“Yoga” as it is taught in this studio is the American and European adaptation of the Indian-originated system of calisthenic exercises and breathing practices called Hatha Yoga. Physical training in yoga uses of bodyweight, leverage, and isometric muscle exercises to achieve balanced strength and safe flexibility. Internally-focused awareness on sensations and the rhythm of the breath, the inner part of yoga, helps the practitioner build a mental state of concentration and calm. Regular yoga practice gradually optimizes and strengthens each practitioner’s physique, creating the conditions for a clear mind. These achievements are very desirable in the context of modern American society, characterized by obesity and stress-related illnesses.
In yoga practice, the student uses his/her body as a complete unit. As one holds and moves between postures, he or she must develop an integrated strength in order to complete these movements with ease (and perhaps even with grace). Muscles of the core, for example, must work with the muscles of the legs in order to balance in standing postures, or transition from upward to downward facing dog. The muscles of the abdomen, both front and back, which support proper alignment in the spine are the primary physical focus of yoga practice. Using a “bandha” (lock or hold) during practice teaches students to intentionally strengthen and coordinate their core muscles. This technique is similar to “blocking” in power lifting. This core-focused yoga practice not only increases strength but also has immense therapeutic benefits for scoliosis and lower back pain. Coordinated core strength is also of obvious advantage in sports performance.
Yoga characteristically achieves isometric contractions in muscles by holding a pose (or “asana”) with active, tense muscles while creating length along the spine. The result is that muscles are stimulated while not significantly distorted as in concentric contractions (muscles shortening under tension) or eccentric contractions (muscles lengthening under tension.) Isometric exercise combined with active stretching creates flexibility by reshaping the tissues surrounding and connecting the muscles and joints (collectively called “fascia”). Yoga is synonymous with remarkable flexibility because daily practice creates balanced strength across joints as it simultaneously reshapes and breaks down old fascia.
Through the intentional use of the breath, as in “Ujaiyi breath”, we influence the heart rate and nervous system. Yoga cultivates a state of alert calm – heightened sensual awareness combined with low emotionally reactivity. While not often taught in commercial yoga studios, the complete system of yoga includes a myriad of breathing practices (called “pranayama”) and meditation practices which serve to increase self-awareness and self-regulation.
In regard to the safety of yoga practice, a novice yoga student working with bodyweight and leverage is more likely be safe than a novice in strength training who may overload their muscles and joints with excessive weight in a squat or bench press. At least one therapeutic yoga class a week is an important investment in longevity for anyone, regardless of whether you go to five, three, or just one yoga class(es) a week. Awareness of one’s own body, whether in a yoga class or out of it, is one of the best ways to prevent an injury, or continue to be active and careful after an injury has occurred. This is what we cultivate in therapeutic yoga.
A Note on Styles of Yoga
The three main systems of Indian yoga that were first taught in United States include:
Hatha Yoga – Generally describing physical posture practice (“yoga asana”) as well as breathing and meditation practices
Iyengar Yoga – A specialization of Hatha Yoga for therapeutic purposes; developed and taught by B.K.S. Iyengar
Ashtanga Yoga – A specialization of Hatha Yoga focusing on athleticism and flexibility; developed and taught by K. Pattabhi Jois
Hot Yoga – In the 1970’s, Indian national Bikram Choudhury began teaching an adaptation of Hatha Yoga, now popularly called “Hot Yoga”, in which a proscribed set of postures are performed in an intensely heated room.
Recent American innovations and adaptations of these Indian styles are:
Power Yoga, AKA Flow Yoga – Yoga postures combined with aerobic exercise; focused primarily on fitness; developed in the 1990’s and taught by Doug Swenson, Baron Baptiste, and Bryan Kest
Jivamukti Yoga – A variation of Power Yoga incorporating devotional practices; developed in 1984 by David Life and Sharon Gannon
Forrest Yoga – A therapeutic style of yoga developed and taught by Ana Forrest