What Kind of Yoga do you do?

It seems that EVERYONE is doing yoga these days! Sting, Madonna, Kristy Turlington, Julia Roberts...celebrities such as these have helped to bring yoga back to the popularity that it enjoyed during the 60’s when people tuned out, and turned on!

However, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about exactly what yoga is! This matter is further complicated by the many styles of yoga. Yoga is like chocolate! You have to taste it to really define it! One person cannot really explain to another what yoga is like!

There are several basic approaches to yoga. Some people experience great stress relief, and a profound relaxation response which results in physical and spiritual healing - while others practice for the strengthening and flexibility benefits which, in themselves, result in a heightened sense of self - confidence.

Other practitioners of yoga practice as a lifestyle, encompassing the basic philosophical principles upon which the foundation of yoga is laid - namely, moral and ethical principles which lead to a peaceful sense of living.

As well, yoga can be practiced as a sport with practitioners competing to perfect intricate poses. This approach to yoga is widely frowned upon as most practicing yogis believe that a non-competitive approach to yoga is best. You do what you can, at whatever stage of life you happen to be in.

Much has been written about the amazing benefits of yoga....indeed, it seems that there are as many benefits as there are people who practice it.

Yoga is so much more than a series of stretches...it truly is an integration of the three selves- the physical body, the mental or thinking body, and the spiritual body - where we really live! If we can still our bodies, and quiet our minds (getting our egos out of the way!), we can allow our true selves to emerge...to get in touch with our real feelings, and obtain a balance in our lives. How fascinating!

Styles of Yoga.

There are eight main styles of yoga. In alphabetical order they are as follows:

Bhakti Yoga - This yoga is practiced by undertaking acts of devotion. Singing, chanting, making offerings to a supreme being or consciousness.

Guru Yoga - A guru is an enlightened teacher of yoga. This practice dedicates one’s practice to the guru in the hope that the enlightenment will rub off!

Hatha Yoga - This is the yoga of the physical postures.

Jnana Yoga - The yoga of wisdom. A complicated system of thinking about matter. Deals with the reality/non-reality of of the things that are in our present consciousness.

Karma Yoga - The yoga of doing good undo others! Seeking to positively influence our place in the world to come.

Mantra Yoga - the use of sound to rebalance the body and the direct and focus the mind.

Raja Yoga - This is the yoga upon which the moral and ethical philosophies of yoga are founded. The eight-fold path - stages of living and learning which will lead to enlightenment.

Tantra Yoga (also called Kundalini) - seeks to energize a latent spiritual energy in the body. Complicated rituals (sometimes sexual in nature), breathing, and energetic postures.

The yoga with which we are most familiar in our North American society is Hatha yoga. This refers to the yoga of physical discipline - so, the poses mainly. The word Hatha is actually derived from two Sanskrit words - Ha meaning Sun, and Tha meaning Moon. Yogic postures are divided into two main groups - either heating or energizing postures (solar), or cooling and neutralizing postures (lunar).

Under the big umbrella of Hatha yoga comes Iyengar yoga - a very precise and technical yoga (sometimes called “furniture yoga” because of the many props that are used to help along the poses!) This type of yoga is the most widely recognized approach to Hatha, and was created by B. K. S. Iyengar. Ashtanga (or Power yoga) is a form of Iyengar yoga and is the most athletic form of Hatha. Viniyoga, on the other hand, is a very gentle, and therapeutic yoga using specific breathing techniques to heal and strengthen. The emphasis is not on achieving an ideal form, but on practicing according to one’s individual needs and capacity.

Bikram Yoga is done in a heated room - about 104 degrees! A series of postures, done twice, is thought to clear toxins, strengthen the body, focus the mind, and to achieve a flow state of being. A generally tortuous, and unforgiving style of yoga!

Other types of yoga that you may read or hear about are:

Kripalu Yoga, - a 3-stage yoga tailored for the needs of Western students. In thefirst stage, precision in postures, and breath are emphasized. Meditation is taught in the second stage, and in the final stage, the practice pf the poses becomes a spontaneous “meditation in motion”.

Integral Yoga - an integration of various aspect of body-mind through a combination of postures, breathing, relaxation and meditation. Less attention to form, and more to the function ofthe pose.

Sivananda Yoga includes a series of twelve postures, the Sun Salutation sequence, breathing exercises, relaxation, and mantra chanting.

Ananda Yoga is gentle style and includes affirmations associated with postures.

Kundalini Yoga is not only an independent approach of Yoga but is also the name of a style of Hatha Yoga Its purpose is to awaken the serpent power (kundalinÓ) by means of postures, breath control, chanting, and meditation.

In summary, then, there are many paths! Finding a style, and an instructor that resonates with you, and with your specific needs, is all important! Look for an instructor who is in tune with his/her students - one who maintains watchfulness and who doesn’t DO his/her own yoga while teaching. Equally important - clear, concise direction and gentle physical adjustments help tremendously. Search for an instructor who holds a registration with the Yoga Alliance (which indicates that the instructor has taken a minimum of 200 hours of training, and has met stringent requirements). Certification with a provincial yoga organization is also recommended.

You’re on your way! Bon Voyage!

In its voyage from antiquity to modernity, Hatha Yoga has undergone a number of transformations. The most significant adaptations were made during the past several decades in order to serve the needs of Western students. Of the many styles of Hatha Yoga available today, the following are the best known.

Iyengar Yoga, which is the most widely recognized approach to Hatha Yoga, was created by B. K. S. Iyengar, the son-in-law of Shri Krishnamacharya. This style is characterized by precision performance and the aid of various props, such as cushions, benches, wood blocks, straps, and even sand bags, and hence is sometimes called "furniture Yoga." Iyengar has trained thousands of teachers, many of whom are in the United States. His Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, founded in 1974 and dedicated to his late wife Ramamani, is located in Pune, India. Ashtanga (or Power) Yoga originated with K. Pattabhi Jois, who was born in 1916 but has a suitably modern outlook to draw eager Western students to his Ashtanga Yoga Institute located in Mysore, India. He was a principal disciple of Shri Krishnamacharya who, apparently, instructed him to teach the sequences known as Ashtanga or Power Yoga. This is by far the most athletic style of Hatha Yoga. By the way, this Ashtanga Yoga differs from Patanjali's eightfold path, though it is theoretically grounded in it.

Viniyoga is the approach developed by Shri Krishnamacharya and continued by his son T. K. V. Desikachar, whose school is located in Madras, India. As the teacher of well-known Yoga masters B. K. S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, Shri Krishnamacharya can be said to have launched a veritable Hatha Yoga renaissance in modern times, which is still sweeping the world. Viniyoga works with what is called "sequential process," or vinyasa-krama. The emphasis is not on achieving an external ideal form but on practicing a posture according to one's individual needs and capacity. Regulated breathing is an important aspect of Viniyoga, and the breath is carefully coordinated with the postural movements.

Kripalu Yoga, inspired by Kripalvananda and developed by his disciple Yogi Amrit Desai, is a three-stage Yoga tailored for the needs of Western students. In the first stage, postural alignment and coordination of breath and movement are emphasized, and the postures are held for a short duration only. In the second stage, meditation is included into the practice and postures are held for prolonged periods. In the final stage, the practice of postures becomes a spontaneous "meditation in motion." Kripalu Yoga is taught by numerous teachers around the world, and the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, offers a battery of classes, workshops, and retreats for beginners and advanced students. Every year, some 12,000 individuals go through the "Kripalu experience" at the Center's 300-acre property.

Integral Yoga was developed by Swami Satchidananda, a student of the famous Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India. Swami Satchidananda made his debut at the Woodstock festival in 1969, where he taught the Baby Boomers to chant om, and over the years has attracted thousands of students. As the name suggests, this style aims to integrate the various aspects of the body-mind through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, and meditation. Function is given pre-eminence over form. Integral Yoga is taught at Integral Yoga International, headquartered at Satchidananda (or Yogaville) Ashram in Buckingham, Virginia, and its over forty branches worldwide.

Sivananda Yoga is the creation of the late Swami Vishnudevananda, also a disciple of Swami Sivananda, who established his Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Montreal in 1959. He has trained over 6,000 teachers, and there are numerous Sivananda centers around the world. This style includes a series of twelve postures, the Sun Salutation sequence, breathing exercises, relaxation, and mantra chanting.

Ananda Yoga is anchored in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and was developed by Swami Kriyananda, one of his disciples. This is a gentle style designed to prepare the student for meditation, and its distinguishing features are the affirmations associated with postures. It includes Yogananda's unique energization exercises, first developed in 1917, which involve consciously directing the body's energy (life force) to different organs and limbs. The center for Ananda Yoga is the Ananda World Brotherhood Village situated in Nevada City, California, and has around 300 residents.

Bikram Yoga is the style taught by Bikram Choudhury. Bikram Choudhury, who achieved fame as the teacher of Hollywood stars, teaches at the Yoga College of India in Bombay and other locations around the world, including San Francisco and Tokyo. This is a system of 26 postures, which are performed in a standard sequence in a room heated to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. This approach is fairly vigorous and requires a certain fitness on the part of students.

Kundalini Yoga is not only an independent approach of Yoga but is also the name of a style of Hatha Yoga, originated by the Sikh master Yogi Bhajan. Its purpose is to awaken the serpent power (kundalinÓ) by means of postures, breath control, chanting, and meditation. Yogi Bhajan, who came to the United States in 1969, is the founder and spiritual head of the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), which is headquartered in Los Angeles but has numerous branches around the world.

Hidden Language Yoga was developed by the late Swami Sivananda Radha, a German-born woman student of Swami Sivananda. This style seeks to promote not only physical well-being but also self-understanding by exploring the symbolism inherent in the postures. Hidden Language Yoga is taught by the teachers of Yasodhara Ashram in Kootenay Bay, British Columbia, and its various branches.

Somatic Yoga is the creation of Eleanor Criswell-Hanna, EdD, a professor of psychology at Sonoma State University in California who has taught Yoga since the early 1960s. She is managing editor of Somatics journal, which was launched by her late husband, Thomas Hanna, inventor of Somatics. Somatic Yoga is an integrated approach to the harmonious development of body and mind, based both on traditional yogic principles and modern psychophysiological research. This gentle approach emphasizes visualization, very slow movement into and out of postures, conscious breathing, mindfulness, and frequent relaxation between postures.

Other styles that you may hear mentioned or see advertisements for in Yoga periodicals are Tri Yoga (developed by Kali Ray), White Lotus Yoga (developed by Ganga White and Tracey Rich), Jivamukti (developed by Sharon Gannon and David Life), and Ishta Yoga (developed by Mani Finger and made popular in the United states by his son Alan).
Maureen Rae,Reg. N., RYT, Certified Nia Dance Instructor.

Owner and studio director of Maureen Rae's Yoga Studio which is located in Toronto. The studio is a training centre for both basic and advanced study. Maureen is a long-time CanFitPro presenter and is happy to share information about yoga if you should wish to correspond.

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