What is Yoga?
Most people have an idea that Yoga is contorting the body into impossible shapes and positions.
However, moving the body into positions (called asanas) is only one part of Yoga. Another major element of a yoga class is the way the mind can de-stress and you can feel a sense of calmness, wellbeing and peace that you may not have felt for a long time. This part is the relaxation, visualisation and concentrating on the breath as well as the postures. In classes at Drayton Cottage Health & Wellbeing Centre, run by Carol Muir you will be offered lots of different alternatives each posture, so anyone can enjoy moving their body safely and comfortably.
What types of Yoga are there?
Yoga is over 4000 years old and originates in India in a time when ideas were passed down by word of mouth. So you can imagine in this time there has been many changes and interpretations of what Yoga is, and particularly how it has been interpreted from one culture to another over this time.
All yoga styles create a feeling of lightness, ease and relaxation. But to get the most benefit and the most enjoyment, you need to find a yoga style and a teacher that suits you, and there are many types of Yoga. For example, if you're already doing lots of strength training your best choice is likely to be a yoga style that focuses more on flexibility. That way, you can balance your fitness routine. Perhaps try Yin Yoga or Hatha Yoga. Those who have an injury or live with a chronic medical condition such as arthritis might want to try one-to-one sessions with a teacher where you will be able to focus on alignment and your unique needs before joining a busy class. If you are drawn to experience the spiritual side, you could try jivamukti or Kundalini Yoga. And for those who are relatively healthy and want a challenge, ashtanga vinyasa or vinyasa flow might be a good choice.
Also there are many types of Yoga that now integrate various aspects of Yoga and other movement arts, such as pilates, tai chi or somatics. As stated Yoga is 4000 years old, and in recent years many teachers, who are also osteopaths and physiotherapists have looked at the physical postures, asanas and questioned if the approach for the modern western body, more used to a sedentary lifestyle, sitting in chairs rather than on floors, using computers rather than mostly physical work and have asked is a wise way to approach the postures in the traditional way. Many people could not hope to do the lotus, the pretzel shape of sitting, any more than they could put their legs behind their head!!!
All teachers have their own unique focus based on their personalities, their own yoga practice and where and with whom they've trained.
However, there is some definite approaches to Yoga which have a lineage and a few are outlined below:
Hatha yoga, which is the style adopted by Carol Muir at Drayton Cottage Health & Wellbeing Centre, is a balance between the physical part of yoga and the mental and spiritual practices. Her classes combine, postures, breathing practices, meditation and mindfulness, also some theory or philosophy and relaxation by combining breathing, the physical practice of yoga and relaxation into one class.
Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga come from the same lineage – the teachers who developed these styles are BKS Lyengar and the late Pattabhi Jois, both taught by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Iyengar yoga is particularly known for learning the subtleties of correct alignment. Props including belts, blocks and pillow-like bolsters help practitioners get into the correct alignment. Anusara yoga is a more modern form of Iyengar.
Ashtanga is a more vigorous style of yoga. It offers a series of poses, each held for only five breaths and punctuated by a half sun salutation to keep up the pace. You can either attend a regular class or the more traditional Mysore style (see below).
Teachers lead classes that flow from one pose to the next without stopping to talk about the finer points of each pose. That way, students come away with a good workout as well as a yoga experience. If you're new to yoga, it is a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get a feel for the poses. Vinyasa flow is really an umbrella term for many other styles. Some studios call it flow yoga, flow-style yoga, dynamic yoga or vinyasa flow. It is influenced by ashtanga yoga but is a fusion of a few types.
Bikram yoga is the favourite of anyone who loves to feel hot and sweaty. It was created by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. He designed a sequence of 26 yoga poses to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as compress and "rinse" the organs of the body. The poses are done in a heated room to facilitate the release of toxins. Every Bikram class you go to, anywhere in the world, follows the same sequence of 26 poses.
Kundalini yoga was designed to awaken energy in the spine. Kundalini yoga classes include meditation, breathing techniques such as alternate nostril breathing, and chanting, as well as yoga postures.
Yin yoga comes from the Taoist tradition and focuses on passive, seated postures that target the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Poses are held for anywhere between one and 10 minutes. The aim is to increase flexibility and encourage a feeling of release and letting go. Being a very quiet and slow approach to postures it also lends itself to adopting the basics of meditation and stilling the mind. As such, it is ideal for athletic types who need to release tension in overworked joints and it is also good for those who need to relax.
Restorative yoga is all about healing the mind and body through simple poses often held for as long as 20 minutes, with the help of props such as bolsters, pillows and straps. It is similar to yin yoga, but with less emphasis on flexibility and more on relaxing.
How can it Help me?
What are the health benefits?
Develop greater flexibility and strength
Learn how to relax and manage stress
Gain better breath function
There are a myriad of benefits of yoga – including lower blood pressure, increased strength and bone density and reduced anxiety and other mental health benefits such as reduced stress and thus stress related conditions and improved mood, such as high blood pressure and cardiac disease.
A class allows you some time aware from the daily grind: work & family.
It allows you a couple of hours to de-stress. How often do you allow yourself this time normally?
You develop the ability to relax, unwind, breath and focus your concentration and attention for longer period of time.
Are helped to develop a way of moving that is right for your body, given that all our bodies are different, a class enables you to find your level rather than a “one size fits all”.
Do I need to be fit?
Carol meets many people who hesitate to embrace this ancient form of fitness due to some pervasive myths. “Yoga is too slow and boring”; it's practised in stuffy or cold, incense-filled rooms – or in 90C heat”; “it's just for people who are into lentils and chanting.” And – most misguided of all – yoga is only for flexible and thin people.
The truth is that there is a class to suit, whatever your body type or temperament. Yoga develops strength and balance as well as flexibility – the latter is a consequence of practising yoga, not a prerequisite. No one has turned up to their first yoga class (unless they were a dancer or a gymnast) able to execute advanced yoga poses or looking like the perceived perfect “yoga body”.
Can I practise at home?
Yes. Having a private class or joining a group is preferable for the beginner so that good alignment can be learned. In between classes there are many websites including YouTube. There are books, videos and CDs which can be used to develop your regular practice.
How often should I practice?
Regularly. A practice of some kind can be done every day. Relaxation, breathing practise, mindfulness does not need to be done in a class or only on a mat. It can be done on the train, waiting in a queue or whilst on a tea break. The regular physical practice should preferably be done several times a week, even if it is only 5-10 minutes a day to supplement your weekly yoga class and in so doing develop a regular habit or discipline.
Do I need any special equipment?
A non-slip yoga mat is a good start. These can be bought quite cheaply from about £5 upwards. Some classes use blocks, bolsters, belts, balls, and other props but these are not essential. A beginners set of mat, blocks and belts can be bought for about £7 upwards. A blanket for relaxation is also a useful as the body cools down rapidly following the physical practice.
If you are interested in sampling a gentle yoga session, then Carol has regular classes on Monday morning and evening. She also offers one-to-one classes that can generally be arranged to suit you. If you would like to find out more or just have a chat with Carol, you can telephone her on 02477 455 117 or 07855 230042. You can always email her on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at draytoncottage.com. Classes are held in Carol's private Yoga Studio at Drayton Cottage Health & Wellbeing centre in Fenny Drayton, near Nuneaton, just of the A5 / A444.