If you're familiar with the Upper West Side yoga scene in Manhattan, you probably hear a slew of confusing yoga phraseology every day. Words like Iyengar, Bikram, and Vinyasa flow are either part of your daily vocabulary or the reason you haven't ventured into a yoga class yet. It's intimidating enough to put on those spandex pants and wander into a room full of super fit UWS yoga aficionados, but add in Sanskrit and you'll find your new Lululemon pants never make it inside a studio. Here's a little guide to help you translate your way into a yoga class.
Vinyasa Yoga: Traditionally a vinyasa is anytime a movement is intentionally paired with an inhalation or an exhalation. This means when your amazingly zen yoga teacher, Shivani (formerly known as Michelle,) says something like, "Inhale lift your hands to the ceiling, exhale touch your hands to the floor," you've actually performed two vinyasa counts.
Perhaps now you're scracthing your third eye, thinking, "Wait a second, isn't a vinyasa the flow from chaturanga dandasana to adho mukha svanasana??" And you'd be right! Sort of. Here's where the yoga lingo starts to get really tricky. Both definitions of vinyasa are actually acceptable uses of the word. So keep in mind when choosing classes that a vinyasa flow class will be a series of movements connected with the breath, but a vinyasa flow within that class might be used to describe a way to seamlessly connect one pose to another.
Bikram Yoga: Made popular in the city by 30 day Bikram challenges, this set sequence is one of the more controversial and popular practices in the yoga world. Known for it's 26 postures, heated rooms, high humidity, and scripted classes this yoga practice will definitely keep you bendy and detoxified. Just be sure to come prepared to sweat more than you have in your entire life and to be yelled at by your seemingly sweet and docile yoga teacher. (Not that I have anything against Bikram...)
Iyengar Yoga: Iyengar was a student of Krishnamacharya who took the lessons from his guru and then crafted his own alignment based approach to the practice of yoga. Iyengar teachers are highly trained and knowledgeable in human anatomy and alignment. You will be very slowly and expertly guided into asanas (postures) with the assistance of blocks, bolsters, straps, and blankets. Iyengar is a great and soothing practice for students who want to take a slow and methodical approach to their practice.
Ashtanga: Brought to America by the teachings of Guruji (another student of Krishnamacharya) this yoga boasts an athletic and high paced approach to a series of set sequences. In a led class a teacher will likely take you through a half primary practice, which will definitely be a challenge and will offer your body the opportunity to jump, fold, twist, and bind all the way through class. If you want to take the practice much further you'll have to look for a Mysore Ashtanga program that can guide you past the primary series. Power yoga and Vinyasa yoga have roots that reach back to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
Sunset Stretch Yoga: A form of yoga made popular by S2 Studio at Sloane Stecker's Lincoln Square location. This type of yoga is known for it's stunning views of the sun setting over Manhattan's Upper West Side as well as for it's vigorous and challenging sequences. Led by highly experienced teachers, students are able to challenge themselves to try new things in a luxurious environment. Best of all, you're rewarded with cocktails at the end of the night. Sunset Stretch might incorporate vinyasas, blocks and bolsters, and may even follow a set sequence; so you might say that a Sunset Stretch yoga class is the best class of them all....
Now you know what people are talking about when they invite you to a Vinyasa flow class or challenge you to 30 days of Bikram. Whatever you are looking for in a yoga practice, the Upper West Side has it. Even if what you want is a cocktail reception with killer views of the setting sun. This is New York City after all, you can have your cake and eat it too. (In this case the cake is exercise, which is the biggest perk of all!)
Sunset Stretch this Friday night at S2 Studio this Friday, October 24th from 6-7:30 PM.