A wide variety of yoga styles are now taught and practiced throughout Asia. Each approach has it’s own merits and different styles suit different people. Modern versions of yoga often fuse elements from the purer, more traditional forms and yoga centres increasingly offer bespoke yoga programmes to suit individual needs.
Hatha comes from the Sanskrit terms “ha” meaning “sun” and “tha” meaning “moon”. Hatha Yoga is based on the balance of opposites, creating harmony between conflicting energies in the bodily system. The Hatha discipline was originally introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage in the 15th century in India. It is now the most popular form of yoga worldwide and several other styles of Yoga have since been developed from Hatha postures and breathing techniques.
To release the subtle, spiritual elements of the mind, Hatha focuses on specific physical poses known as Asanas, it also employs breathing techniques called Pranayama. These key elements were originally designed to aid meditation as holding the postures and breathing helps the body move into a relaxed state, which can be extended through practice to last for long periods of time.
Regular practice of Asanas allow yoga practitioners to develop greater muscle flexibility and bone strength. The non-physical rewards include the development of greater concentration, will power, and centredness.
The central principle of Ashtanga Yoga is Vinyasa, which combines movement and breathing. This distinguishing Ashtanga from other forms of yoga, which tend to involve holding a single pose for longer periods. Developed by K. Pattabhi Jois.
Ashtanga literally means Eight Limb Yoga. The Poses are used to develop the body’s health and strength and each Ashtanga movement is accompanied by a single breath. Continuous movement also creates heat, which increases body temperature and causes practitioners to sweat. This, in turn, brings out toxins and cleanses and the body.
The Vinyasa breathing technique used in Ashtanga is also sometimes called Victorious Breath. It requires an even, steady length of inhalation and exhalation and the duration of each should be matched as closely as possible.
Ashtanga postures follow three series, which rise in terms of difficulty as practitioners develop their technique. The Primary Series aims to detoxify and align the body. The Intermediate Series focuses on cleaning and opening the energy channels in order to purify the nervous system. Finally, the Advanced Series is sub-divided into series A, B, C and D, which together integrate the overall strength and grace created by Ashtanga practice.
Kundalini focuses on awakening energy that is concentrated at the base of your spine. This practice is therefore said to be the most powerful form of Yoga known today. The energy is likened to a coiled snake and this type of yoga takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “coiled up”. The ultimate goal of Kundalini Yoga is to awaken this “snake” and send the energy moving up your spine all the way to your brain. This is known to create a heightened sense of awareness and even a sense of ecstasy in those who practice regularly.
Kundalini Yoga was introduced to the West by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. The style includes some yoga poses and meditation, but also focuses on chanting, mantras and Pranayama breathing. Once the energy is awakened, seasoned practitioners report both pleasurable and less pleasurable experiences.
The pleasant feelings include light, tickling sensations along the spine, rushes of unrestrained joy and even life-changing visions. On the negative side, those who practice Kundalini Yoga may sometimes feel trembling in the limbs, waves of heat and certain pains in the various parts of the spine. Some yogis claim that if you ensure these unpleasant side effects, the awakening of Kundalini is the first step on the path to enlightenment.
Bikram Yoga is named after its founder Bikram Choudhury. The practice involves a series of 26 poses, performed in a room with a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Each yoga pose is performed twice and should be held for a defined length of time. Bikram yoga sessions begin with standing postures, then move on to the back bends, forward bends, and twists. Like Hatha and Ashtanga, each pose is accompanied by special breathing techniques known as the Kapalabhati Breath.
Bikram, like Hot Yoga, uses heat to allow practitioners to go deeper into each yoga pose. The body becomes more flexible in hot conditions and although many of the poses used in Bikram are physically challenging, many people claim the heat lets them achieve postures they would never dream they could do. Heat also reduces the risk of injuries and like Ashtanga, promotes sweating, which helps the body release toxins.
Bikram Yoga Poses not only work the muscles but also massage internal organs. Each pose stretches and strengthens muscles, joints, and ligaments, while at the same time releasing toxins and working on areas such as glands and the nervous system. Anyone can practice Bikram Yoga, even those suffering from chronic diseases such as arthritis. In fact, Bikram can even reduce symptoms, and is also known as a way to prevent ailments by keeping the body strong and healthy.