Styles of Yoga: A Primer

Last week Tracey, a regular student in my Yoga for Aging Athletes class, asked about different types of yoga classes. If you’re heading to a yoga studio or gym, you may feel (as she did) a little stumped while perusing the yoga schedule. What do all the different names and styles mean?

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Tracey, 63, is an avid runner and tennis player. She takes my Yoga for Aging Athletes class every Thursday.

Let’s start with a quick primer.

Types of Yoga Classes

Flow is yoga that moves quickly—often at a rate of one breath per movement. In addition, the poses are linked together, so you move seamlessly from one to the other. Other terms that denote a similar style of yoga include Power Flow, Ashtanga, Baptiste, or Vinyasa. These classes often include a focus on plank pose and other poses that require weight-bearing for the upper body.

Hatha is an umbrella term for all styles of yoga. Classes labeled “Hatha” will move a little slower. The poses won’t necessarily link together.

A class labeled gentle, healthy aging, or senior yoga will be mellow and mindful, with a focus on seated poses or modified versions of standing poses. If you’re a cyclist or runner, this is a great type of class to take when you’re recovering from a race.

Restorative yoga is even mellower: you use props like blankets and bolsters to deeply rest and relax. (You can learn about my favorite restorative yoga pose in my post about supported fish.)

Yin yoga involves holding low-to-the-ground and seated poses for several minutes at a time. While you don’t move quickly, long holds offer a different type of challenge.

Anything labeled Iyengar or alignment-based will include clear, detailed anatomical instruction and the use of props.

Heated yoga refers to yoga in a room heated from 75 up to 105 degrees. If it’s Bikram, a specific style of heated yoga, a set series of 26 poses will always be practiced.

Yoga for athletes will be taught by an instructor who is also an athlete. You can expect a focus on release, strength, stamina, and injury prevention.

This is certainly not comprehensive. New styles of yoga are constantly being created, and different teachers and studios may have varying interpretations of these terms. If in doubt, ask the instructor to explain the tempo and focus of the class.

Which Yoga Class is Right for You?

Your yoga practice should complement the other movement practices in your life, not compete with them.

Recovering from a race? Try gentle, Yin, or restorative.

Looking to build your cardio or upper-body strength? Check out flow.

Feeling the chill of winter cold? A heated yoga class could be fun.

Brand new to yoga? Hatha or alignment classes often cover the basics.

And of course, if you’re an active, aging adult, a class labeled yoga for athletes or yoga for healthy aging (or a hybrid of those) is always going to be the perfect fit.

—Alexandra

 

Your Resolution: Yoga

 

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Photo credit: Ariel Adams

The brain works like this: each time we do something—a behavior, an activity—neural links form. And every time we do that same thing again, those neural connections get stronger and our action becomes a habit. In yoga, the concept samskara refers to these deeply ingrained patterns, both the ones we’re happy to repeat (daily workouts, for instance) and the ones we’d be happier breaking (daily donuts, perhaps.)

We want to repeat activities and behaviors that make us stronger. But we can all identify some habits we’d like to change. That’s where our yoga practice comes in. A regular yoga practice brings calm, more mindfulness, better posture, better breathing… and so much more. In fact, a regular yoga practice can create the space we need to cultivate vidya, or clear thinking, that will help us continue to make positive changes in our lives.

This new year, make regular yoga your resolution. You don’t have to do a long practice every day. Instead, aim for a single pose or a short sequence every morning or evening. (This blog is a helpful resource, and Sage’s Everyday Yoga offers tools for a simplified home practice.) If daily yoga feels intimidating, no problem. Commit to once a week. Even doing yoga once a week provides stress reduction and more flexibility. Yoga just makes you feel better. In 2016, do more of it.

—Alexandra

Gratitude

 

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Along with age comes a greater appreciation for simple things—blue skies, fall colors, family. We grow more content with things as they are. Contentment with the current state of things avoids the suffering caused by avidya, or misperception, wrong-seeing. When we drop the struggle, we can find peace and contentment in the moment. Yoga describes this contentment as santosha, and it’s one of the five niyamas—the prescriptions for how to behave. This Thanksgiving, can you find gratitude for all the wonderful things you’re able to appreciate about your body, your situation, and your existence, as they are right now?

—Sage

Guest Post: Chuck Naughton on Yoga and Living with Atrial Fibrillation

Chuck completed my certification in Sage Yoga for Athletes in 2012. Yoga has been integral in his transition from competitive sports to recreational sports, and in helping him cope with atrial fibrillation, as he details here. —Sage

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After thirty years of ultramarathon and time trial cycling, I thought my days on the bike were over when I hit 284 heartbeats per minute during a state championship 40K time trial, went off the road, and crashed. The original diagnosis was atrial flutter, and an ablation was done, which, unfortunately, didn’t work. A flutter became adrenalin-induced atrial fibrillation. It was a sad day when I had to sell the time trial bike and decide how to move forward, and that’s when yoga came to the rescue.

DSC_0263I had been practicing and teaching yoga for over ten years and knew that it would provide the way forward for mind, body, and spirit. First the body: while I can no longer race, I’m still able to ride, and ride I do—6,000 miles this year—for the sheer joy of the sound of the whir of the spokes and the feel of the wind. If I feel my heart rate heading for dangerous levels, I slow down, begin yogic three-part nasal breathing (dirgha pranayama, detailed below), and if necessary, the ultimate yogic calmer, alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana). It’s amazingly wonderful how something as simple as pranayama (yogic breathing) that is so easy and has been practiced for millennia can be so beneficial! Second, the mind: being able to still participate in the sport I love—you fellow athletes will understand this—just seems to keep the mind clear. With the body healthy, the mind follows. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with my daily yoga practice enabling me to keep participating, there is just no room for depression, and the spirit soars!

IMG_0097There is no time like the present to explore the benefits of yoga breathing, so
let’s begin with the basis for all the different techniques, dirga pranayama. If you are about to do your yoga practice, sit comfortably up straight on a cushion, and let your hands rest lightly on your knees. If you are not about to practice, just find a comfortable chair in which you can sit up straight. Let your hands rest on your legs, close your eyes, and begin deep, slow breaths through your nose. Nasal breathing promotes peace and calmness. Extend each breath, especially your exhale, letting a long slow exhale inform your next inhale. Place a hand on your belly and feel it move in and out with each breath. As you inhale, your diaphragm’s contraction will be pushing your belly out, letting you feel the depth of your breath. Then, place your other hand just at the lower edge of your ribcage, and feel it expand and contract much like the gills of a fish. You have done the first two parts of your three-part breath; now finally imagine yourself as a vase you are filling with oxygen all the way up to your chin, and take that extra bit of air in. Let your hands relax back to your legs, continue dirgha and enjoy the rhythm of your body as it takes in prana, your life force. (Try dirgha just before savasana at the end of your yoga practice, or for a most relaxing experience just before bedtime, play some relaxing music, place your legs up a wall or bend your knees, rest your legs on a coffee table, and do three part, dirgha breathing.)

Jai Bhagwan,
Chuck

Match Your Practice to Your Season

P1000453If you compete in a sport, your training follows a cycle that should build in progressive stages to your peak competitions, then allow for downtime before reaching a new crest. In exercise physiology, we call this periodization: the training progression has distinct periods. As you consider how to include yoga to support you as a masters athlete, keep this training cycle in mind. The closer you are to peak competition, the more mellow your yoga practice should be. I outline this approach in detail in my book The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, and again in The Runner’s Guide to Yoga.

Keeping the intensity of your yoga practice in inverse proportion to the intensity of your sport training is especially important for aging athletes, because we require more recovery time between challenging workouts. If you slot a vigorous yoga practice into your already-rigorous training week, you’ll have to factor extra time to recover, which means the more challenging styles of yoga should generally be ruled out during your most active peak period in your sport. This means you can enjoy hot yoga, Ashtanga, and power vinyasa styles in your off-season, but keep them away from other major demands on your body.

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Maybe your competitive days are over, but you enjoy getting out to play on a seasonal cycle: golf in the summer, skiing in the winter. The same principle applies, even if your activity isn’t expressly periodized. Use your off-season—if only the one determined by the weather—to choose a more strength-building yoga practice. While you’re more active off the mat, dial back the intensity of the practice so you have time to recover between sessions.

This balance is the key to longevity. Use your energy wisely, where it is best spent. If you’re targeting an athletic goal, most of your hard efforts should be in your training sessions, not on the mat. Use gentle and restorative yoga, and shorter home routines like those Alexandra and I offer on YogaVibes and those in my book Everyday Yoga, and you’ll be best balanced to perform at your personal best.

—Sage

Welcome to Yoga for Aging Athletes

Welcome to Yoga for Aging Athletes—a resource to help keep you in the game. Here, yoga and Pilates teachers and athletes Sage Rountree and Alexandra DeSiato offer advice and answer your questions about how yoga will keep you active and balanced through the decades.

Sage (left), Alexandra (right)
Sage (left), Alexandra (right)

Use the links at left to read about us and get our tips—we post new content weekly. Visit us in person at the Carrboro Yoga Company in central North Carolina, and virtually by streaming our yoga and core-strength classes online anytime at YogaVibes: