Exploring the different styles of yoga

Patti Murphy

Limbs twist, fingers stretch and muscles engage as yoga students hold poses that reward them with a tool for stress management as well as improved tone and concentration.

Dating back 5,000 years, yoga takes on different forms but all focuses on fusing body and mind.

“The essence is always the same,” said Lori Gaspar, director of Prarie Yoga Teacher Training school, which provides instructional courses in anatomy, technique and ethics at Yoga Among Friends in Downers Grove.

All physical forms of the practice fall under the umbrella of Hatha yoga, but from there the exercise may diverge.

- Vinyasa

“Vinyasa yoga is very rhythmic,” Gaspar said.

In this form of yoga, breath and movement are synchronized, and poses course one into the next. Vinyasa is a less-rigid interpretation of Ashtanga yoga, a movement oriented exercise composed of a precise sequence of postures always performed in the same fashion and order. It is also often set to music.

“Vinyasa is performed at a quicker pace. It’s a moving meditation,” Gaspar said. “Using your arms, you flow from one position to another.”

Health clubs are likely to offer Vinyasa or “power yoga,” as it is sometimes called.

- Iyengar

Based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, this form of yoga moves at a slower pace and requires followers to hold poses for a protracted period of time.

Once in a pose, an Iyengar instructor will highlight the alignment and positioning of the body, Gaspar said.

“It’s really that your body becomes a vehicle for the mind,” she said. “It fine-tunes your concentration.”

Iyengar instructors typically have more training in therapeutic work, so this form of yoga is encouraged for those with medical conditions or ailments. It also regularly makes use of props like blocks and straps to exaggerate a stretch.

Yoga studios are typically the only places to find the Iyengar form.

- Bikram

Followers contort arms and legs in a 105-degree room in Bikram yoga. A series of 26 poses, Bikram was developed by Bikram Choudhury, founder of the worldwide Yoga College of India.

“What Bikram did is take existing postures and put them in a sequence so that each pose sets you up for the next,” said Conrad Gacki, owner of Bikram Yoga Naperville. “It’s the only exercise I know that works every part of your body, every limb, every organ and every ligament.”

The advantages of the heated room are twofold.

“The heat detoxifies the body over time and allows you to stretch without injury,” Gacki said.

Attending class regularity is important for Bikram practitioners to build strength and stamina, he said.

Bikram yoga is offered in specialty studios.