Though the popularity of yoga has skyrocketed in the western world over the course of the last few decades, what many people don’t realize is that the traditional yoga practices may be rooted deep in the past.
It is believed that yoga originated in India no later than the Vedic Period, which ended in 500 BCE, but some studies do put it significantly earlier. It’s possible that yoga has in fact been around since about 3500 BCE.
With over 5000 years of history behind it, yoga has been practiced and perfected to the point where it is now a source of numerous benefits. It’s an exercise you can do at home with virtually no equipment.
It’s good for building strength and flexibility, it helps your breathing and your metabolism and it’s also good for relieving anxiety. It’s worth trying for anyone, but in its long history, it’s branched off into a number of different types and it can be hard to know which one is best for you.
It would be a good idea to test a few of them out and see which ones you like, so let’s take a look at some of the most popular styles of Yoga:
Vinyasa yoga might be the most popular and most commonly-practiced and that’s probably because on the surface it seems quite easy. Of course, it’s not actually easy in the sense that it doesn’t expend energy or require concentration, but it is accessible
This variation is also sometimes referred to as ‘flow yoga’ because the goal of vinyasa is to synchronize your movements with your breath so that it has a kind of rhythmic flow to it. It’s methodical and deliberately put together.
‘Yoga is the process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.’
The thing about vinyasa that makes it different is the fact that you are moving almost constantly. A lot of other types of yoga require you to hold certain poses for extended periods of time and of course there is some of that in vinyasa too, but it primarily focuses on motion.
You will still do a lot of the more well-known yoga poses such as planking, downward-facing dog, chair poses and all that sort of thing, but instead of breaking them before moving on to a new one, you will instead reposition yourself. You will ‘flow’ from pose to pose.
The word to keep in mind when it comes to hatha yoga is balance. The name itself is taken from the Sanskrit words for the sun and the moon and in practice, you are trying to balance opposing forces. Hatha also means by force. In this style, asanas and pranayama are used as tools to achieve this balance in mind, body and breath.
‘Hatha Yoga teaches us to use the body as the bow, asana as the arrow, and the soul as the target.’ B.K.S.Iyengar
Much like vinyasa, this is a good variation for beginners to try, in this case, because it will cover a lot of ground and in itself has a variety of different individual practices that you will work to perfect.
What this means is that Hatha is not just one specific thing. Hatha classes will cover the three most important aspects of yoga: Asana, which basically just means poses, pranayama, which are your breathing exercises, and then dhyana or meditation.
If you want to get a well-rounded view of all of the important and beneficial elements that come with traditional yoga, then Hatha is a great place to start.
Kundalini is one of the styles that kind of dips a little bit into the spiritual and philosophical side of the practice, which is not for everyone and can be controversial when viewed from a more scientific and biological perspective.
But still, no matter what kind of a belief system you follow or if that’s not a part of your life at all, it’s still worth looking into because there is always a certain modicum of truth to practices such as this one.
‘The process of growth through Kundalini Yoga is a natural unfolding of your own nature. As you practice Kundalini Yoga, you will grow.’
The idea behind Kundalini is that the primary life force energy that our bodies possess is located at the base of our spine, but it’s coiled too tightly for most of us to have access to it. And the goal is to stimulate this energy in order to unlock it.
And so in addition to breathing exercises and some very challenging poses, Kundalini also works on your mind and it will include some chanting and singing. Even if you don’t acknowledge the spiritual aspect, using your voice is good for your breathing too which will help a lot with yoga.
Ashtanga is probably not a style that you should approach until you have already been practicing yoga for a long period of time. It’s very physically demanding and has a pretty steep difficulty curve.
It’s one of the more specific and structured styles of yoga which is an attractive prospect for a lot of people who like to have a sense of consistent and measurable progression to their exercise regime.
‘Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change. As you build strength you start to believe in your potential.’
Despite its difficulty in practice, Ashtanga is not particularly difficult to understand. There are six steps to perfecting it and each one is a series of poses. You must master each of them before you can progress onto the next series and they increase in difficulty as you move up.
It’s best to be led through each series by a teacher and you won’t be pushed beyond your limits if you do, everybody moves at their own pace. If you’re finding it particularly difficult but you feel like Ashtanga is the most beneficial type for you, you could try rocket yoga.
This was envisioned by an instructor called Larry Schultz, who believed that Ashtanga could be too difficult for Western practitioners and wanted to try and make it accessible. Give that a look if you’re struggling.
First developed by B.K.S Iyengar back in the 1960s, the main things that you focus on in this style of yoga are precision and alignment. Posture and breath control are important aspects of this style and you need to be meticulous in ensuring that all of your poses are close to perfect. This style also encourages the use of yoga props to enable you to perfect the posture as your body type.
When practicing Iyengar, you will be working with a number of different poses but paying very close attention to every aspect of each of them, recognizing precise details and considering every muscle that’s being used.
‘Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured,’
Iyengar yoga tends to be rather slow and methodical, because it’s not about covering every different pose in existence, pushing yourself to your limits, or trying something new every single lesson. Props like yoga belt, yoga blocks, yoga blankets, ropes, and chairs are popular in this style of yoga.
The goal is to maximize the potential of any pose that you try. So because you’ll be spending a lot of time on each pose, it can feel too slow for some people. But it is great for helping with your posture as well as building up focus and concentration.
And the more that you practice it, the more poses you will be able to attempt and subsequently perfect.
So there is a wide variety of different types to choose from, and you can work on a few to decide which is best for you. What is consistent among all of them is benefits though, so regardless of which variation you prefer, you will be doing your mind and body a lot of favors by practicing yoga.