There are several styles of hatha yoga, many of these have specific characteristics which reflect a particular teacher's approach to asanas; others reflect the characteristics or teachings of a particular organization. Like individuals, styles or schools of hatha yoga have their own personalities and approaches to practicing asanas. What distinguishes the different styles is what is emphasized, be it posture, breath, aerobics, dance, slow and rhythmic movements, philosophy or a combination of many factors. Although the basic asanas and breathing exercises remain the same, how they are done, in what order, and where attention is focused while doing them constitute the main differences among the many schools. Regardless of your age or fitness level, you can find a style that will appeal to you and be most appropriate for your particular body or personality type.
This method combines the physical and spiritual. The purpose of Ananda yoga is to clear and energize the system in preparation for meditation. Each posture is viewed as a way to expand, or heighten, self awareness. This process is enhanced through the use of affirmation, a distinctive feature of this system. Ananda yoga also teaches a series of poses called "energenization exercises". These exercises involve tensing and relaxing different parts of the body, coupled with breathing exercises to send energy to them. Another characteristic of this technique is the emphasis it places on deeply relaxing into poses, keeping in mind that hatha yoga is a preparation for meditation.
The Ashtanga yoga system is a rigorous practice comparable to the training of an elite athlete. Consisting of specific postures done in six successive series linked by the breath, Ashtanga yoga represents the most intensive form of hatha yoga. The purpose of this continual flow of action is to create heat which produces a cleansing or detoxifying effect on the body. Ashtanga places equal emphasis on strength, flexibility and stamina. Many fitness enthusiasts who thrive on intense workouts like this style. This style is often called "Power Yoga".
Integral yoga combines all the paths of yoga - asana (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), selfless service, prayer, chanting, meditation and self-inquiry - into one approach. It emphasizes a more meditative rather than anatomical approach. Practicers of this style of yoga are encouraged to be "easeful in body, peaceful in mind and useful in life". Integral yoga classes follow a set pattern and are 75 minutes in length. This includes 45 minutes of asanas, a deep relaxation, a breathing sequence and ends with a meditation. Although challenging, the feeling of the class is gentle and meditative and reflects a traditional approach that benefits all aspects of the individual.
Iyengar yoga is probably the most widely recognized hatha yoga technique in the Western world. Iyengar yoga is practiced in a manner prescribed by yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar. It is regarded mostly for its rigorous scientific and therapeutic approach, concentrating on correcting structural imbalances in the physical body. Iyengar teachers pay particularly close attention to the placement of the feet, hands and pelvis, as well as to the alignment of the spine, arms and legs. Because of this attention to detail, the pace of an Iyengar class tends to be slow to moderate. Classes typically focus in great detail on only a few asanas so as to refine movements. Standing postures are emphasized and, although you will be reminded to breathe, specific breathing techniques are not emphasized as much in this style of yoga as in some of the other styles. Iyengar-style yoga also relies a lot on props - wood blocks, benches, sandbags, blankets, bolsters and straps as a support system to achieve greater symmetry and extension in the posture.
Less concerned with the structural detail of the postures, Kripalu yoga has been described as "meditation in motion." It emphasizes the student's mental and emotional states as the poses are held, while encouraging a gentle, compassionate and introspective approach. Postures are held for a long time so as to explore and release emotional and spiritual blocks. This inner-directed form of hatha yoga consists of 3 stages: willful practice, will and surrender, and finally, surrendering to the body's wisdom. Within each of the 3 stages, poses are offered in different intensities: gentle, moderate, and vigorous. In addition, spontaneous postures and sequences of postures are encouraged, guided by the body's internal awareness.
Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice designed to bring forth the "Kundalini", or reservoir of energy, stored at the base of the spine. Through the use of breath, posture, chanting and meditation, this energy is stimulated and consciously directed through the chakras or energy centers along the spine. Several breathing techniques are emphasized - alternate nostril breathing; slow, diaphragmatic breathing and a dynamic technique called breath of fire.
Sivananda yoga incorporates a five-point method of practice, which includes proper exercise, breathing, deep relaxation, vegetarian diet, positive thinking and meditation. Following a standard format, Sivananda hatha yoga classes are based on a routine of breathing exercises, sun salutations, a series of 12 classic yoga postures and relaxation. A short mantra chant and prayers begin and end each class.
The method of Viniyoga represents a kind of middle path between the exactness of Iyengar yoga and the physically demanding Ashtanga yoga. It is based on the principle of vinyasa krama, which means "an organized course of yoga study," and combines asana, pranayama, meditation, text study, counseling, imagery, prayer, chanting, and ritual. Yoga postures are tailored to the physical needs and limitations of each student, taking into account body type, emotional needs, cultural heritage, and interest. Emphasis is on the spine, and breath is considered more important than how the posture is done. Breath and movement are consciously coordinated and the inhalations and exhalations are articulated in varying lengths and ratios. Typically, classes are private one-on-one sessions.
Choudhury yoga classes consist of a two-part series of 26 repeating postures with 2 pranayama exercises that are designed to stretch and tone the whole body. Most poses are done twice and held for a minimum of 10 seconds in a room with temperatures of 80 degrees or higher, often supplemented by moist air from a humidifier. Class concludes with a brief period of relaxation. An excellent routine for those already fit; it is not so easy for the beginner.
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