If you are new to yoga, the ultimate goal it’s designed for sounds pretty lofty. When you signed up, did you know that you were setting off on a course to achieve oneness with the universe? Sounds like the final exam will be pretty tricky!
Well, as serious as its ultimate aim may be, the vast collection of spiritual practices falling under the yoga heading deliver an immediate benefit for our everyday lives. With practical applications and a range of different approaches, you can find in yoga a path to reaching virtually any life-improvement goal you are after. And as many students will tell you, you will likely start feeling a difference right away.
Because it’s such a diverse practice, yoga is something that you will probably want to explore when you are starting out. You want to find a routine that is fitting for your lifestyle and goals. You can start on that today with a course that introduces you to different yoga types and gets you on a path to your own personal yoga practice.
Here is a brief explanation of some of the major schools of yoga and the approaches they take:
If you live in the Western hemisphere, there is a good chance the yoga class that’s easiest for you to access teaches hatha yoga. It is the most common form of yoga instruction in the West, where it is often billed as a set of asanas (body positions) for physical exercise.
Hatha, traditionally, is a holistic practice aimed at uniting mind body and spirit, and most classes will include some breathing exercises and seated meditation along with the focus on physical postures. The discipline provides an accessible introduction to yoga in general, and it is a starting point for many practitioners who may or may not eventually find other branches of yoga for their daily practice.
A physically intensive form of yoga, vinyasa is a style emphasizing movement synchronized with breathing techniques. Instructors plan their classes to flow from posture to posture, often with music accompanying the routine.
The focus, then, tends to be on the transition of postures, rather than on the perfect alignment emphasized in hatha yoga. For those looking for a particularly active routine, a vinyasa yoga course could be a great choice.
Named after the prominent yoga teacher B.K.S Iyengar, this form of yoga practice is related to hatha yoga. However, it differs from what is often termed hatha yoga in that it places great importance on sequence and timing. The time spent on each pose and the sequence of poses and breathing exercises define the practice. In addition, iyengar yoga is very concerned with precision and detail, aiming to reinforce the right alignment in postures for students. This is one of the main characteristics differentiating iyengar from vinyasa yoga.
Iyengar yoga is often considered a particularly therapeutic practice for stress relief. If this is a goal for you in approaching yoga, you can take a course that teaches yoga specifically to reduce your stress.
Ashtanga is related to vinyasa yoga, and the ashtanga practice traditionally incorporates Vinyasa, in the traditional sense. The name of the style translates to eight-limbed, meaning it follows the eight limbs outlined in the yoga sutra.
In practice, at least in the West, the terms in ashtanga and vinyasa are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are some general differences you can expect. Vinyasa focuses on sequence, but instructors freely change the order of poses. They also use music to accompany the routine, drawing the mind outward.
Ashtanga, on the other hand, typically follows a precise order of poses every time, and if a class takes a traditional approach, students might only use the poses they have already mastered. There is usually no music, and students focus instead on their breath, drawing the mind inward.
Like vinyasa, ashtanga yoga is intensive in its physical aspect and it could be said that it is a good choice for those after a serious yoga practice that is fairly comprehensive. If you would like to jump in to the practice, you can take an online course in ashtanga yoga from an instructor certified by the founder of the ashtanga style, K. Pattabhi Jois.
The anusara style of yoga derives from the hatha and iyengar traditions. John Friend founded this modern style in 1997 as a health-oriented approach to this yoga style that also reintroduces elements of hindu spirituality. If you are looking for a style to support holistic health goals, this could be a style for you to consider.
A style that has gained in popularity, bikram yoga teaches a form of hatha yoga practiced in rooms heated to a very high temperature. Yoga master Bikram Choudhury developed the method to include 26 postures traditionally practiced twice in a 90 minute session. There is also a more general category of hot yoga classes that use the heated room but work more freely with routines, often taking a vinyasa style approach.
Practitioners will sweat a lot over the course of a session, but they will often tell you they come away from it feeling great. Bikram is often undertaken as part of a weight loss regime, and it is best practiced in a controlled environment for obvious reasons. However, if weight loss is your goal, you might look in to a bikram class and also try a yoga course designed for weight loss that you can practice at home.
Restorative and yin yoga are designed for rejuvenation, relaxation, and optimum health. Restorative is the gentler practice, which can be thought of as better designed for those coming from a place of illness stress or injury. Yin, on the other hand, may be better suited to healthy individuals looking to achieve greater healthfulness and stress reduction. If the latter sounds like your goal, you can take an online course that teaches the yin yoga style.
With whichever style you go after, yoga is frequently an enriching experience that students enjoy deeply and would not want to sacrifice from their regular routine. You will very likely look forward to the experience, and if it really takes hold, who knows! you might just find yourself on a path toward becoming one with the universe!