If you are thinking of taking up yoga, then be prepared. It is not for the faint hearted and to my surprise requires skills such as focus, self control, mental flexibility, balance and patience.
I attended my first yoga workshop on Saturday and was completely unaware of what I was letting myself in for. I have heard it called many unusual names and was completely confused by all the different styles of yoga. I decided not to research before I went (not that I had time!) but I also wanted to be open minded. However, it was nothing like I expected – it was strenuous, involved deep concentration and some of the positions I managed to get into I wouldn’t have thought possible. My body is still in shock and realized how over the years I have become totally unflexible. Where did that girl who could perform cartwheels, handstands, flips and even put her head around her neck disappear? I even struggled to go from the dog position to a lunge…… Don’t ask!!
Once in the comfort of my home and after a warm bath to ease my aching muscles I decided to do a little research into the life skills you can train with yoga and a list of the styles currently on offer.
So the 5 essential life skills that you can train with yoga are.
Focus is the ability to direct the flow of consciousness onto a specific object. In yoga, we use our breath as a main point of focus; helping us be aware of the ever-changing mental and physical experiences of the present moment.
With time and practice, your ability to focus becomes stronger, having a positive effect on your life. The ability to continuously choose one area of focus among many other stimuli directly determines your ability to learn, perform tasks, and have satisfactory life experiences.
Patience is the ability to wait with tolerance. In yoga, we improve our patience by emphasizing the process rather than the goal. We perform our postures and other practices without expecting immediate feedback or accomplishment.
Since we release our need to achieve an objective, we can enjoy the experience itself. This helps us to tolerate the delay of gratification; allowing us to maintain balance.
Self-control is the ability to inhibit one’s impulses, unconscious reactions, or bad habits. In yoga, we learn self-control by becoming aware of our physical and mental patterns, accepting them for being a part of us, and then changing them through an applied effort.
The more we apply ourselves towards creating a positive change and inhibiting negative tendencies, the more we become proficient in self-control. Paradoxically, in yoga we try to free ourselves from the self-imposed constrictions of our mind by learning how to control it.
- Mental flexibility
Mental flexibility is the ability to adapt in the light of new information and circumstances. When we practice yoga, we receive a constant flow of changing information: from our bodies, our minds, our teachers, or other practitioners around us. Based on this feedback, we often need to adjust our physical posture or mental state. This ability to change in the light of circumstances increases our mental flexibility, and eventually spills over into our daily lives off the mat.
Mental flexibility enables us to continuously keep on learning and growing: it helps us to make better decisions, come up with new strategies, and let go of the things that don’t serve us positively.
- Stress Management
Stress management is the ability to cope with the demands of daily life. In yoga, we put ourselves under possibly stressful circumstances, such as learning new and challenging poses that make us face our fears and mental blockages. We learn to manage these stressful circumstances by applying a continuous effort despite the perceived difficulties.
Through sustained practice, we learn to release our anxieties, becoming increasingly better at responding to the demands of the posture or given circumstances. As we succeed despite the difficulties, we empower ourselves and learn to love to take on challenges in the future.
But which style of Yoga is most suitable for you from the following options….
- Hatha Yoga
It’s all about the basics in these slower moving classes that require you to hold each pose for a few breaths. In many studios, hatha classes are considered a gentler form of yoga. However, the Sanskrit term “hatha” actually refers to any yoga that teaches physical postures.
Best for: Beginners. Because of its slower pace, hatha is a great class if you’re just starting your yoga practice.
- Vinyasa Yoga
Get your flow on in this dynamic practice that links movement and breath together in a dance-like way. In most classes, you won’t linger long in each pose and the pace can be quick, so be prepared for your heart rate to rise. Teachers will often pump music, matching the beats to the sequences of the poses.
- Iyengar Yoga
Here you’ll get nit-picky about precision and detail, as well as your body’s alignment in each pose. Props, from yoga blocks and blankets to straps or a ropes wall, will become your new best friend, helping you to work within a range of motion that is safe and effective. Unlike in Vinyasa, each posture is held for a period of time. If you’re new to Iyengar, even if you’ve practiced other types of yoga, it’s good to start with a level one class to familiarize yourself with the technique.
Best for: Detail-oriented yogis. Iyengar can be practiced at any age and is great for those with injuries.
- Ashtanga Yoga
If you’re looking for a challenging yet orderly approach to yoga, try Ashtanga. Consisting of six series of specifically sequenced yoga poses, you’ll flow and breathe through each pose to build internal heat. The catch is that you’ll perform the same poses in the exact same order in each class. Some studios will have a teacher calling out the poses, while Mysore style classes (a subset of Ashtanga) require you to perform the series on your own.
Best for: Type-A folks. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll like Ashtanga’s routine and strict guidelines.
- Bikram Yoga
Prepare to sweat: Bikram consists of a specific series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises practiced in a room heated to approximately 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. All Bikram studios practice the same 90-minute sequence so you’ll know exactly what to do once you unroll your mat. Remember, the vigorous practice combined with the heat can make the class feel strenuous. If you’re new to Bikram, take it easy: Rest when you need to and be sure to hydrate beforehand. Best for: People who gravitate towards a set routine.
- Hot Yoga
Hot yoga is similar to Bikram in that it’s practiced in a heated room. But teachers aren’t constrained by the 26-pose Bikram sequence. While the heat will make you feel like you can move deeper into some poses compared to a non-heated class, it can be easy to overstretch, so don’t push beyond your capacity.
Best for: Hardcore sweat lovers. If you love a tough workout that will leave you drenched, sign up for a beginner-friendly heated class.
- Kundalini Yoga
Celebrity devotees including actor Russell Brand and author Gabrielle Bernstein have given Kundalini a cult-like following. Yet, this physically and mentally challenging practice looks very different from your typical yoga class. You’ll perform kriyas – repetitive physical exercises coupled with intense breath work – while also chanting, singing and meditating. The goal? To break through your internal barriers, releasing the untapped energy residing within you and bringing you a higher level of self-awareness.
Best for: People looking for a spiritual practice. Those who are seeking something more than a workout may enjoy Kundalini due to its emphasis on the internal aspects of yoga, including breath work, meditation and spiritual energy.
- Yin Yoga
If you want to calm and balance your body and mind, this is where you’ll find your zen. The opposite of a faster moving practice like Ashtanga, Yin yogaposes are held for several minutes at a time. This meditative practice is designed to target your deeper connective tissues and fascia, restoring length and elasticity. You’ll use props so your body can release into the posture instead of actively flexing or engaging the muscles. Like meditation, it may make you feel antsy at first, but stick with it for a few classes and its restorative powers might have you hooked.
Best for: People who need to stretch and unwind.
- Restorative Yoga
While it may feel like you’re not doing much in a restorative yoga class…that’s the point. The mellow, slow-moving practice with longer holds gives your body a chance tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to experience deeper relaxation. You’ll also use a variety of props including blankets, bolsters and yoga blocks to fully support your body in each pose.
Best for: Everyone.