Understanding the different styles of yoga for mental wellness
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The practice of yoga impacts one’s body, mind and spirituality. The tradition of yoga began in the ancient age of India, which explains its influence on the foundations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs. Through its long and established history, yoga has gradually spread across the world and has made new strides in the modern age.

In the west, the yogic way of life has evolved from its humble beginnings. For many individuals, the concept of yoga may still hold a mysterious, mystical quality that contributes to people’s misconceptions about it. In order for the discipline and its rejuvenating effects to gain a credible following in the United States, it should be clearly defined and broken down into its most prominent elements.

First of all, the contemporary Western term and the original Eastern term for yoga have completely different meanings. After its introduction to the west in the 19th century, collective interest in the practice’s many aspects waxed and waned throughout the decades. Over time, the most recognized element of yoga became the physical portion that involved steady positioning and movement of the body. This is known as hatha yoga, which is only one school of the overall umbrella of yogic teachings. During its introduction in India before the Common Era (BCE), yoga reached into all facets of a person’s life. This integrated philosophy not only teaches the postures that the discipline is known by today, but also encourages kind service to oneself and others as well as the dedication to studying scriptures.

Yoga for health

Eventually, the physical exercise of yoga was assessed for its health benefits. Evidence in the 1980s led by Dean Ornish, M.D., president and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, showed it promotes cardiovascular strength and assists with stress management. This initial research began a distinct focus on the practice that separated it from any religious or spiritual associations. In the United States, many specific branches of hatha yoga are prominent and common. Each style carries variations and adaptations that match certain preferences over others, so choosing the right yoga is an important first step in facilitating a new and reinforced habit.


Ashtanga has some of the deepest ties to its ancient counterparts, but it was introduced and popularized in the U.S. during the 1970s. This version is characterized by rigid and rigorous movements, as a “yogi” must learn to follow a set of unchanging series of postures that demand a fair amount of effort from the body to master. To progress to more advanced sets of movements, a person must first prove that he or she can fluently perform the previous set. Due to its strenuous nature, ashtanga can reduce weight and stress as well as improve strength, stamina and coordination. It also can help those who want to get in touch with a spiritual side of life.


With a literal translation of “flow” and also called vinyasa-flow in some cases, this style of yoga emphasizes the fluidity of movement between each posture. A signature progression in vinyasa is the sun salutation, which sums up the style’s goal of aligning one’s breath with his or her movement. Another fluid element of vinyasa is its ever-changing series of poses from class to class, which is its primary departure from the more classical ashtanga style. The overall choreography is often assisted by music to keep things moving. The intensity of the practice is similar to Ashtanga, but no two vinyasa classes are the same. For people who prefer to test their physical limits, vinyasa may be the optimal class for them.

Bikram and other hot yoga

Also reaching larger audiences in the 1970s, Bikram yoga was founded by a man of the same name who advocates the flushing out of toxins and deeply stretching the muscles to achieve a healthier state of being. In fact, Bikram is often recommended for the recovery from injury. The style is also highly regimented, as the practice is performed in a 95 to 100 degree room and includes a series of 26 poses. The founder has even trademarked the exact sequence and has previously prosecuted studios who incorrectly refer to their style as his own. Due to this, other hot yoga classes are very similar to Bikram, but have more leeway in their principles.

Other forms of yoga are offered across the nation, such as Kundalini and Iyengar, but the styles mentioned above are the easiest to access. Many modern fusions of these types also exist. The trick is to find out what works best for you.

Sovereign Health of California provides holistic therapeutic modalities including yoga, meditation and other expressive and experiential methods of maintaining mental wellness. If you or a loved one needs comprehensive treatment for addiction, mental health disorders or co-occurring conditions, Sovereign can provide the resources you need. To speak with a member of our team you can contact us online through our LiveChat or call (866) 819-0427 to speak to a specialist.

Written by Sovereign Health Group writer Lee Yates

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