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Many people, when they think of Yoga, they imagine something like:
…others might think of:
Before elaborating a little on some of the various types of Yoga out there, let us begin by shortly outlining what Yoga is.
Yoga is Sanskrit for ‘divine union’. Its origins trace back to about 5,000 years ago in India. Traditionally it started off as a private practice involving a sacred bond between a student and his guru. This relationship is called guru-shishya paramparya.
Generally, people relate Yoga to the physical performance of postures, or asanas. However, asanas only comprise one of the 8 components of the complete system of Yoga - also known as Ashtanga, meaning: ‘the eight limbs of Yoga’. In total, the components are: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
While Yoga is both a scientific system and lifestyle that enriches people’s well-being, there also seems to be something more to this philosophy that keeps it alive. Now practiced en masse anno 2016, Yoga is becoming more popular than ever, taking on many different forms.
The most valuable knowledge in Yoga comes from personal experience and practice. Given the subjective nature of human experience, a variety of Yoga styles has bubbled up throughout the course of history to suit different types, preferences, and needs.
Ultimately, all the types of Yoga aim towards Samadhi (self-realisation). There are different types or levels of ‘samadhis’ and different ways to get there. There is a saying that there are now as many Yoga paths as there are students to walk them. Which is great because it means there is a type of Yoga for everyone.
TYPES OF YOGA
There are several lineages and traditions of Yoga, among others: Raja, Hatha, Kundalini, and Nidra. A variety of styles such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Anusara, Iyengar, Bikram, Jivamukti, Virayoga, Ananda, Integral, Kripalu, Power, Prana, Sivananda, and more have branched off from Hatha Yoga throughout the years with some adaptations and different approaches to the practice.
There is Restorative Yoga, spiritually-oriented Yoga (adding meditation to asana practice and emphasizing Yoga philosophy, chanting, mantras), Flow Yoga (typically more physically dynamic), Alignment-oriented Yoga (focus on precise bodily posture, eg. Iyengar), Fitness Yoga (focus on the physical dimension), Hot Yoga classes (heated rooms, eg. Bikram).
To describe a few:
Raja Yoga - One of the oldest. Consider this a ‘Yoga of the mind’. It emerged long before the physical practice of Yoga! It also has to do with practicing Yoga as a goal in itself as well as to achieve goals.
Hatha Yoga - Focused on physical practice, energy, and balance: Ha(moon) Tha (Sun). Traces 2,000 years ago based on Patanjali’s sutras. Hatha Yoga is an umbrella of: Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Anusara, Iyengar, Yin, Yang, Bikram, Sivananda.
At Agama we practice Hatha in Levels 1 through to 14 (then we move on to the kundalini program). There are many Yoga schools in Srithanu offering styles that branch off from Hatha, definitely fun to explore!
Kundalini Yoga - Kundalini Shakti is considered to be the ‘fundamental force of your being’, coiled up in Muladhara chakra. This concept is misunderstood, and that is totally understandable as it is mind blowing! It’s practiced at Agama levels 15-24, I’m now still on 13 but have experienced a taste of it in the Serpent Power Retreat.
Nidra Yoga - Yoga of sleep. Imagine entering your dreams in a conscious way. It’s what we more commonly know as lucid dreaming. By the way, you can experience guided Yogi Siestas at the Agama Healing Center.
Karma Yoga – Primarily based on the Bhagavad Gita, which presents the Yoga of selfless action. The Bhagavad Gita is an epic piece of literature that embodies a building block of Yoga. It elaborates on (the concept of) Karma Yoga, whereby practitioners detach from the fruits, merits, and results of their actions, consecrating these to the Divine Consciousness.
The idea of selfless-service is rooted in the idea that we as humans need to break out of the chains of karma in order to obtain spiritual liberation. It’s possible to practice Karma Yoga at Agama, but if you get the point then technically you could make any act an act of Karma Yoga. It’s very beautiful really.
Tantra Yoga – probably the widest of ‘branches’ and the most misunderstood due to the immense amount of elements it includes. It’s like a web of everything weaving the Universe together!
This type of Yoga is traditionally characterised by the guru-shishya paramparya mentioned in the beginning of this little article, and is based on the tantras as passed on from guru to guru, and from guru to disciple.
I need to mention the apparent ‘split’ here between Tantric and Vedantic Yoga. Tantrics see the Universe as real and that we can live in ways that bring us in resonance with the beneficial energies of the Universe, while Vedantics perceive that all material world is an illusion as it is impermanent, unlike the Absolute (Consciousness) which is all prevailing. However, it’s not so black and white, as for example many tantric yogis study vedic texts.
Mantra Yoga- Chanting mantras (related to Bhakti Yoga: Yoga of Devotion)
Laya Yoga- Internal meditation ‘chanting’ mantras, creating a ‘merging’ effect.
The list goes on, and is ever-expanding as new styles of Yoga continue to emerge today, mostly branching off from Hatha Yoga and adding modern elements or mixing styles. A great example of this is Acro Yoga: a combination of Acrobatics, Yoga and Thai massage - quite popular among yogis here on Koh Phangan. Sophia La Pastina is a great teacher and currently on the island!
MY YOGA JOURNEY
I personally started off exploring various styles back in 2007. I spent a couple of months practicing Vinyasa Flow. I then discovered the playful practice of AcroYoga (a mixture of acrobatics, Yoga & Thai Massage) which is to be practiced in groups, or at least with a partner. I was amazed at how this practice integrates concepts of trust, playfulness, concentration, strength and community. I didn’t quite make the effort to make it a daily practice though, as I found it difficult to find people in my area at the time who were practicing this style. So I continued my search, and then fell in love with Anusara Yoga, which focuses on strength and heart-opening postures, based on the premise that all human beings are inherently good- beings of Love & Light.
Later I started practised Ashtanga Yoga for a few months. At a certain point, I was pushing myself too hard, and felt the pressure to perform the asanas was building up within myself in unhealthy ways. I was struggling with my approach to the practice. At this point, I wasn’t particularly searching for a new style anymore, I decided I was happy to practice several types, and had some underlying idea that ‘my perfect type of Yoga’ would naturally come on my path in the right time.
A few months later I came to Agama’s First Level Intensive Course in Thailand, Koh Phangan. Three years later, I am still practising the Agama Yoga style. The more Yoga you do the more everything you do becomes ‘union’, you start to harmonise yourself with your environment. I also still like practicing other styles once in awhile, a few weeks ago I went to a great Jivamukti Yoga class at Gaia Yoga (that type of Yoga is in summary about self-liberation).
You don’t always even need to be on your mat to do Yoga. The real Yoga really starts when you get off your mat and out there into the world, testing how ‘shanti’ you can be. You could be driving your scooter and doing Yoga by practicing awareness, observance, focus of mind, balance of body. Many things we train on the mat come in valuable in daily life, like perseverance, strength, and our ability to cope with stress and what we perceive as our limitations.
YOGA FOR EVERYBODY
There is a type of Yoga for everyone. There’s no such thing as ‘I’m not flexible’.
…of course, even if you start by going to Yoga to become more flexible, you will only discover this through your own experience that it goes much deeper. It’s like it keeps surprising you. Well, it at least keeps surprising me! It’s a really good way to get to know yourself better, to become friends with yourself, and work to become your greatest version. Of course, you don’t actually need this to be Yoga, there could be other methods. But it works for me. And millions of other people.
People practice Yoga for health, calmness, to cultivate awareness/consciousness/mindfulness, stress relief, pain relief, for better breathing, more flexibility, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, presence, inner peace, wellness, mental clarity, vitality, healing, peace of mind, mental growth.
Some people do Yoga to find peace, others welcome it in their life for Healing purposes, others for spiritual purposes, others do it out of curiosity and some want to follow the hip lifestyle trend. Regardless of why people start practicing Yoga and the reasons that keep them involved, the practice itself typically opens a door to something bigger than expected, something larger than meets the eye. They enter into a realm of possibilities beyond anything they could ever imagine.
The worldwide Yoga trend has been growing fast ever since it was introduced in the West in the 1970’s. Today, you will likely find a Yoga studio in any city you go to, and hundreds in the big world cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boulder, San Francisco, London, Paris, Sydney, Bangkok, and Amsterdam to name a few.
People from various ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles and religions are currently studying Yoga and the philosophy behind practice continues to provide support in redefining spirituality in the West. Yoga is uniting people worldwide. Yoga is awesome.
Thanks for tuning into the Yoga Corner !