Yoga 101

As most yoga practitioners can tell you - yoga is much more than just a form of exercise, it truly is a way of living and to gain a deeper understanding of that lifestyle it’s important to have an idea of the history behind yoga.

Yoga is often said to be as old as civilization itself but the earliest we’ve found of a yoga practice is a set of stone seals that depict some figures in yoga poses, and is dated to about 3000 B.C. and Patanjali is widely regarded as the formal founder of the yoga philosophy.

 Following the birth of yoga there are several “periods” of yoga that are each marked by the scriptures or writings that were developed during that time or by the new forms that yoga took on as it evolved. The four periods are: Vedic, Pre-Classical, Classical, and Post-Classical. Some of these texts include the Vedas, the Brahmanas, and the Upanishads but there are quite a few more that provide historical insight as to the development of yoga throughout the past.

The first yoga studio in America was opened in Hollywood by Indra Devi, a russian woman referred to as “The First Lady Of Yoga”. She taught many movie stars of the time and trained hundreds of teachers. In the next two decades several books and even a television debut helped expose the American people to the way of yoga and today yoga is extremely popular and is practiced by over thirty million people. Yoga is so widely accepted now that many doctors even recommend yoga as a form of stress management to their patients.

Currently the most popular form of yoga is Hatha yoga. It’s typically a milder form of yoga and consists of a variety of basic poses done in a unique series or rhythm for usually between half and hour to an hour. These poses are often referred to as “Asanas”.  While Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced type of yoga in the united states there are still plenty of others for the more adventurous yoga practitioners such as Bikram, Power Yoga, and many others that have developed.

A popular form of vinyasa yoga (which is an intense workout form of yoga that has a series of flowing poses) is called Ashtanga and it’s a form of yoga that is becoming more and more mainstream as it grows in popularity. There is series of six poses that it’s based on which increase in difficulty as they go on but students work at their own pace and levels during the class which is one of it’s more attractive features to many people. Also based off of this type of yoga is Power Yoga which is a more modernized form of Ashtanga that is also designed to give you a really good workout.

Another type of yoga in Iyengar which was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar who is one of the most influental yogi’s to day as well as the author of Light On Yoga - a popular yoga book and many others. His specialty is working on the very subtle an unique aspects of each pose and even in his eighties he continues to teach thousands of students what has become one of the most popular types of yoga. This type of yoga uses a great deal of props and tools to accomplish the poses and students hold each pose for a great length of time in order be able to understand the complexities of the individual postures.

If you’re interested in a really intense workout you might want to try Bikram yoga which is designed to make you sweat in order to push the toxins out of your body as a sort of cleansing process. Bikram yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury who came to the United States from India touting the methods of yoga as a healing therapy for chronically ill patients. In Bikram yoga the room is heated to over 100 degrees fahrenheit in order to encourage the body to sweat and allow fresh blood and oxygen to circulate.

One of my personal favorites in the realm of yoga is the style of Integral yoga which was developed in 1966 by Reverend Sri Swami Satchidananda as a way of integrating yoga into the daily lives of his students, their work, and their relationships. It’s based off of classical hatha postures which produce a meditative effect as well as breathing practices, chanting, and guided relaxation in order to create a gentle, flowing sort of class that encourages students to take their yoga home with them each day.

Anusara yoga is a practice that focuses on the spiritual aspects of yoga as well as the poses, which are a blend of hatha yoga and it’s meant to keep the body grounded and in alignment while inspiring and honoring the spirit. It’s touted as being very reformative and therapeutically healing.  The poses are based off a central philosophy of equality and divinity as well as three areas of focus which are: Attitude, Alignment, and Action. Each of the poses within the three areas are preformed with different levels of awareness and are designed to bring body and mind into alignment with each other.

Tibetan yoga is a term that is used among buddhists to describe a rang of different mediation and breathing practices thought it’s not commonly practiced or heard of in the western world though a few books describing a few posture sequences have been released. It’s an active workout that tends to keep students moving and flowing throughout the sequences which re comprised of five asanas. Typically they are just done in repetitions. As this class is a rare one it may be difficult to find and many have settled for simply following books while others have traveled to Tibet to learn more about this unique branch of yoga.

Overall there are as many different types of yoga as one can imagine and they all have their unique benefits and ways of doing things. Don’t be confused or overwhelmed when considering all your different options for a yoga class though. If you’re new to yoga it’s often recommended that you start with a basic hatha class or a restorative class as these are often simple enough for beginners to learn from. If you’re unsure you can always ask the advice of a teacher or a friend that already practices yoga - just be sure not to attempt any classes that are too advanced or fast paced for a beginner otherwise you may be scared off and give up your practice entirely. There are plenty of good classes out there and the odds are that as you move through your yoga journey you will probably try many different styles.

Once you find one you like stick with it for a while and explore what it has to offer you but remember that you aren’t stuck with one type of yoga for your entire life - there are always new classes and styles to try and testing out a new form of yoga can give you a perspective on your class as well as open you up to new possibilities. Take the time to seek out new branches of yoga that you are unfamiliar with, learn a bit about them and then attend a few classes to see what you think. If you don’t happen to like that particular style you can always change to another one or go back to one you liked before. If you’re unfamiliar with a certain style ask the teacher of the class about it in advance. Just a few questions about the pace of the class, what it includes, what sequences or poses are used can make all the difference in how you prepare for a class and whether or not you even want to try it.

The most important thing to remember is that while yoga can be a great tool for everyone not everyone will choose to practice in the same way. Some people are more suited for a fast paced power workout and others are more interested in a gentle meditative yoga class. The idea here is not to judge anyone’s preferences in yoga and to remember that what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.