Yoga Weekly Wonders - explain this Hatha Yoga thing to me ...

Low Lunge / Anjaneyasana 


Now that you (maybe) aren't as scared of the word yoga, your curiosity might be piqued into learning more about it. 

So you did a google search on yoga, and were promptly hit up with words such as flow yoga, power yoga, hot yoga, yin yoga, core yoga, and restorative yoga, just to name a few.

Don't run for the hills or the couch yet, I've got some definitions for ya. 

Most of the yoga we practice here in the wild wild west falls under the term of Hatha Yoga.  It refers to the physical postures (also called asanas) that are geared to align your mind, body, and spirit.  This, in turn, will prepare you for meditation.  Yes, that is where you sit still for a period of time, which is a scary thought in and of itself, and also a topic of conversation for the future.    

Hatha can be broken down into those two syllables: Ha (sun, activie) and tha (moon, resting) when you think of balancing out your body.  I've also read it can be called yoga of activity, but it was described using the words willful or forceful, and I don't like to use those words to describe Hatha Yoga.   

To bring it all together, if you've been looking to try yoga and you read class descriptions that promote Ashtanga, Power, Iyengar or Vinyasa style yoga, while they all fall under the same branch of Hatha Yoga, they are all different types… branchlets, if you will.   

There are a slew of different styles of yoga.  Some approaches have you hold postures longer, some you link your postures to with your breath.  Some are fast paced, really giving you a workout, others are really slow, the entire practice composed of only a few postures.  Some concentrate on breathing, some concentrate on chanting.  The type you try really depends on what suits your lifestyle and, just like figuring out a gym, you might have to try a few classes before you find your fit.  The great thing?  All of these approach the same type of lifestyle we all want:  less stress, a calmer disposition, space in your mind to think before you just react, (most of the time, anyways!), and quite possibly toner muscles.

I don't want to overwhelm you, so I've only addressed a few different styles in this post.  Interested?  Read on.  Not feeling it?  Bookmark it for later or delete it forever.  Like I said last week, this is my soapbox, but you don't have to hang out and listen to subjects that don't interest you.     

So, what are the types of yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a sequence of very precise alignment and specific poses that you progress through in a sequential order, using your breath as well.  Have you heard someone speak of the 'eight limbs of yoga'?  Ashtanga Yoga translates to mean 'eight-limbed yoga', as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  (like meditation, different conversation, different time.)  It has been said that by synchronizing the breath and the movement, you build an internal heat that aids in purifying the body.  Ashtanga was founded by K. Pattabhi Jois.

Bikram Yoga, aka Hot Yoga, is performed in a room that is heated to very high temperatures (think 106 degrees).  The same twenty-six postures are performed each class, along with two breathing exercises.  The asanas are practiced the same each class in order to warm up the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the order they should be stretched.  Bikram Choudury founded this style of yoga.

Iyengar Yoga concentrates mainly on alignment of each posture.  Poses are both modified with props, and held for long periods of time.  The practice of Iyengar cultivates flexibility, stability & awareness, to name a few, and was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar.

Power Yoga is said to be an offshoot of Ashtanga Yoga.  They're the same in producing that internal heat within your body, linking breath to the asanas (postures), providing stress reduction and providing more flexibility.  They differ in the sense that teachers can design their own classes rather than sticking to the same specific poses for each class.  Power yoga has been called fitness based, and as with every topic, there are differing opinions on some of the repetitive movements leading to long term injury.  Beryl Bender Birch is credited with founding and developing the original Power Yoga, however Power Yoga has since been used to describe many different styles of Vinyasa Yoga. 

Restorative Yoga is based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, and only really involves five or six poses in which you are also supported by props.  (Think blankets, oblong pillows, cushions, straps, … basically a bed on your yoga mat, minus the straps!)  Poses are held for at least five minutes, and include simple twists and backbends, as well as forward folds. 

Vinyasa Yoga means to arrange something in a unique way (pretty obvious that the 'something' = yoga in this equation).  You can also use vinyasa to describe a precise set of poses, such as high plank to low (chaturanga), to upward facing dog, to downward facing dog.  Which, for the record, is exactly what I call a vinyasa when I'm teaching. Think one breath for your inhale, and exhaling into another pose.  This, for me, also means when I have students hold a pose, because I will cue growing longer on each inhale, and settling into the pose a little more with each exhale.  There's also this article, here.  

Yin Yoga, introduced by Paulie Zink, is a practice that targets the connective tissue instead of ligaments, muscles and tendons.  Yin yoga holds poses up to five minutes (in hot yin, I've heard they've held poses for over seven minutes!), getting to deeper layers of fascia. 

What types of yoga have I tried, and what types do I teach?  I've tried Power Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga & Yin Yoga.  I teach Power Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.  Some of my classes are slower paced than others, some have meditation sprinkled in, and all have readings at the end of my classes.  I like to leave my students feeling good as well as with something to think about.  I also always encourage everyone in my classes to smile and not take life so seriously!

So which one is right for you?  It depends on what interests you.  My suggestion?  If one of these descriptions speaks to you, call a studio and ask to talk to someone further about your interest.  What's the worst that could happen?  You try a class and don't like it, right?  While I can't speak on behalf of Ashtanga, Bikram or Iyengar styles, I do know that if you need a break during a Power, Vinyasa, Restorative or Yin class, there are always poses available for you to 'drop into' in order to come back to your breath and listen to what your body is telling you. 

Anything else I want to share?  I've learned that I should try an Ashtanga, Bikram and/or Iyengar class myself.  I'm up here on my soapbox, preaching at all of you to try something new, and I'm secretly afraid of trying these three styles based off of feedback I've heard.  I'll have to report back on that - but you have to hold me accountable to try, right? 

Let me know if you have any questions about yoga that you want answered!  While I don't know everything, one of the things I love about being a yoga teacher is that I'm always learning from my students, fellow teachers, and continuing to take classes myself. 

Love, Happiness & Coffee,

~ Heather ~

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