Yoga [ˈjəʊgə] – A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
I believe most people who have never researched yoga before fall into 2 schools when they hear the term: 1. those who believe yoga is simply spiritual jargon, meditation etc. and 2. Those who think yoga is all about being crazy flexible and doing weird things with your body. Almost every Nigerian I’ve spoken to about it falls into the first group. They never fail to make one comment or another about thinking it was related to “evil spirits” in some form.
“Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
Yoga is not a destination, it’s a journey. It is a combination of both schools mentioned above. Think of yoga as a tool for becoming a better you both inside and out; it has both a spiritual and physical component to it. People turn to yoga for different reasons, mental and physical. However, while there’s a spiritual and physical dimension to yoga, not everyone who practices yoga practices both dimensions. Some people use yoga strictly as a tool for meditation and focusing their minds while others use it to become healthier physically. There’s a school of people who believe that unless you’re practicing both dimensions of yoga, you’re not truly practicing yoga.
A whole book can (and has been) be written about yoga, so what I’m doing with my posts is providing you with surface information. I’ll include links here and there to further your research. If you’re interested, there’s a ton of information out there on the interwebs.
When it comes to the physical practice of yoga, there are numerous styles out there. I’ve personally come across almost 23 different styles of yoga. In this post however, I’ll share only the 7 that I think are the most popular forms, to share any more would turn this already long post into an epistle. Of these 7, I’ve had a chance to practice 5 of them and I’ll note those with an asterix (*). If you click on each style below, you’ll get redirected to a website with more in depth information.
Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word that translates to “eight limbs”. This refers to the eight limbs of yoga as explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These 8 limbs are the reason fwhy this is one of my preferred styles to practice. Daily practice is stressed with this style of yoga, there are 3 different series of asanas (poses) and they are practiced in a specific order. This means that usually every ashtanga class you go to will flow in the same order.
Power yoga is a vigorous, fitness style yoga that was invented in America. It was modeled after Ashtanga yoga but doesn’t follow a set series of classes. Which means power yoga can vary from class to class. This is great for people who want a fast paced, sweaty workout.
Historically, hatha is used to describe yoga poses in general. However, when you see hatha yoga being offered in studios today, you can expect a slow paced class. Hatha classes are gentle, with a focus on relaxation and meditation; in hatha classes you’ll find yourself holding poses for a few seconds and then moving on to another pose. There isn’t really a flow involved like vinyasa classes.It’s a good introduction class to yoga cause your body gets a chance to get used to poses without being confused by flowing.
Vinyasa literally translates as connection. There’s a focus on connecting the breath to movement in this style of yoga. Each inhalation and exhalation is matched by a specific movement. Most styles of yoga, have this connection but are called a different names due to other individualities that make them different. For example, the main difference between ashtanga and vinyasa is that vinyasa doesn’t follow a set series of poses, however, there’s a focus on aligning the breath with movement in ashtanga also. Therefore, each vinyasa class will vary based on the teacher. If I was asked to pick just one form of yoga to practice, this would be it. When I first started, I leaned towards ashtanga, but I’m not a fan of following the same sequence regularly. I like the freedom to move vinyasa allows.
Also known as hot yoga, bikram yoga is performed in a room that’s maintained at a temperature of 95-100oF. It involves a set series of 26 poses that are performed twice in a 90 minute period. This. Class. Is. Intense. The first time I took it, I made the mistake of not eating before I went in, halfway through I felt like I was going to puke and had to rest in child’s pose. It’s a great workout and I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.
Yin yoga is slow but intense in a good way. In yin yoga, traditional yoga poses are held for extended periods in order to get into the connective tissue. So instead of stretching muscle, tissue is being stressed. I usually turn to yin when I’m sore from a previous workout and without fail, after holding poses for a long time, my soreness disappears.
The main focus of restorative yoga is relaxation. So while poses are held for a long time like in yin, props are also utilized. The use of props allows for passive stretching and opening of the body. Poses are held for long periods with the body being fully supported (usually in seated or supine form) which prevents you from straining.
Coming up: I’ll be talking more about Ashtanga yoga: what the 8 limbs are, the different series of poses, etc. For information on more types of yoga, click here. And if you missed it, find out how I started yoga and some of my favorite resources to use.
Do you practice yoga? What’s your favorite style?