Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Clicking with yoga

If you are not a yogi or yogini, you probably wonder what it is that makes them so infatuated with that prehistoric form of exercise?   We all have our excuses for why we don't like: boring, too long, too hard, lacking coordination, clashes with our spiritual beliefs, etc. 

I spent many years trying to "get" yoga by purchasing DVDs, trying online tutorials, even signing up for classes (I never attended)... but it never clicked with me until recently.

You probably had a girlfriend gush about how yoga changed her life and gave her the body of her dreams.  She probably tried to convince you to attend a class with her, even against your hesitations.  You may or may not have attended one, but like me, you probably had a lot of the same worries and preconceived notions going in: not being advanced enough to try, dealing with a pushy instructor, too many hot bodies to make you feel down on your physique, too many hot, sweaty bodies in close proximity to push your space boundaries, etc. 

But when we are not dealing with our preconceived (negative) notions of what a yoga class entails, I think many of us are just not sure how to define it and why to use it.

While I don't claim myself to be an expert of yoga, I have come to the conclusion that yoga can be many things for many different people.  The most generic definition of yoga defines it as a spiritual, mental and physical discipline, originating from India.  For me personally, yoga is both for exercise and both boosting my physical health.  Heaven knows I got a wonky back in need of some alignment. 

But even after deciding how to define yoga and what to use for, which one do you choose?  Well, considering I am reading numbers anywhere from 5 to 20 different kinds, it sure makes my head ache.

Here is an article breaking down the different branches of yoga. I've always been drawn to a more fast-paced form of yoga, so for me, Ashtanga and Power yoga would be the most appealing.  

According to the matsmatsmats.com article, Ashtanga yoga is defined as:

the name given to the system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This style of yoga is physically demanding as it involves synchronizing breathing with progressive and continuous series of postures-a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, flexibility, stamina, a light and strong body, and a calm mind. Ashtanga is an athletic yoga practice and is not for beginners.

That "not for beginners" warning is actually what attracts me to Ashtanga.  When combining the synchronicity of the moves and the faster, more athletic pace, the challenge is both physically daunting, yet rewarding at the same time.

There is also  Power Yoga, the American offshoot of Ashtanga, which is defined as:

essentially yoga with brawn. It's the American interpretation of ashtanga yoga, a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. But power yoga takes ashtanga one step further. Many of the poses (also called postures or their Sanskrit name, asanas) resemble basic calisthenics -- push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends -- but the key to power yoga's sweat-producing, muscle-building power is the pace. Instead of pausing between poses as you would in traditional yoga, each move flows into the next, making it an intense aerobic workout.

Oh,  I think we have a winner here!  Body weight exercises with a cardio kick...what's not to love?!

My feigned. surprised excitement aside, I have to say that when I do find a yoga workout I like, it is almost always Ashtanga and/or Power yoga.   I won't be turning into a hardcore yogini anytime soon, but it feels right to my body to add one athletic yoga workout to my  routine about 1-2x/week. 

Besides the whole strength, core, flexibility thing, I find that when I do yoga consistently, I sleep much better.  Can't explain, but I just do.  Maybe those purists have a right to brag after all...


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