Yoga is a practice that connects the mind, body and spirit. The benefits of practicing yoga on a regular basis are well-researched and documented, and go beyond increased strength and flexibility. Yoga improves our well-being, health and self-esteem by improving our posture, body awareness, balance, coordination, stamina, reversing effects of stress, and bringing clarity to our thoughts. It positively affects our mind, mood, body and spirit.
If you’ve been putting off trying yoga because you feel like you’re too busy and stressed, know that yoga can actually help you relieve tension! Find an hour a week to be truly present in your body and get out of your head. If you think that you’re not flexible enough, yoga can help you work on your flexibility. Your age doesn’t matter. Your weight doesn’t matter. If you have a medical condition or disability, there is a yoga style and a teacher out there that is familiar with the possible modifications that could make yoga accessible to you. Always check with your physician before starting a new workout regimen.
A yoga pose is called an asana, which literally means seat. In yoga class you will hear the terms “pose” and “asana” used interchangeably. All yoga styles use asanas, but vary in sequencing, speed of the movement, length of time poses are held, use of breath, meditation, yoga props, music, chanting, and the founder’s philosophy.
Before you sign-up for any yoga class, ask yourself if you are looking for a relaxing and gentle approach, or are you looking to move more quickly and break a sweat? To find a yoga style and a teacher that resonates with you may take a little work but it will be well worth it when you find your match.
Here are some simple descriptions of basic yoga styles to help you decide which style meets your needs:
Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for many of the physical types of yoga. Generally classes are slower-paced with gentle rhythms. The yoga teacher clearly instructs students through basic yoga poses. It is a great beginner style. You will leave class feeling refreshed, relaxed and looser.
Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for flow, and it describes continuous movement from one pose to the next. Vinyasa-style yoga classes are quite athletic and combine a series of flowing postures with synchronized breathing to create an intense body-mind workout. Music often accompanies vinyasa yoga to keep students flowing between poses. You will break a sweat and challenge yourself.
The Ashtanga yoga style is rigorous and physically demanding. Every class follows a specific, non-stop sequence of postures linking each movement with a breath (similarly to vinyasa), always in the same order. It is a more challenging style of yoga.
This style of yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar and is characterized by meticulous attention to correct body alignment in each of the poses. Poses are held for a long time, which challenges not only the body but the mind as well. Props such as yoga blocks, blankets, straps, and bolsters are encouraged in class to help your body achieve proper alignment. Classes are gentle, slow-paced, and detail-oriented. Iyengar teachers are experienced at adapting poses and using props to meet the needs of beginner students, students with disabilities, and students with chronic medical conditions.
Kundalini yoga emphasizes breathing techniques, meditation, and chanting, in addition to yoga postures. Distinct focus on the effects of the breath and a spiritual and philosophical approach separate Kundalini yoga from other styles.
Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga
Bikram yoga classes are held in a room that’s been artificially heated to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Classes follow a set sequence of 26 poses. If the studio does not follow the Bikram posture sequence it will call its classes hot yoga. In this style of yoga class you will be challenged and sweat buckets!
Restorative yoga is rejuvenating, relaxing and regenerating. Studios often hold the restorative classes on Friday evenings to help students let go of a hectic work or school week. Bolsters, blocks, and straps are used in the class to help students bodies relax fully into the poses and reap the benefits without exerting a lot of effort. All are welcomed!
This style of yoga was co-created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York City. It combines elements of Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga styles with a variety of spiritual teachings and readings based on sacred yoga texts, music, affirmations, and meditation and chanting. This is a challenging class for your mind and body. Take it with an open mind.
Once you find a style that seems to fit your needs and interests, locate a beginner class in that style. Before you take more advanced classes you want to have a good understanding of proper alignment in basic poses. Not only will this reduce the risk of injury, but it allows you to enjoy the class instead of stressing out and struggling to try to keep up with others. The benefits of learning among like-minded individuals from a good teacher with hands-on adjustments surpass learning from a book, journal article or video. So go on, get your yoga mat out and take a first class. Namaste.
Magdalena Oledzka is a pediatric physical therapist and is the section manager at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner’s Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She is NDT trained in the management and treatment of children with cerebral palsy and other neuromotor disorders. Magdalena has been practicing yoga for 12 years and has taken a 7 day basic course on “Yoga for the Special Child” with Sonia Sumar.