Did you ever have the feeling that your yoga practice doesn't really improve your health and wellbeing, or maybe even caused discomfort or injury? Or have you been practising yoga on and off over the years but still can't understand why people are raving about it?
Maybe it is because you haven't found YOUR yoga yet. Just because all your friends pursue a specific style of yoga - like Vinyasa yoga, which is super popular in Melbourne - doesn't mean it is the best for you. There is such a huge variety of yoga styles and traditions plus an increasing number of "fusion yoga" practices that finding the most suitable path for you can be quite overwhelming.
To help you become a bit clearer about what you actually need and narrow down the choice I have put together some guidelines, using stereotypes, that you can use when searching the web or contacting yoga places in your area. However, reality is not just black and white, there are different shades of grey in between, so feel free to play around with the options and trust your gut feeling when trying a class.
1. THE DESK JOBBER
The average office job involves a lot of sitting at the desk in front of a computer. There is very little movement in the spine, the shoulders are hunched up and forward, and the head bows forward towards the screen. Even the eyes are “stuck” as we look permanently at the monitor.
YOU NEED: Movement! Mobility training in all parts of the body to release tension and build strength to improve posture.
YOUR YOGA: Every style that includes flows to get you moving. Start with slower practices like traditional Hatha yoga to get the technique right, then progress to more fluent styles. Personally, I like Ashtanga yoga (guided classes) because it gives additional strength, but you may try more modern approaches like Power yoga or even Vinyasa yoga. Just keep in mind that the faster the pace the less strength and endurance will be built as you don’t hold the poses long enough. If you have the time, I would suggest 1-2 slower plus one faster session per week.
2. THE BUSINESS MANAGER
Running a business, small or big, comes with a lot of responsibility. Especially small business owners multitask a lot and work long hours. Apart from being at the desk – with all the bad postural habits as described above – you will feel the need to clear your brain to stay focused and let go of all sorts of worries that keep popping up in your mind.
YOU NEED: Movement, Mindfulness & Meditation
YOUR YOGA: Styles that involve full body movement but are not too fast, because you are likely to be exhausted – and maybe sleep deprived – due to the permanent pressure that rests on your shoulders. A more traditional Hatha yoga does a great job as it includes a great dose of mindfulness while practising the poses. Meditation and/or guided relaxation is often included in these classes which further helps clearing the head after a long day. But you should also try my personal favourite: Kundalini Yoga in the tradition of Yogi Bhajan. It combines movement, longer holds, breath work, mindfulness, sound and meditation in one go and brings incredible results within a short time. My students frequently report almost instant help with sleep issues, greater mental clarity, and a boost of energy levels that lasts for the next few days without being exhausted after the class.
3. THE BUSY MUM
The busy mum is pretty much in the same position as the business manager: multitasking on many levels, maybe even running a small business on her own. Sleep deprivation is quite common, especially when the kids are little. Having babies and toddlers comes with a lot of lifting, carrying, feeding and pram pushing, resulting in all sorts of postural problems.
YOU NEED: Movement, strength, postural improvement and relaxation
YOUR YOGA: Again, traditional Hatha is a good choice because it helps with posture and body alignment. If you are not too exhausted you may try stronger but not overly fluent variations to build more strength, e.g. Ashtanga yoga. If you are after perfect alignment and don’t mind the use of various props during the class Iyengar yoga might be worth a try. For those with little babies a Postnatal yoga course is ideal to stabilise and tone the post birth body before getting back to normal practices. Kundalini yoga gives the often-needed boost of energy and fights anxiety. However, in case you feel rather drained after a long day you should better try very slow- paced styles like Yin yoga or Restorative yoga. Both are floor-based practices (no standing poses), and you stay in the poses for about 5 minutes - or even longer. Props are used to support the body and promote deep relaxation which nourishes the soul and helps the body heal and recharge.
As you can see, here are many options. Ideally you find a studio that offers several styles from those mentioned above so that you can decide on the day (or week) what you need the most. A mix of two or three different classes per week is a good idea.
4. THE TRADIE
Most tradespeople work on a physical level - lifting heavy stuff, moving around, climbing, being exposed to the weather etc. You probably don’t need to build much strength but could do with more flexibility and might wish to “switch off” after a long day.
YOU NEED: Flexibility, mobility.
YOUR YOGA: Depending on the physical level of your work you can choose more movement-based classes such as traditional Hatha (especially if new to yoga) or stronger styles like Ashtanga. These help to improve posture and optimise movement patterns so that you move more efficiently – which means you waste less energy and reduce the risk of injury in your day-to-day tasks. To release tension from overly used muscles, hips and shoulders you should also try a Yin yoga class. You will be surprised how much more flexible you will be after only a few sessions! And guys, “slow-paced” doesn’t mean “easy peasy”: Letting go and relax is something that requires practice and patience!
5. THE ATHLETE
You already work out a lot, potentially daily. Running, cycling, swimming or weight training at the gym are all great for physical health. However, many of our favourite sports come with repetitive movements which can cause tension in the respective muscles, tear and wear in predominantly used joints and postural imbalances. Those who take part in competitions can also do with techniques to calm and focus the mind.
YOU NEED: Flexibility, mobility, postural optimisation, mindfulness and mental endurance
YOUR YOGA: On the physical side, look for slow to medium paced styles that focus on proper alignment and moving with the breath to optimise posture and movement patterns, e.g. traditional Hatha yoga. To reduce tension in hips, thighs and lower back, definitely include some Yin yoga for deep stretches, not only on a muscular level but also in the tissues that can become very stiff over time. For improving your mindset and mental focus, Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan is a must! So, if you do your sport on a competitive level, make sure you include at least one Kundalini class per week. Holding the poses or repeating a movement for two, three or even 11 minutes challenges your mind and trains mental endurance like no other yoga practice. Plus, numerous breathing techniques optimise your lung capacity and breath control, which can be the bit that pushes you across the line faster.
Now, that’s a long list of options, but as mentioned above, you may need to re-evaluate your needs from time to time and create your individual mix. I know, not all jobs and lifestyles are covered, and not all yoga styles either. But hopefully this list gives you a general idea of what you should be looking for.
More details about most of the styles mentioned above can be found HERE, and if you would like to book a class at INNER SMILE YOGA, here is the TIMETABLE. More questions? Get in touch - I would love to hear from you!
Carmen is the founder, owner and head teacher of Inner Smile Yoga & Health in Altona (Melbourne, Australia) which she runs together with her husband Klaus while also raising their 4 young kids. Check out their website www.inner-smileyoga.com or follow them on www.facebook.com/InnerSmileYoga.