At the start of each year friends, family, or acquaintances inevitably reach out, wanting to start a yoga practice. They challenge me unknowingly with: “what kind of yoga do you teach?” I admittedly have a hard time describing Katonah Yoga and more often than not I end up deconstructing what they already know about yoga to set the stage for Katonah Yoga.
It isn’t hot yoga, we don’t “flow” per se, we don’t appropriate Indian religious culture, it isn’t based on New Age thinking… It seems easier to say what it isn’t than to actually provide context for what this practice is… which I’ve come to rely on so heavily in recent years. I want to do better!
But, it’s so hard to do it in an elevator pitch. Like any yogic system, defining Katonah Yoga is decidedly challenging even for people who have been teaching it for over 25 years. There is the added complexity that the “yoga” that predominates in our society is watered down and repackaged so that it is easily marketable for profit. Yoga, like almost everything else in our lives, has fallen victim to the constructs of capitalism.
Katonah Yoga manages to convey an integrated and well rounded system in a world where what we have available to us has been stripped down and
commodified for consumption, making it harder to experience and be nourished by these practices (45 Minute 6am Power Yoga anyone? I trekked to the studio to teach this for 5 grueling Pittsburgh winters in a garage!.. turned hot yoga studio) These yoga variants are more likely primarily influenced by British calisthenics during the occupation of India, not the esoteric practice of ancient India (Thank you writer of Goddess Pose). Should we even be using the word “yoga”? …I digress… let’s deconstruct that another day!
As we head into January, I am wondering if you too are being met with similar questions about your yoga practice, especially as people embark on New Year’s resolutions.
So I thought I would open up the dialogue so we can explore together — how can we as practitioners articulate to ourselves or to others what we find valuable about this practice?
In Katonah, we say articulation is the product of a healthy heart, empowering us to share our interests and passions with the world, fostering connections with others in a myriad of ways. Are you sharing your interest in this material with your community? I’d love to hear about it because I truly believe that so many can benefit from it.
Katonah Yoga is a hatha yoga* practice filtered through the lens of Taoism**.
The above one sentence definition is way too jargon-y but it can pique one’s curiosity and serve as a great conversation starter. Still, I’d like to take a stab at making it more accessible!
In Katonah Yoga we are working with traditional yoga postures, which we approach through the concept of geometry and fit. Working with traditional yoga postures usually translates to you seeing the same poses again and again in each class. This is primarily done because repetition of powerful geometry is one of the quickest ways to change the material of the body. We are looking for angles, frames, trajectories, and spheres. After practicing the pose, getting into it, holding it, figuring out how to make it sustainable, then we start to see how all of these things play with each other. We are playing in space, in the present moment of practice. In time as we spend months and years working with these postures, we see how what we do in space changes over time. Our conversation naturally evolves into how we manipulate time and space with our learned skills. Which always reminds me of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the quiet early morning hours I spent reading it during my stay in the Sri Sri Krishna Balarama temple in Vrindavan, India. One of the Yogic Siddhis (powers) is the practitioner’s ability to manipulate time and space.
Katonah Yoga is based on the understanding that every body belongs to nature, and is not exempt from the rules and patterns within nature. Therefore, we know that each person’s body will fit itself in predictable ways. We use the knowledge of these patterns to make yoga poses more sustainable over time. A recent example of this is when a few of you, Julia and Kelly, figured out how to fit your knee into your armpit during extended side angle. This situates the leg and the shoulder at 90 degree angles and frees up tension in the upper back, thereby allowing for more of a spin, making the pose more spherical. Everything builds on itself and nothing is wasted.
By working with the structure of the body this way we are merging two very important ideas, the understanding that nature is full of archetypal patterns, and that these patterns repeat. Those of you who took the Winter Home Practice will remember how we see this with Yin Yang theory in the 24 hour and the yearly cycle. We use patterns like this as well as more tangible ones, joints fitting each other, to change the physical body.
As my teacher Abbie says “no one goes to yoga to stay the same”. When we change the material of the body, naturally organs and glands are affected. Physical postures change our body’s chemistry. When you change the chemistry you change the mind. This is why we don’t bother with a dialogue of the mind or controlling it within our practice. We trust that everything that plays out on the body also impacts the mind and vice versa. But it is much easier to go in through the body, it is material we can see and manipulate.
That was more than one sentence!
Let this percolate. This is only one aspect of what defines the practice. Mix it in with what you already know and see what you come up with.
What excites you about this practice and motivates you to keep showing up? Please feel free to let me know!
*Hatha yoga is a physical practice of postures and breathing techniques that’s earliest dated texts come from 11th century India.
**Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that was codified during the Han Dynasty which ruled China from 206 BCE to 220 CE.