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Yoga is an increasingly popular practice that combines body postures with breathing control to find harmony between our body, mind and spirit. There are up to 100 different types of yoga. We'll tell you what they are all about, and what benefits do the most interesting types of yoga have.
Yoga is an Eastern discipline and comprehensive care therapy linked to meditation and its benefits over our body in all areas: physical, mental and spiritual. It is an old-age practice that has been setting a firm basis in Western societies as a popular phenomenon with an increasingly large fanbase.
Yoga completely fits into the religious, cultural and spiritual tradition of hinduism, and it stems from the belief in the transcendence of our inner self to overcome limitations of the physical world and reach a meditating state that connects mind, body and spirits.
For many, yoga can be just another physical activity to obtain immediate body benefits. But going beyond its practical function, you need to know that yoga is a complete philosophical theory based in Brahmanism and ascetic practices. Using this as its foundation, it proposes that human beings should reach a state of contemplation where we reach a further state beyond our physical selves, through giving up on physical pleasures and using spiritual elevation as our main tool.
Yoga in itself is a complex activity, but it actually comes down to engaging into different body postures and controlling breathing. In this sense, the first benefit of yoga is an improvement in our muscular tone, something quite appropriate for people who want a more active lifestyle and relaxed mood.
The success of yoga in Western societies precisely comes from the fact that many people see it as an outlet to our stressful daily life. One of the main benefits is precisely its ability to soothe down stress and anxiety through meditation. Connecting with our inner selves implies running away from the physical weight we feel because of stress.
Mentally speaking, yoga is also a good resource to reach emotional stability. Many people with psychological issues, such as depression, use it to improve their mood, although it should be noted that yoga, like many other alternative therapies, is just a great complement but never a replacement.
Among other benefits, yoga is also a very popular practice for weight loss (which is why abdominal breathing and the Sun Salutation, two variations originally called Pranayama Kapalbhati and Surya Namaskar, are quite appropriate), and also for a general health improvement, to reduce the impact of certain illnesses, for instance.
During yoga practice, the individual creates an intimate bond with the body while relaxing the mind and elevating the spirit. According to the desired target area and the body postures, there are up to 100 different types of yoga. These are the most common in the West.
It is connected to Ashtanga Yoga, a discipline promoting strength, resistance and emotional control. Hatha Yoga is one of the most well-known types of yoga, and it is also known as the physical yoga, through which the individual creates a tight link between their mental and physical selves through asanas and silent meditation.
Hatha Yoga sessions consist of three stages: breathing, meditation and focus. In the first part, there is an initial meditation or relaxation induction, to then enter some warm-up exercises that have a few rounds of Surya Namaskar or Chandra Namaskar, the Sun Salutation or Moon Salutation.
Then, the therapist takes the lead through the performance of asanas, preferably one posture at a time: inverted, strength-based, spinal twisting, front stretching, back flexing, side stretching and balance. After that, there is a final relaxation stage.
While Hatha Yoga focuses on asanas (postures), Kundalini Yoga emphasises breathing (Pranayama) and meditation (Dhyana). In this variation, postures are simpler and there's an emphasis on the control of dynamic breathing. Therefore, there's not much of a physical demand, but it does take high levels of focus and meditation.
Kundalini Yoga works on coordination between movement and breathing, pairs up static and dynamic postures, and its main goal is to create movement from mental focus. In order to do that, it's very important to make room for relaxation during exercises, and afterwards as well; the breathing flow should also be kept under control.
This type of yoga is perfect to improve the health of our muscles and bones, aside from promoting a good performance of our circulatory system, digestive tract and respiratory system.
For those who are well acquainted into yoga and prefer structured sessions with a more difficult challenge, Ashtanga Yoga is the perfect choice. In this case, the order of asanas is fully preset, and its goal is to find inner focus through practice. That is why users of this yoga should practice it regularly.
Ashtanga Yoga has a rigid structure to it: it has an initial session, then several secondary sessions, some back-stretching postures, and finally, an ending sequence.
However, many people like it because students can eventually perfect sequences and practise them at their own pace, always with an instructor around to supervise them.
This is an old-age system brought back into the present by a Yogi master, transmitted to their students in the Himalayan mountains back in the 19th century, whose practice has come to our life as one of the most common variations of yoga. It consists of a series of breathing techniques to promote relaxation and spiritual development.
There are 144 techniques within Kriya Yoga, from which 18 are the best-known and more commonly used by instructors. They combine several easy postures that unlock the energy points (chakras) and harmonise the assertive, rational, masculine side with the receptive, intuitive, feminine side.
Kriya Yoga is perfect to prevent and treat many illnesses, functional illnesses such as diabetes and breathing issues, and to work on emotional stability.
Vinyasa Yoga, also known as Viniyoga, is interesting because it helps to set apart and embrace this practice by adapting each movement to a specific function. This variation brings in the Yogi tradition and puts its service at the test of the individual's practical utilities. That's why it's pretty well-spread around the West.
The basic idea is to allow the master to discern and adapt its specifications into specific needs of users. Besides, it employs the healing powers of yoga to improve physical states and soothe illnesses. This is why it's considered the therapeutical yoga.
Like Kriya Yoga, Vinyasa is also focused on chakras, which is why every body posture is connected through rhythm-based breathing, and the individual achieves what is known as the Yoga Flow, a special energy flow.
Another form of yoga that's popular is Nada Yoga, also known as the sound yoga because it is based on the observation that sound acts on material bodies in the form of vibrations and energy, and in the case of humans, on the body and spirit. This type of yoga has the goal of moving and making the individual emotional.
This way, the intention is to awaken inner energies through emotional stimulation, and it all occurs from what is considered a sacred sound as the embodiment of the universe, the syllable Ohm. Also, the session brings around musical instruments, human voices and certain styles of music to reach the ultimate bond between mind, body and spirit.
The sleep yoga, or Yoga Nidra, is a technique that promotes conscious relaxation through the alteration of awareness and the induction into deep meditative trances. This allows, among other things, to increase imagination, enter the subconscious, connect the mind to the body to heal, and ultimately, reach enlightenment.
It fits into the category of the so-called tantric practices, which require great focus and great mental and spiritual skills. That is why, practice-wise, it is very passive and doesn't demand the individual to have a great physical shape. It includes breathing sets to manage life energy, meditation sets to work on inner selves, and sensory deprivation sets.
Yoga postures are called asanas, and they're one of the components in this discipline, along with other elements such as breathing and meditation. Asanas range all the way from hard exercises that demand users to be fully fit, to relaxing exercises perfect for meditation.
Among the hundreds of asanas out there, The Mountain is the most basic. It is a vertical position where it is very important for you to share the weight of your body among both of your feet, which will be joined at your big toe with the muscles facing inwards. Stretch out your arms with the inner side of the elbow looking forward, and the shoulders back.
Look ahead and carry your energy from your ankles to your hips, and stretch out the body by raising the right sternum. The exercise lasts from 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Set yourselves up with spread legs and arms stretched out. Turn the toes of your right foot in, and the ones in your left food out, tense your muscles and turn them inwards. Flex your body towards the leading leg, leave your left hand resting on the leg, and raise your right hand up. One minute per side should do.
Although this asana is in the range of basic movements, it takes some extra flexibility. Sit down with open, stretched-out legs, and take your glutes forward. Move your torso forward as well, and keep your knees and toes looking upwards, clinging to your toes with your hands. Hold on for 1 minute.
Stand still and balance your body weight into your left leg while you fold your right leg until your sole is on the groin of the other leg. The center of your pelvic muscles should be aligned with your left leg. Stretch your arms upwards until your palms are on top of your head together, and look forward.
This is an intermediate-level asana that takes a little more flexibility and body tone. Get on your knees with your legs straight along one another, and squeeze your bum. Keep your pelvis stable, push back with your thighs, and raise the sternum up to stretch out your vertebrae. Flex your torso back, bring the shoulder blades together and join your hands to your ankles.
Stand up and spread out your legs until your feet are parallel to one another, take your pelvis behind and flex your torso forward. Get your head closer to your legs while stretching these out and clinging to your ankles, or touching your toes with your hands. The recommended time for this posture is one minute.
Put your right leg down strong against the ground while you raise the left one. Lean your torso to the right until your hand's on the ground, while the left raises up until there's a perfect balance. Look upwards if you don't have neck pain. Hold on for one minute, then swap legs.
This is an advanced-level asana that will get you to stand up and raise one leg pulling it behind and taking your heel to your bum. Relax, attract your muscle energy into your core and contract the back part of the thigh in the base leg. Extend the opposing arm to the leg that's raised forward. Hold on and swap legs.
Within asanas, there's also posture cycles that can be done at any time to get energised or relax. One of the best known is the Sun Salutation, a cycle of asanas that's recommended to start off the day because of its energising effect.
It is a combination of postures which need to be executed through breathing control continuously, and which combine static and flexible positions.
Within this posture cycle, there's also what's known as the Moon Salutation. Unlike the Sun's, this one is used to soothe your nerves and stress. That's why it's good for the end of the day as an activity to destress and decompress.
The Moon Salutation commonly has 18 asanas that begin with flexing the back forward and backwards, and it combines flexibility and hold positions always controlling breathing through rhythm.
We've now seen how Kundalini Yoga focuses on breathing and meditation, because this technique becomes a valuable key to your inner world. Meditation in Kundalini Yoga contains practical tools that back up your mind and guide your body through breathing and focusing.
Variations in Kundalini Yoga meditation are endless, offering the chance to select several exercise series to focus on one single issue, ranging from stress reduction to overcoming addictions or soothing down physical pain. It's also a good technique to reinforce self-knowledge, cleanse chakras and increase vitality.
Kundalini meditation needs a space with solitude, silence and quietness, preferably the same place every day, at the break of dawn. Make it yours, add some candles, frankincense, flowers... Do some warm-up exercises or sing Ong Namo Guru Dev before you start meditating. Then, focus on your goal.
According to Yogi science, the length of each session conditions the desired effects of meditation. Shorter sessions from 3 to 11 minutes act on body circulation, the energy fields and the nervous system. Medium-range sessions, from 20 minutes up to an hour, allow to balance and connect the three minds and bring together the subconscious and outer projection. Long sessions allow you to move around the subconscious and the surrounding universal mind.
Also, Kundalini meditation demands commitment. You can settle for a 40-day plan, which allows you to change a habit, a 90-day plan to settle down a habit firmly, a continuous flow of 120 days to assume the new habit, and 1000 days to reach mastery.
There is a close connection between music, meditation and yoga. Music is usually brought on as a complement to help the mind relax and connect with the subconscious, and that is why it is usually played in yoga sessions focused on relaxation, meditation and stress and anxiety treatments.
However, happier and more upbeat songs can be used on sessions that aim at activation and boosting.
For instance, a very popular mantra is Ong Namo Guru Dev, a composition created to guide the mind through repetition. It is normally sung three times before meditation actually begins, and it is an introductory piece to help raise spirits. It calls for the blessing of the Creator, the Divine Master, within each of us.
Another very popular piece is May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You by The Incredible String Band. When the master who introduced Kundalini Yoga heard this piece in the Woodstock festival in 1969, he decided to bring it into the yoga sessions he directed within the same festival, in the midst of all the hippie fad.
Since then it is normally used at the end of Kundalini Yoga sessions to come back with more energy and willingness into the material world, and to connect the group's energies.