Types of Yoga

One of the features of yoga, which can be confusing at first, is that a variety of forms of yoga are practiced. Together, they are called yoga. While these share common elements, some focus more on postures and breathing exercises, whereas others have a greater focus on spirituality. Each emphasizes a particular path that comprises a certain set of beliefs, practices, and rituals. Yoga forms constitute a ladder of sorts, from the "lowest" form of Hatha yoga, with its focus on physical postures and breathing techniques, to the "highest" form known as Raja, or "union by mental mastery."

Newer forms of hybrids of yoga are also proposed such as Power yoga or Acu-yoga. There are also variations of yoga depending on "the teacher that is being followed."

The most popular forms of yoga are:

Hatha yoga ("the yoga of vitality') - The Foundation

An easy-to-learn basic form of yoga. Very popular in the United States. Hatha Yoga is the foundation of all Yoga systems. Hatha Yoga is the preparation for higher Yogas. Ha means "sun" and tha means "moon." Thus, Hatha Yoga refers to positive (sun) and to negative (moon) currents in the system. These currents are to be balanced and mastered so that vital force, prana, can be regulated, the mind cleared and super conscious states experienced.

The ideal way to practice the Hatha Yoga poses (asanas) is to approach the practice session in a calm, meditative mood. Sit quietly for a few moments and then begin the series, slowly, with control and grace, being inwardly aware as the body performs the various poses selected for the practice session. Do not overdo the asanas or try to compete with others. Take it easy and enjoy.

Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of Love

Bhakti Yoga is the system in which love and devotion are emphasized. There are Bhakti Yoga traditions that do not teach asana, pranayama, mudra or controlled meditation - main practices of traditional yoga. Instead, love of God, love of God in man, and surrender to God's will is stressed in the Bhakti Yoga approach. Some people are naturally inclined by temperament to be devotional and to love God and God-as-the-world. Balance is recommended: devotion balanced with reason, love balanced with understanding.

There are no set ways to perform Bhakti yoga. Some people find that external aids can contribute to a devotional attitude: an altar used during prayer and meditation; pictures of saints to serve as inspiration; chanting or singing; use of mantra or even a simple devotional ceremony to aid in creating a mood as preparation for meditation. Whatever a person's approach, if that approach is useful in the long run, it is perfectly in order for him, even though it may not appeal to another.

Singing the names of God aloud can elevate consciousness, clear the mind and even charge the environment with pure energy. For persons who find it difficult to concentrate during meditation and for whom the approach of calm discernment is too subtle, prayer and chanting can be of value.

It is in our day to day life that Bhakti Yoga is truly practiced. Are we loving, compassionate and fair in our dealings with others? St. Francis is one of the Christian tradition who exemplified the Yoga of love and devotion. Jesus stated the ideal of Bhakti Yoga when he taught, "As you have loved me, love one another." When true love reigns, there can be no barriers; then harmony and fulfillment rule.

Simple, direct prayer is the most effective- just talking with God, then being still. The teaching is that by devotion and receptivity we can open ourselves to the Reality of God and attract God's consciousness into our own. Love and devotion also purifies human nature and cleanses the mind and the emotional field. There can be no hate, dislike, jealousy, envy, fear or prejudice in the loving heart. Truly, blessed are the pure in heart, for they can perceive the Reality of God.

Karma yoga ("the yoga of action") - the Yoga of Selfless Action

This yoga emphasizes selfless action and service, such as that practiced by Mahatma Gandhi.

The message of Karma Yoga is this: when we work in harmony with the Power that runs the universe, we are not egotistically motivated, and we no longer maintain compulsive desires relative to the future. With the eradication of compulsive desire, we are able to live in the present, while planning for the future, without being bound to the future. Every reasonable desire carries within itself the motive force for its fulfillment. That is, if an experience is possible to have in this natural world, and we desire it, we are subconsciously pushed toward it or attract it to ourselves.

Yogic philosophy does not ask us to give up intelligent planning. It says to renounce egotistic desire. We are then able to be open to inner guidance and to flow in the stream of grace. The Intelligence-Power that sustains the universe has a plan and a purpose. When we are in harmony with it we are free, even while involved. As we work with a cheerful attitude, doing what we are best suited to do, we know a harmony and an inner peace which those who strive and struggle can never know.

Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of Knowledge

Jnana Yoga stresses the use of the mind to transcend the mind; it works with that part of the human mind which strives incessantly to know and understand. It trains discrimination; it is eight-limbed, and its other seven limbs are detachment, self-discipline, longing for freedom, hearing the truth, reflection upon that truth, and meditation, which is defined as consolidation and transcendence.

The tradition of Jnana Yoga teaches that "Liberation is attained, not by works or ceremony, but by knowledge alone." Knowledge in this context is not belief or collected data: it is comprehension as a result of discernment and experience. The Way of Knowledge is for the special few who are prepared for steady examination and clear perception of the nature of Consciousness.

One who chooses this path studies the conclusions of the seers by reading the great scriptures and commentaries, then examining them in the light of his own intelligence and coming to his own realization. In deep meditation, he contemplates the characteristics of Consciousness in manifestation and, by doing so, gains insight and perfect realization.

Raja yoga - The Highest form of yoga

Raja means "royal," and the meditation route to Self-Realization is considered to be just this. It is direct and affords the opportunity of experience in different levels of awareness, beginning from where we start to where we are able to conclude after our meditation practice. Raja Yoga starts with the mind; its goal is a complete stilling of the mind, so that the light of the indwelling spirit may shine out. It makes use of asana and pranayama, and some consider it merely another name for Ashtanga Yoga, described elsewhere.

Raja Yoga meditation is the process whereby the practitioner concentrates upon one point in order to integrate discontinuous, diffused attention, thus holding attention steady. All distractions are thus effectively closed out, and meditation proceeds. Daydreaming, floating with thoughts or allowing impulses to dominate is obviously not concentration, and, without concentration, meditation is impossible to experience.

Mantra yoga

Mantra yoga means "union by voice or sound". This form includes the rhythmic repetitions of specific sounds, chants, or mantras. The practitioner repeats the syllable, word or phrase continually, sometimes for weeks, months or years on end. Certain syllables are believed to posses healing potential for specific purposes.

Laya, Tantra or Kundalini yoga

A celibate approach to spiritual growth is quite common in many of the world's religious traditions. Many yoga practices suggest that sexual involvement is a detriment to a greater development of self and hence should be avoided if possible. However, tantric yoga suggests that sexuality can be a very powerful force that can be harnessed for increased self-awareness. Thus, tantric yoga is unusual, in that it not only allows sexual feelings and contact, but uses sexual experience as a means to enlightenment.

The Tantrics maintain that there is an enormous energy locked into sexuality, which, if released from the lower end of the spine, can flow up the spinal column to bring divine illumination to the brain. They believe that within the interior of the spine, in a hollow region called the canalis centralis, there is an energy conduit called "sushumna". Along this conduit, from the base of the perineum to the top of the head, flows the most powerful of all psychic energies, Kundalini energy. On the other side of the canal are two additional energy channels, one called "Ida" corresponding to the male, and the other the "Pingala" corresponding to the female. Ida is at the right of the base of the spine and the pingala begins at the left.

These tow psychic currents are said to coil upward around the spine and the sushumna like snakes, crossing the chakras (energy wheel of center of conscious). Kundalini yogi's lifelong task is to evolve through the various chakra qualities and challenges, thereby bringing the focus of the Kundalini energy upward from the base of his spine to the top of his head.

Once the yogi has achieved mastery of self by relaxing body tension, silencing mental chatter, and releasing energy blocks, he is ready to join with a partner whose energies and spirit complement his own in such a way that together they form a "whole". The partners must first achieve a highly developed awareness within their being, a process that might take a lifetime, before ready to engage in tantric embrace. In the tantric lovemaking experience, known as "maithuna", the lovers undergo a variety of meditations and rituals before they actually make physical contact. They maintain the spiritual link or bond throughout the lovemaking process. They visualize the flow of pranic currents between them. In tantric yoga, the lovers do not try to achieve orgasm. In fact, they work hard not to have one. They are attempting to draw the forces of Kundalini energy upward through their body-minds, thus releasing the power of the various chakras. This force transforms the yogi psychologically, changing his personality as the Kundalini rises to each succeeding chakra. The emphasis is not on the sexual release as an end in and of itself, but rather on sex as a channel through which the evolution of self may proceed.

The goal of Tantra is the union of dynamic and static aspects of personality. It is quite different from practices that dwell on renunciation and desirelessness.

Integral (Purna) Yoga

Integral yoga is a modern version of the traditional yoga systems of India. Many contemporary philosophers felt that traditional yoga gives too much importance to the attainment of the salvation and too much emphasis to the next life that the present life is neglected. This yoga teaches that what you do everyday (karma) is important (Although traditional yoga always had karma or yoga of work as part of the arsenal all the time. It is the emphasis or importance on attaining the consciousness, outside space-time that is of issue here.) Integral yoga gives yoga an affirmative and dynamic form. It places the spiritual ideal of life on the foundation of an integrated world-view that takes into account the evolutionary and historical perspective of life.

Integral Yoga evoke three levels of integration: the integration of the inner environment (or harmonization of the human personality), the integration of the human psyche with its external environment, and the integration of the psyche with its ultimate spiritual Ground, or the Divine. It is a world-affirmative and body-positive spirituality that skillfully combines self-transcendence with love, compassion, and reverence for all life.

For integral yoga the ultimate goal of life is complete self-integration. Action, love, wisdom and peace are equally important elements in such self-integration. The yoga of love or devotion (Bhakti yoga) is perfectly right in affirming love as the fulfillment of life and as an essential ingredient of salvation. But integral yoga points out that love is inseparable from wisdom and selfless action. Love in its spiritual essence is an attribute of wisdom. It is active interest in the progress and betterment of society. Love is undivided loyalty to life's higher values.

The yoga of knowledge (Jnana yoga) is perfectly right in affirming knowledge as the fulfillment of life and an essential ingredient of salvation. But integral yoga points out that knowledge is inseparable from love and action. Knowledge in its essence is comprehensive awareness of the nature of existence.

The yoga of action (Karma yoga) is perfectly right in affirming action as the essence of human reality and as an essential condition of salvation. But integral yoga points out that action is not merely a means to self-purification resulting in salvation.

An unbridgeable gulf is believed to exist between nature and spirit, between body and soul. All forms of self-torture and mortification of the flesh are invented in order to help in the triumph of the spirit. According to integral yoga, freedom is not emancipation from Nature, but emancipation in Nature. The balanced growth of personality-complete self-integration or integral self-realization-is the ideal for those practicing this yoga.

According to integral yoga, the values designated spiritual are no less an essential part of the spirit of Nature than the values designated material. The spirit may be defined as the higher mode of fulfillment of the creativity of Nature. And Nature may be regarded as the self-expressive energy and evolutionary dynamism of the spirit. So, both nature and spirit are equally important.

The dualism of matter and mind, nature and spirit, is inherent in the same evolutionary flux. Spiritual values emerge naturally and dualistically out of the organized and intelligent fulfillment of material values. When man intelligently co-operates with Nature, he gets rewarded with the treasures of the spirit. Integration of personality lays the foundation for an integrated outlook on life.

In integral self-realization, the growth of personality is as important as the vision of the super-personal. It implies organized fulfillment of normal human desires. The growth of personality brings power and love. It represents a vision of new values and the hidden possibilities of life. Integral yoga aims at the unity of personality growth and spiritual intuition. It affirms the ideal of integrated personality as a creative center of expression of the external.

There are three essential ingredients in the realization of complete self-integration: psychic integration, cosmic integration, and existential integration. Integral yoga is the art of harmonious and creative living on the basis of the integral experience of Being. It aims at opening the springs of creative inspiration hidden in the human psyche. It aims at that serenity of self poise which preserves the light of the eternal amidst the storm and stress of social living.


Acu-yoga is a hybrid practice combining traditional yoga and acupressure. Both systems relax muscular tension and balance the vital life forces of the body. In yoga this is accomplished by controlling the breath while holding the body in certain postures. In acupressure body energy is directly manipulated by means of a system of points and meridians. This vital energy is called prana in yoga, chi in Chinese Medicine and ki for Japanese. The meridians are the pathways that the vital energy flows through, and the points are places where you can tap into that energy.

Acupressure enthusiasts and Chinese medicine practitioners believe that when tension accumulates around these points, it prevents the energy from flowing properly, creating an excess of energy in one area of the body and a deficiency in another. Acu-Yoga postures are designed to naturally press and stretch certain nerves, muscles, and acupressure points, awakening the meridians and releasing the tension in the points, so that the energy can circulate freely. This process balances the body as a whole, and also stimulates its natural ability to heal itself.

Neck Tension

To Chinese, the neck is the "pillar of heaven." A healthy person's mind is calm and at peace. The neck, however, is the first area of the body where tension hits. Whenever a person is under any sort of stress, the neck is one area that always becomes tense.

The Neck And The Meridians

Many meridians travel through the neck within a small area. When there is tension in the neck, these meridian flows can intermingle and cause complications, such as stiffness, sore throat, or swollen glands.

The acupressure points in the neck are known as "windows of the sky." When the neck is strong, flexible, and in proper alignment, these "windows" are clear and open. When tension interferes, however, it can affect us in many ways, and we become more closed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Since the neck is such a key area, and so prone to tension, it is especially important to practice techniques to unblock it. Acu-yoga accomplishes it.

Ashtanga yoga, Power Yoga or Ashtanga vinyasa yoga

Power or Ashtanga yoga is a "sweaty, aerobic form of yoga" taught by Mysore master K. Pattabhi Jois. It is often touted as "a workout that can change your life if you can survive it." It is often characterized as a yoga with a boot camp flavor.

For centuries, the term ashtanga yoga has been used to refer to the eight-fold system of practice prescribed by the sage Patanjali. K. Pattabhi Jois’ version of ashtanga yoga emphasizes a vigorous approach to the asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control) components of classical ashtanga. To avoid the confusion with traditional ashtanga yoga, some people refer Jois’s system as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga or as power yoga.

Heart of Ashtanga Yoga:

The core Ashtanga practice consists of six progressively difficult series of linked postures, each requiring between 90 minutes to three hours to complete

The structure of Ashtanga makes you repeatedly go through an entire spectrum of postures, some of which are displeasing or difficult. The series work like a combination lock. If you do the right poses in the right order, the mind and the body automatically open up.

Each series unlocks a particular aspect of the body and mind. The primary series called yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy) realign and detoxify the physical body, particularly the spine. It also builds a foundation of considerable physical strength, especially important to balance out the overly flexible students who are often drawn to hatha yoga practice. The intermediate series, nadi shodana (cleansing of the nadis or river or channels), purifies and strengthens the nervous system and the subtle energy channels that link the seven chakras.

The four advanced series (originally taught as two series, but subdivided to make them more accessible) are collectively known as sthira bhaga (divine stability). These sequences take to new heights the strength, flexibility, concentration, and energy flow cultivated in the first two series.

A typical astayoga class will begin with a Sanskrit prayer. When the chanting dies away, your teacher will remind you to deploy the three central techniques in the Ashtanga arsenal: ujjayi breathing, mula bandha, and a variation of uddiyana bandha.

Ujjayi breathing (the victorious breath) is a classic pranayama technique in which the breath passes across the back of the throat with a sibilant hiss. Used throughout the Ashtanga series, it keeps the breath steady and controlled and draws the minds attention inward, facilitating meditation in motion. Details.

Mula bandha (root lock) is a traditional hatha yoga energy-raising practice, although most schools don't employ it during asana practice. Mula bandha draws the awareness to the core of the body, intensifying and drawing upward the energy at the base of the spine.

Uddiyana bandha (upward lock) kicks in almost automatically as a side effect of a strong mula bandha. The lower belly below the navel sucks inward, firming the abdomen and drawing the breath up to expand the rib cage, chest, and lungs. (The diaphragm, however, does not harden, but continues to move freely.) Over time, uddiyana bandha actually helps increase lung capacity.

All three of these techniques - ujjayi breathing, mula bandha, and uddiyana bandha - are to be practiced continually throughout the Ashtanga series: in itself a challenging exercise in concentration. One of Pattabhi Jois' favorite slogans is "Ashtanga yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." As David Williams, an Ashtanga teacher on the Hawaiian island of Maui, explains, "Before you've practiced, the theory is useless. After you've practiced, the theory is obvious."

With the breathing established and the locks engaged, you’ll begin a series of Sun Salutations to warm up the body. One of the central principles of Ashtanga yoga is tapas, or heat: the more you sweat, the better. Studios are generally kept hot, and the nonstop flow of demanding postures ensures profuse perspiration. The heat loosens the muscles, helping prevent injury and making it easier to melt into the postures. The physical heat and purification is intended to intensify an inner, spiritual fire that burns through ignorance and delusion, ultimately consuming the ego in its flames.

Once the standing poses are completed, you’ll be sufficiently warmed up to commence the sequences that are unique to each series. Although each series comprises a balanced workout, each has a particular focus: The 30-odd postures of first series, for example, concentrate predominantly on forward bends, while second series emphasizes deep backbends, foot-behind-the-head postures, and seven variations of Headstand.

Every series ends with the same cool-down sequence of finishing poses, which includes Shoulder stand, Headstand, Bound Lotus, seated meditation, and a lengthy rest in Savasana, or Corpse Pose. Finishing poses balance out the body and return the metabolic rate to normal, allowing the nervous system to absorb the benefits of the practice.

Don't Overdo It

One of the real danger in Ashtanga Yoga is that students may try to overdo and get hurt in the process. The exercises are quite demanding and have to be done in series, one flowing into the next. It should be learned at the expert guidance of a teacher. Some poses are quite brutal and may not be suitable to all. Be aware of your physical limitations in performing these exercises. Some practitioners have modified the series to make it more adaptable to a wide range of audience. The traditionalists scorn this idea.

And ultimately, the most difficult challenge in Ashtanga practice is not the mastery of specific poses, but the mastery of the mind. What counts is not the ability to stand on the hands or drop into a backbend, but the ability to keep the mind steady and the heart joyful, no matter what posture you’re in. Ashtanga is about seeing God continuously, wherever you gaze.

In the end, it is all worthwhile. The bliss brought by this yoga is to be experienced.