Which style of yoga is the one for you?
by Marcelo Broderies, Ashtanga teacher
Yoga is growing in popularity everywhere in the world. New schools, new methods, and new students are surfacing, maybe as a response to a growth in stress levels. Even in professional sports there is a space for yoga with both the Seattle Seahawks—winners of the 2014 Superbowl—and the German national football team—winners of the 2014 Football World Cup—both including yoga in their exercise routines.
But what is yoga really? The word has many meanings: union, knowledge, logic, seeking for the Universal Self, and so on. This philosophy, born in India, has different definitions such as “to stop the circular patterns of consciousness” or “to perform all actions without desire of personal gain, and offer the fruits of actions to God.” So, the definition of yoga is different depending on the yoga system you are learning. For example, Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion to God or a guru; Karma yoga is the selfless service path; Tantra yoga is the yoga to liberate Kundalini energy and let it go up through the chakras; and Hatha yoga is the yoga of perfecting posture, and breathing.
The latter system of practicing good posture (“asanas”) is the one that people usually associate with the word “yoga.” One of yoga’s aims is to ensure the body is disease- and pain-free, so that the mind can be stable, and able to have love, and compassionate feelings. Postures are a way of purifying and strengthening the body.
Our energy flows through channels in the body called “nadis.” We have 72,000 nadis and two are especially important: Surya and Chandra nadi. Surya means “sun,” and is related to male energy and to the right nostril. It is also called “Ha.” Chandra means “moon” and is related to the left nostril, and it is also called “Tha.” The name “Hatha yoga” comes from the name of these energy channels and the importance of breathing to purify and harmonize them to let our energy flow freely through the body. This means that all the postures are just a tool, and are not the primary aim of Hatha yoga.
Any method where we focus on posture is known as Hatha yoga. This includes Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Power, Dynamic, Vinyasa, Flow, Anusara, Acro … And all Hatha yoga systems come from T. Krishnamacharya (1888–1989), known as the father of modern yoga. He dedicated his life to the study and teaching of this practice, with the principle that yoga was a gift from India to the world. He taught in India where he had two important disciples, Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) and BKS Iyengar (1918–2014). These teachers quickly spread yoga throughout the world with methods that they developed, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga, respectively, both of which are types of Hatha yoga. Any new methods found today take something from them, such as alignment from Iyengar or a breathing technique from Ashtanga.
So, which type of yoga is the one for you? Even though they all come from the same root, styles vary quite a bit, so my recommendation is that you try out different styles until you find the one you feel most comfortable with.
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