If you’re new to the world of yoga and your head is spinning trying to decipher which, out of the myriad different styles of yoga classes on offer, are right for you — then this blog post is written for you!
“Should I try Ashtanga or Iyengar?”
“What is Yin?”
“What is the difference between Vinyasa and Hot Yoga?”
… these are just a handful of questions that I’ve been asked time and time again throughout my career of teaching yoga, and I understand how daunting it can be when you’re first getting started. My intention for this blog post is to break down the most popular styles of yoga available to us today and offer invitational guidance that will help you decide which type(s) of yoga may be optimal for you, your body, your goals, your current experiences and present phase of life.
The vast array of different types of yoga are one of the main reasons as to why it is such a popular form of movement. From deep, slow and restorative yoga to strong, dynamic yoga practised in a room heated to 30ºC+, and traditional, methodically sequenced and structured classes — there is something for everyone. And what’s more, each type of yoga offers slightly different benefits and can support you at different stages of your life.
Before I delve into the plethora of different yoga styles, it’s important to understand that yoga is definitely not a ‘one style fits all practice’. It’s very likely that different types and styles of yoga may be best for different people — after all, a 20-year-old and a 70-year-old are likely to have very different needs and goals. Just as an individual who is muscular and stiff, will have differing needs to those of an individual who is hyper-mobile and flexible.
It’s all about finding the type of yoga that resonates with you and your reasons for practising and that best supports your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. You can read about the mental and emotional benefits of yoga and meditation here!
Hatha Yoga —
The Sanskrit term “Hatha” is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. Almost all other modern styles of yoga are derived from Hatha. Hatha yoga combines Asanas (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques) and Dhyana (meditation) — I spoke more about these elements in my previous blog post here. Hatha yoga classes are generally slow to moderately paced, simple to follow, and offer a classic approach to yoga postures, breathing and meditation. It’s a great starting point for beginners!
Vinyasa Yoga —
Vinyasa, also commonly referred to as ‘Flow Yoga’ due to the nature of the fluid transitions between postures, is a widely popular form of yoga in the West these days. It is characterised by linking postures together, with the breath, to create a seamless, fluid sequence of movement. The postures are synchronised with the breath — creating energy and heat within the body. If you’re keen to find out more about Vinyasa Yoga I’ve written a whole blog post dedicated to this style of yoga here, go take a read!
Vinyasa is a more athletic style of yoga, which was adapted from Ashtanga in the 1980’s. There is a lot of movement and variety in Vinyasa classes, so if you’re looking for a more dynamic practice, with variety, challenge and creative sequences, then this would be a good class for you! It helps to build cardiovascular endurance, stamina and muscular strength, discipline the mind and challenge your limits.
Bikram Yoga —
Bikram is HOT! And by hot, I’m talking yoga practised in a sauna-like room heated to around 40.6°C and 40% humidity. Unlike its similar counterpart ‘Hot Power Yoga’ (which is simply a strong Vinyasa Yoga class practised in a heated room), Bikram is more structured — every class entails a routine series of 26 postures with each one performed twice, and two breathing exercises. If you love structure, routine and heat, and are seeking a physically demanding class that will (undoubtedly) make you sweat, Bikram is a good practice to explore! The heat allows you to dig deep into the stretches, simultaneously building your stamina and flushing toxins from your body through intense perspiration.
Yin Yoga —
A highly meditative practice, Yin yoga uses Taoist traditions and focuses on passive postures that works to strengthen and lengthen the deeper layers of connective tissue (fascia) in the body. However, don’t be fooled — it may be slow and meditative, but it requires great patience and mental discipline, as postures are generally held for between 3-5 minutes each. Postures typically target different meridians, or ‘energy channels’ in the body as well as cultivating active stretch in your connective tissues to increase strength and flexibility, improve joint mobility, improve posture, and release trauma stored in the body. You’ll most likely use props such as bolsters, blocks and yoga straps to help support you in the postures. If you’re looking for a meditative, slow practice that will help stretch both your mind and body, Yin yoga is the practice for you! It’s also ideal for athletes and avid gym-goers in need of releasing tension.
Restorative Yoga —
Restorative yoga, slightly similar to but not to be confused with Yin yoga, is also a slow-paced, meditative practice that uses props such as blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets to encourage a passive release of mind and body tension. Whilst both Yin and Restorative yoga are stress-relieving practices, they are very different. Yin is all about stretching and applying gentle stress to certain tissues, whereas Restorative yoga is all about supporting your body, allowing it to rest, relax and heal. This style of yoga works to release physical tension passively, without active stretch — the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation. At its core, this style of yoga focuses on body relaxation. Classes consist of fewer postures, but greater time spent in the postures. If you are wanting to de-stress, relax, and rejuvenate your body and mind, Restorative yoga is for you!
Iyengar Yoga —
Named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, this practice is a form of Hatha yoga, which teaches that there is a correct way for each and every posture. This practice relies heavily on the use of props such as blocks and straps to find and sustain the correct form and alignment in postures, in a safe manner.
Although it’s a little more rigid than Vinyasa yoga, you will definitely feel like you’ve trained your body, worked your flexibility and relaxed your mind after an Iyengar class. This style is great for those recovering from injuries who will benefit from working slowly and methodically. Similar to Yin and Restorative, Iyengar yoga also offers stillness and time to hold postures, rather than linking movement with breath like in Vinyasa or Ashtanga classes. If you are keen to learn how to enhance your flexibility and strength in an alignment-based way and with the help of props, then Iyengar yoga is a good shout! It’s a great starting point for beginners to gain an understanding of basic postures and correct alignment, but also fantastic for more seasoned practitioners who want to build on their understanding of safe and postural alignment.
Ashtanga Yoga —
Ashtanga yoga, also a Vinyasa-style practice, uses six posture sequences practised sequentially, at a rapid pace, synchronised with the breath. It is a very traditionally structured, physically demanding practice that will challenge both your strength and flexibility. Classes begin with five Sun Salutation A’s, five Sun Salutation B’s, followed by a series of standing and floor-based postures. If you are analytical, a lover of structure and routine, and are seeking a physically demanding practice, you will likely appreciate the methodical style of Ashtanga and fall in love with the challenge of the sequence! You can read more about Ashtanga and the Eight Limbed Path in my earlier blog post here.
Kundalini Yoga —
Whilst not mentioned in the above flowchart, Kundalini yoga is a completely different style of yoga than what you normally see when you go to a yoga class. It is a very spiritual style of yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, centred around chanting and meditation. The word Kundalini means “a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine,” and classes seek to awaken this dormant energy. Don’t be fooled, though, these classes are often incredibly physically intense, too! Kundalini is great for anyone seeking more spiritual depth in their yoga practice. You’ll likely feel a very tangible energy shift at the end of these classes, something you don’t often experience in other styles of yoga.
And, whilst these are the most popular and well-known styles of yoga, this is just the tip of the iceberg! There’s yoga for pre- and post-natal, Bhakti yoga, Aerial yoga, Dru yoga, Acro yoga, and yes… even the less traditional, Goat yoga (Google it). The list goes on, but hopefully this blog post has given you insight and helpful guidance on where to get started.Back to blog