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Learn the many forms of yoga

As daily schedules become increasingly crammed, many local residents have rebelled against the daily grind and tried to increase their health and wellness by seeking out yoga and other Eastern relaxation practices.

"It's extremely popular," said Kelley Gardner of The Bindu in Cornelius. "We tend to get on autopilot and go through the motions of what we're doing in a day. A practice like yoga invites you to be more conscious of thoughts and breaths and to get off autopilot."

A 2003 Harris Interactive poll found that 15 million Americans practiced yoga in 2002. Gardner estimates that number is probably closer to 17 million now.

And in 2005, the North American Studio Alliance estimated there were nearly 70,000 yoga teachers in North America.

Stephen Dansevich, fitness director for Dilworth's Evolution Fitness, Yoga & Martial Arts, said yoga brings in a lot of the company's business.

"It's something of a different taste than what they're used to," he said. "I think people are looking for a different approach to fitness."

Despite yoga's popularity, a good percentage of those practicing the ancient art don't know the difference between styles, area yoga instructors said.

Yet experts say that knowing what makes yoga forms unique will increase your chances of attaining your personal goals - whether that's fitness, relaxation or spirituality.

Most of the yoga practiced in the United States is considered hatha, or physical, yoga. Here's an overview of the five most popular forms of hatha yoga:

Anusara. This form is grounded in a deep understanding of outer and inner body alignment, said Gardner.

It's sequenced progressively for optimal flexibility and strength and provides the individual with a steady physical workout. This form is popular across generations.

Iyenger. Known for its use of props such as blocks and belts, Iyenger is a strict form of yoga that requires precise alignment of postures.

"Classes are typically slower in nature and appeal to those who enjoy taking the time to break postures down for deeper understandings," said Gardner.

Kundalini. This yoga form focuses on spiritual energy in the body, which is known as kundalini. The goal is to practice controlled release of this energy.

Classes typically consist of physical poses, breath work and coordination of breath, movement and meditation.

Vinyasa. This form goes by many different names, including bikram, hot yoga and power yoga. Vinyasa is actually a Sanskrit work that means "moment-to-moment awareness."

Classes typically move faster than other forms, consequently making vinyasa popular with younger generations who are looking for a strong workout.

Injury also tends to be more common while practicing vinyasa because of the energy required for continuous movement during a class.

Several vinyasa styles, including bikram and hot yoga, are typically practiced in rooms with temperatures ranging from 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Astanga. Just like vinyasa, astanga is one of the more physically demanding yoga forms. This form is broken down into a series of postures that link breath and movement. The goal of astanga is to maintain an internal focus throughout the practice, said Gardner.

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