Yoga is a great discipline to add to your training programme – it can improve your sports and exercise performance and overall your wellbeing.
There are many yoga styles and you’ll be able to find one that suits you. As yoga styles and teachers vary so much it’s best to have a good look around and see what’s on offer and do some drop-in sessions before committing to any one style, memberships or courses. I’ve put together an overview of the main styles:
When yoga came to the western hemisphere, all asana practice was all called Hatha Yoga - and strictly speaking all physical yoga forms, such as those listed below, are Hatha Yoga.
Some classes are still called Hatha Yoga and they generally have a more gentle and slow style. There will be an emphasis on relaxation, breathing and working with the body, not against it.
The original vinyasa yoga as taught to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) by Krishnamacharaya in Mysore, India, is hugely effective for increasing weight loss, flexibility, energy and focus. There are six set Ashtanga Yoga sequences and each one is gradually worked through under the guidance of a certified teacher. The Ashtanga method encourages daily vinyasa practice, breathing practice called ‘Ujjayi’ and core work involving ‘moolha bandha’ (engagement of the pelvic floor) and ‘uddiyana banda’ (contraction of the lower abdominals). As some of the postures are quite complex, it is advisable to start with a beginners class so that you can be guided through the first set of postures before moving on to a more advanced practice.
Dynamic, Power and Vinyasa Yoga
These terms basically mean the same. If you attend a Dynamic, Power or Vinyasa Yoga class you will enjoy many asanas, most of which will be standing postures. The postures are linked with vinyasas (a ‘vinyasa’ is a short sequence of movements that flow together and are linked by the ‘breath’) and help to generate heat within the body and therefore flexibility. The intensity of Vinyasa and Dynamic classes will vary from class to class but expect a non-stop strong class that will raise your heart rate and work your entire body.
As yoga styles and teachers vary so much it’s best to have a good look around…
The original hot yoga method innovated by living yogi Bikram Choudhury. Practices are performed in a room heated to 40 degrees and involve a set sequence of 26 postures all of which are done twice. Fantastic for detoxing the whole body, Bikram Yoga emphasises being strong and focused and as a result the method has a big following among young professionals and ‘type A ‘ personalities. Bikram believes that it is never too late to start his method of yoga and that anyone can with the right commitment do it.
A hugely popular method taught by B.K.S Iyengar in Pune, India. Iyengar is known for his use of props such as yoga blocks, blankets and bolsters to help the body move into perfect alignment. As a result it’s great for people with injuries and who are new to yoga as the detailed instruction of Iyengar Yoga sets the practitioner up with an effective foundation that can be applied to any yoga style.
A modern yoga style that was developed in the 1980s but has its roots firmly in original teachings of the yoga tradition. Founders Sharon Gannon and David Life incorporated their study of Ashtanga Yoga with yoga philosophy and how to incorporate yoga into daily life and developed this all encompassing and challenging form of Hatha Yoga. Classes are strong and flowing and incorporate upbeat music, chanting and yoga philosophy.
This style of yoga is very slow and does exactly as the names suggests. Its emphasis is to relax and restore the mind and body by allowing the nervous system to calm down which in turn has a direct affect on relaxing the mind and therefore the body. Expect to use props such as blankets, bolsters and yoga blocks to allow the body to ‘rest ‘ into the postures. Asanas may be held from between five to ten minutes. Restorative yoga is fantastic for disorders of the nervous system such as insomnia and IBS.
Vanda Scaravelli is an Italian teacher who was trained by B.K.S Iyengar – she has a very different approach to yoga than her peers. With amazing awareness of physics and how the body is affected by its surrounding environment, Scaravelli’s method works on the premise that all movement and tensions originate from the spine and once we both relax and strengthen the spine by working with it, we will feel renewed energy and ease within the body. A very slow, analytical and thoughtful approach to yoga that helps you to move with ease.
This mystical style of yoga was brought to the west in the 1960s by Yogi Bhajan – it’s a very spiritual approach that uses chanting and ‘kriyas ‘ to cleanse the mind and body.
The kriyas are positions that are held for several minutes whilst a strong breathing technique is practiced. The kriya and dynamic breathing techniques can vary depending on what the practitioner wants to focus on. The thinking behind this approach is that your ‘Kundalini’ (powerful energy from the base of your spine) will eventually be released to work its way through the chakras (emotional centres), ultimately bringing you joy and enlightenment. Kundalini is not for those who simply want a physical workout - it’s for those want to work on a deep spiritual level.
Tips to remember when starting a yoga class:
Take your time. It’s always best to start in a beginner’s class so you learn the basics and are much less likely to injure yourself. If you are challenged in the flexibility department, going to an intermediate or advanced class is not only going to hurt you, but you won’t enjoy it. As with anything, learn the foundations before building your yoga practice.
Monthly Pose: Hands to Feet Pose
Sanskrit Translation: Padangustasana
This ‘asana’ is perfect for stretching the hamstrings and glutes and will assist your flexibility and your recovery. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and parallel with each other. Place the hands on the hips and as you exhale, fold forwards by extending from the lumbar spine so you are folding from the waist and feel extension through the spine. Take hold of the big toes so your first two fingers are between the big toe and second toe. Now inhale and lift the upper body away from the legs so the arms straighten and then exhale and fold down completely. Contract the quadriceps so the hamstrings lengthen more. Relax your neck and breathe.
As above but place the hands under the feet so the fingers are pointing towards the heels and the balls of the feet are in the palms of the hands. Gently pull the upper body down towards the legs so the elbows bend a little. By placing the hands under the feet the stretch shifts to the lower legs and is excellent for stretching the gastrocnemius (large calf muscle).
Keep the legs strong by contracting the quadriceps. Increase the forward bend by gently pulling with the arms so the upper body moves closers to the thighs. Move the shoulders upwards, away from the ears. Tilt the pelvis forwards, so when you are in the forward bend the end of the tail-bone is moving up toward the sky.
As featured in Ultra-FIT Magazine January 2013 www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk