Thoughts on Freestyle Yoga

What is Freestyle Yoga?

What is Freestyle Yoga?  You might first start by reading my official description of Freestyle,

Freestyle Yoga, originally, was a way for me to describe the rather “open source”, eclectic, and natural style yoga that I was doing in my own practice. I hadn’t really formulated it as a “style”. In all honesty it was a way for me to avoid pigeonholing myself into one way of teaching. It was an off the cuff way to be anti-style and still be able to fill in the style space on studio schedules. “Freestyle”, i.e. “no style”, quickly came to be thought of as a style in its own right and so has become the subject of much confusion.

So let’s break it down and toss around the notion of freestyle yoga practice a bit.

Freestyle is a term often used in sports and music to indicate that the practitioner is restricted by fewer rules and is free to do their best with whatever inner resources they have at their disposal. The Wikipedia article on Freestyle Rapping says this:

“There are two kinds of rap: one is scripted (recitation), the second typically referred to as “freestyling” or “spitting”, is the improvisation of rapped lyrics. When freestyling, some rappers inadvertently reuse old lines, or even “cheat” by preparing segments or entire verses in advance. Therefore, freestyles with proven spontaneity are valued above generic, always usable lines. Due to the improvised nature of freestyle, rules for meter and rhythm are usually more relaxed than in conventional rap. Many artists base their set on the situation and mental state.”

In sports Freestyle refers to a competition that is not limited by style or rules. The choice of techniques is up to the individual athlete. Freestyle Swimming, Freestyle Wrestling, Freestyle Football, Freestyle Basketball, and Freestyle Surfing are all popular events.

So the “freestyle”, as a word, is associated with musicality, personalization, situation, expression, responsiveness, flow, adaptability, fluidity spontaneity, and authenticity.

The name came before I had really mapped out in detail exactly what I was doing. But the term felt somehow appropriate. It came from outside yoga.  It had both esthetic and functional implications.  And it held intonations of authenticity, which was important to me.  My motivation, at its root, was simply to use a term that allowed me to practice and teach in a way that was inclusive of my diverse experiences in movement, mediation, and healing.

I am frustrated by they way yoga has become commercialized, especially the way it has become overly compartmentalized for the sake of marketing. When I started practicing yoga there was no such a rigid notion of style and I have not been able to become comfortable with it. I feel yoga is much more expansive than that.  Sadly there are now several generations of yogis that have grown up in this milieu.  Freestyle was a term that I could use to get around this commercialized pop yoga.  If that makes it difficult for people to understand at first, I’m comfortable with that. The great American Jazz Trumpet player Wynton Marsalis said,

“When an art form is created the question is, “How do you come to it?”, not, “How does it come to you?”. Beethoven’s music is not going to come to you. The art of Picasso won’t come to you. Nor will Shakespeare, you have to go to it. Only when you go to it do you get the benefits of it.”

In other words, things of subtlety and depth take time and some effort to understand. They unfold in our heart and our souls in unseen ways over time. Commercialization and the creation of pop yoga has created a dumbed down yoga. Simplified for quick and easy consumption. And many would say a yoga that has lost its soul. The fact is that yoga takes time, practice, patience, and trust to reach its heart. That is not to say that yoga should not be accessible, but it is important not to loose sight of the ultimate aim.

These articles from the Resources page on my this website, written by some of my favorite teachers, explore related themes.

My Freestyle, Everybody’s Freestyle

Ultimately Freestyle is not a trademarked yoga style. Rather it is an approach to practicing yoga that draws on the inner resources of the particular practitioner. You have your way of practicing, your well of knowledge, your inner resources, I have mine. It is not just a was of creatively expressing our individuality (and ego), but linking to the absolute and recognizing that life’s forces flow through us in very different and spectacular ways. At its heart freestyle is about doing yoga that emerges out of ones inner pull toward wholeness and vitality.

Personally, I draw much of my inspiration from primal movement patterns.  These are simple movement patterns, imbedded in the human nervous system, that are the elemental building blocks of human movement. The way we organize our movement around a central axis, the way the breath sequences outward from our center, the fluids current through our tissues are some examples. Sometimes these patterns have been mis-learned, or have been inhibited by trauma. Practice and reeducation can help restore ease in movement, release trauma, enhance brain function, and body integration.

I’ve found that there are other’s out there teaching spreading their own kind of Freestyle Yoga. Kripalu Yoga is linked an old tradition of cultivating what they call Prana Flow and Erich Schiffmann teaches Freedom Yoga in Venice California.

The benefits of practicing in this way are many, but to list them would be a gross over simplification. Ultimately it depends on what and how we are practicing, what our needs are, and to respond in the most sensitive way possible to meet those needs.

I have found that there are weaknesses in traditional yoga and I have sought to add corrections based on my diverse movement experience. In general, I give equal emphasis to movement and stillness, internal and external movement. I give emphasis to functional actions contrasted to traditional yoga which tends to focus on less useful static holding of pretzel-like poses. Traditional yoga is not necessarily about function, single joint stretching is a good example. I am more interested in building highly useful bodies that are as stabile (strong) as they are mobile (flexible) that can efficiently and easily run, walk, sit, stand, jump, climb, lay down, reach, pull, push, swing, balance, and minds that can concentrate, be strong, quite, peaceful, loving, playful, and experience the richness of human experience.

My Freestyle emphasizes naturalness, balancing of opposite energies, functionality over achievement of postures, and takes one down the path of personal authenticity in practice. Contrasted to projecting the source of knowledge into the teacher, my style of Freestyle helps people locate the source of knowledge within and appreciates the uniqueness and treasures that all people have to share.

If you have experienced injury in traditional yoga because ignorant teachers have pushed you into believing that just because it is yoga it is good for you, if you have a background in other movement disciplines, if you are interested in a more personal yoga experience, if you are skeptical of blindly accepting a guru like teacher, if you want to develop your personal power you may find my Freestyle Yoga interesting.

Lesson content changes all the time.  Though recognizing that students learn better when we stick to a theme for a few months I’ve taken to changing themes seasonally.  Recently, as spring has started to rear its head, for example, we started a sequence that emphasized realigning the pelvis, opening the hips, massaging the pelvic organs, and enhancing core body stability.  I often leave space for students to explore on their own.

As in any yoga class students should attend a class that is appropriate for their level. I cannot stress this more. This is often overlooked by most studios and students. If a beginner comes to a beginning Freestyle yoga class they will enjoy it. Mixed level classes are never really appropriate for total beginners. My yoga can be enjoyed by all, but students need to respect level classifications.

That said, I find that people with diverse movement backgrounds appreciate my yoga classes the most. What I teach does not always look like the pop cliche of yoga that many people have absorbed through the media. It is certainly not traditional Indian yoga. My yoga is modern, eclectic, and multicultural. Especially those with very little experience in yoga and life can be disappointed when I do not chant OM and teach a fluffy flow class playing Yoga Zone’s “Music for Yoga Practice” in the background.

~ by 00davi00 on 0, March 14, 2011.

4 Responses to “Thoughts on Freestyle Yoga”

  1. David, your article really helped me to get more in touch with, my frustrations and creative insights as a yoga instructor, here in the New Orleans, area.
    I have been practicing a Vinyasa ‘free style’ Yoga all along, and didn’t realize how it actually fits into the picture….Your term ‘free style’ helped me understand my path!
    Namaste! Rolf

  2. I love this article! I do a free style myself and was looking for comments on that, so arrived on your site. Combination of Chi Gong, bio-energetics and hatha yoga, Txs!

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