General History

Yoga is an ancient philosophy, thought to have originated in India five thousands years ago. Yoga is one of the six fundamental systems of Indian thought, collectively known as Darsana (ways of seeing). There are four principle pathways of Yoga practice which are Bhakti (devotion), Karma (service), Jnana (wisdom) and Raja Yoga (purifications). The primary text of Raja yoga is called the Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali, and encompasses ‘the Eight Limbs of Yoga’. These are Yama (self discipline), Niyama (self observance), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (control of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (self realisation).

The emphasis on the purification of the physical body by practicing asana and pranayama for the preparation of higher practices was introduced in ‘The Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ written in the 15th centuary by Svatmararma. The Sanskrit word hatha means ‘vigorous’ or ‘intense’ but it can also be broken into two words, ha (sun) and tha (moon), interpreted as the practice of balancing the polar opposites such as strengths and flexibility, and static and mobile. Contrary to the common belief that Hatha Yoga is a style of yoga, it encompasses all methods of yoga practice which focus primarily on asana and pranayama.

Styles of Yoga

There are many different styles of yoga available such as Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasana, Viniyoga, Integral, Shadow, Kripalu, Scaravelli, Anusara, Sivananda and Kundalini just to name a few. The distinction between each style of yoga is a generally difference of emphasis. For example, focus on alignment of the body or breathing techniques. Many yoga teachers have created a hybrid practice by studying more than one style. No style is necessarily better or more authentic than any other.

In my view, it is not useful to think of different styles of yoga: this is simply yoga, which comes from a vast and ancient source. The only authentic yoga is one which works for each person according to circumstances and needs, and there are many possibilities


The Heart of Yoga, by TKV Desikachar

Further Reading

  • The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Translation & Commentry by Sri Swami Satchidananda
  • The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, by Swami Muktibodhananda
  • Light on Yoga, by BKS Iyengar
  • Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyandanda Saraswati
  • Meditation and its Practice, by Swami Rama
  • The Breathing Book, by Donna Farhi
  • Bringing Yoga to Life, by Donna Farhi
  • Light on Life, by BKS Iyengar

There are plenty more good yoga books out there and if you would like more suggestions, please get in touch with me.