There are many reasons people seek out yoga. For stress relief, for strength, for community, for healing, but at its core yoga is a mindfulness or meditative practice designed to bring us back into our bodies.
But yoga can also be a source of growth. We can grow with yoga.
The body is the source of presence. Unlike the head or the heart, our body is our connection to the present, much like the breath.
But as yoga has become more westernised, this meditative element is often overlooked. The breath and body lost in the need to be stronger, faster, better, in some way.
I have practiced yoga for over 20 years. And I have spent countless yoga classes:
- Trying to “be better” than my mat neighbour
- Critiquing everyone’s yoga clothes
- Pushing my body too hard or too little
- Wanting the teacher to be just like my favourite teacher “back home”
- Thinking about what I am doing after class
With my busy mind and fear of suffering (as a 7) it was hard for me to find presence unless the style of yoga matched the speed of my busy mind.
Aligning personality to yoga style
Over the years I have tried all sorts of yoga: Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Kundalini, Yin, Vinyasa, Ki, Yang. The list goes on.
For years my favorite style of yoga was Ki yoga or Yang yoga.
Both styles have a lot of movement. You are never physically still. There is constant movement. And that movement is simple yet unexpected.
Ki Yoga was my favourite because the teachers talked about the meridians each pose related to. Learning something while using my body helped my mind to stay focused.
And each class was different. Adapted to the time of day and time of year, I would never know what to expect. Each class was an adventure.
You can see how this would appeal to my Enneagram 7 need of excitement, movement and a busy mind.
I hated Ashtanga and Bikram because they had none of those things. They are routine based practices. Where you do the same poses each class, again and again. They move quickly but almost too quickly, too intensely. I never felt I could settle into these practices.
And yet now, years and a bit of inner work later, I am finding myself appreciating Ashtanga. Of being able to get up in the morning and just start with primary series.
Of being able to settle into a routine, a repeated sequence as a good foundation for the morning. And as I practice on my own, I don’t feel worried about going too fast or slow, or not keeping up.
Where I once would have shunned Ashtanga, I am now starting to appreciated it.
Yoga styles and Enneagram types
Each yoga style has its own qualities. Each style encourages and enables presence in different ways.
At the start of your inner work journey, the aim is to find a style that matches the needs of your personality. That aligns with the qualities of your personality. As that will allow parts of your inner world to relax and will help you build more trust with your inner world and your ego.
Here are a few generalised examples:
Iyengar yoga focuses on getting the pose right and then holding it. Words used to describe this style yoga are meticulous, precise, and detailed. This could align with Type Ones, Type Nines, Type Six and Self-Preservation Threes.
Ashtanga is a dynamic flowing practice that builds internal heat. It follows the same sequence each time. It is often described as fast paced, vigorous and physically challenging. That might align with Type Eights, Type Threes, Sexual Sixes and Sexual Fours.
Kundalini yoga is another dynamic yoga practice, that includes dynamic breath work, chanting and quick repetitive moments. This is designed to stimulate the neural networks and raise energy in the body. That could align with Type Sevens, Types Threes, Type Eights and .
Yin yoga is more of a passive style of yoga where poses are held for five minutes or more. This can be a very challenging kind of yoga is your body is not used to the stillness of it or of how your connective tissues reacts to it. This type of yoga might align to Type Fives as a way to come back into the body without a lot of physical activity.
I haven’t mentioned Hatha Yoga as I think it’s a great yoga style to start with and can appeal to all. It is a moderately paced style, where posed are held but not for loo long.
There are many, many other styles of yoga. The key here is to notice what your relationship is to your preferred yoga style.
- What is it about your favourite teacher that helps you be more present?
- What do you like and dislike about the different yoga styles?
- What do you like and dislike about your chosen yoga style?
- Which style helps you be more present and in your body?
- In what way does it allow you to relax?
Reflecting on these questions will help you to observe your personalty in action.
Using yoga to find your growth edge
Once you have worked in a yoga style that aligns with your personality for a while, you might start to feel ready for something that stretches you. Not just physically, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Here are a few suggestions for each Enneagram type about what might provide that growth stretch through the context of yoga. But as always, what will stretch one person will not stretch another. So use the suggestions to find your growth edge.
Enneagram Type One
Ones benefit from relaxing, being less serious and more playful. For yoga styles that might include: aerial, acroyoga, or yin. But it may be more important to choose a teacher that encourages imperfection, of listening to your instincts and what your body needs in this exact moment rather than following the rules or trying to do it the right way. As Yoga would say: no right way, there is.
Enneagram Type Two
Twos benefit from shifting their focus away from others and onto their own needs and feelings. Two’s can be overly focused on the relationship they have with the teacher or the people they attend class with. Hence a stretch for Two’s would be to practice alone, to develop a practice they can do on their own in some way.
Enneagram Type Three
Threes benefit from a yoga style that isn’t about reaching a goal, or being successful or achieving anything. That is about being rather than doing. Since Three’s could turn any yoga style into a goal to be achieved in some way, it may be more important to find a teacher that talks about failure, and getting it wrong, that talks about stepping away from a goal-oriented practice.
Enneagram Type Four
Fours benefit from practices that help them get out of their feelings and into their bodies in a practical way. And to find a yoga style that doesn’t feel special, that there is an ordinariness to it. That will differ for each Four.
Given Self-Preservation Fours stoicism, they might benefit from kundalini to help release their emotions. Social Fours might find Ashtanga more of a stretch because of its physical intensity. Sexual Fours might find Yin or Hatha Yoga challenging because the energy is slower and less competitive.
Enneagram Type Five
Fives benefit from getting into their bodies in a more intense way. Of connecting with their anger and assertiveness. Styles like Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Power or Kundalini can help them do that.
Enneagram Type Six
Sixes benefit from connecting with their own authority. That means finding a teacher or style that isn’t centered on an authority figure in some way. That gives power and authority back to the Six, that sees the student as the master. To some extent this will be about picking the right teacher, but also avoiding some of the styles of yoga that focus on doing things a certain way or following a set of rules. But a Six may benefit most from designing their own sequences, and not following anyone else’s style.
Enneagram Type Seven
Sevens benefit from focus and depth. That can be holding poses for longer, repeating the same sequence, or doing more intensely physical practices. That might be Iyengar, Ashtanga or Kundalini.
Enneagram Type Eight
Eights benefit from getting in touch with their weakness and vulnerability. Of connecting with their softer side. They might find Yin yoga or Yoga Nidra a stretch, or maybe even Iyengar as it focuses on nuances of the inner experience.
Enneagram Type Nine
Nines benefit from activating their own inner willpower and energy. Of bringing their energy back inside themselves so they can use it to voice their own opinions and priorities. Given how Kundalini focuses on raising energy internally, Nines will likely benefit from this style.
Matching your yoga practice to your inner work
Yoga is always a growth stretch, no matter where you are at on your inner world journey.
Yoga becomes a more effective inner work tool when we can align our yoga practice to our personal development plan. In the first few years of our journey, we need a practice that aligns with our ego, with our personalities traits. That meets us where we are.
- Us be more present
- Our ego to relax
- Become familiar with our inner sensations
- Learn to trust our bodies and inner world more
At this stage of the journey our aim is to make friends with the ego.
In the next stage of the journey our aim is to confront the ego. To stretch and challenge it, which is turn helps to deconstruct it. Choosing a yoga style that represents everything that annoyed us about yoga when we first started on the journey will do just that.
For example, I hated Ashtanga and now I am learning that style and appreciating its qualities.
Everything we do in life can be part of our inner work journey when we become more conscious of how we are approaching it. If you love yoga, I hope this helps you make it an intentional inner work practice so you can grow with yoga too.