No matter what Yoga style you choose, whether Bikram Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga, you will experience the benefits of strength, flexibility and mental calm if you practice consistently. However finding the right fit can be the difference between looking forward all day to your practice versus Yoga becoming just another healthy chore. Here are some tips to guide you on the journey of picking the right style for you:
1. Know the two broad divisions: Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga
All the bewildering names and styles of modern Yoga fall under only two broad categories:
- Hatha Yoga: The traditional style practiced by Yogis in 10 B.C. In Sanskrit, Ha means “sun”, “Tha” means moon, Yoga means to yoke or unite. Hatha Yoga unites the sun & the moon, a metaphor for uniting the pair of opposites—joy and sorrow, life & death, heat and cold etc.—to give the practitioner a glimpse of the unchanging essence within.
- Vinyasa Yoga: The more dynamic style initiated by T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s for Indian kings and princes to get more physical than spiritual benefits from the practice. Vinyasa derivatively means “movement linked to breathing”. Consciously integrating the body’s movement with breath leads to higher awareness in every moment.
2. Select which broad division is right for you
Both Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga have spiritual realization as their objective, however the way to get there is different:
- Hatha Yoga: Emphasis on stillness, repetitive poses, and holding them for longer. For instance, even today Indian Yogis hold only one pose for hours in their practice. Their daily routine consists of holding a headstand for half-an-hour or sitting in siddhasana for two hours, no other poses.
Highly recommended if: You want Yoga to be a spiritual practice and like a consistent, predictable routine.
- Vinyasa Yoga: Emphasis on movement and pushing the body physically. Poses are typically held for lesser time and transition quickly.
Highly recommended if: You want Yoga to be an intense physical work-out and are already quite flexible.
3. Now, select the right style: a short overview of Hatha Yoga styles
Within Hatha Yoga, a short personal review of the most prevalent styles:
- Iyengar Yoga: The most traditional Hatha style with extraordinary emphasis on perfect alignment. I’m a huge fan of Mr. BKS Iyengar and have devoured all his books multiple times but the style itself was too rigid for me. I wish I liked it more because Mr. Iyengar is the rare real deal.
- Sivananda Yoga: This is what I practice every day. Also traditional Hatha with a series of only twelve poses practiced again and again in every class, it’s gentler and works very well for people with low-medium flexibility(like me!).
- Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga: Although the poses itself are rooted in Hatha Yoga principles, to call Bikram Yoga “traditional” would be incorrect. No ancient Yogi had access to a 105° F artificially heated studio! Nor I suspect would they have wanted one. I practiced Bikram Yoga for a few months. While the physical benefits were obvious, the whole sweating, shouting-on-the-microphone, people in swimsuits dynamic is the antithesis of the mental calm and enhanced physical awareness that Hatha Yoga offers.
- Kundalini Yoga: More holistic than just a physical practice, Kundalini Yoga seeks to awaken the mystical dynamic energy locked at the base of spine. A typical class includes chanting, meditation and breathing practices beyond the physical poses. Give it a go. Personally, I find talk of kundalini and Sanskrit chanting in the West a bit of a parody.
4. Now, select the right style: a short overview of Vinyasa Yoga styles
- Ashtanga Yoga: The original Vinyasa. High on movement and physically demanding. Works wonders for the athletic and the flexible. Highly recommended—if you can handle it.
- Power Yoga: An even more modern, intense version of the above.
- Vinyasa Flow Yoga: Combines the principles of Vinyasa movement with an ever-changing series of poses so you always stay present. Each class is different from the others. I attend Vinyasa classes from time to time to keep my practice fresh but it’s a little tough for me to incorporate as an everyday routine. It seems to work wonders for more flexible folks.
5. Practice Consistently
Whatever style you choose above, I would recommend practicing three or more days a week to fully realize the life-changing benefits of Yoga.
Are there popular styles I missed? How would you describe them? I look forward to your thoughts.
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