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Try Yoga - Take Time To Breathe

20 Dec 2004 

These days it's almost impossible to flip through a magazine without seeing a story about or mention of yoga. The Indian practise and philosophy has been around for a few thousand years and has had millions of devoted followers. But during the past decade, yoga has blasted into the mainstream, becoming the favoured exercise/philosophy/lifestyle of new mothers, movie stars and everyone in between. One reason? Yoga can provide an oasis of calm in an otherwise stressful world. To properly practise, you have to leave worry at the door, then focus on relaxing your mind while you stretch, tone and strengthen your body.

Exercise for the mind and the body

"Person A may find yoga energizing, Person B may find it relaxing," says Jill Batura, assistant program manager at the faculty of physical education and health at the University of Toronto. "It's a healthy activity that makes people feel good about themselves. There are physical benefits, there are emotional benefits. It's definitely good for health and well-being."

Healthy activity at any age

Yoga can be practised by pretty much anyone of any age. You don't have to be flexible (that will happen) or in perfect shape. Still, you should always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program-and particularly if you have concerns about exacerbating existing joint problems. If one type seems too strenuous or just isn't what you're looking for, try another style of yoga and experiment with different teachers to find out what suits you best. Among the more popular types:

What type of yoga is for you?

-- Hatha yoga is the term for the physical practise of yoga (there are other types of yoga that focus more on meditation such as Raja or selfless service to others such as Karma yoga). There are many types of Hatha yoga practices, the most popular of which are listed here, but you might go to a yoga studio and find someone teaching Hatha classes. There is no set sequence of postures in a Hatha class; each teacher chooses from the thousands of yoga postures to tailor-make his or her own class, and most will focus on keeping the breath steady and calm.

-- Ashtanga, one of the more popular forms of yoga, is highly energetic and dynamic but it can be learned and practised by pretty much anyone. Known as a vinyasa style of yoga, the practice flows without stopping from one posture to the next in a set sequence, and teachers will not let students progress to a new posture until they are ready. There are seven series of postures, each one more progressively more difficult, and there is a focus on a special type of breathing, called ujayi, and the use of bandhas, or locks inside the body, to build and maintain heat.

-- In Iyengar yoga, postures are held much longer than in other styles because so much of the focus is on making sure the body is properly aligned in each position. Iyengar also employs props such as blocks, blankets, chairs and belts to support students in postures that may be challenging for them.

-- Bikram can be a challenging form of yoga if only because it is practised in a hot-about 100°F-room. The heat is meant to reflect the temperature of India, and it warms up the muscles so there's less risk of injury. The profuse sweating is also thought to help the body rid itself of toxins. Students work through a set sequence of 26 postures and they do each posture twice.

-- Kundalini is a mixture of different postures, breathing techniques, chanting and meditation.

-- Kripalu, which was developed during the 1970s, falls into three stages: one focuses on the breath and alignment of the postures; the second is meant to train internal focus and concentration as students hold postures for a long time; and the final stage is when the student trusts that the body will move them into meditation.

Yoga classes of one style or other are available almost anywhere now, but if there aren't classes running in your community or if you are unable to get out to practise, there are plenty of options. Check your local library or bookstore for instructional videos, books or CDs. Or search the Internet and you'll easily find a wide variety of resources.

Written by Nora Underwood

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