Learn about the most popular styles of yoga today and how to choose the right one for you.
Confused by all the different styles of yoga out there and don’t know which one to choose?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
While yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India thousands of years ago, many different schools and styles of yoga have emerged in the last century.
Here are some of the most prominent styles of yoga offered today. Also included is what you can expect in a typical class.
Hatha yoga is a classical, traditional form of yoga. It brings the mind, body and breath in alignment through physical postures (asanas) and breathwork (pranayama). A typical Hatha yoga class will usually include holding asanas for some time before releasing them.
A Hatha yoga class could be restorative and relaxing or get your heart rate pumping, depending on the teacher and the style you choose.
Traditional Hatha yoga also has a spiritual orientation, and classes might include a form of meditation and/or chanting.
If you’re a beginner, Hatha yoga can give you a gentle introduction to the practice of yoga, and with sustained practice, it can give you a solid foundation to venture into more advanced practices or more rigorous styles of yoga.
Popularized by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s, Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic style that has its roots in classical Hatha yoga. An Ashtanga class is rigorous and physically demanding and follows a predetermined sequence.
If you’re a beginner at yoga, or if you’ve never tried Ashtanga yoga before, give yourself time to learn the ropes. The physical rigor and precision of this style can seem challenging at first, but it can also be a powerful way to break through mental barriers.
Iyengar yoga was founded by BKS Iyengar in the 1960s and emphasizes performing asanas with precision and correct alignment, with the use of props if required.
The focus here is going deeper into each posture, so an Iyengar yoga class typically includes holding each posture for a prolonged period with controlled, deliberate breathing. This makes it slower-paced, but no less challenging than more fast-paced styles!
The sequence of postures varies from one class to the next. Iyengar yoga is one of the most accessible styles of yoga, given its gentle approach and wide use of props.
It’s great for practitioners of all levels, including complete beginners, and can be particularly effective for people with injuries and chronic conditions who are looking for a more therapeutic practice.
The word vinyasa generally refers to a sequence, or flow, of asanas. As a style of yoga, Vinyasa yoga has its roots in the Ashtanga style and is characterized by movement: flowing asana sequences with coordinated breathing.
Unlike the Ashtanga style, these sequences are not fixed and can vary from one class to the next. The process of movement from one posture to the next is as important as the postures themselves, and this emphasis on fluidity is one of the defining features of Vinyasa yoga.
This style can be physically intense, so if you’re a beginner, you may want to give yourself time to ease into it.
Power yoga is an intense, fast-paced style and its focus is largely physical fitness. Think yoga meets aerobics workout! Power yoga draws from traditional yoga asanas, but places less emphasis on the spiritual, meditative, mind-body aspect of more traditional styles of yoga.
Hot yoga refers to a yoga class conducted in a heated room. If you’re looking for a Hot yoga class, you’ll find two main types: Bikram and Vinyasa. Hot yoga is often used interchangeably with Bikram Yoga, although not all Bikram Yoga classes are Hot yoga and vice versa.
Founded by Bikram Choudhury, a Bikram Yoga class is taught by a Bikram Yoga-trained teacher and involves a fixed sequence of postures, in which each posture is held and then released before moving to the next posture.
A Vinyasa hot yoga class involves a more fluid sequence, where one posture flows into the next, and the sequence of asanas usually varies from class to class.
Hot yoga can be challenging, not just because of the yoga itself, but because of the temperature of the room. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, it’s best to check with your doctor before trying out this style.
Yin yoga is a gentle, restorative style in which postures are held for extended periods of time (between 3-10 minutes on average) with attention on the breath and props for support if needed. Most postures in Yin yoga are performed either seated or reclining.
As opposed to more ‘yang’ or fast-paced styles of yoga, which target the muscles, Yin yoga works on the deep connective tissues in the body. This style might look passive, but don’t be deceived. Slowing down, becoming still and going deeper into each posture can often be as challenging as speeding up, both for the body and mind!
This style can be a great complement to other, more vigorous forms of yoga, and is especially well-suited for those with injuries or chronic conditions.
Now that you know a little more about these different styles of yoga, how should you choose which one to practice?
Step 1: Get clear about what you’re looking for
Once you understand the various schools and styles of yoga, the next step is to get clear about what you’re looking for in your yoga practice.
Are you looking for a workout? To strengthen your mind-body connection? Pain relief? Stress release? A therapeutic practice for a certain injury or health condition? A way to get grounded or centered?
If you know what you’re looking for, your yoga practice can give you all that you seek and more.
These questions you have to ask yourself periodically, because different styles of yoga may speak to you at different times in your life.
For example, if you feel like you’re always rushing around to get things done, maybe a slower, gentler form of yoga with an emphasis on breathwork will help you bring balance to your mind and body.
In contrast, if you feel like you’re caught in a slump and doing anything feels like too much effort, perhaps a more vigorous form of yoga that challenges your body and mind is what you need.
Taking a moment to tune in and ask yourself what you and your body need could be a good place to start. Take the time to listen. Sometimes, the answer you get might surprise you.
Step 2: Try out a few different styles
Nothing substitutes experience. If you’re curious about some of these styles of yoga, go out there and try out a few classes. Make a note of how you feel during and after each class.
When trying out any new style of yoga, it’s best to get started with a trained instructor who can guide you through the ins and outs of the style you choose. Each style has its own technicalities and nuances, which are best learned with a teacher.
Step 3: Choose a style (or two) and stick to it
Once you find a style (or two) of yoga that works for you, stick to it for a length of time.
You must choose a style that you can see yourself practicing over some time because the goal here is to build a sustainable practice.
While you may feel great after a class or two, experiencing the true benefits that yoga offers takes time, commitment, and dedication. And it’s worth it. Because when these benefits become part of your lived experience, it’s hard to imagine life any other way!
Step 4: Give it time
Getting started with yoga, or even a new style of yoga if you’re an experienced practitioner, is like learning a new instrument. It takes time for the body, breath, and mind to get used to moving in a new way.
Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay if you’re not where you think you should be, or if you make mistakes. That’s part of the journey. Start where you are. With time and practice, your strength, stamina, and flexibility will improve, and you will suddenly find that you’re able to do things that you couldn’t do before. And when that happens, it’s magic!
Ultimately, your experience of yoga doesn’t depend so much on what postures or sequences you can do, but on the mindset with which you approach your practice, and your state of mind when you’re on the mat.
When you approach your practice with humility, gratitude, awareness, an open mind, and an attitude of exploration, you will find your yoga practice is infused with joy and enriches your life in unimaginable ways.
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