What is the difference between Skanda Yoga and other styles?

All physical practices of yoga asana can be called hatha (solar/lunar) yoga because they create balance between masculine/feminine energies. There are many differences between hatha yoga styles and all have their benefits. I personally have practiced them all and have learned a lot from each school’s method. The most popular styles of hatha yoga are Iyengar, Bikram, and ashtanga vinyasa. All three styles employ the use of sequences, however the Iyengar sequences aren’t taught as much in classes. The Bikram sequence consists of 26 poses that are performed twice on each side in a room heated to 105 degrees. In Skanda Yoga we don’t use external heat to warm the body, but instead create inner heat through the use of ujjayi (victorious) breath. This breath is also utilized in the practice of Iyengar and ashtanga vinyasa. It involves toning the muscles in the back of the throat and equalizing the duration of the inhalation and exhalation patterns, while holding the energetic locks of the lower body uddiyana and moola bandha. These internal energetic locks direct energy upwards, heat the body, and maintain core alignment.

Ashtanga vinyasa has six sequences, consisting of approximately 41 poses each, however only the first two are usually taught. The ashtanga advanced series 3-6 was originally just two sequences (advanced a&b), but these were broken up so that they were more accessible, since they were originally intended for demonstration purposes only. Bikram and ashtanga vinyasa teach only one form of alignment in a pose. This is done so that students are taught in a consistent manner and everyone is working toward the same form in postures. This has led to the popular misconception that there is only one way to do a pose.

In Skanda Yoga, we acknowledge that there are two main types of alignment. There is the positioning of body parts in perfect lines and angles to achieve alignment from the perspective of an outside observer. There is also the positioning of body parts in curves and arches that enhance performance in the posture, which is based upon the alignment of the inner observer. Between these two are functional planes of alignment that can be accessed when a student needs a different technique to enter a pose. Everyone has a different body type and past karma that we bring to the mat. It doesn’t make sense to try and fit everyone into the same cookie cutter mold of asana.

There are numerous benefits to practicing any type of yoga, but ultimately the path is supposed to lead to the experience of enlightenment and self-realization. If you only stay with one style and one method then it will be impossible to achieve enlightenment or your personal growth will stagnate as a result. One of the definitions of enlightenment is to be able to think and act freely upon your own accord without influence from outside sources. Therefore, if you want to be truly free then you have to start thinking for yourself, listening to your body, and then do what it needs and not what your ego wants. Having a set sequence and method is gratifying for the ego because it feels it has mastered something and therefore it has achieved perfection.

Skanda Yoga uses sequences that can be practiced in order or they can be modified and adapted to a student or a classes needs, as there are no fixed rules – only guidelines. There are 20 main sequences at three levels, which creates 60 sequences. There are also four introductory level 0 classes and five super advanced classes at level 5. These sequences help to prevent stagnation and open a student to wider experience of asana practice. It would take several years to memorize the sequences and afterwards the student should focus on their own personal practice or move on to another school.

There is the argument that a student should stay with one style and one teacher only if they want to achieve success on the path. This is backed up with the allegory that if you want to reach water by digging a well then you have to keep digging in the same place. If you run around from place to place (school to school) digging here and there, then it is said you will never reach the goal. I believe this is a misconception of the spiritual path because it is implying that you have to go seeking outside of yourself. In reality, all practices take you deeper into the core of your own being. The only hole being dug is the one into your own heart, and so it doesn’t matter what school or technique you use to do the work.

There are many other styles of yoga other than the few I have mentioned here to compare and contrast. However, most of the power yoga and vinyasa styles practiced today in the west all originated from the ashtanga vinyasa system. There are also now many variations of “hot yoga” that come from the Bikram sequence. It is for this reason that I have chosen those styles to discuss primarily. There are many more styles of yoga that all have valid applications for spiritual development like kundalini yoga and restorative yoga. I hope this article has helped to explain the differences between Skanda Yoga and other styles. Feel free to send me a question or leave a comment below.

Om Skandaya Namaha  Anand