As yoga becomes more and more popular anyone that wants to take a class has the advantage of being able to find one in so many places, there should be several available at your local gym but there are also studios that do only yoga.
With all the places to practice yoga and the fact it is growing all the time selecting a class to attend can be daunting. What exactly you can expect from a class can be pretty difficult to work out and as an athlete it is really important to make sure you get the right class for you.
Top 6 Tips For Athletes To Select a Yoga Class
1. Ease of Access
This is vital because if you cannot easily get to the class then it is unlikely you will stick to a regular routine and then the benefits you get from your practice will be significantly reduced.
2. Your Weekly Schedule
Think about how it is going to fit in with what you are already doing. If you plan to attend a class on a day when you already have a lot to do are you likely to go or will it be the thing you drop. Find a day when you know you can keep your plans.
3. Your Training/Competing Schedule
This is more to do with the type of class that you select, so if you are doing a class on a day when you have heavy training then you might want to pick a more gentle form of yoga, the same goes for the day after competing.
4. Your Season Cycle
Where you are in your training/competing season may determine the type of class you attend. For example if you are at the early stages of your cycle and you are looking to build fitness then you may want to try a more dynamic form of yoga that is going to work your body and respiratory system strongly. However as you come to the peak in your season you may find you are better served with a more gentle form of yoga that is going to support your training and help with recovery between sessions.
5. Your Personal Preference
All this being said it is also important that you enjoy your yoga sessions and so for that reason if you try something you don't like then try something different and find the form of yoga that works for you. For example I once tried Bikram Yoga and although I can see the benefits of it I just did not enjoy the experience so did not do it again but I still practice yoga daily. However if you find something you like then you can still try other forms and other teachers. It is always good to get other eyes on you and ways of practicing as this will stop you getting stuck in a rut.
6. The Teacher's Style
Even among a particular type of yoga teachers will have different delivery styles and ways of teaching. Some you will love some you will not and this is fine, teachers expect that. It is important to work with a teacher who's style you enjoy this will keep you coming back but again don't limit yourself, just because one teacher is great doesn't mean another one isn't great too.
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Yoga Styles Explained
A practise that focuses on form and alignment but with a big emphasis on backbends. This may be quite a challenge if you have a stiff back however you can often find them being taught in blocks of 6 or more classes so each class will progress from the last allowing you to develop your practise. Be warned though that you may hear the instructor talking a lot about heart opening and using words like spirals and loops so if this sort of thing is going to put you off then this type of yoga might not be for you.
One of the fundamental yoga practises that is high intensity. It is a set sequence of poses that are practised in the same order in every class. It can either be done as instructor led or if you see a Mysore class that will be done as self practise and a teacher observing and correcting where necessary. This is a very dynamic class that focuses on forward bends which has pluses and minuses. I found that regular Ashtanga practise stressed my hamstrings as I was over stretching and left an imbalance in my body. You also need to be aware that teachers of this style can be very demanding and expect you to be able to do more than you want to so just take care if practising this style.
Bikram classes are a set sequence of poses whereas hot yoga is more teacher defined but both are done in rooms heated to around 100F or 40C. This has the benefits of allowing you to stretch more easily but it can be possible to over stretch and actually do damage. Also in Bikram classes the instructors can be a bit like boot camp leaders which is not ideal as it will make your competitive edge kick in and you will be moving away from your aims. If you do practise hot yoga, keep hydrated, work within your capabilities and if you need to rest, rest.
A relatively new style that is becoming more popular. It combines a number of other styles with emphasis on alignment and the connection of the mind and body. There are a number of spiritual elements to this practise so if that is not your thing you should avoid these classes. The other note of caution is that if you do one of these classes there are a lot of arm balances and handstands which are fun but you need to ensure they will not damage your body and so put you out of the sport you love.
This is pretty much a general term applied to any yoga class that does not fit into another category. They can be a good place to start and work on balancing strength and flexibility. However as these are very much teacher defined you do not know what you will be getting so you might want to investigate a teacher and see what they offer before attending a class.
A form of yoga that is performed slowly, uses lots of props and focuses on alignment. This is an excellent class for athletes as the whole principle of it is working without any force. This can be done at times when you want to work the body but do not want to do a dynamic fast moving class.
Developed from Ashtanga but includes chanting as a core element. You will also find that the teacher does no demonstrations and just offers verbal cues and physical adjustments. This is an intense fast moving class but can be a good one to include at the early stages of your season and when you want to do something to help with increasing fitness.
This form of yoga puts the emphasis on the experience of the person practising. You can adapt things to suit you and so you can make this a slower gentler practise or a more intense practise depending on what you need. For that reason it can be a great option for any athlete at any time, however finding a class near you might be a challenge.
A form of yoga that I associate more with a spiritual side and not something I would recommend to an athlete. Often you will do very intense repepetitve motions with matching chanting. It is something you really need to be into and also may do more harm to your body than good. That being said if you like the spiritual side and the season has just ended you might want to give it a go, it can be fun and will offer you something different.
The most gentle of all the yoga forms, using bolsters, blocks, pillows and blankets to support you in techniques. Each technique is often held for upward of 5 minutes but in a very gentle way and the aim of this class is effectively to let you rest and restore. This is the perfect class the day after competing or towards the end of the season when anything demanding could overstress your already tired body.
A relative slow form of yoga that begins with sun salutations and then is made up of 12 exercises that are repeated in every class, finishing with a relaxation. The practise is split into 5 points: Proper Exercise (Asanas), Proper Breathing (Pranayama), Proper Relaxation (Savasana), Proper Diet (vegetarian), Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana). This practise is better aimed at athletes that are looking for a more spiritual practise. It is also worth mentioning that the 12 exercises include headstand and hand balances that could be demanding for the body and maybe not the best to go alongside your training and competing.
Sport Specific Yoga
If you are really lucky you might be able to find a class that is specific to your sport and then you are made. One word of caution though, checkout what your teacher's training is as if they do not understand the pressures and demands of your sport it may not be exactly what you are looking for.
A personalised form of yoga taking each person as an individual and tailoring a practise to them. This is usually practised on a 1:2:1 basis and I would include sports yoga coaching in this as a form of viniyoga.
Vinyasa Flow/Power Yoga
A highly dynamic form of yoga that has been developed from Ashtanga. It includes sun salutations and a flow from one pose to the next using a vinyasa (which is developed from sun salutations). This can be used when you want something that is going to help build your fitness and when you have more energy.
A slow form of yoga where poses are held for at least 5 minutes. However don't be fooled, this is not a gentle form of yoga and can be very demanding for the body. Holding the positions for a long time, often with props will develop a deep stretch in the muscles that can feel very intense. This can be a nice practise to use when training and playing is at a high level and you want something to balance it out. Be careful though as you will deeply stretch the muscles so this is best done after training when you have plenty of time to rest and allow the muscles to recover after.
The above gives you a brief outline of the main forms of yoga (that I have come across). Keep up to date with this page though because as new forms are developed I will add them. Also if you find I have left anything out or a type of yoga you want to know more about just add a comment and let me know otherwise please get in touch and let me know if you have any questions.