- increase your flexibility
- increase muscle tone and strength
- improve your circulatory and cardio health
- helps you sleep better
- increase your energy levels
- improve athletic performance
- reduce injuries
- detoxify your organs
- improve your posture
- improves anxiety and depression
- helps with chronic pain
- release endorphins that improve your mood
Hatha is a general category that includes most yoga styles. It is an old system that includes the practice of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which help bring peace to the mind and body, preparing the body for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation. Today, the term hatha is used in such a broad way that it is difficult to know what a particular hatha class will be like. In most cases, however, it will be relatively gentle, slow and great for beginners or students who prefer a more relaxed style where they hold poses longer. It can vary a lot, so it is a good idea to call the studio before attending the class.
Like hatha, vinyasa is a general term that describes many different styles of yoga. It essentially means movement synchronized with breath and is a vigorous style based on a rapid flow through sun salutations. You may also see a vinyasa class referred to as a flow class, which refers to the continuous flow from one posture to the next.
Ashtanga is a system of yoga that was brought to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. If you attend an ashtanga class at a studio you will be led nonstop through one or more of the ashtanga series, while being encouraged to breathe as you move from pose to pose. Each series is a set sequence of asanas, always in the same order. It is typically fast-paced, vigorous and physically challenging. There are six series in total, increasing in difficulty as you move from the primary series on. Even though a typical class moves quite quickly, most Ashtanga studios offer Mysore-style classes, which allow students to work at their own pace and to be assessed by senior instructors.
Power yoga is used to describe a vigorous, vinyasa-style yoga. It originally closely resembled ashtanga and was an attempt to make ashtanga more accessible to Western students. It differs, however, in that it is not a set series of poses, but rather allows the instructor freedom to teach what they want. Two American yogis, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest, both of whom studied with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, are most often credited with inventing power yoga. Power yoga's popularity has spread around the world and is now taught in most studios. Because the style can vary, it is recommended that you consult with the studio or individual instructor before attending a class.
One thing you can be sure of when you attend a Bikram class is consistency. Outside of the instructor, a Bikram class is the same no matter where you go, consisting of the same, copyrighted twenty-six postures and two breathing techniques, in the same order for ninety minutes, in a room heated to 105°F (40.6°C), with a humidity of 40%.
You can also be certain that you will sweat; the room is hot and the class challenges you both physically and mentally. Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this form of hot yoga is meant to flush toxins, manage weight and allow students to move more deeply into poses.
David Life and Sharon Gannon created jivamukti yoga in 1984, and since then have studied with a number of teachers, including Swami Nirmalananda and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Their classes resemble ashtanga in the vinyasa-style flow through asanas. Each class begins with a standardized warm-up sequence unique to jivamukti and often teachers will incorporate weekly themes, chanting, meditation, readings and affirmations.
The trademark of iyengar is the intense focus on the subtleties of each posture. B.K.S. Iyengar teaches his classes from his home in Pune, India and has become one of the most influential gurus of our time. In a typical iyengar class, poses are held much longer than in other schools of yoga, in an effort to pay closer attention to the precise musculoskeletal alignment within each asana. Another trademark of iyengar is the use of props, such as blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs and blankets, which are used to accommodate injuries, tightness or structural imbalances, as well as teach the student how to move into a posture properly.
The anusara style is a new system of hatha that teaches a set of Universal Principles of Alignment that underlie all yoga postures, while encouraging flowing with grace and following your heart. Founded by John Friend, the practice of anusara is broadly categorized into three parts, known as the Three A's. They include attitude, alignment and action.
Sivananda is a form of hatha founded by Swami Sivananda and brought to the west by Swami Vishnu-devananda. A class typically begins with Savasana (relaxation pose), kapalabhati and anuloma viloma, followed by a few rounds of surya namaskara. The class then moves through Sivananda's twelve asanas, which together are designed to increase strength and flexibility of the spine. Chanting and meditation can also be a part of a full-length class. Vishnu-devananda later founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, summerizing Sivananda's system into five main principles: proper exercise (asanas); proper breathing (pranayama); proper relaxation (savasana); proper diet (vegetarian); and positive thinking (vedanta) and meditation (dhyana).
Viniyoga refers to an approach to yoga that adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs and interests of the individual. Created by T.K.V. Desikachar, the goal is to give the practitioner the tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation.
Kundalini incorporates repeated movements or exercises, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting, meditation and mantras. Each specific kundalini exercise, referred to as a kriya, is a movement that is often repeated and is synchronized with the breath. The practice is designed to awaken the energy at the base of the spine in order to draw it upward through each of the seven chakras. Brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan, this form of yoga looks and feels quite different than any other, due to its focus on repetitive, enhanced breathing and the movement of energy through the body.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style in which poses are held for five minutes or longer. Even though it is passive, yin yoga can be quite challenging due to the long holds, particularly if your body is not used to it. The purpose is to apply moderate stress to the connective tissue - the tendons, fascia and ligaments - with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. It was founded and first taught in the U.S. in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink. Yin-style is now begin taught across North America and in Europe, due in large part to two of the more prominent instructors, Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.
Integrative Yoga Therapy
Integrative yoga therapy brings together asanas, pranayama, mudra, yoga nidra, mantra and meditation into a complete package where they can be utilized for therapy. Founded by Joseph Le Page in 1993, IYT was an attempt to create a training program with the focus on yoga as a healing art, and has designed programs specifically for medical and mainstream wellness settings, including hospital and rehabilitation centres.
Restorative is a gentle, relaxing, passive style that allows students to relax and release the body into a gentle stretch that is held for as long as 10 minutes. This style makes use of a wide range of props, including bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets. The intention is to provide support within each pose, making it easier to completely leg go.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Asana – It literally means “seated” or “comfortable position”. It is third of the eight principles of the Yoga of Patanjali. Originally, the word referred only to several seated positions for meditation. In tantra and Hatha yoga, Asana applies to all the positions of the body.
Ashram – It is a school or center of yoga. A community of individuals with the same mentality. Any spiritual community or establishment. The residents of ashram typically live under an economic cooperative or are sustained by donations of the bigger communities from outside the ashram. In many ways, the ashram resembles a monastic community.
Astanga – “Eighth principle”. The eight parts or stages in which Patanjali divided up the practice of yoga when he traveled through India in the year 200 A.C. approximately. He studied everything that could took the name yoga, and soon he prepared a treaty where he analyzed in a systematic fashion the structure and function of yoga techniques.
Astanga yoga – The “eight principles” of the classic raja yoga, as it was taught by Patanjali and as indicated in its treaty The Yoga Sutras. This text is the single most venerated work on yoga ever composed and it is definitive text on raja yoga.
Aum (Om) – It is the mystical syllable that represents, among other things, everything that is, everything that was and everything that shall be.
Ayurveda – It is the Vedic science of the sacred health or medicine. It is considered as a supplement to Athara, which forms the basis of most of its textual authoritativeness. Yoga and Ayurveda always have been in close proximity to each other. Yoga deals with physiology (both subtle and physics), whereas Ayurveda deals with pharmacology (whether esoteric or scientific).
Bandha – It literally means “to tie or to moor”. In Yoga the word makes reference to several muscular contractions or “closings” used to hold one’s breathing, prana or energy in a determined area of the body.
Brahmacharya – It literally means a “student of God”. In everyday language it refers to him or her who is celibate. It is the first ashrama, or stage of life in classic India. The years of childhood, schooling and apprenticeship.
Chakra – A wheel, specially a light wheel. It refers to any of the numerous energy centers located inside and around the body that the clairvoyants perceive like wheels in motion. The seven main chackras are located along the column, from its base to the crown. According to the philosophy of Yoga, the vital force (prana) activates these centers. If some chackras are under- or over-energized, there will be no harmony or there will be disease in the body. This state is known as “no balance state”. One of the main goals of Hatha, Kundalini and Tantra yoga is to preserve these chackras well attuned so that the Divine energy may manifest itself through them.
Dhyana – It literally means “meditation”, “thought” or “reflection”. Whereas Dharana simply consists of maintaining a thought in the mind, Dhyana allows for the expansion of the mind or its reflection on that thought. It is the seventh principle of the system of Patanjali.
Hatha – Ha and yang, both represent the masculine polarities or the suns, whereas and the yin represent the feminine polarities or the moons. The Term Hatha Yoga, then, makes reference to the integration of (seemingly) opposites in an union or complete whole.
Hatha Yoga – In India, during the Middle Ages, Hatha Yoga and Tantra yoga were detached from their common roots, which stretched in essence to the prehistoric Valleys of the Hindu Culture of the third millennium A.C. Hatha Yoga adopted an existential and ascetic approach, under the belief that integration with the Divinity would be faster (and stronger) when the person in question lives an ascetic and celibate life in retirement. Most yoga positions that are familiar to Westerners are part of the Hatha Yoga tradition. Technically speaking, the term means “personal integration through the union of opposites.” Hatha Yoga looks to to eliminate any false sense of duality between the practitioner and the spiritual universal reality (Brahman). The conscious practice of physical positions (asanas), and specifically modified breathings and other techniques, help to integrate body, mind and spirit. Tantra Yoga developed in fine contrast with the heritage of yoga and the ascetic common principles of Hatha Yoga. Tantra yoguis aim at integrating the polarities like the occupants (inhabitants): Couples who live together and who enjoy the pleasures, amusements, and luxuries of life (tantra of the right hand), or in other more exotic unions (tantra of the left hand).
Hatha Yoga Pradiprika – This text, written in the 14th Century by Svatmarana Wisdom, is the most significative and oldest manuscript dedicated specifically to the Hatha Yoga which has survived. Previous texts describe the materials that precede the foundation of Hatha Yoga, which was not established as a separate form until around the years 700 – 100 A.C. A previous text, written by Gorakhnath and called Hatha Yoga was available in the times of Svatmarama, and some sections evern reproduced in its Pradipika. Unfortunately, this previous text was lost. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is composed of approximately 383 verses, divided up in four sections, as follows:
Japa – Literally, it means “repetition”. It is often used as synonymous for mantra.
Karma – Literally, it means “action”. In the West, Karma is misunderstood and considered as the result of our actions. This is the other way around. Phalam (fruit) is what follows from our actions. Karma, on the other hand, are the actions themselves, rather than what follows from them. The Law of Karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma (action) is the cause of resulting effects, or phalam. There are three types of Karma: actions of the body, actions of the speech and actions of the mind. Jesus taught this concept in Matthew 5:21: 22.
Kriya – Literally, it means “an action, an intention, an initiative, an activity or a process”. In Yoga, kriya usually makes reference to any of the 6 categories of the hygiene and purification processes, known as shat-kriya or the six cleaning steps. In fact there are about 20 different kriyas, since there are many specific techniques included within those six categories. Each one of them is described in detail in the Gheranda Samhita.
Mantra – Literally, it means “instrument of the thought”. It is a prayer song. A mystical verse or a magic formula used to invoke the deity or to acquire divine power. It makes reference to any word, phrase or prayer used in meditation. The Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary are two classic examples of Christian mantras.
Nadi – “Water running, a river, or current; any tube or channel, specially a tubular organ (like a vein or artery of the body)”.
Niyama – It is a moral rule. It is the second principle of the Ashtanga Yoga Patanjali system.
Om (Aum) – “Om” is the erroneous pronunciation of the most common “Aum.” In fact there are three sounds different from Aum, but to spell it “Om”, at least in English, is correct, since “O” is the phonetic equivalent of “Au.”
Patanjali – He is the author of Yoga Sutras. Patanjali lived between the 200 AC and 200 BC, but the exact date remains unknown. Patanjali traveled throughout most of India, studying and analyzing what different practitioners and masters were doing under the name of “Yoga”. Patanjali probably did not contribute new ideas to the practice of yoga, but rather proffered an invaluable structural analysis of yoga at the time.
Phalam – Literally, it means “fruit”. The fruit of Karma. It is used in esoteric texts to make reference to the results or consequences of our actions (karmas). It is what Jesus meant when he said that “He shall be known through His fruits.”
Pingala – It literally means “yellowish current”. It is one of the three primary channels of the vital force. It is located to the right of the central duct (sushumna nadi) and it is associated to the sun. It is responsible for the temperature of the body. On the physical plane, it corresponds to the parasympathetic nervous system.
Prana – The root “prana” means to fill. The root “an” means to breathe or to live. Prana is “the life that fills with breathing”. In other words, the principle of life in action. Prana is commonly translated as air, breathing, spirit, life, vital force, energy, subtle energy, or the currents of energy in ascending motion in the body.
Pranayama – Literally, it means “breathing control”. It is any of the hundreds of therapeutic breathing patterns employed in any of the yoga forms or martial arts. It is the fourth principle of Patanjali Yoga.
Yama – It means “to control or to abstain”, “to control or to regulate”. A moral commandment or personal control. It is the first one of the eight principles of the yoga system of ashtanga of Patanjali. Yama may also be a route or way. It is the control to doubt or to feel lost. Yama also refers to the planet Saturn, whose orbit speed is the slowest (or the most controlled) of all visible planets.
Yama and Niyama – They are the first two principles of Patanjali yoga, being five yamas and five observances of personal conduct the niyamas, those that constitute the “ten commandments” of India. They are similar to those predicated by Moses. Stability in yamas and niyamas is considered of the essence for the success of yoga practice.
Yama consists of non-violence, truth, no theft, containment and no ambition (Yoga sutras 2:30). Niyama consists of: purity, contentment, acceptance without causing pain, spiritual study, and working in the divinity of God (Yoga sutras 2:32).
Yantra – Literally, it means any instrument used for “maintaining, controlling or adhering to an idea.” In yoga a yantra is a visual symbol used to keep the mind free of distractions during meditation. Each chackra has its own yantra, a simple geometric design, to which colors may be added, images that surround the loto flower, deities (masculine and feminine) and their animals as a means of transportation, followed by sounds as they are perceived by the internal ear, and so on. In the Tantra and Hatha Yoga, yantra is studied over time at progressively greater levels of detail. As ach level of detail requires memory, it is retained in meditation. The meditation is typically performed while holding one’s breath both in the breathing of the Swan and in the breathing of fire.
Yoga – Literally, it means “integration” or “union”. The root “yuj” means the yoke that unites animals to join forces and control the direction. In the Hatha and Tetra Yoga we use pranayama, kumbhaka, mudra and bandha in order to combine bayus (internal energies or prana) and to lead this combined energy upwards towards the central channel (shushumna nadi) to create divine union – Yoga. This is why that the breathing is so important. The purpose is to persuade the Kundalini Shakti to unite with Shiva so that we may discover our essential nature in that divine union.
Yoga Sutras – The writings of Patanjali reflect almost everything he has studied under the name of yoga over the years in India. It is an excellent treatise on the subject, and an early example of as structural as well as functional analysis.