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Group of young afro american and caucasian sporty people practicing yoga lesson lying in Dead Body pose, Savasana exercise, working out, resting after practice, indoor close up, studio Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When people talk about yoga, images of human pretzels, melancholy meditation and aching stretches tag along.

For those intrigued with the spiritual practice, yoga is often called an outlet of freedom from everyday stress. Experts often describe it an exercise that creates a spiritual bridge transcending from daily realities into surreal abstracts. It is an art form dedicated solely toward connecting mind, body, soul and generating balance among them.

The practice of yoga began in year 3000BC and has been continuously evolving since. Yoga, albeit traditional and somewhat disciplined, over time has found itself adapting to the diversity different cultures have to offer.

Some practitioners have slightly adulterated the exercise to cater more specifically to the likes and dislikes of the changing times. There are numerous types of yoga, some rather comical.

In the spirit of the International Day of Yoga, which is observed on June 21, Gulf News tabloid! takes a look at how the practice has evolved over the years with New-Age approaches that can sometimes border on the eccentric.

1. Paddle-board Yoga

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A classical form of yoga known as Yin yoga consists of slow paced postures or asanas held for long periods of time, generally between 45 seconds to 2 minutes. Now envision this form of relaxed yoga while your body is floating on a paddle-board in the ocean.

The salty-sweet odour of the water, the picturesque view surrounding you and the gentle rocking of your paddle-board, all whilst your body eases into comforting positions.

Where can I find it: Yin yoga is available in centres around the UAE and paddle-board Yin Yoga is available at Zen Yoga Dubai and SUP corner by Kite Beach Dubai. In addition, Abu Dhabi’s first ladies-only yoga space, The Studio, is running an immersion course on Yin Yoga and Myofascial Release this October. The studio is welcoming Aymara Baquero a trained physical therapist and yoga teacher for the weekend course.

2. Animal Yoga

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As the name suggests, this form of yoga is done by contouring your body in the shape of an animal. The poses are all inspired by animals and named after them, such as the dog pose, cat pose, butterfly, swan, camel and even cobra pose.

In order to immerse oneself entirely in the theme of the chosen animal pose, pictures and sounds often accompany the stretches. Some yoga studios even go as far to have the animals running around as you carry out the exercise. The endeavour is to connect with one’s own animal nature in order to release certain tension and pressure existing within the body.

This type of yoga is most commonly practised with children, nonetheless, quite efficient with adults too.

Where can I find it: Animal yoga is practised at various centres around the UAE, including the Dubai-based Gems of Yoga.

3. Aerial Yoga

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Also known as swing yoga, or anti-gravity yoga, this style of exercise is an unusual form of the spiritual practice. It involves hanging upside down from the ceiling, using hammocks or swing suspension systems. The hammock acts like a swing or a soft trapeze supporting the hips for forward and backward bends. Some yoga postures that are difficult to achieve on the ground can be accomplished with more ease when in mid-air.

Rose swing, a swing yoga practitioner at GFX, Dubai, says swing yoga is more emotional than physical. “When you trust the space you’ll be able to access more of a higher capacity,” she says.

Hammocks also add variety and excitement to the workout, allowing for more free flowing movements. This unconventional style has added an exhilarating feel to the otherwise relaxed and undisturbed practice of Yoga.

Where can I find it: Check out GFX Yoga for a one time free session of swing yoga [Also see box on our first-person account].

4. Hot Yoga

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With the International Day of Yoga falling on thethe summer solstice, known as the longest day of the year, it’s the perfect time to try out this inventive form of yoga. Developed by Bikram Choudhury, it follows an intense workout in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius, where the humidity level is set at 40 per cent. The postures involved require extensive, forceful and sustained contractions of all major muscle groups in the body. This demanding workout has many health benefits including losing weight.

Where can I find it: At Bikram Yoga centres Dubai.

5. Sleep Yoga/ Yoga Nidra

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This type of yoga involves lengthy sessions of peaceful and undisturbed sleep. What could possibly be more fascinating than heading to a work out accompanied by pillows and sleeping mats?

Yoga Nidra or Yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between being awake and sleeping, similar to the ‘falling asleep state’. This state is normally induced by a guided meditation. This is one of the most powerful methods to release stress, and to aid your body through an effective restorative process.

Meetu Singh, Energy Healer and Sound Therapist explains sleep yoga in depth. “While Yoga Nidra is extremely easy to adopt into daily lives and do — it takes several sessions to actually feel the power of it.

“For beginners it may feel awkward in the beginning but the benefits are tremendous making you feel completely euphoric and energised. There are advanced forms/ levels of Yoga Nidra and my advice is take small introductions like breathing, just lying down. Then introduce sound and deep breathing and so on”.

Where can I find it: Check out Urban Yoga, Dubai and Zen Yoga, Dubai.

Special Mention

Goat Yoga

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Probably the most eccentric and bizarre adulteration of Yoga yet, this type of yoga is rising in popularity in all its bleating glory.

Goat Yoga classes consist of regular yoga workouts, however, a couple of goats are left lose to roam around the participants.

The goats are free to wander around and interact with people during the practice. Baby goats are often found climbing onto the backs of participants when in a particular posture. The interaction and connection with the goats is found to soothe and relax your body, and promote love and care.

The workout overall is not as intensive as other forms. Every once in a while a goat may decide to trot your way and plop itself onto your back during a plank. The added 25 pounds doesn’t really make a difference. What really changes, are the added noises of bleats and giggles. It’s hard not to laugh when goats wander around, gauging the audience, wondering whose spine is the most comfortable for a midday nap. The practice of Goat Yoga has not yet found its way to the UAE, but when it does, it’s definitely something to try out. You never know, It maa-y be a lot of fun.

Tried and tested: Experience with Aerial Yoga

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Aerial Yoga instructor Rose trains Gulf News intern Angel Merchant at GFX in Shorooq Community Center in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

I had never tried yoga before and began my first experience with perhaps the most peculiar type, aerial or swing yoga. Upon entering the studio where the class was being held, there appeared to be a plethora of hammocks hanging suspended the ceiling. A few minutes in and the GFX Yoga instructor had me swinging to her beat, while performing a variety of yoga poses suspended in the hammock.

These included hanging upside down, stretching into a split and twisting my legs in ways where I essentially felt like a human pretzel. During each gravity-defying pose, the instructor repeatedly asked me to inhale and exhale. With a lot of difficulty, while trying to balance myself, focusing on my breathing was a tad difficult.

After completing the exercise, she calmly explained that while the experience can be demanding at first and may be difficult to focus on breathing and stretching simultaneously, with practice it does get better.

This particular type of yoga, which is popular with celebrities such as Malaika Arora, have proven to be effective for pains and aches in the body, and for releasing tension. The instructor mentioned that trust was key for this form of yoga. Although it wasn’t one of my most loved first-time experiences, I could unquestionably feel the release of stress within my body and the oddly comforting sensation of exercising off the ground. The slow and gentle swaying of the hammock, with each extension of my limbs made the exercise almost pleasant. If you’re interested in unique forms of stretching, and looking to let off some of that stiffness in your body, aerial yoga is perfect for you.

—Angel Merchant as an intern with Gulf News