Yoga and yoga practice
Yoga practice is a way of using our bodies, breath, mental focus and sometimes other techniques, to bring about improved health, wellbeing, and a feeling of spaciousness in the body and clarity and calm in the mind.
There are many reasons why people practice yoga, from body fitness, to enabling a steadiness of body and mind for more contemplative or meditative practice, and all that lies in between. Yoga is great at bringing the body and mind into greater health and balance, and becoming physically and mentally stronger and more flexible.
Yoga is an ancient philosophy
Yoga is an ancient philosophy with a range of old and modern practices to benefit everyday life. The teachings were first written down in India and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a seminal text that is the underpinning philosophy behind many approaches of yoga.
Styles of yoga practice
The various different styles or methods of yoga emphasise different practices over others and some are more physical, some more meditative, and some more esoteric.
Finding a style that you enjoy and you feel is helpful to you both in the short term and longer term is a very individual decision. Each teacher will have their own take on what they teach and how they teach it, so finding a teacher that you feel ‘speaks your language’ and can help you with practicing yoga is perhaps more important than the style that you choose to practice. At Bristol YogaSpace we focus on the Viniyoga approach to yoga practice. Find out more here >
Styles such as Iyengar Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga emphasise very physical forms of yoga practice, Viniyoga emphasises a breath centred approach to yoga practice,
Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasana, Viniyoga, Integral, Shadow, Kripalu, Scaravelli, Anusara, Sivananda and Kundalini just to name a few. The distinction between each style of yoga is a generally difference of emphasis. For example, focus on alignment of the body and the form of the pose, or breathing techniques. Many yoga teachers have created a hybrid practice by studying more than one style. No style is necessarily better or more authentic than any other but they are the teachers interpretation of what they have found important to them that they are passing on through their classes.
A thought on yoga styles
“In my view, it is not useful to think of different styles of yoga: this is simply yoga, which comes from a vast and ancient source. The only authentic yoga is one which works for each person according to circumstances and needs, and there are many possibilities”
The Heart of Yoga, by TKV Desikachar
Finding what works for you can take time and exploration but is a worthwhile and potentially life enhancing endeavour.
Krishnamacharya and Desikachar
Viniyoga was developed as an approach to yoga practice by Sri TKV Desikachar and his father Sri T Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya dedicated his life to developing his approach to yoga practice throughout the 20th Century. He was a pioneer of yoga, translating an ancient, previously exclusive and little known practice into widely available and valuable tools to support us with everyday modern life.
His approach adapts yoga to the needs of each individual so everyone can benefit in some way, no matter how old, young, fit or immobile. He was the forefather and teacher of the world reknowned teachers including BKS Iyengar (Iyengar yoga) and Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga yoga). Paul Harvey, who was taught directly by Sri TKV Desikarchar over 25 years in India, is bringing these teachings to yoga teachers and students in the UK. through his Centre of Yoga Studies.
Yoga doesn't have to be only about the physical postures that are often taught in group classes. Viniyoga uses the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as the primary ancient yogic text and in there it references 8 aspects to yoga and the physical postures are just 1 of these. The other aspects include meditation, breathing techniques and lifestyle choices and there are many useful teachings that help us understand and develop awareness of our own psychology and life in helpful ways. There is a wealth of knowledge if we choose to explore it. Or we can just use it just to feel better in a weekly class. Viniyoga is the application of yoga to the individual's needs, and can be used therapeutically for a wide range of health conditions and self-development.
There are a host of good yoga books. The older ones can be difficult to access and make sense of so studying these with a teacher is very helpful. Contemporary books are a great way to understand yoga practice and philosophy, here are a few favourites
The Heart of Yoga, TKV Desikachar
Bringing Yoga to Life, by Donna Farhi
Yoga for Transformation, Gary Kraftsow
Intelligent Yoga: re-educating mind and body, Peter Blackaby
The Roots of Yoga, James Mallinson and Mark Singleton
If you want to take your study of yoga further, find a consistent and regular group class where you can develop a relationship to your yoga teacher who can support you with your developing practice. Consider coming along to a yoga workshop or coming for private yoga lessons where we will explore your interests and provide support and direction to your yoga practice.