Yesterday I went to a Moksha Yoga class.  The Moksha studio offers a Karma class a couple times a week, where a minimum $5.00 donation goes to a different charity each month.  Among all their studios they raise between $30,000 and $40,000 every year from Karma classes. This month’s donations are going to the Surfrider Foundation.

Moksha Yoga was founded in 2004 by two Canadians and is based on the philosophy of trying to attain moksha, or enlightenment.  Every studio owner must sign an agreement to operate under strict environmental and ethical standards, including using non-toxic supplies and offsetting their electricity consumption to achieve zero footprint.

Moksha is similar to Bikram in that it’s in a heated room, but the atmosphere is very different.  I feel more of a typical ‘yoga’ vibe in a Moksha class than I do in a Bikram class.

First of all, it’s not as hot.  Still a full-body sweat, but you can manage to change and put a hat on and still look decent to go run errands after a class, which I did yesterday and would be next to impossible to do after a sweaty Bikram class.  I’ve only attended Karma classes at Moksha, and these are an hour long (whereas Bikram classes are always 90 minutes).

Moksha is refreshing in that the postures vary and always happen in a different order.  Bikram classes follow the same 26 postures in the same order every class.  There are definite benefits to the consistency of Bikram’s, but it’s nice to not know what’s coming next in the series at Moksha – I find it easier to focus on the moment and not anticipate what I’m going to have to do soon.

Most importantly, the dialogue in Moksha is much softer and more peaceful than at Bikram’s.  In a Bikram class the philosophy is that if the teacher keeps chatting throughout the whole class, this will allow the student’s own mind to stay still and quiet while just listening to the words.  In Moksha there’s not as much talking, and the way they talk is different too.

Instead of saying “If you’re not locking your knee and giving it 100% then the posture hasn’t even started yet” (Bikram’s) a Moksha teacher might say “Listen to your body and do whatever works for you today – right this moment – and be happy about that.”  In other words, the atmosphere is much more ‘go at your own pace and listen to your body’ at Moksha, while at Bikram’s it’s more ‘you’re here for a reason, might as well push yourself to do the absolute best you possibly can.’

Both approaches work for what they are, but I find I can actually meditate and get outside my thoughts at Moksha, which is harder for me to do at Bikram’s.  I also find I don’t ever sit out of a posture at Moksha whereas if I’m not going 100% in a Bikram posture I might just give up and lie down.  It’s like with anything in life – if someone isn’t telling you that you have to do it you’re more likely to actually do it (we’re so rebellious like that).

In short, I can’t say which type of hot yoga I like better – I like them both for different reasons.  I think I like the way Moksha makes me feel during the class better, but I appreciate the fast results I get from enduring Bikram’s.  There’s a fantastic interview with Ted Grand, co-owner of Moksha, and he really outlines their philosophy as a community-driven yoga studio.  His approach to yoga and spirituality and a healthy diet is so good-hearted and real and it makes me want to support Moksha.

Here’s a little clip from the interview:

AINSLEY MAGNO: You’re not the end all or be all, and you’re not the set structure. Like you said in the workshop, you’re a playground, a breeding ground for people to get into it, to try it and go from there.

TED GRAND: Exactly and even within that I personally believe, at least for me, it’s a lifetime journey. I’m not interested in trying to replicate what a spiritual practice was from 500 years ago. I’m very much interested in inhabiting the world as it is now, with a very sincere attempt at being mindful and engaged. You know, like I said in the context of where we’re living now, it is very much a consumer, political, egocentric society. And I want to be mindful within it. I want to be very mindful about where and what I buy, what I read, how I communicate, and how I think. My yoga practice is directly related to these things in that it is an exercise in breath, body and mental awareness. I don’t feel inclined to do fancy yoga poses and rock out my repertoire in the middle of a class – my yoga practice is both how I do my asana practice and how I respond to traffic jams, disturbing political trends, personal conflict or natural disasters. Hopefully the response is with breath awareness, honesty and authenticity. Alas, it doesn’t always work, so that tells me I have a lot of work to do still!

AINSLEY MAGNO: It’s a lot about working in the present state.
TED GRAND: Totally, and as far as I’m concerned (again my practice is limited at this age and stage of my yoga practice) but for me being mindful is the most spiritual thing you can do or be. How am I communicating in this moment? How am I eating this one bite? How am I interacting with my children? How am I approaching this yoga pose? And it feels good when I try to make it really authentic and honest without getting stuck in the seriousness of it. I want to laugh and I want to have joy and I want to teach my kids how to play with this awareness. I’m not interested in over-traditionalizing and analyzing my every moment.

“…being mindful is the most spiritual thing you can do or be.”