This is part of my How I Teach Yoga series
When people ask me what style of yoga I teach or where I learned yoga, I proudly identify as a "Kripalu Yoga Teacher." When I completed my RYT-500 yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts, I earned this designation. More than just factually correct, I feel connected to the Kripalu lineage and I teach most of my classes as Kripalu Yoga.
Definitions from Kripalu.org
As is the case with other styles of yoga, defining Kripalu Yoga can pose a challenge. Kripalu.org offers multiple definitions. For instance, the current Kripalu School of Yoga page contains this definition:
Kripalu Yoga teaches us to live the power of our practice on and off the mat. We learn to direct our focus within and access the body’s wisdom. Rather than strive to perfect the mechanics of a pose, Kripalu Yoga uses postures and other yogic techniques to reveal the true nature of who we are.
When I teach yoga, I help people feel safe and offer guidance about the mechanics of poses. But the goal is not perfect form. I ask a lot of questions about how poses feel and how the mind reacts to different postures.
The "What is yoga?" page on Kripalu.org offers some background about the connection to other yogas. "Kripalu Yoga, like many other contemporary schools, integrates tools and techniques from all" of the following major branches:
- Karma Yoga: the yoga of dynamic action and service
- Jnana Yoga: the yoga of discriminative wisdom
- Bhakti Yoga: the yoga of devotion
- Hatha Yoga: the yoga of postures and breathing exercises
- Raja Yoga: the yoga of concentration and meditation
- Tantra Yoga: the yoga of integrating the polarities
Kripalu Yoga draws from each of these lineages and takes a variety of forms. Some Kripalu Yoga classes highlight certain aspects over others. When I teach "Vinyasa Yoga" at a yoga studio or community center, I might focus on postures, breathing, meditation, and cultivating discriminative wisdom. When I teach "Restorative Yoga and Sound Healing," I might create more space for devotion and relaxation. Teaching yoga to kids in schools looks different than yoga for adults. Yet each variant of Kripalu Yoga can support inner focus and access to the body's wisdom.
What the Experts Say
Some people employed by Kripalu have jobs that require them to define Kripalu Yoga. A recent podcast episode about the Kripalu Yoga lineage featured Robert Mulhall, the CEO of Kripalu (the nonprofit organization), and Monique Schubert, a lead Kripalu faculty member (and one of my most influential teachers).
When asked to describe Kripalu Yoga, Monique noted how the "combination of ingredients" used to create a Kripalu Yoga class "has shifted" in her 20 years as a Kripalu Yoga Teacher. Yet through those changes, she noted one of the enduring "landmarks" of Kripalu Yoga has been "self-observation without judgment," a phrase attributed to the namesake of Kripalu Yoga, Swami Kripalu. Instructors use that phrase frequently in Kripalu Yoga teacher training. It's also printed in training manuals and on the walls of the Kripalu Center.
While Monique's use of the phrase "self-observation without judgment" did not surprise me, the response from Robert Mulhall did. He began with a warning that he was about to "say something very controversial" and then proceeded to offer his view that "Kripalu Yoga is not different from other yogas." He said, "to try to pin down Kripalu Yoga," or to find characteristics that distinguishes it from other styles, would be difficult to "put down on paper."
When I teach yoga, I frequently mention the phrase (or some variation of) "self-observation without judgment" and I don't seem to surprise people or catch them off guard. Part of the essence of teaching Kripalu Yoga, in my view, is creating a welcoming space. Therefore, Kripalu Yoga cannot be drastically different from other kinds of modern yoga. Kripalu Yoga, like other yogas, draws on the classical yoga of Patanjali and modern science. It focuses on self-care and self-responsibility. When I teach yoga, I use the tools and techniques from the Kripalu tradition. My yoga classes share myriad features with other modern yoga classes.
Kripalu Yoga on Paper
In spite of Robert Mulhall's warning, some people have attempted to describe Kripalu Yoga on paper. Richard Faulds, former president, CEO, and board chair of the Kripalu Center wrote a well-regarded book, Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat (Bantam Books, 2006). For those who want to know more about Kripalu Yoga, I recommend this book.
Faulds describes Kripalu Yoga as "a contemporary approach to yoga practice designed for mainstream people leading active lives" and that "anyone can do Kripalu Yoga — it certainly isn't limited to those with a flexible or trim body. Nor does it require adoption of any religious beliefs, people of all faiths practice Kripalu Yoga." Importantly, he notes that "Kripalu Yoga is not based on the guru/disciple relationship, a paradigm that has proved problematic in so many spiritual communities." In other words, Kripalu Yoga is intended to appeal to a broad audience.
When I first read Faulds's book, I felt surprised because his ideas about Kripalu Yoga seemed much different from mine. While his "combination of ingredients" (to quote Monique Schubert) felt different, the essence of what he said felt completely familiar. I teach yoga for "mainstream people leading active lives" and strive to make my yoga classes accessible to anyone who walks through the door. And in just about every class I remind people that I'm not asking them to believe anything.
How I teach yoga classes aligns with my conception of Kripalu Yoga and what I suppose "mainstream people" expect in a modern yoga class. I pay attention to the Kripalu website, listen to podcasts about Kripalu Yoga, and read books and articles by Kripalu Yoga Teachers. At the same time, I recognize how my upbringing, education, and experiences give my classes a unique flavor. I doubt people would keep coming back to my classes if they could get exactly the same experience elsewhere. I have my own preferred flavors that I sprinkle into my classes and I plan to continue exploring them in this series.