Whether you are new to yoga or you have already established a committed practice, it is useful to know and understand the different styles of asana practice. Firstly, it's important to know that when a person says "I do yoga" it doesn't necessarily have to refer to physical postures (asanas). Yoga is a lifestyle and it involves many different types of practice and rituals. Although asana practice is part of the Pantajali 8 limbs of yoga which is part of the Raja yoga path, some devoted yogis follow other paths of yoga which don't necessarily focus on the physical postures. There are 4 main yoga paths, Bhakti, Raja, Karma and Jnana, offering different ways to yoga and reach liberation/be free from ignorance.
But since the physical style of yoga is very popular around the world, let's look at the different styles and which one might suit you the best. Please note there are many others, but I have included just a few that are known and also widely practiced. You don't necessarily need to do just one style, you can practice all throughout the week. Knowing about the different types however can help you understand which suits you at the present moment and based on your individual needs, you can select the right one for you.
Hatha yoga is the foundation for all asana practices. It is the traditional style of practicing postures. Hatha yoga is also known as the third limb of Pantajali's 8 limbs of yoga and it refers to the physical yoga practice, including the postures, bandhas, mudras and pranayama. As this is the foundation of asana practice, hatha yoga is done at a slow to moderate pace, taking time in each posture. It focuses on the alignment, breath and mental concentration. The Sanskrit word "Hatha" is made up of two words "Ha" and "tha" which mean sun and moon. It focuses on bringing in balance the right and left side of the body, the masculine and feminine energy, ida and pingala nadis.
ASHTANGA VINYASA YOGA
The Ashtanga Vinyasa style practice was founded by Pattabhi Jois, who was a student of the great Sri Krishnamacharya. Asthanga Vinyasa follows a disciplined, dynamic approach to the asana practice and it includes 6 particular series. Each series focused on different aspect and levels for the student and the postures must be done in the same order, every time. They series as well are to be done in the order created and as one becomes comfortable and can do a whole series, they then move onto the next. This sometimes takes years as traditionally the teacher gives the student the guidance to move onto the next series. This style is quite physically demanding, a strong practice including the use of bandhas and ujiayi breath throughout the entire duration, to create and maintain heat in the body. It is recommended to have an Asthanga vinyasa qualified teacher for this practice, especially in the beginning as the postures can be physically demanding and guidance to correct alignment and through each series from a teacher can help the student progress in the practice and keep away from injury.
The Iyengar style asana practice was created by B.K.S Iyengar who was also a student of Sri Krishnamacharya. This asana practice places a strong focus on alignment and maintaining each posture for a specific length of time. In Iyengar practice, props are often used to support the body into the correct alignment of each posture. B.K.S. Iyengar was the first to bring the use of props, as he observed through his many years of teaching and practice that each body is different and props may be useful to help the body further in the asana practice. Iyengar style practice is done with precision and a structured approach to each posture.
Yin yoga is a beautiful practice done at a much slower pace than the others mentioned. During yin practice, the focus is on deep stretching of the muscles, grounding the body and bringing calm and quiet to the mind. Postures are held for a lengthy period of time, sometimes even 5 minutes, so for this reason, one yin class may only include 5-7 postures (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the teacher). Yin refers to the feminine energy in the body, the ida nadi, representing the moon/lunar energy in the body. This style of practice helps the student with introspection, patience and acceptance/surrendering. It is a great practice for developing flexibility in the physical body as it focuses on deep stretching of the muscles. Yin has its specific postures, similar to many of traditional hatha yoga however sometimes they are given different names. Sometimes props are used to support the body in the posture, in order not to overstretch or over do it.
Traditionally, vinyasa refers to a natural synchronised flow between the movement of the body and the breath. This is a dynamic and fast paced practice, keeping the breath and movement working together at the same pace. Vinyasa creates heat in the body and it is a vigorous style of asana practice, so prepare to sweat it out. Sometimes there is a particular flow to the postures taught, however vinyasa means synchronised breath movement, so when this happens in the practice, then vinyasa is part of it.
The restorative style of asana practice is particularly useful for those who experience high levels of stress, anxiety, tired body and muscles, had past injuries etc. It is a gentle form of practice, done with the use of supportive props such as bolsters, straps and blocks (others also). During restorative practice, there is not much effort in the body, however it is a very gentle way to release any physical, mental and emotional tension.
Kundalini is a spiritual practice that dates back thousands of years. Kundalini means “circular or coiled up” and this represents the coiled up energy said to be dormant at the base of the spine. The foundation of this style of yoga is to awaken this energy through different practices like chanting, specific body movements/postures and breath work/pranayama. Therefore Kundalini yoga includes a mix of Bhakti yoga, Hatha yoga and Raja yoga. Through sadhana, the student can awaken this kundalini which travels up the energy centers of the body through sushumna nadi. Kundalini is said to be a powerful energy and should be practiced under the guidance of experienced teachers who are familiar with the method and tradition of Kundalini yoga.
The term power yoga takeS a more modern approach to asana practice. It incorporateS active and dynamic movement of the traditional postures, usually to increase strength in the body and mind. It is more like an exercising style, with a vinyasa approach.
Bikram style asana practice is part of hot yoga. It is done in a heated room, usually above 40°C. Bikram yoga involves specific postures and pranayama done the same every time. As this asana style is done in a very hot environment, there is a lot of sweating which helps to release toxins from the body and mind. The specific postures help to increase strength and flexibility in the body. It is best to check with a qualified Bikram teacher how to start Bikram yoga if you are new to it and if the hot conditions will suit you.
When it comes to healthy digestion, what we put in our body as well as how we move play an important role. Aside from having a balanced diet, enough daily water intake and good sleeping habits, physical movement and exercise are also necessary.
Yoga comes with many physical and therapeutic benefits, and one is certainly healthy digestion. Specific asanas stimulate the digestive organs, which lead to better functioning of these.
Whilst there are many yoga postures that benefit a healthier digestion, here are my top 7:
Ardha Matsyendrasana cleanses of the internal organs as well as stimulates the digestive organs. It is a great asana to practice before taking food and it energises the body.
As one of the main fundational asanas in Hatha yoga, Trikonasana comes with so many benefits. When it comes to digestion, it helps to tone the abdomen, strengthening the abdominal muscles. It also massages the digestive organs.
This great back bending posture, dhanurasana opens the chest, promoting deeper breathing. Through this, the internal organs receive enough oxygen to function efficiently. The way we breath can have an impact on digestion, and dhanurasana helps regulate the breath. Being in a prone position, it also provides a good massage for the stomach and the digestive organs.
The actual position of Malasana is physically considered by many the correct one when it comes to elimination of bowels. This posture helps with constipation or disruptive bowel movement.
I call these two the dream asana team as together they come with so many benefits. The dynamic movement of flexion and extension of the spine provides can help cleanse the digestive tract. The digestive organs are also stimulated during these two asanas.
SETU BANDHA SARVAGASANA
Like dhanurasana, setu bandha sarvangasana is a back bending asana which stretches the digestive organs and opens the chest, for deeper breathing. This is another great one to do before taking food, creating a good stretch and movement from the neck to the pelvis.
The path toward self-realisation is different for everybody. All individuals have their own unique character and personality with which they explore this physical world. Through the practice of yoga, one can gain a deeper understanding of themselves and get to know their true nature. The yoga journey is an everlasting exploration of the self through direct experience, devotion and dedication to the practice. The main aim of yoga is self-realisation or liberation of suffering caused by living in ignorance of the divine light that is within all. There are 4 main streams of yoga that can help one choose a path suitable to their own temperament. Although one may choose their main path, it is important to note that all 4 are apparent in the journey towards liberation/self-realisation.
JNANA YOGA - THE PATH OF KNOWLEDGE
Jnana yoga is most suited for those with an intelligent temperament. It is also called the yoga of wisdom or knowledge as self-realisation is achieved through the study of the self. In Jnana yoga, one of the primary aspects is viveka, the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong; of that which is reality and non-reality. The Jnana yogi is drawn to self-inquiry and finds their true nature through an intellectual approach of contemplation, questioning, learning and through direct experience. Choosing this path brings one to discover their true nature through meditation and self-understanding of the individual self being one with the universal consciousness, the Atman to Brahman. Some practices of the Jnana yogi include detachment or indifference to material objects, restraint or control of the senses and a deep desire to liberation.
BHAKTI YOGA - THE PATH OF DEVOTION
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion to the divine or the higher power. This is a path suited for those with an emotional temperament. Bhakti yoga leads to emotional maturity and an unconditional love for God. This devotional path involves practices such as chanting mantras, prayer, rituals and surrendering to the divine. Through the path of bhakti yoga, one learns to do everything with love, because they see the divine in everyone and everything. The Bhakti yogi seeks their true nature through complete surrendering and devotion to God.
RAJA YOGA - THE PATH OF WILL POWER
Raja yoga is the path of self-control or will-power. The word raja means royal and this path is also known as “the royal path”. Raja yoga is most suited for those with a mystic temperament and it follows the Asthanga/Eightfold path by Pantaji. The last 3 limbs of Ashtanga are referred to as raja yoga, as they are the highest attained practices reached through the commitment and mastering the first 5 limbs, considered hatha yoga. The Raja yogi practices will-power and self-discipline through the hatha yoga practices such as yamas and nyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara. Through commitment to these practices, one can reach the highest raja yoga practices which refer to focus (dharana), deep concentration or meditation (dhyana) and finally a blissful state of self-realisation.
KARMA YOGA - THE PATH OF ACTION
Karma yoga is the path of action and it is suited for those with an active temperament, who have an energetic nature for doing. Individuals choosing this way, learn to devote themselves to be of service with selfless action. This does not mean this is done on a voluntary basis, but with an intention to be of service for the greater good, and not for self-confidence or self-achievement. In karma yoga, one is of service for the self and the community independent of any ego driven desires or outcomes. In doing so, one learns to detach themselves from the ego by not seeking any reward or having any expectations. Karma yoga also helps to purify the heart and leads one to experience and practice compassion.
Maintaining a correct body posture is vital for our overall well-being. All parts of the body are affected by it including the internal organs, joints, muscles etc and even the breath. When the alignment of our posture is incorrect, we can experience discomfort, pain, incorrect breathing and in some cases illness.
Let’s look at three of the most common incorrect postures, their causes and how to correct them with Pilates exercises and yoga asanas.
Lumbar lordosis happens when there is an exaggerated lumbar spine curvature. This brings the pelvis out of alignment, into an anterior tilt. Some causes of this incorrect posture are due to flexed hips and weak abdominal muscles. This means that the core does not have enough strength to support the lower spine, so the pressure is placed on the lower back.
HOW TO CORRECT:
Strengthen the core muscles with mat Pilates exercises and various asanas. It’s important to be mindful that during the core strengthening exercises, the lower spine should not be arched, so tuck the tail bone under, towards the mat. Other exercises to correct this posture are any hip openers which provide a good stretch to the hips and release tension in this area. Focusing on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes is also important, because then the lower spine can receive support.
Asanas: halasana, uttanasana, adho mukha svanasana, navasana, kumhakasana;
Pilates exercises: the hundred, shoulder bridge, single/double leg stretch.
Sway back is an incorrect posture of the pelvis being pushed forward and a flat lumbar spine. This can create pressure on the lower back, joints and knees. Some causes of sway back can be tight upper abdominal muscles and weakness of the hips and leg muscles.
A range of exercises and asanas which lengthen and stretch the spine, releasing tension between the vertebraes. Increasing spinal mobility through spinal twists exercises and lateral flexions and focusing on strengthening the lower core muscles.
Asanas: Navasana, uttanasana, paschimottanasana, cat/cow, ardha mastyendrasana.
Pilates exercises: supine position leg raises, Russian twists, side toe taps.
Thoracic kyphosis is an exaggerated forward rounding of the middle back, causing the neck and head to be forward and the shoulders rounding inward. This can happen if you sit for long periods of time in front of a computer/desk work or even stress which can feel a burden on your shoulders. This incorrect posture creates tension in the chest area, causing tightness and stiffness. The breath is also affected as the chest is not open and the diaphragm is not moving effectively.
Exercises that open the chest and shoulders to release all the tension in this area; increasing the range of mobility in the thoracic spine/middle back area through cat cow; stretching the arms can also help as this can release tension from the shoulders; strengthening the lower back and core muscles.
Asanas: Malasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, setu bandha sarvangasana, cat/cow.
Pilates exercises: swimming, open chest prone position exercises, shoulder mobility exercises, swan dive.
*If you are experiencing any back/spine problems or have concerns about your posture, check with a GP before practicing any of the above.
Full moons are always a bitter sweet experience because they always bring some sort of challenge. But without a little reality check, we cannot grow and progress. This weekend’s full moon is in the sign of Leo, the king of the jungle, the fire starter.
It brings a strong energy to focus on healing & opening your heart to beautiful new beginnings. Here's a breakdown on what areas to focus on and some asanas to explore to empower you through this powerful time.
TEAR YOUR WALLS DOWN
Leo is one of the most loyal signs of the zodiac, the one who gives so much, yet is too proud to be open to receive. A leo will never admit to needing help, let alone if they are going through a rough time. It's not intentional, it's just part of being a Leo. Check in with yourself and see what barriers & walls you’ve built over the last 6months or so & see if you can slowly bring them down. Being open and vulnerable is powerful and courageous.
Asanas to practice for this: Heart opening asanas empower us to be open and truthful about our feelings. They also correct posture, and this can increase confidence levels. Examples : purvottanasana (upward facing plank) chakrasana (wheel pose), setu bandha konasana (bridge pose), ustrasana (camel pose), , bhujangasana (cobra)
THOUGHTFUL ACTION, NOT IMPULSIVE REACTION
The roaring lion is full of fire, ready to throw sparks at every opportunity in order to defend itself & its prides. Take a step back and see how you can tame the fire within by understanding what triggers you & why. How can you become more observant & less reactive? Assess what's really going on inside and remind yourself that nothing can truly affect you, unless you allow it to.
Asanas to practice: Poses which take you inward and give you time to reflect on what's really going on inside. Examples are: balasana (child's pose), paschimottanasana (standing forward fold), halasana (plow pose), uttana shishosana (extended puppy pose)
ALIGN WITH YOUR TRIBE
A leo’s love is easy to get but once you’ve broken the trust, the leo will be gone forever. Do a reality check on the people you surround yourself with and see how your relationships have evolved. Maybe it’s time to cut ties with some souls that you are no longer mutually suited to walk the path of life together. Whilst with others, it might be time to strengthen the bond & show your gratitude.
EMBRACE YOUR INNER STRENGTH
The leo is graceful & strong, licking its own wounds and moving on with more power, never revealing its weakness. If you are mending a broken heart or are going through suffering, it’s time to change your perspective & tap into your inner power. Embrace the strength you hold within, heal & nurture your soul. Another important aspect is to see what is the relationship you have with yourself? It’s time to observe, accept & love all parts of you with no judgement & more compassion. Be gentle with yourself, you are evolving through your experiences & learning from your mistakes.
Asanas to practice: Poses which focus on Manipura chakra, the energy centre of self-confidence and inner strength. Examples are: bakasana (crow pose), tittibhasana (firefly pose), navasana (boat pose), kumbhakasana (plank pose)
SERVE YOUR SOUL'S MISSION
Finally, it’s time to get real with where you’re at on your journey and see if you are manifesting your authentic purpose. Are you doing what you love; are your actions aligned with your highest self? How are you here to serve that is unique to your soul’s mission? Perhaps it’s time to make some bold, exciting & truthful changes.
Asanas to practice: Inversions teach us to change our perspective and to be present in the moment. Sirsasana (headstand) is the only asana which activates Sahasrara (the crown chakra) and this is the gateway to realising that we are one with all there is. Padmasana or any meditative pose take us inwards, to find stillness and listen to the silence within. It is here all the answers are. You can use mudras such as chin mudra, or hakini mudra to go deeper in your meditation.
Affirmation to practice during this full moon:
I am a beautiful, unique and vibrant soul and my contribution to the world is needed.
As we get ready to wrap up yet another year, it’s that time when we start to reflect upon all the happenings we encountered during these 365 days. Reflection is an important component of every year, as we can bring to our awareness the mistakes we’ve made, the decisions we took and the lessons we’ve learned. All these aspects lead us to discover where we have been, where we are now and where we are going. Every year teaches us something.
As I look back to this 2019 year, attempting for my reflection with my journal in front of me and holding a pen, I find myself struggling to write. The truth is, this year has been very slow and quite honestly slightly confusing. It feels as though it’s been an uneventful year, yet so much has happened. And just like with all years, there are some important lessons 2019 brought in, so what are these?
The year of the number 3
From a numerology point of view, 2019 is a year 3. This number relates to emotions and breakthroughs. Sometimes, a slow pace allows us to discover and decipher every emotion we keep locked safe within our heart space. Whatever the reason for this, this year is here to help us release these. In order to feel emotionally free, we must let go of any blocked energies from our heart, so that we can feel open to love and to feel of course. During your reflection stage for this year, consider any emotional patterns you broke free from. What are some ways in which you released emotions and how do you feel? What were some feelings that you kept coming back to and what have you done to free yourself from these?
When we walk the journey of life, sometimes we feel a strong guidance from within knowing where our steps lead to. 2019 took us on different side streets and narrow alleyways to teach us to travel on those paths we have ignored and avoided previously. This can bring a sense of confusion and feeling lost, but as the famous saying goes “Not all who wonder are lost”. During these wondering and unexpected adventures, we might loose our sense of stability and grounding. The foundations we set for the next destination, might no longer seem so clear and somehow, through traveling into the unknown we eventually find our way back home. Detours are sometimes necessary in order to find our courage to continue to explore that urge from within, to know that no matter how lost we might feel, we will eventually come back on the right track. What are some detours this year led you to take? How have these helped you find your way back home, back on your life path?
If you want to travel far,