Yoga has numerous benefits for a person’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Among its documented benefits include improved flexibility, increased muscle tone, improved cardio-vascular health, reduced stress and anxiety… the list is endless. It is no wonder that even medical practitioners now recommend yoga as a means of improving physical and psychological health.
To fully reap the benefits of yoga, you need to find the best yoga style for yourself. This is can be quite tricky especially if you are relatively new in the world of yoga. With over 14 distinct styles and numerous asanas (postures) to choose from, deciding which to practice can seem like a daunting task. However, this shouldn’t be a problem. This simple guide will take you through the basic steps that you can take in order to select the perfect yoga style. The first step which you need to do is to identify your needs.
Decide on your goals you want to achieve via Yoga
This is the most important step towards finding the perfect yoga style. Yoga comes in an endless variety of styles. Not every style is beneficial for everyone. In fact, some styles can actually be detrimental for certain types of people. So, you need to identify your needs. Decide on the goals that you want to achieve via yoga.
Some of the possible goals can be directly related to the physical body such as increasing your muscle endurance, reducing stress, toning your body and becoming more flexible. Others can be therapeutic that include pain relief, reducing blood pressure etc. Lastly, it could also be getting more mentally conscious such as improving self-confidence, attaining inner peace/tranquillity and getting in touch with your spiritual self.
The bottom line is that you need to have a fairly clear picture of what you want to achieve with your yoga practice. This can then enable you to choose the yoga style which can help you to achieve those goals.
Research on the different Yoga styles
Different yoga styles are best suited for different purposes. For instance a person who wants to achieve flexibility will have a different practice sequence of asanas from someone who wants to achieve strength and endurance. Even for any given purpose, there can be more than one style to choose from. As such, you need to carry out some basic research. To get you started, here is some basic information about the possible styles to use for specific purposes.
Improving flexibility with Yoga
Yoga can be extremely beneficial for improving flexibility and general physical fitness. Whether you desire flexibility for personal wellbeing or professional pursuits like athletics or ballet, yoga is an extremely beneficial. Former Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs used yoga to enable him play well into his 40s.
There are two yoga styles: Yin and Hatha are perfect for improving flexibility.
Yin yoga focuses on lengthening muscles and connective tissues. It uses asanas which help specific muscles to relax, stretch and become flexible. Hatha uses a series of classical postures in combination with breathing exercises to work specific muscles into a relaxed state.
Yoga classes which focus on improving flexibility tend to be slow paced, meditative and even passive. They involve long periods of holding the same position, often while seated or in a folding position. Practice of deep breathing is also essential for attaining muscle relaxation.
Training for endurance and muscle toning with Yoga
Yoga is also great for improving muscle strength, endurance and toning. In fact, many professional athletes now use yoga as part of their strength, endurance and power training. Yoga can not only help to work out specific muscles, it can also speed up recovery from sports-related injuries.
The most popular style of yoga which is perfect for muscle strength and endurance is Vinyasa.
Adapted from the traditional Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa is an active and athletic form of yoga. It was specifically designed to those who prefer aerobic-style workouts. As such, it is upbeat, fast-based and involves a series of short bursts of activity.
Yoga classes which focus on endurance and muscle toning tend to be vigorous, energetic and fast-paced. They typically involve reps of sun salutations, planks and core workouts. The pace and level of vigor usually varies depending on the athleticism levels of the participants. However, the classes usually involve progression from simple workouts to more complex ones.
Yoga can be used for therapeutic reasons across a broad range of ailments. Some of the conditions which can be treated using yoga include chronic pains, high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorder and insomnia. Others include arthritis, asthma, indigestion, migraines, poly cystic ovaries, and depression.
The style of yoga which can be used for therapeutic reasons generally varies according to the type of condition. Yoga practices that practice pranayama and meditation on a deep level have been proven to lower blood pressure. Read more on lowering blood pressure with Yoga here.
When considering yoga for therapeutic purposes, it is important to first consult a medical practitioner. Most common conditions now have standard alternatives which are known to most medics. They can recommend the best yoga style which is suited for your specific condition.
Relaxation and stress management
Yoga is one of the most effective means for attaining general relaxation and fighting off stress, anxiety and depression. In psychological circles, yoga is actually considered an effective remedy for handling stress and anxiety disorders. It works by teaching a person helpful skills like mental relaxation, mindfulness and an ability to clear one’s mind.
The yoga styles which are effective for mental relaxation are those which emphasize meditation and mindfulness. Examples include Kripalu, Javamukti and Yin. Kripalu focuses on adapting your body to different postures, and holding specific postures for prolonged periods of time while meditating. Javamukti combines meditative practices with chanting, repeating mantras and breathing exercises.
Yoga classes which focus on relaxation and stress management usually involve prolonged sessions of meditation and pranayamas, sometimes punctuated with chanting. The goal is usually to free your mind of stressful thoughts and refocus them on thoughts of peace, tranquility and joy.
The bottom line is that depending on your goals, you will need a different style of yoga. However, knowing the different styles isn’t enough. The simplest (and most fool-proof) way of finding the best yoga style for you is through a yoga instructor.
Engaging a qualified Yoga instructor
A qualified yoga instructor can easily help you to find the perfect yoga style. An effective instructor will first discuss with you on your goals; they will then take you through the various options available. Finally, they will design a regime which can help you to attain your goals in a simple, effective and hustle-free manner.