It’s National Yoga Month, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. While every month is yoga month to yogis, why not dedicate these last days of September to breaking out of your usual routine (read: your regular Vinyasa flow class) and trying something new?
We asked Alexandria Crow, a Vinyasa yoga teacher and teacher trainer at YogaWorks in Santa Monica, California, what other great types of yoga you might try to complement your regular practice.
Ashtanga consists of six set sequences that you memorize over years. You do the same thing day in and day out, five or six days a week, without verbal instruction from the teacher. You lead yourself through the portion of the sequence that the teacher has given you (as opposed to Vinyasa, in which the teacher leads by verbal cues and may change the sequence daily based on her desires and goals for the class). Over time, you truly see progress, and it’s great for strength and flexibility. It’s also great for somebody who’s used to being really athletic, because it’s very physically demanding. Practicing Ashtanga can also benefit yoga teachers, because you are teaching the poses to your body over time, which gives you the room to learn how you accomplished what you did and then to figure out how to articulate that in your own words to students.
Everybody should take an Iyengar class from time to time. It’s very heady because of the focus on clear verbal instruction, so you have to pay attention, which I truly believe teaches the philosophy. I always send a beginner to Iyengar, because you learn the basics, like how to prop yourself really well, based on your flexibility and limitations. If you have an injury, Iyengar teachers know how to work with that and everyone's unique strengths and limitations. The downside: Some people may not want to hold seven or eight poses for a 90-minute class...It’s not a moving flow like most people are used to.
Ninety-nine percent of Americans should take restorative classes, and 90 percent don’t take them. It’s meant to do what the title says—it’s meant to restore. Not necessarily the physical body, though it will do that, but it’s meant to restore your parasympathetic nervous system. Not that stress will go away, but it will reset the nervous system in a way that induces the relaxation response. Any yogi would benefit from doing restorative once a week.
See also: Restorative Detox Practice
If you’ve been doing the asana thing for a really long time and haven’t taken up a meditation practice yet, I suggest you find some kind of mindful meditation program (that’s what I practice). It’s the hardest thing to do at first, but incredibly beneficial, and you will see the results once you commit to it. I enjoy it because it doesn’t demand that you shut your mind off—it requires you to learn to focus on one thing, so that eventually you can use that pointed focus all the time in the moving world. It’s the next step and I couldn’t live without it.
Inspired? Crow recommends starting with this simple mindfulness meditation:
Sit in a comfortable position that you can be still in. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the fact that your body is breathing. Simply be consciously aware of the breath as it enters and exits. When your mind wanders to anything else—past, future, plans, judgments, fidgeting, sounds—simply guide your mind back to your breath. Do it over and over, starting with at least 5 minutes. You can't do it wrong. As long as you’re constantly returning your attention to your breath when you notice that’s not your focus, then you’re making progress.
See also: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
About Our Author
Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman