The Sanskrit word Ashtanga is made up of two parts, ashta and anga meaning eight and limbs respectively. This word was first mentioned in sage Patanjali’s yoga sutra which was probably compiled before 400 CE. It compiled the materials about yoga from older traditions in this book, which is why Ashtanga yoga is often called the classic yoga. The eight limbs were mentioned to be yama or moral codes, niyama meaning self-purification and study, asana or posture, pranayama or breathing control, pratyahara meaning control over senses, dharana or concentration, dhyana or meditation and samadhi meaning union with the object of meditation.
Ashtanga yoga was laid down in a text called the Yoga Korunta where the sage Vamana Rishi recorded lists of asana, philosophy and original teachings. Sri T. Krishnamacharya discovered this text in the National Archives of India. K. Pattabhi Jois, a yoga guru, learned this knowledge from him and popularized the Ashtanga form of yoga. He established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute and taught Ashtanga yoga to his disciples for over sixty years, until his death in 2009. His followers brought this school of yoga to the West where it became widely popular and came to be called the classic yoga. Ashtanga yoga practice includes a series of poses that need to be practiced in the correct sequence without a break in between. The first series has 10 sun salutations or surya namaskara, 5 each of groups A and B. Next, standing poses must be practiced on each side. This is followed by asanas depending on the difficulty level of the practitioner. There are many other forms of yoga that are practiced today.
This is a slow and gentle form of yoga which is perfect for beginners. It combines postures or asanas with pranayama or breathing techniques. Hatha yoga brings peace to the mind and body and helps the person feel calm and relaxed. It prepares a person for a deeper form of spiritual practice like meditation. Hatha means physical practice, and it is used as an umbrella term for different yoga exercises. Ashtanga is a more intense variation of hatha yoga. It is more physically demanding and requires a higher level of fitness as compared to hatha yoga.
This particular style was popularized by B.K.S Iyengar who was also a student of T. Krishnamacharya, like Pattabhi Jois. This is why many of the asanas of Ashtanga and iyengar yoga are the same, but the approach is different. Iyengar yoga focuses more on correct alignment and subtleties of postures. For this reason, props like belts, bolsters, blankets, blocks and chairs are often used.
This is a new style of yoga that was popularized only twenty years ago by an American yoga guru named John Friend. The word anusara means going with the flow or following the heart. It explores Friend’s Universal Principles of Alignment and helps its practitioners to open their hearts and bring out their inner goodness. Anusara yoga focuses on three things- attitude, action and alignment.
Like hatha, vinyasa is another umbrella term denoting different styles. Vinyasa is used to refer to movements synchronized with breathing. It focuses on smooth transitions from one posture to the next. Due to this fluidity of movements, vinyasa is often called a flow class. The intensity of vinyasa is very similar to Ashtanga and it may be a little difficult for beginners.
Bikram yoga was popularized by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s. This is a standardized form of yoga where the classes run for 90 minutes and includes 26 postures. It is often called hot yoga as it is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees having 40% humidity. It helps to flush out toxins through sweat and aids in weight loss. In Bikram yoga, the studio is externally heated whereas Ashtanga yoga aims to build an internal heat within the practitioner.
Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. It aims to awaken the kundalini energy or primal energy that is believed to reside at the base of the spine. The awakening will occur through deep meditation which is the most important feature of this style of yoga. It is accompanied by pranayama, asanas and chanting of mantras. Each exercise is known as kriya which is practiced in order to release the energy from the spine make it pass through each of the seven chakras.
This style of yoga has its roots in China but it was popularized by the yogi Paulie Zink. It is now taught across Europe and America by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. Yin yoga has a slow pace that focuses on deepening the postures. Each pose is held for over five minutes.
Practice Ashtanga yoga daily for mental, physical and spiritual well-being. This classic yoga is based on knowledge passed down since 400 CE. This is the oldest form of yoga that you can learn easily even today.