Although the positive effects of yoga on the human body can be significant, yoga should not be thought of as just another fitness program. Yoga is about uniting the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. It is not a competition, and yoga teachers are not like a typical fitness coach. Yoga teachers are also students, and they are always in the process of practicing and learning. Yoga is for people at any point on their journey to a healthier, happier, more productive lifestyle. Different styles of yoga are available for people with different needs. Within the various types of yoga, teachers express their own creativity and bring their own personal experience and wisdom to the practice. If you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to know where to begin when choosing a yoga style to try. Here are some basic guidelines to help you choose well.
Restorative and Iyengar Yoga
Those who have never done yoga before, or who want a gentle way to improve their overall lifestyle may want to consider Restorative yoga or Iyengar yoga. With Restorative yoga, the asanas (postures) are chosen with the aim of balancing the body and the mind. It is a particularly good form of yoga for those who struggle with depression or anxiety. This gentle form of yoga involves poses that are held for several moments and includes focus on pranayama, or yogic breathing, as well as meditation. Hatha yoga is an excellent choice for beginners. Another good choice for those just starting out or those who want to practice a gentle form of yoga may wish to explore Iyengar yoga. With Iyengar yoga, sometimes props (like soft blocks) are used to support the various asanas. Iyengar focuses on technique, so it is particularly good for those who are just beginning to learn about yoga. It is also an excellent form of yoga for those who participate in more traditional athletics and for those with chronic illnesses or injuries. Based on alignment of the body and mind, Iyengar teaches techniques that maximize benefits while avoiding injuries. Particular poses are held for a fairly long time, and participants are taught to change positions quickly, using the body’s own leverage. People with low flexibility love Iyengar yoga for its easy approach and its benefits to the body’s flexibility.
Bikram and Ashtanga Yoga
People who are already fit, or who seek a more intense yoga experience may want to look into Bikram or Ashtanga yoga. Bikram is practiced in a room that is heated to around 40 degrees Centigrade (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Classes for different ability levels are available. The heat allows for greater stretching movements, and quite naturally, people practicing Bikram yoga sweat a lot. Therefore, those with high blood pressure and women who are pregnant should avoid this type of yoga. Bikram yoga feels particularly cleansing, as it stimulates liver and circulatory function, and because of excess water and toxins carried out in the form of sweat. There is no question that Bikram is a physically challenging form of yoga. Ashtanga is another dynamic form of yoga with several progressively more difficult levels. Dancers and athletes are particularly fond of Ashtanga yoga. It is intense and demands high levels of energy. Being able to complete all the poses, which are performed in a specific order, is a challenge. The practice also focuses on breathing techniques that, along with the postures, build in intensity. Ashtanga is yoga isn’t for beginners, but for those who are already in good physical condition, it is an excellent form of yoga to try.
Anusara and Integral Yoga
Anusara yoga and Integral yoga trace their roots back to Iyengar yoga. These forms of yoga place more emphasis on the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, specifically on elements of Hindu spirituality. The ultimate aim of both is aligning the practitioner with the divine, with attitude, alignment, and action being the three pillars of the practice. The poses in Anusara yoga are geared toward the release of emotions and the development of a positive philosophy of life. The poses themselves are fairly easy, even for beginners. Anusara yoga, like Iyengar yoga, uses props like blocks and straps, and it emphasizes combining the physical alignments with mental balance, giving the practice a holistic feel. Integral yoga is sometimes called Satchynanda or “Shadow” yoga. Like Anusara yoga, Integral yoga places emphasis on meditation and also involves pranayama (breathing techniques) and chanting. This practice is a process of uniting all aspects of a person’s being with the spiritual, and developing total harmony among the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of being. For those looking for spiritual intensity or hoping to learn positive ways of coping with general anxiety, Integral yoga is a terrific choice, because it encourages looking within one’s own spirit. Both Anusara and Integral yoga are excellent choices for people searching for an approach that is both physical and spiritual.
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