As a yoga teacher, I often get asked the question, "what kind of yoga do you teach?” The follow-up question is, "which yoga do you think is good for me?” Perhaps your doctor has recommended a yoga practice to reduce your stress which in turn may bring down your blood pressure, or maybe there is a chronic neck or back pain for several years with no signs of relief from traditional therapies. Do you have a tendency to become anxious or depressed in certain situations? Maybe you have been asking the question, "who am I and what is my "dharma” or purpose in life?”
All these and more are good reasons to turn to a regular yoga practice that help loosen the body, calm the nerves, and bring you back for more than the physical and mental aspects. This article covers some of the better known types of hatha yoga or asana/pranayama practice in the West. Subsequently, we can delve into each limb of yoga as well as other yogic paths which can allow one to know and experience the Divine nature of the Self.
Most people are familiar with the "hatha” yoga style of yoga which has become popular in the West and is taught in various gyms as well as in yoga studios. Hatha yoga is essentially the practice of physical asanas aimed at purifying and strengthening the body in order to prepare one to sit in comfort for higher meditations. The Sanskrit word "hatha” comes from the root "ha” meaning "sun” and "tha” meaning "moon”. So essentially hatha yoga unites the opposite energies of the sun and the moon to achieve balance in the mind and body, and opens energy channels to allow one to connect with spiritual or Divine energy. Hatha yoga focuses more on the Asana and Pranayama practice which are only two limbs of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, but it offers the practitioner the ability to gain flexibility and strength along with developing mental fortitude to deal with stressful situations.
Maharishi Patanjali, the "father of yoga” codified his thoughts and observations into 195 short aphorisms which are meant to guide one to right thinking and rightful living. Interestingly, there are no descriptions of yoga asanas and detailed pranayamas in the ancient Yoga Sutras – their details are found in the ancient texts called Shiva Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Gheranda Samhita is a more recent work written in the last five hundred years.
Bikram yoga, a popular style in the West was started by Yogiraj Bikram Chaudhury and is done in a heated room at a temperature of about 98-105 degrees, where a standard set of 26 poses and 2 Pranayama techniques is taught by a Bikram certified yoga instructor. There are many benefits to doing hatha yoga in a heated environment, which allows the body to be more malleable and one is able to move deeper into the poses with increased flexibility. It also allows the body to release toxins from the tissues, muscles and organs more easily and provides a good cardio vascular workout with extensive sweating.
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