While many people think that Yoga is a religion, it is, in fact, not a religion at all. Yoga originated more than 5,000 years ago and helped practitioners gain stability and relaxation to prepare themselves for the rigors of meditation.
Yoga, in itself, means to join or unite. It’s a form of exercise that’s based around the beliefs that your body and mind are intimately connected, and that by controlling your breathing you can gain balance between your mind, body, and soul.
This is done through various poses, or asanas, and can help you establish harmony, and a balanced approach to your life. At it’s core, Yoga helps you take over the “driver’s seat” in your life, by controlling your body, your breath, and your mind.
While Yoga practice in itself is very simple and straight-forward, achieving a fine balance between all 3 aspects of your life can be difficult and take years to achieve the true centered feeling that yogis strive for.
Yoga is not actually a religion, in the sense that it doesn’t have a philosophy of it’s own. Because of it’s foundation in Eastern religion, it’s often associated with religion. The closest form of religion to Yoga is actually Hinduism, with one of the six major schools of Orthodox in Hinduism actually being called “Yoga”.
Yoga has 5 different “yamas”, or principles & ethical rules, along with 5 “niyamas”. The “yamas” are: chastity, non-greed, truthfulness, non-violence, and non-stealing. The 5 “niyamas” are centering on the Divine, self-discipline, self-study, purity, and contentment.
These are all virtues that you attempt to achieve when you begin practicing yoga, in it’s traditional sense.
Along with the 5 Yamas, there are also 5 Niyamas that help finish the path of ethical discipline.
Along with Yamas and Niyamas, there are also different branches of yoga. Some forms of practice have actually combined multiple paths, to form a new yogic traditions. For the most part, each path of Yoga is based on the teacher’s particular style, or approach to how they practice asanas.
Ananda Yoga, at it’s foundation, is a blending of spiritual and physical self, and focuses on a series of asanas called “energenization exercises” that revolve around tensing and relaxing various parts of the body.
These exercises, coupled with focused breathing helps to prepare practitioners for extended meditation.
Ashtanga Yoga is a more rigorous type of yoga and can be related more to the type of training that professional athletes receive.
It’s the most intense form of yoga and combines six different asanas that are linked to your breathing to emphasize your balance of strength, flexibility, and stamina. It’s often called “Power Yoga”.
Integral Yoga combines every aspect of practice, asanas, pranayamas, or breaths, selflessness, chanting, prayers, meditation, and self-study.
It’s more on the meditative side of practice than physical, and focuses on being at ease with your body, at peace in your mind, and useful in your life. Integral Yoga is a lot more gentle and meditative than other forms of practice.
Iyengar Yoga became popularized in Western societies, and follows the teachings of master BKS Iyengar.
It revolves around alignment of your spine, arms, and legs, and practice tends to be very slow and deliberate in nature. Most classes are focused on very few asanas, with support being provided through various props to help you achieve perfect posture.
Kripalu Yoga focuses on meditation while you’re moving between asanas. It’s emphasis is based on your mental and emotional awareness, and asanas are held for long periods of time so you’re given a chance to explore your inner self.
Practice ranges from gentle in the first stage, to moderate in the second stage, and strenuous in the final stage where you’re surrendering to your body.
Kundalini Yoga focuses on your reservoir of built-up energy inside of your body, at the base of your spine.
By placing emphasis on your breathing techniques as you move through asanas, along with chanting and meditation, your energy is directed from the base of your spine through your energy centers, or chakras.
Sivananda Yoga is one of the few that includes aspects of your dieting into your overall practice.
You begin each class with mantras and chanting that help you center, before beginning a series of breathing exercises, sun salutations, and twelve classic asanas.
In between the strenuous Ashtanga Yoga, and the more precise, exact Iyengar yoga lies the Viniyoga path.
It combines asanas, breathing, meditation, prayer, chanting and rituals along with studying of texts, images, and active counseling. Most Viniyoga classes are conducted in one-on-one sessions to help you get the most out of the practice.
Understanding the 5 Yamas, 5 Niyamas, and different paths of Yoga will help you learn why you’re practicing, along with the right type of practice you need to be doing to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.
One style of yoga may be better suited to people who are active in sports, while other styles of yoga are going to be more catered towards people looking to slow down in life, get centered, and find their true self.