What is Yoga?

The traditions of yoga are several thousands years old, originating in India. These ancient healing arts promote health and well being through motion and stillness, through a balance of physical, mental and spiritual activation and relaxation. Yoga has many expressions: classic Hatha Yoga is the form of the physical postures and breathing exercises that most Westerners think of as “yoga.”

There are many different styles of Hatha Yoga. They all revolve around the physical practice of the postures. One way to distinguish the many approaches is the degree of challenge: gentle to moderate to strenuous/vigorous. Another defining difference among the styles of yoga is the manner and degree to which they emphasize the traditional meditation and spiritual elements. While the leaders and senior teachers of a school or lineage have a certain influence, ultimately it is the individual teachers who integrate their experiences and training to create an experience in a class. There are infinite ways to incorporate the ancient teachings or integrate more recently developed philosophies that reflect or compliment the ancient texts.

In the final analysis, a student should choose a teacher who is technically skilled in teaching the postural details and alignments, with safety and good body mechanics foremost in mind. Beyond that, the unique qualities that the student will resonate with as far as personality, the significance of spiritual and meditation in the practice, and the tone and environment the teacher offers, will be good criteria for making a choice among the many ways one can practice yoga. In other words, it is a question of a “good fit” between the student and teacher.

Yoga is different from most other forms of physical exercise because of the powerful concentration and mental focus that yoga practitioners desire to develop over time. This attention to subtle, moment by moment shifts in one’s inner experience allows a depth of clarity and awareness that extends benefits to all areas of the yoga students’ life.

Kripalu Hatha Yoga
This is a gentle/moderate style of hatha yoga that emphasizes body awareness and coordinating movement with breath. An inward focus brings a meditative aspect to the practice. This simple practice can generate powerful results and offers a health enhancing experience on many levels.

Yoga of the Heart™
This is a yoga practice and modified hatha yoga postures designed for people who are faced with limitations due to coronary artery disease, cancer, or other situations or health conditions. It was designed by Nischala Joy Devi, former Director of Stress Management for the Dean Ornish Heart Program and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Treatment Program.

The teachings of Viniyoga are from the Yoga master, T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya’s students include B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, who each went on to influence large numbers of followers in the Yoga approaches they developed (Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga are both practiced world-wide.)

Later in his life, Krishnamacharya became more concerned with an approach to yoga that is primarily focused on the needs of an individual. He became more interested in the therapeutic applications of Yogic practices, and also took as one of his principal students, his son T.K.V. Desikachar. Mr. Desikachar has offered the Viniyoga teachings to many people who carry on these traditions. The American Viniyoga Institute is run by one of T.K.V. Desikachar’s longtime students, Gary Kraftsow.

Viniyoga can be characterized as an approach that integrates postures, breath, chanting from any spiritual tradition, and meditation to individualize a practice that most nearly fits a person’s unique needs, condition, and goals. While some of the practices are compatible with the group practice of a class setting, an ultimate aim is to offer a good match of practice that brings a person into balance at all levels.

For more information on any of these traditions and institutes, go to the Resources page

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