What is Yoga? A Journey Through the Fascinating Types of Yoga
Yoga has become one of the world’s most recognisable spiritual disciplines: celebrated for its physical benefits while respected for its accessible approach to spiritualism and meditation. But when you get to the bottom of that downward dog, what really is yoga?
The term ‘Yoga’ incorporates a wide range of disciplines and practices, unifying physical, mental, and spiritual elements. At its heart is a powerful guiding philosophy that body, mind, and spirit are one.
The origins of Yoga
Yoga developed from the civilizations and cultures of ancient India, with the historical date of its origin a matter of debate. Some scholars and spiritual practitioners argue that yoga could date back as far as 6,000 years, creating a spiritual tradition that has transitioned through cultures for millennia.
The practice of yoga is likely to have originally formed part of an oral tradition, passed down between practitioners in ancient India. The developing practice of yoga as a unified spiritual discipline truly emerged around 2,000 years ago, first laid down in the sacred Hindu text of the Katha Upanishad, putting a voice to the principles of yoga which still resonate with practitioners today. At its heart is the concept of the soul, or Atman, and the meditative practice at the core of yoga philosophy:
He (the Atman), difficult to be seen, full of mystery,
the Ancient, primaeval one, concealed deep within,
He who, by yoga means of meditation on his self, comprehends Atman within him as God,
He leaves joy and sorrow far behind.
What is yoga today?
Those spiritual roots laid out thousands of years ago still form the foundation on which yoga is built. Yet modern practice incorporates a wide range of spiritual and physical disciplines beneath the wider banner of ‘yoga’. These different paths ensure that practitioners from all over the world can benefit from a school of yoga which suits their own unique spirit.
While its roots may emerge from ancient Hindu teachings, yoga is not itself a religion. It is a way to connect with the meditative state and relaxation that, for some, forms the path to enlightenment. It is a focus on your own core of being, to benefit from the sense of one-ness that emerges at the heart of yoga practice.
Estimates by leading yoga gurus suggest as many as 2 billion people around the world today practice yoga in one form or another. That means billions of people are connected by a powerful spiritual practice which can trace it roots back to a journey of enlightenment over thousands of years.
Of course, modern practice for many is as much about health and fitness as it is about a true journey to enlightenment. The physical elements of yoga provide a unique framework to the mental and spiritual benefits of this popular practice. Participants engage in their own exploration of body, mind, and spirit, unlocking the benefits of exercise, enjoying a welcoming environment of spiritual calm, and supporting better mental health through powerful reflective practice.
Exploring types of yoga
There are many types of yoga practiced today, creating an accessible path to explore mind, spirit, and body for people of all ages and capabilities. Let’s explore that route to enlightenment with popular yoga styles practiced today.
One of the most practiced traditions globally, a physical-driven yoga practice that is favoured by many for the focus on physical movement. Hatha Yoga explores that one-ness of mind and body through the use of yoga postures (asana), yoga breathing (pranayama), body gestures (mudra), and internal cleansing (shatkarma). The physical core of breathing and posture provides an active yet meditative practice which empowers a feeling of calm while providing a positive physical workout.
This school follows the Hatha discipline of physical-focused yoga practice. It is sometimes referred to as ‘flow yoga’, providing a school of yoga focused on the flow of movement, merging physical shifts in posture with steady breathing to bring mind and body together.
Ashtanga Yoga, or the eight-limbed path, is an advanced path of physical expression and enlightenment. This focused practice is founded on vigorous physical movement, with practitioners transitioning through a range of poses as part of an energetic Ashtanga series.
Power Yoga is another popular discipline that falls beneath the Hatha school, once again promoting vigorous physical movement in that journey towards unity of mind, spirit and body. Power Yoga combines the athletic nature of Ashtanga Yoga with some of the styles of Vinyasa Yoga.
Bikram yoga incorporate environmental elements on the path to spiritual release, combining physical poses with sauna-like temperatures to provide an intense journey to calm and one-ness.
Yin Yoga offers a more relaxing physical path to enlightenment, incorporating passive yoga postures with a more slow-paced transition and extended periods of stretching. The focus is on calm, steady movement, relaxing the body and mind through paused moments rather than vigorous and continuous movement.
Jnana Yoga is a practice focused on the spiritual path to enlightenment, and often called the ‘yoga of knowledge’. This search for Atman follows a less physical path than widely practiced Hatha Yoga, focusing on strength of will and intellect over the pursuit of the physical journey. This is a school built on reflection, exploration of spirit and intellect, and an understanding of self.
Bhakti Yoga is another school which follows a more committed spiritual path, built on devotion to one’s self. It is sometimes described as the ‘yoga of love’, or ‘yoga of devotion’, with practitioners following a path to enlightenment built on spiritual reflection that incorporates mind, emotion and self.
Karma Yoga is often referred to as the ‘yoga of action’, highlighting the focus on spiritual service to others. The path to unified mind, body and spirit is built on a practitioners dedication and selfless service to create positive karma through action.
Kundalini Yoga provides a positive mix of the spiritual focus of practices such as Bhakti with the physical elements reflected in Hatha yoga. It offers a path to connect with self through dynamic breathing, meditation, chanting, and physical movement.
Find your yoga path
Yoga is a welcoming discipline which embraces the concept of spirituality as part of an individual’s own journey of discovery. It is also a discipline which can help promote a healthier body and mind through physical practice and a calming environment.
This year’s MURFEST is home to a range of exciting yoga events, providing a unique opportunity to explore your own mind, spirit, and body. So are you ready to breathe deep, move your body, and relax your mind and spirit as part of a spiritual journey dating back millennia? With yoga, you can benefit from the physical, or access the spiritual. Your journey is down to you. Try out different yoga styles and see which one suits your needs best.