Stretch it out

Yoga posesA guest post for a Friday from my running club team mate and fellow fitness blogger Bex Howitt:

With new yoga studios popping up all over place, it is easier than ever to take up yoga and to find a style that suits you. If reciting chants at the beginning of the lesson isn’t your cup of tea, then fear not. The range of yoga lessons on offer is huge and there’s something out there to suit everyone, from those looking for a good workout to those embarking on a spiritual journey. Over the years I have tried and tested various styles, with vinyasa and hatha yoga being my favourites. If you’re a yoga newbie, you might like to read about some of the different yoga styles on offer and perhaps find a class to try out.

Different styles of Yoga

Ashtanga

Astanga is a very physically demanding style of yoga that would suit those looking for a good workout. It is based on ancient yoga teachings, but was popularised and brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. This demanding style of yoga follows a specific sequence of postures, which is always undertaken in the same order. Most ashtanga classes last 90 minutes and should leave you feeling energised, if a little exhausted.

Bikram and Hot Yoga

Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga. Bikram classes are held in artificially heated rooms, meaning you should be prepared to get very hot and sweaty! The class follows a sequence of 26 poses which takes about 90 minutes. Hot yoga is very similar to Bikram, but classes do not  have to follow the same strict sequence. The heat is meant to help increase flexibility and aid weight loss but I personally find it a bit too much. The constant washing of towels and yoga clothes also got the better of me!

Hatha

Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures, so technically all yoga classes are hatha yoga. However, hatha yoga classes you see advertised are generally quite gentle and will focus on basic postures. I find these classes very relaxing as they provide gentle stretching and focus on breathing techniques. They are great classes for beginners as the pace is much slow, which means you won’t be getting left behind.

Iyengar

Iyengar yoga was developed and popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar is a very meticulous and precise style of yoga, which focuses on getting the proper alignment in a pose. To help students to achieve this, there are often lots of props in a class such as blocks, bolsters and straps. Students will stay in the poses for extended periods of time so it doesn’t provide the same cardio workout that other styles of yoga might.  However, it is great for increasing strength (mental and physical) and for people recovering from injuries.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for “flow”, which is why these classes are known for their constant fluidity and movement. Poses should move seamlessly from one to another with the movements connecting with the breath. Vinyasa classes are challenging but because they do not have to follow the same sequence, they are more varied than Bikram and ashtanga.

Benefit of Yoga for Runners

When training for an event, the body can find itself under a lot of stress and strain and even more so if you are training for something crazy like a Tough Mudder! Yoga can be used to complement training at any level, here’s how:

  • Yoga helps to stretch and lengthen tight muscles, in particular the hamstrings. Running can also cause tension in the lower back and shoulders, which various yoga poses can relieve. This helps to make the body more stable whilst running.
  • Yoga decreases your risk of injury by realigning and adjusting your muscles and bones.
  • Yoga provides a workout for the whole body. When practised regularly, it can greatly increase strength and stamina.
  • Yoga teaches an awareness of the link between the breath and movement and can improve lung capacity. This in turn can improve sports performance and endurance.
  • Yoga increases flexibility. Major muscle groups, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues are stretched during yoga practise.
  • Yoga improves sleep. Regular practice of yoga can help people relax making it easier to nod off after a long day.

I hope I’ve been able to give you a brief overview  of yoga and of some of the benefits that yoga can bring to your overall fitness and health. Give it a go, you might just find out you are a bit of a yogi! If you want to read more about running, fitness and yoga have a look at my blog, ‘Twins in Trainers’.

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