Philosophy and Background of Yoga
(excerpt from Mastering Secrets of Yoga Flow by Doug Swenson)

The 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.

Eight 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 All Yoga
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 Practice
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 by.

The Hard and Soft Sides of Hatha Yoga
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 country.

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, and meditation.

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.

©2003 Doug Swenson. All Rights Reserved.
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