What do you think of when you hear the word “yoga”? Most likely, your mind conjures up images of people in stretchy pants contorting their bodies into impossible positions. While yoga does have its roots in physical postures and poses, there is so much more to this ancient practice than meets the eye. In fact, yoga is actually composed of six different branches or paths. Each branch emphasizes a different aspect of the practice, from breath work to meditation.
Here are Six of the Most Popular Branches of Yoga
1. Hatha Yoga
The popular form of yoga that most people associate with the practice, hatha yoga is a series of physical poses (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). Though this branch primarily focuses on the body, it also includes mental exercises such as meditation and self-study. Most styles of hatha yoga emphasize spiritual wisdom alongside physical wellness; therefore, the emphasis in hatha yoga classes is on mindful movement that promotes relaxation and stress relief. It’s primarily practiced in Western countries like the United States and Canada.
2. Iyengar Yoga
A style of hatha yoga named for its founder — B.K.S Iyengar — this branch typically features use of props to assist yogis. This makes it a great option for people with injuries or who are ill, but it can also be helpful for beginners and all levels yoga practitioners. Iyengar classes typically focus on proper form and alignment in order to prevent injury, so they’re ideal if you’re looking to develop mindfulness skills that will help improve your body awareness in other areas of life.
3. Ashtanga Yoga
This branch offers a series of poses that move from one position right into the next without much time spent in between the two. The pace means each pose is held relatively briefly, which can be great if you’re trying to finish your workout before running out the door. Each movement is performed rhythmically, similar to a dance, so it’s both meditative and physically challenging. Though this branch is very popular in India and Europe, there are fewer classes available here in the United States and Canada.
4. Bikram Yoga
Also known as “hot yoga,” bikram yoga features 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes — twice as long as the average yoga class — inside a studio heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). The heat allows yogis to hold their poses for longer periods of time if they choose, which may be helpful for stretching deeper into your body’s tissues to ease muscle pain and tension. However, it also increases your risk of dehydration due to sweat loss andens your breath control during the exercises, so you should try it only if you’re in good physical condition and don’t have any health concerns.
5. Jivamukti Yoga
This branch is relatively new to the yoga scene even though it was founded back in 1984 by two respected yogis, David Life and Sharon Gannon. The name means “liberation while living.” It focuses on self-transformation through teaching yogis how they can improve their day-to-day lives through conscious choices that are aligned with yogic principles of ethical behavior. Classes typically include chanting, meditation, lectures about spiritual philosophy, and readings from sacred texts. This style of yoga tends to attract creatives who want more meaning in their than just exercise or stillness.
6. Kundalini Yoga
This branch of yoga is unique because it focuses on the release of energy that’s locked in your spine, not just in your body or mind. Though this can be cultivated through physical poses, you’ll also use breathing exercises to raise the energy up along the spinal channels so it opens all seven chakras in your body. This class isn’t for everyone since its meditations are focused on releasing pent-up emotions and exposing psychological problems, but yogis find that kundalini practice promotes mental clarity and emotional wellness if they stick with it long enough for these effects to unfold.
With so many different types of yoga out there, it can be difficult to know which one is the right fit for you. We’ve compiled a list of six of the most popular branches below that will help guide your search and answer any questions you might have about each type. If you want more information on these or if anything else has come up in your research, feel free to contact us today!
About the Authors
Journey Healing Centers focuses on Yoga primarily as a healing practice for men, women and children of all ages. We know that most Americans believe that “yoga is good for you,” but did you know that science backs them up? It’s true! Yoga has been shown to improve health, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and balance, all while reducing stress, anxiety, and pain. Yoga practitioners have a stronger sense of mental clarity, physical fitness, flexibility, and strength. As you can see these are all powerful reasons for taking up Yoga – so join us!
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