We’ve all heard of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga, but has anyone heard of Katonah Yoga? SharedSpace (a movement and yoga studio in Causeway Bay) is the only studio in Asia that teaches this type of yoga class, and we sit down with its co-founder, Clare Lim to learn more about this unique style of practice.
How did you come across Katonah Yoga?
I was living in NYC immersed in a teacher training frenzy when I kept hearing people mention the name Nevine Michaan, which I discovered to be the creator of Katonah Yoga, named after a little town in NY where she opened her studio in.
What is Katonah Yoga?
Nevine is big on myth and Taoist theory, and therefore the style of yoga she teaches (which is primarily hatha) infuses metaphors about seasons, time and life; and its alignment is based on geometric shapes.
Katonah Yoga is organized around three principles of esoteric dialogue: all polarities are mediated by trinity; the universe has a pattern, pattern belies intelligence; by virtue of repetition there is potential for insight”. – Nevine
So when you say the alignment is based on geometric shapes..
Downward dog is a 60-degree triangle. It’s measurable on everybody and there’s less emphasis on the muscular cues. We all have different personalities and do things differently. For someone who’s very aggressive (basically a type A personality) their body would be slightly forward. Even if it’s just a few degrees of an angle, this could make them more acute.
The goal is not about reaching the point of perfection, but knowing that because everyone has different personalities and experiences, we are constantly readjusting and reforming ourselves. Accidents happen, emotions arise, and it’s about finding that space.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the Taoist theory?
The Indians say, “your body is a temple”, the Taoists say, “your body is a house”. So clean it and organise it. The way Nevine draws her maps – she doesn’t write step by step instructions but writes in alliteration so words like “recollection” and “reflection” are in the same box. She doesn’t give answers but rather suggestions of ideas in which you can incorporate your own creativity and experiences to interpret how you please.
For example the concept of a house, everyone will relate to this differently. Where I grew up I didn’t live in a house with 9 rooms ever, but after visiting Nevine’s house this made sense to me.
What is Sacred Geometry?
Nevine looks at the body as a tic tac toe board. The image below is two dimensional but in reality, it is of course three dimensional. There are three levels of the body – bottom (stability, roots), middle (your ability – heart, lungs – how you communicate with the world) and top (head – creativity and vision -). There’s also a left (left arm, left leg, left eye), right (right arm, right leg, right eye) and center (third foot, third hand and third eye). That is what Nevine calls the practice of the conscious into the unconscious or “opening up”. It’s what other yogis talk about Kundalini yoga and the serpent unraveling, the spiraling up and opening of the third eye. As we embody the physical experience of the Katonah practice, there are certain parts of the body that are balls and mitts; and you will find that you always fit perfectly into yourself.
What are the main differences to Hatha yoga?
Katonah is a kind of hatha yoga but we just don’t focus a lot on muscular cues. We still externally rotate our arm bones, push the floor away or keep the ribs in etc.; but because the muscle develops to support form, if we are out of alignment, then the muscle adapts to hold us together – hence less emphasis on these cues.
Do you think regular yogis will find Katonah Yoga an easy concept to practice?
People feel an “a-ha moment” when they’re in a pose particularly when they’ve been readjusted. A twist to the right makes a huge difference when your body doesn’t reach its full extent. When we put our hand in there to adjust that person, and they feel it for the first time it becomes a moment of realisation.
We’re very hands on so sometimes there are three or four people adjusting one person at any given time in the class. It’s a lot more work and it’s not a class where you will be in a pose or a flow the whole time. It’s about doing fewer things better for us.
How did Katonah Yoga change your life and way of practice?
Nevine’s teachings go beyond the physical practice of Katonah Yoga because it’s all about the organisation of time and thought. She’s been a mentor beyond the physical. My internal dialogue is influenced by her and that is also where my wisdom stems from.
Even though we’re talking about really big ideas. It is still a very fun practice and the people here in our community are very supportive. So it’s not a scary class and we talk a lot in class. We give each other feedback. Sometimes it feels like a jam. People coming together and trying to improve themselves – we share knowledge, learn about our bodies, how it works. For us, this is most appealing as opposed to just following someone and not being sure why you’re doing this.