Yoga originated in ancient India, and is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. Derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “union”, its primary goal is to help the student achieve union with the divine by way of specific poses (asanas), breath (pranayama), and meditation to achieve a state of spiritual liberation. Though yoga in the Western world focuses on health and fitness, it is important to appreciate yoga’s long history as a vital component of the Hindu philosophical and theological system.
As one of the most popular of natural therapies in the West, there are many types of yoga available for those seeking health and wellness. The following covers the more popular yoga styles in the West, and helps you have a clearer understanding of the basics of each yoga style so that you can choose one which best suits you and your needs.
Hatha yoga is a generic title which describes any yoga style, and most yoga classes advertised in the West will be hatha yoga, unless otherwise stated. When a yoga class is advertised as hatha, it usually refers to a slow-paced and gentle introduction to yoga, incorporating basis poses and simple breathing exercises. Before attending a hatha yoga class, it is wise to ask the yoga teacher where he/she trained and what the class will consist of, e.g. yoga poses, pace, meditation and mantras etc. This will help to to decide if the yoga class will be beneficial for you.
Vinyasa yoga is perhaps the most common for those wanting yoga purely for fitness. This form of yoga combines a sequence of flowing poses with rhythmic breathing, and is designed as an intense body-mind workout. As a generic term for any form of yoga that involves poses synchronised to the breath (where there is a flow as the poses run together), Vinyasa yoga is also used to describe yoga styles that have derived from it, such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga.
As mentioned, Ashtanga is a form of yoga that has derived from the concept of Vinyasa yoga. It is fast-paced and based on six series of poses that increase in difficulty as each series moves through one to the next without stopping. As there is no time for adjustments, once a series of yogic poses and breathing are underway the student is encouraged to move through the series of movements without stopping, making for an ideal full body work-out that will stimulate and improve circulation and detoxification, and get that heart rate pumping!
Another form of yoga derived from Vinyasa, Power yoga is a Western product based on the fundamentals of yoga tradition. More likely to be part of a gym curriculum, Power yoga weaves common yoga poses and breathe techniques to a rigorous exercise workout, designed to strengthen the body and promote flexibility. Power yoga is great as part of your training and fitness routine, but rarely addresses the philosophical aspects of yoga.
Designed by Bikram Choudhury, this form of yoga is better known for its use of sauna-like conditions to promote detoxification of the body through sweat. Bikram yoga classes are held in studios designed to replicate India’s climate, mimicking a hot and humid temperature. Here students work through a series of 26 traditional yoga poses (usually slow-paced and gentle) as they sweat and, as a result, promote fresh blood and oxygen to circulate throughout the body. This form of yoga is ideal as a detoxifying exercise to boost the immune system.
For those seeking a more philosophical approach to their yoga, Sivananda yoga is based on the philosophy of Swami Sivananda and his five principles:
1. Proper exercise
2. Proper breathing
3. Proper relaxation
4. Proper diet
5. Positive thinking/meditation
Sivananda yoga classes work through twelve basic poses. As a slow-paced form of yoga, the emphasis is on the full exploration of each pose so that the eventual mastering of each pose is achieved as part of an overall philosophical approach.
Iyengar yoga is based on the teaching of B.K.S Iyengar, one of the most influential yogis of all time. This form of yoga focuses on the subtleties of each pose, which are held much longer than traditional forms of yoga. Focussing on the physical alignment of the body in the poses, students are encouraged to attain perfect poses through consistent practice. This is based on the philosophical belief that once the body is in perfect balance by means of mastering each pose, the mind with reflect this balance. In addition, unlike other forms of yoga, Iyengar also uses props such as belts or chairs to accommodate any needs or structural imbalances in the body, which makes it a good option for those with poor mobility.
Anusara means “to step into the current of divine will” and is a modern form of yoga created by American John Friend, with its origins derived from Iyengar yoga. Its practice focusses on three key areas:
• Attitude – by opening to grace one can awaken his/her true nature.
• Alignment – integrated awareness of the different
• Action – pose as expression of the heart and inner freedom.
This form of yoga reintroduces traditional Hindi elements of yoga, however is primary health orientated as it focuses on inner and outer body alignment.
Considered the most comprehensive of yogas, Kundalini is derived from the tantra yoga tradition and refers to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within us. Incorporating poses and dynamic breathing techniques, combined with specific mantra chanting and chakra awakening, Kundalini yoga acts as a holistic philosophy that keeps the body and mind strong and flexible in times of stress and conflict. This yoga style is suited for those wanting a holistic approach to their yoga practice.
There are many other forms of yoga available, with more yoga traditions and styles being introduced into the West every year. Like all things, however, it is best to have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve from yoga and then find a style that best suits that. Happy yoga practicing from Radiant Heart Yoga Woolloongabba, Brisbane.