Yoga Styles


Finding a Yoga Class

There are many different schools of Yoga and it is becoming more difficult to distinguish between the different styles and schools. I would always recommend that you get in touch with the teacher and ask for as much information as possible before committing to a course. It can be helpful to know a little more about the branches of Yoga before enrolling on a course. In many health clubs and Adult Education Centres there will be some information available on the style of Yoga taught and what to expect from a class, however, here is some basic information to consider before you join a class. If in doubt, ask to join a trial class before enrolling for a whole course and make sure you tell the teacher if you suffer from any health problems so that you can be given help and advice about contra-indications.

Although most classes have similarities, they will all vary according to the teacher and method and type of students attending the class. Some classes will state that they are for beginners only, whilst other classes may be for students who are progressing and there will also be mixed ability classes. Although most Yoga classes in the west are based on Breathing and Physical practices and often include deep relaxation as well, knowing something about the tradition and background of Yoga can be helpful in deciding on a class. Here is a brief summary of the tradition of Yoga.

Classical Yoga

The path of Yoga has three main branches. Each path leads to the eventual goal of self realization.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana means wisdom or Knowledge and is the path of experiential knowledge of the inner self through Yoga practices defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It has three sub divisions known as Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga.

Kriya Yoga refers to purification techniques that are preliminary practices that prepare the body/mind for the more subtle practices.

Ashtanga Yoga refers to the eightfold path as described in the Yoga Sutras. (See Meditation Section)

This path sets out the stages of practice that lead us from “outer” to “inner” awareness, and is set out in more detail in the Meditation section..

Hatha Yoga forms the third and fourth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga which are Asana (postures) and Pranayama (Breathing Practices). The word itself refers to the balancing effects of these two limbs in relation to solar and lunar energy and right and left sides of the body. It is Hatha Yoga that is commonly practised in the west and is marketed under many names and taught in many different ways by different schools. Some of the names refer to the teachers who started these schools such as the Iyengar Yoga of BKS Iyengar, Swami Sivananda’s school of Sivananda Yoga and other more recent additions of which there are many. It has become fairly common practice for modern day teachers to use their names in order to market their own Yoga classes. Bikram Yoga is a recent method of Hatha Yoga practice in which students carry out asana practice in a heated environment. The recent Ashtanga Yoga of Pattabhi Jois is distinguished by its high impact and cardiovascular effects. Power Yoga is another high impact popular method of Hatha Yoga.

Swami Satyananda's school of Satyananda Yoga also referred to as the Bihar school of Yoga or Bihari Yoga based on the location of the Ashram where it originated offers a more comprehensive standard practice of teaching kriyas or cleansing techniques along with meditative techniques and has a greater focus on the inner limbs as well as insisting on Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga in the form of Seva (Selfless service). Similarly the practices of Integral Yoga, Kripalu Yoga and Sivananda Yoga are all schools of Yoga with their own distinctive qualities that offer experience of the inner limbs.

Bhakti Yoga

This is the Yoga of devotion expressed through rituals, chanting and meditation.

Karma Yoga

The path of Seva or Selfless Service.