Ow, ow, ow, ow, owwwwww. I swear to God there is not one single muscle in my entire body which is not aching today. Back, arms, legs, bum, shoulders, calves, neck…yup, they all hurt like hell. Yesterday I went back to yoga after a long long break and hellfire I can feel it.
I do a lot of stretching and incorporate plenty of yoga postures (asanas) into my fitness regime but seriously, it’s nothing like doing a proper class. Paul Cartwright is, quite simply, a great teacher and so when I was asked if I’d like to join a private 90 minute vinyasa class he runs here in Dulverton, I jumped at the chance. But really…owww. I’d figured I’d shake it all out at Zumba last night but when I pitched up at the hall, there was no thumping music; just a whole pile of vegetables. Bloody flower and produce show.
Anyhow. By pure coincidence, I got an email yesterday from a friend who has decided she wants to take up yoga. What type should she do? What did she need to know? So, let’s have a think.
Yoga is one of the oldest organized systems of exercise known to humankind – at least 3,000 years old and possibly even older. Yet it’s a system that seems tailor-made for modern times.
On a purely physical level, yoga puts pressure on all the different organs and muscles of the body very systematically. As well as toning the outer body (which it does exceedingly, nay, fabulously well) it tones the whole inner body too. The precise postures of yoga work deep into the body, causing blood to circulate profoundly rather than just around the outside edge of the body, nourishing every organ and softening the muscle and ligament tissue. The deep stretching is said to bring both bones and muscles gently back into their optimum alignment while lubricating the joints.
Yoga can improve the oxygenation of your blood and boost your circulation. It also helps your body to detoxify, as it encourages lymphatic flow (the “waste removal” system of the body). Not only does your body detox when you perform yoga: your mind does too. The specific yogic breathing techniques (called pranayama) directly affect the nervous system, eliciting the “relaxation response” so you feel calm, cool and in control. Allegedly.
If you practice yoga regularly you will almost automatically balance your weight and develop a leaner body. Many yoga teachers also say that yoga can help improve will power: people often find it easier to stop smoking or lose weight when they start yoga. Concentration improves and most people report a deep sense of inner peace.
Yoga is totally safe - providing you find the right teacher and the right class. However it is a powerful system and should be treated with respect. One over-enthusiastic Iyengar teacher once pushed me way too far and I ended with a trapped nerve in my shoulder. Another teacher was so bloody wafty and ‘new age’ she used to forget what she was doing in the middle of a series of asanas. Go by word of mouth if you can and be prepared to try out a few classes and “shop around”.
If you have any health problems (particularly heart conditions, back problems, or if you have had any kind of surgery) you should find a very experienced yoga teacher or a yoga therapist. Yoga is wonderful for pregnancy (I did classes with the lovely Sebastian Pole – founder of Pukka Herbs) but you will need to avoid certain postures. Ideally, find a class specifically designed for pregnant women or have individual sessions with a yoga teacher or yoga therapist.
WHICH TYPE OF YOGA SHOULD YOU PICK?
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To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. I’d be more inclined to go by the teacher, rather than the type. Hatha yoga is the general name for the physical practice of yoga. The majority of classes will simply call themselves by this name – or simply “yoga”. However over the years many different approaches have sprung up. Whichever type you pick, always start with a beginner’s class. Yoga postures (known as asanas) are very precise and to begin with you will need a lot of individual attention.
Here’s a brief guide to the most popular types of yoga and their approaches.
Hatha yoga: expect relaxation, warm-up, postures, breathing and deep relaxation. Many teachers will also include meditation. Ideal for everyone and the most commonly available class.
Vini yoga: puts emphasis on individual tuition and individual needs. Safe, gentle and ideal for beginners. Often taught on a one-to-one basis. A good introduction for anyone nervous about yoga.
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Iyengar yoga: a very focused, precise form of yoga. Teachers use “props” such as blocks and belts to help you into position. Good if you want the benefits without too much “weird stuff”. Not my game but is very popular.
Yoga therapy: therapeutic form of yoga with a medical background. Will usually offer classes for specific problems and conditions, ie back pain, arthritis, asthma, pregnancy. Individual tuition usually available. The best choice if you have a medical condition.
Sivananda yoga: gentle yet pure form of yoga based around 12 key postures. Has a strong spiritual element (often includes chanting and meditation).
Dru yoga: a very gentle, holistic approach which uses graceful flowing movement sequences. Said to release negative thought patterns, energy blocks and deep-seated trauma.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga: so-called “power yoga” which uses a specific breathing technique and sequences of postures carried out at far greater speed than other forms. It’s an intense workout and not suitable for beginners. Paul does a variation of this called vinyasa flow (and also incorporates other types of yoga – many teachers blend their own fusions).
Bikram yoga: intense and highly athletic, the yoga studio is heated to temperatures of 100 degrees to allow students to stretch that bit further. Again, not ideal for beginners.
The British Wheel of Yoga: www.bwy.org.uk
Needless to say, I rave about yoga in most of my health books. Many are now available in e-format for Kindle (at a fraction of the hardback or paperback price). Check out my author page at Amazon here.