By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Yoga enters mainstream
of fitness practices

Question I'm thinking of starting a yoga class. There are several schools of yoga offered in my area and I'm not sure which one to take. Can you explain how they differ?

Answer Yoga, so long considered a counterculture activity, has finally earned its rightful place in the mainstream fitness community. Anyone can practice yoga, even those who are out of shape. This is partly due to the fact that, although most yoga classes teach similar postures, they differ in their presentation, focus, and intensity.

Some yoga classes incorporate strength, some require students to be cardiovascularly fit. Some schools emphasize the meditative aspects of yoga; traditionally, yoga was a way for individuals to prepare the body/mind for meditation. Other classes approach the asanas (postures) from a therapeutic or healing point of view. Some classes focus on flexibility and/or athletic stretches, others emphasize the importance of balance. Yoga can be extremely vigorous or very relaxing, depending on which class you attend.

Before committing to any one class, first decide what you hope to gain from attending a yoga class. Then observe and/or try out different classes to see how you resonate with the various styles.

I've compiled a list of the most popular schools of yoga, with a brief description of each. This list is meant to be a guide only.

Hatha Yoga: Hatha is a generic term and refers to the postures or asanas, which are incorporated into the many schools of yoga.

Iyenger Yoga: Named after its creator, this is a precise approach to yoga. Close attention to the form and structure of the asanas is emphasized. Vigor isn't necessarily emphasized, although Iyenger yoga can be practiced athletically.

Astanga Yoga: Astanga is also called power yoga. It's a series of interconnected yoga postures laced together with transitional movements. Astanga yoga has been compared to a gymnastics workout. It generates a great deal of body heat and is very rigorous.

Kripalu Yoga: Named after the institute where it was developed, this form shifts the focus inward. The internal, subjective, emotional aspects of the body/mind are emphasized. Perfecting the postures is less important than connecting with the inner self. This style of yoga tends to be very calming.

Bikarum Yoga: Also know as hot yoga, this form too is named after its creator. Hot yoga incorporates a series of interconnected yoga postures performed in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat helps loosen up the joints which fosters much greater gains in flexibility.

There is an emphasis on healing.

Kundalini Yoga: This style of yoga incorporates some traditional yoga postures, but its main focus is on intense breathing exercises, energy gathering behaviors, spiritual awakening and emotional healing. Kundalini yoga shouldn't be done without the guidance of an experienced instructor.

If you're new to yoga, I recommend attending a class taught by a certified instructor. Trying to learn yoga on your own, via a book or video, isn't as safe or effective as learning from a knowledgeable instructor. Teachers bring their own individual creative style to a class, which is always more fun and beneficial.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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