Yoga styles: how many are out there?

I often wonder how many styles of yoga are out there. So I did a little researching, a little reading and a little experiencing. Here is what I’ve discovered so far.

Hatha

When we imagine yoga, we usually conjure images of the physical yoga postures, on a mat, in a gym or studio. These images are collectively termed Hatha yoga. Have you heard of Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Integral, Vinyasa Flow? Yup, all forms of Hatha yoga. In the context of yoga history (think 5,000 years old), Hatha yoga is a relatively modern development (more like 700 years old). In very simple terms, Hatha yoga is about coming home to you, the whole you; through practices to purify the body, settle the mind and sing from the heart.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga, developed by K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009: note how recent this is!) and T. Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989: less recent, but still relatively recent!) in Mysore, India, is for the dedicated yogi: the method invites daily practice, using ujjayi pranayama (victorious breath), bandhas (muscular activation or ‘locks’) and drishti (mental focus) to progress through six set series of postures. I’ve tried a few different Ashtanga offerings: from Mysore classes, where one progresses at your own pace and the instructor moves between students offering personalised cues, to Ashtanga-blend styles where an Ashtanga structure is taught with modifications to suit the students. One of the empowering things about Ashtanga is learning the sequence or series so you can establish your own home practice. 

Vinyasa Flow

One such ‘Ashtanga blend’ might be Vinyasa Flow. I trained in Vinyasa Flow yoga: a style of yoga that synchronises breath with movement. There isn’t a set series of poses; however, classes generally flow through Sun Salutations onto heating poses (the stuff that makes you sweat) before deeper seated and reclined poses (the stuff that cools you down). Breathing techniques, meditation and philosophy are sprinkled through the teachings. Vinyasa Flow offers teachers and practitioners loads freedom to create the practices that are needed in the moment. That’s what I love about this style.

Iyengar 

Iyengar is rather aptly named after its creator B.K.S Iyengar (1918 – 2014: note how recent this is!). This Hatha-yoga style focuses on alignment, which is the proper and precise way to position the body in a pose to reduce injury and increase benefits. I experimented with a few Iyengar classes and definitely revised my anatomy cues! The alignment focus helped me to increase my mind-body connection. The classes I attended did not include Sun Salutations, but rather slowly and methodically progressed, using several props to make even the most complex pose accessible. Brilliant for building confidence in inverted postures (those ones that overwhelm with groundlessness).

Restorative

Restorative yoga flowed from Iyengar’s teachings. Iyengar’s student Judith Hanson Lasater developed and promoted Restorative yoga through the 1970s (note how recent this is!). I also teach Restorative yoga, and here is how I feel about this style: Restorative yoga is all about rest and relaxation. This style is less physically demanding than more active yoga styles, but it is much more mentally challenging as we learn to cultivate a meditative practice. During this quiet practice, props support the poses (each pose held for several minutes) as we learn to release deeply held stress and tension from the body, mind, emotions and breath. We finish our practice feeling relaxed, refreshed and restored.

On my list of styles still to try: Anusara yoga (developed in the 1990s), Bikram (developed in the 1980s), Kundalini (popularised in 1960s, but thought to be very, very old), Power yoga (developed in 1990s), Jivamukti (developed in 1980s), Sivananda (developed in the 1950s), Integral (developed in the 1960s), Ananda (developed in the 1960s)… you know, as I’m researching the various yoga styles I’m struck by how recently these styles have been developed. Many within my own lifetime. I find this shocking because my brain assumes that all yoga is thousands of years old!

My feeling is: there are as many yoga styles as there are yoga teachers because each teacher brings their spirit to their teachings and is shaped by students they teach. In this way, yoga’s spirit has adapted to our changing needs, lifestyles and cultures. Yoga, comes alive through the teacher, evolved, matured and connected. And we are lucky to have such an offering in yoga styles: active, receptive, strong, gentle, physical, meditative, and so on. There is a style to suit us at different times, in different ways, depending on how we show up. So it seems to me that the key is to listen inwardly on any given day, to that soft, sweet inner voice and be guided to the yoga needed at that moment.  

Copyright © 2019 Niki De Domenico. All Rights Reserved.

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