The right yoga for you? Part 2 of a guest blog series by yoga therapist Allannah Law.
In the last post, I talked about how yoga can ease the symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause and I mentioned that not all yogas are created equal when it comes to this time in our life. This fact sparked quite a bit of interest and many questions, so I thought I’d explain about the different types of yoga we can practise in the west and exactly who these yogas are beneficial for and why.
When it comes to yoga we are now, in the cities of the Western world, presented with a dizzying array of options. Bikram, hot yoga, Dynamic Flow, Astanga, Anusara, Hatha, Integral, the list goes on and on and well…on. You could be forgiven if you are feeling a bit flummoxed by choice, so here is some background to help you make a considered and informed decision. The word Yoga means to unite. You can add your own interpretation, but the accepted Western premise is that yoga means to unite body and mind. Thus, the prevalence of Hatha yoga. Hatha means sun – Ha and moon – tha, literally uniting night and day, masculine and feminine, yin and yang.
Hatha yoga is the predominant yoga taught in the West. The Asanas – postures- are there to bring you to a point of balance in the body and mind. That’s why hatha yoga is considered good for disease in the body or anxiety and depression. So hatha yoga includes all of the aforementioned yogas including Bikram etc. However, Hatha Yoga has come to mean a gentle form of yoga, a yoga with a lot of restorative poses that are held for some time along with meditation and pranayama (yogic breath).
Bikram/Hot yoga is a hot form of yoga, practised in a heated room to simulate the conditions of practising in India. Bikram has a set sequence of postures- which are now patented and you are placed in the class according to your ability. It is categorically not suited for women experiencing symptoms of peri or menopause such as anxiety or hot flashes. This is because both anxiety and hot flushes are aggravated by…heat. Meaning that the practise of Bikram may lead a woman with these conditions into a far worse state. This is a yoga where you need to be mindful of overstretching and blood pressure issues. This type of yoga is also not suitable for fertility issues or pregnancy.
Astanga Yoga is based on a sequence of postures given to Sri Patabi Jois by his teacher Krishnamacharya. It is dynamic in nature and you flow from one posture to another. It has several levels which you advance through. Bear in mind that these postures were given to Jois in his youth, so Astanga is not appropriate for everyone. Its dynamic nature can mean that if you are a competitive or anxious personality, it can exacerbate your state of mind ( this has been my personal experience). Therefore, this another form of yoga that may be inappropriate for women in peri/menopause. However, if you are a dancer or you suffer from depression, you may get a lot out of this form of yoga. Dynamic Flow or Vinyasa Yoga are similar to Astanga, in that they flow from pose to pose, but without the same sequence.
Iyengar is again based on a practice given to BKS Iyengar by Krishnamacharya. It was again a practice given to Iyengar as a very young man and will not suit everyone. However, Iyengar yoga uses a lot of props to support the postures and is very focused on technique, making it an excellent yoga for beginners, as well as athletes and those people with injuries and illness. Iyengar teachers are also very well trained and some are very competent at dealing with issues of peri/menopause. Caution is advised here though, as many of the poses are held for a very long length of time and can be aggravating to the mind/body.
Integral, Satchynanda and Shadow Yoga all hail from the Sivananda lineage. These yogas have varying degrees of difficulty but they also have a large focus on meditation, chanting and pranayama They are all very beautiful practices which will take you to a different level of yoga. They are all excellent yogas for women in this phase of their life – with the exception of shadow yoga- which is a very strong practice. They are great if you are searching for the spiritual context of yoga and also if you suffer from anxiety, as they encourage you to look within.
Viniyoga is a form of yoga developed by Mohan, another student of Krishnamacharya. This yoga is based on the principles of Yoga therapy, which Krishnamacharya moved towards in the later years of his life- believing that yoga should be taught one on one. This is a deeper practice with many repetitions, excellent for those with mental or physical illness or disease and wonderful for those who suffer from high stress. The yoga of Desikachar Krishnamachrya’s son, is sometimes also called Viniyoga, but this is incorrect , as Desikachar refers to it as Agama yoga. Desikachar studied with his father for over 30 years and is probably best placed to pass on the many wonderful teachers of the great Hatha yoga sage. Both these yogas were developed by teaching students one on one and are very appropriate for women in peri/menopause as they take into account the woman’s personal state.
Restorative yogas, such as yin yoga are ideal for menopausal women. Cooling, relaxing poses are practiced which are conducive to soothing the mind, body and spirit. These yogas are about putting something back, rather than challenging yourself. (Menopause may well be challenging enough!)
So there you have it! there are many worthy yogas I haven’t been able to cover – Dru Yoga, Oki Do Yoga yoga of the seasons), Yin yoga, Kundalini etc – but I hope it gives you a brief, basic insight into the sometimes confusing yogic world. Of course the best form of hatha yoga for a woman at our stage is a yoga developed purely for perimenopause and menopause. One that encourages strength building for healthy bones and blood pressure; one that seeks to balances unruly hormones (such as excessive or diminished oestrogen) and one that encourages the restoration of the body and the quieting of anxious, busy minds. With that in mind I have included a link to a free video of a relaxation technique I swear by, to use when you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re exhausted, or you want to crawl out of your skin. Enjoy!
P.s. There are other forms of yoga besides Hatha, if you interested ask me a question and I will do my best to fill you in on the other forms.