Yoga – it’s everywhere and everybody’s into it. You are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Doesn’t it seem that people who don’t do yoga in some way are in the minority nowadays? Thanks to the ‘great yoga boom’, every city and midsized town in the modern world is home to a number of yoga studios and teachers. It’s easy to find yoga.
But if you’re on the road or you’ve just moved into a new neighborhood, how do you find your yoga? That’s not so easy – because the word “yoga” can mean totally different things to different people. There are lots of different kinds of yoga, and the yoga community itself is very diverse, to say the least.
Even if we forget about the many types of traditional yoga (Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, Kriya, Mantra, Raj, Tantra…) and just stick with Hatha yoga (the basis for essentially all modern styles, known for its series of stretches and postures), there are all kinds of classes in hundreds of different styles being offered to students around the world.
For any other health and/or fitness activity, things are pretty simple: walk into any gym and you’ll find some weights and a treadmill – a gym is a gym. But yoga is not like that. It can look and feel very different, depending on what style of yoga we’re talking about. For some people, it can mean grueling, sweaty contortions in sauna-like temperatures, for others the term ‘yoga’ suggests sitting quietly and cross-legged in front of a candle for an hour. What’s your style?
What’s Your Yoga Style?
Yogis are very particular about their yoga, even after they’ve settled on their favorite style, and it’s no wonder when you consider the differences between classes. Different levels, different instructors, the facilities, the amount of chanting, the music, incense, ... I know what you’re thinking: “this person sounds really picky about their yoga”. But really - you wouldn't just go to any restaurant and order anything off their menu, would you? Probably not.
As a yogi, you too might be familiar with the kind of personal transformation that can be brought on by walking into the “wrong” yoga class: your expectant enthusiasm in the 1st “Ooohmmmmm” slowly morphs into mild annoyance by the 7th one. Maybe your mind will briefly pause in a state of amused disbelief after twenty minutes have passed and you still haven’t done anything resembling what you would call ‘yoga’, but ultimately it’ll end up in one of the very un-yogic conditions that are “furious rage” or “frustrated disappointment”.
In my experience, a yoga session described as “Vinyasa Flow” on a studio’s schedule can refer to 90 minutes of pretty much anything. You may find yourself:
- sitting on your mat, eyes closed, moving your arms slowly up and down in sync with your breath while chanting Sanskrit mantras
- being bullied by a teacher who won’t allow you to do a certain pose ‘because of the full moon’ and who commands you to rest in child’s pose because ‘your energy is too high’
- vigorously bouncing up and down in a gymnasium, urged on by the electronically amplified voice of an instructor who’d be much more at ease leading her regular aerobics class
- resisting the urge to respond to aggressive life-coaching and pseudo-medical diagnoses coming from a self-certified twenty-year-old “healer” with his own unique perspectives on health
- finding yourself trapped and surrounded by a pack of super-yogi athletes who challenge you way beyond your ability in a grueling gauntlet that leaves you only able to crawl out of the room when it’s over
- giggling uncontrollably in ‘orgasmic yoga class’, where all the students take their Ujjayi breath to a level of moaning and groaning that has you suspecting that you’re on “Hidden Camera” (or wondering if maybe you’re doing something wrong)
Yes, I’ve been to each of these classes. And it’s not just ‘Vinyasa Flow’. Yoga in any style can vary wildly, depending on the teacher, the place, and the students.
How then do you find the yoga that’s right for you? These are your options:
Option #1: Google
While it’s great for finding many other things, Google is pretty useless when it comes to yoga and it’s led me to some very weird yoga classes. Don’t trust the class descriptions on the websites of yoga venues that have been served up to you by Google.
Option #2: Word Of Mouth
This is the way most people find their yoga teacher and studio, by relying on the recommendations from other yogis. Works great if you have a lot of friends that do yoga. Not ideal if you’re from out of town (or you don’t have any friends – oh no!).
Should you stop yoga-mat-carrying people in the street and ask them where they’re going? Well, you could. I would have never found some of those great studios and teachers if I hadn’t heard about them during friendly encounters with strangers. But this method isn’t for everyone.
Option #3: Self-Practice
Why even bother to look for yoga classes? You can just grab your mat and go to your happy place on your own in your living room - at your own pace, in exactly the style you want. The problem is, this won’t work for those of us lacking deep experience, or the discipline to put in the proper time and effort.
Or maybe you’re like me and you like to learn new things? Yoga on your own just isn’t the same as going to a studio, meeting other yogis, and practicing with a good teacher that offers help and guidance in a class where they can see what you’re doing. You know, a setting where you can ask questions, and where you don’t feel all... well, alone. For many people, the communal yoga experience is an essential part of yoga and a big part of what they like about it in the first place.
Option #4: YogaTrail
There are a number of yoga directories out there on the internet, but for the most part they’re not very useful because they suffer from one of two problems: either they provide little more than what you can find on Google (an address, a short description, and a link to a website), or their listings are sparse, with many of them often being out of date or not related to yoga (i.e. spam). Most of them also don’t feature that most crucial ingredient, namely the informed opinions of other yogis.
As of last month however, there’s new kid on the block that promises to be different. YogaTrail is a global yoga directory where you’ll find profiles and reviews for tens of thousands of yoga teachers and venues, and where you can keep up to date with yoga events happening near you and around the world. Just launched, they’re filling up with yoga listings fast.
Each listing is really a detailed profile, with a lot of description (including even pictures and videos). And, when searching for yoga on YogaTrail, you can filter your results by various criteria (like yoga style, cost, amenities, etc.). You’ll also see reviews on listings, written by yogis who really know a teacher or venue.
Smartly designed questions in the review process ask things that are relevant to yoga practitioners while avoiding judgments about “good” vs. “bad” as much as possible. For example, there’s a “meter” for how spiritual a particular teacher’s classes are (there are several meters for each type of profile). Since some people crave spirituality with their yoga, while others just want to stretch, there’s no right or wrong answer, and many of the review questions are like that.
Whether just browsing for studios and teachers, hunting for a yoga retreat, or doing research on the ‘right’ teacher training program: YogaTrail may actually help you to find your yoga.
Why do I sound so convinced? Because I’m one of the creators of YogaTrail . We’re currently running beta tests. Wanna help and give us some feedback? Come get an invite here and check out the site.