Yoga: In Plain English

By Amita Balla Casey March 15, 2013 11:00 AM
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Yoga: In Plain English

Ah…yoga. I am Indian. I am supposed to know everything about yoga. My parents grew up in India and have been practicing yoga for their whole lives. They even teach it in Connecticut. But yoga and its different types have baffled me for years. Can Yoga really do anything for me other than Zen me out? Should I choose a Power yoga class over a Hatha class if I am trying to change my body? Can yoga actually help my immune system? The answer to all of these questions is YES. There are many different types of yoga and though some practice similar positions, most types of yoga are practiced very differently.

HATHA YOGA: (literally meaning SUN/MOON Yoga): Hatha is the most gentle of the yogas and probably one of the slowest. Because you focus a lot of time working with meditation and breath and lesser time on actual poses, this class is the best for beginners. Hatha is great for people looking to hone in on their meditation practice.

VINYASA YOGA: (Flow yoga) the purpose of a Vinyasa class is to garner enough heat in the body to remove toxins and exercise the muscles. If you want to sweat and rev up your heart rate, Vinyasa is the fastest of the yogas. Though, I think it is difficult to say yoga is a cardio workout, Vinyasa comes close. I always feel like Vinyasa feels like a dance. Many teachers often play music during this class and make it their own. While there are many of the same series of poses used (sun salutations and Cat/cow poses), there is no particular order of positions in a Vinyasa class. Vinyasa is most fun to take with a big group of people because the energy from the other classmates can feed your workout.

KUNDALINI YOGA: Most people have heard of chakras (or energy circles) in the body. Kundalini’s main purpose is to awaken these chakras and help balance the mind/body connection so that you can have more energy, less sickness and better mental awareness. “The breath of fire” is used in this class to promote energy and a better immune system. If you are a little shy, you may want to steer clear of this class because they often refer to opening and breathing into your sexual organs. Lots of mediation and breath control are also used in this type of class.

POWER YOGA or ASTANGA YOGA: I used to think Power yoga was a thing type of yoga that gyms made up to incorporate this trendy Indian practice onto their roster. Not true. Astanga yoga and Power yoga are one and the same. The purpose of Ashtanga is to purify the body and help with flexibility and strength. Therefore, this is the most rigorous “workout” yoga you can do. I know at Crunch, like some other gyms, this workout will change your body, because not only does it incorporate Vinyasa (most cardio of yogas), but you hold the positions longer to build strength (which equals better muscle tone) all while working on opening hip sockets and joints to aid with flexibility. If you want a hardcore workout, pick this practice.

BIKRAM YOGA: This type of Yoga was started by a man named Bikram Choudhury and made popular in the early 1970’s. Bikram believes that his series of yoga postures and practice is most beneficial in 105 degree temperature and 40% humidity. This is not the kind of yoga for the faint of heart. It is hot, sticky and sometimes not so pleasant smelling. But lord do you sweat. And I mean sweat. It is also believed that this yoga allows for more intense stretching, preventing injuries, better stress and tension relief, and a thorough cleansing of the lymphatic system. This practice is composed of the same 26 poses and 2 breath exercises.

No matter what type of Yoga, you choose to practice, there will be health, stress and strength benefits. The most important thing you can do is to go at your own pace, drink lots of water (except in a Bikram class!) and find a class that works with your own schedule. Keep in mind that you will not be an expert when you first begin your yoga practice, but then again that self judgment is why you should be taking yoga in the first place. Namaste. (I bow to you)