There are so many different styles of yoga like Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa yoga and Iyengar yoga. It can be bewildering and difficult to work out which style of yoga is most suitable for any individual.
Ashtanga Yoga Benefits
One of the most popular modern forms is Ashtanga. This is a dynamic form of yoga. It is a practice for anyone after a strong workout. Although anyone who is extremely unfit may find Ashtanga both too demanding and even unforgiving. They would be advised to approach Ashtanga with caution. Ashtanga can also place particular stress demands on the shoulder and a student with a shoulder issue would be advised to discuss this with the teacher before they start the practice.
Ashtanga has a clear Indian lineage from Ashtanga’s guru/teacher Patthabi Jois and there is a very proper intensity to the practice. Ideally it is done every day and because this is a strong, dynamic practice it adds up to a strong, daily workout. Ashtanga yoga practitioners often report significant weight loss and muscle build.
Vinyasa Flow Yoga Benefits
Vinyasa Flow tends to be a modified or adapted version of Ashtanga. Usually the modifications lighten the load on the shoulders and remove other poses that are either too difficult for the average student or are considered injurious or potentially injurious to the student. Vinyasa Flow is also a fast-moving, workout type yoga. Vinyasa Flow teachers often play music, even contemporary music in their classes.
The leading Vinyasa Flow teachers are Shiva Rea and Godfrey Deveraux. Any teacher who has trained with either of these teachers should have a good grounding.
Like Ashtanga, Iyengar yoga has a clear lineage that can be traced back to India. But it is by no means a workout type yoga. Iyengar is more concerned with exact body alignment and precision. It is a yoga of deep internal focus. For example, the teacher might ask the student to focus on the exact placing of the foot or rotation of the upper thigh muscle. Iyengar yoga tends to build strength in students but not necessarily contribute to fitness or weight loss.
Contemporary Scaravelli yoga can be even slower than Iyengar, although less precise. This yoga tends to be about moving inside poses to release and strengthen the spine. Often Scaravelli classes feel like modern dance or experimental movement workshops. It is a very healing form and probably the best yoga to come to with a back or body injury as the movements so gradual there is time to work with your injury and get a better understanding of how to live with it.
Hatha and Flowing Hatha Yoga
Some classes are described as Hatha yoga, others as Flowing Hatha. Normally, Hatha means a softened, kinder version of Iyengar yoga. Flowing Hatha is usually a softened version of Ashtanga and is very similar if not identical to Vinyasa Flow.
A good modern yoga teacher will be accredited through a leading body like Yoga Alliance or British Wheel of Yoga. They may also have additional qualifications and be trained in Pilates and osteopathy. Certainly dynamic and Ashtanga yogas need to be approached with respect and caution, especially if a student is very unfit or coming into the yoga with a bad back or other injury. The slower, more precise forms make safer points of departure.
The History of Yoga
Yoga is a system of physical and mental exercise that is now famous throughout the world. The word yoga means ‘to join together’ and practicing yoga brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience. The first written accounts of yoga are found in the scriptures of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The first yogis were part of India’s ancient Vedic religion. As time went by, they wanted a more direct spiritual experience instead of the symbolic rituals practiced by the Vedics at the time. So they developed yoga. Using the inter-relationship between mind and body, the yogis developed a method to maintain this balance, combining movements with breathing and meditation techniques to promote peace of mind and physical health.
The Vedic Priests
Vedic priests documented these practices and beliefs and slowly but surely refined and developed yoga. One of the most famous scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, was written around 500 B.C. These Vedic priests believed in teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
The First Yoga Sutras
The first systematic yoga programme can be found in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Dating from the classical period and written in the second century, these yoga sutras describe the path of Raja Yoga, also known as classical yoga. Patanjali is often considered as the father of yoga and his yoga-sutras still strongly influence all styles of modern yoga. In Patanjali, the art of yoga is divided into an ‘eight limbed path’ containing the steps to enlightenment.
From Tantra Yoga to Hatha Yoga
During the post-classical period, yoga teachers created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and developed Tantra Yoga, with various techniques to cleanse the body and mind. These body centred practices led to the creation of Hatha Yoga.
Between 1800 and 1900, yoga teachers started travelling to the West, hoping to attract more followers. By 1920, Hatha Yoga was being promoted in India by Shri Krishnamacharya. Shri Krishnamacharya travelled through India giving demonstrations of various yoga postures and opened the first Hatha Yoga school. B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois were three students of Shri Krishnamacharya who continued his legacy and increased the popularity of Hatha Yoga.
Yoga Goes to Hollywood
In 1947 Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood. Since then, other western and Indian teachers have popularised Hatha Yoga which has gained millions of followers. Nowadays there are numerous schools and styles, emphasising different aspects of the practice.
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