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Solving the Yoga Puzzle: What Are All the Different Styles?

by Heather Indu Eilering


I get asked all the time by my yoga students, "what is the difference between all the styles of yoga?" The answer is much easier than trying to explain what each of the hundreds of yoga styles are, and then trying to explain why a system that means union could have so many different variations. Ultimately, there are only two types of yoga that the many seemingly different styles and names will fit into. There is modern day Americanized fitness yoga with a purpose to become stronger and more flexible and get a great workout. Then there is Authentic Yoga, which dates back several thousands of years. Its intention is to create the deepest sense of inner harmony and peace in the practitioner.

Both yoga styles have the benefit of increasing strength, flexibility, and strengthening the immune system functioning by providing better circulation, while also allowing stress reduction. However, the benefits of Authentic Yoga are slightly greater because it has the added bonus of being scientifically tested by practitioners for many thousands of years. Authentic Yoga also has a practical application in being able to take the teachings off the yoga mat into the practitioner’s life in order to discover more harmony in every aspect of their life. How is it possible to take Yoga off the mat, you may ask? Yogi Amrit Desai, one of the pioneers in bringing Yoga to America from India, recently explained the answer to me. "Authentic Yoga includes meditation, everything else is based on the egos’ needs." The meditative aspect of an Authentic Yogic practice is what allows the practitioner to step outside of their thoughts and mind where the stress was originally created, to a calm inner space where solutions to all of life’s problems can arise. Basically, Authentic Yoga addresses the cause of the practitioner’s problem instead of only attempting to provide results for a condition such as a sore back or high blood pressure. When the cause of pain is removed the pain can no longer return in a different form. It teaches the practitioner that both the problem and the solution to every issue they face lies within themself, which in turn leads to the experience of union. It heals the ultimate illness which is one’s own unresolved experiences from their past that created separation. It teaches how to accept yourself exactly as you are so you can relax with or without "yoga butt", yet as a result, your body and mind become stronger and healthier, plus the time-tested result of deep inner peace!

This sense of bliss can be temporarily experienced when doing modern day American yoga due to the endorphins that are released in the body during the practice; however, eventually these chemicals run their course and the practitioner needs another physical yoga practice to maintain the "high". Ask yourself, do you really believe that learning to stand on your head, wrap your foot behind your ear, or touch your toes is going to create inner peace? Maybe for the first moment of success and when you tell your friends, but how about after that? Then you’re going to need to learn another posture to get that same high. What happens when you’ve mastered them all?

The meditative aspect of an Authentic Yoga practice retrains the brain and the mind to work more from the para-sympathetic nervous system so that, with continued practice, that state of inner calm steps off the mat with the practitioner and helps them relax in their life. Then when their boss gives them one more task to complete at 5pm on Friday, or when their spouse leaves the dirty dishes in the sink, the practitioner remains centered and clear, instead of reacting to the strain, and ultimately allows them to remain calm when making important life decisions.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with modern day yoga. It’s great exercise! But there is a misconception about what Yoga is and modern day yoga is limited, where Authentic Yoga is all-inclusive and available to every body type and personality. You don’t have to be strong or flexible to do Authentic Yogic Practices.

So, when choosing what yoga style to practice, first ask yourself what is your intention for taking a yoga class? Then call around to teachers and studios that seem to fit your intention and ask questions! Does that style and teacher resonate with you and your needs? Injuries are becoming more prominent in yoga classes due to many factors, including teachers who are not well trained, and the student’s own desire to push their body beyond what it is capable of doing. So, be conscious in the process. Ultimately what resonates within your own body and heart is the style of yoga that you are going to stick with the longest and receive the most benefit from.

Many Blessings.

Jai Bhagwan (Victory to the Light within you)

For questions or comments for Heather Indu Eilering please email her at Heather@YogaAtSantosha.com


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