The word yoga means “to join or yoke together”. Yoga differs from other forms of exercise because there is a conscious involvement of the mind in both the movement and placement of the body, ultimately bringing them together in one harmonious experience.
The system of yoga is built on three main structures: exercise (asana), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana).
Exercise is designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, increasing its efficiency and health.
Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body, and control of this improves the health and function of the body and the mind. These two systems are necessary for the last structure of meditation, which allows students to find an easy approach to a quiet mind and thereby managing levels of stress.
There are over a hundred different disciplines (or schools) of yoga, but the majority and most popular styles are rooted in Hatha Yoga. In Sanskrit,
ha represents Sun and tha represents Moon. Hatha represents the duality of life ying and yang, masculine and feminine, darkness and light.
All yoga styles seek to balance the body, mind and spirit. However, they go about it in different ways. They may differ in how asanas are done and where the focus of attention is directed. Some use props while others crank up the heat and go for a healthy sweat.
Since no style is better than any other, it comes down to a matter of personal taste. As you learn about the styles, and determine which one will benefit your own individual well-being, be aware of one crucial fact. The most important element of success is based on the student-teacher relationship.
Finding a teacher you are comfortable with and can relate to is essential for the ultimate yoga experience and on-going development.
Below is a summary of the ten most popular yoga styles and their well-being emphasis:
This is the classic style of Hatha Yoga, combining breath awareness, affirmations and yoga poses. Students move from body awareness to energy awareness, to finally, inner awareness. The distinct feature of Ananda is the use of affirmations. This is a gentle, inward experience.
Anusara means “follow your heart”. It integrates the celebration of heart, universal principles of alignment, and balanced energetic action in the performance of asanas. Each student’s various abilities and limitations are deeply respected and honored.
Physically demanding building strength, flexibility and stamina, this style moves through a fast paced series of sequential poses. Students link movement to breath as they move from one posture to another in a smooth, continual flow. It is not a beginner’s yoga.
The Bikram classroom turns the room temperature to anywhere between 85 100 degrees. It is a vigorous workout where students perform a series of 26 asanas that are specifically designed to cleanse the body from the inside out.
Integral Yoga places almost as much emphasis on pranayama (control of breath) and meditation as it does on poses. Interesting note, the developer of this style, Swami Satchidananda, is the same person who taught the crowds at Woodstock to chant “om” for peace.
Iyengar: Symmetry and Alignment
Noted for great attention to detail and the precise alignment of postures, Iyengar Yoga also uses props such as straps, blankets, wooden blocks and chairs.
Poses are held longer in this style.
Emphasis is on proper breath, alignment, coordination between breath and movement and honors the wisdom of the body. It has three stages leading to an experience of meditation-in-motion’ or completing postures spontaneously and unconsciously.
Kundalini: Awakening Energy
Chanting, breathing and exercise are combined with great emphasis on chanting and breathing. This style awakens kundalini energy, which is stored at the base of the spine and often depicted as a coiled snake.
Sivananda: Healthy Lifestyle
One of the worlds largest concentrations of yoga, it follows a set structure that includes pranayama, classic asanas and relaxation. The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, first published in 1960, is still one of the best introductions to yoga available today.
Viniyoga: Gentle Flow
This is actually not so much a style as it is a methodology for developing practices for individual conditions and purposes. This gentle form of yoga places great emphasis on the breath and coordinating breath with movement. It teaches the student how to apply the tools of yoga (asana, chanting, pranayama and meditation) in individual practice. Function is stressed over form and is considered excellent for beginners.
Viniyoga is increasingly being used in therapeutic environments as well.
The one thing all yoga has in common, no matter the discipline or the style is the gesture of Namaste. By bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart, and lightly bowing the head, it is a humble greeting delivered straight from the heart and reciprocated accordingly. It recognizes the equality of all, and pays honor to the sacredness of all.