My one-year-old son is a born yogi. I watch him contort his chubby body into the most interesting poses with awe. Once we were all able to pull our toes up by our ears with complete ease. But then we aged, got injured, began carrying stress in our shoulders and back—in short, we lost our balance.
Considered to be the oldest physical discipline in existence, yoga is an ancient practice that symbolizes balance in every area of life. Originated in India many thousands of years ago and deriving its philosophy from Indian metaphysical beliefs, yoga focuses on harmony between mind, body, and spirit. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuk” which means “to bind, join, attach” as well as “union, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.” The ultimate aim of this philosophy is to strike a balance between mind and body and attain self-enlightenment. To achieve this, yoga uses movement, breath, posture, relaxation, and meditation in order to establish a healthy and balanced approach to life.
According lo Yoga Magazine, there are 72,000 nerve channels in our physiological structure that are also known as nadis. They are the conductors of our vital or psychic energy. The nerves of the nervous system carry sensory impulses to and from the brain to the body, but the nadis are the conductors of energy, vital and psychic, and this process, takes place on the psychic and subtle levels of personality, of which we have no awareness. Blocks are therefore created, impurities are accumulated in these channels, which hamper our growth of
the body, mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires and consciousness. The practices done in yoga are specifically designed to remove these blockages from the nadis so that the energy can flow unhampered.
There are six branches of yoga traditionally cited as approaches to the goal of self-realization. However, yoga is a comprehensive spiritual art that takes into account the varied needs of different individuals, and even the same individual at different times. Moreover, it is important to note that involvement in one of these paths does not exclude activity in any of the others. In fact, many of the paths naturally overlap.
Hatha yoga, the path of physical yoga or yoga of postures, is
the most popular branch. It uses poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation in order to bring the body in perfect health and for the more subtle spiritual elements of the mind to emerge freely. (Go to the sidebar, Untangling the Various Styles of Yoga, for more info.)
Meditation is the focal point of raja yoga. This approach involves strict adherence to the eight “limbs” of yoga as outlined by Patanajli in the Yoga Sutras.
The principle of karma yoga is that what we experience today
is created by our actions in the past.We practice karma yoga whenever we perform our work and live our lives in a selfless fashion and as a way to serve others.
Bhakti Yoga Seeing the divine in all of creation, bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel emotions. The path of bhakti provides us with an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone we come into contact with.
Jnana yoga requires development of the intellect through the study of the scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition. It involves serious study and will appeal to those who are more intellectually inclined.
Probably the most misunderstood or misinterpreted of all the yogas, tantra, the sixth branch, is the pathway of ritual, which includes consecrated sexuality. The key word here is “consecrated,” which means to make sacred. In tantric practice the Divine is experienced in everything.
Along with many other advantages, yoga has been used for healing disorders such as acid stomach, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, constipation, heart disorders, hypertension, insomnia, menstrual disorders, obesity, and a number of other diseases. The healing power of yoga is so great that it is being assessed for its potential in treating illness like sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and osteoporosis. Another example of its strength is that it can allow people to control a variety of body functions including blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and metabolic functions. Studies have proved that people who regularly practice yoga have reduced anxiety, are more resistant to stress, have lower blood pressure, and possess overall improved physical fitness.
As the world of medicine in the second millennium maps the human genome and unlocks the mysteries of cloning, most people in the 21st century are going back to the roots. Herbalists are becoming as ubiquitous as the local chemist as acupuncture and massage further establish themselves as healthy, viable alternatives to over the counter pharmaceuticals. The increasing popularity of yoga in recent years also bears witness to a massive shift in consciousness as people discover the healing power of one of the world’s oldest spiritual practices as a way of rediscovering their own body and self.
Untangling The Various Styles of Yoga
While all yoga styles seek to balance the body, mind, and spirit, they go about it in various ways. They may differ in how poses are done and where the attention is focused. Some use props, visualization, or chanting, while others crank up the temperature in the room and go for the sweat. No one style is better than another; it is simply a matter of personal preference. Here’s a quick look at the 13 most popular kinds of yoga rooted from the Hatha branch.
Ananda (emphasis on meditation)
Ananda yoga is a classic style that uses poses to awaken the subtle energies within oneself. Its objective is to use those energies to harmonize body, mind, and emotions, and above all to attune oneself with higher levels of awareness. One unique feature of this system is the use of silent affirmations while in the poses as a means of working more directly and consciously with the subtle energies. Ananda Yoga is a relatively gentle, inward experience developed by Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi).
Anusara (emphasis on the heart)
Anusara means “moving with the current of divine will,” “following your heart,” “flowing with grace.” A new style developed by John Friend in 1997, Anusara yoga is described as heart-oriented and spiritually inspiring, yet grounded in a deep knowledge of outer and inner body alignment. Each student’s various abilities and limitations are deeply respected and honored.
Ashtanga (emphasis on stamina)
For those who want a serious workout, Ashtanga yoga is the right choice. Developed by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga is physically demanding. Participants move through a series of flows, jumping from one posture to another to build strength, flexibility, and stamina. Certainly not for beginners or anyone who has been taking a leisurely approach to fitness, Ashtanga is power yoga.
Bikram (emphasis on heat)
Bikram Choudhury’s yoga is hot, hot, hot, so be prepared to sweat. In class, they crank the thermostat up high— anywhere from 85 degrees to 100 degrees—then perform a series of 26 poses designed to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons. Founder Bikram Choudhury studied yoga with Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda.
Integral (emphasis on relaxation)
Developed by Swami Satchidananda, the man who taught the crowds at the original Woodstock to chant “Ohm,” Integral classes put almost as much emphasis on controlling the breath and meditation as they do on postures. Integral yoga is used by Dr. Dean Ornish in his groundbreaking work on reversing heart disease.
Iyengar (emphasis on symmetry & alignment)
B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the best-known yoga teachers and the creator of one of the most popular styles of yoga in the world. His style of yoga is noted for great attention to detail and the precise alignment of postures, as well as the use of props such as blocks and belts. No doubt part of Iyengar’s success is due to the quality of teachers, who must complete a rigorous 2–5 year training program for certification.
Kali Ray TriYoga (emphasis on endurance)
Kali Ray TriYoga, founded by Kali Ray, brings posture, breath and focus together to create dynamic and intuitive flows. The Tri Yoga flows combine flowing and sustained postures that emphasize spinal wavelike movements, economy of motion, and synchronization with breath. The flows are systematized by level and can be as gentle or as challenging as desired. Students may progress from basic to advanced as they increase their flexibility, strength, endurance and knowledge of the flows.
Kripalu (emphasis on consciousness)
Called the yoga of consciousness, Kripalu puts great emphasis on proper alignment and the coordination of breath and movement. Students learn to focus on the physical and psychological reactions caused by various postures to develop their awareness of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. There are three stages in Kripalu yoga: stage one focuses on learning the postures and exploring the body’s abilities; stage two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness; stage three is like a meditation in motion in which the movement from one posture to another arises unconsciously and spontaneously.
Kundalini (emphasis on energy)
Kundalini yoga, in the tradition of Yogi Bhajan (who brought the style to the West in 1969) focuses on the controlled release of Kundalini energy, which is stored at the base of the spine. Kundalini mixes chanting, breathing practices, and yoga exercises. The emphasis is not on poses, but rather on chanting and breathing. Kundalini should always be taught by a teacher who practices and understands this practice.
Sivananda (emphasis on healthy lifestyle)
Sivananda is one of the world’s largest schools of yoga. Developed by Vishnu-devananda and named for his teacher, Sivananda yoga follows a set structure that includes classic poses and relaxation. Teachers encourage students to embrace a healthy lifestyle that includes a vegetarian diet and positive thinking with meditation. Vishnu-devananda wrote one of the contemporary yoga classics, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. First published in 1960, the book is still one of the best introductions to yoga available.
Svaroopa Yoga (emphasis on inner experience)
Developed by Rama Berch, Svaroopa Yoga teaches significantly different ways of doing familiar poses, emphasizing the opening of the spine by beginning at the tailbone and progressing through each spinal area. Every pose emphasizes the development of transcendent inner experience, which is called svaroopa. This is a yoga that also promotes healing and transformation. Svaroopa is not an athletic endeavor, but a development of consciousness using the body as a tool.
Tantra (emphasis on sensual spirituality)
Perhaps the most misunderstood yoga style, tantra is not about sexual indulgence. Rather, it is about discovering and stimulating sensual spirituality. This yoga works with the highly charged kundalini energy and, therefore, should always be guided by a teacher. Tantra teaches practitioners how to use this energy for sexual pleasure, for bringing joy and wholeness to everyday life, and for aiding in spiritual evolution. Tantra yoga includes visualization, chanting, asana, and strong breathing practices.
Viniyoga (emphasis on the breath)
Viniyoga is not so much a style as it is a methodology for developing practices for individual conditions and purposes. This is the approach developed by Sri. T. Krishnamacharya, teacher of well-known contemporary masters B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, and continued by his son, T.K.V. Desikachar. Key characteristics of the practice are the careful integration of the flow of breath with movement of the spine—function is stressed over form.
Enhancing the Yoga Practice
Millions of Americans practice yoga to cope with stress, feel energized, release tension, achieve a healthier and fitter body, and gain a deeper sense of self-knowledge. There are multiple styles of yoga and a variety of props are recommended. Enhancing the yoga experience in different but delightful ways, the following companies offer products that boost the ancient art’s balancing force.
Inner Peace Music
For over 30 years, Steven Halpern has recorded the #1 music for yoga, relaxation and healing. Halpern’s music is inspired by his own 35 year yoga practice. The awareness of a deep yogic breath in his music is one of the unique qualities that practitioners appreciate. As Master teacher Lilias Folan states, “Steven’s music instantly eases you into a deeply relaxed state in which the postures flow effortlessly. The sense of deep peace encoded into Steven’s music resonates with the spiritual center of each listener. His music activates ‘the relaxation response’ just playing in the background, in class or at home. This helps calm the mind, relax the muscles and deepen the breath. It is noticeably easier to stretch into and hold each asana.For more information, email email@example.com or call 888-765-9697.
Malimba Records’ music evokes harmony, balance and rhythm in people’s lives and work environments. The cross-cultural richness of their recording artists infuses the music with a variety of world flavors (particularly from India) and a unique
sound. Since the beginning in 1998, Malimba’s music has been widely recognized for its healing qualities, bringing them several music awards in the music for meditation categories.
All the artists on Malimba’s catalog have been seekers on a path of self-discovery for many years, bringing them to explore different meditations and healing techniques and experience, in first person, a sense of peace and harmony within themselves. It is from this inner sense of balance and richness that their music overflows. That is why they are able to transmit those healing and soothing qualities through their music. Peace, joy, harmony, balance and a sense of sacredness, are the very qualities music must have in order to be of support and inspiration for any yoga practice. For more
information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 808-878-3576.
Pevonia Botanica’s philosophy synergistically unites science and nature to deliver outstanding results to all ethnic backgrounds via holistic and natural products. Pevonia continuously reinvents itself to meet and exceed global consumer demands, while leading the way to elevate the progression of the spa industry. Spalasium by Pevonia is a collection of spa ambiance products that enhance the practice of Yoga by adding harmony and balance via holistic aromatherapy to the yoga environment. Aromatic candles, aroma-therapeutic bath salts, natural olive oil based soaps, holistic Vital-I-Tea, replenishing shampoo, repairing conditioner, stress away shower gel and softening indulgence moisturizer help you unwind, energize, reconnect and fuses with the purpose of Yoga.
Sabai Mineral Therapy by Pevonia promotes rejuvenation and well-being, complementing the philosophy of the mind-body connection of Yoga. As you completely unwind, tension, fatigue and pain fade, while blood circulation and oxygenation are increased, lymphatic circulation is boosted, toxins are eliminated, and the skin and body are rejuvenated, similar to the benefits of Yoga.For more
information, email email@example.com or call 808-PEVONIA.
Relying on the superior load bearing characteristics of aerospace honeycomb in a soft, flexible form, Supracor’s Stimulite® Yoga Mat provides unparalleled comfort. The honeycomb cells grip the floor while the encapsulated air pockets uniformly support weight and prevent slippage. The cells’ flexing action provides exceptional stability, enabling the practitioner to comfortably sustain postures while stimulating blood flow to fingers and toes. Unlike conventional “sticky” mats, the Stimulite Yoga Mat is non-porous and non-toxic. Made from the same advanced, medical-grade material used in wound dressings, it’s naturally antifungal and antibacterial; just wipe with water. Available in gray or black, the mat comes with a convenient tote strap that can be used for stretching.
Supracor is the originator of fusion-bonded honeycomb technology, a flexible form of aerospace honeycomb utilized in products that promote the health and safety of people and animals. Initially applied to wheelchair cushions and hospital mattresses for pressure sore prevention, Supracor’s Stimulite Honeycomb is the basis of a revolutionary line of personal care products that are clean, safe and uniquely comfortable. Supracor’s products are exclusively made in California’s Silicon Valley from American-made, recyclable materials. For more
information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-787-7226.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen Kim is the Editor of the Healing Arts Guide. In addition to her work for the Guide, her articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Spa Finder Magazine, The Village Voice, and Glamour Magazine.