Finding the Right Yoga for You

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Different styles offer benefits for both body and soul

A challenge for both mind and body, yoga can offer powerful health benefits. From reducing stress to being a low-impact strength training option, yoga is a great way to tone up or calm down, naturally. Read on to get familiar with the different styles of yoga and find one that fits you.

HATHA

This is the most classical yoga, focusing on simple poses that flow from one to the next. Hatha promotes flexibility and tones the body as it improves strength, endurance and concentration. There are many schools and teachers of Hatha yoga. The recognized founder was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), and three of his most famous students have developed their own styles, which are currently the most popular in the West: Iyengar, Ashtanga and Viniyoga. Sometimes when an instructor has blended several styles together, the class is advertised as simply a Hatha yoga class. Check out the instructor's training and ask about the pace of the class before signing up.

ASHTANGA

This vigorous version of Hatha yoga, brought to the West by master practitioner Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is also known as “power yoga.” It’s popular with athletes (and Madonna), since the emphasis is on strength and stamina. The pace is quite fast as students move from one pose to another, combining breath with each movement. The teacher will guide you through a series of standing and seated poses, inversions, twists, balance poses and back bends. The sequence remains the same until the student has perfected each movement and can move onto another series.

BIKRAM

Known as the “sweaty” yoga, Bikram is the newest trend. Created by Bikram Choudhoury, an All-India National Yoga Champion and current yoga guru to the stars, Bikram yoga is practised in a room that is 38°C or hotter. But don’t expect to just sit around sweating – you’ll do two sets of 26 challenging poses within 90 minutes, each designed to stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons while building strength and stamina. Perspiring profusely is supposed to release toxins from the body as well. Bikram is recommended for yoga veterans and very fit people who don’t mind being pushed to their limit.

IYENGAR

Created by B.K.S. Iyengar, this gentle version of Hatha yoga is perfect for beginners and anyone with back or joint problems. You work at your own pace, and the focus is on proper alignment for each pose (with the help of props such as blocks and belts, when needed). Meditation is also used to help students become aware of their body. Practising Iyengar will help you understand the fundamental yoga poses, while also providing overall toning and strengthening. Teachers must complete two to five years of rigorous training before receiving their certification, so classes are usually high-calibre.

KRIPALU

An offshoot of Hatha, Kripalu is often called the “yoga of consciousness and compassion.” It’s a very gentle, introspective practice that coordinates breath and movement while you work within your own limits. Students learn to focus on both the psychological and physical aspects of poses in three distinct phases. Stage One focuses on learning the poses, Stage Two on holding the poses, and Stage Three on deep meditation while doing the poses. Kripalu is highly effective for relieving chronic tension, and reducing stress and anxiety while increasing flexibility and concentration.

SIVANANDA

One of the largest schools of yoga, Sivananda was developed by Indian yoga master Swami Sivananda. It follows a series of 12 poses based on the classic Hatha sun salutation routine, combined with mantra chanting. This is an all-encompassing yoga with a five-point system for health and happiness: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and meditation.

VINIYOGA

Created by T.K.V. Desikachar (son of the founder of Hatha yoga), Viniyoga is perhaps the most flexible style of yoga. It uses a refined methodology based on the individual needs and physical condition of each student. Often referred to as “yoga by prescription," Viniyoga is ideal for beginners, seniors and those with chronic pain and people recovering from an injury. The pace is slower, with more repetition, and the focus is on coordinating the flow of breath with each movement, rather than having perfect form or moving quickly. Teachers must be highly trained to assess students’ needs and tailor the sequence, length and intensity of the poses to suit the class.

Regardless of the style you choose, yoga offers powerful physical and psychological benefits. Whether you are young, old, male, female, beginner or advanced, yoga undeniably prepares your body and mind for optimal health.