Yoga is a 5000-year-old art and there are nearly as many forms of Yoga as there are candles of its birthday cake. So if you’re serious about picking a form that really suits who you are, then winding your way through the maze of options can be so trying and stressful that it might just be healthier to order pizza and a six pack and say fooey to the Indian arts.

However, 18 million Americans are choosing to attend yoga classes and the number is growing every day so obviously yoga is working for somebody. How do you make yoga work for you? To begin lets looks at what yoga really is.

The practice of Yoga was created in order for the practitioner to realize their union with god. The theory behind it is fairly simple: by using the breath and movement to clear the body and mind you’ll create a place for the soul to rest inside the body and thereby realize your divine nature. What this means is that eventually if you do enough yoga with the right intent, you’ll be tooting around town in a stress free, good looking fit skin package showing divine grace on everyone you meet.

So, no matter what your goals are or the form you pick when you start your class, the whole practice is meant to eventually bring you there. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in order to get there, you’re probably going to have to do a LOT of yoga more than you can possibly do in one lifetime. Since the practice of Yoga comes from the Indian Hindu tradition where belief in reincarnation is standard, taking several lifetimes to do the work isn’t a problem. The real question you have to answer for yourself is this: do I want the solid yet plodding slow path, the occasionally stop and smell the roses medium path or do I want to take the Space Shuttle to enlightenment? The choice is yours.

“Define your goals before picking a practice” States Doctor Pamela Mark a psychologist and longtime practitioner of the Yogic arts. “Oftentimes, people become discouraged with yoga because they’ve come to class with expectations that are unrealistic for the form that they’ve chosen. So they write off the entire practice of Yoga when all they need to do if find a form that suits their goals.”

If your primary goal is to get fit and you don’t really give a hoot about getting with god then a physical practice is probably the best for you.

Power Yoga is a system that as succeeded in yoga from a spiritual yogic tradition into a kick ass, booty tuning sweatathon that makes your body look and feel great. Don’t count on feeling tons of inner peace or a lasting tranquillity from the process but you will look good.

The next step along the Yogic ladder is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is one of the most popular slow solid forms that focuses primarily on movement combined to the breathing techniques to tone the body and calm the mind. The workout will tone the body, the breathing techniques will calm the mind and if you stick with it for a while you will experience the deeper levels of yogic calm. There are versions of Hatha geared towards people with physical challenges. If you have physical challenges or just don’t want to sweat too much, most yoga facilities offer a basic or “gentle” class that introduces simple postures and breathing techniques that will gradually build flexibility and strength.

If you’re already fairly fit or want to dig some of the ghosts in the closet out while toning the body, you might want a style of yoga that will invigorate the body, mind and spirit all at the same time. There are several “middle path” yoga's that will do the trick. Ashtanga, Golden bridge and Dao Yin / Qi Gong are good representatives of the “middle path” Ashtanga or eight limed yoga focuses on heating the body. The theory here is that the heating of the body will cleanse and detox the body as well as awaken your “kundalini fire” Along with the stretches or “assanas’ there is chanting that is designed to harmonize the subtle energies through the body. Another aspect of the Ashtanga or Golden Bridge Kundalini Yoga is a stillness mediation that is designed to enhance your union with the all.

Dao Yin and Qi Gong are the Chinese cousins of Indian Yoga. Dao yin is a series of stretches and movements that are designed to relax and loosen the body in order to get the “Qi” or natural energy flowing in the body. Qi gong which translates to “Energy Work” is a standing meditation that uses a series of visualizations that balance the bodies energies while relaxing the body and harmonizing the subtle energies.

If you’re more interested in straightening out the big questions of life before you shuffle off the mortal coil and are hell-bent on getting there quick then Qi Gong can help, but there are faster and more effect ways to going about the job.

One of the most effective methods is found in Kryia / Trantric Yoga. Kryia is a series of specific meditations that are designed to open up your connection to the universe/ god. The reasoning of Kryia not paying too much attention to the body is simple: if you want to get there fast why wait to the body to catch up with your soul?

Another form that is close to Kryia in its nature is the Buddhist Yogic traditions of Guru initiation as well as a host of meditation practices. If you’re interested in these sorts of practices go forward with the age old dictum “buyer beware”. These practices have not been around for thousands of years for nothing. They will bring changes to your life and you’ll blossom in unexpected ways. However, rapid life change is not without it’s challenges. Which begs the question: Are you really ready?

No matter what practice you choose all of them adhere to one basic principle. Ultimately you’re already enlightened and your soul is already perfect. All you need to do is relax and it will reveal itself to you. Spoken in western terminology: No matter what path you choose it’s all good so you might as well chill out and enjoy the ride.


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© Melt Magazine 2002