Types Of Yoga

There seem to be almost as many types of yoga being practiced as there are people who practice them. Since yoga itself came into existence over 5000 years ago, there is quite a lot of history behind it. Here in the United States, yoga is practiced as another form of exercise and fitness regimen by many who find it beneficial to their health. This is actually a pretty recent development, as yoga had always been practiced as a prelude to meditation for thousands of years. Ironically, more meditative and spiritual aspects have been finding their way back into yoga routines only recently.

Yoga meditation (my term, as it verbally links the two terms together so as to maintain their historic relationship) has its origins in antiquity.

types of yoga

Many yoga types and styles enable anyone to adapt it to their needs. Photo by DragonImages c/o Photos.Com.

Groups of men during what is referred to as the Vedic period would gather around fires and primitively scream to attempt to bring themselves closer to their divine natures. Later on during what is called the Upanishadic period yoga evolved into a seated activity focusing on the breath. The heat from the primitive Vedic period fires, called tapas, was transfigured into an internal fire centered on the breath. Their goal was still to unite with the divine by transcending their everyday experiences of reality.

During the first thousand years of its existence, yoga and meditation were always one and the same. Then during the 1400’s some standard asanas were introduced by Pradipika who originated the Hatha Yoga style of yoga practice.

Fast forward to the late nineteenth century and Swami Vivekananda who spoke at the Parliament of Religions in the U.S., which formally introduced yoga to this country.

During the early half of the 20’th century Sri Aurobindo introduced Integral Yoga, while around the same time Krishnamacharya began to standardize the sequence of poses, called asanas. Krishnamacharya taught many disciples, and four of his most accomplished students went off to found their own yoga schools in the United States. They were B.K.S. Iyengar, Desikachar (Krishnamacharya’s son actually), Indra Devi and Pattabhi Jois.

Sivananda Yoga originated during the 50’s through the efforts of Swami Vishnudevananda who standardized a sequence of 12 poses (asanas).

Fast-forward to the mid 1970’s and a student of Pattabhi Jois named David Williams originated Ashtanga Yoga here in America. Around the same time B.K.S. Iyengar gave up the Vinyasa Yoga style he’d been advocating in favor of what he felt was a more precise and healing series of asanas that are known today by the name of Iyengar Yoga.

During the late 70’s and early 80’s, yoga and meditation began to evolve separately, at least here in the U.S. There was a fitness craze going on that bifurcated yoga meditation and led yoga down the physical fitness choice that we are familiar with today. Many of the well known yoga schools began during this time period, including Bikram (hot) Yoga, Power Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, followed a little later by Shiva Rea, Rodney Yee, Rod Stryker and Baron Baptiste.

So in a nutshell, that’s a very abbreviated history of the types of yoga styles and practices that we have come to know. By no means is this list exhaustive, however. Let’s delve into some of the most commonly practiced types of yoga and what they emphasize.

Hatha Yoga:

A general term that actually encompasses several yoga styles. It emphasizes a slower pace and is a gentler form overall. Again, a very good yoga style for the beginning yoga student.

Iyengar Yoga:

Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of yogi B.K.S. Iyengar. It is a form of Hatha Yoga that focuses primarily on body alignment. The emphasis is on balance and holding poses for extended periods of time. Straps and blocks to assist the student in holding a pose longer are often employed. This is a very good yoga style that is kind to beginners.

Vinyasa Yoga:

This style is another form of Hatha Yoga. The basic poses are progressed through more rapidly and are synchronized with the breath. It is a bit more vigorous and usually begins with sun-salutations to help energize the body. There is some conjecture that Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar got their inspiration from observation of British Army exercise regimens in which “burpees” were borrowed to become sun-salutations.

Ashtanga Yoga:

Also known as Flow Yoga and also Power Yoga. In Sanskrit this means “eight limbs” and is a very fast-paced¬† and intense style of yoga practice. Certainly not for the beginner, most definitely. You perform a set series of poses in the same order. The sequence is very demanding is one of the more physically challenging types of yoga. It is intended to build strength and endurance. Not much meditation here, BTW.

Bikram Yoga:

Also known as “Hot Yoga”. This style was pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, and is practiced in a humid room of between 95-100 degrees. The idea is to loosen muscles and stimulate sweating to cleanse the body. Bikram Yoga executes a series of 26 poses. This is the most extreme types of yoga and is not intended for the beginner or anyone remotely physically or cardiovascular challenged. Not much meditation here at all.

Kundalini Yoga:

Emphasizes breathing in conjunction with movement of the body, chanting and meditation. The intent here is to liberate energy from the lower physical body into the higher non-physical body using the breath and poses to free prana (energy) into higher centers. Lots more meditation here.

Viniyoga:

Largely an adaptational style that focuses on the teacher-student relationship. This is the “customized lesson plan” style of yoga. The teacher, or guru, develops an individualized lesson plan for each yoga student, taking into account their physical condition, age, and emotional factors. This style is based on the teachings of T.K.V. Desikachar and has been championed by American Gary Kraftsow who founded the American Viniyoga Institute.

There are more subgroups that I won’t get into here. Very famous and prominent schools follow such yoga celebrities as Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee. They have both added back a significant amount of yoga’s spirituality to their instruction. Current practitioners of many types of yoga are finding it not only physically challenging but also emotionally and spiritually uplifting in their lives.