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In a holding pattern? Try these yogas.

I RECENTLY OVERHEARD several ballet dancers raving about their yoga practice. My excitement quickly waned when I realized the real reason: the 108-degree heat in their Bikram yoga studio. They felt the sauna-like atmosphere contributed to an increase in flexibility, and the physical poses (26 done twice over the course of an horn) added strength and definition to their musculature. But, they admitted, they loved it most because they could lose weight quickly. Unfortunately, plenty that they hadn't thought about also comes with the Bikram package--dehydration, lower back and knee problems, and overly stretched muscles.

Of course, Bikram yoga isn't the only popular practice right now. The problem is that yoga comes in such a dizzying array of styles these days that even a seasoned practitioner can find it difficult to navigate the menu.

ASHTANGA uses a set sequence of poses, linked one to another by an in breath or out breath. It creates tapas, or heat, in the body, which serves to cleanse and purify the muscles and internal organs. Lauren Peterson, a Los Angeles yoga teacher who used to dance with New York City Ballet, chose it because it demanded strength, balance, and stamina. Some dancers gravitate toward the consistency of its choreography. Others find doing the same poses in the same way every day boring.

BEAR IN MIND: Ashtanga moves along at a fairly rapid clip and you don't always have time to check your alignment. As a result, common injuries for Ashtangis include knee and back strain and rotator cuff problems, all concerns for dancers.

Vinyasa takes the Ashtanga practice of synchronizing movement with the breath and mixes up the choreography so you'll rarely find two classes alike. Cyndi Lee, owner of OM Yoga Center in New York City, teaches a version that appeals to ballet and modern dancers. AS a former modern dancer herself, Lee believes dancers benefit most from learning how to breathe properly. "Especially those dancers who hold their torsos in certain rigid ways," she explains. Focusing on the breath, or noticing when they're not breathing is an eye opener for many.

BEAR IN MIND: Newcomers should choose their class level carefully. A vigorous sequence taught without attention to alignment can cause injury to knees, shoulders, and lower back. Unlike Ashtanga, however, many vinyasa sequences begin by warming up the body slowly, gradually increasing the difficulty.

Iyengar, the antithesis of Ashtanga or vinyasa, is slow, deliberate, and precise. Perhaps the most well-known American style, Iyengar draws its name from B.K.S. Iyengar, an Indian yoga master. Iyengar believes that poses must be done with precision; only then can the rhythms of the person's physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions become synchronized. However, not everyone can perform the poses as they are classically taught, so Iyengar created a system of props to offer support--bolsters, blocks, blankets, chairs, and even benches. Dancers appreciate Iyengar yoga's attention to alignment, and its almost-compulsive interest in the anatomical details of each pose.

Leslie Seiters, a modern dancer in San Francisco, says that it took the place of barre for her. "I didn't do much ballet technique growing up," she says, "so I love Iyengar's systematic, linear approach." Some dancers find holding poses a long time (especially standing poses) to be quite challenging. Iyengar is generally safe for all levels.

BEAR IN MIND: Iyengar yoga classes may move too slowly for some who complain they never get sufficiently warmed up. Others pay too little attention to breathing

You may come to yoga as a way of improving alignment, increasing upper body strength, or even losing weight. But be prepared to receive much more. Yoga gives a profound understanding of how you move, how you breathe, and even how you experience stillness, day to day, moment to moment, which may bring ultimately more joy and freedom to your dancing.

Linda Sparrowe is the author of several books on yoga, including A Woman's Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifetime Guide to Wellness, all published by Shambhala Publications, Boston.
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Title Annotation:Mind your Body
Author:Sparrowe, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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