Yoga is bigger than "styles": you can find everything from power to hot to aerial yoga and it's easy to think that if you just understood what the names meant you'd be closer to finding what you need. "Styles" are what happen when people take a simple set of postures and techniques and brand them. Yoga is bigger than that.
The categories of yoga that matter don't refer to people's names: they are ways of taking care of yourself.
You may have experienced strong hatha in studios and gym classes, videos and audios - any class where you spent part of the time in standing postures, weight bearing on your arms or sweating. These classes run the range from gentle through what's commonly termed "advanced" and build strength, flexibility, bone and breath capacity.
Yin practices are characterized by long holds and cooling breaths, often through the mouth, contrary to the ujayyi warming breath often encouraged in the prior set of practices. These help address long standing patterns and support self knowledge, working with sensation and release of unskillful tension in the body at many levels, from muscle to fascia and nervous system.
You've definitely experienced restorative practices as long as you stayed through Savasana, or final rest in your 'regular' or strong hatha yoga class. Savasana (literally, "corpse") is a taste of restorative that's included in any true yoga class. These are fully supported postures where you stay for minutes at a time, sometimes with guided meditation or visualization and are a luxuriously accessible way to radically change your nervous system over time.
If you've been here very long, you know I recommend at least one of each of these practices a week for every yoga student. I even include some of each in every single class. This is the most effective use of your time on the mat if you're looking to create transformation in your body, your breath, your mind or your feelings.
Full Spectrum Yoga is a practice that includes all three of these yogic modalities. Full Spectrum Yoga teaches you to care for yourself in every situation: strong, injured, tired, energized, morning, evening, weekend, weekday, young, old, postpartum, pre- and peri-natal, anxious, depressed, joyful, content: a spectrum of practices you can tailor to your own life and needs. Full Spectrum isn't a new kind of yoga. Full Spectrum is a way of approaching your practice, fitness and self care so you address every level of yourself in your fitness regime and can draw from the ancient wisdom of yoga, proven through what science is learning about the fractured fitness model, to take care of your whole self and reach the goals you set for yourself.
Full Spectrum yoga for full spectrum living.
During September 2015 we'll be focusing on forward folds. Poses referred to as forward folds in yoga are poses in which your femur, or upper leg bone, is closer to your torso than 90 degrees.
When we focus on a particular class of poses - like forward folds - we focus on the actions of all the poses we do that involve this action. For instance, Downward Facing Dog has forward fold actions in the hips and backbend actions in the shoulders: we'll focus mostly on the hips this month. In Warrior I, instead of focusing primarily on shoulder actions, we'll focus on the leg strengthening action in the forward leg.
Forward folds both require and create strong, flexible core muscles - both the deep core and the vanity abs - to support a long, aligned spine with all its natural curves.
Hamstrings are a major focus during folds because the action of rotating the pelvis forward lifts the sitting bones from which the hamstrings originate. Since they attach to the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and cross the knee, keeping the knees bent while you flex at the hip with your core supporting your spine is the best way to enter forward folds form the majority of people - even very flexible ones. This allows you to create the container of the pose, focus on aligning with your breath and then to feel into the lengthening of the hamstrings as you straighten your legs, lengthening the hamstrings. Only go as far as you stay connected to your breath and your low back stays in great alignment; if the hamstrings are pulled down because they're not yet flexible and strong enough to cross the back of the leg fully extended, they'll pull your pelvis back toward its upright position and this will round your lower back. Rounding your lower back in forward folds puts you at risk for disk injury and generally compromises the fullness of your breath as low back rounding leads to shoulder and rib cage rounding. Bent knees allow you to stay connected through the entire body and create the strength you'll need when you're flexible enough to extend fully.
Forward folds are more contemplative, in general, than the mood elevating forward folds, and are great for calming anxiety, preparing for sleep and soothing your worried mind.
Look for forward folding focus in all my hatha, yin and restorative classes and explore the strength and flexibility that will allow you to rock your world from a place of calm and stability.
Questions about forward folds, hamstrings, home practice or yoga? Comment and get your answers here!