Monday, November 16, 2015

Understanding Different Styles of Yoga

By Janine L. Agoglia

I believe that Yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, sex, physical ability or body type. That being said, not all styles of Yoga are good for all people, and that is why there is such a variety in offerings. It can get confusing, so in this post I would like to try to shed some light on some of the common styles of asana (the physical practice of yoga) so that you have a sense of what you are getting into when you enter a class. This will be general characteristics of each style, each teacher has their own particular "flavor" that they add to their classes.

Vinyasa (also called Flow Yoga)-- This is a flow style of yoga that uses the breath to move from one pose into the next. This style is somewhat based on Ashtanga Yoga (created by K. Pattabhi Jois, literally meaning "Eight-Limbed Yoga"), which is 6 set series of progressive poses that flow from one into the next. Most well known is the Primary Series, with only very advanced, experienced practitioners moving on to the other series. Unlike Ashtanga, Vinyasa practices can vary from class to class and instructor to instructor. There are many common poses in each class (Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Chaturanga, Plank, warrior poses, etc.) but each class will be a bit different, with a different focus each time. Using Ujjayi Breath (Victorious Breath)-- a special kind of pranayama/breathwork-- to fuel the practice, it creates a meditative quality to this dynamic asana style, with a good balance of strengthening, stretching and calming of the mind.

Power-- This is often a flow class, but not necessarily. The focus is typically on strengthening over stretching, holding poses for long periods, and challenging both the body and the mind. Many Vinyasa classes are also Power classes, but it is not a hard and fast rule.

Kripalu-- Like most yoga styles and traditions, Kripalu Yoga uses classic asanas or poses (though not a particular set or routine), pranayama (yogic breathwork for both invigorating and energizing the body as well as for cooling the body down and balancing the nervous system as preparation for deep relaxation or meditation), development of a quiet mind, and the art and practice of relaxation. What defines Kripalu Yoga is its emphasis on following the flow of prana (life-force energy), practicing true compassionate self-acceptance, developing witness consciousness (observing the activity of the mind without judgment), and taking what is learned "on the yoga mat" about being with one's experience with non-judgmental awareness, “off the mat” into one's daily life with family, in work, in relationships and with ones own experience.

Iyengar-- This is a style of asana practice based on the work of B.K.S. Iyengar. It features very detailed alignment work, very long holds in the poses  and the use of props to further support everyone's body in any particular pose. Each person will strive toward the ideal alignment in their body, even if their practice, visually, looks very different from someone else's.  Their internal experience will be the same. Asana and pranayama are different practices in this style, but are equally important.

Anusara--This style of yoga was created by John Friend and is based in the Iyengar alignment principles, but is infused with heart centered spirituality as well. "Anusara" means "to flow with Grace," with "the power of the heart as the force behind every action or expression of an asana."

Adaptive or Chair Yoga-- While most yoga practices happen on the floor or on a mat, this style of yoga happens in a chair. It is great for anyone with limited mobility. The poses are done seated or sometimes standing while holding onto the chair for balance.

Svaroopa--Created by Rama Berch, Svaroopa® is a very gentle, restorative style of yoga. Often called Yoga for the Back, "Svaroopa® yoga uses precise alignments in carefully selected poses, along with meticulous placement of props, to open up the deepest tensions of your body. This also opens up conscious access to the ever-expanding inner realms of being. Rather than using hatha yoga as a sophisticated form of exercise, Svaroopa® yoga pursues the search for an understanding of the deeper purposes of yoga: the understanding of your own essential nature."

Bikram-- This is a set series of 26 poses done in a room heated to over 100 degrees (often as high as 110).  The practice takes 90 minutes and you should expect to sweat. I personally advise caution with this style of yoga, both because of the high heat (and risk of dehydration or overheating) and because of the encouraged "locking" of the joints in certain poses.

There are many other styles of yoga, too many for the purposes of this post, but I just wanted to give readers a little taste of what is out there.


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Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

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