While these styles of yoga all stem from the same historical roots, they are distinct in their focus and beliefs. Here are seven of the most popular styles:
Not to be confused with Patanjali’s eight-limbed path to yoga, Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga created by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It is known to be one of the most physically challenging versions of yoga. These series are to be prac-ticed six days a week, except for moon days—days of the new and full moon—during which the practitioner will rest. The Ashtanga style is usually a self-practice. It is done under the Mysore style, which requires a teacher to assist the student into poses. Students discover when they are ready to move on to the next series, much like achieving different belts in karate. Ashtanga consists of six series, and very few people have made it to the final one.
Kundalini was brought to the United States in 1968 by Yogi Bhajan. It’s called the yoga of awareness and is considered the most spiritual practice that exists today. Kundalini refers to the energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine. Prac-ticing meditation, breath work, mantra, dance, and asana raises this energy up the spine and out through the chakras. (A mantra is a chant that supports meditation. A chakra is a point of energy in the human body.) The goal of Kundalini is to create a sense of well-being and heightened awareness.
Hatha is the most widely practiced form of yoga, combin-ing movement with conscious breathing. This system was developed by Yogi Swatmarama to develop strength and flex-ibility using a set of physical postures. These poses are meant to align the skin, muscles, and bones of the body.
Created by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram Yoga is a set sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. It is meant to restore the body to its proper working order, creating a sense of good health, proper weight, muscle tone, and flexibility. Bikram Yoga is practiced under a strict set of guidelines, which includes a room heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Only teachers who have trained under Bikram can teach the Bikram method.
Kriya yoga is an ancient system brought to the West by Paramahansa Yogananda. Kriya is a system of meditation using breath, concentration, and a meditation technique meant to accelerate one’s spiritual growth. It focuses on controlling the breath.
Raja yoga is sometimes referred to as Royal yoga. It is known as the yoga of the mind. The premise of the practice is this: The mind controls the world. Controlling the mind makes it possible to control the world around us. The biggest part of the practice is meditation. Other techniques are included, such as asana and breath work. These are meant to teach practitioners to calm their minds and bring them to one point of focus.
Iyengar is based on the eight limbs of yoga described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Founded by BKS Iyengar in 1937,Iyengar is a system of postures that focuses on alignment and breath control. It is a form of Hatha yoga that is char-acterized by its great attention to detail. Iyengar was one of the first teachers to use props in order to make yoga more accessible to everyone—beginners, advanced, seniors, those who are ill, and all others.