and Background of Yoga
from Mastering Secrets of Yoga Flow by Doug Swenson)
basic philosophy of yoga is centered around creating a balance
between your physical, mental, and spiritual health. This
balance can be achieved through disciplines of physical
and mental exercise, breathing techniques, deep relaxation,
and following a pure diet. The end result is a connection
with the natural flow of energy in the universe.
Most systems of yoga today, draw from the well of information
documented in the first know text on yoga, this book is
called: “ The Yoga Sutras” , which was complied
by Patanjali in the year 300 B.C. Patanjali categorized
the science, art and practice of yoga as a eight limbed
path to enlightenment.
Limbs of Yoga
(1) Yama – Abstinences:
(a) Ahimsa – Embrace
peace and non-violence.
(b) Satya – Be truthful
and honest in all ways.
(c) Asteya – Refrain
from stealing and cheating.
(d) Brahmacharya – Maintain
integrity of intimate relationships.
(e) Aparigraha – Refrain
from hording and be free from bonds of materialism.
(2) Niyama – Observances:
(a) Saucha – Strive
for purity in body, mind and spirit.
(b) Santosa – To embrace
contentment within simplicity, and feel tranquility.
(c) Austerity – Endure
work and hardship in exchange for improved body and mind.
(d) Svadhyaya – Embrace
self study and always see yourself as a student.
(e) Isvara – To be humble
in the presence of the supreme being, or energy.
(3) Asana – Postures
Practice sacred yoga postures
for physical and mental health
(4) Pranayama – Breathing
Learn the science art and
practice of enhanced breathing techniques.
(5) Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal
Withdrawal your senses in
order gaze inward and maintain clear focus.
(6) Dharana – Concentration
Strive to focus all your energy
one a particular area of thought and concentrate.
(7) Dhyana – Meditation
Gain complete control over
your mind, with sustained, effortless, relaxed intellect.
(8) Samadhi – Self Realization
To reach enlightenment, shed
the ego and become one with the universe.
Wise sages and gurus thought that the answers to the questions
on how humans could live a healthier and more productive
life were found in the hands of Mother Nature. From studying
different animals, these wise men came to the conclusion
that there was a balance of strength and softness within
all creatures and within nature itself. In time their teachings
evolved into a practical system that was handed down from
teacher to student over thousands of years. The connection
of an improved diet, along with techniques of fasting and
the evolution of yoga postures formed the system that we
now refer to as Yoga. This system created a positive direction
for all humans to greatly enhance their physical and mental
and spiritual health.
The Similarities Found In
The most noted skill of all Hatha Yoga styles is the mastery
of the yoga postures. The individual postures are called
asanas, which translates as meaning "position comfortably
held." When done correctly, each asana creates a very
powerful source of vital life force energy.
Most styles also train their students on the important elements
of deep concentration, mind focus, positive thought, and
gaining control over your restless mind through relaxation
and meditation techniques. Most styles of yoga teach a sense
of connection within body mind and spirit. Most styles of
yoga also focus on reaching an ultimate goal of self-enlightenment,
self-realization, or true inner peace with ones self and
the whole universe.
The branch of yoga most widely practiced today is really
a combination between the traditional branches of Hatha
Yoga and Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga is basically increasing your
health and Raja Yoga is mastery of the mind. The combination
of the two categories translates as meaning, a balanced
physical and mental health, a union between yin and yang,
or masculine and feminine. The goal of Hatha Yoga combined
with Raja Yoga is to achieve a body of perfect health and
strength, a mind which is relaxed, yet sharp and intelligent,
and to embrace peace and harmony in your heart leading to
an unbridled vision of all life.
The Different Styles of Yoga
Within this broader category of Hatha/Raja yoga, there are
dozens of different practices. While all Hatha yoga styles
are based on the order and repetition of the asanas, what
makes each philosophy unique is the choice between the various
postures, how long they are held for, how to enter and exit
each posture and what type of breathing they are accompanied
The Hard and Soft Sides of
Further, you can loosely divide all styles of Hatha yoga
practice between hard and soft styles. Hard styles traditionally
take more work, are more physically demanding, build your
muscles more, and can be semi-aerobic. Hard styles also
instill a greater feeling of self-confidence and inner strength.
Soft styles take less energy, and are focused more on stretching
and relaxing rather than endurance, aerobics, and increased
strength. Soft styles embrace a greater feeling of inner
peace and mental clarity. As in everything else, there are
exceptions to this rule: hard yoga can be soft and soft
yoga can definitely be hard. If you only practice a soft
style yoga you are missing something on the holistic spectrum
of energy. The same holds true if you only practice only
hard forms, again you are missing something on the holistic
spectrum of energy.
The following are some of the main styles of yoga being
taught today. You can probably find a class in one or more
of these varieties in major cities and towns across the
Anasura Yoga – Founded by John Friend
in 1997, John had a deep background training in the Iyengar
tradition and has used these concepts along with many great
ideas of his own to found a new system of Anasura Yoga.
The Sanskrit word Anusara translates as meaning “flowing
with grace.” This new system is grounded in the philosophy
of embracing all the concepts of correct alignment, yet
encouraging students to connect to the spiritual purpose
behind the posture as well. This system has three governing
properties (1) Attitude, (2) Alignment and (3) Action. In
a very short time Anasura Yoga has become quite popular.
Ashtanga Yoga – was co-founded by
K. Pattabhi Jois and his teacher Krishnamacharya in the
1930’s, and introduced in America in the mid 1970’s
by an American yogi, David Williams. Pattahi Jois believed
this system was a part of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and
therefore named it Ashtanga Yoga, meaning “the eight
limbed path.” This is definitely a physically hard
form of yoga practice. It has a vigorous linking system,
with an emphasis on strength, endurance, and repetitions
during practice. This system can be very aerobic and challenging
to even a professional athlete. At present there are six
levels of Ashtanga Yoga practice, although the beginners
level is usually enough for most people. With the help of
great instructors like my brother, David Swenson (author
of ASHTANGA THE PRACTICE), this system is very popular throughout
the world today.
Bikram Yoga - Founded by Bikram Choudhury.
Bikram had some health problems and through the avenue of
yoga found specific postures, practiced in a very hot room
assisted in his recovery. Bikram introduced his hot yoga
to the stars in Hollywood, California in the 1970’s
and now has a large following all over the country. In the
style of Bikram Yoga the yoga room or studio will be heated
to 95 degrees, or more. The philosophy is with more heat
you are more flexible, have less chance of injury, and sweat
off more toxins. Within this style you will practice only
26 postures, hold each posture twice, once for 30 seconds
and the second time for 60 seconds.
Iyengar Yoga – Founded by B.K.S.
Iyengar, who first brought his style of yoga to America
in 1966. Iyengar Yoga can be hard or soft style, depending
on your level of practice and the individual teacher. This
style is known for its great emphasis on structural alignment
and use of props during yoga practice. In an Iyengar class
you would generally practice fewer different yoga postures
in a session, but hold each of the postures longer, and
receive a very detailed evaluation of your posture execution.
Iyengar has been the inspiration for thousands of students
in opening hundreds of yoga centers in many countries worldwide.
Kripalu Yoga – Founded by Swami Kripalu,
who was the spiritual teacher of Yogi Amrit Desai. Amrit
Desai founded the Kripalu Yoga Center in Lennox, Massachusetts
in the late 1970’s. This is basically soft form yoga
with a holistic outlook. This style also embraces healing
through diet, and internal cleansing techniques. The Sanskrit
word Kripal translates as meaning compassion or mercy, and
this compassion is the general theme of Kripalu Yoga. In
this philosophy your spirit will grow when it is watered
with compassion. This center has become one of the largest
centers for yoga and holistic health in the U.S.
Kundalini Yoga – Founded by Yogi
Bhajan who first introduced this style in America in the
late 1960’s and is now taught all over the world.
The philosophy of Kundalini Yoga covers an awakening of
the mystical dormant kundalini energy, which resides at
the base of your spine The Sanskrit word Kundalini is derived
from the root “kundal” which indicates a coiled
lock of hair from a loved one. In Kundalini Yoga, the practice
of awakening the kundalini energy is symbolic of the uncoiling
the lock of hair. This is basically a soft form practice
with a great emphasis on awakening the dormant universal
energies within your body through the recitation of mantras,
warm-up exercises, specific yoga postures, deep relaxation,
Power Yoga - was first founded by Beryl
Bender Birch and Tom Birch in the early 1990's. Beryl and
Tom taught great yoga in the New York City area for many
years before discovering the powerful system of Ashtanga
Yoga. Beryl has published a wonderful book called POWER
YOGA and its sequel, BEYOND POWER. Power yoga is actually
Ashtanga Yoga with a different marketing slant in order
to reach a larger group of students. Beryl’s book
greatly influenced the recent popularity of Ashtanga Yoga.
Today Power Yoga does not aptly describe a particular style
of yoga since the name Power Yoga can mean different things
to different instructors. The one common ground is Power
Yoga almost always means you will get a hard physical workout
Sivananda Yoga and Integral Yoga –
Sivananda Yoga, founded by Swami Vishnu Devananda and Integral
Yoga, founded by Swami Satchidananda, are two separate styles
of yoga practice, yet are both basically soft form styles.
In these styles you will practice a set structure with a
variety of yoga postures, meditation, and some guidelines
for healthy living. These two separate styles of yoga are
very soothing, gentle, and warming to the spirit. Sivananda
and Integral styles were some of the first types of yoga
introduced in America. These styles are very mellow, relaxing
and low energy. Sivananda Yoga is one of the world’s
largest yoga schools in existence today.
Vini Yoga – Founded by T.K.V. Desikachar,
inspired by his father Sri T. Krishnamacharya. T. Krishnamacharya
was also the teacher and guru of B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V.
Desikachar and K. Pattabhi Jois. In Sanskrit the word Vini
translates as meaning "individual, gradual or special."
Vini Yoga recognizes the unique qualities of each individual.
This is basically a soft form style of yoga practice. One
of the most well renowned yoga masters of the last century
T. Khrisnamacharya taught on a very individual basis, adjusting
a yoga posture so that it fits each participant. Of all
the styles, this one clearly incorporates both Hatha and
Raja yoga into its practice.
Vinyasa Yoga — This is a generic
term used to describe a hybrid version of Ashtanga, or simply
the use of any vinyasa between postures. There is no certain
structure to posture sequence, or vinyasa and it will be
taught differently by each individual teacher.
Doug Swenson. All Rights Reserved.
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