I love yoga.
But I didn’t always.
Back in my college days I scoffed at the so-called yogis, with their yoga pants, “omm’s”, bendy body parts, back bends, and Namaste’s. I was like, nahhh-mastick with running and soccer.
After college, as a newly minted Physical Therapist, I vowed to have a more open mind. I first found myself in a hot yoga class with a friend soon after I moved to Pittsburgh. I didn’t love it: my mind was still too restless or the class wasn’t right or maybe I was still trying to prove that I was too good for it.
And then again a few years later, I tried Vinyasa—too slow. Not challenging. Bottom line, it just wasn’t for me.
But then I found Bikram. The real hot yoga. I didn’t truly fall in love with it until after my dog, Indie died. She was my running partner and for a while, especially on those long mornings before work, I couldn’t bear to lace up my tennies and hit the pavement like we did before she got sick. I needed to get out of the house on those now lonely mornings. I needed to escape. That’s when I found I Am Yoga, a Bikram studio in Squirrel Hill that had a 6:30 a.m. class.
I loved it instantly: the concentration and balance it took to hold the poses, the insane amount of flexibility required in the postures, the copious amount of sweat dripping from every inch of me (enough to cover the tears that may or may not have been streaming down my face). It helped to heal me. It centered me. And challenged me. That’s what I loved the most.
Yoga probably isn’t for everybody. I know for certain that my husband wouldn’t step foot into a yoga studio unless I begged and pleaded. But I think that if you’re searching for a way to combine mindfulness, stretching, and balance, you can find a form of yoga that’s right for you.
Finding the best yoga for you is about knowing your goals and your fitness level. Those looking for a great workout to challenge strength, balance, and flexibility along with the mind benefits of yoga should look to Bikram or Ashtanga. Those looking for strictly flexibility or those with lower fitness levels, i.e. those just starting a workout regimen, should try beginner Vinyasa, Iyengar, or Yin Yoga.
Here’s a run down of the typical forms of yoga and why each form of yoga may or may not be good for you:
Hatha Yoga—modern yoga—strictly means the practice of performing yoga
All modern types of yoga fall under this category, so if you see a class or studio that lists this as the style of yoga, it’s tough to know what to expect, so it’s best to ask.
Yin Yoga—taoist yoga
This is a very slow and gentle form of yoga meant to be a complement to other forms of yoga. In this form, you hold seated and supine (lying on your back) postures aimed to passively lengthen muscles.
This form is best for those who want to focus on the stretching and meditation aspects of yoga. If you have anxiety, PTSD, or are under a lot of stress, this practice could be great for you. It requires A LOT of patience and tolerance for holding potentially uncomfortable poses for long periods of time. I would not recommend it for those who do not know their limits in stretching, those who have trouble sitting still, and those who are not open to the spiritual side of yoga.
Bikram consists of 26 postures or asanas typically performed in 90 minutes. Each posture is held for 20-30 seconds and performed twice in the practice. Great for those who love to sweat, Bikram is performed in heated room, some up to as high as 104 degrees. Bikram yoga requires a lot of strength, balance, and flexibility.
It is best for people who are looking to be challenged by yoga, but know their limits. It is easy to push past the point of a stretch and cause muscle irritation. I would recommend a basic level of balance: able to hold a one leg stand for at least 30 seconds without any sway, a basic level of flexibility: the ability to touch your toes, and basic core strength (being able to hold the pelvic floor and deep abs strong while breathing normally). This is NOT for you if you are pregnant and in your first trimester. Be careful of Bikram impostors—if it says hot yoga it may or may not be Bikram.
One of the most popular forms of yoga, Vinyasa coordinates breath with the movement from one form to another. Vinyasa is not as regimented as Bikram, so classes vary based on instructor preferences, but typically include familiar forms such as downward facing dog, upward facing dog, warrior II, tree, and half moon.
Vinyasa is great for those who are easily bored, as you move continuously from one posture to the next and postures are not precisely ordered, like in Bikram. Vinyasa can be challenging, but can typically be adapted to any fitness level. Expect your heart rate to increase as you move quickly from one posture to the next and do not be surprised your muscles are stretched in ways that they never have before.
A form of Vinyasa, Ashtanga is fast paced, repetitive, and includes the familiar posture of sun salutation. Similar to Bikram yoga, the forms are in the same sequence each time. This can be boring to some, but allows you perform the series outside of class and serves as a moving meditation, which for those of us who have trouble sitting still, can calm the mind as the body moves. This is a challenging form of yoga, like Bikram, but it allows you to move quickly from one form to the next.
Here comes the major critique, though: Ashtanga yoga instructors like to assist, which can be great, but can also lead to injury if you don’t speak up. I’ve had several patients come in with injuries from this form of yoga because their instructor applied pressure to assist in a posture and caused over stretching and irritation of a muscle. Of course, this is not a given, but something to be aware of. And if you are a survivor, you may not want the extra hands on and prefer to just listen to your body.
This form of yoga emphasizes detail, precision, and alignment more so than the other forms. It uses props to perform the asanas or postures, which reduces the risk for over stretching or injury. It is similar to ashtanga yoga in its forms, but is performed at a much slower pace.
This form of yoga is great for beginners, those who need more guidance, or those with chronic medical conditions.
Kundalini Yoga—the yoga of awareness
A more spiritual form of yoga, Kundalini is based on the principle that with the postures, chanting, and meditation, you are freeing the serpent power, Kundalini, that is coiled at the base of the spine.
This form of yoga is for you if you are looking for the more spiritual side of yoga along with the goal of increasing flexibility. Be prepared to mediate, as this form of yoga can include 5-15 minutes of savasana relaxation (lying on your back and meditating), and 11-31 minutes of actual meditation, which can include mantras or hand mudras or hand postures.
If you’re skeptical of yoga, like I once was, try it. You may be surprised how much you love it. And if you don’t love it at first, try a different class until you find one that’s right for you. We encourage many of our clients to do yoga in some form- either by incorporating it into their program, getting them to a yoga class with some of the great yoga teachers in the area, or tweaking some of the yoga postures they already do to help them feel stronger.
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