Purpose of yoga asanas
How to meditate
Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt
We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who has created the Universe;
Who is worthy of Worship;
Who is the embodiment of Knowledge and Light;
Who is the remover of Sin and Ignorance;
May He open our hearts and enlighten our Intellect.
Not All Yoga Is Created Equal. You say Ashtanga, I say Kundalini. What's the difference? Use this guide to find the right yoga for you.
Vinyasa-style yoga combines a series of flowing postures with rhythmic breathing for an intense body-mind workout. Here are a few different types:
Ashtanga. The practice of Ashtanga that's getting mainstream attention today is a fast-paced series of sequential postures practiced by yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, who lives in Mysore, India. Today, yogis con- tinue to spread Jois's teachings worldwide, making it one of the most popular schools of yoga around.
The system is based on six series of asanas which increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. In class, you'll be led non- stop through one or more of the series. There's no time for adjustments? You'll be encouraged to breathe as you move from pose to pose. Be prepared to sweat. For more information, visit Ashtanga teacher Richard Freeman's Web site (www.yogaworkshop.com).
Power Yoga. In 1995, Bender Birch set out to challenge Americans' understanding of what it really means to be fit with her book Power Yoga (Fireside, 1995). Bender Birch's intention was to give a Western spin to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, a challenging and disciplined series of poses designed to create heat and energy flow.
"Most people wouldn't take a class called Ashtanga Yoga, because they had no idea what it meant. Power Yoga, on the other hand, was some- thing Americans could relate to and know that they'd get a good work- out," says Bender Birch.
Power Yoga's popularity has spread to health clubs across the country and has taken on a broad range of applications. The common thread is a rigorous workout that develops strength and flexibility while keeping students on the move. For specifics, consult individual instructors before signing up for a class. For more information visit Thom Birch and Beryl Bender Birch's Web site (www.power-yoga.com) or Bryan Kest's Web site (www.poweryoga.com).
Ease into Enlightenment:
Sivananda. At its core, Sivananda Yoga is geared toward helping students answer the age-old question "Who am I?" This yoga practice is based on the philosophy of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India, who taught disciples to "serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize." In order to achieve this goal, Sivananda advocated a path that would recognize and synthesize each level of the human experience including the intellect, heart, body, and mind. In 1957, his disciple Swami Vishnu-devananda introduced these teachings to an American audience. A few years later, Vishnu-devananda founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, summarizing Sivananda's system into five main principles: proper exercise (asanas); proper breathing (pranayama); proper relaxation (Savasana); proper diet (vegetarian); and positive thinking (Vedanta) and meditation (dhyana).
There are more than 80 centers worldwide, as well as ashrams and teacher-training programs, all of which follow a hatha yoga practice emphasizing 12 basic postures to increase strength and flexibility of the spine. Chanting, pranayama, and meditation are also included, helping students to release stress and blocked energy. For more information, visit www.sivananda.org
Attention to Detail :
Iyengar. From his home in Pune, India, B.K.S. Iyengar reigns as one of the most influential yogis of his time. At 80 years old, he continues to teach thousands of students from all over the world, encouraging them to penetrate deeper into the experience of each pose. This is the trade- mark of Iyengar Yoga?an intense focus on the subtleties of each posture.
In an Iyengar class, poses (especially standing postures) are typically held much longer than in other schools of yoga, so that practitioners can pay close attention to the precise muscular and skeletal alignment this system demands. Also specific to Iyengar, which is probably the most popular type of yoga practiced in the United States, is the use of props, including belts, chairs, blocks, and blankets, to help accommodate any special needs such as injuries or structural imbalances.
"In forward bends, for example, if someone's hamstrings aren't flexible, he or she can use a prop to help extend the spine. The wall is often used for support in a variety of poses," explains Janet MacLeod, who teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco. "Using props gives the student support, allowing them more freedom to breathe deeply into the pose." For more information, visit www.iyisf.org.
Bikram. When you take a Bikram yoga class, expect to sweat. Each studio is designed to replicate yoga's birthplace climate, with tempera- tures pushing 100° Fahrenheit.
Why the sauna-like effect? "Because sweat helps move the toxins out of your body," explains Radha Garcia, owner of Bikram's Yoga College of India in Boulder, Colorado. "Your body is like a sponge. To cleanse it, you need to wring it out to allow fresh blood and oxygen to circulate and keep your immune system running smoothly."
This method of staying healthy from the inside out was designed by Bikram Choudhury, who sequenced a series of 26 traditional hatha postures to address the proper functioning of every bodily system. Choudhury first visited the United States from India in 1971 on a trip sponsored by the American Medical Association to demonstrate his work using yoga to treat chronically ill patients. Today Choudhury continues teaching students of all ages and abilities from his studio in Los Angeles where he also conducts a certified teacher's training program. For more information, visit www.bikramyoga.com.
Kundalini. Kundalini Yoga, stemming from the tantra yoga path, at one time remained a closely guarded secret practiced only by a select few. In 1969, however, Yogi Bhajan decided to change this tradition by bringing Kundalini to the West. Yogi Bhajan's reasoning was based on the philosophy that it's everybody's birthright to be "healthy, happy and holy," and he believed Kundalini would help spiritual seekers from all religious paths tap into their greater potential. The practice of Kundalini Yoga incorporates postures, dynamic breathing techniques, and chanting and meditating on mantras such as "Sat Nam" (meaning "I am truth"). Practitioners concentrate on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward through each of the seven chakras. For more information, visit www.3HO.org.
Hatha. If you are browsing through a yoga studio's brochure of classes and the yoga offered is simply described as "hatha," chances are the teacher is offering an eclectic blend of two or more of the styles described above. It's a good idea to ask the teacher or director of the studio where he or she was trained and if the poses are held for a length of time or if you will be expected to move quickly from one pose to the next, and if meditation or chanting is included. This will give you a better idea if the class is vigorous or more meditative.
Ananda. For those who aspire to loftier goals than simply building a hard body, Ananda Yoga provides a tool for spiritual growth while releasing unwanted tensions. During the 1960s, Swami Kriyananda developed Ananda as a particular style of yoga after returning to California following a period of intense yoga training under Guru Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). "The most unique part of this system is the use of silent affirmations while holding a pose," says Rich McCord, director of Ananda Yoga's teacher-training program at The Expanding Light retreat center in Nevada City, California. McCord explains that the affirmations are intended to help deepen and enhance the subtle benefits of each asana, providing a technique for aligning body, energy, and mind.
In a typical class, instructors guide their students through a series of gentle hatha postures designed to move energy upward to the brain, preparing the body for meditation. Classes also focus on proper alignment, easeful posture transitions, and controlled breathing exercises (pranayama) to facilitate an exploration into the inner dimensions of yoga and self-awareness. For more information, visit www.expandinglight.org.