Yoga has a history of 5000 years and is still widely practiced today. Aside from developing strength, balance and flexibility, it is also proven to provide plenty of physical and mental benefits from building a healthy body and healing certain diseases to reducing stress and sharpening the memory. Over the years there had been many changes to the traditional yoga practices and blending it with other exercise routines. Thus there are more than 100 types of yoga to choose from. To understand yoga better, it is important to know its origin and beginnings. Early yogis pass their teachings orally that through the years it has created many nuances and uncertainties. The long history of yoga can be divided into four periods.
Pre-Classical Yoga is believed to have been first developed 5000 years ago by the Indo-Saravasti civilization in the river valleys of Bharatvarsha, presently eastern Pakistan and northeast India. Yoga has been first mentioned in the old sacred texts of the Rig Veda which is a collection of songs, mantras and rituals used by the Vedic priests or Brahmans and Rishis or mystic seers who developed and refined yoga, documenting their practices and beliefs. The most well-known Yogic scripture is the Bhagavad-Gita composed around 500 B.C.E.
Many years after yoga was first introduced, Patanjali presented a systematic definition through the Yoga Sutras which was created around 200 B.C.E. The text describes “the eight limb path” towards Samadhi or enlightenment. This strongly influenced most styles of modern yoga.
Post-classical yoga is quite different from the pre-classical and classical styles. Unlike the previous periods of yoga where it strives to liberate a person from himself or herself, this period teaches a person to accept reality and live in the moment. Yoga masters then focused more on the physical attributes of yoga and designed a system that helps rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They developed the Tantra Yoga and later on created the hatha yoga.
Modern yoga was then introduced to the west by late 1800s and early 1900s where it was first studied as part of Eastern Philosophy. By the 1920s and 1930s, Hatha yoga was strongly popularized by yogis who practiced it like T. Krishnamacharya, who established the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924, and Swami Sivananda, who founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River in 1936.
Sivananda authored over 200 books on yoga and philosophy and established nice ashrams and numerous yoga centers around the world. His most prominent work is his modified five principles of yoga which include proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and positive thinking and meditation
In 1947, Indira Devi opened a yoga studio in Hollywood. Since then, yoga has been hugely popularized. Hatha Yoga now has different schools or styles. Traditionally, there are four paths or schools of yoga. It can be practiced exclusively as one of the four or as combination of different paths.
Bahkti Yoga is known as the yoga of love and devotion. It is practiced with the understanding that all actions are done in remembrance of the Divine. Karma Yoga is known as the yoga of action or service. It revolves around the principle that what we experience in the present is a result of our actions from the past. It is practiced when we do selfless actions as a way to serve others. Jnana Yoga is known as the yoga of knowledge and discernment. It teaches the idea of knowing oneself on all levels through a process of contemplation and introspection. People who are more intellectually inclined appeal to this path of yoga. And Raja Yoga is systematized as the Eight limbs in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. People who are introspective and are drawn to meditation prefer this type of yoga.
Today, yoga has become more accessible and available in different styles. Anusara was first introduced by John Friend in 1997. It is a purist form of yoga based on the belief that we are filled with an intrinsic goodness. It uses yoga positions to guide students to open their hearts and express themselves to their fullest ability. Ashtanga is a more dynamic type of yoga which involves the synchronization of breath and specific sequence of postures. It helps improve blood circulation, build core strength and tones the body as well as calm the mind.
Hatha is the most widely known and probably the most common form of yoga practiced today. It involves basic movements focusing on breathing, holding a pose and quieting the mind. It is best for beginners who want to learn the basics of yoga. This type of yoga help relieve stress, provide physical exercise and improves breathing.
Hot or Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 challenging poses ideally practiced in a 40˚C (104˚F) with 40% humidity. It helps flush out toxins and speeds up recovery from injuries and enhances flexibility. It is good for beginners and advance yogis who want to burn more calories. It is advisable to be well hydrated when practicing bikram yoga.
Iyengar uses different props like straps, blanket, blocks and chairs that help the proper alignment of the body. It helps improve balance and builds up body strength. Aside from beginners, it is also preferred by people with injuries, balance issues and arthritis.
Vinyasa or Power Yoga is a dynamic type of yoga which involves a series of poses that flows smoothly in breath-synchronized movements. Most classes don’t hold poses long and has a quick pace that raises the heart rate. It is good for beginners who are used to exercising, HIIT lovers and intense exercisers because of its faster pace. It helps improve strength and flexibility, and has a calming effect. It usually starts with the sun salutations done in succession including the mountain pose, the raised hand pose, the standing forward bend, and the downward facing dog.
Kripalu is a gentle hatha yoga practice with an emphasis on adaptability and acceptance. It is a three-part practice which begins in understanding how the body works in different poses then slowly advances to holding postures for a prolonged period and meditation. It is a tool for self-empowerment and personal growth. It can help people who are going through a rough time in their lives and people who are physically challenged or injured, by establishing an intimate and nurturing relationship with the body.
Kundalini is more spiritual and philosophical in approach compared to other styles of yoga. It involves constant moving and energizing poses. Classes include meditation and breathing techniques like the alternate nostril breathing, chanting and yoga postures. In kundalini, it is believed that there is a stored energy at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened and kundalini is the practice that aims to do that.
Restorative yoga focuses more on relaxation. It is all about healing and quieting the mind and body through simple four or five poses held as long as 20 minutes with blankets, pillows, bolsters or any props that will help deepen the relaxation.
Sivananda was founded by Swami Sivananda. It is an unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same 12 basic asanas including the headstand, shoulder stand, plow, fish, seated forward bend, cobra, locust, bow, seated spinal twist and crow or peacock. The session ends with the Savasana or the corpse pose.
These are just examples of the different styles of yoga to choose from. Choosing what’s best for you varies on your needs and your personality. There are many factors to consider such as the level of experience, level of fitness and what you want to gain from the practice.