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More than simply offering instruction, most yoga studios provide a peaceful atmosphere in which to practice, like this serene space at Studio Ascend in North Haven. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Zip06 )
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Taoist yoga. Bikram yoga. Vinyasa yoga. Yin yoga. Hatha yoga. Kundalini yoga. Spin yoga. Gentle yoga. Restorative yoga. Chair yoga.
So many types of yoga, so little time. What's a yogi to do?
The shoreline is rich with options when it comes to the ancient discipline of yoga. Practitioners often start with the goal of getting some exercise, lowering stress, or alleviating stiffness or pain. They often stick around when they find there's more to it.
"The benefits are vast. All people are different and each comes to yoga seeking something different, and usually end up discovering much more," said Sally Noel of Raven's Wing Yoga of Branford. "Some come for benefits of relieved stiffness and physical pain, some come for the promises of lowering stress naturally. I believe the biggest benefits are discovering and feeling a connection between the mind and body, an awareness."
Regular practitioners of most kinds of yoga find that they can strengthen the focus of the mind.
"The physical benefits are easy to see—less back pain, more range of motion, less stiffness, better balance, keen strength—but this all comes with a real self practice of mindfulness. You cannot tease apart the postures, meditation, and breath; it's all yoga," Noel said.
That said, different studios specialize in specific kinds of yoga.
Raven's Wing Yoga teachers study and practice Yin yoga, which often has a slower pace and focuses on poses that are held for longer periods of time. It also offers Hatha yoga, which encompasses a wide range of postures and has a particular focus on the breath, and Kundalini yoga, which is sometimes characterized as the "yoga of awareness."
True Bikram, with studios in New Haven and Madison, includes a series of 26 specific postures and two breathing exercises done in a hot room in front of a mirror. Unlike some other traditions, the postures and the sequence is exactly the same in every class.
"The teachers...give you direction during the entire class, watching you closely to make sure you have correct alignment," said studio owner Robin Brace. "Bikram Yoga is a yoga therapy that works every part of your body every 90 minute class. It's designed for all bodies, ages, and physical conditions and is appropriate for beginners as well as more experienced yoga practitioners."
Christine Ucich, from One World Yoga in East Haven, offers classes in the style of Taoist yoga.
"There are several styles of Taoist Yoga, such as Dao Yin or Dahn Yoga, but our style is called SunDo, which means refining Qi energy through breathwork. It is also a form of qi gong, but instead of moving postures, the postures are mostly stationary with similar breathing," Ucich said. "The goal is to begin with gentle postures and then increase the strenuousness of the postures, which also strengthens breathing.
"The reason all yogas and many meditation methods include breathwork is because ancient practitioners understood that the breath is a source of vital life force energy for the body," she continued.
Heidi E. Kunzli, the owner and director of Essex Wellness Center & Essex Wellness Center at the Shore on Main Street in Essex and Fitness on the Water in Essex and Westbrook, offers a wide range of options are her studio. She says Gentle Yoga classes, which focus on connecting the mind and body while slowing down and releasing tension, led by Traci Constanzo are very popular with seniors.
"This yoga class provides a soothing sequence to promote flexibility, create calm in the mind and restore balance and harmony in a mindful practice of breath, gentle movement and meditation. This yoga class is for all levels to enjoy," Kunzli said.
At Water's Edge location, Kunzli's group also offers a popular Spin Yoga class with Lori Wallace. Kunzli said it's the perfect union of total body cycling, body-weight training, core work, and yoga in a balanced, mind-body workout.
Essex Wellness also offers Vinyasa Yoga with Melanie Goss. Open to all levels, this focuses on classic yoga poses, with a deep awareness of correct alignment.
"Vinyasa, or flowing movement linked with breath builds strength, flexibility and concentration," Kunzli said.
Kunzli noted that, for those looking to get outside the studio, Yoga on the Water in Essex and Yoga at the Beach in Westbrook will start in the summer.
Outdoor yoga classes have proven popular along the shoreline—just ask Jessica Demers, who has been leading summer yoga classes at Hammonasset for the past several years. Demers is the owner of Body Karma Studio in Clinton, which offers both standard yoga classes and restorative yoga classes, which use props to create a more restful experience as the client stretches.
So those with the most limited mobility can benefit from yoga, Body Karma Studio has also recently added Chair Yoga "for those who are looking for a gentle exercise and have trouble balancing or getting down on the floor," Demers said.
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