Yoga: Connecting Mind, Body and Spirit
Yoga poses can look like acrobatics or gymnastics—and, to beginners, positions that seem impossible to mold your body into—but yoga is actually considered to be the art and science of creating a union between the body, mind, and spirit. There are eight aspects to yoga, known collectively as the path to union with the divine, which include the physical practice that is so prevalent today.
The eight aspects to yoga are:
1. Yama: Morality
- Ahimsa: Compassion for all living things
- Satya: Commitment to truthfulness
- Asteya: Nonstealing
- Bramacharya: Sense control
- Aparigraha: Nonattachment
2. Niyama: Personal attitudes of how to live one's life
- Suaca: Purity
- Santosa: Contentment
- Tapas: Disciplined use of our energies
- Svadhyaya: Self-study
- Ishvarapranidhana: Contemplation of the divine
3. Asanas: Body postures
Pranayama: Breath control
Pratyahara: Nonattachment to sensory stimulation
Samadhi: Union with the divine
However, you are most likely to come across yoga classes that focus almost exclusively on the asanas, the physical practice of yoga poses. You also are likely to find a dizzying array of different yoga types. These are:1
- Hatha yoga: Likely be a slow-paced stretching class with some simple breathing exercises and possibly seated meditation. This is a good place to learn basic poses, relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with yoga.
- Iyengar yoga: Based on the teachings of the yogi B.K.S Iyengar, this style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment. In yoga, alignment refers to the precise way in which your body should be positioned in each pose in order to obtain the maximum benefits and avoid injury. Iyengar practice usually emphasizes holding poses over long periods, as opposed to moving quickly from one pose to the next. The Iyengar practice also encourages the use of props such as yoga blankets, blocks, and straps to bring the body into alignment.
- Ashtanga and Power yoga: Ashtanga, which means eight limbs in Sanskrit, is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga. Sanskrit is the ancient language of India, akin to Latin, in which all the spiritual and religious texts are written. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. Ashtanga practice is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next. In yoga terminology, this movement is called flow. Ashtanga is also the inspiration for what is often called Power yoga. If a class is described as Power yoga, it will be based on Ashtanga's flowing style but will not necessarily adhere strictly to the set Ashtanga series of poses.
- Vinyasa yoga: Like Hatha, Vinyasa is a general term used to describe many different types of classes. Vinyasa, which means breath-synchronized movement, tends to be a more vigorous style based on a series of poses called Sun Salutations, in which movement is matched to the breath. A Vinyasa class will typically start with a number of Sun Salutations to warm the body up for more intense stretching that is done at the end of class.
- Kundalini yoga: The emphasis in Kundalini is on breathing in conjunction with physical movement with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upward. All asana practices involve controlling breath. But in Kundalini, the exploration of breathing's effect (also called prana, meaning energy) on the postures is essential. Kundalini uses rapid, repetitive movements instead of poses held for a long time, and the teacher will often lead the class in call-and-response chanting.
- Bikram/Hot yoga: Pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, this style is often referred to as Hot yoga. It is practiced in a 95- to 100-degree room. The high temperature allows for tight muscles to loosen and causes profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing. The Bikram method is a set series of 26 poses, but not all hot classes make use of this series.
- Anusara yoga: Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment with a positive philosophy derived from Tantra. The philosophy's premise is belief in the intrinsic goodness of all beings. Anusara classes are usually light-hearted and accessible to students with differing abilities. Poses are taught in a way that opens the heart, both physically and mentally, and props are often used.
- Jivamukti yoga: This style of yoga emerged from one of New York's best-known yoga studios. Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon take inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasize chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings. They have trained many teachers, who have brought this style of yoga to studios and gyms across in the U.S. Jivamukti classes are physically intense and often include some chanting.
- Forrest yoga: Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and gaining popularity around the U.S., Forrest yoga is the method taught by Ana Forrest. The performance of vigorous asana sequences is intended to strengthen and purify the body and release pent-up emotions and pain so that healing can begin. Expect an intense workout with an emphasis on abdominal strengthening and deep breathing.
- Integral yoga: Integral yoga follows the teachings of Sri Swami Sachidananda, who came to the U.S. in the 1960s and eventually founded many Integral yoga institutes and the famed Yogaville Ashram in Virginia. Integral is a gentle hatha practice, and classes often also include breathing exercises, chanting, kriyas, and meditation.
- Sivananda yoga: The first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center was founded in 1957 by Swami Vishnu-Devananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda. There are now close to 80 locations worldwide, including several ashram retreats. Sivananda yoga is based upon five principles:
- Proper exercise (Asana, focusing on 12 poses in particular)
- Proper breathing (Pranayama)
- Proper relaxation (Savasana)
- Proper diet (vegetarian)
- Positive thinking and meditation (Dhyana)
For even more information on the different types of yoga, click here to read a good article by YogaMentor.com.