Yoga has been around for thousands of years, and it remains a popular form of exercise today. Originally used primarily for attaining higher states of consciousness, it now serves as a method of reducing stress and becoming physically fit. Yoga classes and videos are available almost everywhere.
Most people, however, do not realize that yoga is an extremely general term. There are dozens of types of yoga that have been developed over the years. Outside of Hinduism, however, there are relatively few types practiced. Those doing yoga for health purposes usually practice one of four types:
Hatha yoga – This is the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States. It consists of slow, smooth movements. The asanas, or poses, are usually relatively simple. Students of Hatha learn to incorporate pranayamas, or breathing patterns, into their movements and poses, and they may chant as well. Hatha yoga is perfect for beginners, because it moves slowly and introduces many of the concepts used in other types of yoga.
Kundalini yoga – Kundalini utilizes many of the same poses and concepts as Hatha, but it moves faster. Rapid movement through poses is used to enhance strength and flexibility benefits, and it also burns more calories. Kundalini also incorporates meditation. This type of yoga is a bit more advanced, so learning Hatha first is advisable.
Ashtanga yoga – Also known as power yoga, Ashtanga provides a more intense workout than most types of yoga. It is practiced at an even faster pace than Kundalini, but does not place as much emphasis on meditation. Ashtanga is great for building strength and endurance, but it requires a basic knowledge of yoga poses and techniques before getting started.
Bikram yoga – Bikram is a newer type of yoga that is practiced in a hot, humid room. Temperatures are usually around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The purpose of Bikram is to loosen the muscles and promote sweating, which is claimed to help rid the body of disease and chronic pain. However, Bikram has been subject to a great deal of criticism. Many medical professionals cite risk of dehydration, increased blood pressure and heart problems as reasons that Bikram should not be practiced, especially not by those who are in poor health.
Despite their differences, all types of yoga provide many of the same benefits. They promote flexibility, balance and alignment of the body. They leave us feeling focused and refreshed. And they help us integrate the mind, body and spirit. No matter what type of yoga you choose, it can have a profound effect on your physical and mental health. Give it a try.