The benefits of yoga are something that everyone has access to, but many people hesitate to embrace it because of pervasive views that ‘yoga is for flexible people’, or ‘I’m too fat/thin/old/young/stiff/unfit/weak/male’ to do yoga. Or beliefs that it involves chanting in incense filled rooms with groups of women. No, no and no. Yoga is for everyone, and the many styles of yoga offer something for everybody. Just because you didn’t like one yoga class, doesn’t mean you won’t like another. Yoga really isn’t something that you can categorise, there are many disciplines of yoga and countless unique styles being taught all over the world, everyday.
So where do you start?
Here is a guide to a few of the main styles of yoga, to help you to find a class that suits you.
A dynamic and rigorous style of yoga, in which the practitioner progresses through the same sequence of poses in every practice. Movement is linked to breath (vinyasa) and the practice is punctuated with half sun salutations to maintain the pace and heat of the practice. Classes are usually based on the Primary Series (the first of the Ashtanga series, there are six in total).
A great style of yoga to practice if you don’t like not knowing what posture is going to come next in a class.
Ashtanga Vinyasa is a great practice to use as your home practice. You can just print out a copy of the primary series and follow it at home.
It’s also a good style to practice if you want your yoga class to be a strong physical workout.
Ashtanga vinyasa is very warming and invigorating style of yoga.
A Mysore class is an open space where students are invited to practice their own Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
A teacher is present in the room, and offers assistance to anybody who needs it.
A very traditional style, from Mysore, India.
This is a good class to attend if you have been practicing Ashtanga yoga for a little while, you know the sequence, and want to work through it at your own pace and with your own breath.
Developed by BKS Iyengar, this style uses most of the same postures found in Ashtanga Yoga, but focuses on getting correct alignment in every pose. Props (belts, bolsters, blocks, ropes and pillows) are used to the help students attain good alignment in the postures.
Iyengar is an excellent style for those who are new to yoga, those who are injured or just quite stiff . It helps teach correct alignment, even if you cannot yet reach the ‘full pose’.
For those that practice other styles of yoga, it’s great to go to an Iyengar class every now and again, as it can bring precision to your expression of the postures.
In sanskrit ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘tha’ means moon. A Hatha yoga class aims to balance the sun and moon channels in the body (or in simpler terms- the left and right sides of the brain and central nervous system).
Hatha yoga is a generic term, which refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. But when a class is advertised as Hatha, it generally means you will experience a gentle class covering most of the basic yoga postures, and you will leave feeling balanced, energised and relaxed.
Whilst Hatha is a more relaxed style than say Ashtanga, it doesn’t mean its a walk in the park! You will still have a physical work out, holding the postures for 5 breaths (or sometimes longer) but will be encouraged to relax into the poses as much as you can.
A Hatha class is an excellent class for beginners, or for those that want a style that is a little slower paced and more varied than Ashtanga.
Vinyasa yoga was developed from the Ashtanga Vinyasa style. All movement in a Vinyasa sequence is linked to the breath.
A Vinyasa class is usually quite fast paced and physically challenging and is suited to those who want to break a sweat in their yoga practice.
This style is not recommended for beginners, as sequences are often quite fast paced, with not much time to focus on the correct alignment of postures.
I would recommend this less traditional style to someone who wants to have fun and explore their bodies with yoga.
Vinyasa classes are often very creative and portray the unique style of the teacher. The classes often carry a theme e.g. The elements, the chakras, working on the core, opening the hips etc, which is a nice addition to the asana practice.
Yin Yoga stems from the Taoist tradition (ancient Chinese philosophy), and focuses on the Yin of the Yin and Yang.
Taoists believe there are Yin and Yang (two opposing energies) in everything. In modern day life, we tend to have too much Yang. Yang relates to the masculine energy, fire, movement, action, goal seeking, the outer world. And in a yoga practice, Yang relates to the use of muscles.
Yin encompasses the feminine element, the opposing energy to Yang. Whilst both are needed in life, they need to be in balance. As most of our modern day activities are Yang by nature and Yin yoga helps us to re-balance.
In a Yin yoga class you will hold postures for 3-20 minutes. Muscles are not used at all. Yin focuses on surrendering into the pose, and targets the connective tissues of the body. Most poses are seated or lying down.
A yin yoga class would suit you if you suffer from stress, if you want to improve your flexibility or if you want to start practicing meditation. Holding the postures for extended periods of time allows you to watch your body and mind closely.
Like Yin yoga, restorative yoga doesn’t work any of the external muscles of the body. Restorative Yoga focuses on relaxing and letting go into the postures. However, unlike Yin, Restorative Yoga doesn’t increase flexibility.
Classes often involve staying in beautifully comfortable postures for up to 20 minutes, using pillows, bolsters and blankets for support. It induces relaxation and reduces stress and tension in the body and mind.
In a Sivananda class, you start with sun salutations (slightly different to sun salutations found in other yoga disciplines), and progress through 12 poses. Like Ashtanga, Sivananda follows the same sequence of poses every time. Except you have relaxation in savasana in between every posture. And it feels amazing! In every savasana (corpse pose) you notice the affect the previous pose has had on your body. And being paced between every posture, you really get the chance to observe your body, and the powerful affects of asana practice.
A Sivananda class is suited to you if you want a tradition style, which is relaxing but a demanding at the same time. A 50/50 workout and relaxation balance.
An excellent style if you are feeling low on energy.
So here we go, eight of the major styles of yoga to try out!