So many different Yoga Styles – which one is for you?
I was chatting with my students this week about how there are so many different Yoga styles. It can be very confusing, especially for beginners to Yoga. Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin, Hot Yoga … How can you decide which type of Yoga class is best for you?
The word “Yoga” is tricky to translate, but is generally thought to mean “union” or “yoking”. In ancient India, Yoga was more to do with spiritual practice rather than physical exercise. Nowadays Yoga can help you find peace, strength and wellbeing for body, mind and spirit.
In the West today, Yoga has evolved into a multitude of different styles, schools and approaches. This means there is something for everyone. Whatever your fitness level, age and goals, there will be a type of Yoga to suit you. Here is a quick guide to some of the most popular styles to help you find your perfect class.
Hatha simply means the physical practice of Yoga poses. A class described as Hatha will usually be fairly slow-paced and will involve a range of traditional positions, sometimes with breathing exercises too. The specific poses or asana will be very much at the discretion of the individual teacher. These classes are often quite gentle.
Vinyasa classes are sometimes described as “Flow”. This is a more vigorous form of Yoga, where students are guided through a succession of poses, moving quite rapidly from one position into the next. The aim is to synchronise movement with breath. The experience can be quite fast-paced and aerobic, while remaining focused.
Yin is a very slow form of Yoga, where poses are held for one to three minutes, or sometimes longer. This style has links to Chinese philosophy, and can improve health and wellbeing by activating meridian energy lines in the body. It is also good for improving flexibility. Nearly all the poses are either sitting or lying down.
I love teaching Yin because it allows time for meditation and self-exploration as students relax into the poses. Yin Yoga can be challenging because of the focus needed to remain still in each pose. Bolsters and other props are used to make poses easier to access, and so Yin Yoga is very accessible for all ages and abilities.
In Restorative Yoga, the focus is on rest and relaxation. Lots of bolsters, cushions, blocks and other props are used to support students into effortless poses. By taking time to rest deeply in a calm and meditative state, we give our bodies time to recover and heal from the stresses of everyday life.
Restorative Yoga is suitable for everyone. Students rest in each pose for five to ten minutes, or even longer. It is particularly helpful for people with injuries, health conditions, chronic pain, stress and anxiety.
Ashtanga Yoga is similar to Vinyasa, in that it is a stronger, flowing style. These classes follow a specific and prescribed series of poses, and they are usually taught using Sanskrit. An Ashtanga primary series class will involve the same poses and movements, regardless of teacher or location.
This style was founded by the Indian guru, BKS Iyengar. It comes from the same lineage as Ashtanga. Iyengar classes are usually slow paced, with a strong emphasis on current alignment. Blocks, straps and other props are used to help students get into the poses. This means that even beginners can practice Iyengar Yoga. You will be directed to join a class at an appropriate level for your flexibility and experience.
Bikram or Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga was popularised worldwide by the controversial teacher Bikram Choudhury. This is great if you like getting sweaty! The original Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures, in a room heated to 40 degrees C. Many “Hot Yoga” classes are now available, involving fairly vigorous poses practised in a hot room, often closer to 33 degrees. Some people love the intensity of these classes, and you may be more bendy when hot!
Kundalini is a spiritual style of Yoga involving lots of chanting and timed meditations with movements known as Kriyas. It is believed that Kundalini Yoga practice can awake and activate energy in the spine which travels upwards through the chakras. Yoga Bhajan has been a key figure in popularising this approach worldwide. It claims to develop awareness, consciousness and spiritual strength.
Specialist Classes – Pregnancy Yoga, Senior Yoga, Mother and Baby Yoga …
There are plenty of classes available for people with specialist needs and interests. I love teaching Pregnancy Yoga and Mother and Baby Yoga. These classes adapt traditional Yoga poses and movements so that they are suitable and safe at these special times. Classes like this are also a great way to meet other people in similar circumstances. My Pregnancy and Mummy and Baby classes include time for tea and chat to help students make friends.
Some teachers offer Chair Yoga or Senior Yoga for people with limited mobility. Then there are classes available for Teens, Children, people with Learning Disabilities, and more. Check out what is on offer in your local area.
There are many other different Yoga styles around, with new ones emerging all the time. Rocket Yoga, Dru Yoga, Power Yoga, Forrest Yoga, and lots more. It’s great to try something different, so why not try one of these if you get the opportunity?
Find the Right Teacher
Whichever style of Yoga you prefer, it is really important to find a teacher who is qualified to teach that style. A good teacher will keep you safe in class, and should be able to adapt poses to meet your individual needs. Choosing a Yoga teacher is a personal thing too. When you find someone who is right for you, you will enjoy your practice so much more and look forward to every class.
Karen Lawrence is a specialist teacher of Yin, Restorative, Pregnancy and Mother and Baby Yoga. She teaches small group classes and private sessions at her home studio in Billericay, Essex.
You can learn more about Karen’s Yoga classes at www.thecalmspace.co.uk