What is it? A therapeutic form of yoga asana (postures) that is simple, calm, slow and quiet. Most of the postures are lying down, and held for five to 15 minutes each, often with props such as bolsters and blankets to support your body so that muscular and nervous tension can be completely released. This calms and restores the physical body, the overactive mind, and the nervous system. It is derived from Iyengar yoga.
Who should do it? If you’re acutely or chronically stressed, overworked, overwhelmed, under pressure, digitally overstimulated, have any sort of nervous condition, insomnia, anxiety or negativity, are recovering from illness or injury, are unable to do more active yoga, or feel like your nerves need soothing.
So it’s all about de-stressing. How? When we’re stressed, the Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in and the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are released as the body physiologically powers up for either fight or flight, to deal with the perceived threat. It is only designed to cope with being in this state for a brief time – until you’ve killed the wild animal or fled from it. Today, many of us are regularly or constantly in this stress response state; there may be no real physical threat, but our anxious, overanalytical and overthinking minds are enough to keep us there. Eventually, this exhausts and depletes us.
To get us out of this state and restore us to a calm and balance, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) has to be activated, and that is what restorative yoga does. You stay in postures for up to 12 or 15 minutes, as it can take this long to slow down the body and mind and activate the PNS. Everything about the class and the quiet, calm environment, such as no music or chanting, is designed to put you into a relaxed, grounded and centred state of being.
Where to do it in London: Look ideally for teachers trained by Anna Ashby, London's main teacher trainer for restorative yoga (and who I trained with). You can do classes with Anna herself at Triyoga.
What is it? Yoga postures combined with an acrobatic element, using and developing awareness, balance, breathing, strength and flexibility. It’s done in pairs with one in the base posture, supporting the other and lifting them into the posture. It pushes your perceived limitations, and develops trust and communication.
The first part of the class is a normal hatha yoga vinyasa (series of flowing postures) to warm up the body, then you divide into pairs, threes or groups, with the teacher usually matching you with someone of similar height and build. It was first developed in San Francisco around 12 years ago, and there are now classes all over the world.
Who should do it? If you want to develop strength, particularly in the core and legs, balance, flexibility, trust (in yourself and in others), have fun with yoga postures, connect with other yoga lovers, shake up a stale yoga practice, or have tried yoga previously but found it boring. If you like inversions and balances, this adds a new dimension. If you don’t like them, try this, as the support can help you.
Inversions, balances? Sounds pretty advanced… It can be, but everyone started somewhere. And it’s a supportive environment as everyone is trying new things. If you did cartwheels and handstands as a kid, you’ll take to it quite easily. If you didn’t and have a fear of inversions or anything else, try it: you’ll be lifted out of your comfort zone, you might stumble, and you get a new perspective (and as all yogis know, what you get in class carries through into your life off the mat). And if you think you don’t need any of that, it usually means you do.
What is it? Aerial yoga (also called Anti-Gravity Yoga) is yoga postures done in a fabric hammock (a yoga swing), so the weight of the body is supported and you can relax into the positions, as well as going deeper than usual. It allows you to do inversions and backbends that you usually cannot, or to go deeper/hold longer than normal, without strain and without compressing the spine.
Who should do it? If you want to develop not just your flexibility but your general agility, build strength, particularly in your core, develop balance, and tackle inversions and backbends without strain or compressionof the spine and shoulders. To have fun doing somethingout of the ordinary.
What is it? Under the traditional Chinese understanding of yin (more passive) and yang (more active) energy, most yoga classes are ‘yang’. Postures focus on moving the body, contracting and strengthening the muscles. This challenges the muscles and connective tissue in our joints, and this mild stress means they respond by becoming stronger.
Yin yoga, however, uses slower postures, held for much longer, to gently develop the flexibility and length of the joints’ connective tissues. This makes it easier to move (bending the knees and hips or being more flexible in the spine, for example) in day-to-day life. Leading yin yoga teacher and anatomy expert Paul Grilley describes yin yoga in more detail.
Who should do it? If you want to move more easily in your body; to counterbalance an active yoga practice, such as vinyasa flow or ashtanga; to be able to sit more comfortably in mediation; or to develop (or maintain) flexibility in the body, especially if you’re over 50. You may not have stiff or clicking joints yet, but prevention is better than cure, people!
Where to do it in London: At several London locations, The Life Centre London, or search your local area. The leading teacher is Paul Grilley in the US, who runs teacher trainings and workshops around the world. Another renowned gobal teacher is Sarah Powers.