The Types of Yoga Taught in Pen's Classes

Cambridge Yoga Classes

                                    Sivananda Hatha Yoga

                                   Swami Sivananda                      Swami Vishnu-Devananda

Sivananda Yoga, named after the teachings of Swami Sivananda and brought to the West in the 1950s by Swami Vishnu-Devananda, is a form of hatha yoga in which the training focuses on preserving the health and wellness of the practitioner. Practice revolves around frequent relaxation, and emphasizes full, yogic breathing.

The Sivananda system aims to retain the vitality of the person, slow the ageing process and decrease the chance of disease, by simply and naturally cultivating the body. The system is often summarised into 5 key areas: 1. Proper breathing (Pranayama), 2. Proper exercise (Asanas), 3. Proper relaxation (Savasana), 4. Proper diet (A yogic vegetarian diet) and 5. Positive thinking and meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana). Although each area in itself is worthwhile, all 5 in combination should be aimed for to truly benefit from yoga.

A Sivananda class will focus on Pranayama, Asanas and Savasana, with advice given on other areas as appropriate. Kriyas are also studied - these are  techniques used for cleansing the body.

A typical class will begin with a period of relaxation, then at least one breathing exercise. This will be followed by a warm-up (sun-salutations) and then 12 key postures that are designed to work on all areas of the body, through stretching and lengthening, applying pressure in twists, turning the body upside down or holding still in balances. The practice ends with a long guided relaxation, to enable individuals to relax very deeply at a subconscious level.

These physical exercises develop not only the body but also broaden us mentally and spiritually, however, the initial focus is simply to increase flexibility. The body is as young as it is flexible and yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine. By maintaining the spine's flexibility and strength through exercise, our circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen.

Added to this are the yogic breathing techniques which encourage us to breathe deeply, fully oxygenating the body to help combat disease, release tension and improve energy and mind.

Finally, the regular practice of yogic relaxation allows both the body and mind to let-go of stress and re-charge. We gain a greater sense of ourselves and a feeling of peace. And simply, the more peaceful people there are, the more peaceful the world.

Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way.

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                                            Ashtanga Yoga

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga made popular in the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. The complete Ashtanga Yoga system is made up of 6 series of postures. The first series, known as The Primary Series or Yoga Chikitsa, is the gateway into the Ashtanga Yoga system. Yoga Chikitsa, translated as Yoga Therapy, restores health to the physical body by ridding it of toxins and disease. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures - a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body and a calm mind.

The key elements of Ashtanga Yoga practice are:

Vinyasa –  movement linked with breath. Vinyasas are used to unlock the full potential of yoga postures. They heat the body through continuous movement and awaken the subtle energies in the body. For each posture there is a vinyasa, a specific way of entering and exiting the posture accompanied by either the inhale or exhale.

Oujaii Pranayama – 'upwardly victorious breath'. This breathing technique is used throughout the Ashtanga practice. A subtle snoring sound is created throughout the inhale and exhale, by slightly contracting the throat muscles. The sound of the breath helps the practitioner to draw their focus inwards, away from the distractions of the external world and thus acts as a tool for meditation during practice. Furthermore, this breath creates a cooling sensation, helping to calm the body and prevent over-heating during the class. Each asana (posture) is typically held for 5 oujaii breaths, and the sound of the breath encourages the practitioner to relax into the posture without strain.

Bandhas – locks or seals. Bandhas are part of the breathing system and are formed by the subtle engagement of specific muscles. The bandhas keep energy from exiting the body, they increase internal heat and give lightness and strength to the body. 

Dristi – looking place. Dristi is the direction of the gaze in the postures. Dristi also aligns the neck and spine correctly in each asana. Dristi purifies the mind and its functions as it encourages the mind to focus on a single point, as in meditation.

Asana, Pranayama and Dristi form the three places of action / awareness, known as Tristhana.

A typical Ashtanga class will begin with a vigorous warm-up (sun-salutations), then a set series of standing postures and balances, mainly working on leg strength and flexibility. After which, the rest of the session consists of seated postures: forward bends, twists, back bends, balances and also some inversions. Between each posture, practitioners perform a vinyasa to help maintain the heat within the body and allow it to open more deeply. At the end of the practice, individuals relax in silence, savoring the peace and energy brought to the body and mind post-practice.

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                                         Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a deeply relaxing and revitalising practice that encourages rest and resets the body, mind and spirit. Note that 'rest' is different than sleep. Rest provides the body an opportunity to renew and heal and countless studies have proven the physical and emotional benefits of this.

Restorative yoga, as well as other forms of yoga, help to trigger the Parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the PNS. The PNS is responsible for balancing the body and bringing its response system back into equilibrium. Stimulating the PNS helps to lower heart rate, blood pressure; it helps to healthily stimulate the immune system and keep the endocrine system operating well. When this system gets out of whack, or when the Sympathetic nervous system, SNS gets over-stimulated, the PNS helps to bring all back in balance. It is believed that if the PNS is tapped out or under-active, illness pervades. Thus, forms of relaxation, such as yoga and meditation, that help to stimulate the PNS are generally beneficial for overall body health.

David Spiegel, M.D., author of Living Beyond Limits, reports, "In medicine, we are learning that physical problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, can be influenced by psychological interventions, such as relaxation training. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration issued a report recommending these non-drug approaches as the treatment of choice for milder forms of hypertension. Mind and body are connected and must work together, and this should be a powerful asset in treating medical illness."

A typical Restorative Yoga session consists of a gentle warm up to help the body become more settled and some full yogic breathing to help settle the mind. After which, a set sequence of steady poses are held for up to 10 minutes each, allowing time for the body to open gently and to slowly release tension. Due to the length of time held, the poses are very simple but they have a profound effect and give individuals the chance to relax deeply in a very nurturing and supportive way. At the end of a session, individuals often report feeling deeply refreshed and energised, with muscular aches and pains having diminished or gone altogether.

Although a restorative session aims to be peaceful, it can still be challenging, particularly for beginners. Just because the body rests quietly, it doesn't always mean that the mind will settle into stillness too! Be patient, and be prepared for days when every inch of you rebels.

In time and with practice, you will be rewarded with the ability to drop with ease into a place of deep contentment. This is what yoga is all about - stilling our fidgety bodies and calming our rambling minds so that we may rest quietly in the present moment and see clearly the peace that resides within.