As human beings in a technological and stressful world, we are so bombarded with external stimuli that its often difficult to go within and find the inner harmony we all desperately crave. Its no wonder therefore, that ancient healing arts, like yoga, which seek to bring harmony and balance out of the chaos have taken the world by storm. Although yoga has been practiced by Eastern yogis for centuries, it has never seen such popularity as it has today. Yoga centres have popped up in cities all over the West as millions of urban mystics seek an escape from the stresses of modern living.
The combination of poses, stretches, twists and balances (collectively referred to as asanas) as well as breathing exercises (known as pranayama) and meditative practices that make up this ancient art are intended to bring about balance and harmony by integrating body, mind and spirit.
Yoga’s popularity has led to the development of so many styles and forms of yoga, that sometimes people are not even aware of which style they have been practicing. All styles of yoga of consist of some combination of breathing, meditation and movement, although some involve more physical work while others are more esoteric or meditative. Whatever the case, there seems to be a form or style of yoga for everyone.
Popular And Basic Yoga Styles
Hatha yoga: classical and easy-to-learn
Hatha yoga was developed by Swami Kriyananda and is the foundation on which most other yoga systems are built. Anyone who is a new to yoga training could easily begin with Hatha yoga. A combination of light asanas and pranayama are what make up a typical Hatha yoga class, with a short period of meditation and relaxation before and after. It is not pure aerobic exercise but makes for a fairly good stretch and workout.
The result is increased levels of awareness- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Hatha yoga is great for anyone who wants to increase flexibility, improve posture, awaken the senses, clear the mind, de-stress and increase spiritual awareness.
Iyengar yoga: attention to detail
Iyengar yoga was developed by BKS Iyengar, probably one of the most well known of the yoga gurus. Iyengar yoga is similar to Hatha yoga in most ways, except that it pays more attention to the subtle movements and workings of the body. For this reason, Iyengar teachers often make use of props, like small blocks, belts and foams to help align the postures more precisely. Iyengar does not flow from pose to pose as gracefully as Hatha does, but instead focuses on one pose or set of poses for some time. Iyengar gives great insight into exactly how the body should be placed and how each pose should feel when it is complete. It is also a great start for beginners. Iyengar yoga usually produces good results, probably because teachers much undergo a rigorous 2-5 year training programme for certification. The benefits of Iyengar yoga are similar to that of Hatha yoga, but may be leaning a bit more towards the physical then the spiritual benefits.
Kundalini yoga: sexy yoga
Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan and focuses on the controlled release of Kundalini energy. Kundalini, put simply, consists of the masculine and feminine energies that flow through the hollow portion of the spine from the base of the perineum to the crown of the head and is said to be the most powerful energy force in the body and the force that controls our sexuality. Kundalini yoga seeks to harness this powerful tantric or sexual energy at the base of the spine and channel it in a spiralling, snake-like motion along the spinal column towards the head. In this way the powerful sexual energy is used as a tool to enlightenment. The practice of kundalini involves some of the classic yoga asanas, but focuses mainly on pranayama, movement and meditation.
Developed by Swami Sivananda, this form of yoga works on balancing the seven charkas (or energy centres along the spine) and is a more spiritual form of yoga. It also involves some complicated asanas and is quite physically demanding as well. A classic series of postures are used to work through each chakra, starting at the crown of the head and working downwards to the root chakra at the base of the spine.
Ashtanga yoga: power yoga
For those who are after a serious workout, Ashtanga yoga is the best way to go. This physically demanding form of yoga was developed by K. Pattabhi Jois and is great for “yoganistas” or fitness fanatics who are looking for a different type of aerobic workout. Ashtanga flows rapidly from one pose to another, jumping back and forth to join postures together. A serious amount of flexibility can be built up in just one session and over time, Ashtanga yoga builds up strength, muscle mass and stamina. Asthanga is not recommended for yoga rookies. Solid yoga knowledge is vital to be able to maintain composure and prevent injury while jumping from one complicated pose to the next.
Newer Yoga Styles
Some other newer styles of yoga have emerged in the West, making our yoga choices even more varied. Some of the styles you might come across in more modern studios include:
Bikram yoga: Hot yoga
Developed by Bikram Choudry, Bikram yoga or is often described as the yoga to the stars and is probably the trendiest form of all the styles. Prepare to sweat! Bikram yoga is “hot” yoga. Yogis are made to move through a series of 26 asanasin a sauna-style hot room, heated beyond body temperature. The heat is used to make the muscles more flexible, so that they can be stretched beyond what they normally would at room temperature without being damaged.
Otherwise, Bikram is probably the best type of yoga for developing super flexibility.
Vinyasa Yoga: Fast and Flowing
Vinyasa or Flow Yoga is based on the Ashtanga system but may include poses from all forms of yoga. Vinyasa teachers generally make creative flow sequences that vary from class to class. Vinyasa is about linking breathe to movement. It is often set to music and the classes provide quite a strong workout. Most beginners could handle a flow class but you do need to be knowledgeable about alignment. It is sometimes good to have some grounding in another form of yoga to be able to link the poses together as gracefully as possible.
Acro Yoga: Acrobatic Yoga
Acro Yoga blends elements of yoga and acrobatics to create a form of yoga that is interactive. Acro yoga is done with a partner, but if you arrive at a class on your own, you will be paired up.
Classes involve partner assisted poses that compromise 7 major elements, namely circle, ceremony, postures, massage, partner flow, therapeutic flying, inversions, spotting and partner acrobatics.
Anusara Yoga: Heart Opening Yoga
Anusara is a more modern school of yoga that integrates a strong emphasis on physical alignment. It is quite similar to vinyasa yoga but the sequence of postures differs somewhat and there is more of an emphasis on heart opening (both physically and spiritually). The class sometimes makes use of props, like straps and blocks to help with alignment.
Jivamukti Yoga: Focus on Ahimsa
This style of yoga was founded in the West by David Life and Sharon Gannon and is based mostly on the Ashtanga system. It is quite a vigorous flowing practice but can be practiced by all levels. It incorporates strong yoga asanas with yogic philosophy, chanting and meditation. Many people who practice Jivamukti often have a strong spiritual practice in Ahimsa (non-harming) and promote animal rights and a vegetarian lifestyle.