It’s fair to say that yoga has taken the world by storm. The practice has been around for centuries, but has only recently become somewhat of a fitness craze “” and believe it or not, it is much more complicated than it looks!
Originating in India and used as a form or prayer for both Hinduism and Buddhism, yoga has now taken the identity as the ‘new age’ fitness activity, offering a wide range of positive benefits for both the body and the mind. But dive a little deeper into the world of yoga and one thing becomes quickly obvious “” it’s not as one-dimensional as you may have first believed.
There are actually a number of different styles of yoga, with some so-called experts saying there are more than 100 different styles, all of which now have their own dedicated followers throughout the world. Each has their own pros and cons, and we’re going to look at the main ones now.
This is by far the most commonly practiced style of yoga in the Western world, and for many beginners, it is a great introduction to the practice of yoga. The word Hatha is a general term that covers a number of physical aspects of yoga, and in general a Hatha Yoga class is slow and gentle on participants. Hatha is, put simply, a combination of physical exercises and postures, known as asanas, as well as specific breathing techniques, known as pranayama, and some meditation. If you’re interested in getting in-depth into extreme yoga, Hatha Yoga may not be the best practice to dedicate yourself to. But if you’re looking for somewhere to start, Hatha is definitely the best option.
Bikram Yoga is a style of yoga that was invented by Bikram Choudhury, a yoga teacher from Kolkata, India. The style is very specific, and involves a set series of 26 different poses, all done by participants in a heated room. The room is very hot, around 36 – 37 degrees, and followers to the style believe that intense sweating is therapeutic in clearing the body of toxins and loosening tight muscles. Bikram Yoga has been something of a controversial practice, with not everyone (including many health professionals) convinced that exercising at such a high temperature is beneficial to the body. But if you’re interested in the extreme and unique, this style is well suited to you.
Ashtanga Yoga is the style most popular with athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It is very physically demanding, as well as fast-paced, both of which account for its intense reputation. Ashtanga Yoga involves a set series of poses that are always performed in the same order, and prioritise constant movement. Participants move continuously from one pose to another, and each movement is synced with breathing. This type of yoga is ideal for people wanting to build strength, flexibility and stamina, but the challenging nature of it makes it unsuitable for yoga newbies.
The Kundalini style of yoga is focused on awakening the body’s energy (which in the yogi world is located at the spine’s base), and bringing it up through the body. This is one of the more spiritual focused styles of yoga that has taken off in the West, and participants can expect lots of breathing, meditation, and chanting. Despite this, the poses are quite physically intense, and definitely not suited to a beginner, someone who is very unfit or anyone suffering from old injuries.
This style of yoga is definitely one of the more popular yoga styles worldwide and is based on the teaching of B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar Yoga is well-suited for people not perhaps physically active enough to take on some of the other intense yoga styles but interested in a more unique yoga experience. Iyengar Yoga has a specific focus on correct body alignment, and all of the associated poses are held for an extended period of time. This ensures that the maximum physical benefits are reaped without the risk of injury. There is also a tradition within Iyengar Yoga to use various physical aids, like blocks, blankets and straps to help in holding poses for a longer period. If you’re looking for something slow and steady, this is the style for you.
Of course, these are just a few of the many options available to people interested in getting involved in yoga. Most newbies to the practice will find themselves spoilt for choice if they’re in the right place, with most metropolitan, and even some rural centres having a variety of different independent yoga classes available.
It might be necessary to try a few classes if you aren’t sure where you fit, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s not too much of a stretch towards health and happiness.