The goal of yoga is to reach the highest levels of self-consciousness by controlling the mind. It has evolved from its Eastern origins as a spiritual and philosophical practice with the goal of enlightenment, to a practice focused on the mind-body connection. Yoga in its current state, and as applied to Western culture, teaches attainment of self-awareness, physical and emotional healing and inner peace through postures, breathing and meditation.
Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding style of yoga that is based on the eight spiritual practices outlined in the ancient “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. The eight limbs defined in Patanjali’s writings were: Yama (morality), Niyama (purity), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (control of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (liberation). Patanjali taught that these eight-limbs were the path to revelation of the Universal Self.
Ashtanga Yoga recognizes the need to perfect the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, as the foundation for controlling the mind. In order to practice Yama and Niyama the body must be healthy and strong, which is why so much emphasis is put on the postures (asanas) as a way to strengthen and stabilize the body. There are two essential aspects of asanas in Ashtanga Yoga:
Vinyasa is the coordination of breathing and movement. The number of vinyasas varies for each posture, but all are aimed at internal purification. The breathing and movement increase the core temperature, heating the blood and allowing it to circulate more efficiently.
Tristhana is the union of three areas of focus including the body, nervous system, and the psyche. To get the most benefit from Ashtanga Yoga, one should try to attain the unification of the: diligent execution of postures, deep and elongated breathing, and extreme concentration.
Hatha Yoga is the type of yoga that most Westerners are familiar with. Hatha Yoga combines elements of Ashtanga yoga with more emphasis on the mind-body connection. In its practice, Hath Yoga, evolved the seated asanas (postures) of Ashtanga Yoga into more physically demanding postures that utilized the entire body. The idea is that purity of the mind is attainable through the cleansing of the body. So at its root Hath Yoga is designed to align and calm the body prior to meditation. Hatha Yoga is the mother of newer or more specific methods of yoga such as Iyengar.
Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha yoga that focuses on precise alignment and detailed execution of postures. This form of yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1970’s and has gained popularity for its attention to detail. Iyengar created over 200 different postures and 14 different methods of breathing which supports the step-by-step progression toward advanced levels of strength, balance and flexibility. Iyengar Yoga is also known for its use of props to help with postures, which has made this a popular type of yoga for populations that may need modifications, such as people with disabilities or people in rehabilitation for physical injuries. Unlike other forms of yoga that encourages the student to find their own way, Iyengar provides clear instruction for the correct execution of asanas and makes straightforward, hands-on corrections of errors. Iyengar was one of the first gurus to teach very large groups and he has certified many people to teach, which has led to Iyengar Yoga’s dissemination worldwide. Teachers certified in Iyengar can easily go through a decade’s worth of training.
Kundalini yoga focuses on arousing Kundalini energy, which is visualized as a coiled, serpent-like cosmic energy that is lying dormant at the, Muladhara Chakra, located at the base of the spine. Kundalini energy is awakened through blending movements, dynamic breathing, meditation and chanting mantras. When this primal energy wakes from sleep, it pierces the seven chakras as it moves up through each, unifying Muladhara with Sahasrara chakra at the top of the head. Unifying all spiritual energy centers is thought to bring complete liberation. In practice Kundalini yoga focuses on preparing the body for the movement of Kundalini energy, through meditation and breathing. One popular method of breathing is alternate nostril breathing, which is believed to cleanse the pathway and help arouse Kundalini energy. Overall the focus of Kundalini is to awaken the full potential of self-awareness and for the individual to unlock their full destiny.
Bikram Yoga and Other Hot Yoga
Bikram Yoga is a style of yoga made popular by Bikram Choudhury, who founded the Bikram Yoga School of India. In Bikram Yoga the room is heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 26 postures of Hatha Yoga are practiced in order to promote physical health and well-being. Only instructors, who have gone through the Bikram certification can refer to this style of yoga as “Bikram”; however, the practice of yoga postures in a heated setting cannot be copyrighted and therefore the hot yoga practice has continued to become popular across the globe in various forms, such as Forrest, Baptiste, and Core Power.
Hot yoga is an intense practice and focuses on cleansing through breath, heat, and sweat. The heat also provides the ideal environment for practice, because it allows the muscles and ligaments to be supple, decreasing risk for injury. There continues to be debates concerning the effectiveness and safety of hot yoga. Hot yoga is not for everyone and should be practiced with caution. Emphasis should be placed on full hydration before, throughout and after your workout to avoid dehydration and overheating.