Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with a group of close friends about the desire to find a faith community that feels “right” to each of us. One of the women had been attending a church that she loved for a while, I had recently found one that felt like home, and two of the other women were in the process of “church shopping.”
Having grown up attending Catholic mass, I remarked upon being comforted by old hymns and a traditional service, and how in a space like that, I was able to let go and feel at peace. One of the other women shared that traditional services feel foreign to her and that a contemporary and casual service feels more accessible and relatable. The structure that allows me to feel safe and at ease is the exact same structure that feels suffocating to her, and the environment in which I feel uneasy and on guard is exactly where she feels closest to God.
In our conversation I was struck by how universally this idea applies: to political parties, religious affiliations, and of course as a yogi, to different styles and lineages of yoga. Frequently, what is most familiar to us feels the most “right.”
Pranakriya yoga was my first real experience with yoga, the first time I was fully immersed in teachings, yogic philosophy, and a lineage. It spoke to my soul, and, having taken the time to explore it deeply, it is a powerful practice that I turn to regularly.
The first time I stepped into an Ashtanga Yoga studio, I bristled from the start. The counted breaths and highly structured practice felt suffocating, harsh, and so far from what I knew that I left feeling angry and frustrated. What were they doing? This was not the yoga I knew; it felt all wrong. I had practiced enough Pranakriya Yoga though to recognize those highly charged feelings as a sort of churning (chalana), and I knew they were worth being curious about.
The Ashtanga practice stirred up so much emotion for me that I decided I needed to go back to figure out why it had such a strong effect on me. I practiced at that studio for three years, all while still practicing Pranakriya yoga at home, and over time grew to love the practice. My connection (or lack of connection) to the counted breaths on any given day became a way for me to measure how present I was. The sequence became familiar and I started seeing change in my asana over time. The sense of unity I felt from the practice started to feel not so distant from what I felt after a Pranakriya practice.
I recently relocated with my family, and I only know of one Pranakriya teacher in the whole state, the closest Ashtanga studio is too far away for me to regularly attend, and the closest studio to my home is a Baptiste Power Yoga studio. This time around, walking into a new studio and trying on a new practice, I’m able to watch the same resistance bubble to the surface, but it doesn’t hold as much charge for me as it did last time. I see glimpses of Pranakriya yoga in the words the Baptiste teachers say, I see nods to Ashtanga in the movement, and I’m experiencing other things that are entirely new and that cause me to pause and think, “Wait? What??”
I know better now than to spend time indulging in anger or frustration with things that are unfamiliar. Instead, I’m delving into this new practice and finding new ways to experience a sense of unity, I’m finding an interesting and well thought out methodology behind the practice. More than anything, what I’ve found from being open to other practices is that they don’t have to threaten what I already know and love. Instead, when approached from a place of wholehearted curiosity, experiencing different types of yoga only expands my own practice, enhances my capacity for empathy and understanding, and gives me a greater sense of connectivity to the world around and inside me.
Catherine currently teaches at Victory Power Yoga in Clayton, NC. You can find out more about her practice and teaching at www.catherinestriegel.com.