Yoga Basics

I was interested in yoga, wanted to learn more, and signed up for classes. One of the first things I learned is there are many different types of yoga. Some focus on the mental aspects, some focus on the spiritual aspects, and some focus on the physical aspects. However, in this article I wanted to talk about the physical types of yoga and explain their differences. Keep in mind even though these yoga types are focused on the physical, they often combine mental or spiritual aspects in their practice.

The four basic yogas I wanted to touch on are Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga, Hatha yoga, and Iyengar yoga. Each one focuses on different things but overall there are indications that yoga offers benefits to the nervous and endocrines systems. Yoga is also said to help respiratory problems and asthma, and many people consider it to be a curative and preventative form of exercise with psychological and spiritual benefits.

  • Ashtanga Yoga—Ashtanga is frequently called “power yoga.” It has become an extremely popular yoga in the last few years. It is an active, quick moving yoga that requires strength and stamina. Ashtanga yoga will help a person increase their balance and concentration and is best for people in good health with strong backs because poses can include push ups, headstands, and lunges.
  • Bikram Yoga—This yoga is also known as “hot yoga” because it is done in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. Classes usually last about 90 minutes, include 26 postures, and are excellent for increasing flexibility because the heat allows the practitioner to stretch, while preventing injuries. Because the room is so hot, it also helps practitioners sweat out toxins; however, people with cardiovascular disease are warned to avoid Bikram because it can put too much strain on their bodies.
  • Hatha Yoga—Hatha yoga is often called “gentle yoga” or just “yoga.” There are many varieties of this type of yoga, although its goal is to harmonize the positive and the negative energy and achieve the perfect physical form. The focus in Hatha yoga is on stretching and flexibility. It includes slow, deep breathing and is known for its ability to release tension and soothe the mind. Health benefits ascribed to Hatha yoga include curing or reducing everything from insomnia to cardiac disorders to cancer. Hatha yoga is particularly good for senior citizens because it helps them increase balance and strength.
  • Iyengar Yoga—This type of yoga is focused on body alignment, precise movements, and inner awareness. It relies on props such as blocks, cushions, and straps. Iyengar is good for people with high blood pressure, chronic back or neck problems, and depression. It focuses more on standing poses and helps to build strong legs, enhance coordination, and improve circulation. Furthermore, classes are usually structured so as to allow beginners to perform basic poses and to advance steadily along to the more difficult poses.

If you are interested in learning more about yoga, I have three book recommendations:

The first book is The American Yoga Association’s Easy Does It Yoga : The Safe and Gentle Way to Health and Well-Being.This book is particularly good for people who have suffered injuries, illness, or inactivity. The poses are safe and gentle and the book is a “easy-to-use guide to renewed physical and emotional wellness.” Practitioners learn yoga basics—exercising, breathing, and meditation—over a six-week period with the goal that end of the six-week period they will be able to incorporate Yoga into their everyday life.

Another great book that shows modified yoga poses and is perfect for a low impact workout is Yoga for 50+: Modified Poses and Techniques for a Safe Practice.The author, Richard Rosen, is a yoga master and contributing editor to Yoga Journal. His book provides poses to help practitioners develop flexiblity, strength, and balance, as well as improve mental focus, energy levels, and life-long vitality.

The third book is by long-time Yoga instructor, Mary Stewart titled Yoga Over 50.This book is from 1994 but it’s still relevant today. It shows step-by-step instructions for each yoga pose and the poses are suited to different levels of fitness, experience, and flexibility. Stewart also includes poses for specific problems, such as stiffness or insomnia.

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