By Sophia Godkin, PhD
Yoga isn’t just exercise. It’s a soul-nourishing, mind-liberating, body-enlivening practice that boasts the ability to reduce stress, increase physical and mental flexibility, enhance circulation, improve memory and concentration, improve posture and balance, aid in digestion, increase confidence, allow for slower, more controlled breathing, strengthen and tone the body’s muscles, enhance immunity, and improve overall health.
Yoga – with its incredible attention to the body, mind, and breath – has become a way of life for many people (aka yogis) around the world, and it can for you too.
One of the greatest things about yoga is that it really is for every body… if you know your body, that is.
One simple way to get to know your body is to find out whether you are a long and lean sensor or crusader, a medium-framed activator or connector, a large-boned guardian or diplomat, or a combination of types. Take this 3-minute health type test to find out and read on to discover the best body (asanas), mind (dhyana), and breath (pranayama) yoga practices for you.
Activator and Connector Yogis
As an Activator or Connector yogi, the physical focus of yoga for you is on your heart, digestive system, small intestine, and liver. Give seated twists a try to help clear your liver, and include cobra, fish, bow and boat poses to release heat from your body through the digestive tract. Consider incorporating some forward bends into your practice as well to cool your body and release tension from your mid-abdomen. Go easy on backbends, headstands, and other postures that bring heat to the body and know that given its heating properties, Bikram yoga may not be the best option for you. Your strong musculature will enjoy working up a sweat most when your yoga practice includes cooling breaths and postures to ease the internal heat that your body tends toward all on its own.
Yoga, above all, is a mind-body practice. As a Connector, and especially as an Activator, your mind will benefit immensely from the pacifying, calming nature of yoga. To benefit maximally from your practice, leave your competitive nature and go-getter drive at the door, release any desire to control your thoughts and physical movements, and focus on truly surrendering and letting go. Allow your mind to relax and your emotions to rest calm during yoga practice. And if you’re feeling frustrated or angry from any of your life stresses, use your yoga practice as a way to acknowledge that the stress is there, and then to let it go, seeing it as a natural part of the flow of life.
Given that your body tends to be fiery and warm, cooling breaths (eg sitali) are great to include in your yoga practice to keep the internal heat from becoming excessive as you move. In contrast, retaining or holding your breath as you inhale and/or exhale, common to some breathing practices, will generate more heat in your body and therefore should be avoided.
Sensor and Crusader Yogis
As a Sensor or Crusader yogi, you have a thin frame, small bones, and a brittle structure so be sure to approach your physical asana practice with care, being mindful not to overexert yourself or attempt to get into a posture that your body isn’t prepared for. Pay careful attention to your bones and joints, making sure to warm up your body, loosen your joints, and gradually work into postures, being careful not to overstretch your ligaments. Your yoga routine will help you maintain flexibility, especially in your spine which may get stiff if you don’t move for a long period of time. Incorporate spinal bends, forward bends, and spinal twists to release tension in your back. Slight backbends, such as cobra and locust poses, can be great to ease stiffness and ward off a tendency for a hunched back (kyphosis) and rounded shoulders. Keep your asana practice gentle, combining these spine-focused postures with other moving (eg sun salutations) and seated (eg easy sitting or lotus) postures with full breaths, meditation, and concentration.
As a cerebral, mind-focused type, you can have a tendency to get caught up in your thoughts on and off of the mat. Starting off your yoga practice with a lengthy period of meditation to put your emotions to rest and your mind to calmness will gift you with a more rewarding and effective yoga practice.
Considering that your body tends toward coolness, consider including warming pranayama (eg ujjayi) to build internal heat as you venture into your seated poses. At the end of your practice, take a nice, long final relaxation (shavasana) to ease your body, mind, and breath from your yoga mat into the rest of your day in a calm and stable, rather than hurried, manner.
Guardian and Diplomat Yogis
As a Guardian or Diplomat yogi, the physical goals of your yoga practice center on promoting circulation throughout your body through movements that open your chest and lungs. Consistent movements like sun salutations or any standing postures done in succession, that get your body to perspire, are great for you. Including backbends and warrior poses with chest openers is ideal for you too. These postures will open your chest and promote circulation to your head where you may have a tendency toward excess mucus buildup (eg sinus congestion) that can keep you from breathing with ease. To further open your lungs and bring circulation to your body and mind, include plow pose toward the end of your practice. Forward bends, on the other hand, will contract your chest and are therefore less ideal. Since your body type tends toward slower digestion and metabolism than that of Connector, Activator, Sensor, and Crusader yogis, stimulate your digestion with a bow pose towards the end of your practice too. Whatever you do, take it slowly, incrementally increasing how long and how often you practice, being careful to not force yourself into positions that are not appropriate for your unique joints and flexibility.
Use your yoga practice as a time to unite your mind with your body, in particular using yoga practice as a way to love and accept your body shape. Staying seated for a long period of time might create fatigue for you, so rather than sitting in meditation for a long and continuous period of time, consider incorporating meditation periodically throughout your practice.
The breath is the core of yoga practice and, especially for you, is an important means of enhancing your bodily circulation and connection to the world and people around you. Be sure to dedicate a portion of your practice to sitting postures with pranayama techniques and remember to tune in to your breath as you move throughout your practice.
As you align with and honor your unique physical form through the practice of yoga postures, meditation, and breath, you not only get stronger in body, but also in mind. And as you care for and get stronger in body and mind, you nurture the innermost essence of who you are – your spirit. So go on, use your yoga mat as a playground to explore your physical, mental, and emotional edges, and be sure to let us know what you discover below!