Yoga Style Guide Table of Contents
Yoga Style Guide is a series consisting of 3 parts.
With so many choices of yoga out there today, it can be challenging to know which is the right fit for you.
Let’s recap on some simple steps in the journey to finding a yoga style best suited for your body, lifestyle and/or medical concerns.
1. Yoga is Yoga
2. Different Styles of Yoga will Overlap
3. Exploration of Different Styles
4. Accepting that things may Change.
5. Enjoy the Ride!
Drawing on traditional text and sharing from the most basic to the most modern of yoga styles, I have broken down a few. This is a great start to either beginning your path with yoga, or perhaps, ordering something on the Chinese menu rather than #11.
Eastern Meets Western
B.K.S. Iyengar, author of Light on Yoga, brought his style of yoga to the United States nearly over 50 years ago. “No matter what style of yoga you practice or where—whether it’s Ashtanga at the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado; Yee Yoga at Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, New York; or Anusara at Yoga Sangha in San Francisco—your yoga has been influenced by B.K.S. Iyengar,” as stated in Yoga Journal.
Iyengar’s methods of yoga incorporate usage of many props and wall space to ensure proper alignment. The classes are generally slower paced, mindful and with long holds. One of his most significant contributions has been the introduction of yoga as therapeutic.
Ashtanga Yoga ”is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927″ (http://kpjayi.org/the-practice).
According to Yoga Journal, “This form of yoga is intensely physical and athletic…with a prescribed set of asanas, channel energy through the body using bandhas (locks), and concentrate on singular points using drishti (gaze) in asanas”.
Those who practice this style of yoga are not the students who practice “on and off” typically. Most Ashtanga students practice everyday, and with that, depending on where they are on the journey, they perform the same sequence of poses in a series. Once they complete that, which means their teacher says they can move on, then they begin the next series. If one is seriously interested in this practice, finding a certified Ashtanga teacher is very helpful as well as a studio that offers Ashtanga classes. Ashtanga classes are guided yoga classes, not instructed. Having an awareness of what you are doing is needed.
Breaking Down the “Vinyasa”
Vinyasa Yoga generally refers to the breath and the physical flow in the yoga asana (postures). This is the most commonly used name to describe yoga. One may even say this is a good way to describe “universal yoga”, taking us back to the definition of yoga, leaving room for the teacher to express themselves uniquely in their teaching style.
This is where many begin their path with yoga. Often times, people may call this Flow Yoga, Vinyasa Flow Yoga, or Power Yoga. It could be considered an umbrella term for yoga and it ranges in levels. My suggestion for these names of classes is to read the description that the studio has for the class. Also, meet the teacher and ask him or her what the class is like. In fact, this is a pretty good idea for most yoga style classes. Just make sure to do so in a timely fashion; class is only so long.
Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga was created by Walt Baptiste, father of Baron Baptiste, in 1940. Through Baron, this style of yoga “has evolved into a practice that holds true to the spirit of its creation while remaining accessible to anyone today. The physical aspects of Baptiste Yoga style are inspired by the hatha yoga teachings of Krishnamacharya and his students Iyengar and Desikachar, whom Baron Baptiste studied with personally from a young age” (baronbaptiste.com).
Co-owner of Revolution Power Yoga and Certified Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher, Julie Kiddo says that “the Baptiste methodology focuses on using Asana (the physical practice), meditation and inquiry as tools for powerful transformation. Through each of these practices students are empowered to lead their lives to the fullest, without limitations and to tapping into new possibilities.” Using breath, asana, empowerment based philosophies and community, this yoga presents a very well-rounded style of yoga to students. Classes are typically all levels.
The “Hippy Dippy” Stuff
Prana Flow Yoga was created by Shiva Rea. She also created Trance Dance for Life, a sequenced, intense and powerful tribal dance with electronic music. Prana Flow Yoga has evolved from “transformational vinyasa flow integrating the tantric bhakti roots of yoga, Krishnamacharya’s teachings and a universal, quantum approach to the body” (shivarea.com). Shiva has been teaching for over 15 years and holds teacher trainings worldwide, sending out many Certified Prana Flow teachers or Prana Flow inspired yoga teachers into the world.
These classes are just that: “flowy”. They are about deeply falling into the feeling state and allowing the natural authentic life force, “prana” to circulate throughout your body. For some, if you are not prepared, this is where yoga can be a little “hippy dippy”. As long as you go in knowing that, most people I find can appreciate this style of yoga and make a strong decision if it is for them! Please note that not all Prana Flow Yoga teachers will take this very approach. So again, while you try on that pair of pants, and in this case, those Prana pants, take note that the teacher really will make it different.
Kundalini Yoga is about the Kundalini, the spiritual or life force located at the base of the spine. Using certain physical forms in the body accompanied with body movements, help to facilitate the moving upwards or coiling up like that of a serpent. As the energy, or Prana, moves up the spine, it arrives to the crown of the head, our sacred space where we connect to a higher being, or God.
Onkar Kaur, the only Certified Kundalini Yoga Instructor in Vail, Colorado, shares that Kundalini Yoga “is Raj yoga, royal yoga that is multi faceted. The classes are a dynamic blend of postures, pranayam, mantra, music and meditation. Teaching you the art of relaxation, self-healing and evaluation, and balancing body and mind allowing one to experience the clarity and beauty of ones own soul.” This is a style of yoga with unexpected enlightened outcomes if one is willing to go along for the ride.
Before you enter your first Kundalini yoga class be prepared to chant, to meditate and to probably move your body in ways you have never before. It is common in Kundalini classes to work with your breath in a very charismatic manner, aiding in the facilitation of energy flow. Each Kundalini teacher will approach the class differently, moving along the spectrum of slower movements to very quick ones.
Athletic-Inspired Yoga Styles
Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga are not the same. Many people think that Hot Yoga is Bikram yoga. This is not the case. Bikram Choudury developed Bikram Yoga in the early 1970′s. Classes run for 90 minutes and have a set of the same 26 poses practiced throughout each class. The most commonly known idea around Bikram Yoga is the heated room. In Bikram, the classes are heated to 105 degrees, aiming to hold 40% humidity. It is hot. It is sweaty. Drink water before you go and a lot of it.
The difference between Hot Yoga and Bikram comes down to the name. Unless a studio is Bikram certified, they cannot call themselves Bikram. Hot Yoga offers classes in a heated room. This style of yoga is not to be taken lightly. Personally, I strongly believe that if you are planning on taking it, to do so with the utmost consciousness and mindfulness. It is an intense physical work-out, connecting the breath with the movements of the body. Due to the elevated levels of heat and humidity, having a clear understanding of your personal health, pre-existing conditions, heart conditions and overall health is encouraged.
Athletic Yoga or Yoga for Athletes has really taken root over the years. Using yoga poses as a way to help athletes stay strong in the areas of their body that they need for their sport, while also working to find more flexibility in the areas where they are tight. The classes are smart, with a physical focal point and offers many modifications to those working with injury or prevention. These classes range in intensity. Overall, they focus on strength building, flexibility and connection of breath. Chanting and Om-ing are at a bare minimum and most people who like the gym setting, activity sports training and/or not into the “soft stuff”, will gain a lot out of this style of yoga.
Core Power Yoga is a Vinyasa based Western style of the Indian Ashtanga Yoga. Beryl Bender Birch, an Ashtanga Yoga Instructor created Core Power Yoga integrating these three components to the practice. “‘Core Power”‘ is designed to strengthen abdominals and back and includes both abs-focused Vinyasa power yoga poses and variations of muscle-toning moves. ‘Unlocking Athletic Power’ will develop supple strength with an importance on abs, back, hips and pelvis. ‘Soul of Strength’ on the other hand is a fast-moving power yoga program with a distinct ‘mind-body’ emphasis and some extremely challenging moves” (selfgrowth.com/articles/Smith89.html).
Offering different classes within this structure such as Hot Yoga, Bootcamps, Yoga Sculpt (using weights with yoga), and Mat Pilates, Core Power Yoga “is best suited to those who desire to improve their performance in their chosen sports such as cycling, football, swimming, skiing, surfing, running/athletics, martial arts and other team sports” (http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Smith89.html).
For the traveling yogi or yogini (the lady version of a yogi), Core Power wins the award. Even though they only have 35 studios and just across Colorado, California, Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon, “it’s members can take classes at any Core Power Yoga Studio anywhere without paying a drop-in-fee” (athleticmindedtraveler.com). Overall, this is a good place to start your yoga practice as well as work on your cardiovascular strength and/or an addition to one’s athletic training.
Evolution Of Yoga
Forrest Yoga was developed by Ana Forrest. It is commonly known for its emphasis with inversions, but it is actually deeper than just going upside down. Drawing on her dance background and her personal history with abuse, eating disorders, and alcoholism, Forrest created a practice that aims to heal and to release. “Forrest incorporates elements of Native American healing, encouraging students to go deep within and to use their yoga practice as therapy. Forrest Yoga pays special attention to abdominal work and breathing.
Vigorous sequences of poses are intended to build heat in order to sweat out toxins and release emotions stored in the body” (Ann Pizer, About.com). Using breath, strength, integrity, and spirit, Forrest yoga will offer you a physically intense, transformational and deep practice.
SmartFLOW yoga was founded and created by Annie Carpenter in Los Angeles, California. Known as a “teachers’ teacher,” Annie has been teaching for over 30 years. Taking from her teachers, Martha Graham and Patthabi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Guru, as well as from todays best meditation instructors, “Annie’s teaching has evolved into an intelligent, yet organic SmartFLOW reflecting her love of movement and rigorous discipline.
Having studied anatomy, kinesiology, and developmental movement as a dancer, her classes are informed by the body’s structure and evolution. She believes that focusing on alignment is not just safe, but provides ‘points of dharana’ or gateways to inner stillness and meditation” (anniecarpenter.com).
SmartFLOW Yoga is a culmination of traditional yoga taken respectfully from Iyengar and Patthabi Jois while shining the flow of yoga in its ability to explore, play and deeply understand the body, mind, breath and spirit in a clear and integral expression. Respecting the continuum of movement within life and the body, SmartFLOW aims to instruct and educate the student in poses with the awareness that each Effort made must have a Return to center, to find Balance. This concept is continually woven throughout the SmartFLOW practice not just in the physical form, but also deeply within the mental and emotional being.
Restorative Yoga is geared towards relaxation. Passive poses typically on the ground are held for any duration of time between 5-20 minutes. This practice taps into the parasympathetic system, which is the cooling and calming system of the body.
In the human body, we house a nervous system with both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. The sympathetic nervous system is known as the “fight or flight” response system. On average, this is the model that most people live in every day. For example, you are walking down the street to your mailbox and think about how you haven’t called your mother back and bam, your body tightens up, your breath shortens and you feel a rush of energy run through your body. That is the sympathetic system. Restorative yoga helps to turn on the parasympathetic system.
The more we can learn how to turn this on, we gain control in making a conscious decision to re-act or act to stimuli in our lives. Under the umbrella of Restorative yoga is Yin Yoga, Relax Deeply, and Anjali Restorative Yoga. Yin Yoga typically holds longer poses, while Anjali Restorative Yoga, created by Shannon Paige Schneider, from Om Time Yoga Studio in Boulder, Colorado, focuses on restorative, meditation, poetry and the journey of self-healing. Restorative Yoga is a great to incorporate into your practice.
I have props at home that I will use to take my own restorative chill-out from the day, if I cannot make it to a restorative class each week.
I wish you the best in your explorative journey in finding a style or styles that work best for you. Above all else, remember that each teacher will be a little different in how they teach their style of yoga. I suggest trying a few different teachers in one style so you can get a nice overview of the style. This will also help you to access if it is the style that is not speaking to you or perhaps the teacher.
Stay tuned for Kristina’s next article on “How to find the right yoga teacher.”
Kristina Kuzmich, born and raised in the Midwest, first found Colorado through Naropa University in 2004, and instantly called it “home.” Kristina is a 200 E-RYT and a Licensed Massage Therapist residing in the Vail Valley, and is the founder and owner of Mindful Evolution Yoga. She is the Yoga Director for the Aria Yoga Program at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the only certified SmartFLOW © Yoga Teacher in Colorado and is proud to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon athletica and Manduka. A lover of dark chocolate and mate tea, an avid hiker, snowboarder, writer and community worker, she insists on traveling the globe in her diligent pursuit of perpetual growth. She is a junkie to the card game, Rummy, and while not shy to share her obsession for fairy tales, particularly devouring up The Brother’s Grimm, Kristina has an exploratory skill in creating meals in the kitchen. She isn’t afraid to dabble into her favorite styles of wine (all things French), share her opinions when asked, and will continually practice seeking the truth and finding clarity, though the wine may cloud that at times.
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