Yoga originated in Northern India over 5,000 years ago and has since been reinvented hundreds of times in hundreds of different ways. What started as a daily practice to control the mind has evolved into an entire way of life. There are a handful of different types of yoga today. Average people have found fame and built businesses on the premise of living a plant-based yogi lifestyle. This has transcended strengthening the mind to strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, and improving the overall quality of life.
As someone who never got on the yoga-train, it was overwhelming to see the different types of yoga there are to choose from. Some of the more modern classes include aerial yoga, prenatal yoga, yoga for seniors, and even yoga with pets, booze, or burritos—but we’re pretty sure those last few are more so for the social aspects.
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The Different Types of Yoga
If you’re a yoga newbie, all you need to know is that there are four main types of yoga from which every other style stems: raja, karma, bhakti, and gyana.
The purpose of Raja yoga is to achieve control over the mind and emotions in eight steps. The goal is to achieve peace of mind, self-control, and ultimately, complete realization.
Raja is also often referred to as Ashtana yoga, one of the more commonly practiced branches of yoga, and the only one I had heard of prior to doing research.
We all know the meaning of karma: every action has a corresponding reaction. Karma Yoga is the path of action and seeks to encourage the practice of positive thinking and selfless thoughts while quieting the negative, selfish ones, in order to ensure a future full of positive outcomes.
Bhakti Yoga is more religion-oriented than the other three yoga types; the path of devotion and love for God. The 9 elements of Bhakti Yoga aim to bring the practitioner closer to their personal god.
Gyana Yoga is the philosophical path in which the practitioner gains the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality.
I decided to try different types of yoga to see whether they would have different benefits on my mental and physical wellbeing. For the sake of diversity, I tried an Ashtana Yoga DVD one day, hot yoga another, and a guided yoga class at my local gym. What I noticed between the three was that fundamentally, all moves were similar. It was more so the order and intensity of the moves that differed.
I found hot yoga to be the most intense, but also the most physically rewarding of the three—and I fell asleep almost immediately that night. For anyone who has stayed away from yoga because it’s too slow-packed, I would recommend trying hot yoga. The movements that are otherwise slow-paced suddenly become challenging in the 35-42 degree Celsius room.
The local yoga class was the most peaceful and calming, because the instructor really had the students focus on our breathing and on being mindful. An in-person class is definitely more effective than a DVD, but for beginners who don’t feel comfortable practicing yoga in public, the Ashtana Yoga DVD still helped me to understand the basic movements that I later felt more comfortable doing in my classes.
After having tried three different types of yoga, I would say it doesn’t matter which kind you do, they all benefit the body and mind equally. The difference is what you’re looking to get out of practicing yoga. Do you want to sweat and challenge yourself? Try hot yoga. Maybe you’re a spiritual or religious person? Consider Bhakti. If you just want to calm your mind and relax your body, try Raja Yoga.
5 Simple Moves You Can Do Right Now
Sometimes a few simple yoga stretches are enough to release tension in your body and help you feel more relaxed. Whether you’re new to yoga and looking to try a few quick poses, these are the ones that I found most effective as a beginner.
The plank is a popular fitness move, but it’s also a great beginner yoga pose. Instead of resting on your forearms like it’s typically shown, balance on your hands and keep your abdominal muscles tight. The plank teaches you to balance on your hands and toes using the strength in the rest of your body while also being a simple but effective abdominal exercise.
The triangle is a great way to stretch your legs. Stand with your legs one leg’s-length apart and open your arms to your sides. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and turn your left foot in 45 degrees. Rest your right arm on your leg or ankle, and sweep the left straight up above your head. Look up at the fingers on your left hand and focus on your breathing for 5-8 seconds.
I love warrior 1 because it’s a simple move but your muscles will still probably be sore the next day. From the triangle pose, turn your body toward your right foot. Now move your left foot so it’s in the same direction as your right foot, but still on an angle.
Child’s pose is another great stretch that you can do anytime you want to release tension in your muscles. On all fours, sink your butt into your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you. Lower your forehead to the ground and just relax your entire body for as long as you want.