Yoga is one of the fastest growing physical practices in the western world. As more and more research reveals its unparalleled benefits to our mental and physical health and well-being its well worth giving this ancient practice a try and experiencing the benefits for yourself.
The tricky part then is choosing which style of yoga to try. With more gyms offering yoga classes and yoga studios popping up like Starbucks, it can be challenging to find the right class to suit your needs with so much choice.
I went to my very first yoga class 12 years ago which happened to be a Hatha yoga class and it was pretty much love at first sight. For the first few years I stuck with Hatha yoga exclusively until I grew more confident in my yoga practice and wanted to venture out and try different styles. Now, I like to mix it up, depending on how I’m feeling that day and what I want to focus on.
Finding the right class is a bit like dating; you have to go on the date first before you can find out if you’re right for each other. With that said don’t feel like you need to stick to one particular style, there are so many wonderful yoga classes out there so don’t be afraid to “date around”.
Here’s my a-z of the most popular yoga styles:
Founded by John Friend, Anusara means ‘Flowing with grace’ (going with the flow) and following your heart. This style was born from Hatha Yoga and is a creative flow style class grounded in heart inspiring philosophy and strong bio-mechanical alignment principles to take you deeper into your practice. If you’re looking for flowing sequences and strong alignment steeped in yoga philosophy then I highly recommend trying this style.
If yoga was a sport then this would be it! The most athletic and physically demanding form of yoga, Ashtanga comprises of a series of set postures practiced in sequence (vinyasa). There are 6 sequences in total, the first know as the Primary Series. If you’re a gym junkie and are looking to spice up your workouts or just like a challenge then this is the style for you.
The word Hatha has two meanings; the first meaning “wilful” or “forceful” and refers to the physical asanas or postures, the second meaning “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha) which is the yoga of balance. Most yoga practices in the west are Hatha yoga and use physical postures (asanas) with conscious breathing (pranayama) to bring about balance, peace and relaxation to the mind/body in order to prepare you for meditation. Hatha yoga is a great practice for complete beginners as it is generally (but not always) slower in pace. It’s a great class to learn the basics and progress from.
This style of yoga does exactly what it says on the tin! It’s yoga in a heated studio. How hot you ask? Temperatures vary from studio to studio but it’s typically between 33-38°C. A powerful and energizing sequence of postures and breathing exercises which allows for deep stretching and a detoxifying sweat. If you love the heat or like to get a good sweat on then this is the class for you. Make sure you arrive well hydrated and bring a towel, you’ll need it!
Created by B.K.S Iyengar, the Iyengar approach is internationally respected and one of the most widely recognised styles of yoga in the world. A slower more precise style, Iyengar uses props such as straps, blocks and bolsters to assist the student in developing strong alignment principles to further develop their yoga practice. This is a great style for beginners as it really breaks down the poses so you can learn correct alignment and develop strength, flexibility and endurance. Equally, if you’re a seasoned yogi this style will help you to refine your technique in order to deepen your practice.
Jivamukti incorporates meditation, chanting, pranayama (breath work), philosophy and eclectic music into a flowing vinyasa (see Vinyasa Flow) practice. This style of yoga is both physically and intellectually stimulating, bringing ancient teachings alive in a modern day setting.
Kundalini yoga is a blend of spiritual and physical practices that incorporates movement, breathing, meditation and the chanting of mantras. This is an uplifting practice that builds physical vitality and increases consciousness.
If you’re looking to de-stress and unwind then I highly recommend trying a restorative yoga class. This style typically involves a sequence of 5 or 6 poses supported by props such as blocks, blankets and bolsters to facilitate total body relaxation. Each pose is passively held for 5 minutes or more to allow the nervous system and adrenal glands to rest, enabling the body to move towards balance.
Vinyasa Flow is a dynamic flowing style of yoga, harmonising breath and movement to attain strength, grace and freedom. More dynamic than a Hatha yoga class but not as vigorous and rigid as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow sits comfortably between the two to give the student a well-rounded, well-balanced class for mind, body and soul.
This is a stilling practice designed to cultivate a deep sense of awareness and total release of mind/body stresses. Yin is a practice of letting go that involves holding seated or supine poses for 3-5 minutes in order to release deep musculature and connective tissue, aiding physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Yin yoga is a great compliment to a more dynamic yoga practice.
Yoga Nidra, a practice of conscious deep sleep, allows you to relieve stress and anxiety by relaxing the nervous system through a meditative sleep state with inner awareness. If you’re looking for total relaxation then give this style a go!
There are lots more styles out there so look at this as just a guide to help you navigate through the most popular forms of yoga.
I hope this article will inspire novices to give yoga a try and for regular yogis to broaden their yoga practice with different styles.