Yoga Your Way
If you’re curious about trying yoga but are confused by the plethora of styles and classes, here’s a short guide to help you figure it all out.
They say that everything old is new again and the ancient practice of yoga perfectly proves the point. By now we all are aware that yoga began about 5,000 years ago in India and was designed to provide the ancient Indians with ethical codes to live by, as well as a means to release tension in the body and bring calmness to the mind. The physical practice of asanas, or poses, was developed as a way to rid the body of muscular constrictions in order to prepare for the long hours of sitting in meditation. Meditation enabled the yogis to achieve a state of bliss or higher consciousness, which, in purest terms, is the ultimate goal.
In the late 20th Century, as yoga found its way into modern-day consciousness, we embraced this centuries-old art as a unique and effective form of exercise. Of course, spirituality is also integral to the practice as a whole, but you don’t need to give up burgers or join an ashram to reap the plentiful benefits of a regular yoga practice.
If you are curious about trying yoga but are confused by the numerous styles and classes currently available, here is a short guide to help you figure it all out. Please note that Hatha—a familiar class moniker—is an umbrella term that encompasses all yoga styles. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon, so essentially this practice brings all things together.
All is one and one is all. Have fun!
This is best described as yoga from the heart. Developed by John Friend in 1997, Anusara means “go with the flow,” which Friend encourages both in practice and in life. This style lovingly blends spirituality with anatomy and it can be therapeutic as well as physically transforming. Students are urged to think of poses as artistic expressions of the heart and are asked to open mind, body and heart to the gift of grace. www.anusara.com
Best for: Anyone will benefit from these wonderful classes but newbies will probably feel a little lost. It’s a better choice for anyone who has attended at least five yoga classes.
Developed by yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, this demanding style involves a progressive series of postures that are synchronized with a loud Darth Vader-like breath [called Ujyaii breath in Sanskrit]. There are four progressively difficult series of postures, but most people in this country don’t make it past the second series since the poses can get quite complicated. This practice is designed to produce intense internal heat and purifying sweat in order to detoxify muscles and organs. www.ashtanga.com
Best for: Those who like a challenge.
If you don’t like to sweat forget about Bikram Yoga. Created by Bikram Choudhury, a former National India Yoga Champion, this form of yoga is taught in rooms heated up to 110° to simulate the temperatures found in India. This is definitely not for the faint of heart especially since you are encouraged not to drink any water for the first 15 minutes of class (instead you are instructed to drink plenty of liquids in the hours prior to class). The high temperature of the room causes the body to release toxins through sweat, and the wellheated muscles can stretch more easily. According to Choudhury, these extreme conditions help to promote optimal health and proper function of every bodily system. Each class consists of the same strenuous 26-posture series with each pose repeated twice and held for 30 seconds or longer. www.bikramyoga.com
Best for: Anyone who loves the tropics! And for some reason men really love this style, especially if they are athletic. Also a good choice for the seasoned practitioner looking for a challenge.
Brought to this country in 1966 by Sri Swami Satchidananda, this gentle style of yoga helps integrate yoga’s teachings into everyday life as well as promote peace and tolerance throughout the world. Classes are structured to balance physical effort with relaxation and include breathing practices, chanting, and both guided and silent meditation. www.integralyogaofnewyork.org
Best for: Beginners and seasoned practitioners looking to deepen both physical and spiritual awareness.
Integrative Yoga Therapy
Gentle postures, guided imagery, assisted stretching and breathwork help to make this yoga an essential style for hospitals and rehab centers. Joseph LePage began this therapy in the early 90s to help promote healing and well-being for those facing heart disease, psychiatric disorders, cancer and AIDS. iytyogatherapy.com
Best for: Those dealing with specific health issues or injury recovery.
If you’re a brand-new beginner or you have any kind of physical limitation, Iyengar yoga is a great place to start. It’s also a wonderful way to tune-up an already blossoming practice. Developed by 87-year-old B.K.S. Iyengar who, by the way, is still teaching in his hometown of Pune, India, alignment is key in this system and the use of props—including belts, chairs, blocks, and blankets—helps to achieve and maintain the subtler aspects of body alignment as well as allowing for deeper breathing. Teachers encourage longer holding times for each pose and sometimes use timers to ensure a more balanced practice. www.bksiyengar.com
Best for: Absolute beginners or seasoned practitioners (it ain’t easy holding Downward Dog for five minutes—trust me!).
The Kripalu Center, which is located in central Massachusetts, is a wonderful destination for healing and yoga. And the Kripalu style of yoga —which was developed by Amrit Desai, who was a long-time student of Kundalini yoga master Swami Kripaluvananda—incorporates three stages of development, which include postural alignment, meditation with longer posture holding, and meditation in motion. The integrated practice promotes physical healing, emotional development and spiritual awakening—just like the center. www.kripalu.org
Best for: Everyone from beginners to seasoned practitioners.
Back in 1969, when everyone was looking for enlightenment, Yogi Bhajan brought this energetic style of yoga to the United States. Kundalini Yoga, which in recent years has been popularized by Hollywood guru Gurmukh, incorporates sensuous, non-static postures, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting and meditating on mantras to awaken the kundalini energy. This energy is represented by a coiled, sleeping serpent, said to reside at the base of the spine. When breath and movement awaken the serpent (energy) it moves up the spine through each of the seven chakras (energy centers) of the body resulting in a more energetic, blissful state. www.kundaliniyoga.com
Best for: Anyone looking for an unusual, fun and enlightening experience.
Similar to Vinyasa (see below), Power Yoga is an evolution of Ashtanga yoga and was developed by American Beryl Bender Birch in the early 90s. Power Yoga is an intense workout that creates heat and energy while developing strength and flexibility. This flowing style requires the strength and stamina of Ashtanga but does not always follow the same sequence of postures, making it more similar to the Vinyasa style. www.power-yoga.com
Best for: Anyone who was ever into aerobics.
Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
This unique style helps release physical and emotional tension through assisted postures, breathing techniques and ongoing student/teacher dialogue. A deeper connection to the self is encouraged by incorporating traditional yoga techniques with contemporary psychology, which ultimately results in the healing of mind, body and spirit. www.pryt.com
Best for: Anyone who is stressedout, physically tense or emotionally troubled.
Based on the philosophy of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India, this style of yoga cultivates awareness of the mind, body and heart by incorporating five main principles that include proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation. The practice consists of chanting, breathing techniques, and meditation to help unblock energy and release stress. Twelve basic postures are focused on to helps increase strength and spinal flexibility. www.sivananda.org.
Best for: Absolute beginners or if you’re recovering from an injury; anyone interested in delving deeper into the spiritual aspects of yoga.
This style helps each student discover the bliss of their own being. The Sanskrit word Svaroopa means “the true nature of Being, unconditioned by activity and inertia.” Attention to alignment in specifically chosen poses help to soften the body’s connective tissue as well as ease spinal tension. Blocks and bolsters are often utilized to allow for deeper muscular release. www.masteryoga.com
Best for: Great for athletes, beginners or those recovering from an injury.
Translated from Sanskrit, Vinyasa literally means “without obstacle.” This yoga style matches breath to movement as poses are woven together for a seamless, flowing practice that can be both intense and dance-like. Classes can be quite challenging and include alignment principles to help make this one of the more aerobic practices.
Best for: Anyone who is energetic and in good physical condition.
This practice can be transformative for students at any level of practice. The style is holistic in its approach, adapting various yogic traditions to nurture individual needs and interests. As the student changes and grows physically and emotionally, so does the practice. www.viniyoga.com
Best for: Students at every level.
Rita Trieger is the editor-in-chief of Fit Yoga Magazine and the author of Yoga Heals Your Back, (Fairwinds, 2005). She teaches Vinyasa yoga in Connecticut and New York City.