Yoga began to be introduced and accepted around the world as varying styles/schools of yoga also began to emerge. Now it’s not difficult to find a yoga studio or to find some classes online, but it’s more difficult is to decide which class/style to try. When I hear people say I tried yoga once but I didn’t like it, it makes me wonder what they experienced and what style they tried. It is very important that as a beginner to choose a suitable class. You wouldn’t go into an intermediate Hip Hop class without any prior practice of dance, similarly, we need to understand that yoga practice also has its steps and progression, and choose the practice of yoga accordingly.
Yoga is an ancient system that can be traced back up to 5000 years ago in text, but likely to have originated a lot before and the knowledge passed on verbally. The ancient yoga was greatly about overcoming ego through self-awareness, action and studying virtues and wisdom. Over time yoga has developed into systems that further rejuvenated the body, mind and explored ways to achieve enlightenment.
Hatha yoga is what we can identify as the foundation of modern yoga. This system and practice were brought to light by Krishnamacharya, known as the most influential yoga teacher of the 20th Century. Three disciples of Krishnamacharya continued with his teachings and began to establish their own style which emphasises different aspects of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga (Ha=sun and tha=moon) aims to balance two opposing energies within your mind and body. You might hear these energies as Sun and moon, male and female, yin and yang. The goal is to align and calm your body, mind and spirit in preparation for meditation. There is a great emphasis on performing physical postures referred to as Asana and practicing breathing techniques known as Pranayama.
The importance of Krishmamacharya’s three diciple’s is that each of them has created prominent yoga styles/schools based on Hatha yoga; Iyenger yoga, Viniyoga and Ashtanga yoga which are well known today.
Iyenger yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyenger, it focuses primarily on the physical exercise of yoga, there is a lot of emphasis on the detail and precision of alignment of each asana. You will often see props used to help the practitioner perform the asana, these props can be belts, blocks, blankets and wall ropes etc. Use of props makes Iyenger yoga also accessible to many with medical conditions, injury, beginners and elderly people.
Viniyoga developed by T.K.V. Desikachar is a wholesome practice of yoga. It involves asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, rituals and studies of yogic texts. There is great emphasis on breath as you perform asana and each asana is often performed repetitively or held for a prolonged period of time.
Ashtanga yoga was developed by Pattabhi Jois to lead the practitioner to rediscover his or her full potential on all levels of human consciousness (physical, psychological, and spiritual). There is an emphasis on correct breath, asana, and gazing point (dristi). Ashtanga yoga follows a series of sequences and one can progress through the series as they gain more experience.
From the establishment of these yoga schools, other also started to be developed. Below are some of the well-established and known across the world.
Kundalini yoga which encompasses chanting, breathing, singing, and repetitive asana based on Hatha yoga. They focus on energies in our body known as chakra, and aim to release the dormant spiritual energy which lies within us at the base of the spine.
Bikram yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury, and popularised in the 70’s in the West. It consists of practicing 26 postures in a sequence in a room that is heated to 105℉ (40℃) as well as at 40% humidity, said to replicate the climate in India. You are guaranteed to sweat immensely, promoting detoxification of the body. Similarly there is Hot yoga which is practiced in a heated room, but do not adhere only to the 26 postures, and explores a wider range of asana from Hatha yoga.
Vinyasa yoga refers to performing asana in sequence with a smooth transition between each asana. For this reason, I would recommend that you have some previous experience in practising asana with correct breathing and alignment. It is an energising practice that can be quite dynamic, which is why it is often also referred to as Power yoga.
Restorative yoga focuses on relaxing the body and mind by gentle physical conditioning and relaxation. Asana are often held for a much longer time; props are often used to aid in the process. It helps to restore and regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system. Restorative yoga is beneficial for everyone but particularly for those with anxiety, stress, depression, and people who are under high pressure in their daily life.
Yin and Yang yoga is known for its more slow-flowing practice. It combines the heating elements of yang and the cooling element of yin through asana. As the practice seeks to balance these two energies, it nourishes and balances the entire body.
There is an array of yoga with various names, but it’s important to note that it’s all branched out of Hatha yoga. So if you are a beginner to yoga, I highly recommend that you seek out a Hatha yoga class. Once you have grasped the fundamental asana and breathing, it is much easier to transition to other styles or to follow through to intermediate and advanced asana in Hatha yoga practice.
Everybody has a liking for a certain pace, for perfecting a series of sequences, or enjoys the abundant variety of asana that each practice can bring. Trying out different styles and schools can be your yoga journey, as well as self-discovery.
To end this note, I would like to bring to attention a few ultramodern branches of yoga practices which are very unique:
Beer yoga was created in the USA, where participants practised yoga at breweries or taprooms, drinking beer during or after the practice. It was further popularised by a man named Jhula in Germany through the establishment of ‘Bier Yoga’ company, which also spread to Australia and Thailand.
Animal yoga like HODA (horse yoga), GODA (goat yoga), DOGA (dog yoga) was popularised especially amongst those who are animal lovers. The practice usually involved having the animal roaming in the surrounding, or being part of the practice during a particular asana. It was created with the notion that interaction with animals can bring further therapeutic effect.
SUP yoga refers to yoga being practised on a stand-up paddle board. Generally, it takes place in calm waters such as lakes, bays, and calm rivers. It requires a greater sense of balance and core strength to practice.
Aerial yoga is a yoga practice performed on a silk hammock for a sling that is suspended from the ceiling. The purpose of the hammock is to provide support through your yoga flow while also improving flexibility and range of motion. It is particularly recommended for people with back pain as it can relieve some pressure on the spine during the yoga practice, provide traction and support.
Some of these styles might seem ‘anti-yoga’, but as we practice yoga we also need to remind ourselves to practice non-judgement of others and yourself. I hope you can find the yoga practice that enables you to bring out the best of your health, spirit and mind! Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.