Yoga practice has been developed over thousands of years. We are lucky in the modern age to still have some very old texts to guide our efforts. At the same time, we also enjoy a wealth of contemporary insight into the detailed workings of the bodymind that help contextualize and optimize our practice.
However, in the modern developed world we also have to account with the fact that our bodies are, for the most part, different to the bodies of people living in the ‘traditional’ agrarian societies where hatha yoga developed. The basic structures are the same, but our lifestyles are very different and they mold our bodies accordingly. What works for the traditional, natural body – with a comparatively more mobile spine, stronger joints, and greater flexibility – will not necessarily work well for a modern body accustomed to sitting in chairs, living in linear patterns, often with a very limited range of motion in key areas like the hips and lumbar spine.
Recently I was in Sydney and had the pleasure of taking some classes at the Yoga Synergy studio in Bondi (one of 3 across the city). Yoga Synergy is one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. Since 1984 they have developed a comprehensive methodology of teaching yoga in a way that is safer and more comfortable for modern bodies, while still gaining the benefits of physical yoga experienced by traditional bodies. There I met Bianca Machliss, co-founder of the studio and practice style, and after a wonderful morning flow sat down to talk with her about their work.
She tells me how when she started doing yoga, it was a fringe thing, largely unknown to most people, or seen as “a bit weird” at best – and that she was the stiffest person in the class! (She’s certainly not now as any quick look on the Yoga Synergy site can attest). She began teaching in 1993 after some years of intensive practice, but even with her background in Human Biology and scientific research, it became clear to both her and studio partner Simon Borg-Olivier they needed to go further with their study.
“We realised we really needed to know more about what was going on in different people’s bodies, so we went back to university to study physiotherapy.”
This led to creating a synthesis of ancient yogic teachings and modern anatomical and physiological understanding. Drawing on Indian, Chinese and Tibetan yoga, modern research-based physiotherapy, and their own decades of teaching experience, Yoga Synergy embodies an open-minded and very safe approach to yoga. “We teach people how to be responsive, and responsible, in their yoga practice. It’s about making yoga accessible to everyone.”
Some days later I went to visit Simon at his home near Byron Bay. He had just completed a month of fasting and internal cleansing, something he does “once, maybe twice a year” – he’s also well-known as an authority on yogic nutrition and lifestyle. Together we go through some of the finer points of breathwork, bandha, and body movement, especially integrating the fundamental spinal movements. It’s energizing but relaxing at the same time, a key characteristic of the Yoga Synergy style. What’s more, I feel that it makes apparent the intent of the hatha practice clear, not just the form.
Because of this I’m also excited that Simon will be coming to Barcelona for this year’s Yoga Conference, to share with the yoga community here his insights into how to practice more effectively. Personally their teaching has made a huge difference to my own practice in recent years – it challenges conventions and unexamined dogmas, but always from a perspective grounded in evidence-based research and considerable personal experience. As modern yoga practice continues to evolve, and ever-increasing numbers of people take it up, it’s important that we base our understanding on safe and reliable methods of yogic exploration. Thank you Bianca and Simon for your decades of work towards this – and see you in July, Simon!
If you’d like to learn more about Yoga Synergy before July, Bianca and Simon have in recent years developed award-winning online courses for distance learning of both the Fundamentals of Yoga, and a more in-depth course on the Applied Anatomy & Physiology of Yoga. Both are highly recommended.