Neighbors of East Windsor Article: Know Your Yoga
By Tracey L. Ulshafer, Owner, One Yoga Center, Hightstown, NJ
What is Yoga? Apparently the answer to that question it depends on who you ask! If you are reading this article then you probably have already either taken yoga classes or at the very least, looked up a few online. There can be many confusing words and descriptions, all used under the yoga umbrella. So what do they mean? And how do you know which type or style of yoga is right for you?
These are good questions to ask. It is also a good idea to not only look up your local yoga studio online, but to call and talk to someone about the style of yoga that the studio primarily teaches, and inquire if it may be right for you given any specific needs or limitations that you may have.
The yogis in India (the birthplace of yoga) practiced many types of yoga. Without getting into all of those practices, which can only be more confusing, just understand that the practices of yoga that we tend to do here in the West are known as “Hatha” yoga practices. These combine breathing, postures, meditation and sometimes other components, usually in a one hour to one and a half hour class, led by a teacher and practiced by multiple different practitioners of various levels. If you see the word “Hatha” on a yoga schedule, it generally means an all-level class, guided through different combinations of postures, breathing, and the other components. Usually these are quite eclectic, often have a theme to them, and can vary tremendously from teacher to teacher. It is important to understand that all other types of yoga practiced here in the West generally come from Hatha. So, think of Hatha as the vanilla ice cream, in a very flavorful ice-creamery world.
We can thank a man named T. Krishnamacharya for bringing these yogic practices to us. Often referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga,” Kirshnamacharya is widely regarded as one of the most influential yoga teachers. His legacy can be found throughout many different yoga practices, styles and lineages, as most “master” yoga teachers today learned from him or one of his disciples. Two of his main students developed their own styles of yoga. First, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois developed the practice known as Asthanga Yoga. This challenging practice has different levels that the student can work towards developing with his or her teacher. The first level is known as the Primary Series, consisting of fundamental postures and breathing techniques, including the Sun Salutations and other static postures performed with linking Sun Salutations between them. As a striking contrast, Krishnamacharya’s other well-known teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, developed a style of yoga (called Iyengar Yoga) where very particular alignments along with prop use. Whereas Asthanga Yoga is a flowing style of yoga, in Iyengar Yoga, postures are held longer and usually do not have salutations in between them.
Today, the most popular style of yoga practiced here in the USA is called “Vinyasa.” This means that the breath and the movement of the postures are choreographed together, kind of like a dance. The Asthanga Yoga practice introduced Vinyasa Yoga. But today, there is such an eclectic way in which Vinyasa is taught; you can often hardly see the roots of Asthanga in most classes. You can usually find these classes to be a little more challenging or sometimes even athletic, since there are series of poses that are performed multiple times in succession, thus building up muscle tone and strength a little more quickly. Vinyasa classes can be quite stylized and it may be a good idea to check into the studio or teacher before attending these classes if you are new to yoga. However, if you are very physically fit, an athlete or someone with no injuries or limitations and want to push your edge, then these classes may be exactly what you are looking for.
So what about Hot Yoga? Yes, another favorite these days. Hot Yoga derived from a style of yoga called Bikram, named after its founder, Bikram Choudhury. Originally, Bikram coined a series of 26 hatha yoga postures that were performed in a very hot room (105 F). After Bikram started a copyright campaign in an effort to have Bikram teachers and studios pay him exorbitant amounts of licensing fees, many studios changed their name from Bikram Yoga to Hot Yoga. And alas, a new breed of yoga was born. The idea of the intense heat is to increase circulation, blood flow, promote sweating and detoxification. Most people find that they are able to perform yoga postures more easily in the heat, but there can be some negative aspects too, like: overheating, overstretching resulting in injury or dislocation, and more. Again, there are benefits to this type of practice, but proper health, hydration and preparedness before going to a hot yoga class is recommended.
Kundalini Yoga is a style that was developed by Yogi Bhajan as comprehensive practices (known as kriyas) combining meditation, mantra (sacred sounds), physical exercises, and breathing techniques to awaken to the full potential of the individual. People often comment that these classes are infused with a lot of energy practices meant to awaken this spiritual potential within us referred to as the kundalini.
So, what about Vini-Yoga, Phoenix Rising, Kripalu Yoga, Yoga4Sobriety, Sivananda, Yin Yoga, Power Yoga, Prenatal, Jivamukti, Restorative, Aerial, Acro, and…yes, let’s say it, “Goat Yoga?” There are so many styles of Hatha Yoga today, and as more teachers develop and create their own particular brand of yoga, we will see more and more appear on local yoga studio class schedules. And the truth is, you need to find the style or styles of yoga that speak to you. The benefits of a yoga practice are quite extensive. So, do a little research, call and talk to your local studios, and pop around until you find the style of yoga and a teacher that can support you not only now, but way into the future.