What is Yoga?
Derived from the Sankrit word ‘yuj’ which means ‘to unite or integrate’, yoga is a 5,000-year-old Indian knowledge. Yoga is all about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through various breathing exercises, yoga poses (asanas) and meditation.
Yoga is a major part of the Hindu religion as it embodies their natural state of being and spiritual enlightenment. As a part of Hinduism, Yoga belongs to one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy. Yoga is also a major part of Buddhism as a part of their meditation practices. It has even been linked to Islam and early Christianity.
Yoga today has become increasingly popular all over world, not so much for the spiritual benefits as for the physical advantages like flexibility, strenght and even loosing weight. It’s is great for reducing stress and allowing relaxation. Mindfulness and deep breathing are key features in a yoga practice. Although there are many different types of yoga, holding various poses and flowing through different series of movements is standard in most classes. Yoga can be seen as a form of mind-body fitness. It combines physical activity and mindful focus. This brings increased awareness to the breath and energy.
Here are six different types of yoga that are definitely among the most popular ones in ashrams, gyms and fitness centers around the world.
Hatha Yoga – Best for Beginners
“Hatha” is the term that you will encounter a lot when you see or read things about yoga. Newcomers usually get the impression that Hatha is a specific type of yoga, like Ashtanga or Bikram. But that’s actually not true. “Hatha” actually describes all the physical practices of yoga. It is a very general term which can almost be used interchangeably with “yoga”. When you do Ashtanga yoga, you do Hatha. When you do Bikram yoga, you do Hatha. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga that are separate from the physical-based yoga practice and because of that they do not belong to the Hatha yoga branch.
So What Do I Get in Hatha? You can most likely expect a slow-paced yoga class with stretches and breathing exercises. The goal of these classes is for you to be able to learn to do and maintain poses and concentrate on your breathing. Even though the movements are slow, they are a great way to work out and relieve stress.
Kundalini Yoga – Spiritual and Rapid
Kundalini is a very old form of yoga, and has only been practiced in the West relatively recently. This type of yoga is focused on a combination of poses and breathing. The poses are performed together with certain breathing techniques, which intensify your workout. The sequences in Kundalini yoga (called kriyas) are done rapidly and repetitively. You may also be holding different poses while consciously breathing in a certain way. If you have tried out a regular yoga class and want to raise the intensity, you might consider trying out Kundalini. Overall, Kundalini yoga is a spiritual and mental activity as much as it is a physical one.
Ashtanga Yoga – Structured and Challenging
For the more athletic and advanced, Ashtanga yoga is a good choice. This type of yoga can be considered more challenging and well-structured. Ashtanga is made of of six different sequences, which students can go through at their own pace and independently. Each sequence has different characteristics and focuses on a different aspect of your body. To give an example: The first sequence, called Yoga Chikitsa, focuses on detoxification, strength, flexibility and stamina. It consists of 75 poses and takes between 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. There are yoga studios that offer led classes, where the instructor guides you through all the poses (usually in the primary or secondary series). However, once you get the drift you’ll be able to go on by yourself and practice without instructions, which feels great and can be VERY rewarding.
Iyengar yoga – Slow and Methodical
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath. Generally, poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. Although you won’t jump around, you will definitely get a workout and feel incredibly open and relaxed after an Iyengar class. This style is really great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically.
Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and in this case yoga postures. Vinyasa is the most athletic yoga style. Vinyasa was adapted from Ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. In Vinyasa classes, the movement is coordinated with your breath and movement to flow from one pose to another. Many types of yoga can also be called Vinyasa flows such as Ashtanga, power yoga, and prana. Vinyasa styles can vary depending on the teacher, and there can be many different types of poses in different sequences. I personally teach an alignment-based style of vinyasa and choreograph new flows every time, but I also like to hold some of the poses a bit longer after warming up.
Hot and Bikram Yoga – Intense and Sweaty
Hot yoga is done in a room that is heated to 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit (~40 degrees Celsius) with a humidity level of 40%. It is usually performed in a flowing (vinyasa) style, which means that poses are smooth and linked to each other. The heat is believed to loosen the muscles, thus promoting greater flexibility. Hot yoga is all about sweating and makes your body very, very warm, which may also stimulate fat burning rates.
So what is Bikram yoga? Not all hot yoga is Bikram yoga but all Bikram is hot. Bikram yoga is a sub-type of hot yoga, that was invented and marketed by a yogi called Bikram Choudhury. It entails 26 postures that are done in a hot yoga room.
These are just a few of the different types of yoga you can check out. There is also Yin, Restorative, Prenatal, Anusara, Acroyoga, Jivamukti and other less known yoga styles It is definitely worth exploring the world of yoga a little more in order to find out what type best suits your wants and needs. It’s not only about spiritual and physical, but also about speed, intensity, structure and so much more!