The Roots and Branches of Yoga

By Molly O'Brien

Yoga. Most people would define yoga as a form of exercise that incorporates meditation, breathing techniques and bodily postures. While this is true, yoga encompasses various philosophies. Its origins date back 5,000 years to Sanskrit texts called The Vedas. Since then, yoga has served as the foundation for many different schools of thought and practice. However, the primary goal is the same — to achieve body-spirit connection and release from worldly suffering.


Hatha is a term that describes any type of yoga that involves physical postures. Most classes taught in the west are a form of Hatha yoga. Classes teach slow-paced movements, and introduce basic poses. Basic hatha is great for beginners as well as seasoned practitioners looking for a relaxing, restorative practice.


Ashtanga yoga, also called power yoga, is a rigorous, physically demanding practice that focuses on synchronizing breath with movement — one breath, one movement. Ashtanga is composed of similar sequences of poses and is great for toning, endurance and core strength. While the practice is derived from old ideologies, it was repopularized only 50 years ago.


Iyengar yoga, named after its founder B.K.S. Iyengar, is an intricate form of yoga that focuses on achieving and maintaining proper alignment in each pose. Although this won’t get your heart rate climbing, holding poses for long periods will certainly provide a mentally and physically challenging workout. Iyengar instructors must complete extensive training, making this practice suitable for clients with chronic pain or illness, who may require advanced instruction.


Kundalini yoga is referenced in the Vedic scripts, making it one of the oldest forms of yoga in practice. Unlike some of the other popular styles, kundalini yoga focuses predominately on increasing self-awareness, not on fitness. For this reason, kundalini is referred to as the “yoga of awareness.” It is governed by the philosophy that the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, is a coiled bundle of energy that connects us with the divine power within ourselves. In addition to meditation, a typical class includes spinal twists and core work to help tap into the spinal energy source.


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Molly O'Brien is a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida. She specializes in community and personal health topics. Born in Huntington, New York, she graduated from SUNY Farmingdale with a Bachelor of Science in biology. Molly has a passion for literature, language and art in all forms. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in English with a specialization in creative writing.