Contemporary Hatha yoga styles (part 1)

This post aims to describe the development and distinct methods of the yoga styles/approaches found in the modern world. The origins and the evolution of the practices remains as a great challenge to the description of some yoga traditions since established yogis has claimed to receive yoga trainings directly from a divine source or from ancient scriptures. The fascinating stories associated with the evolution or creations of each yoga style are possibly questionable or misinterpreted. Nevertheless, the integrity of the yoga style is one of the main factors which makes one continues to pursue deeper into a particular tradition. The evolution of the vast varieties of yoga practises today also draws developments in psychology, philosophy, science and spirituality which enhances one’s pathway towards creativity and self-realisation.  

Ananda yoga

Ananda yoga is based on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship. This form of Hatha yoga is distinguised as a gentle form of asana practice which include “energization exercises” and asana affirmations. Thirty-nine energy regulation techniques have been developed to help expand, direct and control the life force.  The asanas strongly emphasize on safety and correct alignment as well as maintaining relaxation amid the effort to do the poses. The affirmations are practiced silently while in a pose to foster deep awareness of inner aspects of practice, how energy is moving in the body and how different states of mind arise. 

Anusara yoga

Founded by John Friend, Anusara is largely and integration of Friend’s Iyengar background with siddha yoga (tantric approach). The intention of Anusara is to align with the Grace, to awaken to the truth that our essential nature is part of the divine. Significant emphasis of Anusara is on being heart-orientated where asanas are expressed from inside out. The heart-centred approach where practitioners are required to deeply immersed in a practice of aligning with the divine in yoga and daily life differentiates the technical aspects of Anusara from Friend’s roots in the Iyengar method. 

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

This popular yoga approach is taught by Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India, who practised with Krishnamacharya. Jois’s method of yoga practice is firmly grounded in the Yoga Sutras. The practice contain three series: (1) Primary Series, yoga chikitsa, which means yoga therapy that aims to open the body’s energy pathways (nadis) and enhance flow of life force throughout the body; (2) Intermediate Series, nadi shodhana, meaning nerve cleansing which focus intensively on the spine and pelvis to further open and balance energy channels in and around the spine; (3) Advanced Series, sthira bhaga, which contains four sequences that integrates the strength and balance of the practice. Astange Vinyasa is also a highly focused practice which uses the practice of dristana, where one gazes steadily upon a specific point in and between each asana to lead to more inner awareness. Furthermore, Ujjayi breathing and Bandhas are used throughout the practice foster greater mental focus and assist pranic energy flow respectively. 

Iyengar yoga

BKS Iyengar, also trained with Krishnamacharya, innovated in his practice and teaching while rooted in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Iyengar stresses that an asana is achieved when all the body parts are positioned correctly, with full awareness and intelligence. He also emphasizes that a final perfect posture is achieved effortlessly and should be absolutely comfortable. In contrast to Astanga Vinyasa approach, Iyengar poses are typically held for a much longer duration. The holding of asana is strongly recognised as the pathway to perfect alignment through energetic actions, where the awareness of the body arises and the mind flows along with all the body parts. Props such as walls, chairs, stools, blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps are tools that Iyengar discovered to retain key movement and adjustments of the body.  The props also have made yoga accessible to all regardless of needs and limitations. 


To be continued…. in Contemporary Hatha yoga styles (part 2)

Jolene L. (Sept YTTC 2017)