Performance Yoga

performance yoga

Performance yoga is yoga that is based specifically on the mental and physical needs of the training athlete. This can include individuals like runners and those training for long distance runs or triathlons or it can meet the needs of those training in a team, like football or rugby players.

Performance yoga balletThese individuals training for a competitive sport put their body through the repetitive stresses and are pushing their bodies to the performance limit. Yoga can help maximise the athletes physical performance by increasing mobility and flexibility. It can also act to help athletes deal with the psychological pressures of competing.

Often athletes are training hard carrying out the same high impact drills and practice over and over with little emphasis on stretching, rest days and muscle recovery. Yoga can provide these yoga for runnersbenefits:

Increasing power by developing strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints. This allows for greater muscle fibre recruitment and more efficient movements. This can be particularly true of the core muscles whic support the lifting of the legs and protection of the lower b ack. Practicing yoga along with your other sports helps with muscle function as you learn to develop breathing techniques that lead to increased lung capacity to facilitate oxygen exchange and Carbon dioxide expulsion. It can help train focus in the mind which leads to mental stamina and improved focus.

yoga for cyclistsAs well as the physiological benefits you can also learn to control more areas of the body. When your yoga teachers queues the movements they are directing your attention to specific areas of the body which builds the neuro-connections as mentioned above. Having greater control over your movements will help reduce injury. Recovery time from training sessions and injuries can be accelerated by practicing yoga on your rest days. Stretching and relaxation will increase blood flow to any damaged tissue (this is how muscle bulk is generated) leading to enhanced muscle repair. yoga-for-athletes american footbal;

Physiological Benefits

– Can increase muscle performance by generating neurological pathway from muscle to brain enabling increase muscle fibre recruitment
– Increases range of movement in joints by developing flexibility in both muscles and ligaments
– Reduces likelyhood of injury
– Effective as a form of soft tissue and collagen fibre rehabilitation increasing blood flow to damage muscle tissues
– Helps to bring the body back into alignment
– Increases power
– Enhances co-ordination and agility
– Contributes to improved cardiovascular fitness and stamina by lowering resting heart rate and increases VO2 max
– Teaches athletes how the body performs and functions as a synergistic unit

Psycological Benefits

– Relieves performance anxiety and stress, and frees athletes from mental distractions
– Improves focus
– Develops determination and self-discipline
– challenge to go outside of their comfort zone
– Reduces stress and provides a method of relaxation
– Breath work provides athlete with techniques they can use whilst competing to control arousal levels
– Teaches you to use imagery and how to relax
– Helps athletes to understand the importance of relaxing, resting, and recovering


The Hip flexors

The hip flexor muscle group includes the illiopsoas (psoas major, psoas minorAnterior Hip Muscles 2.PNG and illiacus) muscles, the thigh muscles (rectorus femoris and sartorius), the glutes, the muscles of the inner thighs (adductors, pectineus and gracilis) and the tensor fascia latae.

The psoas major is the only muscle that connects the legs to the spine. The psoas is connected to both the diaphragm and the pelvic floor via fascia and functions to stabilise the spine and retain us in an upright standing position. The psoas provide the movement of lifting the legs for running or walking, externally rotating the hip and the motion of bending the torso forwards as in forward fold. The hip flexors, as you may imagine, also control movement in the hips and move the legs side to side and front to back.

symptoms of lower crossed syndrome

Many of us spend most of the day sitting – driving to and from work, at our desks and sitting on the couch to relax when we get home. This acts to shorten the psoas and other hip flexors. This in conjunction with poor core strength from the deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis) and muscles the glutes can lead to problems such as back, hip or knee pain. The tight hip flexors pull the pelvis out of neutral aligment leading to pressure on the lumbar spine. An example of this is lower cross syndrome. Tight hip flexors can limit hip mobility. As the psoas is connect to the diaphragm tightness in this area can lead to reduced breathing quality where the upper chest tends to lift and stay lifted on the exhalation where the abdominal muscles are not firing enough to expel the breath leading to shallow breaths.

lower cross syndrome

Other activities that can lead to tightening of the hip flexors include running or cycling when these strengthening movements are not balanced with a stretch of the same area.

Problems associated with weakening of the hip flexors include poor balance and posture, misalignment and disc problems in the spine. Walking and standing for long periods of time will be uncomfortable.

So if the hip flexors are tight should we not just stretch them? Well stretching the tight hip flexors feels good but it is only part of the battle. If we stretch too intensively we can stretch the ligaments past a point of return which can lead to instability around the joints in the hips which will cause the muscles to tighten, acting more like a ligament, in order to pick up the slack. What we must do is lengthen the muscles and ligaments via stretching and also strengthen the supporting muscles. This is an example of the balance that we try and create in yoga.

Postures for hip flexor strengthening and lengthening

Tree – Vrkasana

tree pose
(c) Kaminoff, 2007


• Strengthening

Lifted leg: Iliacus and psoas major, all external rotators and extensors, gluteus maximus, posterior fibre of gluteus medius and minimus, piriformis, adductor magnus, quadratus femoris
Standing leg:
Piriformis, tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius, minimus and maximus

• Lengthening

Lifted Leg: Pectineus, adductor longus and brevis, gracilis

Standing Leg: Gluteus medius and minimusm piriformis

Standing big toe pose – Utthita Hasta Pagangusthasana

big toe pose
(c) Kaminoff, 2007


  • Strengthening

Lifted leg: psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, pectineusm adductor brevis and longus

Standing leg: Quadriceps and hamstrings, spinal extensors, external and internal obliques

  • Lengthening

Lifted Leg: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus

Dancer pose – Natarajasana

Dancer pose
(c) Kaminoff, 2007


  • Strengthening

Lifted leg: hamstrings, adductor magnus and gluteus maximus

Standing leg: Gluteus medius and minimus, tensor fascia latae, quadriceps

  • Lengthening

Lifted Leg: Iliacus, psoas major, rectus femoris

Standing Leg: Hamstrings, abductors

Warrior I – Virabadrasana I

warrior I
(c) Kaminoff, 2007


  • Strengthening

Front leg: Hamstrings, quadriceps

Back leg: hamstrings and quadriceps

Psoas minor, rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques

  • Lengthening

Front Leg: Hamstrings and quadriceps

Back Leg: rectus femoris, psoas major, iliacus

Latissmus dorsi and rectus abdominus

Boat pose – Navasana

boat pose
(c) Kaminoff, 2007
  • Strengthening

Legs: Psoas major and iliacus to flex hips, rectorus femorus, gracilia and pecttineus and tensor fascia latae

Spine: psoas major and spinal extensors, abdominals

  • Lengthening

Legs: Hamstrings

Camel pose – Ustrasana

(c) Kaminoff, 2007
  • Strengthening

Legs: rectus femoris, hamstrings and adductor magnus

Spine: rectus abdominus, obliques, iliacus and psoas major and minor

  • Lengthening

Spine: Hamstrings



What is yoga?

There is no subject which is so much wrapped up in mystery and on which one can write whatever one likes without any risk of being proved wrong. —I. K. Taimni, Indian scholar and chemist, on the obscurity of yoga (excerpt from Broad, William J (2012-02-07). The Science of Yoga. Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition).

Type yoga into any search engine and you will be presented with a host of information on what people believe yoga is. You will also find much detail on what people believe yoga isn’t. While there is an emerging body of quantitative research building up on the subject, there are no single scientific paper that exist that can give you all the answers with regards to yoga. When researching yoga it is worth bearing in mind that there are a wealth of misnomers that populate the hundreds of yoga blogs and websites both online and in print. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion and this is especially valid when it comes to yoga. The variety of opinions, teachers and methods keep yoga practice fresh and have transported it from ancient India into the lives of us in the west.

What I am passionate about is keeping up with research. Paying particular attention to the actually effects of yoga on the body and what the dangers associated to each pose are. I feel that keeping my eyes open to the risks gives me the ability to bring those that practice yoga with me a safe and effective yoga work out. There is a risk of injury with all types of exercise so why should yoga be any different? However if we do it right, that risk is minimised and we can enjoy the many associated benefits with developing a yoga practice.

Legend has it that yoga originated between 4000 and 8000 years ago in India as an ancient science of movement to improve life both mentally and physically (Lalvani, 1996). “Yoga” is often stated as meaning “unify” or “join” in Sanskrit. Yoga has branched out from one mediation posture to

Light On Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar

a prescription of very few postures (asanas) to the wide range of asanas and yoga styles that exist today. The 21st of June has even been declared as world yoga day by the UN. This is a great example of how far yoga has travelled from its original roots in India. There is little doubt that the origins of yoga are routed in the Hindu faith but the when B. K. S. Iyengar published his first book Light on Yoga which promoted the practice of yoga with science it became a global bestseller and introduced the world to the yoga we know today.

There are many theories on the spiritual side of yoga and with the mechanics of the breathing (pranayama) that is practised along with the asanas. The reason that I don’t tend to teach the spiritual aspect in my class is because I believe that is private to each individual. It is entirely possible to build a great yoga practice using breathing and postures alone. Enlightenment is not reserved exclusively for the spiritual beings among us. I take away some new information about myself and my body after each yoga practice something tangible.


One of the most pervasive untruths in yoga regards breathing or pranayama techniques. The body absorbs around 97% of the Oxygen that is breathed in, fast or slow breathing does almost nothing to affect the amount of oxygen that is absorbed by the body into the bloodstream. This can only be affected by the muscles activity, heart rate and metabolism. So the level of oxygen needed by the body is demanded by the physiological functions of the body as opposed to being dictated by how fast or slow you decided to breath. What does change are the levels of carbon dioxide. Fast breathing (or hyperventilation) can cause levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream to plunge which may lead to feelings of dizziness, headaches, numbness in the extremities and even passing out. It can also lead to a feeling of exhilaration caused by a drop in the level of oxygen in the brain. Mindful diaphragmatic (or deep) breathing can tone the respiratory muscles and can also be utilised in situations where hyperventilation has been brought on by a severe emotional response. It has the opposite effect by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the blood. This has been reported to keep the brain calm and promote a sense of mental well-being.

So ultimately what I am trying to say is do what you feel comfortable with. Challenge your body in a healthy way by quietening the brain when it tells you that you are not doing a posture as well as someone else. Doing what you can within the limits of your own body is key to making progress. Each yogi’s practice is their own and never do something that you feel uncomfortable with.

Namaste 🙂

World yoga day

Originally published:  – Thursday, February 26, 2015 – 23:09

Indian High Commissioner to the UK Ranjan Mathai made the announcement at a parliamentary group meeting here yesterday.

The UN adopted an India-led resolution declaring June 21 as ‘International Day of Yoga’ in December last year, less than three months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the idea.

The resolution was overwhelmingly co-sponsored and adopted in the world body, recognising that “Yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being”.

Yoga is the 5,000-year-old Indian physical, mental and spiritual practice that aims to transform body and mind.

Describing UK’s decision to celebrate the ‘World Yoga Day’s as a sign of India’s growing “soft power”, Mathai told a group of British MPs at the meeting that it will be a “big day in the UK as well”.

Mathai was invited as a guest speaker by the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to present an overview on ‘Recent developments in India’s foreign relations and India-UK relations’.

The meeting was attended by leading British Indian parliamentarians who are members of the group, chaired by Virendra Sharma and vice-chaired by Lord Karan Bilimoria.

Another key member Keith Vaz expressed his disappointment that Prime Minister Modi had decided not to visit Britain among his first few foreign visits.

“The need for an early visit has been reflected back from the UK. As election rules come in place here in March, no high-level visits are being planned. I am certain there will be a quick scheduling of a visit as soon as elections are over in May,” Mathai told the APPG.

In reference to a proposed visit by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament Square on March 14, Mathai added: “There is no official announcement on it yet but it will be a very significant visit, coming just weeks after the Union Budget.”

Yoga can help chronic lower back pain sufferers

Yoga for lower back pain

back pain, low back pain, yoga for back pain, back pain relief, yoga for back
Yoga can reduce perception of lower back pain

original study:

Chronic lower back pain is often referred to medically as non-specific low back pain, in that the cause of the pain or stiffness is unclear. It does not appear to be associated with any disease, fractures, inflammatory condition, compression or infection. There is a high burden on health service and a high level of persistence among sufferers leading to reduced capacity to work and a reduced quality of life. The benefits of remaining active to those that suffer low back pain are well established.

In a randomised controlled trial of 313 participants, funded by Arthritis Research UK, researchers at the Universities of Manchester and York and yoga clinics in York and Cornwall have found that those with back pain may see significant improvements in physical tasks if they completed weekly yoga sessions.

The participants were mainly female with an average age of 46, half were assigned a yoga intervention (156 participants) and the other half were assigned an undisclosed method of usual care (157). The yoga intervention consisted of a progressive 12 class programme delivered by experienced yoga teachers over 3 months.

Yoga participants were given guided weekly classes in addition to study materials and encouragement to practice for 30 minutes twice a week at home. Classes consisted of teaching pranayama (breathing techniques), relaxation, guided meditation and philosophy were included. Classes followed a weekly theme encouraging body awareness and control to the yoga control group.

Those that were in the yoga control group and those undergoing ordinary care completed questionnaires on the level of disability associated with their lower back pain before embarking on the study. Follow up questionnaires at 3, 6 and 12 months were carried out to determine the effect of each cohort. The study showed that those in the ordinary care group showed no change, those in the yoga control group reported a lower disability score on all subsequent questionnaires.

87% of both groups completed the follow-up at 12 months and 60% of the yoga group attended at least half of the first 3 sessions and at least 3 subsequent sessions. At all 3 follow ups the yoga control group reported lower disability scores than the usual intervention group. Although 8% of yoga participants reported adverse events, such as increased pain, compared to 1% of usual care participants, this is still a relatively low proportion of the sample. While there was no reduction in the reporting of low back pain from either group after 12 months, those that practiced yoga had increased score of pain-efficacy, meaning that they were more able to undertake tasks than before the intervention.

It is worth bearing in mind that there are limitations to every scientific study and participants were aware that yoga may be beneficial to their symptoms therefor this could have had a positive bias on the participants perceived outcome. The study promotes the current medical treatment for chronic lower back pain where sufferers should remain active followed by a referral to a physiotherapist for a targeted exercise program if there are no improvements.Yoga may not be suitable for all those who suffer from chronic lower back pain as 8% of the yoga group discovered. Guidance should be sought from a GP or physiotherapist before starting any exercise regime.

More information on the York Trials Unit’s randomized controlled trial is
available at Lower back pain sufferers, yoga teachers
and health professionals can also learn more about the ‘Yoga for Healthy
Lower Backs’ programme at, a website created by the
yoga teachers involved.

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Kundalini yoga is coming to a place near you!

Hi everyone

Some of you may have heard of Kundalini or seen it on the internet when you have been researching anything yoga related. Now you have a chance to try the Yoga of awareness here in Orkney.

Orkney born Helen Forsman (nee Isbister) born and brought up in Harray is providing two introductory course over the valentines weekend.

Why don’t you treat yourself this Valentine’s weekend to some Kundalini Yoga.

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Yin Yoga

Yin yoga

Original article: Geraldine Beirne (

The benefits attributed to yoga – increased flexibility and strength, more energy and better posture – should be enough to get anyone on the mat, especially now there is a plethora of classes to choose from if you want to work on your core, break a sweat or even learn handstands. But what is on offer for those who just want to relax, or runners and amateur athletes who want the benefits of stretching without exhausting themselves for future training sessions?

Yin yoga can complement an already active life or help those who feel distracted by “mind chatter”. Constantly emailing, texting and posting social media updates has led, for some, to mental overload and a feeling that we are not good enough or achieving enough. Yin yoga can provide an antidote to this.

Ten years ago, there was but one regular yin yoga class in London. Now there are about 50, and classes are springing up around the country as people feel the need to slow down and just “be”.

The term “yin yoga” comes from the Taoist tradition. Yang relates to movement, often repetitive movement, creating heat in the body. Yin is about finding stillness and cooling the body. And, the theory goes, we need both to come into balance to stay in optimum condition.

Running and cycling are yang activities. Even some vigorous forms of yoga, such as ashtanga vinyasa and Bikram yoga (the hot one!) are – arguably – overwhelmingly yang. But if you focus only on the yang, your body can suffer from fatigue and burnout.

Yin yoga is practised sitting or lying on the floor. There are no planks, no warriors, no core work. No dynamic sun salutations. No standing poses. The pace is slow, so you need to wear comfortable, warm clothes and maybe keep your socks on. The classes should be suitable for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike.

You can expect forward bends with legs together or apart, lunges and gentle backbends – poses that are commonly practised in dynamic yoga classes. But here’s the key difference: in yin yoga, they are held for a longer period of time to increase flexibility in that part of the body. Instead of holding for five breaths, as in an ashtanga vinyasa class, in a yin class they could be held for between two and 20 minutes, although five is more usual.

Yin yoga also dispenses with the Sanskrit names of the poses in favour of descriptive English. So in one class you will encounter evocatively named poses such as butterfly, swan, dragon and twisted roots.

 Konasana opens the hips.

The reason behind these longer holds involves a short lesson in anatomy. Our bodies are made up of yang and yin tissues. Muscles are yang, so in order to be strengthened they must be subject to yang activity (repetitive movement, creating heat). Shorter holds, dynamic stretching (eg sun salutations) and running, cycling etc target yang tissue – muscles.

Longer, static holds enable us to access yin tissue – fascia and connective tissue. We need the combination of yang and yin to keep the joints healthy. Teeth are an example of a very yin part of the body. If you wanted to change and shape the position of your teeth, you wouldn’t knock or hammer away at them quickly, but rather apply extremely gentle pressure over a long period of time – months or years (ie bracing).

So what is fascia? Fascia is the buzzword in the anatomy world. For so long, we were educated in muscles – how to stretch them and how to build them. But our muscles are encased in fascia, a continuous web of tissue that weaves in and around not only our muscles but also our organs, nerves and lymph. It is rather like a silk body stocking, only it is inside our bodies. The whiteish, sometimes glistening fibres you see when you pull a piece of meat apart – that is fascia. And to keep it healthy and springy, we need to keep it hydrated and we need to apply pressure to it with these longer holds.

Yin yoga was developed by teachers for students of meditation who found it too painful or difficult to sit on the floor for long periods of time. It is no surprise, then, to learn that yin yoga – while being a very effective way to open tight hips and hamstrings – also goes hand in hand with mindfulness practices. Teachers of yin provide guidance during the class showing people how to observe the breath and use this as a way to focus on the present moment, allowing thoughts and feelings to arise but practising the art of sitting with them and watching them without getting “involved” before letting them fade away. The “mind chatter” is lessened and the “volume” turned down on persistent and negative thought patterns. The hope is that we develop mindfulness skills that can be transferred from the mat to everyday life. When we are stuck in worry or frustration, we can bring the same kind of attention to the sensations of the body and the workings of our mind and stay with them for a time.

Yin yoga
Yin yoga has much in common with meditation and mindfulness practices.

On a mental and emotional level, the practice allows the body to drop down into the parasympathetic nervous system, and therefore becomes deeply healing and nourishing. Practitioners report that it is grounding, calming and revitalising, with profound energetic and emotional effects.

Yin yoga is a simple, quiet practice, but – make no mistake – it is not always an easy or comfortable one. One of the leading teachers of yin yoga, Bernie Clark, says: “Yin yoga is not meant to be comfortable; it will take you well outside your comfort zone. Much of the benefit of the practice will come from staying in this zone of discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave.”

But if you can stick with it, people who regularly attend yin yoga classes say it stimulates perception and awareness of the quality and joy of the breath, and therefore of life itself.

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Yoga can reduce the risk of Cardiovascular disease

Women doing yoga exercises

Yoga may provide similar health benefits to ‘cycling or brisk walking’

Research finds ease and low cost mean ancient Indian practice could become useful tool in reducing heart-related illness…

, health correspondent

The Guardian,


Yoga could be as effective as cycling or brisk walks in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, new research suggests.

The ancient Indian practice is a potentially effective therapy for making it less likely that people will develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) and should be promoted for that purpose, experts say.

The research, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, finds that the ease and low cost of doing yoga mean it could become a useful tool in reducing heart-related illness, which kills 160,000 people a year in the UK – about one in four of all deaths.

The study is a meta-analysis of 37 previous randomised control trials, involving 2,768 people, into whether yoga can be beneficial for heart health. All but two of those studies found that those practising yoga benefited measurably compared with those who did not exercise.

“This review helps strengthen the evidence base for yoga as a potentially effective therapy for cardiovascular and metabolic health,” say the authors, who are from the Netherlands and the US.

“Yoga may provide the same benefits in risk-factor reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking.”

The researchers, who were led by Prof Myriam Hunink of Erasmus University medical centre in Rotterdam and Harvard school of public health in Boston, add: “This finding is significant as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in CVD risk reduction.”

That could see it being used by groups such as the elderly or those with musculoskeletal or joint problems.

When those who did yoga were compared to those who took no exercise, the former were found to enjoy significant improvement in their body mass index, systolic blood pressure and levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), as well as higher levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol).

“We believe these findings have important implications for the acceptance of yoga as an effective therapeutic intervention. This review demonstrates the potential of yoga to have an impact on concrete, physiological outcomes that represent some of the greatest health burdens today”, the paper says.

But it is still unclear how much yoga someone has to do to get the benefits found and how cost-effective it is relative to undertaking other forms of exercise or taking drugs. And although the evidence of yoga’s role in reducing the risk of seizures is growing, there is as yet no physiological explanation of why it appears to confer such benefits, Hunink adds.

The British Heart Foundation, said the findings showed yoga producing real benefits and that any form of physical activity that reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease should be encouraged.

“This study’s findings are promising, showing real improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” said Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse with the charity.

“The benefits could be due to working the muscles and breathing, which can bring more oxygen into the body, leading to lower blood pressure.”

Hate those side planks? Think again!

90 seconds of yoga can help reduce adolescent spine related problems – Oct 13, 2014 at 11:02 am

Yoga is not just for girls!

Yoga class

Yoga class. Photograph: Boston Globe via Getty Images

The myriad benefits of yoga – including lower blood pressure, increased strength and bone density and reduced anxiety – should be enough to get anyone on the mat. However, as a yoga teacher I meet many people who hesitate to embrace this ancient form of fitness due to some pervasive myths. Yoga is too slow and boring; it’s practised in stuffy, incense-filled rooms – or in 90C heat; it’s just for girls and people who are into chanting. And – most misguided of all – yoga is only for the flexible.

The truth is that there is a class to suit you whatever your body type or temperament. Yoga develops strength and balance as well as flexibility – the latter is a consequence of practising yoga, not a prerequisite. No one has turned up to their first yoga class (unless they were a dancer or a gymnast) able to execute advanced yoga poses.

All yoga styles create a feeling of lightness, ease and relaxation. But to get the most benefit and the most enjoyment, you need to find a yoga style and a teacher that suits you. For example, if you’re already doing lots of strength training your best choice is likely to be a yoga style that focuses more on flexibility. That way, you can balance your fitness routine. Perhaps try yin or hatha yoga. Those who have an injury or live with a chronic medical condition such as arthritis might want to try Iyengar yoga, or one-to-one sessions with a teacher where you will be able to focus on alignment and your unique needs. If you are drawn to experience the spiritual side, you could try jivamukti. And for those who are relatively healthy and want a challenge, ashtanga vinyasa or vinyasa flow might be a good choice.

Before you make a decision, try a few of the most common styles of yoga that you might see on a yoga studio (or gym) timetable. Some classes – marked general or open level – are suitable for all. This is how I started my yoga journey – by watching and copying. When you think you’ve settled on a style of yoga you enjoy, try a few different teachers. All teachers have their own unique focus based on their personalities, their own yoga practice and where and with whom they’ve trained.

Yoga can be expensive, especially in the larger cities. The most cost-effective way is to take advantage of studio offers. Newcomers can sign up for deals such as £20 for 14 consecutive days of classes. Aim to go to a class every few days – later, you can consider committing to a course. Regular attendance is needed to really reap the benefits. A good teacher will not do his or her own practice at the front of the room. They should be roaming around adjusting, correcting and giving alternatives to people who cannot do the full pose or have an injury. They should be helping you to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. A good teacher won’t expect you to be anything other than a beginner and they want you to have – and enjoy – a beginner’s experience.

A guide to the most common yoga styles

Yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch, 93 Yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch, 93. Photograph: Keith Bedford/Reuters Iyengar yoga

Iyengar and ashtanga yoga come from the same lineage – the teachers who developed these styles (BKS Iyengar and the late Pattabhi Jois) were both taught by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Many of the asanas (postures) are the same, but the approach is different. Iyengar yoga is great for learning the subtleties of correct alignment. Props – belts, blocks and pillow-like bolsters – help beginners get into poses with correct alignment, even when they’re new to them, injured or simply stiff. Anusara yoga is a more modern form of Iyengar.

Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga is a more vigorous style of yoga. It offers a series of poses, each held for only five breaths and punctuated by a half sun salutation to keep up the pace. You can either attend a regular class or the more traditional Mysore style (see below).

Mysore style

Ashtanga yoga taught one-to-one in a group setting. Students turn up at any time within a three-hour window to do their own practice as taught by their teacher. This is my preferred style of learning yoga and, I think, the safest and most traditional. You go at your own pace, on your own breath.

Vinyasa flow

Teachers lead classes that flow from one pose to the next without stopping to talk about the finer points of each pose. That way, students come away with a good workout as well as a yoga experience. If you’re new to yoga, it is a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get a feel for the poses. Vinyasa flow is really an umbrella term for many other styles. Some studios call it flow yoga, flow-style yoga, dynamic yoga or vinyasa flow. It is influenced by ashtanga yoga.

Bikram yoga

Bikram yoga is the favourite of anyone who loves to sweat. It was created by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. He designed a sequence of 26 yoga poses to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as compress and “rinse” the organs of the body. The poses are done in a heated room to facilitate the release of toxins. Every bikram class you go to, anywhere in the world, follows the same sequence of 26 poses.

Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga was designed to awaken energy in the spine. Kundalini yoga classes include meditation, breathing techniques such as alternate nostril breathing, and chanting, as well as yoga postures.

Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga really just means the physical practice of yoga (asanas as opposed to, say, chanting). Hatha yoga now commonly refers to a class that is not so flowing and bypasses the various traditions of yoga to focus on the asanas that are common to all. It is often a gentle yoga class.

Yin yoga

Yin yoga comes from the Taoist tradition and focuses on passive, seated postures that target the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Poses are held for anywhere between one and 10 minutes. The aim is to increase flexibility and encourage a feeling of release and letting go. It is a wonderful way to learn the basics of meditation and stilling the mind. As such, it is ideal for athletic types who need to release tension in overworked joints, and it is also good for those who need to relax.

Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga is all about healing the mind and body through simple poses often held for as long as 20 minutes, with the help of props such as bolsters, pillows and straps. It is similar to yin yoga, but with less emphasis on flexibility and more on relaxing.

Jivamukti yoga

Founded in 1984 by David Life and Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti means “liberation while living”. This is a vinyasa-style practice with themed classes, often including chanting, music and scripture readings. Jivamukti teachers encourage students to apply yogic philosophy to their daily life.

• Geraldine Beirne is a yoga teacher based in London,