Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Styles of Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is the most common practice of yoga used in the West. Hatha Yoga is the science of physical and mental self-control through the practice of postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation.
In hatha yoga, you do not have to change your spiritual beliefs or learn to chant in ancient languages. However, some people are still anxious about what they will encounter in their first yoga class.
There are several forms of Hatha Yoga which is still evolving. Iyengar is a very precise form of hatha yoga, repeating precise movements within each physical posture and breathing exercise. The postures are held for longer periods of time and each part of the body has a precise placement for each posture. Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) is performed in a heated room (around 105 degrees fahrenheit). The purpose for practicing in a hot room is to keep the muscles warm and to detox and flush out the toxins in your body through sweating. This style is not recommended for children, elderly people, pregnant women or those with medical conditions of course. Vinyasa/Flow is a style of yoga where you flow from one posture to the next. Some postures are held for additional breaths, but many of the exercises consist of one movement for one breath. Ashtanga/Power Yoga is a physically challenging style of hatha yoga that focuses on developing strength and power through yoga practices that generate heat in the body. Deep breathing is practiced throughout each session. The breathing, along with many strengthening postures warm the muscles, which are then stretched deeply near the end of the practice. Anusara Yoga was created by John Friend in 1997. This form of hatha yoga is based on universal principles of alignment, which underlie all postures, "heart opening" postures and the spiritual/meditative benefits of hatha yoga. Joy in practice and in everyday life is an important underlying philosophy of this school.
The style of Hatha Yoga i connect with the most in the present moment is Vinyasa/Flow. I love moving with the breath. Creating different sequences by linking the poses together is fun for me. I love to hold the postures, but i also enjoy moving more frequently allowing my heart rate and body temperature to rise getting more of a cardiovascular work out at the same time. I also teach a slower version of Vinyasa class called Breathe/Stretch/Flow. In this form of yoga, the poses are linked together to create a flow. We hold the postures longer and each sequence ends with a good resting pose that deeply stretches the muscles.
My advice for anyone new to Yoga, is to try different forms. Take a few different classes and see what fits you best. Every instructor has a unique style. Decide for yourself what you would like to gain from taking a class, check out the different styles, and go for it! No matter what form of yoga you choose, you will get the full benefits of gaining focus, strength, stamina, and flexibility. Most of all renewing your mind, body, and spirit.

Resources: Yoga Education Institute

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward-Facing Dog is considered one of the most fundamental of all yoga postures. It is often used between other postures as a transitional posture to keep the flow of the practice. It is also considered a "resting pose".
There are many benefits to Downward Dog. This posture stretches the palms, chest, back, hamstrings, calves and feet. It relieves low back discomfort and improves digestion. Strengthening the arms, wrists, legs and torso, down dog also energizes the body. Most of all it improves focus and stimulates the mind.
Instructions for getting into Down Dog are as follows: Come to all fours, placing hands directly under shoulders, knees and feet hip width apart. Spread your fingers wide. Inhale, curl your toes under and draw your shoulder blades back. Exhale, lift your hips and press back through your heels, drop your head. Press your tailbone high and open your chest, pressing your chest towards your feet. Keep your arms straight, press down through your whole hand (including thumb and index finger). Look towards your feet, shake your head side to side to loosen shoulders and neck. Pedal your heels toward the floor one at a time to get more stretch in your calves. Breathe deeply into your back body.
Align your ankles, your knees, and your hip joints so that the weight of your body is carried evenly through your legs. Move your pelvis, torso, and arms, feeling their skeletal alignment, and place them as best you can in one direct line from sits bones to fingertips. Center your ribs, waist long. Close your eyes if you need to and feel the pose. The closer you get to alignment, the more even your hands and feet will be on the mat.
Some people may have problems with their wrists and find it hard to place weight on them. By placing the forearms on the floor instead of hands is beneficial. Also, bending the knees can be beneficial to those who tend to round their back in the pose. It is better to have bent knees than a rounded back.
Once you have the pose, hold it for several breaths feeling the pose making adjustments as needed. When you are ready to come out of the pose, walk your feet between your hands and come into a forward bend. Slowly roll up to standing. Breathe in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).