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Yoga styles – 9 Major styles of yoga

Types of Yoga

Yoga literally means “union”. The great Hindu sage Patanjali defined yoga as, “the attainment of mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind.” The discipline of yoga originated in ancient India and comprises physical, mental and spiritual practices. In common parlance yoga refers to various types of body postures designed for greater physical fitness & flexibility, improving breathing and providing relaxation with regular practice. Yoga aids its practitioners to master the art of de-stressing and calming the mind. The philosophy of yoga stresses on ‘ahimsa’ or non-harm to our body. It implies respecting the boundaries of the body by practising yoga within your comfort level, and not going beyond the edge.

Since its inception, dating back to thousands of years, different styles of yoga have emerged and are practised across the world. From Iyengar and kundalini yoga to restorative yoga and prenatal yoga, there are different schools of yoga out there. An understanding of the different types of yoga, their postures and benefits will help you in getting optimum benefits from this discipline.

9 Major styles of yoga

Each style of yoga has varied set of postures and offer different benefits to the practitioners. Knowing your specific requirement from this ancient discipline will help you to choose the yoga style you want to practice.

Here is a lowdown on the 9 major styles of yoga.

1. Vinyasa yoga

Vinyasa or “flow yoga” is a style of yoga where there is smooth flow of postures. It is among the most popular contemporary style of yoga. Vinyasa is derived from two Sanskrit words – “nyasa” means “to place” and “vi” means “in a special way”.  Vinyasa yoga offers a great variation in postures and no two classes are alike. It’s an athletic and aerobic style of yoga, offering more movement during the sessions.

How to practice:

Vinyasa yoga synchronizes flow of movement with the breath, from one pose to another. This style of yoga varies greatly, depending on the teacher who determines the specific sequence of postures. So, no two classes will have the same sequence of yoga poses.

2. Iyengar yoga

Iyengar yoga focuses on precision of movement with close attention to details and alignment of postures. Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, the yoga poses in this style are held for long periods and students are also taught controlled breathing. The Iyengar school of yoga was the first to introduce props in yoga.  

How to practice:

Yoga poses are held for long time, while attaining precise alignment of postures. Students are encouraged to perfect their practice and go deeper into postures with the help of props. This slow-paced yoga form allows workout in a safe manner. It provides relaxation and flexibility to people with injuries, who need to work their muscles gently.

3. Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga refers to the physical form of yoga. The term “hatha” is a common term for all physical yoga poses. This yoga style aligns the mind, body & soul, helping you prepare for meditation. Hatha yoga is often referred to all physical forms of yoga, like ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, etc.

How to practice:

Hatha is a gentle form of yoga and considered the best for beginners. The postures are slow paced and offer a great entry point to the world of yoga. This style of yoga takes a typical approach to yoga poses and breathing.

4. Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga combines spirituality with yoga poses. A typical Kundalini yoga session involves challenging yoga poses paired with breathing and chanting. This style of yoga is based on the belief that “life force energy” is trapped at the base of our spinal. The poses in Kundalini yoga are intended to unlock the coiled energy located at the base of the spine, reducing stress and negative thoughts. 

How to practice:

A Kundalini yoga class usually starts with a mantra followed by breathing exercise and light yoga poses. Practitioners then move on to physically challenging poses, then get into relaxation postures and end the session with meditation.

5. Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga yoga is a classical style of yoga that combines physical and spiritual components in the practice. This style includes 6 series of specific yoga poses that are taught in precise order. In this style, each pose in each specific series are taught to students, as and when the teacher feels that they are ready to move on to the next pose after mastering a particular posture. The postures are very challenging as it’s designed for experienced practitioners.

How to practice:

Ashtanga yoga is a teacher-led practice where the students move at their own pace. Practitioners typically begin the session with 5 sun salutation As and 5 sun salutation Bs and then move on to the specific poses in the specific series.

6. Yin yoga

Yin yoga is a great style for beginners as it mostly includes seated postures. This form of yoga targets the connective tissue, increasing circulation in joints and improving flexibility. It can aid in meditation by training the body to remain still for long periods.

How to practice:

Yin style of yoga is slow paced and relies on gravity to relax the body after hard workouts. Practitioners have to hold a pose for a minute to 5 minutes or more. It involves use of props like bolsters, blocks and blankets to remain still in a specific posture.

7. Bikram yoga

Bikram Choudhury is the founder of Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga. Bikram yoga has fixed set of poses to be practised in an order, under very specific rules. This style of yoga produces massive sweat, improves blood circulation and detoxifies the body.

How to practice:

Bikram yoga comprises of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. This style of yoga prescribes strict rules for practice – the room temperature must be 105° Fahrenheit with 40% humidity.

8. Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga is designed to destress and relax the body & mind. Yoga poses are modified to help practitioners get into them and experience relaxation. People dealing with pain, have sleep problems and need to de-stress greatly benefit from this style of yoga.

How to practice:

Restorative yoga classes use lots of props, supporting the body to get into postures. A typical pose is held for 5 minutes or more, and practitioners may fall asleep during the session. Only a few postures are practised during a yoga session.

9. Prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga is specifically designed and practised by “moms to be”. It’s an effective workout for easing pregnancy-related pains like lower back pain or hip ache. Practitioners workout to strengthen the pelvic floor, do squats and practice breathing exercise. This form of yoga prepares expectant mothers for labour and delivery.

How to practice:

A typical prenatal class involves use of props to simplify postures and maintain stability. The yoga postures are tailored to provide stress relief, relaxation and self-care in all three trimesters of pregnancy.

Whether you are looking to improve your health, reduce stress, relax or just lose weight, the right yoga style will maximise your needs. Choose a style that works best with your fitness level as well as your personality.    

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