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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.
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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 bags.

"Iyengar is more focused on alignment, and even though it's not always moving quickly, it's very intense and adapted for beginners," says Miller.

Astanga yoga involves 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 mind.

Bikram yoga is a system of 26 postures that are performed in a standard sequence in a room heated to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. This approach is fairly vigorous and requires a certain level of fitness on the part of students.

"Bikram is done in a room with a high temperature," says Miller. "There is less focus on alignment, and more on sweating and getting a good workout."

Viniyoga focuses on practicing a posture according to one's individual needs and capacity. Regulated breathing is an important aspect of Viniyoga, and the breath is carefully coordinated with the postural movements.

Kripalu yoga is a three-stage yoga. In the first stage, postural alignment and coordination of breath and movement are emphasized, and the postures are held for a short duration only. In the second stage, meditation is included into the practice and postures are held for prolonged periods. In the final stage, the practice of postures becomes a spontaneous "meditation in motion."

Integral yoga made a debut at the Woodstock festival in 1969, where yoga expert Swami Satchidananda taught thousands to chant, "om." This style aims to integrate the various aspects of the body and mind through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, and meditation, and function is more important than form. In this style of yoga, breathing and meditation are emphasized as much as the postures.

Sivananda yoga includes a series of twelve postures, breathing exercises, relaxation, and mantra chanting.

Ananda yoga is a gentle style that is designed to prepare the student for meditation, involving consciously directing the body's energy to different organs and limbs.

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