Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga

Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga

by Meagan McCrary

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608681808
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 12/10/2013
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 868,824
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author


Meagan McCrary is a certified yoga instructor and journalist. Her yoga, wellness, and lifestyle writings are widely featured online and in print. She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she teaches at various Equinox Sports Clubs, and leads yoga retreats nationally and internationally.

Read an Excerpt

Pick Your Yoga Practice

Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga


By Meagan McCrary

New World Library

Copyright © 2013 Meagan McCrary
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-181-5



CHAPTER 1

YOGA EXPLAINED


No longer associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, when many Americans first turned to yoga in search of a drugless high, yoga has become a nationwide cultural phenomenon and a billion-dollar industry. If you don't practice yoga, chances are you know someone who does. It seems that everyone, from athletes and celebrities to high-powered executives and politicians to stay-at-home moms and college students, is stepping onto the mat.

Modern yoga has evolved to become incredibly inclusive. Whether you're religious, spiritual, or neither, fitness-oriented or less concerned with the physical, mainstream or more eccentric, there's a yoga practice for you. Prior to the turn of the new century, yoga was never so widely available as it is today. Yoga is now offered in schools, prisons, churches, synagogues, city halls, senior centers, rehab facilities, gyms, hotels, and spas. Yoga studios have even become staples in strip malls across the country, and in large cosmopolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles, an overflow of yoga schools and centers offer sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of urban living. Starting as early as 5:30 AM and ending as late as midnight, yoga classes are held all day long, and they're packed. And while studios aren't as prevalent on the streets of small-town America, yoga is infiltrating rural areas via dedicated instructors who hold classes in small numbers wherever they can find the space. In short, people everywhere are practicing yoga.


CAN'T MAKE IT TO CLASS?


Take a class online. Yoga centers are now offering live streaming classes and classes for download to those who prefer to practice at home or on the go. With only one Google search for "online yoga," you will have a number of sites, styles, and teachers to choose from.


Americans turn to yoga for various reasons, but in some way or another they are looking to reap the practice's many benefits. They've heard yoga is good for you. They've read that yoga is great for managing stress and dealing with depression and will help them sleep better. Their doctor has told them that practicing yoga can help increase circulation, build bone mass, and lower blood pressure. They were sent by their physical therapist to cultivate postural awareness, increase range of motion, and alleviate back pain. They believed Christy Turlington when she credited yoga for her perfect bum.

Everyone, from neighbors to mothers-in-law, swears by yoga, so more and more people are taking to the mat to discover for themselves what the hype is all about. They keep coming back because the mind-body discipline works: Yoga makes you feel better. So what is it?


Yoga Explained

"What is yoga?" is a loaded question and one that could take a lifetime to answer: Ask twenty yogis, and you'll get twenty different answers. There are as many interpretations of yoga as there are Hindu gods (around 330 million). Most Americans, whether they've tried it or not, have an idea of what yoga is, even if their understanding is as rudimentary as "Yoga's that thing you do on a yoga mat when you're in yoga class that somehow involves stretching and breathing." And they are right.

Yoga is a system of exercise, but yet it's so much more. Considered a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, yoga is an ancient belief system, a science of exploration, a process of self-discovery, a method of personal development and spiritual evolution, and an art of transformation. It is a complete approach to total well-being, and, for many, yoga is a way of life. Yoga is an all-encompassing approach to physical health, mental clarity, emotional balance, and spiritual attainment — whatever that means or looks like to you.


A PRAGMATIC SCIENCE

Originating in ancient India, yoga was developed as a pragmatic science by seers who sought answers to life's toughest questions, the type that are not easily answered: What is the meaning of life? Who am I? Why am I here? Through careful inquiry, experimentation, and constant observation, these seers were able to produce codified conditions that were particularly beneficial for self-realization. With a large emphasis on direct experience, such conditions became principles to help guide seekers on their individual journeys of self-discovery.


A fundamental tenet of the broader yogic tradition is that there is one universal consciousness. Call it supreme consciousness, the Divine, Brahman, God, Shiva, Buddha-nature, Allah, whatever, there is a "oneness" that encompasses everything, including you. However, we become so caught up in our individual experiences of embodied consciousness (that is, our lives) that we tend to see ourselves as separate entities operating independently from one another. Yoga, therefore, is designed to shift individual perceptions of ourselves and the world in which we live, helping us to recognize not only our inherent oneness with everyone and everything but also our union with the Divine. How that union is understood and arrived at varies from one yogic school of thought to the next (which will be explored in chapter 3), but for all intents and purposes, yoga is the method by which we realize our innate nature and highest Self inseparable from supreme consciousness and completely supported by the universe.


THE ESSENTIAL SELF

If you've read any books or articles on yoga you've probably seen the word self written with both a capital S and a lowercase s. In certain philosophical schools there are two selves, the lowercase self, which is associated with the material world, and the uppercase Self, your essential or transcendental Self (or spirit).


At the heart of the tradition lies the understanding that all human beings desire to belong, to be connected to something greater than themselves, to be loved. On a fundamental level all people want to be at peace and free of disease. It's safe to say that in every human heart lies an intense yearning to be happy. Yoga teaches us that these fundamental human desires are expressions of our innermost nature, that at our most basic level we are free, connected to everything and everyone, and nothing but love. We don't experience ourselves as such, because we've grown accustomed to identifying solely with our mind, which is to say our ego. Through a process of cloaking, veiling our true selves, we begin to associate with limiting self-beliefs (such as, I'm alone,I'm not good enough,I don't deserve love).

We practice yoga to shine the "light" on that which already resides deep in our inner consciousness, hence — en-"lighten"-ment. Practicing yoga helps clear the lenses, so to speak, taking you on an inward journey back to your deepest Self and to the realization that you have everything you need within to experience the unbounded joy and freedom that is your true nature.


YOGA IS UNION

Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning "to yoke" or "to bind," is most commonly interpreted to signify "union." Yoga is the process of remembering all parts of yourself, uniting your mind, heart, and spirit so that you may recognize your intrinsic wholeness and experience your own divine consciousness. Yoga is the union of self and spirit, you and God, your individual self and the quintessence of every living being and thing.


Rooted in the underlying desire for happiness, yoga is a spiritual alchemy that transforms the ordinary human conditions to generate a new state of being free from suffering. One of the great truths yoga teaches us is that joy is always available and can be experienced by simply turning within. Yoga is the practice of arriving in the present moment full of peace and grace. Every day you may feel sukha (fleeting pleasure) from moments of ordinary happiness arising from pleasant thoughts and experiences. The ancient yogic texts warn students against such temporary moments of joy, which are synonymous with suffering (duhhka) if not grounded in the larger search for the Self. Yogic wisdom tells us that you cannot experience transitory pleasures without encountering some form of suffering. Happiness that is dependent upon external conditions is never permanent, and ultimately it always causes a certain degree of pain once whatever it was that brought you joy is no longer present or new.

Beyond possessions and sensory pleasures lies a form of happiness and fulfillment independent of external circumstances. Yoga makes the bold claim that anyone can experience a profound sense of joy and ease because it is our natural way of being. Your innate Self is a joyous self. Before you began placing conditions on your happiness, before you learned to identify with whatever roles you've taken on, before the lens through which you view yourself and the world became clouded with misperception, you were inherently free, whole, divinely perfect, and happy beyond conditions. In fact, you still are at the core of your being; you merely aren't experiencing yourself as such, because you no longer identify with your true Self. In other words, if you aren't happy, something is amiss.


TODAY MORE THAN EVER

Unfortunately, people in modern society as a whole have sought happiness everywhere — relationships, material possessions, achievements, and sensory pleasures — except for deep in their heart. By taking you on an inward path, yoga becomes a transformative journey of rediscovery that makes lasting happiness possible. A great shift occurs once you understand that true joy is found within. You begin to recognize that happiness is intrinsic to the universe and that your happiness is not dependent on the impermanent conditions of the material world but originates from a deeper level of reality.


When you begin to let go of your current perceptions, realizing you are so much more than your limited experience of your body, a world full of infinite possibilities and love unfolds before you. You no longer have to look for happiness; you just are happy without the suffering associated with identifying with your individual ego. To have even a passing awareness of your own wholeness is to experience your innate nature, and feelings of inexplicable joy inevitably follow. Ancient seers called this happiness beyond provisional conditions ananda. Described as sheer, unequivocal bliss, ananda is not merely an emotional quality but a new state of reality that is spontaneously generated upon Self-realization. Certainly not always experienced as "joyous bliss," ananda can also be understood as a deeply felt sense of being okay — that no matter what happens, there's an internal knowing that everything is and always will be just fine.

The great thing about modern yoga is that you really don't need to know any of this. You don't have to desire to know your true Self or to realize your union with a higher power. You don't even have to believe in one supreme consciousness. You can simply practice yoga for the sake of practicing it, because you like it, and that is enough; the teachings of yoga say you're more than welcome to come along. But be warned, if you practice yoga long enough, small, incremental changes will begin to take place. You will most likely start living your life with more awareness, conscious of your inner motives and desires. You may begin to look at your life in different ways, and priorities may shift as a result. Your yoga will very likely seep into your relationships and how you choose to interact with the world at large.

Most important, yoga offers you insight into your own nature, giving you the tools necessary to understand yourself (and your unconscious tendencies) on a very deep level. With time and dedicated practice, yoga tends to shift what you identify with, who you experience yourself to be, and how you relate to yourself and others. Because truth be told, while yoga holds the promise of enlightenment, some of us just want to spend time on our mat, in our body, away from the stresses and challenges of everyday life. And if that helps us live our lives with a little more ease and compassion, a bit more clarity, and a lot more joy, then we are receiving the true gifts of yoga.


The Physical Practice of Yoga

In Western society, yoga has become synonymous with taking classes, doing yoga poses, and sweating; however, as we've just discussed, yoga is about so much more than developing strength and gaining flexibility. Having a healthy, strong, and toned body is the foundation for the personal growth and development yoga brings about. The physical practice of yoga postures, which is known as hatha yoga, is just a small window into the vast, comprehensive yoga tradition; it just happens to be the window through which most Westerners are introduced to yoga.

However, there are many branches, or practices, of yoga, including meditation, chanting, devotional prayer, and selfless service, as well as scriptural study and self-study. Taken separately or combined, they are all considered paths of spiritual development designed to elevate consciousness by helping seekers transcend conditional reality and directly experience themselves as supreme consciousness.


THE SIX MAIN BRANCHES OF YOGA

RAJA YOGA is known as the royal or king (raja) path of yoga as expounded in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Also called ashtanga yoga (the eight-limbed path), raja yoga is concerned with controlling the mind's activities, through concentration and meditation, for Self-realization to spontaneously occur.

BHAKTI YOGA is the path of devotion, emphasizing devotional love for and surrender to God. Bhakti yoga practices include daily prayer and worship, chanting the various names of God, and ornate temple rituals.

JNANA YOGA is the path of wisdom and knowledge (jnana), involving disciplined study of the ancient yogic scriptures and constant inquiry into the nature of self. Requiring a strong will and intellect, jnana yoga dissolves the veils of ignorance for the seeker to realize his or her true Self.

KARMA YOGA is the path of selfless action, the yoga of doing. Remaining completely detached from the outcome of their actions, karma yogis are in continuous service to the betterment of all beings with no intention of personal gain.

MANTRA YOGA is the yoga of sound. Considered sacred utterances, or sound vibrations embedded with psychospiritual energy, mantras are words, phrases, or simply syllables that express an attribute of divine consciousness. Mantra yoga involves the repetition of mantras.

HATHA YOGA is the yoga of force, or forceful yoga. It is the path of using the body as a vehicle for spiritual transformation.


The majority of yoga being practiced in the West is hatha yoga, involving asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing practices), kriyas (internal cleansing techniques), bandhas (muscular locks and contractions), and mudras (hand gestures and seals), to greater or lesser degrees depending on the system of yoga. Often mistaken for its own style, hatha yoga is a general term that implies the physical practice of yoga. Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, Kripalu yoga, Jivamukti yoga, power yoga, and so forth are all practices of hatha yoga (though many of them also involve the other branches of yoga).

Although a physical practice, hatha yoga is more than a workout routine. Hatha yoga is a highly refined system of holistic health and well-being, addressing all layers of the self, which are not separate but interrelated, affecting one another. If the body is sick, the mind, heart, and spirit are all diminished, and vice versa; if the heart is depressed, the mind, spirit, and body are lethargic; and so forth. Considered a science with sophisticated techniques and practices, hatha yoga effectively balances and strengthens every system of the body — the musculoskeletal, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, nervous, and endocrine systems — allowing practitioners to release tension, increase circulation, eliminate toxins, and restore natural health and vitality.

Although the Sanskrit term hatha means "forceful" or "intense," when broken into its syllables, ha for "sun" and tha for "moon," it implies a joining of opposites. Masculine qualities such as strength, activeness, aggression, hardness, and heat are associated with the sun, and feminine qualities such as softness, passivity, gentleness, nurturance, and coolness are associated with the moon. The yoga of the sun and moon, hatha yoga, seeks to balance the opposing forces: masculine and feminine, hard and soft, right and left, inner and outer, doing and being, yin and yang. Physically hatha yoga requires balanced action. Through the practice we develop a balance between strength and flexibility while learning to navigate the subtle dance between effort and surrender. The neat thing is that some postures, such as forward folds, cool the body and calm the nervous system, while others, such as backbends, heat and energize the body. Then there are twists, which are referred to as "smart" poses that will either cool or heat the body, whichever is necessary to bring the body back to neutral.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Pick Your Yoga Practice by Meagan McCrary. Copyright © 2013 Meagan McCrary. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Yoga Styles at a Glance xiv

Chapter 1 Yoga Explained 1

Chapter 2 America's Yoga History 17

Chapter 3 Philosophical Foundations 41

Chapter 4 Ashtanga-vinyasa Yoga 49

Chapter 5 Iyengar Yoga 65

Chapter 6 Kundalini Yoga 81

Chapter 7 Integral Yoga 105

Chapter 8 Kripalu Yoga 121

Chapter 9 Bikram Yoga 139

Chapter 10 Jivamukti Yoga 153

Chapter 11 Best of the Rest 167

Sivananda Yoga 168

Ananda Yoga 170

Viniyoga 172

Svaroopa Yoga 174

Power Yoga 176

Forrest Yoga 179

ISHTA Yoga 181

Anusara Yoga 184

Moksha Yoga 187

Aero Yoga 190

Conclusion 193

Acknowledgments 195

Endnotes 197

Resources 203

Index 207

About the Author 221

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