Many people get overwhelmed hearing all of the types of yoga and philosophy of yoga. Reading a yoga schedule can feel like too much to even try to figure out. In learning anything new, it takes time to understand and hear these terms being used. Words like Hatha, Vinyasa, Asana, Bhakti, Kundalini….can sound like well…. a foreign language. So let me help!
YOGA means “to yoke” or “union” to bring together. A yoke is a piece of equipment that brings together two oxen. They work together in the yoke. When one turns his head, the other must follow. Just like in our practice, the goal is to “yoke’ with God. God, as in the God energy or nature of YOUR belief system. Yoga is for all beliefs, that is your personal relationship. Yoga is a tool to help you get to know your body, your breath and your personal connection with the divine.
There are many ways to do Yoga or connect to the divine thru the yoga tradition. The physical practice of yoga is called an Asana practice and it is one way. Asana literally means “seat”. The poses of yoga evolved out of the meditation “seat” as a way to help prepare the physical and subtle bodies for the rigors of meditation.
There are many forms of Asana practice. The umbrella term for the type of asana practice we all do is Hatha Yoga. Most yoga that we see at yoga studios and gyms falls under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga can be gentle or vigorous. It can be easy or complicated. Ha-tha means “sun-moon”. It is used to purify and bring balance to the body. When we are stronger, more flexible, more agile, more balanced our energy shifts. What we safely practice on our mats we use as teachers to the tendencies and ways we meet the challenges of life off the mat. Types of yoga that you may have heard of like Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Bikrim Yoga are all types of Hatha Yoga.
Yoga is for everyone and should never cause harm to our bodies. We allow our yoga to adapt to us. This doesn’t always mean that our asana practice isn’t challenging but that it doesn’t injure us or cause constriction and over pushing in order to make the yoga shapes. That defeats the purpose of yoga. Yogis with an asana practice choose the style that fits our physical expectations and limitations. We practice asana yoga to make a connection to our bodies and a direct intimacy with life. Our yoga style should support us in this journey.
Other paths of practicing yoga besides asana practice are:
Jnana yoga is a yoga of the mind thru the study of the ancient texts and traditions of yoga. It appeals to the intellectuals and those who practice Jnana yoga are like the monks and priests of western traditions.
Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of the heart. The root Bhaj means “to adore or worship God” It is chanting, singing, praying in devotion, dancing, music, going to church… connecting to the infinite with your heart and emotions. Bhakti yogis express the devotional nature of their path in every thought, word and deed. A practice of Bhakti yoga is a kirtan (keer-tan). Kirtan is a yoga event of call and response chanting and devotional mantras. Other ways of practicing Bhakti yoga could be lighting a candle with an intention daily or before your asana or mediation practice. Bhakti yoga is whatever strikes your heart, beauty, devotion, surrender.
Karma Yoga is self-less action. Our lives as a service without any personal reward. Blends the mind and the body. Doing good and serving others is karma yoga.