by Andrew Elias

YOGA HAS BEEN one of the fastest growing health and exercise trends in the country for several years and is now more popular than ever, with everyone from pregnant mothers and the elderly to athletes and the injured, celebrities and children all learning the benefits of this ancient practice.

Translated from the original Sanskrit word for ‘to unite’, yoga includes a variety of disciplines with different philosophies and exercises, all flowing towards a more moral center and mental balance as well as good physical health and wellness. Based in science and not a religion, yoga improves the physical health of the body as well as the subconscious and conscious mind. Yoga is not magic, sorcery or acrobatism. And it is not just for Hindus and Buddhists.

Yoga creates a balance in the body with stretching and breathing (pranayama) exercises through a series of poses (asanas) and movements that develop strength, stamina and flexibility. Yoga improves circulation and digestion as well as strengthening the nervous and skeletal systems through non-tiring physical movements and a combination of concentration, relaxation and meditation.

Community groups, spas, gyms, and schools, as well as yoga studios and yoga instructors, are offering an expanding array of yoga classes following a variety of styles, so deciding which type of yoga is best suited for your needs can be a confusing and daunting endeavor. Whether you are looking for a good workout and improved health or considering a new lifestyle and spiritual awakening, here is a simple guide to the different kinds of yoga styles.

Hatha is the foundation of all yoga systems, with origins in the 15th Century (or even earlier). Hatha is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. A majority of yoga classes teach Hatha yoga, a slow-paced and gentle introduction to basic yoga poses. Hatha refers to positive (ha or sun) and negative (tha or moon) energies in the body. Hatha yoga attempts to balance these energies to improve the body’s physical health and to clear the mind in preparation for meditation and the pursuit of enlightenment. Hatha yoga is calm and meditative, performed with control and grace. It is popular for exercising and stress management.

Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for ‘flow’. Like Hatha, Vinyasa is often used as a general term describing different types of classes, known for their fluid and heart pumping breath-synchronized movements. Vinyasa teachers choreograph their classes to smoothly transition from pose to pose and often play music to enhance the exercises. No two Vinyasa classes are the same, with exercises often adapted to individuals or groups. Vinyasa classes usually start with a series of easier poses to warm up the body for more intense stretching later in the session.

Developed and popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar, this method focuses on proper alignment and precise movements. Iyengar practice emphasizes holding poses overlong periods instead of moving more quickly from one pose to the next. Iyengar introduced the use of props (such as blocks, straps or chairs) to enhance flexibility and compensate for injuries as well as help students attain better poses. You won’t get your heart rate pumped up, but you'll be amazed to discover how physically and mentally challenging it is to meticulously hold poses.

Ashtanga yoga is an athletic and very physically demanding practice because of the constant movement from one pose to the next. It is a rigorous and fast-paced style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures. The primary series of about 75 poses takes about 80-100 minutes to complete, beginning with Sun Salutations and moving on to standing poses, seated poses, inversions and backbends. More advanced series introduce new poses, variations and difficult arm balances. Ashtanga yoga is similar to Vinyasa yoga, as each style links every movement to a breath. The difference is that Ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order.

Power Yoga
Power yoga is based on the flowing Ashtanga style, but doesn’t necessarily keep strictly to the set and sequence of the Ashtanga series of poses.

A style of Power Vinyasa yoga advanced by Baron Baptiste that emphasizes adapting and modifying each posture and part of the practice to each individual’s needs and abilities.

The emphasis in Kundalini yoga is on controlled breathing (prana) in conjunction with rapid and repetitive movements to free energy in the base of the spine in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. Kundalini is a more spiritual type of yoga, exploring beyond the intense physical performance of poses and emphasizing breathing, meditation and chanting.

Hot Yoga
Hot yoga can refer to any yoga class done in a room heated to a temperature of 95-100 degrees. Most often, Hot yoga tends to be a flowing, vinyasa style of practice that follows a series of linked poses. Hot yoga is almost the same as Bikram yoga, with the difference being that Hot yoga classes deviate from Bikram's specific sequence. Not all Hot yoga is Bikram, but all Bikram is hot.

Developed approximately 30 years ago by Bikram Choudhury. In a Bikram class, you work your way through a series of 26 physically challenging poses in about 60-90 minutes in a room heated to 100 degrees.

A new method of yoga developed by David Life and Shannon Gannon, takes its inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasizes chanting, meditation and spiritual teachings as well as being vigorous vinyasa practice.

The name Kripalu is associated both with a style of hatha yoga and a yoga and wellness founded by yoga guru Amrit Desai. Kripalu, named for Desai's teacher, yogi Sri Kripalvananda, Kripalu, is a gentle hatha yoga practice with an emphasis on meditation, physical healing and spiritual transformation. Classes usually begin with breathing exercises and gentle stretches followed by a series of individual poses and final relaxation.

Founded by John Friend, Anusara yoga is a modern discipline of yoga that emphasizes physical as well as spiritual alignment. Anusara classes are less intense than other vinyasa classes.

What differentiates Viniyoga from other forms of yoga is its use of adaptations to personalization programs. Students are taught that the breath should lead the body into and out of each posture and is less concerned with arduous and precise exercises than with developing appropriate excercises tailored to each individual’s needs

This modern method follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda and is based on five principles: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, meditation, and a vegan diet. Unlike other rigorous and athletic styles of yoga, Sivananda training revolves around more frequent relaxation and an emphasis on breathing.

A modern Hatha style yoga, it emphasizes gentle breathing and muscular exercising, chanting and meditation.

Another new form of yoga taught by Ana Forrest, it involves using heat, deep breathing and vigorous asana sequences intended to strengthen and purify the body while releasing pent-up emotions and pain to encourage physical and spiritual healing.

A 21st Century style of Hot yoga founded by Ted Grant and Jessica Robertson, it features a set of 40 poses done in a heated room.

Based on ancient techniques and the teachings of Yogi Amrit Desai, this yoga style combines dynamic postures with deep meditative stillness, bringing the active and receptive energies of the body in balance. Amrit yoga strives to achieve a state of profound relaxation and mindful awareness.

Ananda yoga is a basic style of Hatha yoga that utilizes postures, breathing and mediation to correct physical alignment, improve awareness and maintain constant relaxation for optimum wellness.

Laughter Yoga
One of the latest yoga trends, Laughter yoga employs gentle stretching, yogic breathing and self-triggered laughter to provide the scientifically acknowledged physiological and psychological benefits of a good guffaw.

Practicing yoga has been proven to increase flexibility, strength and stamina as well as reduce stress and improve concentration.For the committed, yoga is more than just stretching and breathing exercises a few times a week — it’s a way of life, a way towards physical, mental and spiritual health and wellness.

People ‘practice’ yoga because the experience is an unending evolution and growth. That experience begins with the first class. Whether you are hoping for greater self-awareness or stress management, seeking physical fitness or physical therapy, looking for a workout or searching for a way of life — there is a yoga class available for you. •

May-June 2012

courtesy Bala Vinyasa Yoga
courtesy Joyful Yoga