Yoga was brought to the Western hemisphere from India in the late 19th century. Since then, it has gone many adaptations, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of individual variations. However, even with all of these variations, there are five major areas of practice, and all variations can be broken down into these base categories: as a method for physical fitness and health maintenance, as a sport, as a body-oriented therapy, and as a spiritual discipline.
Looking at these approaches, you will see that the first three are often grouped into a a category known as Postural Yoga. This is contrasted with the more Traditional style, where Postural Yoga concentrates (sometimes almost exclusively) on the posture of the body, Traditional Yoga, as its name suggests, seeks to adhere to the more traditional teachings that are its roots from India. Let us take a look at the five basic approaches.
Yoga as Fitness Training
The first approach that we will cover is the one that is most popular with the practitioners in the West. Also not hard to guess, this is the most radical change and revamp of Traditional Yoga that is practiced. More specifically, this is a change to traditional Hatha Yoga, which is more of a physical Yoga. This approach to yoga is concerned primarily with the physical body’s flexibility, its resilience, and the strength of the body. Many newcomers to Yoga will encounter this tradition. And while some people will find that fitness training is indeed a wonderful sideline to this tradition, Hatha Yoga is also a profound spiritual tradition. Yoga masters have always stressed the need for a healthy body, but this is a mere sideline to the mind, and other vital aspects.
Yoga as a Sport
Primarily practiced in Latin American countries, these Yoga practitioners master hundreds of difficult Yoga postures to perfection. They then demonstrate these skills, and their physiques in international competitions. This new sport, sometimes considered an art form, has drawn fire from the ranks of traditional Yoga practitioners. They feel that competition and spot has no place in Yoga, as this discipline is for personal betterment. There is also a new form of Yoga drawing much attention called Acro Yoga which specializes in acrobatic moves done in combination with a partner. Only the most fit and flexible are able to perform this discipline.
Yoga as a Therapy
This variation on Yoga applies Yoga techniques to help restore health, or in some cases, full physical and mental function to those who have this impaired. The name for therapeutic yoga is quite new, but the practice in and of itself is quite old. This new discipline calls for far greater skill and training on the part of the Yoga Master than is the cast with other more traditional Yoga. Normally, Yoga is intended for those that do not suffer from any disabilities or ailments that may require other attention. Therapeutic yoga, on the other hand, focuses on these special needs and helps treat them.
Yoga as a Lifestyle
The proper domain of Traditional Yoga includes this particular variation and discipline of Yoga. Where most people practice Yoga a couple of times a week, and certainly get some benefit from it, those following this path of Yoga believe that living Yoga as a lifestyle makes fundamental and far reaching changes for the practitioner. Living it each day, practicing it, and above all, applying the wisdom of Yoga to your everyday life allows you to live lucidly, and with awareness. Yoga has much to say about the normal day-to-day activities of a person’s life: how you should eat, sleep, and even interact with others.
Yoga as a Spiritual Discipline
Similar to Lifestyle Yoga, this spiritual offshoot of Yoga is more of a final approach than anything. While Lifestyle Yoga is concerned with being healthy, wholesome, and having a functional, benevolent life, Yoga as a spiritual discipline is concerned with all of this, plus the traditional idea of enlightenment. Enlightenment is viewed as discovering your spiritual nature. This approach is often equated with Traditional Yoga. Spirit relates to your ultimate nature. In Yoga, it’s called the atman, or purusha.
Regardless of which path, or discipline of Yoga that you take, remember that you have a wide choice of possibilities. Finding a path to follow is up to what you expect to get out of Yoga, and many people change during their lifetime, several times. The discipline you follow is, in the end, up to you.