Often called “the yoga of awareness,” kundalini is regarded as an advanced form of yoga and meditation focused on developing a higher consciousness and spiritual strength. It was introduced in the U.S. in 1968, when Yogi Bhajan, an Indian kundalini master, visited Los Angeles and decided that he must stay and teach the ’60s generation, whose destiny it was to usher in a new era. According to yogic philosophy, kundalini is a spiritual energy located at the base of the spine, often depicted as a coiled or sleeping serpent. Kundalini yoga is a way to prepare the body for and aid in the awakening of that energy, and to work it through the seven chakras of the body. The movements and breathing are very rhythmic, and some teachers use visualizations—of energy, thoughts, light—to help students clear their minds and sink deeper into each pose. “The physical postures and sequencing may be rigorous,” says Shand, “but most classes focus more on the spiritual components.” Classes often start with chanting or the repetition of mantras (for example, sat nam, or “I am truth”), and end with a meditation. “There is often a strong emphasis on breathing techniques,” adds Nayaswami Gyandev, Ph.D., E-RYT 500, a registered yoga teacher and director of Ananda Yoga in Nevada City, Calif. Intense breathing and the intake of extra oxygen often help practitioners to reach an “altered” meditative state.
Best for: Those seeking emotional release and spiritual development as well as physical strength.
SkIp It If: You’re looking solely for a workout, or if you’re not into spirituality, chanting or deep breathing.
Developed over a period of 50 years by B.K.S. Iyengar, this practice emphasizes stability and good health. In Iyengar, poses are generally held longer than in other types of yoga, with more attention paid to both muscular and skeletal alignment. It’s a slowgoing practice, with regular stops to position blocks and blankets and to check on the accuracy of postures. “Iyengar yoga focuses heavily on proper execution,” says Lasater. The idea is that precision will help build strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. Practitioners often use props, such as belts, chairs, blocks, blankets or even the wall, which help them to perform poses correctly and minimize the risk of injury. Iyengar is one of the most therapeutic types of yoga, with many programs targeted to ease specific ailments such as backaches, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia or symptoms of menopause.
Best for: Patient seekers of calm, steady strength and healing.
SkIp It If: You like to keep moving or your mind wanders easily.
In SanskrIt, viniyoga is a term meaning adaptation. Popularized in the U.S. by yoga instructor Gary Kraftsow and the American Viniyoga Institute, founded in 1999, the traditional practice is a one-teacher-perstudent model in which the teacher works to develop a personalized program according to the student’s health, age and physical condition. In the modern context, viniyoga is adapted for group settings. “A viniyoga teacher must ask, ‘How is the posture serving the practitioner or the group?’ so the emphasis is on the function of poses rather than the form,” says Stephani Sutherland, Ph.D., science communications coordinator with the American Viniyoga Institute in Oakland, Calif. In fact, poses are often modified to accommodate the student’s needs. Viniyoga also uses pranayama (seated breathing practices), chanting, mantras and meditation to influence the mind as well as the body. “There is an emphasis on coordinating bodily movement with breath,” says Gyandev. “Practitioners will often go in and out of an asana multiple times in harmony with their breath in order to reinforce certain beneficial effects of the pose.”
Best for: Newbies, older practitioners, or people with injuries who want a practice specific to their needs and limitations.
SkIp It If: Prefer to blend in with the crowd or are only interested in working out.