By Dawn Miller
All yoga is pretty much the same, isn’t it? Well, not exactly…
Look at most studio listings and the choices can feel overwhelming: slow flow, vinyasa, gentle yoga, power yoga, deep stretch, hot yoga, and basics, restorative. What’s the difference? Why do classes with similar names (e.g. Yoga for Beginners or Vinyasa) differ in physical intensity level or format from one studio and instructor to the next? It depends on the style of yoga. Although a yoga practice can benefit everyone at any level of experience or physical ability, it definitely isn’t a “one-size fits all” experience. How do you choose what’s right for you, particularly if your goal is to improve your health?
Yoga for Your Health
A yoga practice should be tailored to fit your individual physical ability, level of health, body type, and emotional and energetic needs. The more skilled an instructor is in adapting yoga poses and breathing practices specifically for you, the more effectively you’ll be able to use yoga as a tool to improve your health and overall feeling of well-being. With your commitment to a consistent practice (even a few minutes per day), the results can be physically, mentally, and emotionally powerful.
Here’s an example. When one of the nurses at the hospital began to practice yoga, she couldn’t exercise or stretch regularly or even lie flat because of back and hip pain. We adapted the practice to fit her needs day-to-day and she began to practice at home. She writes, Through yoga practice with Dawn, I have increased my strength and flexibility. This has given me a more stable base in my legs, hips and back for all the activities of my daily life. In addition to the increased strength and flexibility, I also feel more relaxed and confident. Dawn encourages each of her students to honor their body that day and practice where they are able. I’ve never had an instructor that approached yoga in that way and I have found that it is exactly what I needed to feel comfortable practicing yoga – Amy.
Remember, practicing yoga is a process. Some days you’ll be able to do more, some days less. Through your practice, you’ll become more aware of your body, your breathing habits, and your muscular patterns, helping you to recognize what’s needed day to day to support your health and healing. Be open to adapting your practice and look for a yoga instructor who will guide you in this process.
Instead of group classes, you might want to consider private sessions. Private instruction eliminates the pressure of being in a group and you’ll learn more at a faster rate since the practice is customized for your needs. Yoga was originally taught this way: one instructor and one student. The Western interpretation of yoga has turned it into a group fitness activity, but that may not be the best way to meet your needs, at least in the beginning. The financial investment in private sessions tends to be a bit more than enrolling in a series of classes, but that investment will more than pay off in what you learn about how to practice for your specific needs. The instructor should help you set up your home practice between sessions and can guide you in selecting an appropriate group class that matches your abilities and goals if you decide that’s right for you. Many people, however, choose to continue private sessions for a series of weeks, months, or even several years. The yoga practice will evolve and change as you do.
Questions to Ask
Whether you choose private sessions or a group class, here are some questions to ask that will help you connect with the right practice and instructor for you:
• What training or experience does the instructor have with your particular health condition(s)?
• How well does the style of yoga (e.g. amount of physical activity and intensity level) match your needs?
• In a group class, what adaptations can be made to support you personally in the practice? How large is the class and how much individual attention will you receive?
• For private sessions, what is the format and what types of materials and support will you receive for your practice?
Visit the FAQs page at www.santosha.cc to learn more about styles of yoga, research on yoga and health, and more.