Yoga is an ancient philosophy or discipline that originated in India. Most people think of yoga as stretching, breathing or a meditation activity only to be enjoyed by people who eat granola and wear sandals. The truth is yoga has many benefits that can be enjoyed by everyone. The concepts of yoga can be difficult to translate and often refer to concepts rather than concrete definitions.
There are three main types of yoga but there are different ways to practice each type. Hatha yoga is the most popular in the U.S. These are the three types of Yoga:
Japa refers to the yoga of the mind. It's practiced with meditation and chanting. This type of yoga is more of a spiritual or religious type of yoga and doesn't involve stretching and flexibility.
Karma yoga deals with healing and emotions and is also practiced through meditation. The emphasis is the effect of a person's actions or conduct and the positive effects towards others. This is also a more spiritual or religious type of yoga.
Hatha yoga is considered the physical yoga and is usually practiced by stretching and breathing but can also include some chanting. Most people are only familiar with 2 of the stages of hatha yoga but there are actually 8 different stages. The first 2 steps (yama and niyama) deal with ethics, morals and personal conduct. The 3rd step (asana) is the stretching and flexibility portion and the 4th step (pranayama) has to do with controlling breathing. The 3rd and 4th steps are most commonly known in the U.S. The next three steps help you control your senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). The last stage (samadhi) is sort of a combination of the previous stages and results in reaching a new spiritual level.
Although the different styles of Hatha yoga may use the same positions (known as postures or asanas), they can be practiced differently with the emphasis changing from breathing technique (known as pranayama), the alignment of your body or the movement from one asana to another. Below are just a few of the different styles of Hatha yoga named for their founders:
Iyengar yoga focuses on the how the asanas are done, paying close attention to the alignment of the body, strength and flexibility. The goal is to balance and strengthen the body and improve muscle imbalances and posture.
Ashtanga (or Astanga) yoga uses a fast paced series asanas (sort of like "circuit yoga") that are designed to improve strength and flexibility but also to warm up the muscles. This is less relaxing than Iyengar yoga but can be an excellent workout.
Bikram yoga, which is becoming more popular, is done in a warmer room and uses 26 different asanas. This type of yoga is also designed to stretch the muscles and connective tissue (ligaments and tendons).
Just learning the asanas and practicing can improve your flexibility, reduce stress and prevent injuries. Practicing asanas and pranayamas requires concentration and over time this will lead to an increased self-awareness. All of these things are helpful for athletes, people who exercise, a mother of 3, students, busy professionals... basically anyone.
This information and other information is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.