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Preventing Cancer Through Exercise: A Spotlight on Yoga

Posted Aug 27 2009 11:38pm
Yoga is a great exercise to start with, particularly if you have never been keen on other exercises. It provides a great connection between the physical and the spiritual and attending classes. After I go to a yoga class, I feel completely transformed. Many of the poses invert your body and this helps getting blood flowing in ways in normally does not and helps deliver nutrients to different parts of the body.

A common misconception is that yoga is easy, or does not really give you a good "work out" like running or weight training. This couldn't be farther from the truth. When done correctly, yoga builds stronger muscles (even muscles you didn't know you had), and many class types have a continuous flow, which keeps up your heartrate in the same way a treadmill workout would.

Yoga is something you can and should practice on your own daily, but I definitely recommend attending classes with trained yogi teachers for awhile before attempting anything difficult on your own. Professional teachers will show you the correct way of doing poses so that you do not hurt your back, neck or any other part of your body. Once you start investigating classes you'll notice there are a few different types. Here are some brief descriptions of some of the most common types of yoga classes to to help you decide which is right for you.

Anusara Yoga

Ideal for: Beginners, People who don't like being pushed too far
This class will focus on the purism of yoga and teaching correct alignment. However, unlike Iyengar yoga below, it is more accepting of incorrect alignments and doesn't push newcomer yogis too far. This may be the perfect starting point if you have recently finished treatments. 

Ashtanga Yoga (sometimes called Ashtanga vinyasa yoga)
Ideal for: Non-beginners, People looking for weight loss, cardio, and strength training all-in-one.
This class will follow a series of poses done in sequential order and emphasize linking each pose and series together with your breath.  Since you need to know the poses to follow the quick flow of the class, it's best to attend an Iyengar or Anusara class first to learn the names of poses and how to do the. Typically Ashtanga classes will have the same exact sequential flow every time. Some may think this is boring, but I find it to be the best way to build strength. Familiarity with the sequence allows you to focus more on alignment and going further in your poses.

Bikram Yoga
Ideal for: People who prefer sweating profusely during work-outs and possibly fainting
This class will be a series of 26 basic yoga poses, each done twice, all in a 105 degree room. If you like it hot, this is for you. There are no vinyasas, since it is too hot. Personally, it is not for me.

Iyengar Yoga
Ideal for: Beginners, People who really want to learn the correct way to do yoga
This class will emphasize alignment and encouage the use of props if you need them (i.e. your body is not ready to stretch that far yet).Props can include blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards.
Many Iyengar teachers will be very strict and continually correct your alignment, be sure to wear fitted clothing so they can check your form.

Power Yoga (sometimes labeled Vinyasa Yoga)
Ideal for: Non-beginners, People looking for weight loss, cardio, and strength training all-in-one.
The description is in the name, this yoga focuses on getting powerful. The class is similar to Ashtanga, except Ashtanga classes will follow the same exact routine every time, while in power yoga the routine may change depending on the teacher.

So, what is a vinyasa? In many classes the teacher will tell you to go through your vinyasa.
Vinyasa means “breath-synchronized movement.” So, it is really about moving from one pose to the next either on an exhale or inhale and maintaining that breathing sequence.  When doing vinyasas, poses flow together and become like a dance. The most common vinyasa is a going from plank to chataranga to upward dog to downward dog. This is part of a Sun Salutation. So, head to a class to learn what it all is like!

Read some more yoga types at Women's Health
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