Thursday, 8 September 2011

Yoga Style Guide

A fit-looking guy sat next to me on the tube in London and asked what type of exercise I do. Unless you are a tourist or drunk, no one talks on the tube. The guy was English and sober, so the combination of the two naturally made me suspicious of his motives. I mumbled under my breath that I do yoga, returned my gaze to a distant fleck of dirt that looked immensely interesting and hoped he would find another companion. But the guy was made of sterner stuff. He explained he was a kick-boxer and curious about my fitness regime. I said I didn't have one as such and apart from horse riding and swimming I had stopped doing western-style sports yonks ago. We then fell into a conversation that was thoroughly enjoyable. He said he had tried Ashtanga yoga for greater flexibility, but burnt out in the first 15 minutes of the class, collapsing into a heap of sweat and pain. That one experience had been so overwhelming and had left such a lasting impression on him that he had never entered through the door to try another class.

Which yoga style?
I firmly believe that yoga is the best type of exercise for every body. But with so many styles to choose from and new ones popping up every day, how does one keep one's sanity while selecting a class? I have four pieces of advice that I have found useful myself.
First, choose a class which is held near your work or home. If you have to travel far, the distance will become an issue and ultimately an excuse not to go. Find a place which is near you and make a habit of attending a class at least once, even better - three times - a week.
Second, in the prehistoric days, there may have been yoga styles that fitted into strict boundaries. Nowadays, there are over 100 styles to choose from, most of them fusions or copycats. As the majority of styles overlap each other, I would not worry about getting into the right class the first few times. Just keep sampling different classes until you find the one that feels right for your body. Also, don't buy into the bullshit of exotic-sounding Sanskrit or impressive-sounding English yoga style names. In my experience, the quality of the class is not in any way derived from its fancy name.
Third, every teacher has a subjective approach to the style he or she is teaching. Don't expect a yoga style taught exactly the same way by every teacher you encounter. Yoga is a big business and teachers worldwide vary wildly. The same style may be taught very differently under the same roof. If you have had a bad experience with a teacher or have chosen a wrong class, as did the guy I met on the tube, don't be discouraged by that one exeprience. Keep on trying until you find what makes you feel good. As a rule of thumb, Ashtanga and Iyengar are the classic styles and good reference points.
Fourth, choose the right level for yourself. Aim lower rather than higher and build up the muscle strength and flexibility slowly. For many beginners even Warrior II can be a challenge. Let the body get used to yogic movements and don't punish it by demanding too much too quickly.
In my view, yoga is the equivalent of health insurance and the best type of exercise to keep the body slim and in a good working order well into the old age.

1 comment:

Nikos said...

would it not have been better to say karate?