6 Key Yoga Practices & What They Aim To Achieve
Over the past several decades, yoga has become popular as a form of exercise and as a meditation practice. Dating all the way back to 2700 BCE in India, yoga has long been a helpful tool for remaining active and becoming more mindful of both body and spirit. There are tons of different types of yoga, as the practice has expanded through the years. Some branches of yoga are dedicated to restoring the spirit, while others are meant to push the yogi to the limits of their physical strength and stamina.
Because there are so many different types of yoga, it can be confusing to figure out which one best fits your needs. You might want to try out several different kinds so that you know which type of yoga is best for you. To help you get started, here’s a breakdown of some key yoga practices you can try out.
This type of gentle yoga is a great place for beginners to start out. Hatha moves at a slower pace, so you don’t have to know the stretches or poses before you enter the class – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn as you go.
Hatha is a Sanskrit word that refers to any yoga that works with physical postures, but hatha yoga specifically works to allow you to hold each pose for a few breaths. Hatha can also be really helpful if you’re feeling out of sync with your body. Holding poses while practicing your breathing can help you reconnect with both your body and your spirit for an all-around beneficial experience.
Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and was adapted from another form of yoga called Ashtanga back in the 1980s (more on Ashtanga below). Several different types of yoga can be considered vinyasa flow, including power yoga and prana.
The style of vinyasa can vary depending on the teacher you have, but the goal is to coordinate your breath and your movement as you flow from one pose to the next. In some cases, vinyasa can almost feel like a dance (some teachers even play upbeat music to get everyone going). The pace is fairly quick, so you won’t be holding poses for long periods of time.
It is important to note that this form of yoga is fairly active – expect to get your blood pumping and your heart rate up. This makes vinyasa perfect for fitness enthusiasts, particularly runners or other endurance athletes.
Iyengar is basically the opposite of Vinyasa, because poses are held for long periods of time. It was founded by yogi BKS Iyengar in the 1960s, and focuses on alignment and precise movements. A variety of postures are done in an Iyengar class, all while controlling the breath. Iyengar yoga often utilizes props (such as yoga blocks, ropes, straps, etc.) to help practitioners achieve a wide range of motion and go deeper into each pose.
Because Iyengar is all about movement and form, some teachers like to share information about anatomy and physiology during the class. This isn’t a great yoga type to start out with if you’re just beginning with the practice; make sure to take a level one class if you do want to start expanding your practice with Iyengar. However, this style can be done with people of any age, and is particularly helpful to individuals who are trying to heal and go slowly after an injury.
The word kundal means “coiled energy”. This is important to note because kundalini yoga works with the idea that we all have energy that gathers at the base of our spine. We bring that energy through the seven chakras and it comes out of the crown of our head. This practice works with this particular idea in mind: that we all need to work with our energy to maintain a higher spiritual presence.
Kundalini yoga was introduced to the US in the late 1970s and works a little differently than more traditional yoga practices. That’s because it focuses not only on movement, but also on intense breath work and additional meditations, chants, and songs – all in the name of releasing untapped energy.
Many people turn to Kundalini yoga for a more spiritual practice (especially if they’re looking for an improved relationship with their higher self). Kundalini classes are great for people who are active, as it really works the core and is fast-moving. It can also be pretty intense, however, so might not be a good practice to start out with if you’re a newbie.
Bikram is by far one of the hardest and most strenuous types of yoga. It is named after Bikram Choudhury (who has since become pretty notorious for sexual harassment lawsuits). The practice follows a specific series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. What makes Bikram yoga more intense is the fact that it’s conducted in rooms heated to about 105 degrees and 40% humidity, which has also earned it the name ‘hot yoga.’
Each class is the exact same: 90 minutes of a set sequence of poses. The class can end up feeling really strenuous because of the fast pace and the added element of heat. If you’re uncomfortable with sweating, this is not the type of yoga for you! Individuals who like set routines will appreciate the Bikram practice, though.
If you’re wondering, “What is the hardest type of yoga?”, the answer is typically Ashtanga (also known as power yoga). It’s considered to be the most challenging because of its fast pace. It starts off with 10 sun salutations and then moves into a set of standing and floor poses. The teacher puts together a series so that they flow, but they’re often poses that will challenge your balance (and your stamina!).
There’s basically no time to rest in Ashtanga, so it’s not a good fit for someone just starting out or someone who’s more interested in a gentle practice. Ashtanga yoga is definitely a rigorous workout.
There are many more options besides just the ones listed above. Because there are so many yoga types to choose from, you’re bound to find a specific practice that works the best for your needs. If you’re not sure what to try first, call your local yoga studio and inquire about their different classes, or watch some videos online to see what the different types are like. The best part is that you can constantly try or combine new styles to figure out what works best for you.
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