, there is a Yoga University, how awesome is that?). Unlike me he lived on an ashram in India. Unlike me he studied under the famous Swami Satyananda and immersed himself deeply into one yogic tradition.

We were talking about this the other day, his commitment to one tradition and to a depth of understanding in his yoga practice and teaching.

Okay, I'll be completely honest.

He was talking to some other people about this. I was eavesdropping on his conversation while I was ostensibly having another conversation with another good friend.

My friends are very tolerant and generous with these eavesdropping tendencies of mine, which I blame on being a writer. In particular, a writer whose agent has suggested she needs to work on her dialogue. These days I am always eavesdropping on conversation. Be warned. If you are sitting on the train behind me engrossed in conversation with your friend/husband/daughter, I am probably furiously scribbling down everything you say. Just to learn about dialogue, of course.

Anyway, as I was eavesdropping I heard him say that he believed it was better to dig deeply until you hit water, rather than digging many shallow holes all over the place.

I leaned over, as I am wont to do, and interjected.

"But what if the water lies just beneath the surface?" I asked

"It generally doesn't." He replied, "At least not in the desert I live in."

"Well," I responded, "some of us live in the wetlands. We don't even dig. We just lean down with a long straw and suck the goodness up."

Everyone laughed. I can be very witty, you know, and when I'm not my friends can be very tolerant and generous.

I was trying to be funny. It's true. But there was something serious beneath the silliness.

The serious question is whether or not it is possible to access the profound benefits of yoga by dipping into many different practices and traditions. Or is it necessary to dedicate ourselves to lengthy, indepth study and practice of one tradition?

Is there ever water just below the surface?

Or can different traditions and practice combine to create the same profundity that concentrated practice of one tradition promises?

For me, I get incredible joy and insight from practicing many different types of yoga. Sure, there are certain practices that I have learned are especially beneficial for me and I practice them regularly. But beyond these foundations of my yoga practice I like to explore new things and I really, really love to learn about and experience many of the different yogic traditions. 

I'd love to know what you think about this.

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17 Responses to "Is it better to only do one kind of yoga?"

  1. Kara-Leah says:

    Such a great topic!
    I’ve been a straw sucker myself mainly, and sometimes feel “less than” because I’ve been able able to dig deep in the desert…
    is that just how circumstances have manifested around me or is it because I”m lacking in commitment and focus???

  2. Laura says:

    Here are the three reasons I would say that practicing different types of yoga mean you cant dig deeply.
    1) I’m not sure if the capacity for depth comes from the specific type of practice / asanas or from the state and readiness of the practitioner.
    2) I personally do a few different types of yoga now, but started with Iyengar yoga, and practiced this very regularly for 8 years. I felt like this gave me such a strong base and centre, that whatever kind of asanas I practice now, they are informed by that place, and allow for more depth because the differences, and the outgrowths, as I experience them, are still always are part of the centre.
    3)breath is breath is breath.

  3. Laura says:

    there is a typo in my previous post 🙂 that should read :
    Practicing different types of yoga DOESN’T mean you cant dig deeply.
    ok makes sense now 🙂

  4. Kelly says:

    I am a serious straw sucker. Committed even. I think there is so much to be learned and there are so many wise teachings available to us on this planet that I want to stay as open as possible to it all.
    What I’ve found is that gradually, a certain pattern emerges from the nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected and forms a cohesive picture. Where there is convergence of information from many different sources, there tends to be a strong resonance for me. When the good people of the world, the serious seekers and the wise leaders have independently come to the same conclusion I know there must be a universal value or truth to their words.
    Where there is disagreement, there is still a wealth of value to be gained. The more information I have in my toolkit, the more people I can attempt to understand or to connect with. As a teacher, I find that immensely valuable. As a human being, I find that absolutely necessary.
    Also, I think it comes down to knowing your own nature. Some of us are straw suckers and would never be satisfied only drinking from one well. Some have to go deep and stay in one pool. And I think it depends on who you are which path you take.
    I too, love and respect that deep-digger friend of yours immensely. It is my opinion that he is on the right path for him. And I think I’m on the right path for me. And we’ve got a lot to learn from each other.
    Beware judging yourself harshly. When you follow the path that feels authentic to you, whether it’s a path strewn with holes poked by your straw or one deep channel downward, you can’t go wrong.

  5. Potts says:

    Such wit! I love it. I can only speak from my own experience from following the same (Astanga Vinyasa) practice day after day for about 4 years. I had a very difficult practice from the very beginning, so I needed to dig deep within myself to stay with it. I also had a strong affinity with this practice – I tried other forms of asana practice before I met this style, and none resonated with me so strongly. That probably has as much to do with the great teachers I have been grateful to have.
    Digging deep has had strong rewards for me. To play with your metaphor, maybe digging has made me stronger than I would have become if I’d just leaned over and sipped the goodness? Or maybe ‘sippers’ are already strong in themselves?
    Maybe another metaphor could be more useful. P Jois liked to say that yoga is like sugar – we can’t taste its sweetness until we try it. Sweet things don’t live in the ground, far from the sun. They grow on trees. So it’s probably more important to plant good seeds (=intentions and actions) and cultivate them with great love.
    Having said that, I’ve also found that the more I practice the same postures, the deeper I get to know them and the more I understand their subtlty (from the inside-out). They build on each other to bring greater and greater openings/release. There’s a profound stillness that I’m moving deeper into. In that space there’s an amazing energy that I feel/sense, which cannot be put into words. Very sweet indeed.
    Ultimately it all comes from the same source though. The greatest tip I ever got from a friend was to simply Trust My Self. Listen deeply, do what feels right, meet obstacles with a smile and gently-strong determination, and enjoy Being through the practice.
    Thanks also for the tip-off about eavesdropping into conversations! I consider myself warned! 🙂

  6. fatbuddha says:

    Life is our teacher.
    Life communicates with us all the time and it is a lesson to see how life continuously has led me to the people I need to met, to the situations I need to experience, and to the places I need to be.
    There has never been any real reason to worry since all small individual rivers are already on their way to the ocean, to the Whole.
    It is not about swimming, it is about relaxing and to float with the river in a basic trust that life already leads towards the sea of consciousness, towards the Whole.
    – Dhyan

  7. BZ says:

    Once you’ve climbed the yoga tree, you can sit on any of its branches and get the same view. With slight variations. It isn’t always possible to remain in the same place and follow the same teacher, but I’ve found that good teachers and different types of yoga help me to connect to the same source. Also, at different times in life you might want to concentrate on different aspects – physical, relaxation, core-strength.

  8. Laura Fragiacomo says:

    Perhaps as a beginner, like me, it would help to dig deep – to learn how to stay focused, work on your commitment, intention etc., just to strengthen your yoga base.
    But I have thought of this question, and I think I may have been a bit hard on myself when, once in while, I feel like doing something aside from Kundalini… then I think I’m being too hard on myself..just go with the flow right?
    Thanks for raising this issue! and making me relax a bit 🙂

  9. Anne-Marie says:

    Thanks for raising this interesting question: it’s one I’ve been pondering myself recently. I’ve enjoyed reading people’s responses here.
    I study in one Yoga tradition only, simply because I live in a small town with limited Yoga resources. It’s not the tradition I would choose for myself, although as an “experienced beginner” it is giving me a good grounding.
    If I could, I would try every type of Yoga there is! However, when the time comes for me to do my teacher training I will commit to the one tradition I choose to train in … which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go to classes in other traditions.
    By the way, Marianne – because I was away for ages, and have only just caught up on my favourite blogs, I’ve just now read the news about your agent. Congratulations! I am so happy for you! I’m sure the two of you will whip your book into excellent shape.
    You must have some great energy about you right now – you’ve really been on fire with all you’ve achieved this past year!

  10. Imohena says:

    Good question. I too am a straw sucker and this has allowed me to practise yoga wherever, whenever and however I can, which has meant that I have kept up some form of practise over many years. Being in the same line of work as you, this has been extremely beneficial for me! I have always longed to dig deeper though.
    One thing I will say is that the most amazing teachers I have had have been the ones who have plumbed the depths.

  11. I wonder how your teacher friend picked his ‘practice’. Did he try many others before choosing this particular one to study?
    Everyone is different. It is so great that many people can try different things in which to improve themselves, hopefully finding one or a few that really ‘hit pay dirt’ so easily. But like some of your readers pointed out, sometimes there are few choices.
    All things change. Maybe someone’s practice is ‘perfect’ for them, but there is no guarantee that it will be that way for their whole life. Our ‘outer’ practice is just that. It helps with our ‘inner’ practice so one shouldn’t get too attached to it, no matter how good it is.
    Not really making sense with the words but maybe someone will understand.

  12. et says:

    I am a bit confused by your blog and book titles. “Zen Under Fire” and Zen and the Art of Peacekeeping. You write a lot about yoga and meditation but I don’t see any mention of zen practice.

  13. Radha, NZ says:

    It’s all about evolution of consciousness. When you’re ready, you’ll find the one practice and stick with it, but until then will keep searching and trying different things, which will be useful, informative and help you grow and you’ll convince yourself it’s the right way because we all want to feel what we do is right!!
    When your consciousness evolves to the next level, you probably won’t even talk about the one practice and one practice alone that you do. And you’ll understand why, but there aren’t words to emphasise the importance of one practice, just an individual souls own experience. I hope everyone finds their one practice soon, it will be nothing like the gentle toe dipping of different practices. It’s like diving into water, however far under the ground it may be, and stopping breathing, and fighting and struggling for your survival, and then magically realising that it’s ok, you can surrender because you have actually always been able to breathe in that very water, you just weren’t aware of it. It’s the hardest thing in life to do, but whilst dipping in different waters, you’ll be safe from this experience. Hmm… so is toe dipping really just an excuse for something deep in you being afraid or not ready?

  14. T-bone says:

    I think of spiritual path like the food I eat.
    What works for me may not provide you with what you need and vice versa.
    Over time, my appetite changes and we all know variety is the garam masala.
    Personally, I like my diet varied with high concentrations of my favorites while having the odd import is good too.
    Samskara, Karma and Dharma is so intensely individual. What Marianne overheard was actually part of a very personal narrative.
    Rather than ‘better’ (after all upon comparison one always loses through dividing, separating) perhaps more
    union-fostering would be ‘relevant’ its more kind, non-violent even.
    La Fin from big Al
    “A person experiences life as something separated from the rest
    — a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.
    Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion, to find the reality of ONEness.”

  15. I love the responses to this post!
    Kara Leah, Kelly, Potts and T-bone: I’m so grateful to be part of this sangha. There is something in common to all your comments and that is a hella big heart. I’m so grateful for the wisdom each of you bring to our community and to the love with which you express that wisdom. T-bone, thanks for being the inspiration for this post and for making the point that I wanted to come back and make in my next post – i.e. that ‘better’ was always the red-herring in this post’s title.
    Laura, BZ and Imohena: I’m grateful to call you all friends. With friends like you guys I don’t need to worry about getting too far off track. I know you’ll always give me a gentle nudge, with love of course, back.
    Anne-Marie: Thanks so much for your enthusiasm! It’s been an exciting time for sure. All the more reason for me to make time for the practices that give my soul the chance to catch up with the rest of me, to borrow an expression from Jack Kornfield.
    Radha: I love your metaphor about diving into the deep water, going through that terrifying period of having no solid ground beneath your feet and no air to breath and then finding that you can swim and breath exactly where you are. Beautiful image.
    Jim: I reckon you make sense to me. Especially the wisdom of not getting attached to outer practices. Everything changes, isn’t that one of the truth we all come home to through our different practices? Thanks.
    fatbuddha: I love this sentence – “There has never been any real reason to worry since all small individual rivers are already on their way to the ocean, to the Whole.” What a beautiful, poetic way to express what many of us are trying to say here. Thanks for coming by!
    Laura: I’ve said it already to you, but here it is again – that there is a spaciousness in which that guilt won’t have as much of a grasp on you. I think you already know where that is.
    et: Excellent point, and I take it. I’ve discussed this with friends who are Zen practitioners and they’ve generally agreed that there is a ‘popular’ use of the term Zen that I’m using here, which isn’t the same as the technical use of the term. I certainly hope my use of the term here doesn’t offend any Zen practitioners. If it does, the good news is that my site is about to get an overhaul and a new name. My book title will almost certainly be revisited by many people before it gets to print. So I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Just found you, Marianne, and am loving getting to know you a bit through your words here. And as for this specific post, it made my mind go to religious and spiritual practice more generally. I don’t have a yoga practice but found the question every bit as relevant to my spiritual and religious ponderings. I grew up Christian, went to seminary, and have come over the last decade, with much grief and joy, to be more of a straw sucker when it comes to spiritual wisdom. I love Potts’ and Kelly’s comments in the way they give credence and weight to both sides of the question, and I love the switch of metaphor that Potts gives – away from digging deep vs. shallow explorations to cultivating seeds with great care and love. Thanks, all, for your thoughts here, and Marianne, so glad to find you!

  17. Vedamurti says:

    Lets be honest about this, if it was that easy to tap into divine bliss why would even practice yoga, why would you find it necessary to get a teacher(Guru) why would you get out of bed in the morning, you could just suck it up and lay there in Bliss. Remember the personilty is very layed the further you go in the more direction you need for some one who truly know the way. And once you have found someone whom you trust to direct you,only a fool would change. People love to think there can do it on the own. It’s the conditioning of the westen mind.
    “I will create my own future, am in complete control ,i am my own Guru, Give me same sugar”.
    ” Divine bliss in a can, that would give cokeacole a run for the there money”.
    OM and Prem

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