NEW YORK — There are as many different forms of yoga practice as there are different kinds of New Yorkers willing to try them.
From Fight Club yoga to Thai yoga massage to "Ruff Yoga" for you and your four-legged friends, there are a number of hybrids out there for adventurous yogis who have found themselves in a rut, or non-yogis who are interested but not yet ready for straight-up traditional yoga.
For starters, some yogis out there may need a way to release aggressive energy and negative emotions before they can begin to relax. For them, Flight Club Yoga, a unique combination of Thai kickboxing, yoga and meditation might be just the ticket.
Kristina Cubrilo, an instructor at OmFactory's Flight School, says her classes are selling out regularly.
"It's challenging from the get-go," she assured me.
The class begins with pranayama — yogic breathing exercises — to focus the practitioner inward, followed by vigorous vinyasa, a series of swiftly moving connected poses linked with breath. The warm-up continues with a variety of speed- and coordination-building cardiovascular movements, like grapevines across the floor and Burpees (squat-thrusts).
Then the "fun" begins, as students pair off, sharing gloves, mitts and leg pads, for two-minute rounds of jab, cross, hook, upper-cut and kick combinations.
"The punching releases pent up energy from the heart center and the kicking releases tension from tight hips and legs," explained Adam Rinder, who teaches AcroYoga and other kinds of yoga at the OmFactory.
In advanced classes, Cubrilo adds in some Mui Thai martial arts moves. The class winds down with a slow, gentle vinyasa, giving special attention to tired wrists and shoulders, and ends with the traditional shavasana and meditation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Thai Yoga Massage, another way to use yoga to connect with others as you focus inward.
Jodi Young, a NYC fitness trainer and competitive fitness model certified in Thai Yoga Massage, calls Thai Yoga Massage "yoga for the lazy person," because the practitioner gently moves the client passively through a full yoga sequence.
Feeling a bit lazy myself after a busy afternoon of sampling a variety of yoga classes, she took me through a session of energy-shifting, tension-releasing moves. My tired muscles quickly relaxed into Young's firm but gentle stretching and kneading.
"The touch is very specialized and modified for western bodies and sensibilities," she explained. "In our culture we are shyer about our bodies than in the east, so the touch is less intimate and less intrusive."
Among the benefits you can expect from a session are relief of muscular aches and pains, enhanced blood circulation and improved flexibility. Young expertly used her hands, feet, knees and body weight to guide me into and out of poses, leaving my mind and body detoxified and rejuvenated and my energy calm and balanced.
For those who want to include man's best friend in their yoga practice, Suzi Teitelman created "Ruff Yoga", now known as Doga.
Teitelman created "Ruff Yoga" when she was the yoga director for Crunch in New York City in 2001. Inspired by Mommy-and-Me yoga classes, Teitelman began bonding with her pets during her own yoga practice and decided to share the experience with her students.
Now each of her five dogs has its own custom-painted mat and knows exactly what's coming as soon as she rolls one out. Like toddlers and babies, she says, the dogs sometimes wander away from the mat during class, but with regular practice, dogs learn to settle in to the relaxing, quality time with their owners.
Now based in Jacksonville, Florida, Teitelman has a two-fold approach to her class. Some of her techniques teach human yogis how to use their pets' body weight to enhance their own poses, while others focus on gently moving the dogs into their own stretches.
"If the person is into it, the dog will be into it too," she said.
Her classes are formatted essentially the same way a traditional all-human class would be, beginning with breath work and meditation, moving through a series of postures and finishing with shavasana. The dogs are simply incorporated along the way.
While they may start out barking or distracted, most dogs are calm and quiet by the end of her class, she promises. An added benefit is that, "Dog lovers who have never done yoga might be motivated to try it, and newcomers might do more yoga when their dog is brought into the mix," she said.
Suzi Teitelman's easy-to-follow Doga manual and videos are available at her website, www.dogadog.com.