Contributing Writer: Renee Simpson
Yoga has gone way mainstream. There seem to be as many ideas about what yoga is as there are methods. To some, yoga is about excercise and that’s an end in itself. To others, yoga is a means to an end; a spiritual practice to ready onself for meditation. For me, a New Yorker on the constant quest for an optimally healthy body and a decent boyfriend, yoga beautifully responds to both of these needs. Whatever yoga means to you, I have this to say: if you haven’t tried it, please do try it, if you have tried it and dropped it, please do consider picking it back up again, and if you have a yoga practice, awesome, spread the word, spread the Love, and keep spreading your arms for a nice, deep stretch.
This Hawt Shop post will focus on some of the methods of yoga. For an exposition on the philosophy of yoga, here’s a thorough treatment and an enlightening read:
In my own practice, I’ve found it important to learn about different yoga methods because I believe finding your method (even if it’s about combining different methods) is a key to developing your practice and sticking with it. Like many, I got my start with the well publicized, nation-wide available Bikram Yoga method.
All Bikram Yoga is hot, but not all hot yoga is Bikram. As this method is likely the best known, because of the heat, the rigors of the practice, and the magnamity of Bikram Choudhury (the founder) who is quite litigious in defending his copyrighted method of 26 asanas (poses), in 105+ degree heat, for a set 90 minutes. Wherever you go, the method is always the same. If you would like to try this method, it is recommended that you drink at least two liters of water, stop eating at least two hours before class, dress skimpily, and a word of advice from me based on personal experience – there is no need to push yourself into a pose, just move with your breath and let your body enjoy the detox. As my own yoga practice evolved, I found that Bikram was not right for me because I did not want the same routine each class. I like the unexpected, even in yoga.
This is a flow method, unlike Bikram where you stop and switch from one pose to another. No two Vinyasa classes will likely be the exact same as there are a variety of different asanas (poses) that the instructor will sequence out for the class (often spontaneously). Classes range from 60-90 minutes and some studios offer Hot Vinyasa. As a means of warming up the body, early on in every Vinyasa class you will be sent into a sequence of Downward Dog (lower right photo) – Plank – (upper left) – Chaturanga (upper right) – Upward Facing Dog (lower left, sometimes it will be interchanged with the Cobra pose, not shown). This sequence may occur on it’s own, or as a part of the extended series known as Sun Salutations. Vinyasa Yoga is great for strengthening. After my first 10 classes I found myself able to do push-ups as part of my own pre-class warm up. That’s miraculous because push-ups are something I used to watch other people do as I involuntarily made squishy-yikes-that-looks-painful faces.
The author of Light on Yoga (above) developed this method. One of it’s hallmarks is the use of props – bolsters, blocks, belts – to further help to align the body. In my opinion, this method is a must try. In my first Iyengar Yoga class, we were instructed to grab hold of belts, which were fastened securely to the wall, and then hang ourselves upside down. What’s great is that if you do not have a headstand practice, Iyengar Yoga can get you upside down in no time flat. This method includes a lot of instruction and time is taken for each set-up. In this way, it’s very different from the rigor of switching between Bikram asanas and the flow of Vinyasa. I personally found this method to have deeply opened up my chest, because of the use of belts to assist with stretching. The slower pace of the class also helped me to develop my confidence in my own body.
Yin Yoga, opposite of Yang Yoga (the above methods are more Yang), is about deep conditioning of the fascia (connective tissues that make up approximately 30% of our muscles). I see it as a great practice to include with other more Yang (doing) practices. The trademark of Yin Yoga is that poses are held for longer periods than in other methods, usually 3-5 minutes. This method can be practiced in heat, depending on whether a studio offers Hot Yin. It requires less effort than the more Yang methods and is deeply relaxing. Yin Yoga is not as common as the other methods, so if you do not have a local studio that offers Yin, check out Restorative Yoga, Gentle Yoga, or a Yoga Intro class. Yoga teachers (outside of Bikram Yoga) tend to be receptive to taking requests, so you could try requesting that one of the poses in the practice be held for a few minutes. In the alternative, take a Yin class on youtube if you can’t find one by you.
Plus Sized Yoga
It hurts my heart that the category “Plus Size” even exists, because we are all One Size – Immeasurable, Infinite Energy. Plus Sized Yoga, however, does perfectly illustrate that Yoga is not about thinness or size. Yoga happens on the physical level of muscles and the energetic level of Spirit. We all have muscles, we all have Spirit, and for this reason, anyone can do yoga. Yoga is all inclusive, like the Universe we live in.