Sunday, December 3

What Is Ishta Yoga

Closeup image of a light green ceramic candle holder with a small flame flickering on the top.
Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

Ishta is a contemporary type of yoga that focuses on the individual, emphasizing their personal sense of growth, confidence, and control over themselves.

The practice combines various yoga traditions, so it can be challenging to understand how it relates to other yoga practices.

So, today, we’re here to answer all the questions you have about it to help you decide whether it’s the right choice for you. We’ll go into how it’s different from your average yoga class and its benefits and share our views on who may benefit from it the most.

What Is Ishta Yoga?

Female yoga instructor assisting three students to do a front bend in a yoga studio
Photo by Elina Fairytale

Ishta is an unorthodox and dynamic blend not only of different types of yoga but also of various teachings and traditions, both ancient and contemporary.

Aside from the conventional yoga exercises, students get instructed in the ancient knowledge of tantra, Ayurveda, meditation, and more. The Ishta Yoga school claims that the practice offers much more than physical exercise: it presents a key to understanding yourself.

It was founded in South Africa in the 1960s by father and son Mani Finger and Yogiraj Alan Finger as a practice that is transferred and spread in a guru-student dynamic.

Although it comes from South Africa, Ishta originates from India. Today, it’s present in almost all corners of the world, with many students opening branches in their home countries. Ishta studios exist in Sweden, England, Germany, Australia, and South Africa. The first Ishta Yoga studio in the USA was opened in 2008 in Manhattan.

As it usually happens, the deeper meaning of this approach is in the name. Let’s scratch under the surface of the letters to see what lies behind them.

The Two Meanings of Ishta Yoga

“Ishta” is an old Sanskrit word with at least two meanings. It signifies “individualized” or “personalized,” or in other words, “that which resonates with the individual being.” As the name suggests, Ishta Yoga is completely oriented, “personalized,” to the individual, their needs, preferences, and characteristics.

But, the name holds another meaning, no less intriguing. Namely, “Ishta” stands as an acronym for the following words: I – Integrated, S – Science, H – Hatha, T – Tantra, A – Ayurveda, or, when put together in a meaningful sentence, it becomes the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda.

Some of the notions of the acronym are quite clear (integrated, science), but the last three hold the significance of what makes Ishta Yoga distinct from other familiar teachings. Hatha is the physical practice of postures, better known as yoga asanas. Tantra is the ancient mystic philosophy of India that tries to uplift consciousness – not only consciousness of the Self but also the consciousness of every being, animate or inanimate. And Ayurveda is the traditional Indian (also ancient) science of healing.

Downward facing shot of a person sitting cross-legged wearing all red with Buddhist offering bowls in front of them.
Photo by cottonbro studio

So, all of them, the postures, the philosophy of consciousness and the science of healing, work together to bring up the fullest potential of the individual practicing Ishta Yoga. They can be seen as individual elements only in name. In practice, the philosophy (tantra) gives meaning to the postures (asana), and they both complement the medical aspect, which results in a syncretic approach that brings body and soul together and, according to Ishta teachers, leads to a healthy and meaningful life.

But all of that is done through the lens of the person. The maxim “that which resonates with the individual being” posits itself as the central piece of the specific philosophy of Ishta Yoga.

How Is Ishta Yoga Different From Your Average Yoga Class?

The average yoga class (if there is such a thing), at least in the Western world, is primarily concentrated on practicing yoga as a physical activity, mainly by stretching and controlling breathing. Sometimes, meditation may be included, but the philosophy of yoga is either somewhere hidden in the background or completely marginalized. That’s not the case with Ishta Yoga.

In addition to the physical (Hatha) aspect of practicing yoga, Ishta offers its practitioners an authentic yoga experience. That mainly concerns the constant presence of yoga’s spiritual and philosophical elements, like Tantra, meditation, and Ayurveda, during the classes. What’s usually in the background in Ishta Yoga comes in the foreground.

Ishta training is quite rigorous and thorough and can offer courses on the main elements of yoga, such as Sanskrit, Ayurveda, and Tantric philosophy, in addition to the more common studies often included in other yogic practices, like meditation and Pranayama (yogic breathing). So, the constant presence of background knowledge and philosophy, especially of Tantra, is what differentiates Ishta from many other yoga courses.

Also, as it befits its name, Ishta is constantly attuned to the individual practitioners, their history, physical condition, age, flexibility, goals, and state of mind. The point of the sessions is for the individual to discover their essence without being judged and leaving aside the notions of right and wrong. Again, the maxim “that which resonates with the individual being” is taken quite literally.

That means that the classes are typically versatile, depending on the yogi’s needs. So, sometimes, and for some people, there’ll be a vinyasa-dominated class. For others, a meditation class or a restorative class may be offered, and so on. In other words, combining different styles and techniques is a rule and not an exception while practicing Ishta Yoga.

Why Ishta Yoga: What Are the Benefits of It?

Indian man in a maroon shirt doing yoga outdoors
Photo by Murugadoss Arumugam

As we now understand, the practice of Ishta Yoga is not merely a physical workout; it’s a holistic experience that impacts the body, mind, and spirit. Because of this, Ishta Yoga is associated with many unique and common benefits typically associated with yoga in general. Here’s a brief overview of some of them.

Tailored to your unique needs

Unlike many forms of yoga that adhere strictly to a set sequence or pattern, Ishta Yoga emphasizes the individual’s unique needs and preferences. This personalized approach ensures that each practitioner gets the most out of their session, tailored to their specific requirements.

Mental Clarity and Focus

Integrating meditation and Tantric philosophy in Ishta Yoga aids in sharpening the mind, improving concentration, and fostering a sense of calm and clarity in our often chaotic lives.

Improved Physical Flexibility

Just like with many traditional schools and teachings, Ishta yoga incorporates physical postures that cater to different body types and levels of flexibility. With time, this leads to improvements in mobility, posture, and flexibility.

Enhanced Body Awareness

The dynamic blend of various yoga traditions ensures that students develop a heightened sense of body awareness. This not only helps in perfecting postures but also plays a crucial role in injury prevention.

Holistic Well-being

With Ayurveda principles integrated into its teachings, Ishta Yoga promotes a balanced lifestyle. From dietary recommendations to understanding one’s unique constitution (Dosha), the practice provides tools for overall health and wellness.

In essence, Ishta Yoga provides a comprehensive experience that caters to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facets of an individual.

Ishta Yoga: Who Is It For?

Older woman with short gray hair holding tree pose in a yoga class.
Photo by Yan Krukau

When we consider that the versatility, syncretism, and ideology of Ishta are centered on the individual, we can conclude that it’s suitable for everyone if their preferences lean that way. The main point of Ishta is to create practices that will suit every single individual, no matter their physical condition, age, or state of mind. The classes, as a whole, can be modified, and the programs are changeable, depending on the preferences, conditions, and goals of the practitioners. This means that people of all fitness levels can practice Ishta Yoga.

This principle works on a micro-level, too. The individual postures, for example, are constantly modified to suit the person practicing. There are no perfect postures in Ishta yoga. The tempo can be slow or fast, relaxed or intense. There are even no requirements concerning equipment. There are no predetermined rules for any specific issue except the primary purpose of the practice: finding yourself.

But some people don’t want their yoga class to look like this. They want to stick to the “average” physical/meditation/breathing package without taking into account philosophy or medicine. Ishta yoga is not for them, because it offers much more than that, and its strategy is obviously not for everyone.


Ishta is a contemporary form of yoga that thoughtfully combines ancient practices and modern aspirations. Its strongest aspects are its individual-centered approach, its versatility, and the combination of many different streams of thought.

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