Yoga pose

I’ve been practicing Yoga for 10 years. During this time I’ve learnt much from the teachers that have guided me. Yoga in its true form is about the breath, the asanas (body postures) came many years later.  

To help you on your yoga journey, listed below are some Yoga styles and breathing techniques that you can try – and how easy it is to make the Yogic breath part of daily life.

How it can heal

My Yoga practice changed soon after losing my Dad. Pranayama (conscious breath or breath control) helped me with the anxiety and stress that followed after his death. It would’ve helped if I’d remembered to use my conscious breathing when hyperventilating at the funeral. The body will heal itself once you let go of negative thought patterns and Yoga was key in helping me heal emotionally.

Since then I’ve focused more on my breath. In turn, my practice and my overall well-being has improved. We carry a lot of emotions in our bodies, especially in the hips so don’t be surprised if you shed a few tears during your practice!

Yoga is meditation in motion. Apart from the physical benefits, it can help mentally, calming down the overwhelming thoughts and emotions life throws at us. Start young – take your children to kids yoga classes so they can learn to live more consciously aware and pick up some coping skills as they grow.

Yoga styles & breath work

Below are 5 styles of Yoga and 4 Pranayama breathing techniques. This isn’t a comprehensive list but it’s a starting point.

Sometimes it’s more about finding the right teacher than the class itself. No two Yoga teachers are alike, even when teaching the same style. You’ll learn a lot from your teacher which will help you deepen your spiritual practice.

And lighten up if you can’t get your body to look like a pretzel! Leave your ego at the door along with your shoes!

Genetically you won’t be able to do some poses because we’re all built differently. Go to your edge and find the best expression of the pose for you, there may be some poses that you’ll never perfect. I still can’t get my feet flat to the ground in downward-facing dog!

On the flip side, rejoice when you finally get into that pose and marvel at how far your breath takes you and the miracle that is your body.

Side note – some teachers practice chants in their classes. I find chanting meditative – close your eyes and lose yourself in the moment.

Search online for demos and further info about any particular style or breathing technique.

5 Yoga styles

Ashtanga – the most energetic and physically challenging. Traditional set of poses done in the same sequence every time, “series A” and “series B” sun salutations followed by poses that flow – which can include jumping and hopping.

Vinyasa – sequences, but not set, flow from one move to the next quite quickly. One breath one movement – closest to Ashtanga.

When your Yoga teacher spends her vacations in India and comes back with a stack of CDs, you really do get a sense of flow as you move to the music. I’m a girl who likes to flow with life and my body favors this style.

Hatha – most styles of Yoga in the West are classified as Hatha. When I’ve practiced a class labeled just “Hatha”, it would start with a meditation, then pranayama followed by holding poses for 5 breaths or longer.

Iyengar – detail, precision and alignment of each pose using equipment: blocks, bolsters and straps, can include pairwork.

Yin – focus is placed on improving flexibility by exercising both bone and joint areas by holding each pose for 5 minutes. Surrender into your body by focusing on the breath to take you deeper into the pose. It also regulates the body’s flow of energy.

4 Pranayama breaths

Ujjayi “victorious breath” – your best Darth Vader impression! Constrict the back of your throat, breath in and out through the nose, making the breath audible to yourself. This is the breath you use throughout your practice.

Kapalabhati – fire in the belly breath – inhale deeply, then exhale rapidly by contracting your stomach muscles, usually 30 rapid breaths, as you exhale from the belly creating some energy and heat!

Nadi Shodhana – alternate nostril breathing – this breath is centering and calming.  Block your right nostril with the right thumb, inhale left nostril, block left with ring finger, exhale right, inhale right, block right, exhale left, inhale left. Keep alternating 5-7 cycles.

Sheetali – the cooling breath – cools the body and mind. Drop your chin to your chest, curl your tongue, breath in, lift your head, close the mouth hold the breath, drop the chin to the chest, exhale through the nose. Repeat 5-7 cycles. Cool down on a hot summer’s day (works a real treat) or if feeling hot under the collar with stress!

Where to practice

Yoga studio – specific level classes: beginner, intermediate, advanced. Hands on adjustments. The sublime setting – all things Yoga: singing bowls, yoga literature and artwork, soft lighting – what’s not to love!

Gym – all levels in one class, less hands on adjustments. A good Yoga teacher will always give  options depending on the level you’re at. Note – some teachers may not teach certain challenging asanas in a gym setting.

Home practice – YouTube, books, audio and apps. Something you can take and do on your vacations.  

Anytime. Anywhere.

I’ll be using my Yogic breathing when I trek Everest Base Camp in a few months, at high altitude – when your lungs are working at 50% capacity and the blood takes longer to reach your brain, I’ll be focusing on my breath to get me through.

And for all the other times? When you’re feeling stressed at work, home or standing in line, do some Ujjayi breathing. When you focus on the sound of your own breathing you drown out the thoughts and live in the present. This is Yoga.

OM shanti shanti shanti.