Yoga: an Overview

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” meaning “to yoke” or “unite” body, mind and spirit. Yoga originated in India, where it is considered one of the six branches of classical philosophy in the Hindu Vedas (Indian Scriptures).

In our modern times and Western society, yoga refers mainly to a physical practice by the means of postures, or “asanas”, stretching and strengthening the body, and breathing exercises, or “pranayama”.


However, yoga is above all a spiritual path, asanas and pranayama preparing the body and the mind for concentration, meditation, and ultimately leading to a higher state of consciousness called samadhi.

Along the way, the yoga student gains balance, health, happiness, flexibility (physically and mentally), and hopefully some peace of mind.

The eight limbs of yoga

About 2000 years ago, the Indian scholar (or group of scholars, not clear on that one) Patanjali devised what is the foundation of yoga philosophy in the “Yoga Sutras”. According to Patanjali, there are 8 disciplines of limbs of yoga :

  1. Yamas, or ethics towards others: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-acquisitiveness;
  2. Niyamas, or principles of self-conduct: cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self study and study of the scriptures, and surrender to a higher Self;
  3. Asanas, or postures;
  4. Pranayama, or control of the breath;
  5. Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses;
  6. Dharana, or concentration;
  7. Dhyana, or meditation
  8. Samadhi, or higher state of consciousness.

The different styles of yoga

When you want to start practicing yoga, you can easily get lost in the jungle of existing styles. Indeed, yoga is a generic name covering all kinds of style, from traditional to modern, from gentle to more dynamic. Here is an overview of several yoga styles:

  • Hatha: most popular style of yoga, a lot of yoga styles originate from Hatha Yoga.
  • Sivananda: this style developed by Swami Vishnudevanda and named after his teacher Swami Sivananda is a gentle form of yoga, following a set structure of pranayama, 12 classic asanas, and relaxation. Sivananda is aimed at developing spirituality, and is a good place to start yoga.
  • Asthanga: for those who are looking for a good workout, ashtanga is a dynamic style with challenging series of poses. Developed by the late S.K. Pattabhi Jois in India.
  • Iyengar: named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, Iyengar Yoga focuses on physical alignment, and the use of props such as blocks, straps, bolsters to facilitate proper alignment is common.
  • Bikram: not for everyone, Bikram takes place in a very hot room and consists of a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and is good for detoxification of the body.
  • Anusara: type of yoga developed recently by John Friend, former student of Iyengar yoga. Anusara means “flowing with grace” or “following your heart”. The aim is to attain physical and spiritual well-being, following the “Universal Principles of Alignment”.
  • Jivamukti: modern style of yoga developed by David Life and Sharon Gannon, dynamic style mixing the teachings of Ashtanga yoga and spiritual teachings mainly based on the first yama, ahimsa or non-violence.
  • Kundalini: Yogi Bhajan brought this style to the West in the late sixties. This style of yoga focuses on releasing the Kundalini energy, through classic poses, coordination of movement and breath, and meditation.
  • Vinyasa: Vinyasa yoga is a modern style of yoga, connecting breath with movement (usually one breath – one movement). It is also called Vinyasa flow because of the way the poses are linked together, making the practice look like a “flow” or dance. Vinyasa styles include also styles such as Anusara, Jivamukti, Hot or Power Yoga (more of a workout).

There are many other styles out there, and the best way to find out what style suits you best would be to try all kinds of classes available in your area, as many classes as you can!

Tips to get started

  • Most studios and teachers offer a free trial class, check the studios in your areas and give them a try;
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t like the first class you go to, maybe there’s another style waiting for you to discover it!
  • Don’t feel awkward / uncomfortable / bad about yourself, yoga is a lot of things but certainly not a competition. We all have different bodies and different levels of flexibility, just come as you are, you are enough!
  • If you have any injury / disability, please let the teacher know – they will help you adapt the poses and work around it. Who knows, you might even find out that it gets better with time.
  • Have fun!

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