It's not often I turn up to a yoga class and feel totally out of my depth, but last week I had exactly this experience. The excellent Yoga Place in London's Bethnal Green runs a broad range of different styles in its two studios, and I decided to try my hand at Shadow Yoga after having long been intrigued by the idea of the practice.
Although I don't often put my money where my mouth is, I'm a great believer in the benefits of getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new.
Although purists of one tradition might disagree, I think this applies to yoga as much as to anything else (just as well, then, that there are so many different styles to choose from!).
Despite having come across an increasing number of Shadow yoga classes - the school is growing in influence - I knew very little about it before stepping into the studio, and was unusually nervous. I was right to be.
Although much was familiar about the class, much wasn't. There was, of course, the usual emphasis on breath and posture, and the usual postures and sequences (sun salutation, downward dog) were all there - but much felt alien. No mats are used, for example.
Instead of the usual linear emphasis, Shadow Yoga involves a good deal of turning, twisting, and sideways movement. It all feels fluid, and close to dance: to the Shadow Virgin, it's about as familiar as pounding away on a treadmill in a sweaty gym.
I won't go into too much detail here; it's a big subject and we'll run more on this school in the future. Basically, as I understand it, Shadow yoga has grown up from the premise that freestyle is a key part of the step towards developing longevity and enlightenment
Drawing on the teachings of ancient hatha yoga texts, the dynamic positions and movements have grown up to incorporate elements of martial arts and dance - the over-arching aim being to unfold the individual's inner powers, whatever that might mean.
As I lurched from one clumsy movement to the next, I felt very far indeed from releasing my inner powers, and there was much - such as the excrutiating task of performing sequences on the sides of the feet - I could barely do.
Physically, it must have been effective: muscles in my legs I never knew existed ached for days after the class.
Generally, however, I must confess to feeling a little overwhelmed and muddled about Shadow Yoga. No doubt I need to go again and find out more about it.
But the comfort of the familiar is strong, and next Saturday it's back to the usual ashtanga class.
* Do you teach Shadow yoga - or have you tried your hand at it as a student? I'd love to know your experiences; please feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post.