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Yoga Me Well Blog

Yoga for Peace, or Pecs?

Athletic yogaContemporary Westernised yoga evolves at a crazy pace, either reforming classical yoga postures by combining them with other practices (acrobatics, Pilates, martial arts, tai chi, theatre and dance), or updating classical posture work by sculpting it to music (Shakti Groove yoga, Punk Rock yoga!), practising in a hot room, or forming signature styles, such as entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury’s trademarked Bikram yoga, and John Friend’s Anusara yoga. The West is overly focused on posture practice, which was only ever a small part…

The form it takes today, bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced thousands of years ago by Pharaohs in the temples of Egypt, and later, by the scholarly class of Brahmins in India.

The West is overly focused on posture practice, which was only ever a small part.  Yoga is an extensive holistic healing system. Breath work, living by certain principles (yamas and niyamas), studying yogic philosophy, practices to harness the mind and the body’s energy systems, chanting and many more observances from diet to the Ayurvedic healing model, form yogic life.

Can Yoga for Pecs, also bring Peace?

Yes, it can.  If you turn up to your mat and focus entirely on your practice, not someone else’s, with your inner critic switched off, you will enjoy the mental calm that singular focus brings. With expert instruction and careful attention to your body’s needs, you’ll enjoy many physical benefits too and create wonderful energy and internal space.

I asked a friend, George, what she got out of her Bikram yoga practice of many years.

Bikram yoga offers a fast-paced, 90-minute session of 26 classical poses and 2 breathing practices with a couple of twists: they’re done in a wall-to-wall mirrored room, heated to 40.6 degrees, with 40% humidity, and instructions delivered in a set script learnt by its teachers worldwide.

“I started it purely for the physical benefits … I suffer from anxiety, stress and very bad digestion. . . It calms my mind and helps reduce the ‘negative self-talk’ that is part of my anxiety . . . When I do it on a regular basis, my digestive problems disappear altogether. . . My knee, ankle and back problems also improve … I’ve found that it has increased my feelings of self-acceptance and self-esteem.       . . I also like the predictability of the sequence.”

Hot yoga has swelled alongside Bikram, with heated studios running sweaty, athletic work-outs in less rigid formats. Some even offer rooms heated to a lower degree (in the 30s), and classes that may have fewer repetitions in a sequence, and/or fewer sequences, with less dynamic poses.

Take care…

In any fast-paced yoga class that incorporates challenging postures, you need a good teacher who gives concise, clear technical instruction throughout, as there is often no time for beginners to feel their own way forward. You need to stay tuned to your body’s own voice – “Stop. Too far!” – and heed it. Hot classes, in particular, create an artificial flexibility, in that you never learn how to ease yourself into challenging work from a cold start, which creates greater inner awareness.

Yoga for Peace

With all the challenging yoga styles available today, it’s easy to view other forms that involve more breath work, meditation, slow or gentle asana, chanting and philosophy, as ‘soft’, ‘try-hard’, or ‘out there’. A reflective and holistic approach, especially in our 24/7 society, some would argue, works more subtly to restore and sustain you not for just the hour, but every day.

It gives you opportunities to observe, hear and understand your body and mind, which leads to greater control over your practice, and more importantly, your mind and responses to life. Practised holistically, yoga can broaden your perspective and move you from dependence on others for your wellbeing, to independence. The union of mind, body and inner self (or spirit), which is the definition of yoga, is cultivated to settle deeply.

To find this approach, you’ll need to explore different classes and talk to teachers about their teaching focus and training. Be specific about what you want from a class.

This blog entry first appeared on

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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