THE JOURNEY OM: A swami-free guide to the best yoga for you
Who loves it: The gentle, meditative nature of this discipline makes it an ideal introduction to yoga, especially for those who aren’t in great shape. Kripalu also appeals to people who turn to yoga to de-stress and get more in touch with the body’s prana (life force).
What it is: More a journey of self-discovery than a purely physical regimen, Kripalu focuses mainly on the mind, and on the body only as a way of connecting to the mind to release mental tensions. At first, postures are held for prolonged periods (while you learn how to quiet the mind). At more advanced levels, students move spontaneously from one posture to the next.
Who shouldn’t do it: This workout will not make you sweat or raise your heart rate? If you’re interested only in external effects, don’t bother with Kripalu.
Keywords to know: The word Kripalu is derived from the Sanskrit for “compassion.”
How you’ll feel after class: Calm, spiritually enriched and in touch with your inner feelings.
Who loves it: This is an intense physical workout that appeals to athletic types, to people who want to stretch their limbs and to those looking for therapy for such ailments as back pain and some forms of arthritis.
What it is: Developed by Bikram Choudhury (who still practices at his Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills), this discipline relies on a series of 26 asanas, half of which are performed standing and half lying down during each 90-minute class. Each class begins and ends with breathing exercises. Choudhury, who studied yoga as a child in India, is also a champion weight lifter. He developed this discipline after using yoga for rehabilitation following a crippling weight-lifting accident. (P.S.: It worked for him.)
Who shouldn’t do it: Anyone who can’t stand the heat? (The classes are held in rooms heated to 100 degrees or higher in order to warm the muscles, increase flexibility and help you stretch.)
Keywords to know: Breath control.
How you’ll feel after class: Hot, damp and limber.
Who loves it: You don’t have to be superfit to get a lot out of a Sivananda class, which explains why it appeals to an older audience. That said, the stretching and relaxation make this form of yoga an ideal balance to more hectic athletic pursuits (running, biking, etc.). Sivananda is similar to the kind of yoga that’s used (at places like Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles) for cardiac patients.
What it is: A discipline based upon learning and living the five points of yoga: exercise (the asanas), breathing (pranayama), relaxation (savasana), vegetarian diet, and meditation and positive thinking (Vedanta). Although there is a physical component each class includes 12 series of flowing sun salutations, plus other postures expect to find mainly chanting, prayers and a long period of meditation.
Who shouldn’t do it: If your goal is to work up a serious sweat, this discipline isn’t for you?
Keywords to know: Om Shanti Shanti (om, peace, peace, peace). This is often chanted at the start and end of each class.
How you’ll feel after class: Stretched out, relaxed and peaceful.
Who loves it: Anyone looking for higher consciousness plus flexibility.
What it is: Kundalini refers to the energy force (or chakras) said to lie coiled at the base of the spine. The practice of Kundalini yoga is designed to awaken the chakras and release the energy through intense breathing. This involves some very quick breaths, some slow, deep ones and some long pauses between breaths. Because this breathing generates heat, it also helps loosen your muscles so you can stretch deeper.
Who shouldn’t do it: The breathing exercises may be harmful to people with high blood pressure or pregnant women (because suspension or retention of breath limits blood flow to the fetus)?
Keywords to know: Sat (truth); nam (name). On each inhale you think (or say) sat, exhaling the word nam, as a meditation on your true identity. Another good one to memorize is ong namo guru dev namo (a mantra often chanted three times at the start of class), which means “I call upon the infinite creative consciousness of my divine inner wisdom.”
How you’ll feel after class: High. The intense breathing can leave you light-headed, but your muscles will feel loose and limber.
Who loves it: Besides Madonna (Astanga’s poster girl), this discipline appeals to people who want to be strong and vigorous and enjoy working out to the hilt.
What it is: Astanga consists of a series of postures done in a constant flowing movement linked by the breath. In gyms, it’s easier to find classes in power yoga, a westernized version that uses many of the moves and principles of Astanga, but goes light on spirituality. While there’s no denying this is the serious exercise, it probably appeals most to people who also love intense workout classes. If you’re used to long runs or bike rides, you may find the hour and a half you spend sweating in power yoga doesn’t provide the same high. Still, it will improve strength and flexibility.
Who shouldn’t do it: Because of the weight-bearing postures (e.g., the push-up/upward dog/downward dog sequence) it is not for anyone with the wrist, elbow or shoulder problems or anyone who isn’t already in good physical condition?
Keywords to know: Vande guru name caranara vinde/Sandarsita Svatma Sukhava bhodhe. Translation: “I pray to the lotus feet of the supreme guru who teaches the good knowledge.” (If this already sounds familiar, you’ve been either practicing Astanga or playing Madonna’s Ray of Light CD.)
How you’ll feel after class: Invigorated, sweaty, sore, maybe even a bit shaky, especially in the shoulders and upper body.
Who loves it: Anyone who wants to improve posture and alignment while becoming strong and flexible. Instructors must undergo a rigorous certification process that includes study of anatomy, so this is a good discipline for anyone who needs to rehabilitate from an injury. The attention to form is also great for people with physical imbalances caused by the repetitive motions of their sport.
What it is: Named for its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, this yoga is precise and therapeutic. The emphasis is on alignment of the entire skeletal system, from the spine to the finger bones. To help students achieve proper form, the teacher may use props. If for example, you cannot reach your ankle in the triangle pose, you can support your hand on a wood block placed next to your foot.
Who shouldn’t do it: If you’re looking mainly for spirituality, look further? Also, if you want to flow dancelike sequences of asanas, Iyengar with its static postures isn’t for you.
Keywords to know: All you really need to know is your own body and its capacity.