Yoga is no longer just yoga. Yes, all yoga is based on physical postures, known as ‘poses’ or ‘asanas,’ but a variety of yoga styles now offer everything from pure relaxation to a sweat-drenched workout.
“Hatha was the branch of yoga most often used as the umbrella term for a basic yoga class that’s more focused on the physical aspect,” explains Laurie Brockhaus, a yoga instructor and studio manager at Urban Breath Yoga. Hatha yoga classes often introduce new students to the basic yoga poses, and most poses can be modified using ‘props,’ such as foam blocks or bolsters, to make them easier for people who have physical limitations.
Although yoga has branched into various styles, the practice is a mind-body modality that combines physical and spiritual aspects. Asked about the most popular type of yoga, Bruce Roger, director of Yoga St. Louis, replies, "There is only one yoga. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, states that yoga is stillness of mind. If yoga makes you more agitated, then you are doing it incorrectly."
Roger practices and teaches Iyengar yoga, a style that uses methods developed by 95-year-old B.K.S. Iyengar. Roger studied with Iyengar in India and has been teaching this style of yoga since 1984. “The footprints of Iyengar yoga are all over the yoga that is now taught in the U.S.,” he says. “Since Iyengar's publication of Light On Yoga, the classic text on Hatha yoga, his innovations in practice and teaching have come to define yoga worldwide.”
In fact, Roger says that Iyengar is responsible for introducing yoga props in order to make the practice more accessible. The Iyengar practice also popularized standing yoga poses, while maintaining focus on breathing and the meditative aspects of yoga.
“Iyengar yoga focuses on cultivating intelligent action, not just movement,” Roger says. “For instance, how do you bring the right action in the pose so that the benefits accrue? That technique is learned sequentially, over a long period of time. The effect, says Iyengar, is, Peace in the body brings poise to the mind.”
Roger emphasizes the holistic aspect of yoga, which requires strength, flexibility and balance, while quieting the mind and reducing anxiety. “But why limit your discussion to muscles?” Roger asks. “What about normalizing function of the intestines, immune system-caused allergies, or the menstrual period? And, because it is yoga, how do these things affect the mind?”
With the extensive menu of yoga classes available at gyms, health centers and yoga studios, however, Brockhaus notes that most people will benefit from a basic idea of what various styles involve. Vinyasa yoga, for instance, has gained popularity in recent years as a more vigorous style that synchronizes breathing with a series of poses called ‘sun salutations.’ Beginners who want to try Vinyasa yoga may look for ‘Slow Flow’ classes where the pace is slower as the students move between poses.
“Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all type of practice,” Roger notes. “It must be individualized. There are contraindicated sequences, poses and actions that vary according to the individual and certain diseases.” Anyone new to yoga or who has a medical condition or physical limitation should make sure the instructor is aware of the specific situation, Brockhaus adds.
Guide to Some Popular Yoga Styles
There are many different styles of yoga that are taught and practiced today. Although all of the styles are based on the same physical postures (poses), each has a particular emphasis.
Hatha: Hatha is a very general term that can encompass many of the physical types of yoga. It is a slow-paced, gentle style that provides a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.
Vinyasa: As with Hatha, Vinyasa is a general term that is used to describe many different types of classes. Vinyasa means breath-synchronized movement and it tends to be more vigorous, based on the performance of a series of poses called Sun Salutations, in which movement is matched to the breath.
Ashtanga: Ashtanga means 'eight limbs' in Sanskrit and is a fast-paced style of yoga. A set series of poses is performed in the same order. Ashtanga is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next. This movement is called flow. It also is the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga.
Iyengar: Based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment. In yoga, the word alignment is used to describe the precise way in which your body should be positioned in each pose in order to obtain the maximum benefits and avoid injury. Iyengar practice usually emphasizes holding poses over long periods versus moving quickly from one pose to the next (flow).
Kundalini: The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. All asana practices make use of controlling the breath. Kundalini uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than poses held for a long time, and teacher will often lead the class in call and response chanting.
Bikram: This style, often referred to as ‘Hot Yoga,’ is practiced in a 95- to 100-degree room, which allows for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating (believed to be cleansing). The Bikram method is a set of 26 poses, but not all hot classes make use of this series.
All content courtesy of kripaluyogaandwellnesscenter.org