Styles of Yoga

What is yoga?
Different paths of yoga
Yoga teacher qualifications
British Wheel of Yoga classes
Popular styles and traditions of hatha yoga in the UK:

What is yoga?

Yoga means oneness or unity (the Sanskrit word “yoga” means to “yoke or join”).  Ultimately, yoga is about self-realisation and unfoldment to enable a person to reach their full potential.  The eight limb path of Raja yoga, which is the basis of most yoga taught in the UK, was written down by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras probably about 300BC. 

Most yoga classes in the UK offer hatha yoga, which focuses in particular on two of these limbs: asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises).  Most yoga classes also teach relaxation and, to some extent, meditation and philosophy.

But whatever approach is taken, there is just one yoga.  The different styles and traditions of yoga are merely different routes to the same destination.  Different styles suit different people.

Different paths of yoga

Hatha yoga was developed in the middle ages to prepare the student for the higher practice of Raja yoga and meditation.  Hatha yoga practices free the body to allow it to sit relaxed and steadily in an upright position, and help to calm and focus the mind.  Practices focus mainly on body and breath.

Other paths of yoga include Karma yoga (the yoga of work/action), Bhakti yoga (devotional practice, usually including chanting), Jnana yoga (the path of wisdom and discernment).

Yoga teacher qualifications

The governing body for yoga in the UK is the British Wheel of Yoga, or BWY, recognised by the Government’s Sports Councils (Sport England, Sport Wales).  This acts as an umbrella organisation for yoga in the UK and also trains yoga teachers. 

Anyone holding the BWY Diploma has undergone a thorough assessed training programme lasting approximately three years.  Qualified Wheel teachers also have insurance and ongoing professional development through in-service training.  For more details see www.bwy.org.uk

Other organisations and individuals also offer teacher training courses across the UK and abroad, which vary widely from high quality to very lacking.  When looking for a yoga teacher training course, aspects to consider are: the experience of the teacher(s); the duration of the course (developing the skills required to teach yoga safely and competently takes time and practice, so consolidation time between study days is advantageous); the contact study/practice time with the tutors (teaching yoga involves practical skills that need to be learned from direct contact with a skilled teacher); the amount of observed teaching practice and feedback you are likely to receive during the course; and also the support and continued development offered once the training is completed.

British Wheel of Yoga classes

The BWY mentioned above, does not have a fixed system or approach to yoga, so its teachers vary enormously.  There are thousands of BWY teachers up and down the country, and all have their own style of teaching, many teaching from their experience of the traditions listed below.  For more information see www.bwy.org.uk

Popular styles and traditions of hatha yoga in the UK

Satyananda Yoga/Bihar School

The Bihar School of Yoga is based on the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati and is well established in the UK.  Satyananada teachers teach asana, pranayama and relaxation (yoga nidra), and may also teach chanting and meditation.  Classes tend to be physically moderate to gentle.

The Satyananda organisation (the Bihar School of Yoga) is committed to teaching people from all backgrounds and has a policy of openness and sharing in all its various teachings on yoga.  The Bihar School publishes many books on yoga and has centres in London http://www.syclondon.com/wp/ and Birmingham http://www.sycbirmingham.com/ and an ashram in Wales http://www.mandalayoga.net/.

Scaravelli Yoga

This approach to yoga is based on the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli.  There is no formal organisation as such, but many teachers in the UK are influenced by Scaravelli’s approach of working the body intelligently with the breath, within the field of gravity.

Sivananda Yoga

Swami Sivananda was an influential yogi in the 20th century and there is a worldwide organisation based around his teachings.

Teachers trained in the Sivananda tradition offer asana, pranayama and relaxation.  Classes often follow a set pattern of moderate to demanding yoga postures after warming up, including the salute to the sun sequence (surya namaskar).  Usually classes also include pranayama, chanting and meditation.  In the Sivananda tradition, emphasis is placed on proper diet, following the yamas and niyamas (rules for living) and meditating on cosmic consciousness (or God).

For more information click here www.sivananda.org

Viniyoga/AYS

Viniyoga was developed by TKV Desikachar.  The name ‘viniyoga’ was abandoned in 2003 and has not been replaced with an alternative name.  It aims aims to tailor yoga to the individual needs of the student so that yoga is relevant to every person and every situation.  Its teachings respect differences in ages, gender, mental and physical health, culture, religion, philosophy and occupation.

Teachers are trained to create ‘vinyasa’, or sequences of postures.  These take students on a journey which begins gently and get stronger as the teacher moves the class towards the main posture of the session.  This style of class tends to be fairly gentle.  You will find a lot of gentle dynamic exercises - moving in and out of postures with the breath.  You may find some meditation and possibly some chanting of sounds with the postures.  You may or may not have a deep relaxation exercise at the end of the class.

The organisation ‘Viniyoga Britain’ has now become The Association for Yoga Studies

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

This approach to yoga has become very popular in recent years, partly because of a number of celebrity practitioners.  Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding and dynamic form of hatha yoga which is practised in a warm room.  The Ashtanga Vinyasa system is based on the Primary Series of postures taught by Shri Pattabhi Jois of Mysore in India.  A precise series of postures is taught and students practice the same asanas each time they practice.  The system uses a particular breathing method known as ujjayi throughout the practice.  Concentration points, or “drishtis” are also taught to encourage inner awareness and concentration.  You will get hot and sweat with this practice, and students are expected to practice regularly.

A potential hazard in such a dynamic system is the risk of possible injuries, so it is important that you find a qualified teacher who is aware of safety issues.

Teachers offering “power yoga” are usually teaching their own modified version of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga which may not be accepted as correct teaching by followers of Pattabhi Jois.

Iyengar Yoga

BKS Iyengar developed his own approach to yoga and has written numerous books on postures, breathing and yoga philosophy. The Iyengar system of teaching is methodical and progressive and is known for its precision. There is a sophisticated system of teacher training which encourages Iyengar teachers to continue their professional development.

A typical Iyengar class will focus almost exclusively on the postures (asana) - it is likely to be a mainly physical class with little exploration of spiritual ideas.  Teachers use a range of ‘props’ such as blocks, belts, chairs and walls, to help students to get into postures.  Pranayama (breathing) is only taught once students have reached a certain level of proficiency in asana.  Classes tend to by physically quite demanding and most classes end with a relaxation.
For more information on Iyengar yoga click here www.iyengaryoga.org.uk

Kundalini Yoga

This is a form of yoga practice which aims to stimulate the flow of kundalini, or latent energies.  Teachers often wear white, often with a white turban, and the practices includes its own style of dynamic asana, pranayama, chanting and meditation.

Other yoga traditions

The yoga traditions listed above are the most common yoga systems found in the UK, but you may come across others.  Yoga traditions are based around the teachings and style of one particular teacher or guru, based on yoga teaching passed down from teacher to student, as has been the tradition in India for thousands of years.

There are organisations in the UK that have developed their own style and approach over more recent years, for example the Life Foundation School of Therapeutics

Independent teachers

Many yoga teachers develop their own style of teaching.  Though they may have been taught by teachers of particular traditions during their life, they don’t strictly follow that style in their teaching.  These teachers often describe their yoga as ‘hatha yoga’ which simply means they work with body and breath (see above) and doesn’t indicate what kind of practices they will be teaching or how physically demanding the session will be.

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