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Featured in Best Health, February/March 2018
Had it with Hatha? Bored of Bikram? Maybe it’s time to roll up your yoga mat in search of a new way to downward dog. There’s no lack of available options. Here are a few to contemplate.
For most of us, the word yoga is unlikely to conjure up the image of an ascetic meditating under a banyan tree.
In fact, what began in ancient India as a way to find existential enlightenment has morphed. Considerably. Today we tend to associate yoga with an aerobic workout, a stretch class, an opportunity to sport spandex, a potential for weight loss — or any combination of the above.
“There is a mushrooming of styles or approaches to the physical practice, some of which try to preserve some depth or essence, but many others that are not concerned at all with preserving it,” says Montreal-based yoga teacher, trainer and philosophy instructor Robin Golt.
When yoga began, “It didn’t include the kind of physical exercise we now refer to as yoga,” she says. “The original yoga was a response to existential questions about the universe, our place in the universe and the nature of who we really are as individuals.”
Although these existential questions are still relevant today, fewer people are asking them, says Golt. Instead, yoga is being marketed to appeal to a larger audience and taking on different shapes to respond to more people’s needs.
Over the last few weeks, I tried many of these new variations on the traditional yoga.
Here’s what I discovered.
TRY IT IF YOU LIKE
Something whimsical and playful. Maybe you like the idea of hanging upside down, or doing postures that you would find too challenging on the mat.
Aerial yoga, sometimes also referred to as AntiGravity Yoga or fly yoga, is a form of yoga that involves practicing various postures using a cloth hammock or “silk” suspended from the ceiling.
Although its exact origins are unknown, Christopher Harrison, a former gymnast and Broadway choreographer, founded a form of aerial yoga trademarked as AntiGravity Yoga.
With the support of a hammock, you can work on alignment (with less worries about balance), you can feel your spine lengthen and decompress without putting pressure on your joints, and you can release tension on your muscles and bones, says Marlene Sammy, co-owner of Fly Studio and Branch Yoga & Wellness in Toronto.
There’s a mental challenge as well. It’s cool to confront the emotion that can arise when you are upside down, and you are forced to let go without knowing where you are in space.
TRY IT IF YOU LIKE
To mix things up with a good sweat session followed by something more relaxing. It’s truly the yin and yang of exercise.
Spynga is the marriage of spinning and yoga. The same teacher leads you through a spin class followed by a yoga class. All the postures and flows you do on the mat involve lengthening and strengthening what you have worked on the bike.
When you spin, you get out of your head and into the motion of your body and breath, says Casey Soer, instructor and owner of Spynga studio in Toronto and a franchise in Ohio. The lights are dimmed and atmospheric music moves you through the phases of the workout — from setting an intention for the practice, to sprinting, climbing hills and then cooling down. On the yoga side, the focus is on balancing, stretching your body and calming your mind.
While living in New York in the ’90s, Soer says she loved to spin, and her friend Sari Nisker loved to practice yoga; each would drag the other to their respective classes. Then one day at a café in Hell’s Kitchen, they thought, wouldn’t it be cool to put the two practices together? Thus the concept for Spynga was born. The two trade-marked the word and copyrighted their teaching concept. The goal? To “convert the spinner into yoga and vice versa,” says Soer.
The Signature Class — 30 minutes of spin, 30 minutes of yoga — will leave you feeling good, balanced, and ready to take on the next challenge that presents itself in your day.
TRY IT IF YOU LIKE
To be out in nature or around water while working out. A lot of people who are attracted to this practice like to water-ski, surf or swim.
SUP yoga, as it sounds, is essentially about doing yoga on a paddleboard, ideally in calm water. The lake is your studio. The board is your yoga mat.
“SUP yoga really requires focused attention,” says instructor Amanda Stokes of Toronto Island SUP Inc. Although yoga always requires focus, with SUP yoga there is even more focus on balance and being aware of what is around you – of what, or who, might be coming toward you on their board, or of how close you are to natural elements like an overhanging tree, says Stokes.
With these distractions, you are still looking for “a still point amid the chaos,” explains Stokes. And doing the warrior pose, the crow, even a headstand on your board, makes for a special kind of challenge.
There are different theories about where SUP yoga comes from — some say California, others say Florida and Hawaii.
SUP yoga is really a natural progression from SUP, says Gudrun Hardes of WSUP Toronto. Some people like to race with the board; others just like to chill. When WSUP Toronto opened six years ago, the practice was just coming to Canada, says Hardes. Now it’s all over the world.
SUP yoga combines many good elements — being outside, doing yoga and joining together with like-minded participants. Although some postures are harder on water, some are actually easier and can feel really good, says Hardes. If you like headstands, for example, the potential to fall into water is likely less intimidating than the idea of hitting your head on hard ground.
TRY IT IF YOU LIKE
Yoga and Pilates, but don’t have time to do both in a week. It’s great if you want to improve your core, or if you have specific strengthening needs due to an injury.
As its name implies, yogalates is a blend of yoga and Pilates. It’s difficult to define specifically how these two practices are fused because yogalates teachers tend to create their own blend, depending on what they want to target, says Susan Emery, owner and primary teacher at the Yoga Lounge in Toronto. For Emery, her brand involves combining yoga breath with movements targeting problem areas in the body, specifically the hips and pelvis which tend to be weak. Like many other yogalates teachers, Emery incorporates props into her class — in her case, weights, ropes and bars.
Pilates was founded in the 1920s by German-born Joseph Pilates in an effort to help bedridden patients who needed core strengthening. Louise Solomon of Australia trademarked the yogalates method in 1997, incorporating a deep understanding of functional anatomy and core stability.
It can be adapted to the needs of people taking it, regardless of their body type. Yogalates helps tone core muscles. It gives you exercise, helps you to strengthen and stretch, possibly lose weight and generally feel better.