Yoga has really taken off here in the U.S., which is pretty rad if you ask me. I may be a little biased, being a yoga teacher and all, but still – the fact that there are millions of people (according to the most recent study in 2016, some 37 million people which was up from 20 million in 2012, and no doubt it’s up by a few more mil in the last two years) is a good thing. It also means about one out of ten people is practicing, which is pretty impressive. When you have, let’s just say, 40 million people practicing yoga, let’s be real: they’re not all going to love the same exact style. Assuming that 40 million people have the same favorite color is kinda insane, right? And if your favorite color is purple but someone tells you they prefer blue, would you tell them they’re wrong, that purple is the best color?
As I’m typing this, I realize that yes, there probably are some people out there who would do that, but that’s a different conversation for another day. Without going into too much detail, because I’m sure you didn’t start reading this hoping for a complete history of how yoga came to the west, let’s just say this: yoga asana as we know it has changed and evolved and maybe some would even say morphed into it’s own beast since it was brought here in the late 1890s.
Arguably the most influential figure in the development of modern yoga practice in the 20th century is T. Krishnamacharya (aka the Father of Modern Yoga) whose students are the most influential global yoga teachers of our time: B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar. They each created their own styles based off of Krishnamacharya’s teachings, and then their students developed their own styles, and their students developed more, and somehow we ended up here in 2018 with beer yoga, goat yoga, nude yoga and Harry Potter Yoga (I’m not messing with you, it’s actually a thing and it sells out). I’m pretty sure this isn’t what our boy Patanjali was envisioning when he wrote The Yoga Sutras, but hey, I say, whatever works for you.
I could decide right now that I’m teaching “Jaimis Yoga” and if it works for people, isn’t that a good thing? (I’m not, FYI…I’m now leaning towards getting Harry Potter Yoga certified). Yoga, by definition, means “to yoke” or “to unite.” It’s about connection: connecting to your breath, your body, your experience; connecting to the highest version of yourself, to god or the Universe and remembering that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself. If yoga is about connection, than dividing the yoga community up with dogmatic opinions about what style of yoga is the best/real/right is not yogic behavior – just sayin.’
This leads me to Rocket Vinyasa Yoga, and why I think it’s so fucking awesome.
“So, what is Rocket Yoga exactly?”
I get asked this question a lot. I get it, the name can sound intimidating, but The Rocket is actually intended to be the opposite. It’s challenging, yes – but it’s also playful, fun and accessible. We’ll start with the technical answer from the Rocket Vinyasa Yoga Practice Guide, written by my teacher, David C. Kyle:
“Larry Schultz created the Rocket routines in the 80s while touring as the yoga teacher for the Grateful Dead. He designed an asana sequence that would invigorate and strengthen students with advanced postures while still staying accessible through modifications and practicing acceptance of the bodies’ present abilities.The Rocket routines are a revision of the traditional Ashtanga series that destroys the “hierarchy” of postures and gives the student the control over their own creative process as they follow a new foundation with the openness to introduce their individual creative modifications to the series, while still honoring the core values and teachings of this ancient Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice.”
Credited as the original power yoga, practice begins with Sun Salutations and standing postures, then progresses into creatively-linked arm balances, inversions, backbends and spinal twists to invigorate and awaken the nervous system. It’s a playful practice that encourages creativity from both the teacher and student – there are set sequences but teachers are encouraged to shake things up with different variations so no practice feels the same. Sometimes it’s more traditional, and sometimes we play with Jedi Sun Salutations; defying gravity by adding in variations of arm balances and inversions to build heat and strengthen the body. Check out David, the Jedi Master/Mula Bandha King demoing them below. Let’s just say mine aren’t quite there yet, but I’m working on it.
The beauty of The Rocket is that as a practitioner, you’re encouraged to listen to your inner teacher and make choices based on your body’s needs that day. Meaning, if you want to take rest in child’s pose between every posture, do your thing! If you want to add in a handstand or extra pushup or skip the pushups altogether, rock on. It’s empowering as a student to take the practice into your own hands and it’s beautiful to watch students embrace this freedom and learn to trust themselves.
More than anything, it’s the elements of playfulness and self-acceptance that made me fall in love and keep me coming back. I’m Pitta Dosha so my elemental makeup is fire and water. I’ve been an athlete my entire life and my instinct is to push harder. One of the most valuable (and challenging, ugh) lessons yoga has taught me is self-acceptance: that it’s okay to not be the best, it’s okay not to be perfect, it’s okay to back off and rest in child’s pose and take deep breaths. And the Rocket embodies this nurturing aspect of yoga: that it’s okay to be where you are. You don’t have to force your way into a pose just because you did it yesterday. As David often says, “No bind, no problem.”
With infinite variations offered for every pose in The Rocket sequence, every class feels different. It’s truly all-levels because as the student, you get to decide what you need that day. It creates a space that is open and embracing to each individual student’s uniqueness. Handstands and arm balances keep the energy levels high and encourage students to tap into their inner strength and feel empowered. Larry’s intention was to create an all-inclusive practice with routines that can introduce the vigorous practice of Ashtanga yoga to the masses, no matter your level of flexibility or strength. And David C. Kyle has done a hell of a job carrying on his legacy.
To me, this practice is about community, playfulness, pushing past my limitations and reaching new heights. It’s about self-love and finding my edge and realizing I’m a lot stronger than I think I am, time and time again.
I love Rocket Yoga, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You have the freedom to practice whatever style of yoga makes you feel connected and alive because that’s what it’s all about, my friends – finding a practice that you want to keep coming back to; a practice that feels like home. Ten years from now, who knows – I may feel differently. As I grow and evolve and my body changes, I may decide it’s time to switch things up and give goat yoga a try. That’s the beauty of where we are with yoga right now, there is something for every body.
In a world where we all feel lost and disconnected at times, you’ve gotta find a practice that lights you up. Whether its on your yoga mat or dancing your ass off or punching a bag or running outside or sitting quietly in a park or walking your dog – find something that makes you feel connected and alive. And don’t let anyone make you feel like your practice is less than theirs just because it’s different. Keep doing your thing and don’t let anyone stop you.
If you live in Charlotte and want to experience The Rocket yourself, come find me. I’ll hold space for you to be exactly where you are.
If you’re interested in the path to becoming a Rocket teacher, Patrick McCleaf is heading to the Queen City this spring to lead Rocket Intensives. It was a life-changing experience for me – it’s through this practice that I finally gave myself permission to be exactly who I am.