“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
― Amit Ray,
Originating in ancient India, yoga’s disciplines and practices aim to help people experience their true nature through permanent peace of mind.
The word yoga is translated literally as union but there are so many different forms, types and practices in yoga that it can often seem confusing. It doesn’t matter which yoga path you choose it definitely will increase flexibility, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and of course help to find inner peace.
All this myriad benefits of yoga should be enough to get anyone on the mat. If you decided to start here is a list of some of the most popular styles of yoga, along with their benefits.
1 – Hatha yoga
The practice of asana, yoga postures, is commonly referred to as Hatha yoga. In Hatha yoga, the root, ha refers to the life, or pranic force, which governs the physical body. The ha root is also the audible sound of our last breath. The syllable tha denotes the mind, or citta force. With practice, Hatha yoga awakens the physical and mental forces that regulate our lives. In addition, the body systems are balanced and purified and the mind is prepared for the focus necessary to clear blockages in our energy centers, or chakras, and the practice of accessing the kundalini energy within us.
2 – Yin yoga
Yin yoga comes from the Taoist tradition and focuses on passive, seated postures that target the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Poses are held for anywhere between one and 10 minutes. The aim is to increase flexibility and encourage a feeling of release and letting go. It is a wonderful way to learn the basics of meditation and stilling the mind. As such, it is ideal for athletic types who need to release tension in overworked joints, and it is also good for those who need to relax.
3 – Bikram yoga
Bikram yoga is the favourite of anyone who loves to sweat. It was created by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. He designed a sequence of 26 yoga poses to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as compress and “rinse” the organs of the body. The poses are done in a heated room to facilitate the release of toxins. Every bikram class you go to, anywhere in the world, follows the same sequence of 26 poses.
4 – Bhakti yoga
Bhakti is a yogic practice of love and devotion/complete faith. Faith is in the recognition that there is divinity or supreme consciousness in any form: Lord Rama, Krishna, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, a Guru for his disciples, etc. Followers of the Bhakti practice experience an emotional connection with the form of faith recognized.
Through the free flow of energy, chants/songs or sound currents, Bhakti yoga releases mental and physical disorders often caused by people’s tendency to suppress emotions.
5 – Jnana yoga
This is the yoga of knowledge becoming wisdom. This type of yoga calls to mind the inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, that says “Know thyself”.
Some components of Jnana yoga include: moving beyond the notion of belief into what’s referred to as ‘realization’; introspection as a practice of self-awareness and self-analysis; the experience of knowledge; intuitive wisdom and inner unity. When we know and understand our own personal patterns through self-analysis, we’re able to recognize them in others. This leads to unity through the bridge of compassion. Jnana yoga provides the practice to transform intellectual knowledge into wisdom.
It’s a pathway by which one recognizes the personal as an integral element of the universal: one discovers how their life purpose, or dharma, relates to the universe.
6 – Karma yoga
This is the yoga of action and service, a path of devotion to the work. The goal is to transcend one’s identity through the efforts of selfless work. There’s an emphasis on non-attachment with the work and becoming an instrument of the divine, or a ‘clear channel’.
The essence of Karma yoga as extracted from the Bhagvad Gita says: “The world confined in its own activity except when actions are performed as worship of God. Therefore one must perform every action sacramentally and be free of your attachments to the results.”
7 – Tantra yoga
The word tantra means to weave or expand. The purpose of Tantra yoga, is a deeper connection with others and the universe through the process of merging spiritual styles, teachings, and various yoga practices. The Sanskrit word tantra comes from the words tattva, the science of cosmic principles, and mantra, the science of sound vibrations.
8 – Raja yoga
Raja is the yoga of concentration, a system of yoga based on eight stages described in Patanjali’s yoga Sutras. The practice of Raja yoga embodies the yamas (restraint) and niyamas (disciplines) to purify practitioners; the asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques) to uplift vitality and health; pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) and dharana (concentration) to create balance of mind and emotions; dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption in the universal identity) to develop consciousness. The root raj means king. Practicing Raja yoga enables the practitioner to reign over the kingdom of their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual existence and find balance in the whole of existence.
9 – Kriya yoga
The word kriya means action or movement and refers to both physical activity as well as movement of energy and awareness. Kriya also refers to the result of the practice: total union that occurs from the purposeful actions and awakening in consciousness. The harmony of mental, physical and energetic faculties promotes a state of evolution into one’s highest potential. Only 20 or so of the over 70 kriyas in the full form of Kriya yoga are commonly known. These practices are written in Sanskrit, inscribed in numerous tantric texts. Only a few of these have been translated into other languages.
10 – Kundalini yoga
This system of yoga is concerned with awakening of the energy centers or chakras, which exist in every individual. Asanas, pranayama, mudra and bandha (conscious engagement and release of energy locks) and other forms of yoga such as Mantra yoga are used to stimulate the awakening. The availability of Kundalini yoga in the West is attributed to Yogi Bhajan, who courageously introduced the practice to the United States and Canada in the 1960’s.
Kundalini practices and kriyas aid in releasing kundalini energy that rests at the base of the spine and distributes throughout the body by way of the chakras. Glandular systems and neurological functions are enhanced with the practice. All elements, including the specific angles at which the body is positioned in various kriyas are all intentional in furthering the overall health and well being of the practitioner.