Styles of Yoga

STYLES OF YOGA

Green Lotus Flower Symbol from West Cornwall Inner Space

Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline which originated in India. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the first half of the 1st millennium CE. Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west in the early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. Today there is a broad variety of schools, practices, and goals.

Some of the most popular styles of yoga are explained below.

Anusara

Developed by American yogi John Friend in 1997, anusara yoga is a relative newcomer to the yoga world. Based on the belief that we are all filled with an intrinsic goodness, anusara seeks to use the physical practice of yoga to help students open their hearts, experience grace, and let their inner goodness shine through. Classes, which are specifically sequenced by the teacher to explore one of Friend’s Universal Principles of Alignment, are rigorous for the body and the mind.

Pose example from Ashtanga Yoga - Downward-facing Dog Pose in studio.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings, but it was popularized and brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois (pronounced “pah-tah-bee joyce”) in the 1970s. Six established and strenuous pose sequences — the primary series, second series, third series, and so on — practised sequentially as progress is made. Moving rapidly, flowing from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale. It’s a rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures and is similar to vinyasa yoga, as each style links every movement to a breath. The difference is that Ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order. This is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice.

Pose example from Bikrim Yoga

Bikram

Approximately 30 years ago, Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga where classes are held in artificially heated rooms. In a Bikram Yoga, you will sweat like you’ve never sweated before as you work your way through a series of 26 poses (like ashtanga, a Bikram class always follows the same sequence, although a Bikram sequence is different from an ashtanga sequence). Bikram is somewhat controversial, as Choudhury has trademarked his sequence and has prosecuted studios who call themselves Bikram but don’t teach the poses exactly the way he says they should. It is also wildly popular, making it one of the easiest types of classes to find.

Pose example from Hatha Yoga

Hatha

Hatha Yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. By definition, Hatha is a physical yoga practice, which is pretty much all yoga you’ll find in this hemisphere. One of the six original branches of yoga, “Hatha” encompasses nearly all types of modern yoga. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is a form of hatha yoga. When a class is marketed as Hatha, it generally means that you will get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed and in flow with your body.

Example of Yoga Nidra pose - class attendees laying on matt face up.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation also known as “yogic sleep” or “effortless relaxation”. It’s usually practised lying down with a teacher guiding the session. The practice draws our attention inwards, and we learn to surf between the states of wakefulness and sleep, where our body finds its natural state of equilibrium (homeostasis) – the breath balances and becomes quiet, unconscious and conscious aspects of the mind reveal themselves, and we fall into an innate state of deep, blissful awareness.

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga Basically the same thing as Bikram. Generally, the only difference between Bikram and hot yoga is that the hot yoga studio deviates from Bikram’s sequence in a very small way, and so they must call themselves by another name. The room will be heated, and you will sweat buckets its a great workout.

Woman in Iyengar Yoga pose on mat.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga was developed and popularized by BKS Iyenga in the 70s Iyengar is a very meticulous style of yoga, with utmost attention paid to finding the proper alignment in a pose. Props like blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards are used to get you more perfectly into positions. Appropriate for all ages and abilities. There isn’t a lot of jumping around in Iyengar classes, so you won’t get your heart rate up, but you’ll be amazed to discover how physically and mentally challenging it is to stay put. Iyengar teachers must undergo comprehensive training – if you have an injury or chronic condition, Iyengar is probably your best choice to ensure you get the knowledgeable alignment instruction you need.

Women in Jivamukti post on mat

Jivamukti

A physical, limit-pushing practise that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scripture. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates as “liberation while living.”

Women in Kundalini Yoga pose on mat

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga, stemming from the tantra yoga path, at one time remained a closely guarded secret practised only by a select few and passed down through a royal lineage. In 1969, however, Yogi Bhajan decided to change this tradition by bringing Kundalini to the West for the benefit of the everyday householder conceding it is everybody’s birthright to be “healthy, happy and holy” he believed Kundalini would help spiritual seekers from all religious paths tap into their greater potential and assist the transition into the Aquarian age. The practise of Kundalini Yoga incorporates continuous movement, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting and meditating on mantras. Called “the yoga of awareness”, it aims “to cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human to uphold values, speak the truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others. Working on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward through each of the seven chakras to raise awareness and consciousness and gain enlightenment at one’s own pace.

Restorative Yoga Post Example - Woman laying on side with blocks and bolsters

Restorative/Yin Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a delicious way to way to relax and soothe frayed nerves. Restorative classes use bolsters, blankets, and blocks to prop students in passive poses so that the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. A good restorative class is more rejuvenating than a nap. Can set you up for the day or relax you at the end of a trying one!

Women in Kundalini Yoga pose on mat

Vinyasa

Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word for a phrase that roughly translates as “to place in a special way,” referring—in hatha yoga—to a sequence of poses. Vinyasa classes are known for their fluid, movement-intensive practices. Vinyasa teachers sequence their classes to smoothly transition from pose to pose, with the intention of linking breath to movement, and sometimes play music to keep flow. The intensity of the practise is similar to Ashtanga, but no two Vinyasa classes are the same. If you hate routine and love to test your physical limits, vinyasa may be just your ticket.

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