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Bend and stretch your style

Date
Bend and stretch your style.

Bend and stretch your style.

Evidence for yoga's health benefits is growing, with research showing it can help manage stress and reduce lower back pain. It might even cool the heat during menopause. One small American study reported an average 30 per cent reduction in hot flushes after eight weeks of yoga.

There is more than one kind of yoga but, for those who don't know their iyengar from their ashtanga, how to tell which class to take?

''The first thing to decide is what you want from a class,'' says the vice-president of Yoga Australia, Leigh Blashki. ''Do you want to relax and restore energy or do you want something more vigorous?

''Yoga is about balance. If your life is hectic, you might need a slower class. If you're sitting down a lot, maybe you need something more vigorous.''

The more energetic yoga styles (which often attract more men) include ashtanga, power yoga and iyengar, although iyengar can have periods of stillness as well. Vinyasa yoga can also be faster paced because the different postures (or, in yoga speak, ''asanas'') flow dynamically from one to the next. More meditative styles include raj, siddha and turiya yoga.

That said, yoga techniques are hard to pigeonhole because of a trend for teachers to use a fusion of styles.

''After a teacher has practised yoga for a while, they see what they like best about different styles and then put them all together,'' says Blashki. ''This … means yoga keeps adapting, rather than sticking with what a particular swami might have been teaching in 1920 and which may not be relevant now. If you're looking for a class to suit you, rather than asking a teacher, 'What style do you teach?,' it's best to ask what they emphasise in a class … Is it breathing, strength or flexibility?

''The most important thing is finding the right teacher - someone you relate to, someone who's professionally trained, who keeps up with professional development and has professional risk insurance.''

Yoga won't burn many kilojoules or do much for cardiovascular endurance the way walking, jogging or cycling will, but it is great for improving flexibility and range of motion, Rob Newton, a professor of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University in Perth, says. ''Both the static and dynamic postures of yoga are very good for balance,'' he says. ''You'll also get some increase in strength with any postures that involve supporting your own body weight - like the plank, downward facing dog or squatting - although if you really want to build strength, you need to use weights.''

The best approach is to mix activities that improve cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility. But, Newton says, yoga's ''mindfulness aspect'' is important. ''Focusing on your body and your breathing quietens the mind and helps with anxiety,'' he says.

Neither Blashki nor Newton is a fan of bikram yoga, which is practised in heated studios sometimes as hot as 40 degrees. Despite claims that heat increases yoga's benefits, Newton says such conditions are more likely to impair physical performance.

''The body diverts blood away from the muscle to the skin to try and keep your core temperature from rising,'' he says. ''Exercising in heat can place unaccustomed stress on the heart as the cardiovascular system tries to balance the demands of cooling and exercise, so there's a real risk of problems if someone has pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Without proper management and monitoring, there's the risk of heat illness or even death.''

To find a yoga teacher who is registered with Yoga Australia, see yogaaustralia.org.au or phone 1300 881 451.

Paula Goodyer blogs at smh.com.au/chewonthis.

11 comments so far

  • Yoga won't burn many kilojoules? That certainly isn't true for vinyasa flow/ power yoga. Vinyasa flow will give you a much better cardio and strength work out than walking any day.

    Commenter
    AHB
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    September 19, 2012, 10:40AM
    • Great article although I would suggest a 90 minute Ashtanga or Power Yoga session, with enough Sun Salutes, will burn a bucket full of calories.

      Commenter
      Robert Molck
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 19, 2012, 11:04AM
      • Or you can learn Yoga on YouTube. Visit Waka Yogi's YouTube channel and study at home.

        Commenter
        Waka Yogi
        Location
        Tokyo
        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 11:46AM
        • Won't burn kilojoules? Maybe but it's quite easy to adapt certain postures for an awesome whole body work out. Take the salute to the sun--positions 5-8 is what some people call a Hindu push-up. Do 50 of them in a row and tell me you aren't burning kilojoules. Combine that with what people term a Hindu squat (which I'm sure is another yoga move) -- do 100 of them and tell me it's not cardio.

          But you're right, it's all about balance, core strength and flexibility.

          Commenter
          Rogue
          Location
          Thailand
          Date and time
          September 19, 2012, 2:25PM
          • Concerns about the heat of Bikram Yoga are understandable, however responsible schools and teachers would not allow anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, including cardiovascular, to practice without permission from a doctor. If you're unsure then speak to your GP first. Personally I've found Bikram to be fantastic physically for cardo, strength and flexibility, and mentally for concentration, patience and stillness. The heat really accelerates my progress and I've had only positive outcomes. It's my favourite way to exercise. If you're curious then give it a go - just remember to drink plenty of water, breath and smile :) Namaste..

            Commenter
            Alyson
            Date and time
            September 19, 2012, 7:36PM
            • The move looks difficult, but the article is really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

              Commenter
              imkaren
              Date and time
              September 19, 2012, 7:43PM
              • Duncan Peak, Power Yoga (in studios in NSW) is now available on DVD. I use this once or twice a week to relieve sore muscles from my other more 'intense' activities: dance cardio, jogging, weights etc.. It's amazing!

                Commenter
                Miche123
                Location
                Melbs
                Date and time
                September 20, 2012, 1:28AM
                • This weekend I am returning to yoga, having realized after15 years of attempting gym-based cross-training that I have never felt or looked as wonderful as I did as a student of Iyengar yoga.

                  Commenter
                  return to
                  Date and time
                  September 21, 2012, 7:32PM
                  • Just started Bikram last week and it's having a very noticeable effect on my stubborn 48 year old weight after just four sessions. Apparently burns 500-1000 calories worth in the 90 minutes - that 90 minutes can really shift the daily calorie equation.

                    Though I didn't go into it for that reason - I just wanted to balance my long term weights and cardio training regime with more core strength and flexibility, but I'm finding Bikram at once more challenging and rewarding than either of them and there's definitely a solid cardio aspect to it.

                    Commenter
                    bleebs
                    Location
                    Melbourne
                    Date and time
                    September 25, 2012, 1:16PM
                    • I tried most flavours and none of them ever really grabbed me. Then I tried Kundalini Yoga. Love love love it.

                      Commenter
                      Nicole
                      Date and time
                      September 26, 2012, 6:03PM

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