Three flavours of yoga teachers – which would you choose?

The New York Times has once again fixed its gaze on yoga culture, this time with a short profile of Forrest Yoga, the method created by Ana Forrest. While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of other recent yoga teacher/style articles in the NYT: last summer’s seminal John Friend feature and the Tara Stiles profile from earlier this year.

The articles vary in depth, focus and length, but after a close reading of all three, I noticed some common themes. Here’s a handy dandy compare and contrast guide to the NYT’s approach to three very different, yet similar, teachers. All text is directly quoted from the NYT articles and everything in italics is my commentary.

Type of yoga teacher
Ana Forrest (AF): itinerant, fierce
John Friend (JF): rock star yogi
Tara Stiles (TS): former model with skyscraper limbs and a goofball sensibility

Name and origin of style
AF: Forrest Yoga – her last name, apparently
JF: Anusara – Sanskrit for “flowing with grace”
TS: Strala – a word she said she and her husband made up, but it turns out to be Swedish for “radiates light”

Description of style
AF: intense
JF: touchy-feely
TS: nondenominational

Characteristics of style
AF: long holding of positions, emphasis on abdominal core work and standing series that can go on for 20 poses on each side
JF: classes are less about toned abs than about self-expression and enjoyment
TS: focuses on the physical and health aspects of yoga, not the spiritual or the philosophical

Brand identity
AF: a boutique cult brand (in New York City, anyway)
JF: “We do yoga lifestyle, helping people to be happy. How do you like that?” (John Friend himself)
TS: powerful… with no less than Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra among her devotees

Personal mission
AF: curing the ails of the modern world, including computer roadkill bodies (lower back tightness, shoulder pains and neck aches) and spiritual malaises that lead to destructive behaviors like addictions
JF: to reclaim yoga from the many U.S .teachers who were so consumed with the physical practice — it was all about the workout — that they sweated out any trace of spirituality
TS: “I feel like I’m standing up for yoga. People need yoga, not another religious leader.” (Tara Stiles, fyi)

Typical students
AF: N.F.L. players, recovering addicts, dancers and cancer patients
JF: Mostly young, mostly women and most of them spectacularly fit, [who’ll pay] around $150 for three days of nonstop Anusara
TS: The firefighter from Long Island who feels intimidated by “oms” and New Age music. The African-American 30-something from Brooklyn who is looking for a little diversity on the mat. Or the cashier from Morris, Ill— the river town of 14,000 where she grew up — who drives to McDonald’s for dinner several times a week.

Student testimonials
AF: “The thing that spoke to me about Forrest Yoga was the invitation to feel your body deeply and befriend your body as a source of wisdom and intelligence instead of something that you should occupy while you were on earth.”
JF: “My experience at [his] conference altered my being. I drove through the mountains and stopped every few minutes to write about the dancing rivers and the aspen paving my way with liquid gold.”
TS: “We are both nonconformists who have incurred the wrath of traditional yogis.” (That would be Deepak Chopra, btw)

Approach to training yoga teachers
AF: 200-hour foundational teacher training… 400 hours of field work, a nine-day advanced teacher training and, upon invitation, a one-week Forrest Yoga mentorship…. The Guardians meet with Ms. Forrest annually and mentor instructors who are in the equivalent of a post-graduate program.
JF: the teacher-training manual… is about as detailed as an oil-refinery operations handbook. Like Iyengar, he created a teacher-certification program; his students must complete a minimum of 200 hours of training at workshops — an expense that can require extensive travel — buy his training manual ($30) and pass his 30-hour take-home test. A $195 training DVD is also recommended. There are licensing fees of around $100 that must be renewed annually.
TS: costs $2,500, although she plans to lower it to $1,500, and it takes place over four weekends… emphasizes practical knowledge and looking inward for strength, not toward a guru or leader for empowerment

Pop culture comparison
AF: She is to Yoga Journal as Angelina Jolie is to Us magazine: a mainstay
JF: Joel Osteen, the magnetic evangelical megachurch minister with the feel-good message and a book-and-television empire
TS: Okay, I couldn’t find one. But her “sexy cover-girl” and “cheerleader” looks were referred to several times.

See also: why i’m obsessed with the NYT’s obsession with yoga and NYT on john friend, yoga mogul