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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I want to start taking Yoga classes, but there are so many different styles! How do I know which one is right for me?

Because Yoga has grown so popular in the last few years, a lot of us have many more choices than just your basic Yoga class at the local Y - although actually, that basic Yoga class isn't a bad place to start, if you are completely new to the practice. Unless a style, such as Iyengar or Ashtanga, is named a yoga class is most likely standard Hatha Yoga - you practice different postures over the course of an hour (some classes run a little shorter, some longer), and it usually ends with Shavasana, or Corpse Pose. A basic class will familiarize you with the poses and how to do them. Once you become more proficient, you will gravitate towards more advanced classes, where the poses are more challenging and held for longer periods of time.

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Basic Hatha Yoga is good for those who merely want to improve flexibility, build a bit of strength and feel relaxed and refreshed when they're through. But nowadays, people are often searching for something more from their Yoga practice. What they are searching for determines the styles of Yoga that are most appropriate for them.

If you want to get a real workout from your Yoga, then you need to go with a vinyasa style - one where you flow from one pose to the next. On a class schedule at a Yoga studio, it might be called Vinyasa, Flow, or Power Yoga. You need to be in fairly good shape already to keep up with most vinyasa-based classes - they are usually a bit challenging. But you will definitely work up a sweat! It is also a good idea to be familiar with the poses - since you are moving fairly quickly from one pose to the next, you won't have time to perfect your form. Vinyasa Yoga styles generally have their origins in Ashtanga Yoga, a very deep form of Yoga that is challenging to both the body and spirit. It is also extremely rewarding. Ashtanga consists of several different series of poses, and they are strictly adhered to. Ashtanga also focuses on the philosophy of Yoga - the Eightfold Path of the Yoga Sutras. If anyone confuses Ashtanga and Power Yoga, it is because they don't know very much about Ashtanga! Look at it this way - Power Yoga is more for exercisers; Ashtanga is for searchers. If you are serious about Yoga and its philosophy, and you are partial towards fluidity as opposed to static stretching, then Ashtanga is definitely worth exploring. You might want to find a studio that concentrates solely on Ashtanga, and that keeps intact the purity of the practice as taught by its twentieth century guru, K. Pattabhi Jois.

Another sweaty style of Yoga that is gaining popularity is Bikram. It was created by the charismatic and flamboyant Bikram Choudhury, and is practiced in a room heated to approximately 105 degrees to make the muscles, ligaments and tendons more flexible. Bikram Yoga consists of a series of 26 poses, done in an order that is strictly followed. Although at this time there is little hard evidence, anecdotal information indicates that Bikram's style of Yoga may have some positive health benefits, offering relief for a number of ailments ranging from premenstrual syndrome to osteoarthritis.

If you're more interested in the benefits you receive from a Yoga pose well done than you are in working up a sweat, then you should definitely examine Iyengar, named after Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, who brought it to the Western World. A good Iyengar instructor can also be an exacting taskmaster, and you will certainly learn every detail about what each part of your body should be doing during the pose being practiced. Props - bolsters, blocks, straps, backless metal chairs - are used so that every posture, no matter how difficult, can eventually be mastered by the student. Iyengar raises and fine-tunes your awareness, so that your body takes the lessons it learned during practice into every day life. Many teachers also learn how to use it therapeutically, and can present a series of poses to relieve the symptoms of ailments such as asthma, arthritis and even depression. No matter what style of Yoga you choose, it is necessary to find an instructor and class that works well with you; when it comes to Iyengar, this is even more crucial - some "beginning" Iyengar classes can be quite demanding! Be willing to try a different class and instructor if you feel overwhelmed. It will be worth it.

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