Yoga Styles for Every Body

 

No, you don’t have to be able to wrap your body into a pretzel shape to reap the benefits of Yoga. Yoga is for everyone! It’s much more than just flexibility—it’s about strength, stamina, concentration, stress reduction, toning the body and organs, increasing vitality, improving circulation and energy flow and more. It’s also deeply relaxing, fun, meditative, uplifting and teaches patience. After awhile, people will ask how you remain so calm in this stressful world!

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that refers to the integration of physical and mental exercises designed to unite body, mind and spirit. And although there are many styles of Yoga, most of the differences concern where the focus is kept: precise alignment of the body, holding of the postures, flow between the postures, breath and movement coordination or inner awareness and meditation. No style is better than another—try several–it’s all a matter of what appeals to you. And just as important as style is the relationship that develops between teacher and student.

Ananda Yoga is a type of gentle Hatha Yoga with an emphasis on meditation. It uses classic yoga postures combined with breathing and silent affirmations to attune oneself with higher levels of body, energy and silent inner awareness. Ananda Yoga is an inner-directed practice and will not appeal to those desiring a more athletic or aerobic experience.

Anusara Yoga is described as “following your heart” or “flowing with the Divine will.” It is a fairly new style of Yoga founded in 1997 that is spiritually inspiring yet based on deep knowledge of inner and outer alignment and balanced energetic actions. Each student’s abilities and limitations are deeply respected and honored, so this style would be fine for beginners.

Ashtanga Yoga has become quite popular in the U.S. It is physically demanding and constitutes what most would call a “serious workout.” Also called “Power Yoga,” Ashtanga uses a fast-paced series of flowing poses to build strength, flexibility and stamina. Preferred by many athletes, it is light on meditation; the room is usually heated to warm the muscles and increase flexibility. Too intense and demanding for beginners.

Bikram Yoga will make you sweat with room temperatures of 100 degrees. There are a series of 26 poses, performed in a specific order to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons. This is a very physically demanding style, the intensity is high and combined with the heated environment, it makes for a very tough workout. Recommended for yoga veterans and very fit individuals.

Hatha Yoga is the discipline on which nearly all yoga styles are based. In Sanskrit, Ha represents the sun and tha represents the moon, hence the yin and yang, light and dark, masculine and feminine aspects and polarities are brought into balance.

Iyengar Yoga is noted for precise alignment and symmetry of postures, the development of balance, and the use of props such as blocks, balls and belts. Poses are held longer than usual. It is based on an exceptional understanding of how the body works. Teachers must go through a rigorous, intense training of 2-5 years before being certified.

Kripalu Yoga emphasizes breathing and alignment, coordinating breath with movement. It takes the student through three stages beginning with the practice of postures, then holding the postures longer and developing concentration and inner awareness, and finally creating a meditation in motion where the movement from one posture to another happens unconsciously and spontaneously. Kripalu Yoga is also called the Yoga of Consciousness. Students are encouraged to honor “the wisdom of the body” and to work according to the limits of their flexibility and strength. Beginners can start with stage one.

Kundalini Yoga incorporates chanting (mantras), meditation, visualization, breathing and guided relaxation with precise postures. It is designed to activate the kundalini energy which runs the length of the spine and has been known to help with addictions and releasing endorphins in the body. Once a guarded secret in India, Kundalini Yoga was first brought to the west in 1969 when tradition was challenged and it began to be taught publicly. A powerful and unique style of yoga, it will not appeal to everyone.

Sivananda Yoga is one of the world’s largest schools of yoga. It follows a set structure incorporating the twelve sun salutation postures, and incorporates chanting, meditation and deep relaxation. Students are encouraged to embrace a healthy lifestyle with vegetarian diet, positive thinking and meditation. Supportive for beginners.

Viniyoga offers a slower more individualized form of yoga emphasizing gentle flow and coordinating breath with movement. Its flowing movement is similar to Ashtanga’s much more intense series of poses, but is performed at a much slower and less intense pace. It teaches the student how to apply the yoga tools of poses, chanting, breathing and meditation. Since postures are done with slightly bent knees, Viniyoga is considered excellent for beginners, seniors or those in chronic pain or healing from injury or disease. Function is stressed over form.

by Cynthia Chatfield

Cynthia Chatfield is a consultant and writer in the field of natural health. She is the former Vice-President of Educational Services at The National Foundation for Alternative Medicine and is currently collaborating on a report for cancer patients on cutting-edge mind-body healing research (see www.wisdomontheweb.com).

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