Stretching in popularity

While yoga is still popular among many women, it has now been embraced by male athletes and football players

Yoga class: find one suitable for your level of fitness. Photograph: Getty Images

Yoga class: find one suitable for your level of fitness. Photograph: Getty Images

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 11:08

There was a time when yoga practise was associated only with hippie types who drank herbal tea and wore flip flops in winter. Now, there’s a yoga studio in almost every large town in Ireland and across the suburbs of our major cities. Yoga has also become popular among athletes, soccer and rugby players while maintaining its core following among women of all ages.

Historically, yoga dates back 2,500 years and is part of the wider Ayurvedic system of medicine from India.

However, the traditions and practices have been adapted by teachers over the years and the current forms of yoga taught in Ireland (see panel) mainly focus on physical poses ( asanas ) and breathing techniques ( pranayama ) with some relaxation and meditation.

Some yoga instructors will teach a blend of the different types while others will stick firmly to a specific form.


Bringing harmony
The aim of all yoga is to help integrate physical, mental and emotional aspects of your being and so bring harmony to mind, body and spirit.

Susanne Sturton, an Iyengar yoga teacher and director of the East Clare Yoga Centre, says Iyengar yoga starts with an awareness of the physical body but “becomes a meditation in motion through the refinement of physical movements with intelligent action”.

She suggests that Iyengar yoga is suitable for people of all ages because the use of props enables people to get into the poses without straining their muscles or compressing their internal organs.

“We try to retain the integrity of the posture so that people can find freedom of the body with the breath while building strength and stamina,” she explains.

Sturton suggests that more movement- based yoga approaches such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa may be more difficult for those with joint problems.

“People come to yoga for different reasons. Some come to maintain their level of physical fitness, others come for peace of mind or emotional stability while others come to lose weight,” says Sturton.

All yoga teachers advise those beginning a yoga class to discuss medical conditions with their teachers at the start and, if need be, also with their GP. Many yoga teachers ask students to fill in a form, detailing aspects of their health and what they hope to get from the class.


Awakening of the spirit
Jakki Reid, yoga teacher and tutor with Yoga Therapy Ireland (YTI), says, “Some people who are very physical might like to try ashtanga, kundalini or vinyasa flowing sequences but then others will prefer a gentler class which focuses on breath work, flexibility and the development of a quiet mind and awakening of the spirit.

“But, you should feel stronger, more flexible and empowered after any type of yoga. In YTI, we teach hatha yoga which could have some Vinyasa [eg the sun salutation], some Iyengar [holding poses] and some Ashtanga [specific breathing practises] in a class.” Reid says connecting with the teacher is just as important as the type of yoga that is taught.

“Finding a good yoga teacher is like finding a good mechanic or hairdresser. It’s a lot to do with your personal need. If you find you don’t connect with a teacher, you should go try other classes and other teachers.”

Reid also notes the rise of interest in yoga among sports people. “They come to yoga for flexibility training, help with their mental focus and to balance up their bodies to prevent injury.”

She’s also keen to point out restorative yoga is another growth area among those with restricted mobility or recovering from an accident or surgery.

Finally, the manager of the Open Mind Yoga Centre in Pearse St, Dublin, who preferred not to be named, says he has noticed a significant rise in the number of men coming to classes.

“Yoga was traditionally designed for men by men to manage their energies and [help] their spiritual awakening. Now, it’s available to everyone. People generally come to give themselves a lift or bring them to a calmer place inside.

“I see people arriving after six to eight hours sitting at a desk. It takes quite a lot of energy for them to get to the door but they float out of the place afterwards.”

Most popular types of yoga

Iyengar yoga: Iyengar yoga focuses most on physical awareness of the body with detailed attention paid to each pose (asana). Blocks, straps and cushions are used to achieve postural alignment without straining.

Bikram yoga: Also called hot yoga, this is when yoga asanas are practised in extreme heat (40 degrees Celsius) and high humidity (40 per cent). The emphasis is on correct alignment and movement.

Ashtanga yoga: Also called Power yoga, this is the most physically demanding form of yoga and probably is most suitable to those who already have a high level of physical fitness.

Vinyasa yoga: These classes emphasise flowing movement from one pose to the next in harmony with breathing techniques.

Kundalini yoga: This form of yoga incorporates postures, dynamic breathing techniques with chanting and meditation on mantras.

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