Did someone ever asked you which style of yoga you practice and you were unsure about the answer? Sometimes it is difficult to understand all the different styles of yoga out there. I had students who started new in my class, but had been practicing somewhere else, and when I asked them, “which style”, the answer was commonly “I don’t know”. So, to help you understand, according to traditional yoga, the purpose is to achieve “Samadhi” where there is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation.
If we go back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and point out the eight limbs of yoga, described as:
1. Yamas – five self conducts
2. Niyamas – five observances
3. Asanas – discipline of the body (posture)
4. Pranayama – control of the prana (vital energy, for humans, this is the breath)
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses from their external influences
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – state of enlightenment
As you see the practice of postures doesn’t come at first place, and it actually didn’t exist for a very long time. In the 15th century, Swami Swatmarama synthesized his system as preparatory stage of physical purification that the body practices for higher mediation. This is when the practice of different Asanas (postures) began, which today is the most common practice of yoga in the western world.
So far so good, but what to do when you want to start practicing yoga and don’t know what all the styles mean. Let me briefly describe some of the most common styles to help identify which is the right method for you. The purpose of yoga is the same all over the world, just different styles of practice. So, don’t let one class you’ve tried and disliked turn you off, maybe it was just not the right method for you.
Most popular styles of Yoga:
Described by Swami Swatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest main hatha yoga scriptures in India. Traditional hatha yoga is a holistic yogic path, including disciplines, postures (Asanas), purification procedures (shatkarmas or Kriyas), gestures (mudras), breathing (Pranayama), and meditation. The hatha yoga predominantly practiced in the West consists of mostly Asanas understood as physical exercises.
One of the most popular styles as well as one of the most physically demanding practices, developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, involves synchronizing the breath with a fixed series of postures.
created by B. K. S. Iyengar, it is characterized by the use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing Asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the Asanas correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old. The development of strength, mobility and stability are emphasized through the Asanas.
Derived from Ashtanga, Vinyasa is the most popular style nowadays; the word “vinyasa” is literally translated from Sanskrit as meaning “connection”. In this practice the movement is synchronized with the breath and the postures “flow” together. Differing from Ashtanga the sequences are not fixed making it very enjoyable for practitioners.
Is a modern day and health oriented western take on yoga derived from Iyengar style and simply reintroduces Hindu elements, making it an easy access to yoga. School’s ideology is grounded in a Trantric philosophy of intrinsic Goodness.
Also known as “hot yoga”, the practice runs exactly 90 minutes and consists of a set series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%. Synthesized by Bikram Choudhury, this method promotes profuse sweating and makes the body very warm.
This method follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda, based on five principals. The practice includes Pranayama and full exploration of each pose. It focuses on 12 postures with proper warm up (normally sun salutations), proper breathing, proper relaxation, vegetarian diet and positive thinking.
Kundalini is described as a sleeping potential force in the human body, which lies coiled in the base of the spine. Focused on the breath and movement, each Asana series is done in conjunction with a specific breath technique that intensifies the effects of the pose, which the purpose is to make the energy rise throughout the seven chakras. The progress of kundalini through the different chakras leads to different levels of awakening, until the kundalini finally reaches the top of the head or crown chakra, producing full enlightenment.
Read also “Why Yoga”