For many yogis, the goal of yoga is harmony between mind, body, and soul. Because everyone begins yoga in a different starting place and has different needs, there may be multiple paths to achieving this harmony. After all, yoga is referred to as a practice: The journey through that practice is never quite finished. As you experience new emotional and mental challenges and triumphs, your body holds onto those experiences physically – rendering the same poses different from one day to the next.
We asked certified yoga instructor Alana Rose Scheuch to share her expertise on this topic. Scheuch is also a certified Pilates instructor, ballet barre instructor, and master-level reiki energy healer, and this experience has allowed her to develop a holistic approach to the practice of yoga.
The 4 Approaches to Yoga
Yoga has many purposes and benefits beyond physical exercise. In fact, the practice of yoga emerged from meditation as a way to prepare the body physically for long, seated meditation sessions that might otherwise have been cut short due to back or hip tension, or physical restlessness. So, meditation is foundational to yoga.
As you begin to practice yoga, think about its benefits as you might think about peeling a four-layer onion.
Yoga offers physical training as a path toward tranquility. Many people only think of yoga as stretching, but regardless of how limber you are, there is a different and challenging yoga journey for every person. Depending on the type of yoga you choose to practice, it can also strengthen your muscles and joints, provide cardio training, and improve your endurance.
Yoga is a therapeutic practice, by its nature. All yogis aim to bring the body to its natural state of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.
You can practice yoga as a form of physical therapy, using it to realign the body through movement and intention. Once you have managed to align your movement and deep breathing, you will be able to quiet your mind and allow it to rest.
Yoga practice goes beyond the mat; it can help you develop a lifestyle of kindness that you direct towards yourself, others, and the planet. This practice is known as ahimsa, or non-violence.
Moreover, the yogic diet is a diet of inherent consciousness in that it contains foods that don’t originate from practices of cruelty toward animals, the planet, or the self. Meditation can be practiced after the asana, physical practice, or on its own.
Similarly, you can practice mantras, chanting, and karma yoga (that is, the practicing of good deeds) away from the mat. Having a yogic approach to life means taking a breath before responding when someone upsets you, thinking of the bigger picture, and being mindful in your relationships with others and yourself. To learn more about the eight limbs of the path of yoga, you can reference Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
4. Spiritual Practice
Enlightenment, or Samadhi, may seem a faraway goal in your own practice of yoga, but you can experience states of bliss and peace in your daily life through this practice.
Learning from your teachers’ dharma talks and through reading yogic texts, such as the Bhavagad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you can begin to draw on these spiritual lessons and include spirituality in your everyday life. The spiritual component of yoga allows you to get in touch with something beyond your physical form and explore your soul’s path.
The 7 Branches of Yoga
Hatha yoga is considered an umbrella term yogis use to describe many of the types of physical yoga practices taught in the Western World. Hatha yoga can include vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and restorative yoga as well as Hatha yoga itself.
If a teacher describes a class as a ‘Hatha’ class, they usually mean that it is an asana (pose) practice that includes breathing, or pranayama. Hatha can refer to any type of yoga that combines asana with pranayama.
Iyengar yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar as a means to practice asana in accordance with Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. In Iyengar yoga, you will focus on strengthening postures and breathing exercises. You may also use props to develop the correct posture form. There are 200 postures you practice in this type of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga is a type of Hatha yoga in which you incorporate ‘flow’ by moving from one pose to the next. It’s considered physically rigorous and you practice it in sequences, which you memorize.
Kripalu yoga is a gentler form of Hatha yoga developed by Swami Kripalvananda. In Kripalu yoga, practitioners focus inward to get in touch with their life force energy or prana. They hold poses for a short time, as they work to notice the sensations of their bodies as they move into meditation.
This type of yoga was developed by Swami Sivananda. It’s a type of Hatha yoga that focuses on the physical well-being of the yoga practitioner. Sivananda yoga has five basic principles:
- Asana (physical movement)
- Pranayama (breathing)
- Savasana (relaxation)
- Sattvic diet (vegetarian and non-inflammatory)
- Vedanta and Dhyana (positive thinking and meditation)
Integral yoga was created by Swami Satchidananda as a gentle practice that would help students achieve balance and harmony in all facets of their lives. He encouraged students to take their practice off the mat and to alleviate stress in their lives by finding unity and peace in all.
In Kundalini yoga, practitioners focus on releasing the life force known to be coiled at the center of the body, within the spine. It’s a vigorous practice that involves repetitive movement, chanting, and breathwork. The aim of the practice is to open the chakras and free the kundalini up through them in an experience of bliss.
In Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga,” yogis practice in a room heated to 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Bikram is a vigorous practice that includes a regular series of 26 postures. Yogis can expect the same routine in each class. The aim of this type of practice is to rid the body of toxins and improve heart health and circulation. This type of yoga should be reserved for practitioners who can easily tolerate extreme temperatures.
Which Type of Yoga Is Best for You?
“Exploring the different types of practice is a journey in itself to find your yogic path,” says Scheuch. “What can start as a physical exercise can unfold into a life-changing experience towards inner and outer harmony.”
In other words: Try it all. Embrace it all. Mix it up–or choose one type of yoga that best resonates with you. Either way, if you start to see your practice as a journey rather than a strategy for hitting a goal, you can’t go wrong, regardless of the practice you choose.
Try some classes online or in your area. Bring a friend, give it a try for a couple of weeks, and listen to how your mind and body respond. Your intuition will guide you towards your best practice, but you don’t need to rush to get there.
The Bottom Line
There will always be more to explore and more benefits to discover as you expand your practice into the different branches of yoga. Along your path, talk to one of our Arootah Coaches if you want to develop a more personalized direction for your health.
Do you have a favorite type of yoga? Tell us your preferred practice in the comments!