Be Well

Find Your Balance with Yoga

Whether you're a first timer or seasoned pro, there's a mind-body practice out there for everyone.
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Since yoga was introduced to the West in the mid-twentieth century, its popularity and influence has skyrocketed. The practice has seen an especially noticeable spike in the last decade: a 2012 study found that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga (up 29% from 2008). Why? Because there’s a demand for it. With stress and anxiety levels at an all-time high, more and more Westerners are discovering the scientifically proven benefits of a mind-body practice. So too has the number of types of yoga available increased, with options for just about everyone.

If you’re looking to start your practice, or perhaps branch out, we’ve broken down a handful of the major schools of yoga conducted in the West.

VINYASA

In Sanskrit, nyasa means “to place” and vi means “in a special way.” Vinyasa, then, is the practice of placing the body in a specific manner. Popularized by Trimulai Krishnamacharya, this umbrella term refers to pretty much all “flow”-based power yoga you see today. An important characteristic of Vinyasa is that the transitions between each pose or asana are almost as important as the shapes themselves; each sequence is carefully orchestrated in order to link prana (breath) with movement, often building toward a “peak” pose.

ASHTANGA

A form of Vinyasa developed by K. Pattabhi Jois — a student of Krishnamacharya — Ashtanga means “eight limbs,” referring to the eight branches of yoga as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in which physical practice is only one. In Ashtanga Yoga, postures are always taught in specific sequences that rarely change from teacher to teacher. Typically, when you come to practice, even if you are in a full class, you will work on your own progression through each series. The emphasis is placed on linking the breath to the body by way of repetition, with less of a focus on alignment.

IYENGAR

Named after B.K.S. Iyengar, another of Krishnamacharya’s students who was widely considered to be one of the world’s foremost teachers, this school of yoga differs from Ashtanga in that it focuses on precise alignment of each posture. If Vinyasa is more fluid, Iyengar is regimented and strict, using props (blocks and straps) to find proper positioning. Teachers of this method very much believe that there is a “right” way to do yoga, so if you’re interested in trying Iyengar, be prepared for numerous corrections.

KUNDALINI

Popularized in the U.S. by Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini draws its primary influences from Tantra and Shaktism of Hinduism. The principal tenet of the practice is that it seeks to awaken Kundalini Shakti (our primal energy) which exists coiled like a serpent at the base of our spine (where the first chakra or energy center resides). Through various techniques including asana, pranayama(breath work), and meditation, this energy is coaxed up the spine until it reaches the seventh chakra, at which point we become spiritually awake.

YIN

Adding influences from Taoism, Yin Yoga was developed by martial arts expert Paulie Zink. This practice involves deep holds of asanas for long periods of time (anywhere from two to twenty minutes) in an effort to stretch the connective tissue of the body and increase flexibility and circulation as opposed to just working its muscles. Meditation and finding inner and outer stillness is an important part of Yin Yoga, making it a more restorative practice.

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