Yoga — what’s it all about

Yoga is rapidly gaining popularity as an exercise choice in Melbourne. Yoga teacher, Kathy Peterson, says this is because people are seeking out exercise as a way to de-stress as well as to get fit and yoga covers both bases. “More people are trying yoga so more people are becoming aware of it. As a result more styles are available to try,” she explained. “The physical practice calms you down. Yoga trains us to still the mind and see it as just thoughts as opposed to getting caught up in the internal dialogue. If you can detach from the mind you can have more control rather that the mind leading the way all the time, and I think that is beneficial.”
Peterson, who has a degree in physical science and a background in gymnastics, personal training and pilates has been a yoga teacher in Melbourne for over nine years. “The first time I did yoga I was challenged physically and I walked out with a sense of calm. I wanted to keep doing it,” Peterson said. “Yoga makes me want to be a better person. It softens me. I don’t know why.”
But what is yoga? Is it a spiritual journey, a religious philosophy, a mystical healing experience or just an exercise routine that can increase strength and flexibility? Peterson says it’s all of these things or just some of them — the choice is yours. “To me it is the union of the body, the mind and the breath,” she said. “Some people take it from a spiritual aspect and then they appreciate the way their body feels.”
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India more than 2000 years ago. In the late 1900’s yoga guru and Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, introduced Indian philosophies to the western world. In the wake of his success, a number of yoga gurus also ventured westward to share their knowledge. So yoga was first in fashion during the time of British India — but how did they do downward dog pose in a Victorian corset or with an Edwardian bustle I wonder?
While yoga is an ancient practice, ancient yoga was very different to what we call ‘yoga’ today. Modern yoga is the result of two thousand years of evolution and mostly based on theory developed in the past 150 years or less. There are present day gurus and teachers with their own philosophies and practices that continue to develop new theories and styles. The basic exercises may stay the same but other elements are added.

There are so many different styles and studios to choose from the difficulty with yoga in Melbourne lies with being spoilt for choice. It is possible there is a yoga studio to cafe ratio of 1:1 near where I live — it certainly feels like it! And there is an endless choice of gear that you can purchase to support your Yogic pursuit with the right look. Then there are so many styles of yoga it’s difficult to know where to start!

In my neighbourhood I don’t have to walk more than a block or two in any direction to find a yoga studio offering classes with a choice from, Bikram Hot Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Power Flow Yoga, Infra Red Hot Yoga and one that sounds really interesting… Anti-Gravity Yoga. So what are the differences and how do you choose which yoga class is right for you?

Peterson says that while she appreciates all styles of yoga for different reasons, her current favourite is Power Flow yoga. Power Flow is a Vinyasa Flow class with a flowing posture routine, known as sun salutations, set in a room warmed to around 30 degrees. Peterson says the heat is used to intensify the challenge.

Bikram Hot Yoga is a standing pose yoga style. This means that the postures are mostly static with little flow sequences and the classes are held in a very hot room — around 40 degrees. This style is not for everyone and the studio near me recommends not eating 2 hours prior to attending a class and drinking lots of water.

Hatha Yoga, or Sun Moon yoga focuses on balance between opposing forces such as strength and weakness and inhalation and exhalation. This style class is good for anyone at any level.

Iyengar Yoga Peterson says is very strong on alignment and doesn’t focus as much on the philosophy until you get to a very advanced level of practice. Often props such as blocks, blankets, bolsters and chairs will be used to achieve optimal alignment.

Anti Gravity Yoga sounds exotic and fun. I’m not sure what the philosophy is but from what I can glean from Dr Google it looks as though you do stretches in a cocoon-like silk hammock and it might feel like flying. I am definitely going to try this one out!

And then there’s Doga — yoga for dogs… need I say more?

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