Beginner Yoga Series: Types of Yoga
I'm going to let you in on a little secret - not all yoga classes are created equally or are designed to fit the needs of ALL students. In fact, not all teachers are right for all students. Heck, I'm not the perfect teacher for everyone. But hey! That's one of the coolest things about yoga - there are MANY different styles to try.
I have heard friends (and random strangers) complain to me that they tried a yoga class once or twice and had a terrible experience. They say, "yoga just isn't for me!" I always like to challenge that reaction, because even I have been to yoga classes that I loathed. It happens. I don't believe there is a single yoga class out there that fit everyone on this planet, which is a great thing!
Do you hate the slow music and the yoga teacher rambling on about the magic of cleansing your chakras? That's understandable. Maybe find a power yoga teacher that loves to blast heavy metal and makes you laugh the whole class.
Do you just want to lay on your mat for an hour and practically take a nap? Cool, there are classes out there just for you!
Today, I want to walk you through some of the different styles of yoga that are popular in many of the US studios. You may turn your nose up immediately as some of the descriptions while others might peak your interest. Super normal! Try what sounds good to you and feel free to ask any questions!
Here is your guide:
Hatha is the Sanskrit term for the physical yoga practice. This is really an umbrella term for any kind of physical yoga practice, including all the practices mentioned below. If a studio is offering a Hatha Yoga class, you can generally anticipate a slower pace of yoga with a strong focus on breathing work. They may also be some meditation involved. This is the perfect class for beginners who are ready to test out a yoga class.
Iyengar yoga is a style that has a strong focus on alignment, or making sure the body is positioned properly in each pose. Named after the famous yoga teacher BKS Iyengar, his method of teaching was based on details and precision. He also helped to introduce the heavy use of props in a yoga class to help students achieve postures safely, such as yoga blocks and straps. Typically, poses are held for a longer period of time than a traditional flow class, but the use of props helps beginners to enjoy the class. This may be the class for you if you consider yourself to be a bit of a perfectionist.
Check out this amazing footage of BKS Iyengar himself
I used to practice Ashtanga yoga and let me tell you, it can be intense! Ashtanga is also known as the "eight limb path" of yoga and is focused on the physical practice, as well as the lifestyle practice, of yoga. Classes always start with rounds of sun salutations (which we chatted about last week) followed by a series of challenging postures practiced in the same sequence each time. There is a bit of jumping between postures and I would not recommend this style for first-time students.
Mysore Ashtanga - If you ever see a studio offering Mysore, it is important to know that this is a self-led practice, which means you are expected to know the Ashtanga series with little guidance. This allows you to take the series at your own pace, with offered adjustments from the teacher, but it is necessary to memorize the order of the postures.
This video takes you through the Ashtanga Primary Series at hyperspeed!
Vinyasa yoga, sometimes referred to as flow yoga, uses the breath the create the pattern of movement between postures. For example, you would move into one pose on an inhale and another on the exhale. Vinyasa means "to place in a special way" and can be considered one of the more athletic options because of the faster pace. Other practices, such as Ashtanga and Prana yoga, practice elements of vinyasa by focusing on nthe breath's flow.
Often, yoga teachers will suggest "feel free to take a vinyasa" between postures in class. This usually refers to the flow from chaturanga to upward facing dog to downward facing dog (moving with the breath).
The majority of my active yoga classes/videos are considered "flow" style. We often move with the breath, but will sometimes hold a given posture for longer than one breath.
Sun Salutations are a Vinyasa
This hot style of yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970's. It features a sequence of set poses that are practiced in a sauna-like room. Traditionally, Bikram studios are 105°F with 40% humidity. Similar to Ashtanga, this style of yoga follows the same sequence every class, which includes 26 poses that are each done twice in a 90-minute class. This is a very challenging, sometimes competitive practice, and I would not recommend it for beginners.
Hot Yoga - Please note, not all "hot yoga" classes are Bikram. Unless the class title specifically states "Bikram," a hot yoga class is typically a variation of Hatha or Vinyasa yoga that are performed in a hot room.
Yin Yoga is a much slower version of yoga with most of the class done from the floor in seated or reclined postures. Poses are held for a long time (3-5 minutes) to focus on deeper stretches. This practice helps students relax into each posture, stretching into the deeper connective tissue or fascia. It is also more meditative and teaches students how to enjoy patience. Often, classes will provide props to make the poses easier to hold and is great for beginners. Feeling stressed? This is the yoga class you want to take to clear your head!
I also tend to teach some classes that are considered more of a Yin/Yang Flow. These classes are great for deep stretches and slowing down, but I often incorporate a tiny bit of standing or active postures and we do not hold poses quite so long.
Similar to yin, Restorative Yoga is also spent on the floor holding poses for an extended period of time. This class uses ALL the props - straps, blocks, blankets, bolsters, chairs, walls, pillows, you name it! The intention is to provide support within each pose, making it easier to completely leg go. These classes are freaking miracle workers! They are designed to help students free their mind, calm stress, and melt into each pose;.
If you are interested in trying restorative yoga at home, you really don't need to have all the fancy props that you would find in a studio (although, they're really nice to have). Here are some of my restorative-ish options at home:
This is probably one of the most unique styles of yoga, focused on both the spiritual and physical practice. Kundalini refers to a form of primal energy said to be located at the base of the spine, often said to be a snake-like energy coiled at the base. The purpose of this style of yoga is to release this energy through breath work, chanting, movement, and meditation. You can anticipate a lot of core work, quick breathing, and shaking. Although it may feel silly or intense, I would really suggest at lease trying a Kundalini class. They have always been incredible experiences for me.
New Styles of Yoga
To be really honest, there are still dozens of yoga styles that I have not mentioned in the post because they are more rare or focused, such as prenatal yoga or yoga nidra. If a studio near you is offering a class that's not listed above, check out their description or call and ask about it. There are many incredible styles to try out.
Some of the other types of yoga that I practice and/or teach are a bit on the new side. If you are looking for something different and challenging, check out:
I quickly became obsessed with Buti Yoga and immediately got certified to teach it as soon as I found it. "Buti® classes utilize spiral structure technique® to facilitate the release + toning of the body - physical, emotional and energetic. Through primal movement, dynamic asana and cardio-sprints, students breakdown the emotional barriers that hold them back from achieving self-love and true human connection." It is sexy, feminine movement that gets me pumped up and feeling incredibly confident!
While only attempting this style a few times, aerial yoga is a really fun challenge. It is also called anti-gravity yoga and uses a soft hammock or aerial silks to explore traditional asana, both in the air and on the ground. This can be a little acrobatic and fun.
What I love most about Acroyoga is the importance of learning to trust yourself and others. This partner-style of yoga is a combination of asana, acrobatics, and sometimes, Thai massage. You work with a partner to find balancing postures and therapeutic asanas. The fun part about this practice is that is can be found in the parks of most major cities. Head over to Facebook and search for "Acroyoga + the name of your city" to find local groups to learn with.
I honestly believe there is a style of yoga for everyone! As a mentioned before, I may not have even listed the class that is the perfect fit for you. If you are looking for something manly, check out Broga! Into animals? See if there is a place near you offering goat or cat yoga. Like to drink? There are plenty of breweries and wineries that now offer yoga classes to enjoy with your happy hour.
I encourage you to keep trying different kinds of yoga. Our bodies, our minds, and our needs are constantly evolving, so it is always good to have a handful of different yoga styles to choose from. Keep exploring!
What is your favorite style of yoga? Is there a type you love that I didn't mention? Comment below! Let's keep the conversation going and help beginners get excited about yoga!