Yoga: Which Practice is Right for You?

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • If you are new to yoga and haven´t yet found your preferred style that resonates with you, the many different names or types of yoga classes can be intimidating. This is true for not only the beginner, but also for the more practiced student looking to try something new. To help make choosing a class easier, I´ve listed some of the more common styles of yoga that you´ll find in cities across the world, along with a brief explanation of each. Of course as yoga grows, more styles and variations continue to be developed and the list grows longer. However, a basic understanding of what yoga offers from this short list will also help you decipher the descriptions for the less common styles you may encounter on your yoga journey.

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    First of all, I feel it´s important to understand what yoga really is. Most of us, understand yoga to be an active practice involving asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathing). However, yoga is actually a holistic path that not only includes the physical practice you´re accustomed to, but also encompasses a complete approach to life that provides harmony for the mind, body and spirit, leading to enlightenment. The person accredited for the development of The Yoga Sutra, known as Patanjali, developed an eight-limb path for fostering awareness and inner peace. By definition, this is also called ashtanga, which literally means ¨eight limbs¨. Therefore, yoga as we know it in its active form, is really only part of the overall lifestyle that is defined by the traditional term.[1]

     

    The second important piece of information to understand when choosing a yoga class is not to get confused by the term ¨hatha¨. Hatha yoga is actually a generic descripter of the active form of yoga (asanas and pranayama) and encompasses most if not all of the other types of yoga. In other words, all the different varieties of yoga are varieties of hatha yoga.[2] However, sometimes you will see a class called ¨hatha yoga¨which usually  means that it´s a generic/classical, beginner level yoga class in which you will practice poses, breathing and possibly a short meditation. This is a great place to start if you´ve never taken a yoga class, as it´s usually a slower, more relaxed class. However, don´t be intimidated if one of the other styles appeals to you more. Most teachers will be able to adapt any class to incorporate both beginners and more experienced students. Below are some common styles of yoga practice.

     

    Ashtanga

    Ashtanga, the name derived from the eight-limb path, is the most common style of yoga. In fact, many of the other styles that exist in the modern world today are built upon the traditional ashtanga class structure. The original format consisted of a primary series of 75 poses, based around the well-known ¨sun salutations¨, followed by an intermediate and advanced series.[3] The idea is that all the postures are performed in the same order and the class lasts about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Ashtanga is considered an intense, fast paced class in which you´ll likely sweat. With this style of yoga, you will build strength, flexibility and stamina. 

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    Vinyasa

    One of the original meanings of vinyasa is breath syncronized movement. This means that the postures are linked through breath and flow together. It still follows a series of poses as ashtanga does (which is why you´ll see classes labeled ashtanga vinyasa yoga), but is fairly athletic in nature, without much rest. As with traditional ashtanga, you will build strength, flexibility and stamina in these classes. However, while ashtanga is much stricter in regards to the order of the asanas, you´ll usually see a bit more flexibility and variety in vinyasa classes, based on the teacher`s preference and style. Other names of vinyasa style classes are ¨power yoga¨ or ¨vinyasa flow¨ or just ¨flow yoga¨.

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    Iyengar

    As mentioned in my previous post, this style of yoga uses utilizes an array of props such as bars, wooden blocks, ropes, chairs, belts, etc. to help the student master the asana (or yoga position or pose). Iyengar focuses on holding the poses for an extended period of time and works within a sequence that groups asanas together in the most effective way for developing flexibility, concentration, strength and balance. As a result, many studies have shown that Iyengar is effective in healing not only the mind, but also physical injuries and pain, regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced student.

     

    Anusara

    This yoga approach is fairly new, having just been around since 1997. It´s considered a more playful style fo yoga and is focused on opening the heart and the principal that there is intristic goodness in all people. Still utilizing props and specific ¨heart opening¨asanas, anusara has a very positive philosophy and is a great practice for both the beginner and experienced student.

     

    Bikram

    Founded by Bikram Choudhury, a modern day Indian guru, this style of yoga is practicad in a very hot room at a temperature of approximately 105 degrees. It consists of 26 poses, adaptable for all student levels, and requires stamina and discipline in the heated environment. Said to increase flexibility and promote detoxification, this form of yoga is great for nourishing every cell in the body to promote maximum health and heal the body and mind. Other forms of ¨hot yoga¨do exist, but are distinct from the Bikram practice which is highly structured and consistent across yoga centers worldwide.[4]

     

    Kundulini

    In my opinion, Kundulini is one of the most spiritually focused yoga practices. Classes center around breath in conjunction with physical movement, chanting and meditation to stimulate the glandular and cenral nervous system. The idea is to free the energy in the lower body and move it upwards, awakening the 7 chakras or energy centers within the body in the process. This style of yoga is great for developing spiritual awareness and consciousness and is adaptable for all levels as with the other practices.

     

    The above yoga practices are only a small handful of the variety of classes offered today. No matter which style of yoga you choose, most experience a tremendous amount of health and wellness benefits from practicing yoga on a cosistent basis. It´s great to start with one class per week and then build up from there based on the results you are looking to achieve through yoga. 

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    [1] Discover-yoga-online.com (No date) Ashtanga yoga: the 8 limbs of yoga. Retrieved from http://www.discover-yoga-online.com/ashtanga-yoga.html


    [2] Pizer, A. (2012, May 20) Yoga style guide. Retrieved from 

    http://yoga.about.com/od/typesofyoga/a/yogatypes.htm

     

    [3] Hathayoga.net (2012, March 23) Types of hatha yoga? Retrieved from http://hathayoga.net/?p=116

     

    [4]  http://www.bikramyoga.com/

Published On: August 24, 2012