Yoga Traditions & Schools of Thought
Our aim is to give the yoga-curious a glimpse into the differences among various styles of the yoga you might find in studios and centers in the West today. And to point out some aspects that have remained constant for millennia. Tying ourselves back to the origins of the practice can give us a sense of how deeply connected we all are. While looking at the differences among yogic traditions can assure us that there is truly a place for each of us in this great big world we call, "YOGA."
Anything that survives more than 4000 years is bound to change a bit along the way. Like a living organism, the many practices and disciplines that make up what we call, "Yoga," have grown, evolved, branched, converged, reincarnated, and shifted, both to guide and to serve practitioners over the years. So, while making an exhaustive list of every school and tradition of yogic practice and thought is impossible. We aim to familiarize readers with the major types of yoga you are likely to find here in studios in the US today.
If you are looking for more detailed information about the history of yoga, read our article, Yoga Timeline.
Ashtanga is a practice developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India in the early part of the 20th century. Jois was a relative and student of TK Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga.
In Ashtanga style yoga, there are 6 set series, or routines, of poses, all with prescribed breathing patterns (pranayama), focal points for the eyes (drishti), and muscular energy locks (bandhas.) The series are performed in the same sequence for every practice. Teachers may lead group classes, or they may give class "Mysore style," meaning practitioners move at their own pace while the teacher circulates, giving one-on-one support and guidance to each practitioner.
This is a dynamic, powerful practice that equips yogis with a balance of power, strength, flexibility, and focus. It may be an especially appealing practice for people who experience a lot of un-grounding in their daily lives, for example, traveling often, stressful work environments, changing jobs or living situations, hectic school schedules, or a high degree of unpredictability. The steadiness of the routines can have a very centering and steadying affect. This may also be an appealing practice for those who are looking for a devotional practice and who connect with chanting. More info at the Sharath Joiswebiste.
Vinyasa is a flowing style of yoga that draws from the traditions of Ashtanga, for example, in the regular use of Sun Salutations. The major difference is that the routines in Vinyasa vary with each practice.
Teachers generally set a theme for the day around a seminal pose, a mantra or quote, or inspiration from the natural world or rhythms of the seasons. Vinyasa classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher. However, most are physically demanding with more cardio requirements than some other yoga forms and will help practitioners build strength, body awareness, flexibility, and balance.
This may be an appealing practice for someone who likes variety or wants to increase lung capacity.
Yin comes from the Chinese lineage of yoga. Yin yoga was defined by Paul Grilley, based on the teachings of Daoist yoga, and, among others, Paulie Zink and Sarah Powers.
Yin yoga focuses on the subtle, or energy body and on opening the connective tissues of the physical body, specifically, tendons, facia, and ligaments.
This style uses mostly low to the ground poses, held for longer periods of time; think:1-10 minutes per pose, to create flexibility, mobility, softness and responsiveness. This may be an appealing practice for people who have another, energetically demanding movement practice (like running, weight lifting, etc.), who already have an interest in martial arts, or who sit a lot in daily life, for example, office workers and long haul drivers.
The yin poses focus heavily on opening, or increasing range of motion, in the hip joints and associated tissues. For more info read Paul Grilley's book: Yin Yoga: principles and practice. Or look for Bernie Clark's The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga.
Restorative Yoga is the yoga of relaxation. Think: very long held poses, with lots of props, like blankets and pillows, and often with gentle music, aromatherapy, and low lighting to create an atmosphere of calm.
This is a very good practice if stress-reduction is the major goal. Deep breathing, soothing mantra, and peaceful vibes can help ease anxiety and release habitual physical and mental tension patterns.
Judith Lasater has written the go-to books about restorative yoga including, Relax and Renew; Restful Yoga for Stressful Times .
With so many distinct schools and traditions of yoga, we have obviously left many, many valuable practices out of today's article. So, look for another addition of Traditions and Schools yet to come. In the meantime...
Check out our articles on Yoga Mala and Yoga for Athletes.
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