Friday, September 7, 2012

Fitness Friday: Yoga

September is National Yoga Month!  I'd love to tell you guys all sorts of awesome stuff about yoga and fill you in completely, I really would.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you everything because it would take way too long and I'd have to research more than I really want to.  Some call it lazy, I call it time-management.  So, on to the goods.  Yoga is an incredibly old mind-body-spirit practice that originated in India.  Some people believe that the spirituality of it makes it anti-Christian, but I don't believe that at all.  In fact, I think that it can be used to enhance ANY religion, and help you gain flexibility, strength, and balance while you're at it.

Yoga is basically a combination of poses (called asanas) that utilize your natural body strength (no weights involved), and balance, in a certain sequence and with particular breathing placement.  The asanas, which all have special crazy Sanskrit names, all focus on different aspects of body strengthening but also serve as a way to improve inner strength and peace.  These fall into eight "centers" which connect spiritual to physical, called chakras.  Through breathing, flow, holding asanas, and focusing on your chakras, one can meditate and come out feeling like a super hero of mellowness.

Chakra 101 (you won't be tested later)

 Now that all being said, you don't need to be super in the know about the chakras and your deep inner consciousness to enjoy yoga.  You don't even have to care about that stuff at all (though it is fairly interesting) to get the physical and mental benefits of yoga.  Shoot, I still get the spiritual benefits myself and I don't focus on chakras at all!  For me, the time to clear my mind and focus on perfect movements is enough to calm and ground me to a much better happy place.

So yoga sounds cool, right?  "But there are 701 different types, Trinity, how the eff do I know which one I want to try???"  Well, lemme give you a little bit of basic info on some of the most popular styles of practice in alphabetical order, so you can make an informed decision! (Geez, I'm nice.)

Ashtanga--Ashtanga is one of my favorites!  It is a faster-paced, more intense form of yoga.  The asanas are generally done with little time in between and therefore gets the heart rate up a bit and can feel more vigorous than most styles.  Less time is spent perfecting each position, but trust me when I say that the teacher will tell you if you're completely sucking it up (I sadly know from experience).  If you want to practice yoga but think you'll get bored, this is the class for you.  Also, it's often called Power Yoga in many situations, especially in gym settings.

Bikram (Hot Yoga)--Bikram yoga is the crazy idea that a classroom must be between 95 and 100 degrees.  The reason for this is to loosen muscles for deeper poses and to cleanse the body more.  Cleansing the body is a nice way of saying that you'll sweat your happy ass off.  Hot yoga is for those who love to be pushed to the edge, somewhat punished, and don't mind being in a class smelling like a toilet.  It's both awesome and insane at the same time, and I don't recommend starting with it.
Hatha--Most Hatha is slower-paced and excellent for beginners!  It focuses a lot on breathing and often times on meditation as well.  If you want to get a bit more in touch with the mind-body-spirit aspect and/or you would like to take it slowly and really work on breathing technique (great for mind clearing), you will probably like this.  Hatha is also a term used if it's a slower class that really doesn't have a particular style and they want to fancy up the name.

Iyengar--Iyengar yoga is all about proper form.  Alignment is important in all styles, but this one seems to focus on it a lot more and is therefore very slow-paced and detail-oriented.  It teaches that there is one correct way to do each pose and that eventually everyone can achieve yoga perfection.  And once you achieve yoga perfection, you become awesome.  Or something.  But yeah, it's basically the OCD of yoga. 

Kundalini--I honestly don't have a lot of experience with this style, so I'll tell you what I've learned via random websites and hope it helps us all.  Kundalini seems to focus primarily on the breath/movement relationship.  Particularly breathing the proper way while going through asanas.  It sounds like the poses are done a bit more rapidly and repetitively with little adjustments (sounds good) but lots of time to think about perfecting your breath (sounds vague).  So yeah, if you want to learn how to breathe like a yogi rockstar, this sounds like your class.

Vinyasa--Love me some Vinyasa!  Vinyasa is kind of a combination with the faster movements of Ashtanga yoga and the breath focus of Kundalini yoga.  Add in a bit of form work and a ton of Sun Salutations (a special series of asanas), and you have Vinyasa.  It sounds like the mutt of yoga, but remember that mutts often make the best pets.  Pets being yoga classes, if I lost you on that terrible metaphor.  So if you want a slightly faster class with a bit of all aspects of yoga involved, this one is for you.
Poor T-rex!  I, however, love chaturanga!
Then there are also the specialty classes that so many gyms/yoga studios have--Prenatal Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Kid Yoga, Dog Yoga, Yoga for Athletes, Magic Crazy Hippie Yoga, you get the idea.  Most gyms will just offer "Yoga", which is often a generic version of Hatha.  You can find it in every scene from private instruction to yoga studios to family gyms.

Another way to try out a class without getting a membership of any sort is to look it up online.  There are some awesome websites out there, my favorite being Ekhart Yoga (formerly  She's like the Bodyrock of yoga, with tons of free videos and classes on different styles.  If you want more, you can subscribe and get an awesome amount of info!  And considering that yoga studios can cost half a paycheck, the ability to do it at home for much cheaper can be worth the money.  Another similar page is My Yoga Online.  You can register and immediately get bits of awesome videos, along with everything from tips on asana forms to health/food information, pilates, and even music.  And I believe that they both have special rates right now for September!

 ****For the entire month of September, you can also get a voucher for ONE WEEK FREE CLASSES from over 2,000 different studios nationwide!  Simply go to the Yoga Health Foundation website, find a participating studio nearby, and print your voucher!!

So there you go, a basic yoga info session.  Yes, there are tons of classes out there and more being invented on a momentary basis it seems.  But no matter what type of yoga you choose, you will gain flexibility, strength, and focus.  And don't we ALL need more of those things?!?

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