Almost four years ago, I wrote a blog post about the differences between my Baptiste yoga classes and my Bikram yoga classes. Although it was just one measly post, interestingly, one of the most popular searches that leads people to this blog is some variation of “Baptiste vs. Bikram yoga.”
And, several years and many conversations on the topic and hundreds of yoga classes later, I still find myself pondering the question: Which style of yoga do I enjoy more? And why?
These days? Honestly?
It’s Baptiste. And here’s why.
I recently signed up to complete a sprint triathlon this summer out in Nantucket. I have always wanted to participate in a triathlon, so I truly cannot wait to throw myself into training and preparing for the big race day. However, all this training and preparing means I will be spending much more time at the local Y swimming laps and on the bike trails attempting not to crash into fellow cyclists than I will breathing and sweating and moving my limbs on my yoga mat.
A part of me is quite ready for this change, this challenge, for this much-needed upheaval in my exercise routine. However, another part of me knows that I absolutely must keep yoga in my life in some way, shape, or form.
One of the things that I truly love about the Baptiste (or vinyasa) style of yoga is that it is so forgiving, so understanding. Need to modify a pose? Go right ahead. Need to drop down into child’s pose to steady your breath? No problem—you are actually encouraged to do so. Only have time to make one class a week? That’s alright—the heat will be intense but still bearable.
Bikram, on the other hand… As we know, unless you’re pregnant, Bikram allows very few, if any, modifications to his poses. In the majority of classes I’ve taken, you’re specifically asked not to go into child’s pose and, instead, to stand quietly or to kneel. Mostly, just keep your head above your heart. (Although I recently asked a doctor friend about this, and she confirmed that if you are, in fact, light-headed, the very first thing you should do is put your head below your heart so that blood gets there faster.) And, in my experience, if I’m not hitting the “torture chamber” at least three times a week, the heat and humidity of a Bikram yoga class overwhelm me to the point where I don’t actually enjoy or get as much out of my time on the mat.
And—although part of me can’t believe I’m admitting it—after six long years, Bikram’s 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises have, finally, become a wee bit monotonous. In a Baptiste class, I never, ever know quite where my body is going to move or go or open. Every class is a new exploration. I haven’t felt that way about Bikram in quite some time.
I admit, I loathe the clichéd explanation or excuse of “Timing is everything.” But, I know timing has a big part to play in why I am so drawn to Baptiste classes right now. Ultimately, given my schedule, my finances, my current location, and my physical needs—not to mention my mental needs—these days Baptiste yoga just feels better.
And? The ultimate test? I can’t wait to get to my Baptiste classes. Which is very different from the dread I was starting to feel at facing another Bikram beating.
Here’s what I mean:
Yesterday, after spending the last five or six days leveled by bronchitis, I finally left the house, determined to get some exercise and fresh air, and ventured off to a yoga studio just north of Salem. It’s a studio I’ve started to frequent regularly, partly because the collection of teachers there are outstanding and partly because I like the drive. The thermometer in my car read 64 degrees—quite warm for early March in New England. My left arm dangled out the window and into the sunshine. I was so ridiculously excited—all because I was going to yoga.
When I got there, I set myself up smack in the middle of the room. I needed the energy from every last yogi around me to bolster my own weary limbs, weak from days spent laying in bed. As I began to stretch and loosen, and as the teacher moved us slowly through the first few gentle poses, I worried, for a moment, whether I should have come: my ears were blocked, my nose kept running, and already, after less than 10 minutes, my muscles were shaking.
And then the teacher said, as she wove her way through our maze of mats and blocks and straps and water bottles, “It does not matter what you had hoped to do or expected to do on your mat today. All that matters is you’re here. You are here. Explore and experience your body, here, now. Hold nothing back. Explore, without fear, without judgment. Try, as best you can. That, really, is all we can ever do.”
I smiled broadly, as I rose up, shaky but strong, sniffling but satisfied.
I could have been a thousand other places: at home on the couch, or at the grocery store, or still at the office, or out on a date, or stuck in my head thinking and thinking, or out running errands, or working on my resume, or making absolutely no progress or decisions, or taking no action at all.
Instead, I was there. All of me.
Working and sweating and breathing and trying and loosening and shedding, sliver by sliver, the things, words, people, hurts, and expectations that do not serve me.
Baptiste, Bikram, Iyengar, Mysore, ashtanga, vinyasa, anusara, Kripalu, power, hot, prenatal, restorative. Call it what you want. But, I’m starting to think it is not a One Style vs. Another Style discussion anymore.
Yoga is yoga. No matter what name you put before it.
And if you show up, if you try, then you benefit.
You strengthen. You learn. You change. You outgrow the person you were when you arrived.
Until, ultimately, you break free.