Different types of Yoga
Different paths to yoga.
The origins of the practice and the yoga styles nowadays.
The first records of yoga were discovered about 3500 years ago. From that age up until today, many paths of yoga have been designed and walked by the big masters of all times. Yoga is so vast that it penetrates almost every area of study and nowadays yoga is integrated with many other subjects from science to philosophy and of course traditional and holistic knowledge.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF YOGA?
Yoga is the goal of a yoga practitioner. Following the tradition, a practitioner will only be called yogi (males) and yogini (females) after attaining the supreme state of yoga, also called Samadhi. It is not the word Samadhi as it is used in the buddhist tradition, that refers to a deep state of concentration. Samadhi is something that comes after achieving a deep state of concentration. What is that supreme state then? Well, it has been millennia since the human being tries to describe it, the truth is that words can’t be used to explain that a supreme level of consciousness is. The word Samadhi refers to the complete dissolution of the ego and a union with the infinity. But again, words are just not enough.
The good thing is that Yoga is not a subject to understand, it is a subject to experience. What yoga means to many practitioners can be well summarized in a sentence that the big master Patanjali used in his great work ‘The Yoga Sutras’. He started the text by writing “…and now yoga”. Meaning that after all the efforts of life to reach the natural state of joy, if one still wants to realize the nature of reality, it will have to start yoga. This brief sentence also means that everything that is not now is not yoga, it is only in the time of now that yoga happens.
WHAT ARE THE PATHS TO YOGA?
To reach this state of yoga, four are the main traditional paths that one can follow. Nowadays practitioners tend to mix elements from these four paths, that could also be a good practice as long as it brings the practitioner to the ultimate goal, why not? But traditionally the main four are: Raja Yoga, the science of physical and mental control; Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion; Karma yoga, the path of action and Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge and wisdom.
Finally, let’s make sure we move from understanding to experiencing through the practice of yoga. If you are new to the practice and are looking for a little bit of orientation throughout the most common styles available nowadays, then let us share all of this with you. You’ll be able to have a better idea of where to start from.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN YOGA STYLES?
The Yoga styles as thought from the tradition, still diffused and practiced everyday in India and all over the world from millions of practitioners.
Hatha Yoga delineates the beginning of the yoga asanas (positions) in the history of yoga. Before that, yoga was only practiced in the meditative seated position. Hatha is the science of balancing the sun and the moon, the opposite energies we have in our body, feminine and masculine (yin and yang in Chinese medicine). From sanskrit, “ha” means sun, while “tha” means moon. Hatha Yoga, referred to as a yoga style, is a complete practice that includes pranayama (breath control), asanas (body positions), mudra (positions of the hands) and bandhas (control of energetic centers). In simple words, in a Hatha Yoga practice each position is kept for a few seconds (6 to 10 breaths) making it a perfect practice for beginners to connect with body awareness. It can be practiced at very advanced levels when the focus is shifted from the physical body awareness to the energetical body awareness.
Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic type of yoga in which breath and movement are combined so that a flow of transitions arises. Traditionally, each breath requires one movement. One inhalation is one pose, the exhalation is already another pose. This makes Vinyasa a more powerful and physically challenging kind of yoga. It is one of the most well-known types of yoga nowadays as it leaves space for creativity. Whenever you read “slow flow”, “sunset flow” or “power flow”, that is tipicaly a Vinyasa class. Keywords are flow and creativity. To make it a mindful practice and not just movement, focus on the connection between breath and body and notice how your mind adapts to a state of constant movement and flow of your body.
Originally designed for the military forces, it is an intense practice that focuses both on muscle strength and joint flexibility. Having a solid base of strong muscles is very important to protect the joints from injuries. The founder of Ashtanga, the great master Pattabi Jois, designed 6 series that the practitioner progressively works on as it gets more advanced with the practice. The poses in each series are very intense and traditionally the students could not move to the more advanced series before performing perfectly each asana (body pose) of the previous series. Ashtanga practice is traditionally opened with the chanting of one specific mantra dedicated to the great yogi Patanjali and the class goes on with a specific rhythm and the teacher counting in sanskrit. It is so strong that it allows the mind no distraction, the practitioner will then enter a state of concentration and meditation more easily.
Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois had the same master teacher: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. While Pattabi Jois had a fitted and strong body to develop a quite intense style, Iyengar had a story of injuries and general body weaknesses. These natural conditions of his turned out to be their best teachers to develop a yoga style that is all worldwide recognized to be the best one to achieve the perfect body alignment. He focused on the details of every single posture to absorb as much as possible all their benefits. He brought the use of props into the practice like chairs, blocks, straps, walls and more. If you want to reach a higher level of focus, alignment and awareness, this is probably the practice for you.
YOGA NOWADAYS: THE TRADITION RENEWED
Just a few examples of how yoga is opening the doors to other practices coming from different times and places, from Chinese Medicine with Yin yoga to acrobacy with Aerial and Acro yoga. The list is potentially limitless, find below just some of the most diffuse contemporary yoga styles regarding the physical and body movement part of the yoga practice.
With the influence of Chinese Medicine, Yin Yoga is a practice that works on the meridian of the body and the yin side of our body. Most of the yoga practices that involve asana have a strong component of the yang element that is stimulated everytime the muscles are engaged. In yin yoga there is none or almost no muscle engagement, the position goes deeper in the tissues and joints and the body is meant to relax in every position. To do so, the practitioner will keep each asana (body position) for 2 to 5 minutes. Every posture is a journey into the depth, stiffness and emotions of the body.
Aerial yoga is a modern style of yoga including more acrobats. It provides deeper stretches with the help of a hammock. Aerial yoga extends numerous benefits like decompression of the spine, helping to go deeper into the yoga poses and easy access to inversions .Even a beginner can receive the benefits of inversion with the help of being suspended by the hammock. One of the advantages aerial has over traditional yoga is the “the act of pulling”. It is one of the best techniques to develop upper body strength, improve mind and body coordination and increase core strength.
Still haven’t heard about it? This emerging modern yoga style combines yoga with Thai Massage. The traditional Thai Massage comes with Yoga, if you ever had one of these massages you probably noticed that it feels like passive yoga. The therapist will move your body into specific positions that feel and sometimes also look like yoga asanas. In the Yoga Massage you will be practicing in couples using gravity and each other bodies for massaging both practitioners.
Performed in two people, this style of yoga practice is really good to have fun while connecting to your body and to your partner. A mix between the traditional yoga asanas and acrobacy that gives the practitioner a flying sensation. Really good to work on trust as you will often be in your partner’s hands, or feet.
HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN ALL THESE YOGA STYLES?
When it comes to developing a yoga practice, you will soon notice that it is something that permeates every area of your life. Yoga is never practiced only on the mat, but it is practiced everyday in every action that we do. Our suggestion if you are approaching yoga for the first time is ask yourself why you are willing to start the journey. What are you looking for? When your intention is clear, it doesn’t matter that much what style you will end up practicing. You can find deep spiritual meaning in the most cheerful of all practices. Be aware that the yoga practice is always supposed to be mindful, what goes on in the mind during a session is actually the most important thing of the practice itself. So, let us leave you with a tiny piece of advice: trust that you know that is best for you. Pick up the style that most resonates with you, try different teachers and enjoy the beginning of the magical journey to yoga.
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