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Yoga: Which Type Is Right for You?

Apr 10, 2012 02:16PM ● By Erin Frisch


Yoga originated in ancient India as a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline with the goal of attaining liberation from the material world and gaining spiritual insight and tranquility. Today, yoga is practiced for a wide variety of reasons: to improve overall well-being—physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to decrease stress level, to improve concentration, and as a complementary healing therapy for various medical conditions, as well as conditioning and cross-training for athletes with the goals of increasing strength, flexibility, and stamina.

A number of different types of yoga are available, and each type meets different needs, personalities, and goals. Regardless of the kind of yoga you choose, most practices include asanas (poses/postures), pranayamas (breathing techniques), and savasanas (relaxation techniques). Which style of yoga is right for you? Here are the five most common yoga practices:

Hatha yoga is the foundation of all yoga styles. It is an easy-to-learn, basic form of yoga that incorporates physical postures, breathing exercises, purification procedures, and meditation. Classes are slow-paced and geared for beginners, but intermediate and advanced practitioners can still push themselves by holding poses longer and more deeply. Hatha yoga introduces you to many of the common poses through slow, gentle movements and incorporates a lot of breathing work. It is an effective stress reliever and promotes relaxation while still providing physical exercise—a great way to destress after a long day at work. Classes will vary in postures and intensity, depending on the instructor.

Hatha, a good style for beginners, is great for calming, destressing, and providing the physical benefits of stretching and strengthening.

Iyengar Yoga is unique in its incorporation of props such as blankets, straps, and blocks into the practice. Using props enables everyone, even those who are ill, injured, or disabled, to practice this form of yoga. Iyengar yoga promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated breathing and postures that focus on precise alignment of the body. The use of props combined with a slow pace and attention to detail make this practice particularly good for anyone recovering from an injury or surgery, or anyone who is using yoga as a form of physical therapy. Classes emphasize healing the body and mind with the use of supported postures.

Iyengar is especially good for beginners learning the fundamentals of yoga, people recovering from injury or surgery, and those whose goal is to systematically work each part of the body, increasing strength and flexibility rather than muscle mass.

Ashtanga Yoga is physically demanding and involves synchronizing your breathing with a continuous and progressive series of postures. The combination of breathing and postures produces an intense internal heat and a profuse purifying sweat that is said to detoxify muscles and organ systems. It results in improved circulation, flexibility, and stamina, as well as a feeling of lightness, a strong body, and a calm mind. This practice is often referred to as “Power Yoga” for its quicker pace and constant movement, and its reduced emphasis on meditation. Traditionally, the same sequence of postures is practiced in every class and as you progress, you will move through a total of six series (though “Power Yoga” does switch it up a bit).

Ashtanga is an athletic type of yoga and is great for weight loss, aerobic/cardio exercise, muscle strengthening, and definition.

Vinyasa Yoga is derived from Ashtanga Yoga and focuses on the coordination of breath and movement. A very physically demanding form of yoga, it differs from Ashtanga in the sense that, aside from the beginning set of movements, no two classes are alike. Vinyasa also differs from instructor to instructor; each brings his or her personal style to the class. So if you don’t connect with one instructor, consider trying a class with a different one. The classes are rhythmic and flowing, and some can be more meditative and focused on the natural movement of the body.

Vinyasa is an excellent way to transition from Hatha Yoga for more of a challenge, and it offers the same benefits as Ashtanga Yoga.

Bikram Yoga is a method that includes a focus on muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular flexibility, and weight loss. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of this type of yoga is the fact that it is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40 percent. This promotes greater flexibility of the muscles, detoxification, and prevention of injuries. There are 26 poses and two breathing exercises that are repeated in the same order at every class. Since the same postures are practiced repeatedly, this can be a great place for beginners as there is a strong focus on proper alignment, but make sure you’re properly hydrated before class. As a more advanced practitioner, you can get into the postures more deeply.

Bikram is known for flushing toxins from the body because of the increased perspiration from the heat, successful recovery from injury related to the deep stretching done in this practice, increasing back strength and alignment (about half of the postures focus on this), weight loss, and enhanced flexibility.

Remember to check with your physician before beginning any exercise program, including any type of yoga.


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