Om is where the heart is

Asheville is gaining recognition as one of the hippest yoga towns in the country. Locals see the threads woven throughout their day — from the ubiquitous Om-symbol bumper stickers to the checkout clerk who greets you with “Namaste” to your co-worker’s reminder to “take a deep breath” when you’re feeling stressed.

This is not surprising, given the area’s hundreds of skillful teachers, the dozen or so accomplished studios, and several regionally recognized teacher-training programs. Local practitioners can choose from Anusara, Bikram, Barkan Method, bhakti, gentle, flow, hot, jivamukti, integrative, Iyengar, kundalini and yin yoga. And that’s just on Tuesdays.

But all those choices can feel overwhelming to newcomers and seasoned veterans alike. How do you know which one is right for you?

“Different people need different practices to feel the most free in their body and mind,” says Cat Matlock of West Asheville Yoga and Bodhana Yoga School. “Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what it is — simply pick the practice that makes your heart sing the loudest.”

Local yoga-therapy teacher Meghan Ganser shares another perspective. “Historically, a yoga practice — which includes specific physical postures, breathing patterns and points of meditation — was prescribed to an individual to bring more balance into their life. An overly active, fiery person, while drawn to a hot, fiery practice, might instead need one that cultivates more stillness and softness. Since the prescription may require them to go against their usual grain, they could feel challenged in the short term but receive the most long-term benefit.”

To help people choose wisely, the Greater Asheville Yoga Association is creating a guide to the various styles and offering an opportunity to sample classes. GAYA, a fellowship of local studios, teachers and students, is hosting the second Day of Yoga and Healing Saturday, April 16 at the Laughing Waters retreat center outside Asheville.

Running from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., the event will feature concurrent beginner and intermediate classes with some of the area’s favorite teachers, as well as lectures, hikes and opportunities for chair massages along the creek. The cost is $25 in advance, $30 at the door; lunch from the Green Light Café will be available for purchase.

GAYA has also created a website featuring a comprehensive list of Asheville-area classes. As the site grows, the group wants to incorporate descriptions of the yoga styles taught by different teachers around town, helping students connect with the practice that’s right for them — bringing more vitality into their life now while providing the most long-term balance.

“In the West, most people think of yoga in terms of physical postures,” notes GAYA co-founder Timothy Burgin. “In a broad sense, this is known as hatha yoga, and it is only one part of the puzzle.” There’s also bhakti yoga (the yoga of the heart and total participation), karma yoga (the yoga of action and selfless service), jnana yoga (the yoga of philosophy and knowledge) and many others.

In the U.S., there are now dozens (if not hundreds) of variations of hatha yoga. Many have roots in four schools brought over from India, beginning in the mid-1950s, by students of the celebrated and honored Krishnamacharya.

Iyengar yoga, founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, is known for using props to make poses more accessible and easier to hold for longer periods. Many of today’s therapeutic styles derived from this. Ashtanga yoga, as taught by Pattabhi Jois, is known for its more vigorous style of movement, with poses flowing quickly from one to another. Many vinyasa, flow, power and hot-style classes are partially rooted in this school. More restorative, gentle and relaxing classes have their foundation in the teachings of Indra Devi. And classes that stress function over form and pay special attention to aligning the breath with the movement of the spine may have a footing in Viniyoga, brought to America by T.K.V. Desikachar.

“All of the styles and teachings of hatha yoga have the overall goal of helping people find greater balance and expand into greater parts of themselves,” continues Burgin. “To find the practice that’s right for you, sample many classes, teachers and styles. If you don’t like the first class, try not to write off yoga altogether: Try another style.”

A Day of Yoga and Healing is a benefit for GAYA; for more information, visit yogaasheville.com/yogaday/.

— Jacquelyn Dobrinska is vice president of the Greater Asheville Yoga Association.

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