Why…what…which type of yoga will suit me best?
All these different types of yoga with strange names. Why so many and how are they different? Would any suit me? These were my thoughts before I started practicing yoga years ago – even before the multitude of varieties which have spawned since (beer yoga anyone? yes, seriously!) All I knew back then is that I wanted to be more flexible!! 15 years later and I’m teaching yoga – and being asked the same questions. So here’s a brief explanation of several of the most popular styles from my experience and how they could suit you…
This is probably the most common type of yoga offered, and usually refers to a physical, although often gentle yoga practice with a variety of postures per the teacher’s discretion. Breath work should be incorporated with an emphasis on body and energy awareness and taking a pose to the level you’re comfortable with. You will most likely spend at least a few breaths in every pose, although some teachers may include some sequencing (flowing yoga). Hatha yoga aims to bring our minds and body into balance and can also be a catch all name for all types of physical yoga.
Try Hatha yoga if:-
- You’re looking to get an introduction to yoga
- You like to take things a bit more slowly at first
- You’re trying to find a mindful practice and improve meditation skills
- ……or if you just love yoga and are happy to take whatever the teacher throws at you
These classes are usually amongst the more physically challenging yoga classes, but can be simply modified for beginners. The traditional style originated in India in the 1930s where most students were healthy young men. The class always starts with repeated sun salutations (a sequence of stretching, bending and strengthening movements synched with the breath) to warm the body up and moves on to further postures held for around 5 breaths each, often with additional movement or “vinyasa” between these poses. There are several series of these poses – whilst some schools teach strictly in order, only letting a student move on when a pose is successfully achieved, many mix it up and allow students to gain benefits from postures within some of the more advanced series.
Try Ashtanga yoga if:-
- You struggle with slow classes
- You’d like a full body work-out in addition to the mental benefits
- You’re physically quite fit and looking for more flexibility and strength
- You prefer a moving meditation
The Iyengar system of teaching is very methodical and students progress under detailed observation from their teacher working on absolute correctness in alignment. Props are often used. Breath work (Pranayama) is only introduced once the student has developed a solid practice.
- You like individual attention and would like to spend more time getting postures correct for you
- You’re happy with a slower class and will reap the benefits mentally
- You’re a perfectionist(!)
Bikram yoga takes 26 postures from hatha yoga to systematically work every part of the body. It is practiced in a heated room (40 C), usually running through the set of 26 postures twice with a brief rest between. The heat is quite intense with the theory that it will help the muscles stretch, so Bikram is very physically challenging and teachers will often encourage students to push further to their edge. With the same posture sequence regular students should be able to observe their own progress.
- You like a challenge physically and mentally
- You like heat
- You prefer to stick to the same postures to observe growth
Power Vinyasa Yoga
This is often similar to Ashtanga yoga – quite physically challenging with a warm up section of sun salutations or flowing yoga. However the postures will not all be traditional or in a specific order, the teacher has complete creative control over the class plan. There may be other strengthening Pilates style moves or reps, particularly for abs work. Usually the teacher will incorporate some breathing techniques to assist with the flow or postures. Music is commonly used through class.
- You like a physical challenge
- You enjoy mixing it up a bit with different postures each time
- You’ve practiced yoga before and can follow the teachers guidance through some flowing moves
- You prefer a moving meditation
So there we have it….the common thread with all these types of yoga is that they are physical – whereas originally yoga was written as a philosophy and way of life. Originally physical postures (asanas) were all about getting the body feeling absolutely primed for meditation so inner peace or being at one with everything could be achieved! Perhaps we won’t all reach those dizzy heights of bliss through our yoga practice alone (not even through beer yoga!) – but there is no doubt, and plenty of scientific evidence to demonstrate that the practice of yoga reaps huge rewards mentally as well as physically. I hope this short summary inspires you to find the best fit practice for you.