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What's Your 'Style' of Yoga?

Shawn Trickett - Monday, August 27, 2012

WHAT’S YOUR ‘STYLE’ OF YOGA?

By Lisa Foster

FINDING A YOGA ‘STYLE’ THAT SUITS YOUR ‘STYLE’ HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER.

There are various types of yoga, and determining which is right, is simply a matter of preference.  To get started in your practice, you will need to choose a style that is appropriate for you physical condition, meets with your expectations, and clicks with your personality.

The best way to find the right fit is to show up at your local studio and try out a few different classes.  You should know within a class or two whether a particular style is right for you.   How?  You’ll feel happier, calmer, and more peaceful when you step off the mat at the end, then when you stepped on the mat at the beginning of class.

To help you with the first step of your journey, here is a list of a number of popular styles of yoga.  It is not complete by no means (by some people’s count, there are as many as 280 different styles!), but it is a good starting point for anyone looking to find a home in the world of yoga.

ANUSARA YOGA  

Anusara offers a playful, uplifting approach to an alignment-focused practice, including storytelling and chanting.  The undercurrent here is joy, with an emphasis on celebrating the beauty of life (and yoga practice) in all its diversity.  Every class has a theme, which is meditated on and used as an idea to reflect on while you are doing poses.  It is more than likely that you will do some backbend variations, as there are no better postures for opening your heart (one of the aims of this style of practice).

Anusara means ‘flowing with grace’.  In class students are encouraged to connect with their innate goodness, worthiness, and divine nature as they apply the Universal Principles of Alignment.  These alignment techniques are consistent with those taught in Iyengar Yoga, but they have been arranged into a system that makes it relatively easy to understand the physical actions and energetic channels you are attempting to connect with in your practice.

John Friend founded Anusara Yoga in 1997 after many years of practicing and teaching Iyengar Yoga.  His experience with the Siddha Yoga lineage and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda sparked the creation of Anusara’s first principle, ‘Open to Grace’, which suggests that every pose originates internally from a deeply creative and devotional feeling before taking its outward, physical form.

ASHTANGA YOGA

The inspiration for nearly all vinyasa-style yoga classes, Ashtanga Yoga is an athletic and demanding practice.  These days you can take classes led by a teacher, but traditionally Ashtanga was taught ‘Mysore style’, meaning that students learn a series of poses and practice at their own pace while a teacher goes around the room giving adjustments and personalized suggestions.  If you take a Mysore class, you will begin with the primary series.  After a teacher deems you ready, you will move on to the second, third, or fourth series.

The practice is smooth and uninterrupted, and so the practitioner learns to simply observe whatever is arising during the practice without holding on to it or rejecting it, without analyzing it or criticizing it.  With continued practice this skill of attentive non-attachment spills into all aspects of life.  This is one of the important meanings of K. Pattabhi Jois’ famous quote, “Practice, and all is coming”.

Founded by K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), this system is taught around the world.  Jois’ grandson R. Sharath now leads the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.  There are teachers everywhere around the globe.

BAPTISTE POWER VINYASA YOGA

Expect a physically challenging, flowing practice that will tone your body and get your heart pumping while also encouraging you to find your authentic personal power in life.  Each class features a vigorous 90 minute vinyasa sequence, performed in a heated room and designed to condition the whole body in strength, stability, flexibility, and balance.

The aim of Baptiste Yoga is to create freedom, peace of mind, and the ability to live more powerfully and authentically right now.  The physical challenges of the practice are a training ground for facing the emotional and philosophical challenges that arise when you move toward transforming your life.

Baron Baptiste began practicing yoga as a child and had the privilege of meeting and studying with many great Indian yoga masters throughout his childhood.  The Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Institute is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and there are more than 40 affiliate studios around the world.

BIKRAM YOGA 

Rooms are heated to 105 degrees and each class is 90 minutes long – 45 minutes of standing poses and 45 minutes of floor postures.  You do the same series of two breathing exercises and 26 poses in each class.  There is no chanting, but you get a final relaxation pose.

Since life is full of mental over-stimulation and physical under-stimulation, this practice is designed to work your body as well as requiring full attention and concentration.  Students release toxins and stress, and many also lose weight.  The overall objective is to create a fit body and mind, allowing the physical self to unify with the spiritual self.

Bikram Choudhury was born in Calcutta and introduced his system in the United States in 1971.  His main teacher was Bishnu Ghosh (1903-1970), the brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (the author of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’).  The Bikram Yoga College of India in Los Angeles serves as headquarters.  There are now more than 5,000 certified Bikram teachers throughout the United States and Canada.

HATHA YOGA

Hatha is a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘sun’ (ha) and ‘moon’ (tha), broadly referring to the physical practices of yoga.  A good hatha class will be a balance of strenuous work (ha), and relaxation (tha).  Technically, all forms of yoga that include postures are hatha classes – but generic hatha yoga classes are often patterned loosely on Iyengar yoga.  To know exactly what to expect you will have to call the studio and ask, or speak with the teacher before class.

HOT YOGA

Hot yoga classes are held in – just as you would expect – a heated room.  Heat warms the body from the ‘outside in’, just as the asanas (poses) warm the body from the ‘inside out’, so you may be able to go deeper into postures than you otherwise would.  Typically, hot yoga classes are strenuous – and the heat adds an extra challenge.  Hot yoga classes may be loosely based on Bikram Yoga, but any style of yoga can be done in a heated room.

IYENGAR YOGA

Classes typically move at a slow pace with precise attention paid to the placement of the body, including the toes and fingers.  Often, you will do only a few poses or a class of poses (forward bends, for example), while exploring the subtle actions required to master proper alignment.  Poses are often modified with props, which can make the practice accessible to all ages and body types.  Many Iyengar Yoga teachers are well versed in working with therapeutic conditions.

For beginners, the primary objective is to understand the alignment and basic structure of the poses, and to gain greater physical awareness, strength, and flexibility.  For more advanced students, the objective becomes that of discovering more subtlety in the asanas (poses) and pranayama  (breath work).  For the very advanced practitioner, the focus may be on discovering the inner core of the body and states of mind (spiritual awareness).

Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar and, more recently, the teachings of his daughter Geeta Iyengar and his son, Prashant Iyengar.  Iyengar Yoga is taught all over the world.  The four Iyengar Yoga Institutes in the United States are located in, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

KRIPALU YOGA

Kripalu Yoga is geared to students who are interested in using their own personal experience as guide rather than simply following the prescriptions of a teacher.  Through asana, pranayama and meditation, and relaxation techniques, you will learn to observe the sensations in the body and mind, and thereby discover how well a pose – or a life decision – is serving you.  Class styles can vary widely, from hot and vigorous to gentle chair yoga for seniors, but teachers will always encourage you to listen to your body.

The primary objective of Kripalu Yoga practice is to awaken the flow of prana – the natural life force energy that will enable you to thrive in all aspects of life.

Swami Kripalu (1913-1981) was a Kundalini Yoga master who taught that all the world’s wisdom traditions stem from a single universal truth, which each of us can experience directly.  In his own intensive practice of silence, meditation, and pranayama, he experienced the awakening of spontaneous yoga postures.  The main centre is the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where workshops are held year round.  There are also 40 affiliated Kripalu studios, mostly located on the east coast of the United States.    

KUNDALINI YOGA

Breath of Fire – a pranayama exercise characterized by rapid and rhythmic exhalations and distinct chuffing sound – is a hallmark of Kundalini Yoga practice.  A 90 minute class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing, and in between features a sequence of asana, pranayama, and meditation (also called kriya) designed to create a specific outcome, as originally taught by Kundalini Yoga founder Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004).  Expect to encounter challenging breathing exercises, mini-meditations, mantras, mudras (sealing gestures with the hands), and vigorous movement-oriented postures that will push you to your limit – and beyond.

Kundalini Yoga is sometimes called the ‘Yoga of Awareness’ – and that’s what it’s all about.  The primary goal is to awaken kundalini energy, the psycho-energetic force leads to spiritual elevation.  The practice, by design, is intense, meant to kick-start the process of transformation.

Kundalini Yoga was founded in the United States in 1969 by Yoga Bhajan.  There are more than 5,000 certified Kundalini  Yoga teachers in the United States and Canada.  The Kundalini Research Institute and International Training Centre is headquartered in Espanola, New Mexico, and is the site of many events.

OM YOGA

Buddhism and yoga come together in OM yoga classes.  During medium-paced vinyasa sequences that focus on precise alignment, you will hear plenty about Tibetan Buddhist concepts like mindfulness and compassion.  Teachers will remind you to use the asana (pose) as a moving mindfulness meditation by coming back to any sensations in the body.

The idea is to use Buddhist and yoga principles to cultivate strength, stability, and clarity so you can integrate mindfulness and compassion into your whole life.

OM Yoga founder Cyndi Lee discovered yoga in 1971.  Then in 1988, she discovered Tibetan Buddhism and became a student of Kyabje Gelek Rimpoche.  She has studied with Rodney Yee, Judith Hanson Lasater, and Jivamukti and Iyengar yoga teachers.  The OM Yoga Centre is in New York City.

SIVANANDA YOGA

Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda – for whom the practice is named – Sivananda Yoga is more spiritual practice than exercise.  Each 90-minute class focuses on the practice of 12 core poses plus Sanskrit chanting, pranayama, meditation, and relaxation.

Designed to transform and elevate human consciousness, Sivananda Yoga focuses on five fundamental points of yoga: proper exercise (asana), proper breathing (pranayama), proper relaxation (Savasana – Corpse Pose), proper diet (vegetarianism), and positive thinking and meditation.  The practice of asana is wholly dedicated to spiritual development.

Sivananda Yoga was founded in 1957 by Swami Vishnu-devananda (1927-1993), a primary student of Swami Sivananda (1887-1963).  Large teaching centres can be found in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the United States, and Montreal and Toronto in Canada.  There are approximately 24,000 trained Sivananda Yoga teachers throughout the world.    

RESTORATIVE YOGA

Restorative Yoga is devoted to deep rest, and classes typically include four to six floor poses held passively with the help of yoga props such as bolsters, blankets, sandbags, straps, eye pillows, and blocks.  Comfort is key, as is active relaxation.  Expect a long Savasana (Corpse Pose) at the end, too, with about 20 minutes devoted to sinking into the earth to help you slow down and truly experience what it means to rest in deep relaxation.  This style of yoga is extremely gentle and restful, and as the name implies, allows both mind and body to be restored. 

VINYASA YOGA/POWER YOGA/FLOW YOGA

In Vinyasa yoga classes, poses flow from one into another as synchronized by the breath.  Being mindful of your breath during poses is emphasized as is consciously breathing in and out as you transition from pose to pose.  Many Vinyasa classes are based loosely on the Ashtanga Yoga approach.  Expect to encounter lots of Sun Salutations before, after, and in between poses.  If a teacher tells the class to ‘take a vinyasa’ she is using the word as shorthand, probably referring to a mini version that includes Plank Pose,

Chaturanga Dandasana,Upward-Facing Dog Pose, and Downward-Facing Dog Pose.  Power Yoga is another name for this challenging style.

YIN YOGA

In Yin Yoga classes, you will experience a physically passive practice that aims to maintain mobility in the deep connective tissues such as the fascia and ligaments, which tend to become less pliable with age.  It employs seated, supine, or prone poses held for long periods of time – up to five minutes or more.  Most of the poses focus on the lower back and hips, because the dense connective tissue in those joints requires extra care and attention.  Also, Yin poses are thought to mobilize the flow of prana (life force energy), freeing energetic blockages much as an acupuncture session would.

This is just a small sampling of the multitude of yoga styles available.  Though yoga has but one goal – the union of mind, body and spirit – the paths are many.  Picking up a practice means choosing the one that’s right for you – one that truly resonates with your heart.

Lisa Foster is a Certified Yoga Teacher and freelance writer.  She teaches yoga to children and adults in Burlington and Oakville, Ontario, and is the Health and Fitness Editor of 'VietSun' magazine.  

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