Throughout recent years, there has been an increased public interest in the art of yoga.  Although the origins of yoga date back over 5,000 years ago, it has gone from a recreational hobby practiced by a select group of individuals to a mainstream activity enjoyed by people all over the world.

Yoga can be difficult to articulate to people not familiar with the pastime, but it is an activity that is both mentally engaging and sometimes physically stimulating.  Several people even swear by yoga as their main form of daily exercise.

There are several different types of yoga each varying in their methodologies and practices.  This guide will help eliminate some of the confusion and allow you to make an informed decision about which form is right for you.

The types of yoga we will be diving deeper into include the following:

  • Ashtanga Yoga
  • Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga
  • Raja Yoga

Keep in mind that yoga is a potentially strenuous hobby/exercise and should only be practiced by individuals without health complications.

Ashtanga Yoga and Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

Also known as Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga is the traditional variation of yoga that was created by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from South India (1915-2009).  During this variation of yoga, the focus is on uniting breath with movement and meditation.  As you practice this type of yoga, it is said that physical and mental issues dissipate as you reach a higher state of being.

This type of yoga is seen as an athletic form of yoga that uses six levels of yoga each containing a fixed order of poses.  You advance through each one as you can experience and practice.

  • Primary series: Yoga Chikitsa
  • Intermediate series: Nadi Shodana
  • Advanced series: Levels 3 through 6

Each level gets progressively more demanding as you increase in difficulty.  Many people that practice Ashtanga Yoga never reach the advanced levels due to the flexibility and mental strength that is required.

The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga are said to be a clearer mental state, a stronger body, and greater flexibility.  It is also said to have positive cardiovascular side effects such as better circulation and detoxification of the body.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga is a variation of yoga that was first introduced by an instructor named Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s.

One of the main points that separate it from other forms of yoga is the fact that it is practiced within a hot and humid studio.  This is why this type of yoga is also referred to as Hot Yoga.  The studio is generally set to 105 degrees for the duration of the session.  The other unique trait of Bikram Yoga is the fact that the poses practiced are the same each and every session.

There are 26 poses practiced within every Bikram Yoga studio and they are said to work every portion of the body both internally and externally.  The result is better physical health free of ailments and alleviation of injuries.  It also helps to improve mental health as well

Although some may find the repetition of the same 26 poses redundant over time, other people enjoy the fact that postures can be mastered through time.  Eventually, you may be able to reach levels of near perfection.

Some recommendations for practicing Bikram Yoga include:

  • Do not eat for 2-3 hours before class;
  • Drink plenty of water beforehand as you will be sweating a great deal. It is commonly referred to as Hot Yoga for a reason;
  • Avoid caffeine and processed foods; and
  • Wear comfortable clothing that allows free movement not constriction.

Benefits to Bikram Yoga include improved strength, enhanced flexibility, and lower body fat percentages.  Although Bikram Yoga has a lot of positive side effects, be careful practicing it if you have a history of heart disease or other underlying physical conditions.  Being in a hot sweaty studio for prolonged periods of time can be dangerous if other health issues are present.

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga is the variety of yoga that seeks to unite the mind with the body and spirit.  Raja Yoga is mentally challenging as it focuses upon reaching the state of enlightenment.  Known as the classical yoga, Raja Yoga combines several different types of yoga focusing on the act of meditation.

With its emphasis on mental and spiritual development, Raja Yoga emphasizes becoming a hero of mind training.  Like some other forms of Yoga it is based upon eight limbs to reach self-mastery including:

  • Yama (moral codes)
  • Niyama (self-purification and study)
  • Asana (posture)
  • Pranayama (breath control)
  • Pratyahara (sense control)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (mediation)
  • Samadhi (absorption in the Universe)

Each of these eight limbs is similar to commandments that should be followed spiritually.  Yama focuses on being peaceful, avoiding violence, deceit, theft, sexual misconduct, and greed.  Niyama encourages being clean, content, and devoted to a higher power.  Essentially these two limbs are guidelines that should be lived by.

The limb of Asana means “posture” and aiming for keeping the body still and focused upon reaching a higher meditative state.  Pranayama means breathing and attempts to harness the body’s energy into breath control so that energy is flowing inwards instead of outwards.

Pratyahara means learning to control the body’s energy using concentration methods seeking to eliminate outside distractions.  Dharana means achieving inner awareness and being able to control your body internally.  Without reaching this step, you cannot reach full self-awareness.

Dhyana is defined as absorption through meditation.  As this step is reached the minds are no longer fed by the ego.  The last remaining limb is Samadhi which is defined as reaching “oneness.”  Once inner awareness is reached, people discover a certain sense of enlightenment and reach the highest level of consciousness.

Conclusion

Each type of yoga has similar goals of reaching maximum physical and mental fulfillment.  By eliminating outside distractions and freeing the mind from outside challenges and ailments a person may be able to reach true enlightenment.

Some forms of yoga use the body as a tool while others are strictly focused on the mental state.  Understanding the differences between variations of yoga will allow you to choose which one is right for you.

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