I don’t know that I can call myself a Yogi seeing as how I have yet to master the Flying Crow, but the more time I spend on my mat, the closer I am to getting my Zen-card – and it’s been such a refreshing process that I want to share how and why I got into it and what I’ve learned.
I sort of backed into yoga with tunnel-visioned expectations.
Hitting the gym is a release that I’m dependent on. After a day at work – sitting, unmoving, leaning into my computer screen – I need to move my body when I get home. If I don’t, that sluggish feeling drags on and I despise it. Sometimes I’ll come home so exhausted that it doesn’t feel physically possible to lift up a weight, but once I get going, and following my workout, I feel completely re-energized.
Work, workout, repeat. Work, workout, repeat. I have more energy at work, I sleep better, and my metabolism is kicked into high-gear – all the pluses. Except I’m also tight, stiff, and aching – all the negatives. It feels as if all of my muscles are coiled up, tightly-wound.
So, I turned to yoga to “stretch”. But what I discovered was YOGA and everything that it has to offer your body and mind – which is, it turns out, more than a good calf stretch.
This YOGA that I discovered encompasses physical as well as philosophical and spiritual practices. The philosophy of yoga is rooted from a school of Hinduism, teaching its students to better themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. And even if you don’t roll out your mat with the intention of transcending into an intensely tranquil state of meditation (yoga goals), you’re going to get a whole lot more than you bargained for.
But, as it so happens, “yoga” is not just “yoga”. There’s a spectrum of practices and each is an entirely different experience. Because I wasn’t completely sold on the first few classes (or studios for that matter) that I joined, I took it upon myself to branch out and take a walk around the yoga block.
Here’s my run down of the major yoga practices and styles:
Power: Focusing on building strength and balance, Power yoga is influenced by the more traditional Ashtanga yoga system. Unlike Ashtanga though, Power yoga classes are more fluid and creatively sequenced. I started with Power yoga and I’m still loyal to it. You’re always moving at a relatively fast pace and your muscles are constantly working.
Vinyasa: Also known as Flow – because (I assume) you’re flowing from on pose to the next, smoothly and continuously. In these classes, you focus on “breath-synchronized-movement”; moving from one pose to the next on an inhale or exhale. You’re slowing it down but your muscles are still engaged throughout the majority of the class.
Hot: This is largely like Bikram yoga (also hot). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think when non-yogis think of “yoga”, they think of Hot yoga. I personally did – but don’t do that! Hot yoga is a sequence of slow, held postures practiced in a heated room with an emphasis on alignment. Translation: you move around slowly in a boiling hot oven and sweat buckets and every second is absolutely horrible. A lot of people swear by it though – kudos to you all.
Yin: If you want a good stretch, go with a Yin class. To say that these classes focus on long, deep stretching is an understatement. After an hour contortion – ing my body with blocks, bands, balls and pillows, I left two inches taller.
Hatha: If you’re starting out, Hatha yoga would be a good introduction. Technically speaking, Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. When a class is labelled as Hatha, it likely means that you will get an easy introduction to the most basic yoga postures. I find Hatha classes really vary by studio.
As for yoga studios, I love Yyoga in Toronto. They’re a Vancouver-based studio with twelve corporately owned, community operated studios in Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Whistler and Toronto. The studios are beautiful and they have a huge teacher base, all passionate and unique in their styles.
I also love Pure Yoga in Ottawa, which has now opened a studio in Toronto in Liberty Village. Rama Lotus, also in Ottawa, is a good spot if you’d like to work on deepening your practice mentally.
The beauty of yoga though, is that you can unroll your mat anywhere, anytime. My new favourite spot is in my apartment. I turn on some good tunes and just go for it – depending on how I’m feeling that day. It took me some time to get to this point though so another way is to follow an App or videos online – there are a lot of great yogi-wannabe resources out there at our fingertips. I’ve being following Tara Stile’s videos on Youtube (I would love to hear who others follow). They’re 5 – 10 minutes, according to level (beginner – advanced) and physical movements (twists, bends, balance, etc.).
So, you can dip your toe into the yoga pool by firstly establishing what you’d like to get from the all-encompassing YOGA and then you can choose the best practice or style for you from that, or you can just dive in. I recommend the latter. By expanding my once a week…once bi-weekly…. once a month Power yoga class, yoga started to become a lot more for me. In changing up my tempo, style, and mindset, I began to advance in the practices physically and also mentally.
Now when I’m practicing, I actively try to block out all external thoughts other than the movements and poses at that moment – a mental practice of yoga, training yourself to control your whirring, wandering mind. But this isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. You need to make a conscious effort to shut down your subconscious – to get out of your head and to decompress.
And if you give yourself this, yoga will realign you in more ways than one.