Yoga has had yet another surge in popularity recently, particularly in the US where even Madonna rejected the gym in favour of the lotus position. Here in Australia there are several different types of classes around and finding the right one to meet your needs can be a confusing choice. In our item, we looked at three of the most common styles of physical (hatha) yoga, and the ways in which they offer a sense of wellbeing.
Simon Borg-Olivier of Yoga Synergy in Sydney says the original aim of yoga was to prepare the mind and body for meditation so that a yogi could sit for hours on end, undistracted by pain or intrusive thoughts and meditate in peace. The technique can help clear the mind and teaches the body how to cope with stress. The benefits are said to work on a physical, mental and philosophical level, improving the overall state of mind, body and spirit.
One of the most influential hatha yogis of the 21st century was Professor T Krishnamacharya, who died in 1989 at age 100. Many of today's most commonly practised yoga styles derive from his teachings. Two of his students, Iyengar and Patthabi Jois and his son Desikachar, have each adapted his work in their own ways to establish their individual styles of hatha yoga. The actual moves or postures are the same, but they are executed quite differently. They are arguably the three most popular styles currently practised in Australia, although many teachers offer a mix of styles.
Patthabi Jois practised with Krishnamacharya in his early days when Krishnamacharya was at his most energetic. The result was that Jois went on to develop a very enegetic form of yoga, commonly known as Ashtanga or Power yoga, although technically it should be called Ashtanga Vinyasa style.
All the yoga postures are carried out very quickly in the same sequence, so that the body builds up heat and works so hard physically that the mind switches off. Deep, even breathing is critical as it is considered our most fundamental and vital act. The blood is forced to circulate throughout the body, strengthening and purifying the nervous system, while detoxifying muscles and organs. It is thought that exercising quickly and energetically is the best way to empty the mind of distractions and reach a meditative state.
Sweat, stamina and strength are all key aspects of this form of yoga, therefore it is not for those who are elderly, restricted in movement or recovering from sickness or injury.
Sri B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the best known living yogis. He runs a yoga institute in India and has written several books and articles on his approach. The Iyengar style is much slower and more precise than Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. The emphasis is on achieving flexibility and balance slowly and precisely, therefore even the exact angle of a toe is important. Blocks, blankets, belts and chairs might be used to help reach the perfect posture. There's a special focus on developing strength, endurance and correct body alignment in addition to flexibility and relaxation.
The theory is that the mind is so fixed on achieving the perfect position and maintaining correct breathing that it switches into a state of relaxation. Self awareness is helped by the the release of physical and psychological tension. Although slower than Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, Iyengar is nonetheless highly demanding. Considerable exertion and flexibility are required to reach the desired position.
It is unlikely that you would actually come across a yoga class advertised as "Desokachar" in style, however many local classes will be similar to this approach. Krishnamacharya's son Sri T.K.V. Desikachar developed this gentle method of yoga which doesn't place quite such a stringent emphasis on perfection. It is a more individualised approach in which each person is encouraged to do what he or she feels comfortable with. Also, the yoga is continually adapted to the individual's needs and recognises that people will be more tired or more energetic at some times than others. An easy, moderate and more difficult option is offered for each posture. It is a widely accessible form of yoga and is suited to people of all ages and abilities.
Other types of yoga frequently practised in Australia are Shanti, Satyananda and Oki. Oki is method that has been adapted by a Japanese practitioner which involves a lot of teamwork in pairs. Shanti is a gentle approach suited to elderly people or people with injuries. Satyananda is quite devotional and meditative, but also gentle in style.
For more information:
115 Bronte Road
Bondi Junction NSW
Ph: 02 9389 7399
Satyananda Yoga Academy
119 Pembertons Hill Road
Tel: 02 4374 1316
International Yoga Teachers Association
PO Box 207
Tel: 02 9484 9848
BKS Iyengar Yoga Association of Australia
PO Box 159
Mosman NSW 2088
Ph: 1800 677 037
Ashtanga Yoga Moves
17 Oxford Street
Ph: 02 9360 7602
Ph: 02 9283 8110 or 1800 813 213