Different types of yoga
Some forms of yoga work at many levels of our being
Some forms of yoga are aimed at fitness, some are aimed at relaxation, some bring benefit by introducing new ways of breathing while others work at a deeper level and aim to integrate body, mind and inner energies leading to a more enlightened state through mind focussing techniques, meditation and other practices which become more a way of life rather than attending a yoga class.
There are a mystifying range of yoga types from Ashtanga yoga, Bikram, Kundalini, Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Power, Anusara, Satyananda, Sivananda, Yin and other more recent additions which involve a blend of yoga and some other disciple such as Yoga-late, Yoga crunch.
Yoga is often seen as an ideal practice to maintain fitness, mental well being and health as one progresses through life until it is time to let go this physical body. And some more traditional older systems of yoga aim to work more with one’s consciousness, inner development and spirituality.
However most of the yoga systems which are taught in the western world do not focus much on this internal development, and instead focus more on working with the physical layer of our being.
Modern Types of yoga
Nowadays the styles of yoga which have stemmed from the Krishnamacharya lineage include Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar yoga and Viniyoga. With the exception of the latter, the first two tend to focus on the physical body.
Ashtanga yoga later led to off-shoots such as Vinyasa flow and Power yoga and has influenced many modern yoga teachers over the past 60 years.
Krishnamacharya was a Yogi (person who practices the art of yoga and lives a yogic life) who lived in India from 1988 to 1999 and he taught a number of the most well know yoga teachers who have influenced yoga as taught in the modern western world.
As well as the Krishnamacharya lineage, there have been other more traditional yoga (or more spiritual forms of yoga which did not place so much emphasis on the physical postures) such as Swami Sivananda, Swami Satyananda, Swami Vivekananda, Yogananda Paramahansa to name but a few.
These more spiritual traditions aim towards an elevation of awareness and a transformation of one’s being through yoga, and use methods which include physical postures and sequences as well as the more inner transformative practices of pranayama (controlling energies through breathing practices), Pratyahara (withdrawal of one’s mind from the senses so that one can go inwards), yamas and niyamas (codes of moral conduct so one’s mind becomes conflict free and peaceful), dharana (steadying the mind) and dhyana (a deeper state where one’s mind becomes one) often referred to as meditational practices and other practices which really extend into all areas of one’s life rather than mainly being focussed on a physical yoga class.
However, these latter traditions also have yoga classes which are taught in the modern western world and it is possible to get a glimpse into the more esoteric practices in these classes, and a possibility of going more deeply inwards if one wishes to pursue these traditions further.
Some of these classes include Satyananda yoga and Sivananda yoga and a lot depends on the extent of the training and the number of years of diligent practice the teacher has put in. With the help of some gifted and well practiced teachers one can be led along the path of inner development and transform oneself on many levels of one’s being.
Ashtanga yoga is a strong physical form of yoga which focuses mainly on practicing a fixed sequence of physical postures in order to purify oneself through the body.
It is practiced as a series of flowing Yoga postures which begin with the Sun Salutations. These heat up the body and prepare the body for the stronger postures which one gradually introduces and builds into one’s own daily practice of the sequence. These stronger stretching and strengthening postures are also practiced within the flowing sequence which follows the Sun Salutations.
One’s breath is controlled and regulated by a practice known as Ujjay breathing. This produces a slight hissing sound in the throat and has an effect of lowering the blood pressure. Thus although one is physically working the body quite strenuously, one feels quite calm and centred which is quite unlike any other aerobic exercises. This allows one maintain an inward focus and a meditative awareness while practicing the sequence.
After about 20 minutes into the sequence, it is not uncommon for the practitioner to be sweating due to the exertion. And the sequence continues into stronger postures which also work with the internal organs partly due to the pressure placed on them as the legs or thighs are pressed deeply into the abdominal area during some of the poses.
Ashtanga practice is a great practice for younger people and for those who tend to have quite busy minds, and who may find the more gentle and meditative forms of yoga boring. Ashtanga tends to ‘grab one’s attention’ due to the physical effort that is required, and one definitely feels a buzz from the endorphins which are released during the practice.
Ashtanga is not recommend for those who are over 40 and who are not fit, or those who have back, neck or knee injuries. All these recommendations are generalisations and there will always be exceptions to the rule.
It is a great practice to increase one’s flexibility, stamina, overall strength, endurance and overall health and well being.
With practice and under the guidance of a good teacher, this practice can become a meditative form of practice. However, to get one’s practice to this meditative level, takes a lot of regular practice so that one can practice this strong energetic routine reasonably effortlessly or at least without straining too much, focussing on the breath and focussing one’s eyes on the recommended points during the sequence.
Over time, ashtanga is a very good practice to increase one’s will power and acceptance of all.
Vinyasa flow yoga
Vinyasa flow is the name given to a number of different variations or derivatives of ashtanga yoga which came about through modern western yoga teachers bringing their own experience and modifications and style to the flowing style of ashtanga yoga.
There are many different types of Vinyasa flow classes, and these really depend on who the teacher is who is teaching the class.
Some teachers tend to teach a style which is reasonably similar to the primary series in Ashtanga or at least to parts of this sequence and have introduces modifications of postures or differences in the sequence, or difference in the effort and intensity required.
Other Vinyasa flow teachers take little from the Ashtanga sequence or style in practicing yoga and can be much softer, continually changing in their sequence, and very often the main similarity remaining to ashtanga yoga is that it is a flowing series of movements. 150
Power yoga is another name given to a variation on the Ashtanga yoga sequence and style of practicing physical yoga postures. Again the type of class varies from the teacher teaching it, and unfortunately some teachers tend not to have a deep yoga experience themselves and some of these classes tend to be a more fitness style class rather than a yoga class.
However, there are also some dedicated well trained yoga teachers who teach a very strong flowing form of yoga which involves holding strong postures for quite long lengths of time, or are strong variations of the ashtanga sequence.
Iyengar yoga was developed by another student of Krishnamacharya Mr B K S Iyengar. This form of yoga is very systematic in teaching the yoga postures, and Mr Iyengar documented each posture in great detail and how it should be practiced, giving great emphasis to the exact alignment of each posture in great detail.
Mr Iyengar also was the primary yoga teacher to introduce props to help someone obtain great alignment within a posture, or to help a beginner to ease into a posture before their body has opened sufficiently or had developed enough strength to hold the posture without the aid of a block, or a belt, or even a chair.
These yoga classes tend to be quite physical and focus much more so on physical postures and getting the body in the right alignment rather than on entering a meditative state or
In general these classes are taught with the practitioners having their eyes open, holding postures for long length’s of time, sometimes using a mirror to help get the exact correct alignment. Very little time if any is spent on relaxation, breath-work or meditation.
Viniyoga was developed by Krishnamacharya’s son whose name is Desikachar and this form of yoga tends to be much more gentle in it’s approach and places huge emphasis on the student receiving one to one instruction from the teacher at some stage within their yoga training.
Desikachar continues to teach and has dropped the term Viniyoga and not to put a name on the type of yoga he teaches, but rather teaches a more holistic approach rather than the manly physical style of ashtanga or iyengar yoga.
Bikram Yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury who modified various yoga postures and put the together into his own sequence, and stipulated that they should be taught in a very hot room close to 40 degrees Celsius.
These classes are great physical workouts and one is sweating in the heat, and through the exertion of the postures. Although the sequence of postures is not as strong as the ashtanga series, when practiced within this type of heat, one sweats a great deal and some people use it to lose weight, tone up, and increase flexibility.
The classes are usually practiced in front of a large wall of mirrors and the pace tends to be like a gym workout or a circuit training class rather than a yoga class. There is little or no emphasis placed on awareness, breath work or relaxation.
The main aim of Bikram yoga is a general wellness, and he claims the heated studio facilitates deeper stretching, injury prevention, and stress and tension relief.
Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan who was the founder of the Kundalini yoga as we know it nowadays involves many unique movements and practices which are not in other forms of yoga either traditional or modern and more appear to be a blend of yoga, yoga philosophy and new age concepts. Many of the postures and practiced are repeated for long numbers of rounds which breathing very fast and powerfully using breath know as ‘breath of fire’ or bhastrika.
When practiced correctly with good guidance, this form of yoga can awaken inner internal energies, remove energy blows and awaken oneself on many levels.
This type of yoga is linked with the Sheikh religion. Many of the teachers wear white clothes and some wear turbans on the head. There can be chanting in some of these classes.
Hatha Yoga is a term which is loosely given to a yoga class which is not as strong as Ashtanga or Iyengar, but does contain a variety of physical yoga postures, some sequences, some breath work and some relaxation. Again this type of yoga varies greatly depending on who is teaching.
Some yoga teachers teach quite a strong and challenging form of hatha yoga while others teach a quite gentle class which would be suitable for all ages and all levels of abilities.
Anusara yoga was developed by an American John Friend who started a style of yoga which incorporates a philosophy of practicing flowing physical postures using the power of the heart and mindful awareness throughout one’s yoga practice which seems to have brought back the more traditional feelings of love and joy within one’s practice and has married this to a style of Vinayasa flow yoga.
John Friend is a very inspiring teacher and has brought together the more modern physical emphasis of practicing yoga, with the more traditional styles which included spiritual development, opening of the heart and developing on many different levels of one’s being.
Satyananda Yoga is a traditional form of Yoga which includes Asanas, Pranayama, Tantric practices, Cleansing practices, Mind focusing practices, Pratyahara and Meditation.
It differs from Asthanga and Iyengar yoga in that it does not place the main focus on Asana, but rather works on the multi layered aspects of our being right from the beginning.
So what appears to be a gentle form of yoga, is in fact a very deep transformational yoga, that works on all levels of our being.
Some of the underlying power and strength of the Satyananda Yoga system is that it is taught in a very systematic way which is accessible to all, but works to gradually bring one deeper in touch with ones inner being, to let go of thoughts and to get in touch with the light within oneself.
When one is introduced to Satyananda Yoga, the first 12 weeks of classes include pranayama, asana, and a tantric technique of Yoga Nidra which is used to systematically relax the body and the mind, and eventually helps our consciousness to move beyond the mind.
This deepening of awareness is carried out through the practice of asanas which are physically gentle at the beginning and by keeping the attention inside noticing any sensations within.
This is different to the asana classes in many other forms of yoga where the main focus is often to try to make sure the body is in 100% correct alignment, and the focus is on how the body looks or appears from the outside.
So what type is best for me ?
This really depends on what you are looking for, and also on your age, your fitness level, whether you have any injuries or health conditions.
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What type of yoga is best for me ?