Yoga Defined

Yoga and Yoga Styles

At PearYoga we teach a Hatha style yoga based on the Iyengar tradition with foundation in healthy alignment.  Classes are based on teaching basic yoga postures (asana) and breathing and relaxation practices and include strengthening, lengthening (stretching), and balancing.  Classes are challenging yet slower paced, utilizing a wide variety of props to help facilitate access for all bodies.


The word "yoga" is multivalent, meaning, it has lots of meanings.  Which meaning is relevant is determined by context.  The most common meaning is generally understood to mean the integration (yoking) of the embodied self, the spirit or soul, with the supreme Self.  Often missed is that yoga also means "method" or "technique".  And so, appropriately enough, this one word "yoga" combines both the practice of "union" with the means to achieve this goal.  The first concrete use of the word to mean "spiritual practice" dates to around the 5th century BCE.

In the West we often think of yoga as meaning postures  According to the Yoga Sutra of Pantajali, compiled around 200-400 CE, there are eight limbs (Ashta-anga) of yoga: Yamas (moral imperatives), Niyamas (habits, behaviors, observances), Asanas (physical postures), Pranayamas (regulation of the breath), Pratyahara (retraction of the senses from the exterior world), Dharana (concentration of the mind on a single point), Dhyana (contemplation, reflection), and Samadhi (meditation, oneness).  Notice that only one limb has to do with physical postures.  Another way to look at "yoga" is that doing anything mindfully - moving, breathing, thinking, feeling - is yoga. 


Some of the more popular styles of yoga are listed below.  Not all styles are for everyone and as we progress along our journey of life, our "style" may change and evolve.  Most important is to research what fits you in this moment; like trying on clothes - is it the right color? Is it the right size?  Does it fit? 

Hatha Yoga

The Sanskrit term "hatha" (pronounce ha-ta) refers to the physical (asana) branch of yoga as opposed to other branches of yoga that are not based on a physical practice (Bhakti, Raja, Karma, etc.).  The Sanskrit word Hatha literally means “effort,” “force,” or “exertion”.  In order to achieve peace and calm, health and happiness, we must use some effort to get there.  Hatha yoga is the most popular style in the West and consists of numerous offshoots.  Certain types are best for beginners since classes may be slower paced, focused on healthy alignment, and introduce moving with the breath along with breathing practices. 

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar in the mid 20th century.  The practice focuses on alignment and detailed, precise movements, utilizing a generous amount of props (blocks, blankets, straps, etc.) making the practice accessible for most abilities.  The practice moves slowly and methodically, providing both strengthening and lengthening benefits, and incorporates movements with focus on the breath.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalinin yoga brings a spiritual aspect combined with the physical practice, and is designed to release the "kundalini" energy coiled a the base of the spine.  Poses are fast moving, working the core, and combined with breath work.  Classes can be intense and involve chanting, mantra, intense breathing practices, and meditation.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word and as noted above translates as "Eight Limb path." However, in this instance, Ashtanga yoga refers to a practice popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois in the mid-20th century. Ashtanga yoga involves a a hierarchy of increasingly demanding physical fixed sequence of postures, linked one after the other, so this style of yoga is strenuous and may not be suitable for the raw beginner. Vinyasa yoga stems from Ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement.

Vinyasa (Flow) Yoga

Vinyasa means "to place in a special way" and in this case the placement of the yoga postures. Adapted from Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa sequences, unlike those in Ashtanga, are not fixed, changing according to the teacher's creativity.  Vinyasa is the most athletic yoga style currently practiced by many. Movements (poses) flow from one to the next connected by the breath, with little time for instruction or rest. Many styles of yoga can be considered Vinyasa, such as Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, and others, and can vary from teacher to teacher.  As with Ashtanga, raw beginners may want to ease into the practice with a less demanding style.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a very slow paced style in which poses are held for long periods of time - typically from 1 to 5 minutes.  Gravity does most of the work as the body settles into and releases into the pose.

Restorative Yoga

This style of yoga utilizes a large number of props to support the posture (blankets, bolsters, blocks, chairs, and straps).  Restorative  yoga is deeply relaxing allowing the body to ease into the shape without using any exertion, facilitating the body's natural relaxation response.  Students remain in the shape for longer periods of time, enabling the body to settle into the relaxation, and therefore typical classes incorporate a small number of poses.  Restorative yoga does precisely that - restores the body and the mind.

Chair Yoga

Chair yoga  utilizes folding chairs to facilitate the formation of the yoga postures.  Students who have limited abilities, who have balance issues, or who are recovering from injury, benefit greatly from utilizing  chairs in their practice.  Students may opt to sit in the chair and/or utilize the chair for balance while in standing postures.  Even able bodied students can benefit from practicing with a chair, learning new ways to deepen their practice.

Other styles of yoga are out there.  What is the right style for you, in this moment?