Yoga: What’s the Best Style for You?
In our stress-filled modern world, helping to lower stress levels is one of the best ways to help keep our immune system strong and to aid recovery when ill. Some studies indicate that yoga can help alleviate particular conditions such as osteoarthritis and depression. The health benefits of yoga have been known for many centuries, but what isn’t quite so commonly known is just how many varieties of yoga there are.
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word yuj, often translated as union, and the practice of yoga strives to unite mind, body and spirit. Most yoga practiced in the west is focused primarily on the physical. If there is a particular problem with a part of your body, there’s a yoga practice to help address it.
There are stretches to help improve flexibility in the neck and spine, to combat the tension from sitting hunched over a computer or car steering wheel for hours, to strengthen leg and arm muscles, and to help improve your breathing and heart rate.
Many people start with hatha yoga, which originated in India in the 15th century. This style of yoga is very holistic and physically focused, combining physical postures known as asana, purification processes such as diet, poses (mudra), breathing (pranyama) and meditation. In practice, most hatha yoga classes focus on postures and breathing, with a relatively small amount of mudra and meditation.
For those who like to stretch and challenge their muscles, iyengar yoga is a good choice. In this variant of hatha yoga, straps, blankets and blocks are used to challenge the body. Asanas form the centre of this style. Standing poses are emphasized, and postures are often held for minutes. The props help the body develop and strengthen gradually.
Asthtagna or Power Yoga
Ashtanga or power yoga is a good choice if you’re already fit and athletic, helping to maintain strength and stamina. Typical exercises include lunges and push-ups, with high energy expenditure. It’s a more challenging and physical approach than that found in iyengar, so a good option if you want to lose weight.
Bikram yoga, sometimes described as hot yoga, is an excellent option if aerobics aren’t for you but you want to feel as if you’ve completed an energetic work out. This variety of yoga is practised in a warm room, allowing you to stretch your muscles that little bit further, although it is not recommended for anyone with cardiovascular issues.
Vini yoga is one of the gentlest varieties of yoga, and particularly suitable if you may have had slight back or neck problems. This style emphasises breathing techniques and flowing movements, with the breath used to support the movement sequences. Regular practice of this type of yoga will see gradual and sustained weight loss.
Raja yoga will appeal if you’d like to get in touch with your spiritual side. In raja yoga, the focus is on the life force or prana itself, and directing it to the spine and the point in the center of the lower forehead known as the ajna, or third eye. This style is often reported as bringing about a strong sense of emotional and mental well-being.
Other more spiritually orientated styles include mantra yoga, which focuses on chanting the Om and other sacred sounds, and bhakti yoga, which aims at union with the divine. Whatever your lifestyle and personality, there will be a variety of yoga that’s right for you.