Yoga is the modern day equivalent of aerobics. The wooly leg warmers and headbands of the eighties have given way to stylish exercise pants, crop tops and fancy mat bags. But, what’s all the fuss about?
The exact origins of Yoga are debated, but general consensus suggests it began in India some 5000 years ago. Throughout its history, yoga traditions and styles have evolved and changed and been practiced by Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis and other religious denominations.
“While the focus of each yoga style differs, yoga’s purpose has, throughout history, remained the same: helping humans become aware of their deepest nature,” says Andrea Jain, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University.
“Yoga is a path to enlightenment,” Ganesh Das, managing director of Jivamukti Yoga School in New York, wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times. “It diminishes self-centeredness, allowing us to become more aware of our responsibilities toward the larger community – the other people, animals and environment that we all share.”
But, in recent times, this deep meaning has taken somewhat of a backseat to a more widely used relevance – to get people fit and healthy. Whatever the motivation, the simple practice of breathing combined with physical exertion reduces stress and anxiety and is good for the body and spirit and the development of a positive outlook on life. And, there’s literally a style to suit just about everyone.
Below are the 5 most popularly practiced forms of Yoga and their benefits.
The most widely practiced form of yoga in the United States today, Hatha yoga focuses on breathing, holding the pose and quieting the mind, all of which are the basic building blocks to any yoga practice. Hatha is perfect for beginners.
Vinyasa is similar to Hatha but is faster-paced and more fitness-oriented. The poses are linked together in a series of movements that are synchronized with the breath. Emphasis is placed on the breath and the transition in and out of the poses.
Bikram yoga is a form of hot yoga performed in a series of 26 postures done in a heated environment, which is meant to mimic the climate of the birthplace of yoga: India. The heated environment naturally promotes more flexibility, detoxification and the prevention of injuries.
Ashtanga is based on six series of poses that increase in difficulty, allowing you to work at your own pace. Also known as power yoga, you’ll be kept on the move, flowing through one pose to the next in a constant cycle throughout your practice.
This ancient form of yoga is challenging both physically and mentally. Kundalini incorporates the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, focusing on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, expect to do some chanting, meditation and breathing exercises.
So, if you’re looking for a way to exercise mindfulness and get a full body workout at the same time, select a style and search for a Shala (studio) – there’s bound to be any number somewhere near you.