- Adult & Community Enrichment
YOGA FOR EVERY BODY - October 2021
YOGA FOR EVERY BODY
Yoga as we know it today looks very different from its beginnings, thousands of years ago on the Indian subcontinent, where the practice of yoga included much more than physical exercises.
Nevertheless, the physical aspect of yoga is what caught on in the West, particularly the United States, gaining popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s when it was practiced mainly by young people—part of the “New Age” movement—who saw the exotic Eastern practice as refreshingly new and spiritually liberating, as well as a way to just “get healthy.”
Within a few years, some yoga teachers began to adapt yoga poses to the limitations of older people and those with chronic illnesses. Scientists began conducting research on the effects of yoga practice, and the results were positive, leading to more specialized classes. In fact, many health professionals began recommending yoga as a treatment for common conditions, a trend that continues today. For example, The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic low back pain, which afflicts about 25% of Americans, according to the CDC.
Nowadays, you can easily find a yoga class that is just right for you, whether you are in tip-top shape and can handle a fast-paced, strenuous yoga class such as Ashtanga, Iyengar, or Vinyasa, or whether your balance is a little shaky or you have a bit of arthritis and you need a slower, gentler class such as Beginning Yoga or Chair Yoga.
Following is a guide to a few of the many types of yoga classes you might find out there today, separated according to the relative level of fitness you need to practice them:
Chair Yoga / Gentle Yoga / Peaceful Yoga
Classes with titles such as these are usually beginning yoga classes that will slowly introduce you to the feel-good aspects of yoga practice without the strenuous mat-work of the “gym-style” yoga classes. They are particularly well-suited if you are elderly, or have a chronic health condition, or are recovering from surgery; for example, a knee replacement or rotator cuff. Many yoga exercises have been adapted or simplified so that they can be done either seated in a chair or standing holding onto the chair back. This allows you to get many of the benefits of practicing yoga without worrying about your balance or about having to get down to the floor on a mat (and back up again!).
If the room has a barre, such as those used in dance classes, it can be used for balance in lieu of a chair back. Many such classes stress building core strength in order to improve balance, while also teaching some basic yoga poses, such as adapted Sun Salutations and simplified Triangle Poses that can be done using the barre, a chair back, or a wall for support.
Beginning Yoga / Yoga Basics / Yoga for You
If you’re fairly fit and can get down on the floor easily, try out a basics class. Even if you’re a little stiff, these introductory classes will take it easy on you, focusing on teaching you the basic poses, concentrating on proper alignment and teaching you how to breathe. You will learn some sequences, such as the popular Sun Salutation, though the instructor may modify the poses slightly depending on student ability. Expect to get a little winded! But the class will be interspersed with rest poses to allow you to catch your breath and teach you how to really relax. Many beginning classes also incorporate instruction in meditation. These are good classes not only for beginners but also for those who have returned to yoga after a long absence.
Vinyasa (Flow) Yoga / Ashtanga Yoga / Iyengar Yoga
Vinyasa means “moving with the breath” and is also called Flow Yoga; it is a moderately strenuous yoga practice taught in sequence form, with emphasis on moving with the breath, alternating movement and rest. Ashtanga Yoga and Iyengar Yoga are strenuous routines of yoga poses, usually arranged in a specific sequence from standing to kneeling to seated to lying down, in order to conserve energy. In these fast-paced classes, you will be working on a mat on flexibility, strength, and balance in a smooth sequence of traditional yoga postures such as Sun Salutation, Triangle, Plank, Plow, and Cobra.
Although these classes are usually attended by people who are fairly fit and flexible to begin with (and probably have some experience with yoga previously), the teacher will be alert and ready with modifications for each pose for those new to yoga or who are unable to complete the full position. If you attend this type of class, it’s important to listen to your body to make sure that you don’t strain or stretch to the point of pain. Because everyone’s body is different, everyone will be performing a slightly different sequence, but the most important factor here is breath: all poses should be performed with a smooth, full breath to connect the body with the mind, which calms and focuses you.
Yoga for All / ”Umbrella”-type Yoga Classes
Some mixed classes offer inclusive options for a variety of students. While most students can breeze through a regular routine of yoga poses, others may require many modifications. The goal in these classes is to provide each student with a custom routine to fit his or her body’s capabilities and needs. This may change over time, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to meet those changing needs. Because a class in which several students have varying needs can be challenging to teach, these types of classes are usually small in class size.
Tips for Getting the Most From Yoga Class
- Always obtain your doctor’s okay before beginning any new exercise program.
- Be sure to pay attention to your breathing in yoga class. There will be a particular breath pattern for each yoga pose. Always breathe through your nose.
- Most yoga classes include a few minutes of relaxation and/or meditation at the end of the class. If not, you can easily find stand-alone meditation classes. It’s worth your while to seek them out, as meditation has proven mental and physical benefits!
- If the course description is not specific about the target audience, always call and ask for more information about the class to be sure it’s right for you. You may even need to speak to the instructor.
- Dress in layers; though the room may start out feeling chilly in air-conditioning, you will warm up once you start moving.
- Most yoga practice is done with bare feet, not in shoes. (The exception may be Chair Yoga.) If you are hesitant about taking a class in bare feet, ask the instructor if you can wear socks with grippers instead. Regular socks are too slippery; your feet must be able to grip the mat or floor securely.
- The course description should include instructions about what to wear and what equipment, if any, to bring with you. If you use studio mats or blocks, it’s a good idea to bring your own antibacterial wipes.
- Don’t forget to mute your phone! Yoga should be a time when you let yourself turn inward, not outward.
Yoga for Everyone: A New York Times Well Guide
The New York Times: Yoga After 50
Johns Hopkins Medicine: 9 Benefits of Yoga
Written by Patricia Rockwood, Instructor and Staff Writer, Adult & Community Enrichment