I remember the first time I joined a yoga studio. Looking at the schedule there was a number of different types of yoga and I was left very confused. The woman behind the desk advised me to take beginners hatha yoga and restorative yoga classes to begin with. After a while of these classes, I decided I fancied a change and went on to do more dynamic classes. I had wished I had started with these classes if I’m being honest.
So what type of yoga should you practice?
Whether you want a more physically challenging class or a slow and relaxing meditative class, each style is a bit diverse from the others, and you'll find differences depending on the teacher. My suggestion is giving a few styles and teachers a go before settling on one style and teacher (maybe skip the beer yoga though). Even if you're an experienced yoga student with a regular practice, any of the following styles of yoga classes could improve your overall yoga skills and challenge you to break out of your comfort zone. So, if you are as confused as I was and need a breakdown of what type of classes are out there and who they are best suited to, read on!
Ashtanga in Sanskrit actually means “Eight limbed path”. It is the style which resonates the most with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This type of yoga is actually what I was initially trained in the most. Dynamic and physically demanding, Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A's and five sun salutation B's and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures. The 3 series are Primary, Secondary and Third series. Each series gets tougher and tougher and it is definitely not for beginners or the faint hearted. Vinyasa yoga comes from Ashtanga as a flowing style linking breath to movement.
Bikram yoga is not for total beginners. It is good for anyone who loves to sweat and feel as if they have had a workout. Teachers do not demonstrate the poses, instead they talk you through it. It was created by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. He created a sequence of 26 yoga poses to strengthen and stretch the muscles and to "rinse" the organs of the body. The poses are done in a heated room to release toxins. Every Bikram class you go to, follows the same sequence of 26 poses. The is room heated to 35–42 °C (95–108 °F) with 40% humidity. Make sure you are well hydrated before and after!
Hatha yoga originates from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon, and it’s designed to balance yin and yang, male and female energies. It is a traditional type of yoga, and is what beginner yogis learn when they first get into yoga. Hatha classes blend various pranayama and meditations. Sometimes there are hatha flow classes where the poses are slower but flowing. You will find that teachers teaching Hatha like to stop the classes and break down poses. So perfect for beginners or anyone who wants to work on alignment.
Hot yoga is usually a flowing vinyasa style of practice in which the teacher instructs students in a series of linked poses at a temperature of 26 degrees – 32 degrees. It is not as hot as Bikram yoga, however a vigorous yoga session at high temperatures loosens your muscles and the sweat helps cleanse your body. Many locally-owned and independent yoga studios offer their own style of heated classes as well. Be careful, it is not for the faint hearted!
Named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar developed his classical, alignment-based practice in India. This type of yoga became popular in the 1970s. Iyengar yoga is known for its inventive use of props. Many props are in use in Iyengar classes — including chairs and walls. Also, commonly used are straps, blocks, and bolsters.
Iyengar classes are great for anyone who likes thorough instruction, and can benefit anyone with physical limitations.
Brought to the West by teacher and spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s, Kundalini means “life force energy” (aka prana or chi in the yoga world). The Kundalini is known to start at the base of the spine. Kundalini sequences are wisely designed to arouse or unlock this energy and to lower stress and negative thinking.
Kundalini Yoga may challenge both the mind and body. It incorporates chanting, singing, meditation, and kriyas (cleansing poses). A typical Kundalini yoga student may wear white, as it’s believed to deflect negativity and intensify the aura. Characteristically, a kundalini class starts with a mantra (a focus for the class), followed by breathing exercises and warmups to get the body moving. It then progresses into increasingly more challenging poses, and a final relaxation and meditation. A class will end with chanting. This type of yoga isn’t suitable for everyone, some people find the practice too challenging. However, this style of yoga helps anyone who is in search of a physical, yet also spiritual practice, or those who like singing or chanting.
Similar to vinyasa yoga, power yoga comes from ashtanga but is less disciplined and more varied. Power yoga is known to strengthen the muscles while also increasing flexibility. Power yoga can either be taught in a hot yoga style or regular class. Power yoga is suitable for those who enjoy ashtanga but want less strictness. It is also good for anyone who wants a decent workout, and anyone who wants a less spiritual yoga practice.
Vinyasa yoga is also known as “vinyasa flow.” It stems from the more disciplined ashtanga practice around 20 years ago. The word “vinyasa” in Sanskrit means to “place in a special way,” which is often interpreted as linking breath with movement. In many studios, you will regularly see classes like slow flow, dynamic yoga, or mindful flow, which specifies the intensity of a practice. Vinyasa yoga is suitable for beginners as well as those who’ve been practicing for years. It is good for anyone who wants to move more in their yoga classes.
Yin yoga is a slow style of yoga in which poses are held for 3 to 5 minutes or more. Yin is known to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. Yin focuses on the hips, lower back, and shoulders. It is also known to use props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to let gravity do the work, allowing the student to relax into a pose. Yin Yoga targets the body’s connective tissues whilst other forms of yoga usually focus on the major muscle groups.
Yin also supports recovery from hard workouts. Holding poses longer aids the mind as well as the body, providing a chance to practice being still. Yin is good for anyone who likes to stretch after a tough workout, who would like to quiet the mind and who may have interest in a more slow-paced yoga practice.
Restorative yoga uses props to support the body so the body can wholly relax into poses, which are held for at least 5 minutes but often longer. A class may only include a handful of classes and it is known to put students into sleep!
Though all different types of yoga can help relieve stress, restorative yoga places its emphasis on regulating the nervous system. It can benefit those who need to chill out and de-stress, and it can also be used as part of self-care. Restorative yoga is suitable for anyone who needs to unwind and de-stress. It is also good for people who are struggling with any pains.