Katonah Yoga: 7 things you didn’t know
Native to upstate New York, Katonah Yoga is a syncretic practice developed by Nevine Michaan of Katonah Yoga in 1986. Katonah Yoga is an approach that integrates Taoist principles, Chinese medicine, sacred geometry, mythology, metaphor and imagination – in a practical setting designed to potentiate personal and community well-being.
What to expect in a Katonah Yoga class?
One of the beautiful things about practicing Katonah Yoga is that each teacher uses the material and basic theory and rearranges it as they see fit. This is something very important to the founder of Katonah Yoga Nevine and one that she strongly encourages.
To become a certified Katonah Yoga teacher, you need to do your 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, so that all teachers come into the practice with their own experience and therefore teach and share the material in a slightly different way.
What sets it apart from many other popular yoga classes is that Katonah Yoga does not have a unique class structure, but in most classes you will find these three things:
We live and experience the world through our bodies, which is why any practice of Katonah yoga has a huge physical component. And let me tell you, even though it isn’t heated and you probably won’t do 50 chatarungas, this physical practice is a challenge. Expect longer holds, intense joint work, and very specific alignment. It is a therapeutic practice, and you do not change or improve your body (or your mind) by doing what is particularly easy or natural.
Most classes also include a healthy dose of breathing work, or as it is more often called, pranayama. Some teachers start with breathing exercises, others do them throughout the lesson, but most keep this part for the last part of the lesson.
Another very important part in Katonah Yoga is meditation. This part is the bridge to the other two pieces of the practice. During this time, We allow ourselves to review, reflect and hopefully have one or two revelations in meditation.
One of the beautiful things about practicing Katonah Yoga is that each teacher uses the material and basic theory and rearranges it as they see fit.
7 things you didn't know about Katonah Yoga
1. Katonah Yoga is more of a workshop than a class
Katonah Yoga works workshop style postures with numerous props and adjustments, teaching participants to adapt each movement and postulate to their own body. According to Katonah, the body should “adapt” from top to bottom and from right to left. These new familiar pose forms can illuminate habits, offering new perspective and insight.
2. Muscles are not the focal point in Katonah Yoga classes.
The Katonah Yoga method will make your body work smarter, not harder, in this yoga muscles are not mentioned. For example, when a teacher of another style asks you to engage your core in the Plank, a Katonah teacher will instead ask you to move your bones and organs in two directions at once (heels back and lungs forward). In this style, stability is created by the alignment and angles of the bones and joints. Think of a building, its strength comes from its structure (or bones) and not the cement (which Katonah likens to muscle). And according to Chinese medicine, energy travels through organs, bones and joints, unlike muscles, which are too dense. So, a properly aligned Katonah pose allows energy currents to flow through you, making asanas feel smooth. The Katonah also teaches that when you use your bones as a limit, you can’t go any further, which reduces the risk of injuring yourself, stretching, or squirming.
3. What is important in Katonah Yoga are the organs
Western medicine teaches us the function of the organ. In oriental medicine, we are taught the relationship between organs. All the sagging, overworking and overdriving of our daily life leaves no room for our organs to function at their maximum capacity. Organs will work no matter what – in a snail shell or in a beautiful, spacious body – but Katonah’s point is that if your yoga practice can help optimize them, why not use it to this way ?
4. Katonah Yoga has its own methods of alignment.
Katonah alignment not only focuses on the bones and organs but also on the space between them thanks to the principle of “cross references”. For example, imagine trying to find the same distance between your right shoulder and left hip and between your left shoulder and your right hip – which would give your organs maximum space and your bones a strong, stable shape. Like the crossbars of the Eiffel Tower, the relationship between two parts of the body can create stability in a pose.
5. Prepare to review your geometry
Katonah Yoga focuses on creating stable angles in the bones: 90 degrees is considered the most stable angle; 60 and 45 are derivatives and are therefore also stable. For example, a Katonah Down Dog has 60 degree angles at the ankles, hips, and wrists.
6. This is the other form of Taoist yoga.
Many Western yogis are familiar with Yin Yoga and its roots in Taoism. The Katonah incorporates three major Taoist principles into practice. First, the Taoist concept of yin and yang. Second, Taoism says that “nature reveals its intelligence through patterns, and Katonah teaches that our body, as a part of the natural world, is no different. Third, Taoism says that” the pattern repeats itself Katonah teaches that through repetition we can manipulate patterns that are not useful to us by cultivating new ones. Katonah teacher Abbie Galvin likens this practice to a wave hitting a rock over and over again and ends up changing the nature of the rock.
7. The objective is to get out of autopilot.
Katonah Yoga uses poses to help each student move from what it calls their “first nature” – the unconscious habits they were born with that may not serve them – to their “second nature” , defined as the acquired functional habits (reading, dressing, behaving, etc.) which become effortless. Turning off the autopilot allows you to act consciously. Katonah yoga is not always popular initially because it is unfamiliar. It doesn’t allow us to be ourselves on the mat. But we come to the mat to transform ourselves, not to do what we’re already good at. We practice to get information that is both new and will get us somewhere.
The metaphor of Katonah Yoga
Un des aspects du Katonah impressionnant, est qu’il regorge de métaphores puissantes et de cartes illustrées, qui aident à mieux intégrer les aspects de la pratique pour soi et à naviguer dans son corps et dans la vie en général. Ainsi, le Katonah propose d’organiser sa pratique et ses postures en suivant cette métaphore hyper parlante. Si on suit la carte illustrée ci-dessous, chaque pièce de notre maison correspond à une partie de notre corps et ses différents organes associés, glandes et système chimique, et donc à chaque pièce un entretien et des besoins spécifiques ! Ce système ressemble également à celui des chakras, du bas vers le haut du corps :
The 3 rooms on the lower floor; the basement (6 – the garage, 1- the boiler, 8- the laundry room) represents our base, our stability, the anchoring, the foundations of our being. It physically matches our hips, legs, feet. We will suddenly start the practice with postures and pranayamas to activate, cleanse, bring movement to these areas, give them consistency and solidity.
The 3 middle pieces; the ground floor (7- the office, 5- the living room and the altar, 3- the kitchen) corresponds to our shoulders, our arms, our hands and represent our skills, our aptitudes to develop, to create the things, to be in contact with others in love, in friendship, as in work. The practice on this floor is oriented to make us physically and psychically more skilful, creative, “functional” on a daily basis.
Finally, the 3 upper rooms, upstairs (2- the attic, 9- the observatory, 4- the bedroom) correspond to our eyes, our nose and our ears. This floor represents our vision, our “wisdom”. We highlight here a practice that develops our imagination, our intuition and the fluidity of our neurological system.
Working all these 9 pieces together allows access to the 10th room of our house, of our being: the “great whole”, our home as a whole, functional and alive, when our mind and our body are fully united and when ‘we realize our full power; that of being, simply, well in his head, well in his body, with oneself as with others.