Yoga Styles Explained
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Yoga Styles Explained

Make sense of the most popular styles of yoga with this brief overview. Introduction to yoga styles and their founders.

The plethora of yoga styles available today have much in common due to their shared lineage of physical, mental, and spiritual integration. The word yoga actually means "to yoke" or "to bind", referring to the integration that occurs among its practitioners and which is essential to its design. In the West, some respected yoga teachers have marketed their particular style with great success and enjoy a sort of elite status in the yoga community. 

Although the essence of yoga is fundamentally simple and regular practice teaches one great restraint and tolerance, there is a swiftly expanding market for goods due to yoga's increasing popularity.  If you are new to yoga or are curious about the different styles of classes that are being offered at studios near you, this list will give you a simplistic overview of what you can expect from that class, the founders of that particular style, and the benefits that are purported by that style.  Helpful links are included when available. You will undoubtedly notice many similarities and that is to be expected; it is all yoga.

Anahata - Founded by Ana Costa in 2002, Anahata focuses on keeping an open heart-center. It is named after the fourth chakra located near the heart.  It also concentrates on other matters of the heart, such as compassion and charitable service.

Ananda - Founded by Swami Kriyananda in 1968, Ananda focuses on spiritual growth. It is based on the principles of Kriya yoga which includes different types of Pranayama, or conscious yogic breathing. This style incorporates Hindu and Christian principles into its teachings.

Anusara - John Friend founded Anusara in 1997 and actively tours the world, speaking at conferences and teaching his flowing style of yoga which focuses on opening the heart. Positive in message, Anusara also touts the concept of the Universal Principles of Alignment, an intentional and energetic exploration of each pose. This style is hugely popular and John is a widely respected lecturer and teacher.

Ashtanga (Astanga) - Ashtanga was founded by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1948 in Mysore, India. It is composed of three series of flowing postures and one practicing this style must accomplish the Primary Series before moving on to the next.  Within the Advanced series, there are four sub-categories, A, B, C, and D. Classes for this style will usually be supervised ("Led"); occasionally you will find classes that are Mysore-style which means that students go through the series at his or her own pace. Focus on the breath is essential to this style and constant movement promises that you will sweat. David Swenson is a highly regarded practioner and teacher of Ashtanga.

Bikram - Bikram Choudhury, a weightlifter in India, founded this style in the early 1970's after fully recovering from a devastating knee injury with the help of yoga. It consists of specific postures and breathing exercises and is practiced in a heated room. Classes that are described as "hot yoga" may incorporate heat and some of the postures, but only a Bikram certified teacher is qualified to teach this style in the purest sense.

Forrest - Ana Forrest founded her own style of yoga after overcoming many difficulties in her own life. Her style focuses on finding your own center, strength building, and overcoming obstacles.  She is a remarkably graceful yogi and is inspiring to watch.

Hatha - Hatha is an umbrella term these days for many styles of yoga.  It is considered Classical yoga, founded in the 15th c. by Yogi Swatmarama. A typical Hatha class will include Pranayama, but the poses will be held longer than most "flow" classes. Nearly all styles in the West today claim to be derivatives of Hatha.

Iyengar - Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, his style is wildly popular and is well known for using props to experience the poses more fully. Much attention is given to alignment and the postures are held much longer than in other styles. Iyengar focuses on safety, alignment, and strength. Iyengar literally wrote the book on yoga called "Light on Yoga", an indispensable reference book for every yogi.

Jivamukti - Founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life circa 1984 in New York, this style includes a flowing style reminiscent of Ashtanga, but also incorporates a philosophical message on which to meditate throughout the practice. This style makes use of chanting, music, and yogic scripture.

Kundalini - Represented by a serphant, Kundalini is the "prana", breath, or life force that exists in everybody. The snake's body is thought to extend from the base of the spine towards the top of the head, coiling around the energetic spine along the way.  This style of yoga focuses on the breath and awakening the energetic centers of the body, or chakras.  Interestingly, the symbol of Kundalini is similar to the common medical symbol the Rod of Asclepius, which represents a snake coiled around a staff.

Maya - Founded on the island of Maui by Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane, Maya means "illusion". Both founders were students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in India and infused Ashtanga into their flowing style of yoga.

Power - Power yoga, which is often popular in gyms, is greatly influenced and modeled after Ashtanga yoga. There is some confusion as to who should be credited with founding it, but some of the better-known names are Bryan Kest, Larry Schultz, and Beryl Bender Birch. This style is largely a physical practice and can be used to aid in weight loss.

Tantra - Often correlated in the West with mystical sexuality, Tantra is about much more than that although sex is one of the methods in which Tantra can be practiced. In its simplest form, practitioners of this style strive to learn about the universe and cosmos through study of the self.  Its focus is on mind-expansion and enlightenment through a myriad of means. 

Vinyasa - This style means "to flow" and concentrates on syncing the breath with graceful movement. This class will incorporate many sun salutations with more challenging poses while managing to ease the flow from one pose to another.

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Comments (1)

Sharon, this is a great article. I didn't realize there were so many different types of yoga. I've been to Bikram yoga, which was very challenging but enjoyable, and I've incorporated some basic yoga into my daily meditation and stretching. Thanks for the enlightenment!