As an ageing grappler I post a lot about recovery and mobility. Part of the recovery work I do includes yoga. I really enjoy yoga and the benefits I have experienced from it. If you are interested in yoga this post is intended to provide a guide to yoga for beginners. To help you find a suitable style of yoga for you if you have an interest.
There are many benefits of yoga for everyone of any age or gender. These include increased strength and bone density, good stuff but especially important as we age. As well as supporting benefits for BJJ, weightlifting and many other sports. Breathing control, relaxation and eventual flexibility. These alone should be enough to get anyone on the mat.
Despite this I have met many people who believe the ongoing myths. Yoga is slow and boring; it’s done in incense-filled rooms or in a ridiculous 40C heat; it’s just for girls, its all about chanting and ultimately you must be flexible to do yoga.
The reality is far from these myths. Yoga is for everyone, whatever your body type or ability. Yoga is the same as any physical activity, you develop improvements doing it. So by doing yoga you develop strength, balance as well as flexibility. You become flexible as a consequence of practising yoga, it’s not something you must be to start. That’s like saying you have to be strong before you lift a weight. No one has turned up to their first yoga class (unless they were a previously a dancer or a gymnast) able to do advanced yoga poses straight away. The key thing to understand about yoga, is that it is meant to heal your body. Allowing each of us to obtain the physical abilities all of us should have.
Having tried a couple of styles I would say to get the most benefit and the most enjoyment, you need to find a yoga style and a teacher that suits you. For example, if you’re already doing lots of strength training your best choice is likely to be a yoga style that focuses more on flexibility, like hatha. That way, you can create a balance to your fitness routine. Those who have an injury or live with a chronic medical condition such as arthritis might want to try Iyengar yoga, or one-to-one sessions with a teacher where you will be able to focus on alignment and your unique needs. If you want a challenge, ashtanga vinyasa or vinyasa flow might be a good choice. For my BJJ I have found that ashtanga inversions and the physical control complement it well and have been of great benefit.
Before you make a decision I would suggest that you try a few of the most common styles of yoga that you might see on a yoga studio (or gym) timetable. The classes will usually indicate if they are for beginners or all levels. When you think you’ve settled on a style of yoga you enjoy, try a few different teachers. All teachers have their own unique focus based on their personalities, their own yoga practice and where and with whom they’ve trained.
A good teacher will not just show you the asnas (postures) from the front of the room. They should be moving around adjusting, correcting and giving alternatives to people who cannot do the full pose or have an injury. This helps you go beyond your own perceived limits and improve. This encouragement helps you to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. A good teacher won’t expect you to be anything other than a beginner and they want you to have and enjoy a beginner’s experience. This is what my teacher does and it is this interaction that I credit for the improvements in my physical health and my yoga.
Iyengar yoga is great for learning the subtleties of correct alignment. Props – belts, blocks and pillow-like bolsters – help beginners get into poses with correct alignment, even when they’re new to them, injured or simply stiff. Anusara yoga is a more modern form of Iyengar.
Ashtanga is a more vigorous style of yoga. It offers a series of poses, each held for only five breaths and punctuated by a half sun salutation to keep up the pace.
Vinyasa flow has you moving from one pose to the next without stopping to talk about the finer points of each pose. That way, students come away with a good workout as well as a yoga experience. If you’re new to yoga, it is a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get a feel for the poses. Vinyasa flow is really an umbrella term for many other styles. Some studios call it flow yoga, flow-style yoga, dynamic yoga or vinyasa flow. It is influenced by ashtanga yoga.
Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 yoga poses to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as compress and “rinse” the organs of the body. The poses are done in a heated room to facilitate the release of toxins. Every bikram class you go to, anywhere in the world, follows the same sequence of 26 poses.
There are other types of “hot” yoga but they will be Ashtanga, Vinyasa or another style of yoga in an appropriately heated room. They cannot call themselves Bikram yoga as you have to use the specific sequence of poses selected by Bikram for that.
Hatha yoga really just means the physical practice of yoga (asanas as opposed to, say, chanting). Hatha yoga now commonly refers to a class that is not so flowing and bypasses the various traditions of yoga to focus on the asanas that are common to all. It is often a gentle yoga class.
If you can’t get to a class near you or would rather try something at home there are online courses available. The most relevant one is Yoga For BJJ I have attended a seminar with Sebastian and I still use some of the yoga and mobility techniques he taught on that seminar today. There is also a great list of yoga websites here. However I would always recommend that you try classes to ensure you can feel the correct alignment of your body.
I hope this short introduction will encourage you to step into the world of yoga. I have personally only experienced benefits from my efforts. But it took a while to find a style and teacher to help me with this. Even as a complementary activity I am sure you will find yoga a benefit.