So you’ve decided to hang up your shoes and twist your way to good health instead? Or are recovering from an injury and are looking for an activity that hastens the healing? Maybe you plan to use it as cross-training for another sport, want to improve your flexibility or simply need to de-stress on your mat?
It doesn’t matter what brings you to yoga, the point is you have decided to try it out. But with the mind-bogglingly long list of styles, variations and hybridisations of the practice out there, it can be somewhat intimidating for a relative newbie.
As someone who has been dabbling in yoga, on and off, for the last decade or so, I firmly believe one should begin their yoga journey with a practice rooted in tradition. It helps understand alignment and breath, instils discipline and opens your heart, mind and body slowly but surely, as you go deeper into the practice.
Here are some of the most well-known traditional styles out there. So choose the one that suits you the best and start om- ming.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Codified by K Pattabhi Jois
This is an intensely dynamic, physically demanding practice, in which the breath is synchronised with a progressive, continuous number of postures ( this integration of movement and breath is called a vinyasa). Asanas are performed in a set sequence or series, and one is “permitted” to move to the next one only when they have mastered the previous one.“It is a great style for a home practitioner,” says Bengaluru-based Prasad Bhatdundi, who teaches in this style. It is also fantastic for the travelling yogi, he says. “You can go anywhere in the world and attend an Ashtanga class, as the format of the class stays the same, independent of the teacher,” he adds. It is a style that requires patience and dedication—it often takes years even to complete the first series—but its benefits are manifold, believes Bhatdundi.
Believed to have evolved from ancient yogic traditions dating back centuries
Hatha Yoga isn’t strictly a style of yoga—it is an umbrella term for any system that uses postures, breathwork and dietary regulations to prepare one for higher possibilities, says Chennai-based Divya Srinivasan, who has been teaching Classical Hatha Yoga for over 15 years.
However, if a studio specifically offers you a Hatha class, what can you expect? “A traditional Hatha yoga class is structured to cleanse the body of toxins, help you breathe better and make your body supple and strong,” points out Srinivasan. According to her, the possibilities of exploration within a class are endless.
You may have a Hatha class that focuses on asanas that stretch the hamstrings and the back, for instance. Or ones that help cultivate balance, better breathing or upper body strength. One thing is constant though: a Hatha yoga class will, “help one appreciate the body’s innate intelligence and discover its potential,” she says.
Named after and developed by BKS Iyengar
Say Iyengar Yoga, and the first thing that will pop into your head is, “Isn’t this the yoga that uses props?”While Iyengar did introduce props to enable students to practise with greater ease, confidence and stability, the practice itself is much more than props. “It is not so much about the props; it is about alignment,” points out Bengaluru-based Pragya Bhatt, who teaches and practises in the Iyengar style.
Perfect alignment ensures that you don’t injure yourself, she says, adding that it is an accepting practice that can be modified to suit all levels of practitioners.
Poses are held for longer periods of time here, and so taking an Iyengar class a couple of times a week could be hugely beneficial to students who prefer more fast-paced practices, believes Bhatt. “Studying the asana so closely will add depth to their practice,” she says.
Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati and Swami Vishnudevananda
The Sivananda training system revolves around five main principles referred to as the Five Points of Yoga. These include asanas, breathing, relaxation, diet and positive thinking, that come together to create a system that “aims at naturally achieving the goal through creating a healthy body and mind that leads to spiritual evolvement,” says the organisation’s website.
According to Chennai-based Mansi Gandhi, a certified yoga teacher of the Sivananda style, a typical class is fairly structured. It begins with a pranayama, segues into surya namaskars and 12 basic asanas and finishes with deep relaxation.
“It is a really accessible system,” she believes, adding that the system could be tailored to meet the requirement of people across different fitness levels pretty easily. “You can tailor-make the practice without destroying its spirit,” she says.
Bihar or Satyananda School of Yoga
Founded by Swami Satyananda
Yoga nidra will take you into a state of consciousness, midway between sleep and wakefulness, inducing absolute relaxation. “It was Swami Satyananda who constructed this immensely popular and effective practice,” explains Pradeep G Gowda, the founder of the a1000yoga chain of studios, and a graduate from the Munger-based Bihar School of Yoga.
Meditation is an important aspect of this school and the Satyananda Yoga system has a number of meditation techniques that deepen awareness, “It is one of the only two Kriya yoga schools in India,” explains Gowda. A class is a balance of various spinal movements and pranayama practice and the teacher sits in the front watching, observing and guiding every student, says Gowda who refers to it as, “a holistic, integral approach”.