Although trendy, yoga is hardly new; the ancient practice can be traced back to 3000 B.C in India. The word itself comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, meaning “to join” or “to unite”. Yoga was developed as a way to achieve harmony and balance to yuj the heart and soul on the path to divine enlightenment. The thing is that, in its present 2019 form, yoga class can look like a lot of different things. I’ve had countless friends tell me, “Oh, I went to a yoga class and it just wasn’t for me.” What type of class did you go to? What school of yoga was the teacher trained in? A yoga class at your gym is going to be worlds away from a class at a dedicated yoga studio, and even then the experience can vary wildly. If you’re not on the yoga train, it’s possible that you just haven’t found the right flavor that works for you.
When I traveled to the Parmath Nikethan ashram in Rishikesh, India (famous for where the Beatles stayed) I realized how totally different yoga was in its country of origin, and I had considered myself a pretty well-versed yogi (it’s hard to practice yoga when a monkey is trying to steal your mat). I got hard core yoga-schooled by an elderly Indian man in an Ali G-style tracksuit (Lululemon is NOT a thing in Rishikesh).
It’s safe to say that the world of yoga has something for everyone, but it’s all about finding the form that works for you. To help us understand the different varieties of the ancient practice, we turned to Aimee Echo, yogi expert extraordinaire.
What initially drew you to the world of yoga? How has it changed your life?
Aimee: When I stumbled into that first class I was a musician in my second major label band waiting for my second record to come out. I was pretty stressed out, burnt out on the gym and looking for something deeper that would still move my body. I had no idea that my life would be forever altered.
I was very lucky and happened upon a traditional Ashtanga Yoga school in Los Angeles with very serious teachers, Noah Williams and Kiki Flynn. I developed a daily practice with them that has continued for the last 20 years. About 15 years ago I started to explore teaching. I apprenticed for about 5 years under another Ashtanga teacher while I made several trips to India to study until I was finally given authorization by my teacher, Sharath Jois, to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2010. For the last 5 years I’ve had my own Ashtanga Yoga Program and school where I teach 6 days a week.
What are the specific benefits of a yoga practice?
Aimee: Yoga is known for stress reduction, cardiovascular benefits, increased strength and range of motion, better focus, better sleep, better relationships, and a complete life change in my case :)
There are so many types of yoga! Can you walk us through some of the most popular forms?
Aimee: Let’s start with Ashtanga Yoga since that is my jam! Ashtanga Yoga is not really a “style” of Yoga, but a method. Ashtanga means 8 limbs of which the physical part, Asana, is the third. There are six set sequences of postures that are tailored to fit the individual student at their level and capacity.
Traditionally, it is taught one-on-one, but in a group setting each student memorizes and masters the postures and vinyasa steps given to them by their teacher. Vinyasa means, “breath connected to movement” or “carefully placed step” and implies there is a certain choreography of how we move from posture to posture, breath by breath, which ideally becomes a moving meditation. This method is called “Mysore style” after the city in India in which it became popular.
Another method of teaching Ashtanga is “led class“ which is more like what you’ll see in most yoga studios; a teacher guiding all of the students through one of the six set series of postures at the same time. Ashtanga taught in this way is the granddaddy of the modern Vinyasa class!
The room is music free, usually between 70-80 degrees and practice can be vigorous or gentle depending on the student but tends toward moving and sweating.
In most reputable and authorized Ashtanga Yoga Schools there is a strong emphasis on daily practice and integrating the other limbs of Yoga; how we are in relationship with others, with ourselves, our body and breath, our sense organs and deepening states of focus, concentration and meditation.
Iyengar yoga is more static-holding poses for long periods, focused strongly on precise alignment and usually with not many poses per class. This approach stresses the development of flexibility, strength, stamina, balance and concentration. The use of props, such as belts, cushions, straps, blocks and chairs as aids is encouraged. This approach is very good for analytical folks.
Kundalini Yoga, according to Yoga Journal, is known for being, “An uplifting blend of spiritual and physical practices, that incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras, such as Sat Nam, meaning "truth is my identity." The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness.” If you like a more spiritual practice this, “yoga of awareness” could be a good fit.
Vinyasa Yoga (also known as “Flow Yoga”) is usually a mix of postures linked together with a focus in mind for each class, decided upon by the teacher (for example, “hip openers”, “heart openers” or “backbends”) and is usually accompanied by some kind of music. You will be moving a lot and some vinyasa and flow classes are “heated” which means you will be moving AND sweaty.
Bikram Yoga is the original “Hot Yoga” taught in a room typically heated to 105 degrees. The teacher will guide the class through a set series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises using a very specific dialogue. There is no music, not a lot of clothes and you will need a lot of water.
Hot Yoga that is not Bikram Yoga uses a heated room, but does not strictly use the set sequence of 26 poses and script. The postures and techniques may vary according to the teacher, there may be music and for sure you will sweat.
Technically, all practice of postures and breathing is Hatha Yoga, but in a group class environment a class titled “Hatha” will be gentler and slower paced with some breathing emphasis.
Ashtanga was my gateway yoga! Now in my old age, I’ve gone more Kundalini. This is also the most LA statement I have ever uttered. So, how can someone find the yoga that is right for them?
Aimee: Check out the website of the school or studio and read about each class and teacher; see if something resonates, then go visit and decide how it feels. Most of the “styles” of Yoga you mentioned are Asana based group fitness classes that you can just drop into, so shop around!
I always have people come and observe my class and meet me to decide if it’s a fit before they start. See if observing is an option if you are looking for something deeper and more long term.
How can I integrate aspects of yoga into my life beyond the mat in class?
Aimee: I will be honest, almost everyone is teaching the physical postures that come from Yoga these days, but not much else. If you want to learn Yoga that you can integrate into your life, the Yoga that will help you have less suffering and more balance in your relationships, your mind, your body and help you to have clarity to make choices based on your essential self, you need to seek out a good teacher who has studied for a long time without interruption, someone who has a daily Yoga practice and has some accountability! A good teacher can help you understand Yoga beyond the Asana (the physical postures) and that is when you will be able to bring Yoga more fully into your life.
What if someone is scared of going to yoga...what are some safe gateway yoga options?
Observing class is great for the terrified! Choose classes with “beginner” in the title if you are one.
Inflexible people do great at Yoga, that’s who this is for. Too inflexible for Yoga is like too dirty for a shower! If you are seriously injured, seek out a very experienced teacher and have them modify a personal practice for you. Yoga can help you heal faster and with less frustration, but group fitness classes are not for the seriously injured. If you have a healing or old injury, most qualified Yoga teachers should be able to safely help you modify.
You’re a pro, can you give us some of your favorite yoga accessories?
Fave Mat: Manduka Pro
Currently reading: One Simple Thing by Eddie Stern. This Yoga book is required reading.
Aimee, you’re like a walking sun salutation! We can’t wait to get on the mat with you. Where can people find you and take one of your classes?
Aimee Echo began her career not as a Yoga teacher, but a rock singer, recording several albums and touring the world with her band theSTART and performing guest vocals for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage, Teddybears and so many more. Seeking refuge from the rock world, she took her first step into an Ashtanga Yoga class in 1999.
Guided by teachers Noah Williams and Kiki Flynn, she developed a daily Mysore-style practice and became devoted to the Ashtanga Yoga method. After practicing with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his family in L.A. In 2002, she was inspired to make her first journey to Mysore, India in 2007 to study at Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (now KPJAYI).
She has since been a dedicated student of R. Sharath Jois and returns regularly to India for intensive study with him. In 2010, Aimee received Sharath’s blessing to teach and is Authorized Level 2 . She had the privilege to assist Sharath in the main shala at KPJAYI in 2012 and again in 2016.
An avid philosophy student, she began ongoing study of the Yoga Sutras with long time TKV Desikachar student, Chase Bossart in 2015.
Aimee is the owner, director and primary teacher at Ashtanga Yoga Long Beach. She is the only KPJAYI Authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher in Long Beach, CA.
She still sings in her dance rock band, theSTART.