Joelle's Yoga

Stretch Your Yoga Awareness

Published in Commom Ground March 2002

Yoga, like life, flows like a river which is endlessly growing and changing. Whether you seek flexibility, strength, an enlightened community or a different way of seeing, Yoga might be calling you to walk its path.

The word yoga means union. A yoga class is a place to cultivate the state of union through awareness of body, heart and mind. There are many different styles of Yoga: Hatha, Iyengar, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Power, Bikram, …so many, in fact, it is enough to get your head spinning! Where to begin? How do you choose a yoga class that's right for you?
Finding out what's out there will inspire the new yoga practitioner to get started, and the established practitioner may discover new insights about the practice.

Do you want to learn to relax, explore a spiritual path, or sweat buckets and then melt into the floor? The best way to choose a style of yoga that's suitable for you is to ask the teacher a lot of questions before you come to class. Most studios have a web site and phone number so you can get information and speak to a live voice. If you are pregnant or recovering from an injury or illness, certain yoga classes will not be suitable so inform the teacher with whom you are speaking about your needs. To take a brief journey through some of the yoga disciplines taught in Vancouver, without even leaving your chair, read on…

Hatha Yoga

"Ha" is translated as sun and "tha" as the moon. Hatha yoga practice is a balance of active and restful movements practiced to alternately strengthen and release the body and prepare it for meditation. The advantage of Hatha yoga is variety and the freedom to explore different postures and sequences without having to squeeze a whole alphabet of yoga moves into one class.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a manual on yoga written between the 6th and 15th centuries A.C.E., any yoga practice focused on performing physical postures is considered "Hatha". In the last fifty odd years, however, different schools of yoga have sprouted up and distinguished themselves from the more general Hatha yoga label. As you will soon discover, some systems of yoga, like Ashtanga and Bikram, are a set system of postures performed in a specific order. "Hatha" yoga class, on the other hand, is as unique as the teacher.

Westside Yoga Studio on West 16th Avenue and Arbutus, for example, is home to the "Flow" class, a Hatha Yoga class which moves gently and fluidly through the postures providing the student with basic alignment and an opportunity to explore the breath. Like most Hatha Yoga classes, the Flow class is suitable for all levels.

No matter what style of yoga you practice, it's important to remember to listen to your body. As any qualified teacher will tell you, ultimately you know when to stretch deeper and when to back off. There is no absolute right or wrong here, the key is finding out what’s right for you.


"Today the theme is joints," says Corrie Vorlaufer, Iyengar teacher at Shanti Yoga Centre in Kitsilano. Gazing at us with a warm and peaceful smile, she has the most upright spine I have ever seen on someone with a head of pure grey hair.

Behind me are a pile of props, one of which is a white fold up chair. An hour later I am pressing my feet against the chair, feeling safely supported as I attempt to stand on my hands while keeping my back flat. In Iyengar yoga, the use of props allows both beginner and more experienced students to modify yoga postures to make them either easier or more difficult.

In addition to props, Iyengar yoga is also well known for its use of partner work. Working with other students creates a supportive atmosphere and helps to improve alignment. It's useful in large groups where it's unlikely that one teacher will be able to provide every student with individual attention.

Iyengar is a highly respected system of yoga which provides the yoga student with clear and thorough explanations. This method is very satisfying for those who want to know where to put each and every finger and toe. For more information on Iyengar yoga, visit

Bikram Yoga

When I walked into the Bikram yoga practice room I was greeted with a wall of heat. I had conveniently forgotten that this 90 minute yoga workout is done in a room heated to 105 degrees, reminiscent of the climate of southern India. The logic behind these sauna like conditions is that heat warms and opens tight, stiff muscles and prepares them to be stretched without injury.

Taking my place on my yoga mat, I instantly melted into a heat inspired daze. The taupe colored carpet started to look like sand and I imagined that I was lying on a beach in Goa. For those who can't afford a trip to a fabulous beach side resort, Bikram yoga is one of Vancouver's favorite local hot spots.

Bikram yoga is not a gentle, easy-does-it yoga class. "No pain, no gain" is a helpful silent mantra to guide yourself through the Bikram series of 28 postures. These 28 postures are a systematic progression designed to challenge and stretch every single part of the body in all the ways that it can move.

If you're prepared to be focused and pushed harder than you can push yourself, grab a litre of water, a towel and come ready to sweat. For more info, check out


Kundalini refers to the coiled serpent at the base of the spine. Yogi Bhajan is the founder of Kundalini Yoga, a practice described on the Yogi Bhajan web site as "a potent and effective system of self-transformation and personal development". I found the practice of Kundalini Yoga unique, quite different from the styles of Yoga I encountered at the other studios I visited.

The Yoga West studio in Kitsilano has cream coloured walls and exposed brick which give it a comfortable and homey feeling. Our teacher, Dharm Kaur, whose name means "Princess of the path of Righteousness", entered the room wearing a white salvar kamise with embroidered sleeves and a white turban. I sat on a wool blanket, a different surface than the traditional sticky mat used in other forms of yoga. The class began with a chant which was followed by yoga postures, many of which incorporate the breath of fire, a rhythmic pumping of the diaphragm and lungs which stimulates the blood's circulation and massages and detoxifies the whole nervous system.

Kundalini yoga is an invigorating practice for those who want to wake up that coiled serpent and see where it will take you…For more information on Kundalini yoga practice visit the Yogi Bhajan web site


The North American love affair with Ashtanga yoga started in the early seventies and continues to grow. Ashtanga means "eight limbs", referring to the eight fold path outlined in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, an essential text for the serious student of yoga.

Pattabhi Jois, Guru-ji to his devoted students, is the living source of this vigorous yoga series designed to build internal heat through the practice of resonant diaphragmatic breathing (ujjayi) and internal locks (bandhas).

A poster of the Ashtanga flow hangs on the wall at City Yoga on 4th Avenue depicting a progression of asanas from basic to highly advanced. Students of Ashtanga yoga can progress at their own pace. Teachers are trained to provide beginners with modifications so they can increase their strength and flexibility gradually. For the next hour and a half: my gaze was focused, my breath steadied and my body worked into a sweat.

Following the same yoga practice every time allows the student to begin to grasp the subtleties of each posture and flow from one to the next without having to think about what comes next. For more information on Ashtanga yoga, visit


Power Yoga, like Ashtanga yoga, is a vigorous flow supported by the practice of ujjayi breathing and bandhas. It borrows from the Ashtanga system but leaves room to explore other postures and influences. For example, a combination of an Iyengar and Ashtanga approach can be complementary to deepen knowledge of alignment and practice this in a flowing sequence.

Whatever style you choose, yoga provides you with a space to stretch your body, heart, mind and soul. Vanda Scaravelli, the late yoga master who at 91years of age demonstrated that aging doesn't have to be about decay said, "To twist, stretch, and move around, is pleasant and enjoyable, a body holiday." Your yoga chariot is waiting, so jump in!


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