Beyond Om: The Many Styles of Yoga
Yoga is more than "om-ing" and sitting cross-legged. Learn about the different yoga styles and how you can pick one that is right for you.
Bikram, Astanga, Kripalu, Sivananda, Iyengar ... while these
may sound Greek to most people, they are actually different yoga styles,
derived from India more than 5,000 years ago. No longer only for the flower
children of the '60s, yoga is now mainstream. There are more than 20 million
people in North America practicing yoga as exercise for the mind and body,
according to the Yoga Education and Research Center.
But with so many yoga styles available, it may seem like a
daunting task for the beginner to tell one from the next. Before you can say
"om," seasoned yoga experts explain to WebMD the philosophy of yoga,
what the different yoga styles involve, and how you can pick a style that is
right for your body -- and mind.
Hatha yoga is the yoga style that is mainly practiced in the
U.S., and within it, are many variations, including Bikram and Iyengar.
Although these variations differ, each type -- no matter the branch or name --
is based on the same underlying principle.
"The philosophy of yoga is that it focuses on the
combination of body, mind, and spirit," says Elise Browning Miller, MA, a
certified Iyengar yoga teacher in Mt. View, Calif.,
who has been teaching since 1976. "It's connecting with your self on a
Yoga is about quieting the fluctuations of the mind, explains
For instance, "If you are doing yoga, but you're thinking
about work or grocery shopping, it's not yoga -- its exercise," Miller
tells WebMD. "With yoga, you need to bring your focus into the
It provides a sense of peacefulness and well-being while
energizing you at the same time.
"Physically doing the asanas (the yoga poses) is translated
as that which is steady and with ease," says Miller. "So there is a
stability within the poses and within your mind. Yoga can make you very fit, it
conditions your muscles, it energizes you, it helps you breathe, gives you more
tone and balance, and more of a feeling of goodness about yourself."
The Hatha Yoga Styles
The variations of Hatha yoga range from the physically
challenging to the meditatively transcending. According to the Yoga Research
and Education Center web site, they include:
Iyengar yoga, which is the most widely recognized
approach to Hatha yoga, is characterized by precision performance and the aid
of various props, such as cushions, benches, wood blocks, straps, and even sand
"Iyengar is more focused on alignment, and even though it's
not always moving quickly, it's very intense and adapted for beginners,"
Astanga yogainvolves synchronizing
the breath with a fast-paced series of postures -- a process producing intense
internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and
organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm