Yoga with goats, naked yoga, beer and cannabis yoga, laughing yoga, rage yoga . . . the rapid boom of the industry has brought the concept of yoga (however loose the interpretation) to the masses and has fused yoga with everything imaginable (and unimaginable). There is truly a style of yoga for everybody. While some of these fads may seem far removed from yoga’s Hindu roots and its Buddhist origins of meditation and mindfulness, I don’t think seasoned yogis, in principle, would meet trendy yoga fads with spiritual snobbery. The physical practice of yoga, which is most relatable to the masses, is just an access point that can lead to deeper levels of engagement of the mind. If stretching naked with goats, while sipping beer acts as an entry way for deeper self awareness, go for it!
Since 2012, the yoga industry in America has skyrocketed. We spend $16 billion a year on classes, fancy clothing, teacher trainings, and accessories. Trends show that between 2012 and 2016 the number of Americans doing yoga grew by 50%. Approximately one in three people have tried yoga at least once. I think the massive mindfulness movement among westerners is a very positive thing for our society as a whole, whether it is through our monthly subscription to Yoga Booty Boot Camp class, or at an ashram in India.
The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which means to join or unite. It is a practice that connects the body and mind through different body postures, meditation, and controlled breathing. Yoga is not a religious practice, but it can be a spiritual practice, and it is all-inclusive whether you are Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or atheist. It is an exercise in becoming the best version of ourselves both physically and mentally, while encouraging self reflection and positive intention. This ancient tradition can be an exercise of forward folds and headstands as well as a daily practice of insightful and conscientious living.
There are many yoga paths and knowing where to begin can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have any background in yogic philosophy. Here is a basic guide to the various styles of yoga to help you navigate your own personal
Hatha yoga is the yoga we are most familiar with in the west. It involves the practice of the classical postures known as the “asanas”. The Sanskit word “hatha” translates to “willful” or focused movement. It is an umbrella term that encompasses the various styles of the physical exercises and movements of yoga. The body is a temple and maintenance of the body is an important stage of our physical and spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop discipline and the ability to focus, both of which are necessary for meditation. Here are some of the most popular subgenres of Hatha yoga you may encounter:
Ashtanga yoga is physically demanding and fast paced. It involves a predefined collection of poses that are executed in a specific order of six series (primary, intermediate, and four advanced series). Students are expected to begin with the first (primary) series and progress to the next level only when they have fully mastered each preceding series. Typically classes involve a teacher leading the class, but as students advance, they may explore Mysore classes, which are in a self-directed setting.
In the yoga world the most common understanding of “vinyasa” is the coordination of movement with breath. Like Ashtanga, Vinyasa yoga flows quickly, but it is less structured. There are no required poses in a Vinyasa class, so the content will vary based on the teacher you have.
Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of yoga is heavily focused on proper alignment and uses lots of props to achieve the best expression of the poses. It is an excellent way to perfect and build your basic foundation of good yoga habits. It is also beneficial for the seasoned yogi to deepen their practice and to analyze even
their basic core poses.
Hot yoga is performed in a room heated between 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It is said that practicing yoga in high heat is good to loosen tight muscles and to detoxify the body through sweating. This is not a good choice for pregnant women or anyone with blood pressure or heat sensitivities.
Also known as yin yoga, restorative classes use bolsters, blankets, and blocks to prop students into passive poses so the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. It is also called Taoist yoga, and focuses on lengthening the connective tissues within the body by letting gravity do the work.
Kundalini incorporates repeated movements, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting, and meditation. The practice is designed to awaken the energy at the base of the spine in order to draw it upward through each of the seven chakras.
Other paths of yogic practice that cultivate the mind but don’t necessarily include yoga postures are:
Karma yoga is the yoga of action and service. It is the act of giving your time, your kindness, or any selfless action without expectations of reciprocation, personal gain, confirmation, or approval. This yoga helps us humble our ego and revolves around doing things for the greater
good of our communities.
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge and wisdom. Buddhism reminds us to have a beginner’s mind; to know that we don’t know. Humility opens the door to learning and revelation. This is the yoga of self-inquiry, asking the question, “Who am I?” without the interference of any previous conditioning. In Jnana yoga our attention is turned towards the “self” and through the practice of meditation and mindfulness we work toward recognizing and separating the ego from the true “self”.
Bhakti yoga has been described as the practice of “love for love’s sake” and “union through love and devotion.” It is the practice of entering each day and attending each moment with a sense of holiness and to see every relationship and experience we have as sacred and divine. This practice invites
us to experience oneness and unity with
Raja translates to “king” in Sanskrit and is the most integrated path of yoga. It focuses on the intellectual, emotional, and intuitive parts of the personality. Its purpose is to awaken hidden potential through true understanding. It includes the practice of contemplation and meditation and is practiced after Hatha yoga, which prepares the physical body for deep meditation.
Mantra yoga involves chanting a word or phrase with concentration until our awareness of the outer world and its stimuli dissolves, allowing us to experience a feeling of union and harmony with our higher consciousness. Think of Buddhist monks chanting together for hours
The main purpose of Tantra yoga is to bring the duality of feminine (Shakti) and masculine (Shiva) energies within us together into a state of non-duality, thus achieving perfect union with no separation between the material world and the spiritual realm. Although our senses perceive duality all around us as all pairs of opposites, they are actually contained in the same universal consciousness. It is often misunderstood and taken out of context which has led many to equate Tantra with a ritual sexual practice. Deeper study of the ancient tradition reveals a path for self realization and spiritual awakening.
For most of us, yoga postures can simply offer a way to stay in shape and manage stress, either through the classical styles or non-traditional fads, such as headstands with goats or sipping your favorite beer in between lunges. For others, yogic philosophy is a means of deep spiritual exploration and insight. The beauty of yoga is that it can enrich your life in the way that suits you best. In this way, yoga is for everybody.
Natasha Kubis is a licensed acupuncturist and certified yoga teacher. For more information, visit essential-well.com