Yoga simply means the union between mind, body, and spirit. There are different paths toattain the state of yoga, a state in which you feel the harmony between your body, mind, energy, and your environment.
The ancient sages who formulated four different methods to achieve yoga were Karma Yoga (yoga through action), Jnana Yoga (yoga through knowledge), Bhakti yoga (yoga through devotion), and Raja Yoga. The yoga popular today is a form of Raja yoga, whose methods were documented and compiled by the ancient sage Patanjali in the 2nd century BCE. Since then, there have been many developments and diversification of yoga styles and schools.
But modern yoga does not have the same goals as the sages who developed yoga did. Hence, the division of yoga styles is different for our purpose. The following are the major yoga styles you can choose from:
1. Hatha Yoga
Popular thinking dictates that Hatha yoga is all about b alancing body and mind. “Ha” represents the sun and “tha” the moon, and we aim to join these two energies. But the literal meaning of “Hatha” means “force”, so Hatha yoga can be defined as “the yoga of force”. Basically, anything that involves exerting the force of effort through your body.
Hence, the practice of Hatha yoga involves:
Asana (yoga postures)
Pranayama (breathing exercises)
Mudra (hand gestures)
Practicing Hatha yoga strengthens your body and mind and prepares them for optimal performance. If you only care about improving your health and aren't interested in spirituality and the higher purpose of yoga, then this might be the perfect yoga style.
2. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga literally means “eight-limb yoga”, this is because Ashtanga yoga has eight steps. It is original method of Yoga devised by the ancient sage Patanjali in his magnum-opus the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. It has been previously discussed in this blog. It is the rigorous and complete forms of yoga.
The eight steps include the physical aspects of yoga, which are central to Hatha yoga, as well as metaphysical or spiritual aspects of yoga which have to do with mediation and attaining higher states of consciousness.
The eight steps are the following:
Yama (ethical conduct)
Niyama (Discipline or routine)
Asana (Yoga postures)
Pranayama (breathing exercises)
Pratyahara (withdrawing from distractions)
Samadhi (spiritual liberation)
The physical aspects of Ashtanga yoga which have parallels with Hatha yoga are only preparatory steps. They prepare your body and mind for long hours rigorous meditation (Dhyana) practices which is lead to dispelling of agyana (ignorance), breaking down of ahamkara (ego) and attaining moksha (liberation of self and soul), which is the goal of Ashtanga yoga.
3. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yogis believe that there are energy centers in your body called “Chakras” and energy flows all over your body through paths called “Nadis”. There is a dormant energy at the base of your spine, near the perineum, where the Root chakra is located. Through various yoga practices this energy moves upward, passing through each chakra until finally reaching your “Crown Chakra”, located at the top of your head, at which point the individual is liberated.
While the scientific basis and practical benefits of Kundalini chakra can be debated, it certainly has helped many people in improving their well being. Kundalini chakra takes help of various aspects of both Ashtanga yoga and Hatha yoga including Asanas, meditation and pranayama to facilitate the awakening of different chakras and unblocking energy centers. Kundalini Yoga also involves a lot visualization.
Every person is different and different yoga styles will be suitable for each person. You can try them out and see what fits with your goals. Whether your goal is enhancement of your health or spiritual development, the basics of every yoga form: Asanas and Pranayamas will be of tremendous help to you.