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Health: The Many Varieties of Yoga

by Tasha Martin

The Sanskrit word yoga stems from the verbal root yuj meaning "to yoke" or "to unite." Thus, in a spiritual context, yoga stands for "training" or "unitive discipline."

One of the aspects of yoga that can be confusing is how many forms of yoga are practiced. While they share common elements some focus more on postures and breathing exercises, whereas others have a greater focus on spirituality. Each emphasizes a particular path that comprises a certain set of beliefs, practices and rituals. Yoga forms constitute a ladder of sorts, from the "lowest" form of Hatha yoga, with its focus on physical postures and breathing techniques, to the "highest" form known as Raja, or "union by mental mastery."

Newer hybrids of yoga are also being introduced and embraced such as
Power yoga, Ace-yoga, or Bikram's yoga.

In contrary to western forms of exercises yoga works the entire body from the inside out, from the bones to the skin including organs, glands and the nervous system. Yoga postures increase strength, balance and flexibility. They lengthen the muscles and can produce overall body healing. "Our bodies are like libraries, they hold all of our past experiences". Some acutely ill have been cured of such ailments as depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders,
diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and chronic back pain as a result of practicing yoga. Yoga can also be used as a stress management tool. In recent years medical doctors and psychiatrists have adopted yoga as a credible solution to various human ailments. Above the obvious physical benefits of yoga one can expect to gain a degree of mind serenity with regular practice. Having faith in oneself, improving self-control, determination, increased concentration, and building patience are some of the mental rewards that can be gained from doing yoga.

Many athletes including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John McEnroe attribute lack of injuries and longevity in their sport to yoga. People like Madonna, Kristy Turlington, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Aniston are yoga advocates. They assert yoga gives them increased energy levels and greater mental clarity which helps them excel in their fields.

The most popular forms of yoga are:

Hatha yoga ("the yoga of vitality') - The Foundation

Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of Love

Karma yoga ("the yoga of action") - the Yoga of Selfless Action

Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of Knowledge

Raja yoga- The Highest form of yoga

Mantra yoga

Laya, Tantra or Kundalini yoga

Integral Yoga (Purna Yoga)

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