Decoding Yoga

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We’re rounding the corner into spring, (maybe? please?) and that means only one thing: pre-summer shape-up season. This time several years ago, I jumped on the yoga bandwagon, and I have never looked back. It had been a long time coming. I have a crippling fear of looking like an idiot, and since I had NO IDEA what I was doing, I wussed out. But everyone I knew who did yoga was in killer shape. Like, the kind of shape you always want to be in: gorgeous, long lean, muscle, cut but not bulky, great skin, all that jazz.

So, I sucked it up, swallowed my pride, and dove in. If anyone out there is looking to get started, here are the things you’re most likely to encounter when venturing to your neighborhood yoga studio.

Yoga Styles

Hatha is the mother of all yoga forms, out of which many of the other styles grew. Essentially, it is the physical discipline of developing control of the body through a serious of poses (or asanas, in Sanskrit). It’s a gentle practice, with focus on long stretches and flexibility. A great style for learning the basics.

Vinyasa is sometimes referred to as power yoga. It is definitely a cardio workout, flowing through the sequence of postures at a much faster pace than Hatha. It focuses on your breath/movement synchronization, and keeps your blood pumping. The classes can vary a lot from teacher to teacher, but once you know the poses you’ll always be able to follow along, and know that you’re going to break a sweat.

Bikram is the ‘hot yoga’ all the kids are talking about these days. They are not messing around. The room is heated up over 100 degrees for the whole class. The biggest (non-temperature-related) difference between Bikram and other styles is that the class is totally scripted. There are 26 postures, and they are each performed twice during a 90 minute class. And it goes without saying that you’re going to sweat. Wear shorts.

Kundalini, while also physically challenging, is a more actively spiritual form of yoga, with a strong focus on breathing, meditation and chanting.

Jivamukti is a more modern yoga style. It is a challenging vinyasa-style class, with a focus on spiritual teachings, placing special emphasis on how to apply yogic philosophy to daily life.

Yoga Class Basics

When starting out, it’s easier to put your mat in the back of the class, that way you can follow along with the people who’ve been there before.

Dress appropriately! Anything too loose fitting is going to flop around and drive you crazy; trust me. And if you go into an inversion like a handstand, you don’t want your shirt falling over your head. Especially since hot dudes are plentiful in yoga classes. There are some seriously cute yoga clothes out there these days in all price ranges. Check em out.

Finding the right studio is just as important as finding the right style of yoga. If you’re not reeeeeally into the spiritual side of yoga, you’ll probably want to avoid studios that focus on that side of it, chanting and all. (Note: expect a little of this in almost any yoga class, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. It can be a really wonderful part of the practice). On the other hand, if you want a little more of a calm, introspective experience, be wary of some of the gym classes, or classes that are more “fitness yoga” than anything else.

A lot of studios will have different levels of classes for each style, i.e. Vinyasa 2. Those with limited or no experience should always start with a basics class, regardless of physical condition. Half of yoga is learning the poses and terminology, and you’ll need a few classes to learn the names, both English and Sanskrit, depending on the teacher, and what they all mean in your body. Beyond that, check with your studio to see what they expect out of the different levels, before you hurt yourself!

If a class is listed as “open” it’s often going to be taught for more advanced level students, and the idea is that everything can be modified for people with less experience, flexibility, etc. Once you’ve done enough to know how to modify to your own level, these can be great classes that allow you to push yourself safely.

Yoga can be expensive! Luckily, most studios have some sort of new student deal, and there are a lot of studios, so take advantage! Bop around, test out discount classes, until you find a place that you really love. At that point, you may find that the money is well worth the mental and physical benefits.

[Photo courtesy of thegreenloopblog.com]

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